Category: free fiction

As the Wheel Turns in Lightspeed Magazine


As the Wheel TurnsAs part of the promotion for the launch of John Joseph Adams’ EPIC anthology (more info here), you can now read my short story “As the Wheel Turns” (associated author interview is here). This is, er, another instance of a time machine story–written well over 4-5 years ago and in a style that I don’t think I could reproduce now, even if I tried. But hey, it got me into an anthology with Ursula Le Guin and Kate Elliott!

In case you’re wondering, I wrote this by drawing on the stories I read/was told as a child–it’s not strictly accurate historical China so much as a fairytale version of it, coupled with my misunderstanding a couple of things because I was very young when I heard said stories (and also the fact that Chinese culture != Vietnamese culture, though they of course share a bunch of common tropes/myths/etc.). But I still have a fondness for the story; it’s not every day you get to write a story with multiple reincarnations of the protagonist. Do tell me what you think of it.

(if you were at WFC, this is the story I read the first third from at the EPIC group reading–I know some people asked me if they could find it elsewhere, and I apologise for completely blanking on the fact that Lightspeed was going to reprint it…)

In the Tenth Court of Hell stands the Wheel of Rebirth.

Its spokes are of red lacquered wood; it creaks as demons pull it, dragging its load of souls back into the world.

And before the Wheel stands the Lady.

Every soul who goes to the Wheel must endure her gaze. Every soul must stop by her, and take from her pale hands the celadon cup, and drink.

The drink is herbs gathered from the surfaces of ponds, tears taken from the eyes of children, scales shed from old, wise dragons. To drink is to forget, for no soul can come back into the world remembering past lives, or the punishments meted out to it within the other Courts of Hell.

No soul.

Save one.

Read more.

“Heaven Under Earth” at Electric Velocipede


My story “Heaven Under Earth” is up at Electric Velocipede:

Husband’s new spouse is brought home in a hovering palanquin decked with red lanterns, its curtains displaying images of mandarin ducks and kingfishers—the symbols of a happy marriage.

First Spouse Liang Pao has gathered the whole household by the high gate, from the stewards to the cooks, from the lower spouses to their valets. He’s standing slightly behind Husband, with his head held high, with pins of platinum holding his immaculate topknot in place—in spite of the fact that he’s been unable to sleep all night. The baby wouldn’t stop kicking within his womb, and the regulators in his blood disgorged a steady stream of yin-humours to calm him down. He’s slightly nauseous, as when he’s had too much rice wine to drink—and he wonders why they never get easier, these carryings.

Check it out here, and tell me what you think.

Author’s notes forthcoming Thursday or Friday, depending how much free time I have.

Electric Velocipede is also having a kickstarter to fund their next year of online fiction, here: if you want to support quirky online fiction, this is the place!

ETA: edited this slightly to save my comments on the story for the author’s notes.

“Immersion” published in Clarkesworld


And you can now read my story “Immersion” at Clarkesworld. This is the rant against globalisation, tourism and cultural imperialism that I wrote in a single sitting (but after 3 weeks of intense reflexion 🙂 )

It’s dedicated to the awesome writer and friend Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, without whom this story wouldn’t have come to be (and I also owe massive thanks to her for suggesting I flesh out Quy a little bit more). Thanks are owed also to Glen Mehn, who volunteered to read it in spite of my warning that it was unkind to white men [1]; and to the Villa Diodati crew: Ruth Nestvold, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, Floris M Kleijne, Stephen Gaskell, John Olsen, Nancy Fulda.

It’s, er, another of those ambitious pieces where I’m unsure if I succeeded or fell flat on my face; if you have a minute to read it and comment, I would love feedback on how it strikes you.

In the morning, you’re no longer quite sure who you are.

You stand in front of the mirror—it shifts and trembles, reflecting only what you want to see—eyes that feel too wide, skin that feels too pale, an odd, distant smell wafting from the compartment’s ambient system that is neither incense nor garlic, but something else, something elusive that you once knew.

You’re dressed, already—not on your skin, but outside, where it matters, your avatar sporting blue and black and gold, the stylish clothes of a well-travelled, well-connected woman. For a moment, as you turn away from the mirror, the glass shimmers out of focus; and another woman in a dull silk gown stares back at you: smaller, squatter and in every way diminished—a stranger, a distant memory that has ceased to have any meaning.

Read the rest at Clarkesworld!

The issue also includes fabulous writers E. Catherine Tobler, An Owomoyela, and non-fiction by VD co-conspirator Stephen Gaskell, Daniel Abraham and Jeremy L C Jones. Quite an impressive lineup!

[1] I mean, it does contain the line “their faces an unhealthy shade of pink, like undercooked meat left too long in the sun” 😀 😀

Heads-up: InterGalactic Medicine Show Awards anthology


Just a heads-up that the Intergalactic Medicine Show Awards Anthology is free on Kindle this weekend, and that it includes stories by Peter Beagle, Eugie Foster, James Maxey, Marie Brennan, Eric James Stone, Jason Sanford, and many many more awesome writers (and also my story “Horus Ascending”, about a sundered AI and a dying colony).

You can download it here (I can’t see every amazon country, but it looks like it’s free in France, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this promotion was valid in every amazon country).

Weekend brief update


Sorry for the radio silence, I wish I could say the week has been productive, but mostly I’ve been going on too little sleep, with very little coherence as a result…

To tide you over into the weekend, have an online story: “The Heartless Light of Stars” over at Daily Science Fiction, aka the Sài Gòn story, and last of my contribution to the Numbers Quartet (but there’ll still be Nebula Award nominee Nancy Fulda’s awesome “Godshift” to round off the sequence).

Meanwhile, I’ll be off to brainstorm more Jade in Chains, which has morphed into Thick Waters considering the way the story is developping (yeah, the whole “blood is thicker than water” thing, and a few other clever allusions in there. I’m going to need to research the history of the Seine a bit). It’s occurred to me, reading stuff over the week (two of Kameron Hurley’s awesome posts on Gender Equality, in addition to her novel God’s War, which messes with your head in all the right way, and one from Requires Only That You Hate on female strength in popular UF series), that one of the reasons I’m having trouble with this book is that I’m trying to fit in a typical UF narrative with, er, someone that’s not best suited to it? My MC’s main reaction to anything is unlikely to be ass-kicking, and she’s not very much the lonely vigilante type either. It occurs to me I need a new plot, or a new MC. Or both…

New fiction, offline and online


So, I haven’t posted a lot about this, but Daily SF is running The Numbers Quartet, the series of flashes Nancy Fulda, Stephen Gaskell, Benjamin Rosenbaum and I wrote–basing ourselves on physical and mathematical constants such as pi, infinity, the speed of light… The stories are going up one at a time until March 28th (they’re also available via email to subscribers a week early, and subscribing is free). You can check them out here.

My first two pieces are up, respectively set in Hà Nội (the exponential “e”) and Huế (Boltzmann’s constant “k”). The last story, “The Heartless Light of Stars”, which is based on the speed of light “c” and set in Sài Gòn, will be available March 14th to DSF subscribers (and will be up on March 21st on the DSF website).
“Worlds like a Hundred Thousand Pearls”
“The Princess of the Perfume River”

And you will also be able to find my short story “A Dance of Life and Dust” in Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke, aka crazy second-person present tense written in the point of view of an AI in a futuristic London. Here‘s the complete TOC, and that of the supplementary chapbook, Fire–it all includes stories by Lavie Tidhar, Kaaron Warren, Adam Roberts, and Harry Markov. This is the one I workshopped on OWW in a bit of a hurry: many thanks to Oliver Buckram, Brent Smith, Larry Pinaire, Hugo Xiong, and Christine Lucas for their input!


At first, you make it easy for yourself. You possess a member of a clade on the outskirts, away from the dark, looming presence of the London Mind. You barely have to stretch yourself: the clade’s small village is halfway to your boundaries, and your ride–a woman named nDevan323–shares genetic material with the last Receptive you’ve colonised. As you slip into her bloodstreams, assimilating nanite after nanite, you taste familiar code, with the slightly acrid aftertaste of decay – the never-ending fight of the immune system against cancerous, decaying cells, the hundred infections dormant in the body, awaiting the smallest of nudges to unfold in dark, grim coronas within muscles and flesh and bone.

Ye obligatory eligibility post, plus asking for story recommendations


So, since everyone is doing it, the obligatory awards eligibility post…

I only published three original pieces of short fiction this year, and of these the one that has the most visibility is this one (it got noticed in Rich Horton’s year-end summary of Asimov’s, among other things):

-“Shipbirth”, published in the February 2011 issue of Asimov’s, best described as “Aztecs in space”. Eligible in the short story category. If you’re interested, I’ve put it online here (it’s in EPUB and MOBI format as well, for ereaders).

On a not-so-selfish note, meanwhile, here’s the stuff I read this year that was awesome:
Short stories:
-Nancy Fulda, “Movement” (Asimov’s March issue). OK, I’m biased. I read an early draft of this and loved it. But Lois Tilton and Jason Sanford also think it’s a great story, so I’m not the only one. It’s in the point of view of a child with temporal autism and a unique outlook on life–but what happens when her parents want to cure her of her “disease”?
-Yoon Ha Lee, “Ghostweight” (Clarkesworld, January 2011). I’m a big Yoon Ha Lee fan, and this story is awesome. It’s about a woman (and an entire people) who carry the souls of the dead, and how far she’s willing to go to get revenge against the empire that destroyed her home. It’s also about origami, and war-kites, and change. Wonderful from beginning to end.
-Ferrett Steimetz, “Run, Bacri Says” (Asimov’s October 2011). The premise is goofy (what if you could save your life like in videogames, and then rewind to the save point); the story is anything but, taking the reader along with it, and raising hard questions about the worth of actions. Good, in a very disturbing kind of way. And also recommended by Lois Tilton.
-Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, “Return to Paraiso” (Realms of Fantasy, October 2011). A wonderful piece, set in a fantastical version of the Philippines, with a rebel returning to her home in a cage, and the effect she has on the community. Chockful of detail, with a strong voice reminiscent of the best magical realists. Track it online and read it, you won’t regret it. Plus, it has an awesome illustration.

-“The Man Who Ended History: a Documentary”, Ken Liu (available online here at Ken’s website, originally published in Panverse Three). Ken had a lot of very good stories this year, but this one is my favourite (narrow tie between this and “Paper Menagerie in F&SF, though). It deals with a novel method of observing history–about what this means for memory, for the victims of atrocities and their descendants, and for history as a discipline. It’s a harrowing look at a dark episode in the history of Asia, too, and will definitely make you think.

Zoo City, Lauren Beukes. It won the Clarke Award, and deservedly so–a rich thriller set in a world where criminals acquire an animal familiar who gives them supernatural power, the novel follows Zinzi December through Johannesburg and the titular slum–and her attempts to make sense of the mysterious disappearance of a singer. Bursting at the seams with wonderful world-building and a sharp eye for details and voice, this should make final ballots if there’s any justice.

-Zen Cho (qian on LJ) is eligible for the Campbell! You should totally read her Malaysian-vampire novelette, “The House of Aunts” in Giganotosaurus, and her short story (?) about lion dancers and exorcisms, “起狮,行礼 (Rising Lion—The Lion Bows)” in Strange Horizons.

Other than that… I haven’t been reading much short fiction or recent novels lately. What’s out there that’s award-worthy? I still have ten days (for the BSFA), and a couple of months (for the Hugos and Nebulas) to catch up on stuff… Any recs much appreciated (feel free to plug yourself, too). Thanks in advance!

ETA: Ken’s novella is actually available on his website (thanks to Dario Ciriello for the link). Go check it out!

Author’s Notes: Scattered Along the River of Heaven


This one started with poets: to be more specific, Aimé Césaire and Qiu Jin. You might have heard about both or either, but if you haven’t: Aimé Césaire was a Martiniquais, and is famous for a lot of things–but the one that got my attention was his poetry. He wrote in French, having received a classical French education; but his poems concern themselves with cultural identity, and in particular the cultural identity of Black people in French territories (at the time he, Senghor and Damas founded the négritude movement, Africa was still crisscrossed with French colonies).
He was both an activist and a poet; the same can be said of Qiu Jin, aka the Woman Knight of Mirror Lake, a Qing dynasty revolutionary, who fought against the misogynist authorities, and sought to free women from the tyranny of their husbands and fathers (and from the custom of bound feet in particular). Qiu Jin had received a classical education, and wrote impassioned and beautiful poetry about her role in a revolution–and was ultimately executed after a failed uprising.

The whole Qiu Jin angle tied in with some thinking I’ve been having about revolutions and wars of liberation; and about messy transfers of power. Mainly, that revolutions always have a losing side, and that they create exiles–the Russian émigrés to France and Britain in the beginning of the 20th Century, the Iranian diaspora from 1979, who got hounded out of the country for being loyal to the Shah; the loyalists to Chiang Kai-shek, who had to forcibly relocate to Taiwan… And that revolutions might indeed be liberating for a country as a whole, but that beneath you’ll find power struggles, and that one social strata or one region will often come to dominate everyone else. Finally, the fact that social dominance often translates into language power-plays: for instance, the “standard” dialect of Vietnam is now Northern Vietnamese (because the Communist Party rules from the North); the “standard” language of France was imposed over all local dialects aka patois in the 19th Century (see here for an account of how non-French dialects gradually lost the struggle). I’m not saying it’s necessarily and completely a bad thing to have one dialect become dominant: if we had kept all the patois in French, we still wouldn’t be able to understand one another and wouldn’t have a sense of national identity; but there is still a tremendous loss in languages that can happen when a country unifies itself and becomes a whole.

Somehow, all of this merged together into a story of colonial empires and uprisings and poetry. Yup. Go figure.

I wanted one of the strands of the story to be poems: the idea was that Anshi’s life would be seen through her writings; and what better writings for a scholar than poems? Most scholars in Vietnam or China composed poetry; and the ability to do so was widely praised; in a quasi-Asian future, it made sense that poetry would still be very important. Qiu Jin’s poems provided much of the verse that I put in the story: see the first three poems of this post, and you’ll notice many familiarities… Another poem I used for inspiration was Bei Dao’s “The Answer”, which you can read here, probably his most famous one, as it was written during the 1976 Tiananmen demonstrations, and was taken up as an unofficial anthem in the 1989 ones.

For the very last poem, though, I wanted something a little mellower, about separation–it’s an easy theme to find in classical Chinese poetry (much of which was written between friends who had known each other in the capital and been posted to opposite ends of the country), so I turned to the Tang poets. Not remembering my sources quite so well; but I went for an amalgam of poetry about loss and nostalgia, which also–quite naturally–gave me my title. For once, I didn’t have to struggle to find one 🙂

Online fiction: “Scattered Along the River of Heaven” in Clarkesworld


In possibly the fastest turnaround I’ve had from finishing the final draft to publication, you can now read my story “Scattered Along the River of Heaven” in Clarkesworld.

Or, if audio fiction is more to your liking, you can listen to the podcast by the awesome Kate Baker.

This is the pseudo-Asian SF story with bots, a dying colonial empire, and a prison orbiting a black hole–aka the one where I had to improvise four pseudo-Chinese poems before I could actually write any of the story’s scenes. It was, well, not fun to write, but very instructive. And scary. This is a very scary story, because it’s ambitious, and touches on matters I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I feel very much exposed publishing it.

Would love to know what you thought of it (either at Clarkesworld or here)–this is possibly the best thing I’ve written yet, and I’m curious (OK, and scared, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?) to see people’s reaction to it.

I’ll post author notes and thoughts on writing processes tomorrow, so do stay tuned 😀

Lookie lookie (and free books!)


So, last week, the post office sends us a message saying that they tried to deliver a bulky package to our home, but couldn’t because the mailbox was too small. I’ve been burnt before at this game, so I cajoled the H into going to pick it up at the post office.
Best idea I ever had, because this is what the package looked like:

After a lot of fighting the thing with scissors, I opened it, and behold:
Books, books

I have my contrib copies of Master of the House of Darts!

To celebrate, I’m giving away ten copies of the book. 5 are up at Goodreads (and I’ll note the giveaway is available worldwide). Another 5 are up for grabs here: the difference with the Goodreads ones is that I’m trading those for a review of the book posted on your blog or on amazon (I have a slight pref. for amazon because the book hasn’t been getting a lot of signal boost, but do post wherever you want on the Internet, and whatever you feel about the book–more than a few sentences, of course–and you’re obviously free to say if you didn’t like it). First come, first served. I’ll sign and personalise them if you so require.

Memo: you don’t have to have read the previous books in the trilogy to make sense of this one; it’s a standalone like an episode of a crime series, though obviously character arcs get wrapped (last book of the trilogy, yadda yadda). Post here or in the LJ mirror if you want to give a copy a good home.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Master of the House of Darts by Aliette de Bodard

Master of the House of Darts

by Aliette de Bodard

Giveaway ends January 08, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

ETA: wow, thanks everyone! All copies offered through are gone now, but you can still get the ones from goodreads by entering the giveaway, as indicated above (you have until January 8th).