Monday, May 6, 2013

On a Red Station, Drifting, by Aliette de Bodard

On a Red Station, Drifting was nominated for a Nebula award in the Novella category in 2012.  My library did not have it, so I have purchased it for donation.  Now, lots of people liked this work--it has good ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, in addition to the Nebula nomination--but I had a few beefs with it:

  1. It's billed as a novel, and priced like one.  But it's a novella.  Novels don't have to be thick, but I felt this was asking a lot for what I got.
  2. The production values from Immersion Press were so-so.  Somewhat compressed type and spacing, and several grammatical and spelling errors detracted from enjoyment.
That said, we move on to the substance of the story itself.  The setting is Prosper Station, a permanent installation run by a Mind (born of humans but now operating a ship or station).  And that Mind is breaking down.

Reading this work is an interesting cultural exercise because it's very non-Western--the basis of the Empire's culture is classical Vietnam.  The dynamics of family relations and achievement in that culture are fully played out in the relationship between the two main characters, Quyen and Linh.  The story is driven by how they understand, and misunderstand, each other.  And in the end, even though they never truly reconcile, their strong traditions lead them to do the right thing.

A funny thing--planets get numbers in this story, and I guess they work like the numbered streets in New York--character associates with them even though the names are generic.  Linh is from the twenty-third planet (always spelled out), and a thirty-first planet is mentioned.  But only a few planets are covered (maybe three) so the device doesn't really get explored.  All the action takes place on Prosper Station.  The supporting cast development is somewhat spotty also.  A cousin's father (everyone on the station is related) is portrayed as drunk and unreliable, and commits a serious sin against family tradition (essentially selling off the ancestors), but when he actually interacts with people (Linh mostly) he comes off as uniquely wise.  We have no bridge from here to there.

So it's interesting, but probably had room to be a real novel.  Worthy of a longer review, but only 2 stars for enjoyment.  See what you think.

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