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Aliette de Bodard
23 December 2014 @ 05:00 pm

Just a brief note that, as per usual, this blog is likely going dark for the holidays. I’ll be back in January :)
Hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard

Just a quick note/reminder that my novelette “A Slow Unfurling of Truth” is now available for sale, as is the rest of Eric Choi’s and Ben Bova’s hard SF anthology Carbide-Tipped Pens. It’s a Xuxa story about my field of expertise (well, OK, I have many such. But what I graduated in was Computer Science and Applied Mathematics, with a strong focus on probabilities). If you want to know how to do robust authentification when changing bodies, look no further :)

(also, wow that TOC)

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
20 December 2014 @ 10:06 am

Just a quick heads-up that you can now buy The Fox Spirit Book of European Monsters, which includes my story “Melanie” as well as other enticing offerings. It’s a coffee-table book with beautiful illustrations–the first time I’ve been in a book of that format–exciting!

(also, if you happen to want a review copy, there are PDFs available. Feel free to email me).

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
13 December 2014 @ 01:23 pm

(well, second, really. The rewrite pushed it from a slight 6k to a solid 7k words. With thanks to fabulous betas Victor Fernando Campo and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, who didn’t blink at the quick turnaround time and provided very valuable insight on what wasn’t working so well with it)

I settled on “Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” as the title; and here’s a snippet:

Green tea: green tea is made from steamed or lightly dried tea leaves. The brew is light, with a pleasant, grassy taste. Do not over-steep it, lest it become bitter.

#

After the funeral, Quang Tu walked back to his compartment, and sat down alone, staring sightlessly at the slow ballet of bots cleaning the small room–the metal walls pristine already, with every trace of Mother’s presence or of her numerous mourners scrubbed away. He’d shut down the communal network–couldn’t bear to see the potted summaries of Mother’s life, the endlessly looping vids of the funeral procession, the hundred thousand bystanders gathered at the grave site to say goodbye, vultures feasting on the flesh of the grieving–they hadn’t known her, they hadn’t cared–and all their offerings of flowers were worth as much as the insurances of the Embroidered Guard.

Yes, it has tea!

(picture: Tea leaves steeping in a zhong čaj by Wikimol, used under a CC-BY-SA2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard

By popular request, the retranscription of my MIRcon GoH speech–there’s nothing much below that’s strikingly new, but it’s the first time I’ve actually put everything together in the same space; and there’s been interest on twitter and other social media on seeing this, so… here goes.

(I’ll skip the disclaimer that I’m going to do this speech in English instead of Spanish :p)

I’m going to focus this speech on Xuya, because of the recent publication in Spanish of El Ciclo de Xuya and En una Estacion Roja, a la Deriva; and because Xuya has been with me for a while–going on for 7 years now, and over a dozen stories!

In many ways, Xuya started because of my relationship with genre–which is a bit of an odd one [1]. I came to SFF in English (I discovered genre while I lived in the UK), but I’m not a “white Anglophone”: English isn’t my native language (that would be French); I live in the West but am not fully Western (my mother is Vietnamese, and Vietnamese culture strongly featured in my upbringing). I grew up in an interesting place, speaking and hearing several languages, and at the confluence of several cultures. When I read classic SF, with its stories of colonisation and conquest of space, I have this persistent feeling that I’m the funky-looking person with the odd customs, and the near-incomprehensible language–the alien rather than the coloniser.

(true story: some years ago, when I was reviewing short fiction for Tangent Online, there were a number of pieces that were so dependent on US/UK culture that I didn’t understand what was going on, and where I had to google to get at least an inkling of what the author was getting at–even set in the future, those stories depended, for instance, on current US politics and current societal concerns; stuff that was just bewilderingly mysterious to me. And, to date, I’m still pretty sure there’s stuff I entirely missed )

What I was trying to do with Xuya was to write the sort of thing that I wanted to read: a universe based on stuff that was familiar to me; and also a universe with very different cultures in presence. The basic idea of Xuya is that China discovers North America ahead of Europe, enabling the survival of some of the pre-Columbian empires–and creating a 20th-Century where North America is split between the Aztecs (Mexica Dominion), the Chinese (ex-colony of Xuya, now independent), and the United States (a much smaller and much poorer version). Further on, Xuya is about a space age where Asian cultures are dominant; and in particular, East Asian cultures (I’m putting Vietnam into East Asia because of the common points with Chinese culture that put it in a very different situation compared with the other SEA countries; but I’m aware it’s not the “official” classification).

Xuya, then, is about the interaction of different cultures with different values–because every culture has its mindset. I’ve ranted at length about this, but there’s a prevalent attitude that some stories are “universal”; and that it’s this universality that makes their success possible: works like Harry Potter or the Hunger Games have such wide impact because they tell a story that everyone can recognise and identify with.

To put it bluntly: I disagree. There is one universal story, and it is that we are human. We are born, we live, we die. We are social animals: we create bonds with other people; we have families and friends. We love, we fear, we hate. But there are nuances; and to erase such nuances is a grave mistake. To take just one example: there is a vast difference in mindset between a 15th-Century Vietnamese and a 21st-Century French. On the one hand, you have someone who values literature and education very highly because they’re the path to success as a government official; who worships their ancestors and would be ready to die for their parents; who believes that a career as a government official is the highest form of worldly success one can attain. We can argue about the value of education in the current French way of thinking, but it’s no longer believed that you have to know literature and be able to write good poetry in order to succeed in life. Similarly, the young are, by and large, not going to die for the old (they’re more likely to criticise or ignore the old).

What I wanted to do was to create a culture with a different mindset, without falling into clichés (the mystical Asians, the bloody-minded Aztecs). To my mind, that is the hardest thing to do, because, well. Assumptions are a bit like the air you breathe: they are incredibly hard to leave behind or objectively catalogue and study. You are born with them; bathed with them from a very early age; and they are continually reinforced at every moment of your life through the media, through your interactions with other people. Every movie you see, every news report you listen to, every conversation you have reinforces them–and you’re often unaware that you have such assumptions at all. And yet… societies different from ours would have a radically different mindset from ours, and I feel like this needs to be taken into account. Note that I’m not saying all SFF has to do this. There are plenty of excellent books where the society isn’t the focus; and that’s not a problem. But it’s what I want to do with my fiction. I want to write stories like Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and “Coming of Age in Karhide”, where a change in sexual mores results in profound societal impact that affects everything from families to politics; or like Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker trilogy, where Carthage never fell, and the resulting society is recognisably different from ours.

I wanted to show China/Vietnam/Mexica as vibrant cultures beyond the stereotypes–as cultures that lived, breathed; and changed. Because cultures change, too; because nothing remains static–and yet not every culture follows the Western notion of “progress”, the peculiar blend of consumerism and science we have achieved in our 21st Century societies. To take just a few examples: the Mexica religion in Xuya has modernised, but it hasn’t become a copy-paste of Christianity. It did drop the mass sacrifices, and replaced them with a focus on bloodletting and penance. It’s also remained dominant in society (again, unlike Christianity); and an enthusiastic patron of the sciences: unlike in our world, where science and religion don’t always happily coexist (to some extent, I suspect, because in the West the worship of religion has been replaced by the worship of science). [2]

What interactions can you have between a culture like China, for whom war is a disgrace, and soldiers eternal inferiors to scholars; and a culture like the Mexica, who believe war underlies everything (and who, in the 21st Century, shift from bloody wars to economical ones)? Between one that takes in all immigrants so long as they conform (change their names, religion and customs); and one that promotes greater diversity between immigrant groups, but has to deal with greater intergroup tension and more overt racism?

Of course, it’s not that simple–and cultures can’t be reduced to easy soundbites. Nor, indeed, are there any easy answers to the questions I ask! But it’s what I try to explore.

Xuya is also about motherhood and families.

The kindest thing you can say about SFF is that it has an abysmal track record on the matter. Families are at best absent from the narrative (beyond the occasional nuclear family); at worst, they’re killed off–and they tend to be seen as a hindrance that you have to get rid of before you can go off on an adventure. There is a tremendously high value being put on being alone and forging one’s own path–which isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially in dangerous environments!

Mothers, too, are often overlooked in SFF. I was part of a panel on SF and motherhood at the 2013 Eastercon: before the panel, I attempted to look for books that would feature mothers as characters in their own right–I even outsourced the question on social media. It was a very short-lived attempt, because the list turned out to be abysmally short to the point of non-existence.

I’m not going to be exclusively negative here, so let me give a positive example of a mother in SFF: Cordelia Naismith in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, and Barrayar in particular. Cordelia is a great character with a great amount of resourcefulness; she starts Barrayar pregnant, and gives birth during the novel–she plays a part not only as a mother, but also as a character in her own right. She’s not sidelined or meekly awaiting rescue (or worse, killed off): she plays a significant part in the rescue of her child, and in the subsequent civil war.

And, hum, the negative example. I’ll start with the disclaimer that I’m a big Star Wars fan, and that it was one of the major things that led me to genre. With that out of the way, I’ll tackle the thorny problem of the prequels; and in particular, of Amidala, who essentially dies in childbirth at the end of episode III. (yeah yeah I know the script says she “lost the will to live” or some such crap. I think it’s called postpartum depression. And incidentally, motherhood is the major mortality cause for women–any culture that has spaceships and is still not capable of birthing twins without losing the mother has got a serious priority problem). But it’s not only the mother of Luke and Leia who dies: episode IV then basically does it all over again, by killing off both sets of adoptive parents. If you think about it, the subtext is really quite nasty.

I wrote the Xuya space cycle to run counter to that narrative: I wanted to write space soap opera, or possibly domestic SF (doesn’t meant there can’t be explosions and other cool things! Just a heightened focus on family). I wanted to write stories with a strong familiar presence; and in particular the presence of an extended family (aunts and uncles and cousins); and how those families would change in a science fiction setting.

The Xuya universe has Minds, artificial intelligences carried in a human womb and subsequently transferred to a ship or space station. Among other things, Minds are designed to be very long-lived (if you’re going to go to all that trouble of implanting into a human womb and monitoring the pregnancy, you might as well go for long-lived and save yourself some work).

Among the subjects I wanted to tackle was that of different life-spans and their effect on family life: how do you deal with sibling rivalry when they both have radically different set of expectations? How do you live with a great-aunt who has been around for centuries, and who not only has known your great-greatparents, but will also be around when your grandchildren are adults? What happens when she vanishes or dies? How do you grieve? What do you do when your ancestors don’t die, but can be run as simulations in your own mind? What happens in a culture where knowledge (and in particular, the knowledge held by your ancestors) is crucial? What kind of advantages or inheritance can you give your children?

Of course, family is both a stricture and a comfort: I try to focus more on the comfort side of things because I feel it’s underplayed in SFF, but there are familial obligations–and On a Red Station, Drifting in particular focuses on family honour; on how to deal with relatives you might have absolutely no liking for, but that you are still duty bound to protect–what is your duty to your family, and how far are you prepared to go to follow it?

Another theme of the Xuya universe is war, and families in times of war. My personal preference is to show war, not from the point of view of the soldiers, but from those of the civilians who are deeply affected, yet powerless. War is, by nature, a time of difficult decisions–and those decisions are amplified by the presence of families. Who do you rescue if you can’t rescue everyone? When do you flee? When do you make a stand? When you become a refugee, how much do you give up, and how many moral principles are you wiling to compromise on in order to survive?

Again–those are hard questions, and I don’t have glib answers to them (or answers, period!). But those are themes I try to explore in the Xuyan stories; and to deal with through the lens of a different universe with very different expectations.

Thats why I write Xuya–thank you for making it this far, and I hope you enjoy the stories :)


[1]Pretty sure plenty of other people have odd relationship with genre :)
[2]Not saying there’s systematic antagonism between religion and science today (in particular, various denominations of Christianity have various approaches and strike a different balance)

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
12 December 2014 @ 10:24 am

I’m going to sound like a broken record on this, but it’s for a good cause :) A quick reminder that Joyce Chng is undergoing medical treatment for breast disease, and that this obviously doesn’t come cheap. She’s hoping to fund some of it via Patreon: if you support her, you can access chapters of “Dragon Physician”, a YA with racing dragons.

The link is here. Please help and/or signal boost?

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
11 December 2014 @ 09:14 pm

The short version of this con report is: Hispacon rocks, and you should all go :)

The long(ish) version: I had a great time at MIRcon, the Hispacon in Barcelona. It’s a small convention (70-80 attendees, if I understood correctly), but it’s a very friendly and enthusiastic one: spread over several locations, it had a junior track, a sister con in Catalan (MIRcat), and a bunch of really prestigious guests (Nina Allan, Christopher Priest, Karin Tidbeck and Felix J Palma). I survived the delivery of my speech (and Silvia Schettin kindly provided a great interpretation–I think we’re both very glad it went, well since we were equally nervous about it :p); had a delightful impromptu roundtable with Spanish fans which converted into a Q&A session in Spanish (the audience kindly shouted the translations of those words I didn’t know at me; though after that hour of answering questions, I basically was ready for a high-calorie meal and some quiet time); signed a bunch of download cards (my Spanish editor, Fata Libelli, is ebooks only, but they had brought over cardboard books with a download code); and enjoyed a spot of gastronomy. I caught up with pan tumaca and great ham; and had a tussle with the Lobster of Doom (it started out as a bunch of us ordering arroz negre, a local specialty of rice with squid ink. Following a misplaced order, we ended with rice with lobster. Which would have been fine, if said lobster had come with actual decent tools. A flimsy pair of pliers and a knife don’t count–though you’ll be pleased to know that I did prevail in the end).

I also got to hang out with fabulous people (caught the tail end of the interview with Christopher Priest; and the tail end of Nina Allan’s interview; and sadly had to miss out on Karin Tidbeck’s brilliant speech due to a signing session), brushed up on my (rusty) Spanish; and attended the Ignotus Awards. And, hum, got to snatch some sleep (desperately missed in the weeks since the snakelet started crawling around the house).

So all in all, a great experience. My deepest thanks to the organisers and everyone who contributed to making this a great experience: the con team (Gemma, Miquel, Ismael, Oscar, Lupe, Raquel, and I sincerely hope I haven’t forgotten anybody, apologies if I did :( ); Silvia Schettin and Susana Arroyo, my editors at Fata Libelli; Ian Watson and Cristian Macias for the great tour of Barcelona (and for showing me Gigamesh, aka the genre temple in Barcelona); Sofia Rhei for the company and the lovely book (the adventures of Young Moriarty–in Spanish!) and Leticia Lara for the great lunch, and the free copy of Alucinadas (an anthology of SF by women in Spanish, which I’m looking forward to reading).

I am given to understand that next year’s Hispacon is in Granada–what are you waiting for?

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
03 December 2014 @ 05:43 pm

Just a quick reminder that this weekend, I’ll be at MIRcon in Montcada i Reixac, not far from Barcelona.

I’ll have a few copies of Obsidian and Blood and On a Red Station, Drifting (and of course you can buy “El Ciclo de Xuya” and the forthcoming “En una Estacion Roja, a la Deriva” from the excellent Fata Libelli–that last will be out for the MIRcon). Silvia Schettin, my editor, has let me know they’ll quite probably have cards with QR codes, letting you buy the book, and letting me sign it :)

And, hum, I’ll do a speech. An actual 1-hour thing focusing on the writing of Xuya and the difficulties faced (ok, it’s going to be less than that because it has to be translated. I did consider doing it in Spanish to fit in with the rest of the con, but the sad truth is that my Spanish is nowhere good enough to resist a stressful situation like this. I speak well enough for every day conversation, but in front of a room full of people… is asking too much, I’m afraid).

The usual reminder (stolen from Kate Elliott): I go to conventions to meet people, so if I don’t look like I’m making a beeline for my hotel room to collapse, feel quite free to come up to me, I’d be quite happy to chat. As I said–I can handle Spanish, French, English (Catalan is not on the list of languages spoken, alas. I can understand it when it’s written down and that’s about it).

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard
24 November 2014 @ 12:32 am

10.5k words. Like pulling teeth all the way, I swear… Set in the world of the novel, around 60 years before actual novel, and temp title is “The Death of Aiguillon” (which I do not like, but will think of something better afterwards).

Snippet:

In the end, as she had known, Huyen crept back to the House of Aiguillon.

Dawn was barely breaking over Paris–a sick, vague pink tinge to the maelstrom of spells that filled the entire sky like roiling clouds. No sun, no stars; merely the acrid taste of spent magic that settled in the lungs like the beginnings of a cough; and a haze over the cobblestones that could hide anything from explosives to chimeras.

The great gates hung open. Through the haze, Huyen caught a glimpse of bodies, lying like discarded puppets in the gardens; and of what had once been the corridors, now open to the winds with the familiar peony wallpaper singed and torn–Huyen remembered running with one hand following the flowers, drawing a line through the corridor as a way to find her way back to the kitchens–another time, another age. The House had succumbed, and nothing would ever be the same.

Off to bed now, and then to catch up on all the other stuff that was running late…

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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Aliette de Bodard

So…

Once upon a time, in a far, far away galaxy, I began working on this odd little project. It had started as a urban fantasy set in 21st century Paris, where families of magicians held the reins of power in every domain from banking to building. Then I couldn’t make it work, because the worldbuilding wasn’t clicking with me. I wrote perhaps three chapters of it before it became painfully clear that my heart wasn’t in it.

So I nuked Paris.

Well, sort of. I made up a Great Magicians’ War, comparable in scale to WWI: a war that devastated Paris, making Notre-Dame an empty shell, the Seine black with ashes and dust; and the gardens and beautiful parks into fields of rubble. I set the action back several decades, to have a technology level equivalent to the Belle Époque with magic; and I added Fallen angels, whose breath and bones and flesh are the living source of magic; and whose power forms the backbone for a network of quasi-feudal Houses who rule over the wreck of Paris. And, hum, because it’s me, I added an extant colonial empire, a press-ganged, angry Vietnamese boy who’s more than he seems; Lucifer Morningstar (because you can’t have a story about Fallen angels without Morningstar); and entirely too many dead bodies.

In short, I mashed so many things together that it started looking a bit like the Frankenstein monster right before the lightning hit; but my fabulous agency (John Berlyne and his partner John Wordsworth) didn’t blink (at least, not too much!), and duly sent out my little novel, called The House of Shattered Wings. And lo and behold, the awesome Gillian Redfearn of Gollancz picked it up, along with a sequel. To say that I’m thrilled is an understatement: Gollancz is a superb publisher, and their list includes many friends of mine—I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Official synopsis:

In HOUSE OF SHATTERED WINGS, Paris’s streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. De Bodard’s rich storytelling brings three different voices together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel, an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction, and a young man wielding spells from the Far East.

Here is more official info at the Bookseller, here at Zeno Towers; and here at Gollancz.

Release is slated for August 2015. You can pre-order here at amazon or Waterstones if you want a shiny hardcover (I’ll work out other vendors later, promise. I don’t need to tell you how crucial pre-orders are to a book’s success–so get in early, get in strong, and make this a big big success). If you don’t feel like pre-ordering right now, no worries. There’ll be plenty of opportunities :p

ETA: and here‘s a fresh new page devoted to the book, with more detailed copy.

More on the book when I have normal (ha! Who am I kidding) non-zero energy levels.

(picture credits: Kirkstall Abbey by Rick Harrison. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License).

Cross-posted from Aliette de Bodard

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