Aliette de Bodard’s Novella, On a Red Station Drifting (Immersion Press, 2012) has been the recipient of much critical acclaim. It has appeared on the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2012, and is a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards for Best Novella. You can read Weng’s review, right here.
Q: One of the themes that runs through On A Red Station Drifting is that of family. It’s also a theme that recurs in your short fiction. How important was it to you include family in your work and what was your source of inspiration for the conflict between your Linh and Quyen?
Family has always been important to me, and that’s why it’s a recurring theme in my fiction. With On a Red Station Drifting, I was trying to write a space-based novella that would have family as its primary focus, instead of war exploits or military doings. The source of inspiration for the conflict between the two main characters came naturally from the universe they were moving in : it’s a place where two different sources of power are contrasted – the one wielded by scholars, and the more domestic one of the lesser spouses. The scholarly power was held to be the dominant one, so it makes sense to have a character who was a scholar but had lost that power, and to contrast her with one of the lesser spouses, who had gained in power because of the war. That put them on a sort of equal footing, and also created tensions on both ends without my having to do much of anything at all!
Q: You continue to produce a prodigious amount of work. You’re a prolific writer of short fiction, you’re working on your novels, and you also write criticism and commentary. At the same time, you also have a dayjob. How do you balance all of these? When do you write?
Mostly I write when I can! It’s not easy to balance all of that but I’ve had a lot of practice. I’m mostly unable to balance anything else with the writing of a novel, so I have to plan for this in advance. I write mostly in the evenings, on weekends and pretty much during any chunk of spare time I can grab.
Q: On your blog, you write and post regularly about food. Out of the dishes you’ve posted about, which one is your favorite?
This is a bit like choosing your favourite child, isn’t it? I like you different dishes at different times and in different moods (and my absolute favourite dishes are actually quite simple and not worthy of posting, like shrimp with white rice or pan-fried fish with just a drizzle of nuoc mam). If I really had to pick a favourite, it would be the bi cuon (pork and rind rolls). I’m a latecomer to it, but there’s something about the mixture of the meat, the fish-mint (diếp cá) and red perilla, all plunged into a simple dipping sauce, that’s simply heavenly.
(of course there’s phở, but phở is darn hard and darn long to make at home, and it’s simpler to go to a restaurant for that…)
Q: It’s been said that food and emotions are connected. What dishes have an emotional connection for you? And if it’s not too personal, is there a story behind it?
A lot of dishes have emotional connections for me, because they bring back memories from my childhood. For instance, noodle soup with xá xíu (barbecued pork) always reminds me of the small Chinese restaurant where we’d go to eat with my mother, and the steps of Maubert Mutualité, where my sister and I would play in the sun while Mum did her shopping in the nearby Vietnamese grocery.
Similarly, chả lụa (Vietnamese ham/paté/mortadelle) sliced in sticks and put in a baguette brings back tons of memories, because it was the sandwiches we’d have before leaving on holidays for Brittany or my grandparents’ house.
Q: Since we’re talking about food, if Linh were to visit your home, what dish would you serve her? What about Quyen?
I will cheat here, and just pick a single dish instead of the 3-4 I should be picking for a proper Vietnamese meal! (I’ll just pick a “savoury” dish, and leave my cook to handle the headache of picking other savoury dishes, the vegetables and the matching soup).
If Linh visited my home, I would go for something very refined, possibly an allusion either to her name or her achievement, to make clear that she was a welcome guest under my roof. It would be a time consuming and upmarket dish made with the best ingredients. However, it would also have to be something that I can cook, which excludes stuff like Jade under the Mountain (wonderful dish involving a mound of rice that used to be a mainstay at weddings, I’m not sure if it’s still the case in modern Vietnam). A compromise would probably be homemade xá xíu, which has the advantage of being a Chinese dish, therefore likely to appeal to Linh in a universe where China is the cultural reference (especially for magistrates). Cut in small slices and served with cooked shrimps and bánh hỏi (thin rectagular slices of rice vermicelli), and topped with scallion rings: the final dish would brought to the table as a circle with the meat in the centre, the shrimps around it, and the bánh hỏi in a third ring. It would look stylish and impressive.
Quyen, I think, would be more impressed by simple dishes done well, rather than ostentatious things: I would serve her a simple steamed seabass (with shallots and maybe a few tomatoes) topped with a classic dipping sauce, to better bring out the flavour of the fish.
Q: If you were given a choice to have one of your stories realized as a film, which one would you choose and why?
My pick would probably be “Scattered along the River of Heaven” : it’s one of my favourite stories, dealing with a number of themes that are very important to me, and I think the entwined story lines would make for a very interesting and arresting visual treatment – the bots in particular, but also the poetry which I wrote with reading aloud in mind. It would probably go way over budget, though!
Q: Tell us a bit about what you’re working on now?
I am currently working on a post-apocalyptic urban fantasy set in Paris; but in a very different version of Paris, where fallen angels hold power and where the colonial empire still exists. The novel follows the fortunes of three very different characters : one of the most powerful Fallen, a grieving alchemist with a drug addiction, and a former Vietnamese Immortal, in exile after a events roughly similar to World War One. And of course there’s additional magic, murder and mayhem!
Q: Where can we find you on the internet?
My website is at aliettedebodard.com, and my twitter handle is aliettedb
We hope you enjoyed reading this interview. Please do take the time to check out more of Aliette’s work.