Shipbirth — Aliette de Bodard

Shipbirth, written by Aliette de Bodard.As far as i’m aware this has only ever been published in Asimov’s February 2011.   You can contact them to either buy a copy of that edition or to ask them nicely to scan a copy of this article and email it to you.

So we left the story in Starsong with our first melding of pilot and ship into one being, albeit a temporary mistake, and being told that the ship and pilot would be studied intensely to see what exactly had happened.   From there we have taken some huge jump forward in time to where women give birth to “minds” that inhabit ships specifically built with “Heart Rooms” where the minds join and flow into the ship becoming one being.   How we get from the events of Starsong to the events in Shipbirth we aren’t told, and what, exactly, these minds are like that birth out of these women and crawl into the ship’s heart is left quite unclear and left for one to only presume — use your imagination people!

We begin this book with our protagonist, Acoimi, travelling on a mind ship and describing his utter distaste for the mind bending strangeness of how the ship deforms and changes as it travels according to its own will through the deep planes between the stars.   When we reach our destination Acoimi is then transferred to another ship, a new ship, not quickened by a mind: the birth has not gone well and it’s Acoimi’s job, as a military physician, to determine if the mother can be saved or if she should be euthanised.

There’s a lot going on in this story: on one hand we have the fertile birthing woman, used to produce the mind of this ship; then the midwife, a sterile woman who, not being able to produce offspring herself, aids those that do, but in this case sits idly by as she has given all the aid she can; and then there’s Acoimi, now male but born female, a physician whose only job seems to be to euthanise the women who fall in birth or the men who fall in battle — both considered glorious ends in Mexica society.

Here is where i will point the reader to Aliette’s “Author’s Notes”.

I also found this review, which i thought sums things up rather well.

So where have we got to?   Well, we now know that the minds for mind ships are things that come out of women who gestate them — which reminds me of the axolotl tanks in Dune.   So once again, just like in my Starsong review, i’m reminded of Dune.   We also get to learn that gender reassignment seems to be quite the norm and relatively easy in this future but that our protagonist has realised that just because she didn’t want to be female didn’t mean he would be ok as a male.

Once again, Aliette writes wonderfully and continues to build this universe in a really interesting and deep way portrayed through these troubled characters she presents to us.

Next up, The Shipmaker.

Aliette’s Page

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Sidequests — Joseph R. Lallo

Sidequests, written by Joseph R Lallo.A delightful collection of short stories that Joseph was nice enough to give away to all those of us who receive his newsletter:   so sign up now!!!

Squee’s Day Out (Big Sigma)
Building the Perfect Pet (Big Sigma)
Meeting of the Mas (Big Sigma)
The New Inspector (Free-Wrench)
Lil and Coop (Free-Wrench)
The Beast of the Cave (Book of Deacon)

Joseph’s Page

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Starsong — Aliette de Bodard

The first of “The Universe of Xuya” stories that take us into space.

One thing this book made me think of was the navigators in Dune.   We’re told how the navigators began, by taking too much spice that they changed their whole being into one that could meld with their ships and fold space and travel anywhere in the universe, but we’re never told, as far as i’m aware, what it was like for that first navigator who experienced this.   And that to me is what Starsong is about, the story of those who travel first.   The outsiders who will never belong who are shoved far out beyond the boundaries of where other people’s fear will never allow them to go.

Originally published in Asimov’s July 2012, you can now find it at Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show where you can read it for free.   And while you’re there be sure to also read “InterGalactic Interview With Aliette de Bodard”.

My first Xuya book was The Tea Master and the Detective, which, in my review, i mentioned needing to get up to speed on all things Xuya and mind ships, and Starsong is where all the mind ship things begin.

So we have ships and pilots, the pilots of these ships have some kind of implants — neural shunts — that allows their minds to plug directly into the ship’s systems and thus fly the ships, but, they remain separate, a ship and a pilot.   However, this story begins with the ship telling us that the pilot has just got in and connected and the safeguard’s and barriers have failed, the pilot’s neural shunts have been overwhelmed and engulfed by the ship’s systems, melding pilot and ship into one being.

The pilot, who one moment is a whole and separate being, is now no longer, lost in the new embrace of this completely new being, drifting in the deep planes, listening to the starsong and able to travel wherever they chose simply by willing it.

And then we are thrown, back and forth, throughout this short story, between past and present and various characters.   It’s like the total cacophony of a full on psychotic episode:  which, i suppose, if we were suddenly joined as a mind ship without any warning, or prior knowledge, is exactly what our experience would be like.

I realise, from reviews i’ve read about other books with lots of temporal/spacial shifting going on, that some people really won’t like this book, but, that’s their loss.   Unfortunately, some people’s minds just aren’t up for this kind of trip into the “deep planes” and back again — several times over.   But for those of us whose minds are ready and who enjoy this sort of thing, this book is genius.

Yes, i got to the end, which also takes us back to the beginning, and i went straight back to the beginning and read the whole lot again — all in one sitting.

And that’s what’s so perfect about being able to write this as a short story (6141 words) and make it work: you can read the whole thing twice in one go and it’ll only take you up to novella length.   And being able to read it twice, so quickly, is really what makes this work.   So don’t throw it away when you find yourself adrift in the deep planes, set aside a couple of hours to read this and when you begin to feel a bit/lot lost, keep going, and when you get to the end the first time go right back to the beginning and dive straight back into the deep planes and read it all again.

Enjoy!

Lots more Xuya story reviews coming soon — i’m now a Xuya addict.

Aliette’s Page

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Butterfly, Falling at Dawn — Aliette de Bodard

And it’s back to “The Universe of Xuya” for another detective story.

Originally published in Interzone, then printed in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and then re-printed at International Speculative Fiction where you can read it for free.

Once again we’re in the heart of Xuya, and Xuyan society, but instead of an American detective we are now given a Mexica magistrate.   Once again, cultural tensions are played out as the Mexica people who are now living in Xuya are mostly refugees who fled Mexica during the civil war; and just like in real life, where we find immigrant communities we find a wide spectrum between the culturally conservative groups on one side, who do everything possible to maintain their old ways in the new land, and, on the other side, those who chose to leave their past completely behind and adopt the new land’s ways completely as their own: i think, for me at least, the exploration of this spectrum is what this story does best.

Our Mexica magistrate, the first non-Xuyan magistrate in Xuya, has been given a Mexica woman’s death to investigate and is forced to confront her own past, people and culture within this new land, a land in which she, and others, have tried to leave the past behind.

So as much as this story is another piece in Aliette’s alternative history of the world, it’s also a thought provoking look into the lives of those who have had to leave their homes and cultures behind and find a new future in a new and foreign land.

Once again, great writing, interesting characters, good pacing.

Lots more Xuya story reviews coming soon — yeah, i’m becoming an addict.

Aliette’s Page

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The Lost Xuyan Bride — Aliette de Bodard

Another novella that continues on from the previous two in building “The Universe of Xuya”.

You can read this at Aliette’s website.

This time we are taken into the heart of Xuya, and Xuyan society, where a young women has disappeared and her wealthy mother — who doesn’t want to get the Xuyan authorities involved — employs an American detective to find her.

So what we end up with is a rather good detective story that also gives the reader their first glimpse into the heart of Xuya and the cultural tensions between Xuya, America, Greater Mexica and their peoples.

I’m really enjoying Aliette’s style in how she is slowly building this alternative history of the world.   Not the usual, tedious, info dumps of some sci-fi writers, but each a delightful short story/novella each giving us a view of this history from a totally different perspective.

Once again, great writing, interesting characters, good pacing.   I’m also liking that this is not a series that you can just buy all the parts easily from Amazon, i’m very much liking that they’re scattered all around the internet and have to be found one at a time, it’s like a big puzzle.

I’ll be back with more Xuya reviews soon.

Aliette’s Page

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Fleeing Tezcatlipoca — Aliette de Bodard

And, so, further goes my journey into “The Universe of Xuya”.

The only place i could find this novella was at Space and Time magazine, where it made its appearance in the June 2010 edition.   So for $2.99 you get the whole magazine in PDF format, which worked very well on my Fire HD tablet.   I’ve no idea what the rest of the magazine is like as i haven’t read any of it, but its there for a future perusal should i find a few spare moments.

Anyways, onto the story.   We’re back in Greater Mexica, 4 years after the events in The Jaguar House, in Shadow.   This time we have a young couple who are being hunted by the Revered Speaker’s regime and we begin to learn more and more about Greater Mexica and Xuya as their attempt to escape to Xuya unfolds.

One thing i have to say about the few Xuya stories that i’ve read so far, is that Aliette doesn’t give the reader any respite at all.   Once you start reading you just get pulled along with the non-stop action and shenanigans, totally captured.   Great writing, great characters, great world/universe building going on.   The more i read the more i want to read.

More Xuya reviews coming very soon.

Aliette’s Page

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Annabel Scheme — Robin Sloan

So imagine a private investigator with an AI sidekick, our narrator, that goes along for the ride in the investigator’s earrings.

Imagine placing our private investigator and AI sidekick into a future San Francisco with quantum computers creating all sorts of bizarre temporal and spacial problems that need investigating.

And imagine finding a really good writer like Robin Sloan to write a really good novella about our pair of protagonists.

Then imagine that if you click on the picture of the book cover you’ll be magically transported to Robin’s website where you can download the PDF of this novella for free.

All that’s left to imagine is that someday soon Robin will write a sequel to this because it can’t just be left to end the way it did…

…WE WANT MORE!!!

Robin’s Page

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The Jaguar House, in Shadow — Aliette de Bodard

I recently came upon Aliette’s book, The Tea Master and the Detective, which i very much enjoyed, and, as i mentioned in that review, i was going to be reading more from Aliette in the future.

So off i went to Aliette’s website to find out more about The Universe of Xuya, and so began my hunt to track down each of these stories from years ago and hopefully read them all in chronological order.   Before beginning to read, or listen to, these books, it is best to go to that page and have a good read through the background to Xuya and bring yourself up to speed with how everything is in this alternative past/future that Aliette has created.

And so in The Jaguar House, in Shadow we begin our Xuya journey.   This story was originally printed in Asimov’s, July 2010 edition, and if you feel inclined i’m sure you can go and buy a second hand copy at your usual second hand places.   Or, instead, you could simply listen to the audio book at StarShipSofa.

If you want to skip all the intro stuff just skip through to 23:58, where the story begins.   The narration is by Morag Edwards and it is absolutely delightful and gives the story a wonderful other worldly quality.   Admittedly, i listened to this in bed, in the pitch dark with the speaker just above my head, and i fully recommend everyone in the whole wide world giving this a go.

Even if you’re not into doing the whole Xuya thing, this is delightful audio book that is soooo well worth a listen simply for its own sake.

I shall now hunt down some more Xuya books and report back as soon as.

Aliette’s Page

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Wasteland — Joseph R. Lallo

A fun post-apocalyptic short story.   Nothing gorey or nasty, i would even say it’s suitable for children.

Originally only available to Joseph’s Patreon subscribers but now also in the collection Paradoxes and Dragons.

Joseph’s Page

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