WIP snippet, because I feel like it


There was a sound, on the edge of sleep: Suu Nuoc wasn’t sure if it was a bell and a drum calling for enlightenment; or the tactics-master sounding the call to arms; in that breathless instant–hanging like a bead of blood from a sword’s blade–that marked the boundary between the stylised life of the court and the confused, lawless fury of the battlefield.

Aka, “Aliette writes a really ambitious novella that might unexpectedly turn into a novel” (I really hope not. Over 40k but below 70k is really a bad length for fiction). It’s a loose sort of sequel to On a Red Station, Drifting, with some of the same characters making guest appearances (basically set in the Imperial Court eighty years after the ending of the novella).

Since we’re travelling light (hahaha), I’ve left my research books at home, but I thought I’d recommend:

-Vietnam History: Stories retold for a new generation, Hien Vo, Chat Dang. Ok, here’s the deal. You emphatically will not get a history from this book–the authors aren’t historians, and it’s not a scholarly dissection of various motives and sources. However, what you will get is the kind of stories my grandma tells me, the “folklore”, or history as it’s perceived by the people who aren’t formally trained. It’s biased, of course; I wouldn’t necessarily agree with everything (particularly in the colonial era); but it’s a nice springboard for learning more about the major figures of folklore. As a bonus, it has a freak amount of the Vietnamese equivalents to Chinese deities and Chinese historical figures, which saves me the trouble of going through Wikipedia armed with a meagre command of the language…
-1587, a year of no particular significance: the Ming Dynasty in Decline, Ray Huang: I really like this book for its portrayal of court life in the tail end of the Ming dynasty. Really handy for those court intrigue bits ^^
-Monarchy and Colonialism in Vietnam: 1875-1925, The Anh Nguyen: I’m still halfway through it. It’s really hard to stomach, for obvious reasons (the sheer arrogance of the colonialists and the total lack of comprehension of the Nguyễn court of what they’re really up against, for starters; also, the slow encroachment of loss of sovereignty even as the colonial empire starts tightening up is heartbreaking). It turns out to not really pertain to the novella, so I’ll be going through it at a more restrained pace…

UK, here we come!


UK, here we come!

We’re at the frantic packing stage, aka “how can we have so much stuff?” (answer: the snakelet collects it).
A reminder of where I’ll be at:
Sunday 10th August (aka “drop-in”): Nine Worlds, schedule here
Thursday 14th August to Sunday 17th August (we’re here Monday but probably running to catch a train back to Paris): Worldcon, schedule here (brief plug: come to my reading on Saturday morning and get an exclusive excerpt from the novel aka post-apocalyptic Paris with magicians).

As Kate Elliott says, I go to cons to meet people, so please don’t hesitate to introduce yourself and/or ask me to sign things. I’ll be glad to talk if not on my way to a panel or other obligation.

Reminder: Hugo deadline voting


A customary reminder that today is the last day to vote for the Hugo Awards at Loncon: you have until 11:59 PM PDT (Friday 1 August 2014, 2:59 AM EDT; 7:59 AM BST; 4:59 PM AEST) to hand in your votes. The ballot is here.

And a quick link back to my thoughts on the nominees, which also includes some useful links to the voting process (certainly stuff I wish I’d been told when attending my first Worldcon back in 2005).

(it goes without saying that I’d be pleased as punch if you found yourself inclined to vote for my novelette “The Waiting Stars”–and the snakelet would be suitably grateful for his chance to be onstage with a suit at the Awards ceremony– but there’s also plenty of excellent stuff on the ballot that is well worth reading
In the meantime, my many many thanks to everyone who’s been reading and commenting on the nominees; the traffic to this website has been great, thanks in part to the excellent signal boosting)

Vita Nostra, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko


Vita Nostra, Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

Sasha is a normal, straight-A high-school student; until, on a holiday with her mother, a strange man with dark glasses approaches her, and asks her to get up at 4am every morning and swim to a buoy on the beach. She tries to ignore him, but when she does so, time stops passing: the same day loops over and over, trapping her in a morass of impending dread. When she finally takes the man’s advice and swims, she finds herself vomitting gold coins on the beach–and, before she knows it, onboard a train to a university in the middle of nowhere, where she will learn Specialty. The nature of Specialty is unclear, the textbook abstruse; but the penalty for failure is all too clear, ranging from the death of the students’ families to the impairment and death of the students themselves. Specialty is a book filled with incomprehensible sentences; but as the students read it, they find themselves changing in mind and body–and Sasha, who is ahead of her peers, is destined for something both huge and frightening…

The parallels between this and Harry Potter are hard to ignore (magical school, specially picked students), but you should probably put them out of your mind. Vita Nostra is a different, darker book: the students are university-age, with more adult preoccupations; and the magic, far from cookie-cutter spells, is impredictable, incomprehensible, and wildly dangerous; and Sasha’s position as a special student is far from enviable. There’s a palpable, oppressive sense of doom and dread throughout the entire novel, building to a very satisfying climax (which nevertheless leaves a lot of questions dangling in the air: this isn’t a book which will do a point-by-point explanation of its worldbuilding, but it’s a book that works as it is). I read this cover to cover in an evening (which should tell you something, as any free time those days is generally against my better judgment): the book draws you in, and, especially in the last quarter or so, an accelerating build-up towards the placement exam that is meant to seal the students’ fate, is darn hard to put down. Recommended.

This is my first book from the Dyachenkos, a Ukrainian husband-and-wife team, but it certainly won’t be my last: Tor published their epic fantasy The Scar, and I have every intention of trying it…

The book itself is a bit fiddly to find: it’s available in the US and UK only (I was lucky to get a copy from the translator in the hopes I’d signal boost if I liked it), and only via amazon. It also, for some reason, doesn’t show up in search results if you try by author/title, so the direct link is your best bet. This limited distribution (as well as the somewhat bland cover) probably do it no favours; but it certainly deserves wider recognition.

Final Worldcon schedule


So, I got my final Worldcon schedule, and I’m going to be busy (in a pretty awesome way). As a reminder (taking a leaf from Kate Elliott’s book), I go to cons to meet people, so don’t be shy if you see me and want to talk. I’m also quite happy signing stuff and/or talking outside of panels (provided I’m not running on my way to elsewhere, of course!).

Below is where you can find me:

Thursday 15:00 – 16:30, Autographing Space (ExCeL)
I will have signed postcards featuring the On a Red Station, Drifting artwork, and possibly a few other books: notably, I’m working on a POD edition of On a Red Station, but am not at all sure I’d have those with me.

Universal Language: Good or Bad?
Thursday 18:00 – 19:00, Capital Suite 14 (ExCeL)
Is a universal language possible? How might that be achieved and would achieving it necessitate destroying our own languages and way of thinking? Would we want to create one in addition to our own languages and if so, should it be spoken or signed?
Michael Burianyk (M), Dr. Bettina Beinhoff, Aliette de Bodard, Anna Feruglio Dal Dan, Jesi Pershing

Feeding the Imagination: Food in SF/F
Friday 11:00 – 12:00, Capital Suite 3 (ExCeL)
The food in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is described in such detail that cookbooks have been published in response. What other genre works have focused heavily on food to develop the world and characters? What does food say about an invented society? Are stories that lack an exploration of the diet of their characters lacking something?
Shana Worthen (M) , Aliette de Bodard, Gillian Polack, Jo Walton , Fran Wilde

Content and Form: Writing SF/F in non-Western Modes
Friday 13:30 – 15:00, Capital Suite 8 (ExCeL)
Sofia Samatar recently suggested that SF genre writers and readers have “a tendency to focus on content rather than form”, even or especially when engaging with marginalised perspectives. Does our genre inevitably tend towards the form and structure of western, English-language stories, regardless of what cultural tradition(s) are reflected in the content? How can a non-western or non-Anglophone writer engage with science fiction and fantasy while also operating outside of the conventions of western-style storytelling? Is it possible for western writers to engage with non-western traditions in an authentic way and produce a story that a wider audience will recognize as science fiction or fantasy? What are some of the different forms offered by non-western cultures that need to be told?
Amal El-Mohtar (M), Aliette de Bodard, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, JY Yang, Nick Wood

Friday 17:00 – 18:00, London Suite 5 (ExCeL)

Saturday 10:00 – 10:30, London Suite 1 (ExCeL)
I haven’t made a firm decision on what I’m reading, but it’s likely to be an excerpt from the novel aka fantasy set in sideways version of Belle Epoque Paris–your chance to find out more ^^

Always Outside, Looking In?
Saturday 15:00 – 16:30, Capital Suite 16 (ExCeL)
How do writers from non-Anglophone countries relate to so-called “traditional SF”, and the expectations of Anglophone publishers and readers? What are the processes and considerations behind writing in a language that is not your first, or in seeing your work translated into English? While it’s often assumed that non-Anglophone writers all want to see their work reach the English audience, are there any circumstances under which a writer might choose not to? In a 2013 interview on the World SF blog, UAE writer Noura al-Noman said about one of her novels: “The whole idea behind ‘Ajwan’ was to provide Arabic content for teens … The subject matter [sci-fi] made Arabic seem more approachable to them … I am going to wait a bit before I publish it in English.”
Thomas Olde Heuvelt (M), Jesús Cañadas, Aliette de Bodard, Ju Honisch , Floris M. Kleijne

Environmentalism in Anime
Sunday 10:00 – 11:00, Capital Suite 2 (ExCeL)
Images of environmental destruction — or the complete replacement of nature with metal and concrete mega-cities — are common in anime. But there is also a tradition of anime and manga that preserves and honours nature: think of MuShiShi, or Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Where else are ecologically-aware narratives found, and what is their focus? Is the environmentalism of anime primarily one of nostalgia and conservationism, or technological conquest?
Anushia Kandasivam (M), Adrian (Ade) Brown, Aliette de Bodard, Ian Murphy

Sunday evening, from 6pm onwards: Hugo Reception, Hugo Awards and Hugo Losers’ Ceremony.
I am ready to deliver on my promise to bring a snakelet in a suit onstage, should I (against all odds) find myself in a position to give an acceptance speech.

Fish sauce primer


By popular request (and since the question came up several times), I posted a basic primer on how to pick fish sauce. You can find it here, in the recipes section of the website.

Comments welcome (the recipe itself won’t take comments, so do leave them here).

A fish sauce shop in Phú Quốc (picture courtesy of Jennifer Yin on flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial Generic 2.0  license).


The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection now out


The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection now out

Gardner Dozois’s annual Years Best Science Fiction has now been released: it contains my Hugo and Locus finalist and Nebula Award winner “The Waiting Stars”, as well as stories by the likes of Nancy Kress, Alastair Reynolds, Lavie Tidhar, Elizabeth Bear, Ian McDonald and Ken Liu… I always find those collections worth reading, especially since I no longer keep up with short fiction markets quite as much, and Dozois’s summation of the state of the field always makes for fascinating reading.

Buy here on amazon US|amazon UK.

Collated tweets on science and fiction


I ranted this weekend on science in fiction on twitter–thought I’d collate those into a blog post. Warning: minimal editing (that’s why every sentence is around 140 characters ^^).

I’m getting a bit tired of “it’s not really hard SF” argument, which–oddly enough– often coincides with “this story is written by a woman/POC/other marginalised POV).  (before anyone asks, I don’t have a specific occurrence to point to; it’s just an accumulation of small things).

Thing is: the discourse about what constitutes hard SF–supposedly “real science! ™”–is very normative. It demands certain narrative forms, certain ways of addressing the reader, certain methods of expositing the science to make it sound plausible. Note that I said “plausible”, which means “what people are ready to believe”, which is different from “what is actually true”.

Even ignoring the problem of evolution of science (I’ll come back to that!), I’ve read hard SF stuff that was… er… out of date/inaccurate (I have a general science background, though my area of speciality is the mathematics of computer algorithms; and the H has a PhD in Quantum Optics, so between both of us we can muster passable science analysis). And that inaccuracy/out-of-date character *absolutely* didn’t prevent me or him from enjoying said books, btw–we don’t want to be snobs, and our enjoyment of books isn’t the cutting edge science. (actually, if I do want cutting edge science, I tend to read journal articles–though of course that’s pretty much restricted to fields of science I’m conversant with, so a pretty limited subset of everything that’s published).

I swore I’d come back to the evolution of science, so here goes: today’s science is likely going to be debunked (aka “evolve”) within a few centuries. 19th century science, pre quantum mechanics and pre general relativity, is vastly different from 21st century science. So any books set in, say, the 24th century that still rely on *today’s* understanding of science are a nice fiction. And, again, that’s OK. We’re writing/reading SF books, not journal articles, and requirements are different (real engineering specs make for bad fiction anyway, a bit dry!). 

There you go, afternoon rant. Would be interested to know what people think?