Aliette de Bodard is up for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Author, as part of the Hugo Awards; this is her second year of eligibility. She’s an author that most of us probably haven’t heard of, especially book reviewers like me, being that she writes short stories. As much as I love short-story collections, she doesn’t have a compilation published (yet), being that she’s only been publishing for two or three years. She lives in Paris, although she has American citizenship; she’s half Vietnamese by heritage and speaks English as a first language. By day she works as an engineer; by night, she’s an expert on Meso-American mythology and culture. Here’s a link to her bibliography page; it contains links to all of her short stories that are available for free on the internet.
The titles of the stories that I reviewed are as follows, with a short description:
“Autumn’s Country” (Asian-set story about arranged marriages and the possible results)
“The Dancer’s Gift” (Dark secondary-world fantasy about destructive empathy)
“Through the Obsidian Gates” (Sort of an Orpheus-in-the-Underworld story, but with Mayans)
“Obsidian Shards” (Aztec death priest fights crime!)
“The Lost Xuyan Bride” (Alternate-history Dashiell-Hammett type mystery)
“The Dragon’s Tears” (Asian-set death, riddles, and [obviously] dragons story)
“Beneath the Mask” (Aztec death priest fights more crime!)
“Sea Child” (Secondary-world fantasy with high cliffs and dangerous waters)
“The Naming at the Pool” (Different secondary-world fantasy, with different riddles and changes of identity)
“Weepers and Ragers” (Future-set science fiction with melting brains and murder)
“For a Daughter” (Literary flash fiction about China’s one-child policy)
“Citadel of Cobras” (Hermits, forests, and magic)
“The Triad’s Gift” (Novella-length story about riddles, losing one’s kingdom, and nagas)
The first story I read was “Autumn’s Country,” and while it was interesting, I wasn’t that enthralled. I read on, though, and discovered her Aztec stories. The main character of these tales is Acatl, a death priest, who somehow gets roped into investigating crimes. I love what are essentially gumshoe tales set in fantasy lands (some of Terry Pratchett’s qualify, as well as Tamara Siler Jones’s Dubric Byerly novels), and this was, in addition to being a mystery, a great fantasy land. I don’t think that Central and South America have been mined nearly enough for fantasy. Not only does Ms. de Bodard make great use of it as a historical kind of world in this story, but she uses the trappings of the empire to make a more current fantasy story.
That story (“The Lost Xuyan Bride”) is set in an alternate reality where China, Europe, and the Aztec empire (called Mexica) share North America. the Europeans (“Americans”) have the eastern chunk, the Chinese (the Xuyans) have west of the Rockies, and the Mexicans have the south. There’s a great deal of xenophobia, especially the Americans; the main character had the misfortune to fall in love with a Xuyan woman, and he was nearly put in jail for it. This story is also a detective tale; it starts out with the traditional beautiful woman coming into the office to ask for help, and the private investigator almost refusing the case. It’s a little longer than some of her other stories, and probably the best of them so far. Her website indicates that she will be publishing many more stories in this world, and I look forward to it.
The other stories have various settings which, while all quite detailed and impressive, are perhaps not quite as appealing to me as her alternate reality. I do admire her breadth of settings, and if she were to choose to write a novel, I very much hope it would be set in the alternate reality. However, if she continues writing short stories, I would not be in the least disappointed. Her character types are rich, as well — while most of her main characters seem to be male, they aren’t one-dimensional in the least, and most aren’t even the least bit similar to each other. Even the detectives don’t resemble one another at all. In short, I’d recommend searching out her works, and I very much hope that she wins the Campbell, so a publisher will take a chance and put out a collection of her short works. 4.5/5 stars for the group.