Saturday, November 10, 2018

Birthday Review: Stories of Aliette de Bodard

Today (November 10) is Aliette de Bodard's birthday, so, in her honor, here are a number of reviews of her work that I have done for Locus over the years.

Locus, November 2007

Aliette de Bodard’s “Deer Flight” is an affecting fantasy about Lesper, a wizard whose wife had been a deer-woman, and had returned to the forest. He meets another deer-woman, and learns that she has been attacked – and his wife killed – by his successor as the King’s wizard. The ending, and the sacrifice to be demanded of Lesper, is a well-done surprise.
Locus, May 2009
Aliette de Bodard has caught my eye with some strong traditional fantasy tales and some fine work set in an alternate history ruled by the Aztecs. “The Lonely Heart”, from Black Static for February/March, is a different and darker tale. (Though de Bodard has always shown a great deal of range of both subject matter and tone, perhaps influenced by her mixed background: a French/Vietnamese writer working in English.) This story concerns a woman who rescues a forlorn teenaged prostitute only to find her husband too interested in her – and to learn that the girl is something rather different than she had expected.
Locus, February 2011
And Aliette de Bodard, in “Shipmaker”, deals with an unusual means of growing the minds that control spaceships in her Chinese/Aztec dominated future: they are gestated in human wombs, matched to newly built ships. This story concerns a ship designer who wants her own children, but feels denied that opportunity due to her sexuality, and her ambivalent feelings about the woman who is to bear the mind for her latest ship.
De Bodard returns to that idea in the February Asimov’s, with “Shipbirth”, set in the same future. Here a Mexica doctor comes to examine the mother of a newly born mind that died before implanting in its ship. The mother seems to have been fatally damaged by the problem birth. The doctor was born a woman, but chose to change her gender after her sister died, also birthing a ship’s mind. She feels, it seems, almost trapped between male and female roles, and tortured by her responsibility to decide if the woman she is examining can be saved. It’s a pretty effective sad story.
Locus, July 2010
The veterans show well, but the most interesting work comes from a couple of newcomers. Aliette de Bodard offers “The Jaguar House, in Shadow”, set in her alternate history in which China reached the New World before Europe, which resulted among other things in continued Aztec prominence. (Similar ideas of course motivate Chris Roberson’s long series of novels and stories, some of which also appear in Asimov’s.) This story deals with a revolt of Knights of the Jaguar House against the corrupt leadership of their nation – a revolt opposed by the Commander of the House, once a friend of the rebels. The action centers on an attempt to rescue one Knight from torture, but the heart of the story is a question of pragmatism vs. honor, and it works quite well.
Locus, February 2012
Still better is a remarkable Aliette de Bodard story, “Scattered Along the River of Heaven”. It presents a series of snapshots from the life of Xu Anshi, one of the leaders of a revolution by the Mheng against the San-Tay on a space colony, alternated with the visit of one Xu Wen to San-Tay for her grandmother's funeral. The story cunningly fills in the most of the blanks – who these people are, what they did, why they did it, and where they ended up; wrapping it up with the realization that there were other key players along. It's a story of political promises and betrayal, of different sorts of oppression, of loyalty and family – and it's a deeply science fictional story as well.
Locus, August 2012
Aliette de Bodard's “Immersion”, in June's Clarkesworld, addresses cultural imperialism. As we have come to expect from de Bodard, the story is thought-provoking and challenging, and also built around a nice Sfnal idea. The story is set on a space station inhabited by apparently Asian-descended people. Quy's family runs a restaurant often catering to “Galactic” tourists. The central Sfnal maguffin is “immerser” technology, which helps people take on different appearances, and speak different languages, to deal with people of other cultures. Quy uses it, begrudgingly, to deal with customers. Her more rebellious sister is more interested in understanding how the technology works. And, more affectingly, one visitor is the wife of a Galactic man, and she seems to use the tech to fit in better with her husband's milieu. But this only distances her from her own self, her own history. All this is very intriguing, and as I said quite thought-provoking.
Locus, October 2012
Also enjoyable is another of Aliette de Bodard's stories of spaceships controlled by human brains born to human women. “Ship's Brother” deals with the reaction of the older brother of one of these “ships” to the effect this birth has on their mutual mother. Well done, pretty powerful stuff.
Locus, December 2012
Best of all is “Heaven Under Earth”, by Aliette de Bodard. Liang Pao is the First Spouse of a man on a planet where for some reason women are rare. Liang, thus, is genetically male but has been altered to be able to bear implanted children, as with his fellow Spouses. But now he must welcome a surprise – an expensive female bride. His first concern is for his own position, but he soon understands that the woman is in a difficult position herself – an aging ex-prostitute who had no interest in this marriage. Again, the hints of the society in the background are very interesting, and the predicament and position of Liang Pao is involving and affecting.
Locus, Feburary 2013
Aliette de Bodard's On a Red Station, Drifting, is another in her Xuya alternate history, in which the Chinese and Mexica (i.e. Axtecs) have become great powers, including, eventually, space-based powers. Several recent stories have been set in a colonized Galaxy, on space stations, some controlled by the Dai Viet. This one is set on a remote station, Prosper, controlled by an obscure branch of a powerful family, and run by a Mind, who is also one of the family's ancestors. To this station comes Linh, a cousin, fleeing an uprising against the Emperor. Linh has spoken out against the Emperor for his failure to confront the rebels, and so she is potentially a traitor, and also racked with guilt for leaving her previous post under threat. Quyen is the leader of Prosper, and she is not confident in her abilities, and also worried that the station's Mind seems to be decaying. All this seems to portend disaster, amid small betrayals and slights between everyone involved. The authentic (to my eyes) non-Western background powerfully shapes an original and ambitious tale.
Locus, January 2014
The Waiting Stars”, by Aliette de Bodard, is one of the stronger ones – telling in parallel of a mission to rescue an abandoned Ship – and its Mind – from a “graveyard”; and of the difficult lives of a group of refugee children brought up in an Institution in the country of their enemies – with the memory of their true heritage gone. The connection between the two threads takes a while to come clear, and when it does it's pretty striking. Alas, the resolution strained my belief a bit – but the story is pretty neat on the whole.
Locus, May 2014
Aliette de Bodard's “The Breath of War” has a really neat science-fantastical premise: women in this world breath people into life from stone, who become their companions, and are necessary to breath life in turn into children. Rechan is a somewhat rebellious woman, who abandoned her stone brother in the mountains as war broke out – and now that the war is over she climbs back to the place she left him. There's a secret of course: the true nature of the Stoneperson she gave life to, and it's an interesting secret leading to a moving resolution. This, I suppose, is Science Fantasy at its purest: a mostly rational-seeming world, with mostly Sfnal imagery, but with a thoroughly implausible, but very fruitful, central conceit.
Locus, March 2015
Aliette de Bodard's “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight”, is a moving look from three points of view at the legacy of a dead scientist: her son, cheated of her mem-implants because her knowledge was too important; her daughter, a spaceship, struggling to properly grieve for her; and her protegée, less grateful for the mem-implants than stifled by them. De Bodard's extended future is rich enough by now to allow seemingly endless small pieces set in its interstices: this is a good example.
Locus, December 2015
Asimov's had another of those months full of pretty solid stories with none that quite overwhelmed me. The anchor story is a huge novella by Aliette de Bodard, “The Citadel of Weeping Pearls”, a time travel story about the escape of the Empress' daughter in the title Citadel, and the quest of a variety of people to find her, perhaps in the past; while the Empress worries about her succession, and about the threat from a neighbor empire. Lots of cool stuff here.

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