SSR Extra: An Interview with Aliette de Bodard

In honor of this year’s Hugos — and my excitement at attending WorldCon for the first time — I am publishing interviews with the three writers nominated for Best Short Story; a few weeks ago I featured a brief interview with Ken Liu. Today I’m featuring my interview with Aliette de Bodard, author of “Immersion” (reviewed as part of my Hugo Awards Post).

Aliette de Bodard’s stories have appeared in magazines such as Interzone, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. She won this year’s Nebula for “Immersion,” which has also been nominated for the Locus Awards and the Sturgeon Award. Her Aztec mystery-fantasy novels, the Obsidian and Blood series, were published by Angry Robot. On her website, she states that she “lives in Paris with her husband, in a flat with more computers than warm bodies, and a bunch of Lovecraftian plants that are steadily taking over the living room.”

with more computers than warm bodies, and a bunch of Lovecraftian plants that are steadily taking over the living room. – See more at: http://aliettedebodard.com/biography/#sthash.1IIL5Voq.dpuf

Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts, are published by Angry Robot, worldwide. – See more at: http://aliettedebodard.com/#sthash.vZbkuufC.dpuf

Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts, are published by Angry Robot, worldwide. – See more at: http://aliettedebodard.com/#sthash.vZbkuufC.dpuf

Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts, are published by Angry Robot, worldwide. – See more at: http://aliettedebodard.com/#sthash.vZbkuufC.dpuf

Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts, are published by Angry Robot, worldwide. – See more at: http://aliettedebodard.com/#sthash.vZbkuufC.dpuf

Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts, are published by Angry Robot, worldwide. – See more at: http://aliettedebodard.com/#sthash.vZbkuufC.dpuf

Her Aztec mystery-fantasies, Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts, are published by Angry Robot, worldwide. – See more at: http://aliettedebodard.com/#sthash.vZbkuufC.dpuf

Her Aztec mystery-fantasies, Servant of the Underworld, Harbinger of the Storm, and Master of the House of Darts, are published by Angry Robot, worldwide. – See more at: http://aliettedebodard.com/#sthash.vZbkuufC.dpuf

Short Story Review: Tell me about your short stories.

Aliette de Bodard: I write character-driven science fiction, a lot of which is set in non-Western settings. I draw inspirations from myths, legends, and the odd smattering of science in order to explore other cultures in space and the different uses they’d find for technology. Most of my SF is set in the recurring universe of Xuya, an alternate history where China has become the dominant spacefaring culture, and biological constructs known as Minds have revolutionized space travel as well as familial structures.

Short Story Review: What is one of your favorite stories you have written and why?

Aliette de Bodard: The one I really like is my novella “On a Red Station, Drifting”: I started it as a homage to the Chinese Classic Dream of Red Mansions, meaning to carry over its domestic focus into space; and it mutated into a long meditation on what war means to those who stay at home, on the different significations of honour and familial loyalty. It wasn’t an easy thing to write, but I’m very glad that I finished it, and that the reaction to it has been so positive.

Short Story Review: Are there stories you’ve published, perhaps earlier in your career, that you would change, if you could?

Aliette de Bodard: Ha, quite probably! There’s always that moment of staring at the screen and marveling at how far I’ve come. I was much less aware of problematic tropes and bad representation of minorities when I started writing, and it shows in a few of my early stories (not to mention the ones where I cheerfully mangled the Chinese language through sheer ignorance…).

Short Story Review: How do you write stories? Do you edit extensively? Do you write so much per day?

Aliette de Bodard: I am a very irregular writer: I tend to brainstorm extensively before I write even one word of the draft. This enables me to save on editing time, because I produce relatively clean drafts (there are exceptions of course, and stories I’ve had to take apart in order to make them work). I don’t write so much per day when writing short stories: it’s more irregular bursts of activity when I have time to spare. For instance, it took me three weeks to brainstorm “Immersion”, but only about two days to write the first draft, and then a week or so to complete edits after I got feedback from my beta readers.

(Novels are different beasts though; I’ll make efforts to write something on a novel every day, or I’ll lose momentum).

Short Story Review: What themes and subjects do you find yourself drawn to? Why do you think you’re drawn to these subjects?

Aliette de Bodard: It really depends on what I’m writing, but the themes I’ve focused on lately have been the meaning of familial bonds–how they function and how they are stressed, and what gets passed from one generation to the next and how its meaning shifts. I suppose a lot of it is down to my personal history (I come from two cultures where family is really important), and to familial history (my maternal family immigrated to France, so a lot of my focus is on identity, assimilation, and the shift from the first generations of immigrants to the later ones who have never really known the home country other than through brief holidays).

Short Story Review: What do you have coming out, and what can you tell us about these stories?

Aliette de Bodard: I have a novelette, “Memorials”, coming out in Asimov’s, which is a complement to “The Weight of a Blessing” (a story published in Clarkesworld March 2013). It deals with war refugees, the appropriation of their experience by the local culture, and how a troubled young woman makes her way through life in the absence of familiar guidance.

My story “A Slow Unfurling of Truth” will be out in Ben Bova’s and Eric Choi’s Carbide-Tipped Pens. It’s set in a society where people change bodies like you change haircuts, and where specialised teams of authenticators use statistical analysis in order to make sure people are who they say they are. My main character is one of those authenticators, and has to deal with the difficult problem of identifying a man who has been absent from that society for twenty years…

Short Story Review: What are your favorite short story magazines?

Aliette de Bodard: I read a lot of magazines, and I like them all–they’ve got different preferences and different kinds of stories. My current favourites are Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons (I like their fiction, but it’s their non-fiction articles and reviews that keep me coming back to them), and Interzone, which has great fiction by authors you don’t necessarily see elsewhere (and nifty illustrations!).

Short Story Review: Who are your favorite short story writers?

Aliette de Bodard: Ken Liu, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Zen Cho, Benjanun Sriduangkaew.

Short Story Review: What are five of your favorite short stories (by other writers)?

Aliette de Bodard: “The Man Who Ended History: a Documentary” by Ken Liu is a poignant look at the meaning of history, and how the descendants of those involved in atrocities come to terms with what happened.

Zen Cho’s “House of Aunts” is a hilarious and bittersweet take on Malaysian vampires, and is about a teenage girl who becomes a vampire and has to navigate school, her growing attraction to a classmate, and her impossible aunts.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz’s “Dancing in the Shadow of the Once” is a really sharp look at the use of colonised people as commodities, and how even “charity” causes can become humiliating; it’s also a beautiful meditation on what coming home means when you no longer have a home of our own.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s “Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon” is a lovely retelling of the legend of Chang’e and Houyi (the goddess of the moon and the archer who killed the nine suns in Ancient China), in which both main characters are women. It’s a great piece of feminism, as well as having some of the most beautiful language I’ve ever read.

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