Le Thi Linh arrives on Prosper Station fleeing the inferno of revolution. She was a respected leader on her homeworld, but now she’s just another refugee forced to beg the charity of distant relatives. One is a cousin, the station administrator, who suspects both her story and her motives. The other is the Honoured Ancestress, the ancient cyborg Mind who serves as the station’s nerve center and corporate memory, watching everything and everyone, whispering through the Trance, the biotech network that links the station’s inhabitants together.
Can Linh overcome her cousin’s suspicion and disdain to find a place of honor and respect on Prosper Station? Even if she does, will the civil war she left behind cross the deeps of space to claim her life? The Honoured Ancestress has promised safe haven but is strangely distracted, and as malfunctions multiply across the station, Linh begins to wonder how safe she can be, in a world where even immortals can die.
I’d say I knew Aliette de Bodard before she was cool, but she’s always been cool, even a few years ago when she was still pitching short stories to obscure online magazines. The wider world just took a little longer to discover it than I did. Now, she’s a multi-award-winning author whose kudos include the Nebula, Locus, and BSFA awards, and she’s routinely found in any number of nomination lists and annual “Best Of” compilations.
On a Red Station, Drifting is a showcase of all the goodies that make her stories so wonderful. The novella is set in her Xuya universe, a future ruled by a spacefaring Asian empire and traversed by cyborg-controlled FTL starships. It’s a tale striking for its focus on timeless traditions and human relationships that both define and transcend culture. It’s a saga of powerful ties of blood and the iron law of family hierarchy strained to the breaking point. Enslaving lies and liberating truth, cowardice and courage, betrayal and redemption, death and immortality dance together on the stage. Technology and art intertwine until it becomes difficult to perceive where one ends and the other begins. The author draws from her Vietnamese heritage and a deep wellspring of history and folklore to paint a convincing, credible picture of a strong culture that has woven itself into the fabric of space without losing its distinctive identity.
This story was a finalist for both the Hugo and Nebula awards last year, and it’s a fine example of the artistry required to compete at that level. If you’d like another taste or two of Ms. de Bodard’s Xuya stories, check out “Ship’s Brother,” featured in this month’s issue of Clarkesworld Magazine and free to read online (UPDATE: Clarkesworld has posted a free podcast of “Ship’s Brother,” too). She’s also offering a free read of “The Waiting Stars,” a story I expect to find on the award shortlists this year, via her author website.