My brain is sufficiently scrambled (headache is back and biting this week) that the best I can muster is very nearly ‘that was interesting’ (in a good way).
On a Red Station, Drifting
Ancient Vietnam in space makes for a curious combination and I liked it a lot, although I’m equally sure quite a lot went over my head. Two stubborn and unlikeable women (I kept nearly sympathizing with Quyen, then she’d do or think something horrid again) are forced to confront their issues and insecurities – rather than each other – as the AI controlling Prosper Station begins to fail. The cleverness is in keeping this a claustrophobic family drama, and the little cultural details.
Scattered Among Strange Worlds
Two short stories (I was a little disappointed to discover that a third of the length was actually given over to a preview of de Bodard’s Aztec books, which I’ve always struggled to muster interest in), again well-written and using scifi to explore themes of alienation.
Scattered Along the River of Heaven is set in the same universe (Xuya) as On a Red Station, Drifting although I’d struggle to tell you the chronological order (they’re both loosely set in the 22nd century, apparently). Scattered is set during and after a civil war, in which the underclass of Felicity Station rose up and overthrew their tech-enabled masters. It tackles racial themes, use (and theft) of language as a social weapon, and (hello Golden Witchbreed) fear of technology – which is ironic for any story set in space.
However, Wen’s fear of anything the bots have touched (her reluctance to accept even a cup of tea) – and her lost opportunity to really get to know her grandmother – feels genuine and affecting in spite of this. But ultimately it’s the story of a girl going to the funeral of a grandmother she has never known, on a planet her grandmother fought to be free of and was eventually banished to – so there’s lots wrapped up in a very delicate package. Again, great worldbuilding for background that is barely explored; de Bodard hangs a lot on very little and gets away with it by focusing on the social and family themes.
Discovering that the Xuya universe is an intricately constructed multi-century alt reality explored through over a dozen short stories makes all sorts of sense. It just made me more sad that there weren’t other stories included in this collection, although I’m delighted to see there are lots available for free on de Bodard’s website (guess what I’m downloading today..).
Exodus Tides is a stand-alone tale of Emilie, the half-mermaid living in Paris with her human father and mermaid mother after the merfolk are rescued from the sea. This is not about the evils of pollution (although there are hints that this is part of the mer-realm’s problem, there’s an equally strong hint that it may not be the whole problem), instead it focuses on the alienation of being mixed-race and growing up in a culture that doesn’t entirely recognise you; Emilie could and should consider herself French (she’s half-French, she was born and raised in France), but she doesn’t look French and so she feels first and foremost a mermaid. This is very well executed stuff, and feels like it rings true.
All of which to say: I’ll happily explore de Bodard’s work further. Her next novel is a murder mystery set in a ruined Paris ruled by fallen angels, which – while not normally my cup of tea, exactly – I’ll check out on spec, as I like the angle she approaches her work from. Although bizarrely, I’m still not interested in her Aztecs. Go figure.
Plus she has a page dedicated to recipes on her website. She’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite people 🙂