“The Moon Over Red Trees” up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies


My colonial Indochina story “The Moon over Red Trees” is up at Beneath Ceaseless Skies: you can read it here. This is something of a departure for me: I haven’t done historical fantasy in a while, especially not in that time period. Would be very happy to hear what you think.

I’ve updated the story page of “The Moon Over Red Trees” with copious author notes: go here, though they’re spoiler-filled and better read after the story.


  1. testing whether the spam filter keeps blocking me (apologies if I can’t edit/delete afterwards)

  2. For whatever it’s worth, here’s what I think:
    I was first struck by the imagery and elegance of the prose. I haven’t read everything you’ve written and I don’t have such a good memory but I can’t remember offhand something else you’ve written on that level.
    But as I was reaching the end, I started to feel the story was kind of lightweight. It don’t think it has the seriousness and depth of meaning as stories like The Weight of a Blessing. Looking back on the story, I don’t see a genuine moral conflict in it. One problem in my opinion was that the French guy seems to have had little to recommend him and so, because I didn’t feel the way the main characters tells us she felt about their relationship, I wasn’t emotionally conflicted by the outcome of the story. Another problem was that the main character has little agency within the confines of the actual story which kind of glosses over the parts which could have made it meatier: the choice is a brief flashback, the motivation of the supernatural protagonist(s) remain mysterious and there’s only vague anticipation about the price her society would make her pay. Of course none of these choices is a problem as such but combined, I think they cause the story to feel underdeveloped. Worse: combined with the way the French are portrayed, they make the story politically less nuanced than many of your stories featuring imperialism.
    Disclaimer: my opinions are often violently at variance with those of whoever votes for the proeminent genre awards. I’m not a fan of The Waiting Stars for instance.

  3. @Outis: ah-ha, glad the comment system is working. And thank you for your feedback! I agree; the story is very short, and I tried to cram a lot into it, which means that a lot of things ended up underdeveloped (the price that society would make her pay being one). I think Raoul is actually pretty nuanced, all things considered–but that’s because I’ve been reading a lot of colonial history that, even in its remote and nuanced state, makes the colonists really seem worse (I have a book I’m still sitting on, because reading it makes me sick at heart).

    (“The Weight of a Blessing” is a story I was a bit disappointed didn’t get more traction, to be honest. But I understand that while the politics were more complex, there wasn’t a lot that made it SF, and therefore likely to appeal to the awards voters. It was more a personal story of what it could mean to grow up under imperialism. Didn’t think it was particularly subtle though–I’m glad you disagree ^^)

  4. I’m afraid I don’t actually disagree about that. 🙂 Subtle is not the word I’d use to describe The Weight of a Blessing. But if you want a disagreement, I think there’s more to it than growing up under imperialism. That’s been done many times elsewhere and so it’s not what I remember the story for. Unlike in The Moon Over Red Trees, the problem imperialism didn’t cause is central to the story.

    The problem with Raoul in my opinion isn’t that he’s not realistic as a colonist. Of course the average colonist would make us sick. But I think the story was so focused on him that an even more exceptional colonist would have been called for (or a somewhat different focus).

  5. Ha, OK, fair enough, thanks for the clarification! I was going for “average colonist”, but I agree in a piece this short it doesn’t work very smoothly.
    (would be quite curious to know what you remember about “The Weight of a Blessing”, too?)

  6. With fantasy stories, I tend to focus on the device(s) that distinguishes the story from one set in a mundane setting. In that case, the VR and the software versions of the ancestors. VR as such has become unremarkable by now and even software versions of the dead have become fairly common in SF. But what’s remarkable about your stories as opposed to the other ones I’ve read using such a device is how it meshes with an East Asian type of ancestor cult.
    And what I remember as being specific to The Weight of a Blessing in particular is how problematic people’s relationship with their software ancestors were. I got the feeling that it was deeply unsatisfying and even got a sense of menace. Of course imperialism was part of the problem, and that made the story interesting. And since the problem must have been exaggerated by the authorities I don’t know how bad it really was. But I didn’t assume the authorties were the whole problem. The way these characters wanted to rely on their ancestors struck me as seriously unhealthy. That may well be my bias since my take on ancestor cults (whether explicit or not) is somewhat similar to Marx’s take on capital (I’m using this inadequate shortcut to avoid writing a small essay). In any case, the story happend to touch on some of my concerns.
    So I read the matter of the ancestor “firewalls”, “infection” and so forth as a reification fantasy which is to say the use of a fantasy device to explore reifications that we observe in our world’s cultures by taking them at face value (Metropolitan by WJW would be a stark example of this type of fantasy).

    Aside from the fantasy device, I figured the story as being more about grownup politics of integration, identity politics and direct action within oppressed minorities than about growing up under imperialism.
    What was nicely done was that context is progressively revealed and changes the reader’s take on what is happening. You also wrote characters with clashing opinions which all ended up seeming genuine and sensible considering their particular backgrounds.

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