Aliette de Bodard, The Tea Master and the Detective (Subterranean Press)
Reviewed by Ali Baker as part of our 2018 Round-Up.
I have admired Aliette de Bodard’s writing since I was given a copy of Servant of the Underworld close to nine years ago. That novel and its sequels are fantasy mysteries featuring Aztec high priest of the dead Acatl, as he solves crimes that affect the balance between the mortal realm and the supernatural realm. De Bodard’s Dominion of the Fallen series is urban Gothic fantasy set in Paris after a magical war. Both of these series feature both full-length novels and shorter works. Her Xuya fiction, however, is all shorter works, including The Tea Master and the Detective, a stand-alone novella set in a far future world (Xuya) where China and Vietnam are global powers.
This novella is an ideal starting point for new readers, as it does not need a great deal of knowledge about the Xuya universe. It is another mystery story, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, where Holmes is the scholar and scientist Long Chau, and Watson is the sentient mindship The Shadow’s Child. Like Watson, The Shadow’s Child is a military veteran, surviving the aftermath of a harrowing conflict. She barely makes a living blending brews to help people cope with the pain of existing in deep space. Into her shop comes Long Chau with a proposition: she needs to collect a corpse floating in space, for research purposes. Reluctantly The Shadow’s Child agrees to help Long Chau — after all, the rent is due — and the two travel to deep space, both facing their traumatic pasts.
De Bodard’s worldbuilding is beautifully rendered, from the ingredients of the brews that The Shadow’s Child creates to the technology of the Xuya universe. This novella is a wonderful jumping off point for readers new to De Bodard’s science fiction, who have some treasures ahead.
Ali Baker is a lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at the University of East London and a researcher in children’s fantasy literature. She is the Programme Chair of Eastercon 2019, Ytterbiumcon.
The Science Fiction Foundation and the British Science Fiction Association invite you to attend their Mini-Convention and Annual General Meetings
Saturday, 9 June 2012
with Guests of Honour Aliette de Bodard and Marek Kukula
Location: The Royal Astronomical Society, Burlington House, on Piccadilly, in London. W1J 0BQ. Halfway between Piccadilly Circus and Green Park stations, on the north side of the street.
AGMs: The SFF AGM will take place at noon, the BSFA AGM at 1:45 pm.
The winners of the BSFA Awards for the best works published in 2010 were awarded at Eastercon on Saturday night in a ceremony hosted by Paul Cornell, assisted by hard-working BSFA Award Administrator, Donna Scott.
Best Novel: The Dervish House, Ian McDonald
Best Short Story: “The Shipmaker“, Aliette de Bodard (PDF)
Best Non-Fiction: “Blogging the Hugos” at Big Other, Paul Kincaid (Part 1)
Best Artwork: Cover for Zoo City, Joey Hi-Fi
Thank you to everyone who nominated and voted, and congratulations to the winners!
The BSFA is pleased to announce the shortlisted nominees for the 2010 BSFA Awards.
The nominees are:
Paolo Bacigalupi – The Windup Girl (Orbit)
Lauren Beukes – Zoo City (Angry Robot)
Ken Macleod – The Restoration Game (Orbit)
Ian McDonald – The Dervish House (Gollancz)
Tricia Sullivan – Lightborn (Orbit)
Best Short Fiction
Nina Allan – ‘Flying in the Face of God’ – Interzone 227, TTA Press.
Aliette de Bodard – ‘The Shipmaker’– Interzone 231, TTA Press.
Peter Watts – ‘The Things’ – Clarkesworld 40
Neil Williamson – ‘Arrhythmia’ – Music for Another World, Mutation Press
Paul Kincaid – Blogging the Hugos: Decline, Big Other
Abigail Nussbaum – Review, With Both Feet in the Clouds, Asking the Wrong Questions Blogspot
Adam Roberts – Review, Wheel of Time, Punkadiddle
Francis Spufford – Red Plenty (Faber and Faber)
Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe – the Notes from Coode Street Podcast
Andy Bigwood – cover for Conflicts (Newcon Press)
Charlie Harbour – cover for Fun With Rainbows by Gareth Owens (Immersion Press)
Dominic Harman – cover for The Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Gollancz)
Joey Hi-Fi – cover for Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot)
Ben Greene – ‘A Deafened Plea for Peace’, cover for Crossed Genres 21
Adam Tredowski – cover for Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer (Corvus)
The BSFA Awards Administrator will shortly make a voting form available for members of the BSFA and this year’s Eastercon, who will be able to send advance votes based on the above shortlists. Advance votes must be received by Monday 18th April. After this date, ballot boxes will be made available at Illustrious – the Eastercon Convention taking place at the Hilton Metropole in Birmingham. The ballots will close at Midday on Saturday April 23rd and the winners will be announced at a ceremony hosted that evening at the convention.
Congratulations to all of the nominees!
P.S. Voting details are here.
After the precision of Allan, this inevitably feels baggy, and the first half of the story is routine: woman impregnated by goddess; husband doesn’t understand, blames her; she turns to a friend (that she knows has feelings for her); he agrees to help her visit the goddess. There is a novel note in this — the unborn baby is diagnosed with a congenital heart defect — which is nicely paid off later, symptomatic of the story’s generally more interesting final third. The characters reach Ys, the city of the goddess:
Ys is a dead city. No, worse than that: the husk of a city, long since deserted by both the dead and the living. But it hums with power, with an insistent beat that seeps through the soles of Francoise’s shoes, with a rhythm that is the roar of the waves and the voice of the storm — and also a lament for all the lives lost to the ocean. As she walks, the rhythm penetrates deeper into her body, insinuating itself into her womb until it mingles with her baby’s heartbeat.
This dredging of the story’s subtext to the surface, and the image of a barren goddess — driven to create life, but unable to sustain it — does linger, beyond a final confrontation that starts to surrender potency to long-windedness. But I don’t think it’s enough.