the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Aliette de Bodard’ Category

 

The more short fiction I read by Aliette de Bodard, the more I like her. It took me longer than it should have to “get it”, but now that I do, I just can’t get enough. Most of her short fiction (or at least most of what I read) takes place in her expansive Xuya Universe, and specifically in its space age, when humanity has conquered the stars.  If you’ve read “Immersion”, or “On A Red Station, Drifting” (both Hugo nominees last year) you’re familiar with the Dai Viet of Xuya, you’ve smelled their pungent food, you’ve been aboard their mind-ships that are someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s aunt, those ships that are painted inside and out with scenes and symbols from mythology, you’ve run your fingers along the slick, slimy, pulsing wall of the ship’s heartroom, you’ve seen how their culture has been attacked by the warlike and aggressive Federation.  There is more than enough space out there, but still we fight for planets, colonies, stations, insisting that there isn’t enough to share.

 

“The Waiting Stars” opens in a graveyard.

 

These are the Mind-ships that were captured by the Federation. Not exactly prisoners of war, the mind ships have been crippled and left to die. Hidden in a dark corner of space, the Federation assumes the graveyard will be forgotten. But how can Lan Nhen forget her great great aunt, The Turtle’s Citadel? Lan Nhen will bring her great aunt’s body home, to be buried properly.

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The Apex Book of World SF, edited by Lavie Tidhar

published in 2009

where I got it: purchased new

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I recently picked up both of the Apex Books of World SF.  I’ve had my eye on these anthologies for quite a while now.  Up till now, I’ve mostly read books by Americans, Canadians, UK’ers, and a few Australians. It’s time to widen my horizons, don’t you think?

The Apex Book of World SF offers a variety of types of stories, from the surreal to the relatively mundane, and some, such as Elegy and Compartments felt like they were completely outside of time, as if taking place in a world and a language that only have present tense. In many stories, names were left out, characters were just “the daughter”, or “the conductor”, or “the girl”. In English, we seem to have an obsession with naming things, we enjoy naming things, we enjoy giving each character a name that fits that person, we write entire stories that focus around naming.  In this collection enjoyed running into so many stores where the priority for what to name was so different. I imagine there was some context there that I missed, something of an implied title or connotation in “the girl”, or “the father”, something our English spellings aren’t quite equipped for.  But that’s all okay.

As with any anthology, there were a few entries that didn’t do much for me, but for the most part, the Apex Book of World SF was a winner.  I found myself rereading many of the stories, especially Compartments and Transcendence Express.  Somtow’s The Bird Catcher was a special treat, made only more terrifying after I did some further research.

Were there  cultural references that I missed in these stories? To be sure. Foods, or holidays, or colors of clothing, or being barefoot, or being a certain religion, or urban legends, these are all things that would register with anyone who grew up on that culture, but didn’t register with me because I didn’t grow up with those things.  Again, all completely okay, and didn’t stop me from enjoying the heck out of this anthology and going back to reread many of the entries.

And the best part is I’ve got the Apex Book of World SF 2 sitting at home waiting for me.  If you are looking for more diversity in what you read, this is an excellent anthology to start with.

Here are just some of my favorites out of the Apex Book of World SF:

The Bird Catcher, by S. P. Somtow – I’ve been looking forward to reading more from Somtow since reading Starship and Haiku. The Bird Catcher was written in 2002 and won the World Fantasy Award for best novella.

When Nicholas was a child, he befriended a serial killer. Caucasian, but still a refugee, Nicholas and his mother were among thousands who fled  China when the Japanese occupied Nanjing. On the boat to Thailand, Nicholas meets Si Ui, a strange, scared man, who speaks of insatiable hunger as he catches birds to eat raw. They each see something they recognize in the other.  Nicholas is young enough that he may recover, but Si Ui is scarred for life. Nicholas’s mother finds work in a clinic in a small village, and Si Ui shows up there too, as a farmhand.  On the surface, this is just a story about a little boy who finds a monster, and sees how easy it would be, how easy it *could* be to become a monster. When children go missing in the village, and are later found dead, Nicholas can stay silent, or he can brag about knowing the monster.

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I’m working my way through the Hugo nominated novellas! click back a day or two to see my thoughts on the others.

red_station_cover_small

Having escaped the war zone, Magistrate Linh travels with a ship full of refugees to Prosper Station. She has distant relatives on the station, and hopes they will take her in. Of course they will, she’s family, and her mem-implants will prove it, should anyone question who she is. And if they should insist on questioning her Linh is quite used to staring down underlings. She should certainly be able to handle a few cousins who have never even seen the capitol, let alone passed their exams.

On Prosper Station, Administrator Quyen has far more important things to worry about than finding quarters and a job for Linh, and the two women immediately begin to get on each other’s nerves, especially when Linh beings a friendly relationship with a male cousin who is already an embarrassment to the family. Quyen and many members of her family have been left behind on the station, while their more educated spouses have been forced to join the war efforts elsewhere. Quyen and Linh are opposites in every way, and they are both used to be being in control.

But Quyen isn’t alone in her leadership of Prosper Station. She’s aided (or perhaps it’s the other way around) by the Honoured Ancestress, the AI Mind who runs the software and interfaces of the station. The Honoured Ancestress was born to a human woman, but she was never human, she was always designed to be what she is: timeless and in complete control of herself. Except when she isn’t in control. Sometimes she ignores Quyen, sometimes she is silent when Quyen calls for her. Linh hasn’t much experience with AI Minds, but she has her own honored ancestors, those who live in her Mem-Implants, the uploaded minds and memories of her ancestors. They are a connection to her past, honored elders who guide her and remind her of proper manners and mannerisms.

Taking place on the edges of de Bodard’s Xuya universe, “On a Red Station, Drifting” touches on many traditions of China and Vietnam, including bloated and bureaucratic governments, ancestor veneration, and strict social protocols. I found the dichotomy and balance found between futuristic technologies and ancient traditions absolutely beautiful. Quyen is hearing an AI’s voice in her head, yet her home is steeped in tradition, in places quite literally engraved with ancient poetry. I read so much futuristic science fiction where the past is left behind and completely ignored, it was refreshing and comforting to meet characters who live in the future, but keep their deep connections to their past and to their traditions. A perfectly balanced dichotomy.

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hugo_smSo. I’m eligible to nominate and vote in the Hugo Awards this year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the Hugos are basically the Oscars of the Scifi/fantasy community. it is a very. big. deal.

The nominating process was really fun. But now it’s time to look at everything in the voting packet and read as much of it as I possibly can. And it’s. . . intimidating. I’m slowly making my way through the “big” categories, short story, novelette, novella, novel, even Campbell award. I count myself very lucky that I’ve already read a few of the novels, two of the Campbell award nominees, and a two of the novellas. VERY LUCKY. Even with a head start, will I be able to get through everything I’d like to read by the end of July?

Let’s find out.

my voting plans will stay a secret, but as I get through categories, I’ll publish my thoughts, link to earlier reviews, and we can generally discuss.

There’s two really good reasons I’m doing short stories first. Actually, three really good reasons:

they’re all available online for you to read for free
they’re all pretty short
there’s only three of them

And the nominees are:

Immersion, by Aliette de Bodard
Mantis Wives, by Kij Johnson
Mono no Aware, Ken Liu
and here’s what I thought of them:

clarksworld deBodard

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Epic: Legends of Fantasy, edited by John Joseph Adams

published November 2012

where I got it: Received ARC from the publisher

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Epic Fantasy requires the story to be bigger, the dragons be faster, the warriors be stronger, and everything generally be more. And Epic: Legends of Fantasy offers up just that – more mythos,  higher stakes, more of simply everything.

Many of the entries are part of the author’s larger work, taking place in an epic fantasy world that the author has already written hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages about. Randomly, the stories I read first happened to be part of larger works, and at first, the lack of stand alone works bothered me, but I quickly came to appreciate it, and to learn the collection had plenty of stand alone stories as well. An anthology like this is a brilliant method of introducing readers to these larger fantasy worlds created by famous authors such as Robin Hobb, George R R Martin, Michael Moorcock, Melanie Rawn, Tad Williams, and many others, and serves as an excellent introduction to the writings of newer authors  as well.

Some works were fairly new, but others were older than I am. the Moorcock for example was originally written in 1961. A pure classic sword and sorcery, complete with sexualized and helpless female, it might be offensive to today’s readers, but I’m happy Adams included it, as what’s the point of talking about Epic Fantasy if we’re not going to touch on the journey the genre has taken?

Clocking in at over 600 pages, Epic: Legends of Fantasy is itself a bit of a doorstopper.  We eat clunksters like this for breakfast, so I was surprised at how long it took me to plow through it. ahh, but spending 600+ pages in one fantasy world is one thing. Try spending that quantity of pages in over a dozen fantasy worlds. More often than not, my brain needed a little break in between.   This isn’t the kind of anthology to gorge on, this is the kind you savor, over many winter evenings.

Here’s my thoughts a handful of the entries:

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2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.