Science fiction and fantasy                                            

On A Red Station, Drifting

by Aliette De Bodard

Linh is a refugee, a former magistrate who criticised the Emperor's policy and so has been forced to run and take refuge on Prosper Station, a distant space station. There she has to rely on family ties to help her out. But that family includes Quyen, a cousin who resents Linh's success, scholarship, and arrogant manner.

This is a world where people have memory implants of their ancestors, who can advise them from beyond the grave. Or at least some people have them, so long as they don't trade them away for some reason. There is Trance, which is something like a mental internet not too dissimilar from people being psychically linked via technology. And the station is run by an AI known as the Honoured Ancestress. Unfortunately, the Honoured Ancestress's mind might be deteriorating, and in need of serious work that could affect her memories.

Some of the story is told from Quyen's point of view. Quyen wants to make Linh a lowly tutor, and they clash over Linh's role and over status. Quyen's husband is away at war, whilst Linh's husband Giap's fate is unknown. Another relative, Huu Hieu, is in some sort of trouble with debts, but what exactly his problems are is surrounded by mystery to begin with.

Events unfold in a slow, measured, and sad way that centres on human status relationships rather than fast-paced drama. Subtle poetry is used as a weapon. This is a world that seems to be culturally stuck in the past, in spite of being set in space with abundant technology all over the space station.

Linh is threatened by the words she spoke against the Emperor, which could bring down the Emperor's dreaded Embroidered Guard to hunt her down. They could kill not only her, but also the entire population of the station in retribution for offering Linh help and treating her as kin, and all that as a result of the words she used. As the family is threatened with death, this could be their last chance to reconcile with each other before they all die.

This is a quietly moving novella that doesn't go all out for the flashy action that is more characteristic of space opera. Instead it has a focus on human relationships and rivalries that is refreshingly complex and understated.

13th May 2020

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
  Female Protagonist  

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Source: own copy