Aliette de Bodard is a US-born, Franco-Vietnamese writer and former computer engineer living and writing (in English) in France. She has 3 novels and a substantial amount of short fiction to her name; and has won the Nebula, Locus, and BSFA Awards for her writing.
I've been meaning to read her Novella (or is it a short novel?) On a Red Station, Drifting since it originally came out in 2012, and kept missing to buy a copy. So I was doubly glad to run into the new Createspace reprint of the book at this year's Eastercon (and promptly talked an Antepodean visitor into buying the rest of the stack and take it back with her!).
This is another story set in her alternate-history Xuya universe (Chinese in Central America, in a very tiny nutshell – see her website for a much longer run-down on the setting), projected forward into the 22nd Century. There are loads of stories available fleshing out bits and corners of that setting, both roughly contemporary, and into the future.
On a Red Station, Drifting plays entirely on Prosper, a family-ownde space station with a human-born, immortal 'Mind' known as the Honoured Ancestress overseeing the functioning of the station, and, directly associated, the lives on the occupants. The station is part of the Dai Viet empire, which is, if not crumbling, then at least shaking and shrinking under the onslaught of rebels.
This is a heavily family based, family centred society and story, displaying only a small bit of the classic tension (which other stories in the universe play on) between the traditional Ancestor/Family based society with the Individualism present in other societies. Its ships, and as we learn now also its stations are governed by human-born 'Minds' – see some of the other short stories re. how other cultures view this (with horror, to sum it up). This is a world of strict behavioural codes, of high art including Calligraphy, Poetry, of exchanges full of allusions to and quotes from Classics. Prominent members of the family carry mem-implants holding ancestors, which provide advice and guidance to the wearer (and thus cement the continuation of the status quo, at the same time).
The Exams taken within the Dai Viet Empire, which define one's position, one's station in life and the Empire, and one's suitability in marriage strongly reminded me of Ann Leckie's Aptitudes, but the trope has been used many times, of course.
The premise of the story is that Prosper station is struggling with the influx of refugees from the war, none the more so when Linh, a Magistrate from the 23rd Planet (under attack) comes back to her family she left for her posting. She does not really fit in anymore, the station is depleted of the more senior and educated members of the family (they are in the war, most of them never to return), whilst Quyen, the administrator of the station, struggles with her role as much as with her low self-esteem, and, maybe worst of all, the Mind holding the station together is slowly eroding, for reasons nobody understands.
I'm not going to give you more on the story, it's short enough as it is (more, please!), and is worth reading yourself. I found the book to be relatively slow to get going, maybe taking a tad too long until all the threads are spun, all the pieces in place. But when it hits its stride it is utterly compelling, and won't let you go until the bitter end. Well, bittersweet, I guess.
Title: On a Red Station, Drifting
Author: Aliette de Bordard
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher: Createspace imprint (repub, original Immersion Press)
Publication Date: October 2014
Review Date: 150511