One of the virtues of well-written science fiction is its ability to cast us out of the present into a strange new world. If the author has been skillful, we suspend disbelief. The story carries us on a wave of wonder. In the end, we sometimes understand ourselves and the world we live in a little better. In Aliette de Bodard’s novella, On a Red Station, Drifting, we find ourselves in a disorienting future reality. Here, the Vietnamese have conquered space and established a galactic empire. The effect of the tale is humbling. We’re forced to recognize that the future will not necessarily be American, European, or even Chinese. After all, who can foresee the course of human history centuries down the line?
The Empire of Dai Viet operates on Confucian principles. (The man we in the West know as Confucius is referred to as Master Kong.) But the Empire is in dire straits. Two rebel lords are individually challenging the grip of the boy Emperor—and sometimes fighting each other. One after another, the planets of the Empire are falling to them.
On a Red Station, Drifting (Xuya Universe #2) by Aliette de Bodard (2013) 154 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
A disorienting future reality
As the story begins, Lê Thi Linh, the Magistrate governing the Twenty-Third Planet, has fled and taken refuge on a space station named Prosper that’s run by members of her extended family. “For all its wealth,” Bodard writes, “Prosper Station remained a small, isolated station at the back end of nowhere, on the edge of the Dai Viet Empire.” There, Linh finds herself in conflict with a distant cousin, Quyen, who is Prosper’s Administrator. Quyen deeply resents her, as Linh represents everything she herself was unable to achieve. Quyen had failed the all-important examination that is the route to knowledge, power, and influence in the Empire (as had been the case in Imperial China).”She might be family, as the Mind had said. But she wasn’t welcome on Prosper Station.” The bitter stand-off between the two women is the centerpiece of this strange and affecting tale.
About the author
Aliette de Bodard personifies the welcome diversity that has come to the field of science fiction in recent years. Though born in the United States, she is of French-Vietnamese extraction. She lives in Paris, and French is her mother-tongue, although she writes in English. Many of Bodard’s stories have been nominated for Nebula, Hugo, Locus, and British Science Fiction Awards, and several have won. On a Red Station, Drifting was a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for the novella.
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