Tag: vietnam

Author’s notes: On a Red Station, Drifting


So, it’s occurred to me I didn’t actually provide this for my latest release–accordingly, there you go, author’s notes for On a Red Station, Drifting.

I started writing On a Red Station, Drifting after one too many readings of the Chinese classic  Dream of Red Mansions, and musing on old literature.

It’s no secret that “classical literature”, at least the brand taught in French schools, is overwhelmingly male and concerned with “male” affairs: wars, violence, fatherhood, father/son relationships… I found the same preoccupation prevalent in SFF, to a point where it became unsettling–it’s a subject covered by Ursula Le Guin in her Language of the Night  and by Joanna Russ in many of her writings. One of the things that drove this home for me was seeing the statistics compiled by Martin Lewis for the Clarke Award (among the highlights: around 90% of the books had at least a male protagonist, a good quarter featured no women main characters at all, and a good 81% of the books had the protagonist kill someone, while only under half the protagonists were in a stable happy relationship).

Continue reading →

Reminder: pre-order “On a Red Station, Drifting”


A reminder that pre-orders are open for my limited-edition hardback Xuya novella “On a Red Station, Drifting”, and that you save £3 off the cover price of £10 if you preorder–see here for details, including a sampler scene from the book!
(and if you’re still hesitating, there’s a more detailed review over here by @requireshate)

Preorders open for “On a Red Station, Drifting”


So… remember the Vietnamese-space-station Xuya novella? Pre-orders are now open; and you’ll save £3 from the cover price of £10 if you preorder via the Immersion Press website!

ETA: the ebook is now available here: amazon.com|amazon.co.uk|amazon.fr|smashwords

Here’s a little snippet from the book to whet your appetite (more info here):

Linh arrived on Prosper Station blown by the winds of war, amidst a ship full of refugees who huddled together, speaking earfully of the invading armies: the war between the rebel lords and the Empire had escalated, and their war-kites had laid waste to entire planets.

Continue reading →

Weekend brief update


So, in case you didn’t get the memo, RL & the dayjob are still eating away at my sanity spare time. In the meantime however, we had a rather busy weekend, but we did take time to eat a phở at a new place in the 13e, and that’s where I ate this:

Yup, durian bavarois (I was originally going for durian macaroon, but got sold this instead, which was way less sweet and made all of yumminess). The perfect end to a meal with a phở.

Funny observation of the day: the H and I noticed that there was a clear difference between Asian and non-Asian tables: every single Asian (mostly Vietnamese) table was having the phở, sometimes without even bothering to open the menu; every other table had picked the rest of the menu items. There’s a rational explanation, I suspect: most of the other dishes they offer are easy to make at home if you have a Vietnamese pantry (I would never order a bò bún in a restaurant, and I can make my own bò lúc lắc/shaking beef). Phở, on the other hand, is a little more… intense to prepare, which I guess explains the disparity between people familiar with the cuisine and people who are not.

Anyway, that’s all from the blog; hope I can try some recipes soon, but last week scooped my brains out and ate them with a little cream…

Cultural appropriation


[Warning: this is me in ranty, pissed-off mood. I apologise for picking targets and basically offloading my anger on them, but I honestly feel I can’t make you understand what I mean without pointing at specific bits. Many thanks to Rochita Loenen-Ruiz for reading this before it went live]

Apropos of nothing and just for the record: when people complain about cultural appropriation, they’re not all [1] saying that outsiders shouldn’t write cultures foreign to them. However, what I suspect they’re saying [2] is this: some outsiders (rather more than you think) will get cultures egregiously and disrespectfully *wrong*. That, even if a lot of (other outsider) people think that a certain book/story did a great job of introducing them to a fancy new culture, it doesn’t change the orientalist/racist clichés or simply the bad facts that are presented in said fiction.
And when I say bad facts I don’t mean niggly details that would require weeks of research: I mean really, really bad facts akin to calling everyone in a French novel “Dracula” because everyone knows Dracula is a typically French name. Facts that should have been a part of any basic research process, and that make the reader doubt the author really cared about the culture they were so “thoughtfully” depicting. Names. Food. Religion. That kind of thing.

You’ll think that this is a tiny minority; a 0.01% of writers who get things wrong and are rightly excoriated for it. Thing is… this happens WAY more often than you’d think. This is NOT a tiny minority. I’m not saying it’s a 99.99% of fiction either, but cultural appropriation is not a negligible or insubstantial phenomenon. A significant amount of fiction out there makes me doubt much thoughtful research (or much research at all!) was involved.

To take just one example: the last few stories set in China I have read [3]. One of them, set in historical China, mangled the historical timeline so badly I wasn’t even sure it was the real China, and inexplicably forgot to have any kind of ancestor worship, which is a bit like doing medieval France without Christianity. One of them, set in a futuristic China, used the timeworn tropes of Chinese being horrible to their own women (because, you know, Confucianism [4]) and had said women rescued by Westerners (because quite obviously those poor Asians can’t rescue themselves). And the last one, set in what purported to be Ancient China, had a concerted state-supported effort aimed at imprisoning, mistreating and killing dragons (we’ve been over this before, but Chinese/Vietnamese dragons are NOT evil, they’re Heavenly beings. This is a bit like having a historical medieval Europe where kings authorise the chasing and killing of angels. Possible, but a. you’re not going to get very far because angels are way more powerful than humans b. you’re not going to stave off the wrath of God for very long [5]) For bonus points, that story also had an evil character on a quest for immortality that he later renounced because he wanted redemption. Er. No. Quests for immortality are perfectly fine in Chinese thought (see Daoist immortals. That’s perfectly OK, and in fact deeply respected).

Again, I’m not Chinese. But Vietnamese culture has a heck of a lot of overlap with Chinese culture, and none of these feel remotely OK to me. In fact, they feel like Western thought grafted on top of what someone thought were the “cool bits” of Chinese culture. And, without exception, all of these had glowing reviews by people convinced that those were accurate and nice representations of Chinese culture. Newsflash: no, no, and no. When a writer is perpetuating horrible clichés in the course of their writing, when they’re propagating transparently false ideas of what it means to live in a place and/or a time period… This is cultural appropriation, and it’s bad–and whether said writer meant it or not doesn’t change the fact that they’ve egregiously mangled someone’s culture through lack of care. It’s the bit that makes a lot of people angry, and quite justifiably so. [6] It’s not the fact that writers take cultures that aren’t from their traditions that attract people’s ire; it’s the fact that the depiction of those cultures are badly inaccurate on mind-boggling levels.

(there’s an easy way to avoid this if you’re using a 21st-Century culture btw–grab someone from said culture and ask their opinion about the basic stuff in your story)

Anyway, that was my afternoon rant. Apologies again, and thanks for listening. If anybody wants to weigh on how they feel about the subject, I welcome thoughts and discussions!

(also, if any Chinese people are reading this and feel that any of the examples I used aren’t appropriate, I’d be quite happy to be corrected. I would have used Vietnamese culture, which is the one I’m most familiar with, but Vietnam hasn’t been the subject of quite so many books and stories and I didn’t really have enough examples for this…)

[1] Some of them are, and I understand and respect that feeling. Likely, the reason they don’t want outsiders writing about their culture is exactly what I’m going to outline in this post–too many people have been doing it badly, badly wrong.
[2] Again, not claiming to walk in people’s heads. Seen the feeling a lot on the internet though.
[3] I’m not Chinese, as is by now evident; and China itself is huge and multifaceted. However, Vietnamese and Chinese cultures have a lot of points of intersection, especially when we’re talking Ancient China and Ancient Vietnam, since the second was basically a colony of the first. And also, I can spot an Orientalist cliché when I see one.
[4] Not saying Confucianism didn’t do a lot of damage; however, you have to realise that you can’t base a description of modern China/Vietnam on mores that have gone out of fashion or been severely toned down in the 20th Century. Having China follow old-school Confucianism, again, is a bit like having Europe still follow the hard-core Christian mores of the Middle Ages. Er, no?
[5] ETA 2016: having actually written that story *cough*, I’m going to amend that into “you totally can, but be aware what kind of vibe it ends up giving the final product” (in this particular case, it’s possible, but very very hard not to shade into horror).
[6] I very probably committed bad mistakes in the Obsidian and Blood books (well, not “very probably”, I know at least two errors that I wish I could fix), though I did my best research-wise. I do hope none of them are on that egregious level of failure, but if they are, I apologise profusely. I was much less aware of that kind of issues when I wrote Servant, and it shows.

The Rule of Names


(yes, I like Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea. Sue me)

I was planning to do a longer and more detailed post, but time, once again, has got away from me (sigh, already so late on so many things. Clearly, I need a better juggling teacher). So here’s the shortened version…

There are few things that throw people out of your carefully researched novels faster than getting names wrong. I once opened a novel that had a French protagonist, and didn’t get past the first page because all the French names looked like they’d been fished out out of an internet baby list [1]. Names are one of the first contacts people have with your characters, but they’re a surprisingly common source of fail in fiction.

The main reason they’re a source of fail is because often, people assume that the same naming rules they’re familiar with will apply everywhere in the world. And that’s hardly the case, as countries and cultures can have vastly differing naming customs. For instance, we don’t have middle names in France and think it a very odd concept when it does crop up in American movies (and Vietnamese do have an intercalary name, but it doesn’t have the same function or characteristics as a US middle name).

Here are a handful of examples to demonstrate the common traps into which writers can fall: they shouldn’t be taken as actual knowledge, more like an indicative checklist that things that can vary across cultures. Also, not an exhaustive list, as I drew from those cultures I was at least vaguely familiar with, which were mostly Vietnam, France, and Russia–but already, you can see that names can follow very different customs!

Some errors I’ve seen in books (beyond the obvious ones of picking names that are ridiculous or don’t exist):

-Getting name order wrong (Chinese/Vietnamese last names come before the intercalary name and the first name: for instance, someone whose last name is Nguyen, intercalary name is Thi and first name is Hanh would be Nguyen Thi Hanh, not Hanh Thi Nguyen)

-Not understanding that you might have little choice for last names. In Vietnam, 99% of the population bears a total of 14 last names, which means you just can’t invent a Vietnamese last name if you feel like it! However, first names aren’t taken from an accepted list but rather chosen by the parents on the basis of words/concepts they like (there are rules/guidelines/usages, but I won’t go into them here), which means you can have extremely uncommon first names. A related one is Russia, where people have a patronymic name (derived from their father’s first name) and a family name–which means names have a very distinct structure.

-Not understanding what marriage does to last names (in a lot of cultures, women don’t actually change their name to match their husband’s)

-Getting diminutives wrong (a lot of cultures have different patterns than the usual Anglo one of shortening someone’s name by a few syllables to be more informal or more affectionate. See, for instance, Russian. Getting affectionate in Vietnamese mostly involves pronouns rather than diminutive forms of the names–OK, partially because Vietnamese first names are so short!)

-Conversely, not understanding how to address people formally. Using someone’s last name isn’t always the formal method to address them. In Vietnam, you use Mr./Mrs [2] + First Name to address someone formally.

I’m sure there are plenty more things to watch out for, but I’m only familiar with a handful of cultures… Anyone else have tidbits about how naming principles differ across cultures?

[1] Internet baby lists can be very dangerous, as they’re the first things that pop up when you’re looking for “names from xxx culture”, but are either badly compiled, or list all possible names without warning you if they’re popular or dorky choices (hint, for instance, don’t try calling your French female MC “Cunégonde” unless you want everyone laughing at her).
[2] “Mrs.” actually covers lots of different modes of address depending on how old the speaker is compared to you (“Grandmother”, “Aunt”, “Elder Sister”, “Younger Sister”, “Child”…), but this is very complicated and beyond the scope of this list!

(picture credits: Timitrius on flickr, shared under a creative commons attribution share alike generic license)



Ship’s Brother artwork


And here’s the artwork by Jim Burns for my story “Ship’s Brother”, which will be in Interzone 241. Full table of contents here (I share a TOC with Gareth L Powell, yay!).

(click to zoom)

This is part of the Xuya continuity and deals with Vietnamese in space. Snippet (with diacritics added in):

You never liked your sister.

I know you tried your best, that you would stay awake at night thinking on filial piety and family duty, praying to your ancestors and the bodhisattva Quan Âm to find strength, but that it would always come back to that core of dark thoughts within you, that fundamental fright you carried with you like a yin shadow in your heart.

(the sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that I used “yin” instead of the more correct “âm”–Vietnamese yin and yang are âm and dương respectively. I would have used the correct words, but since this was a passing reference and was never ever explained, I thought there’d be more chance of people recognising it)

Your semi-hemi-weekly Vietnamese proverb


Bonus: two proverbs!
“Bụng làm, dạ chịu”: “the stomach makes, the heart/mind bears”. Insofar as I can tell, you reap what you sow (or maybe it should be you are what you eat”?. Bonus more usual proverb: “Gieo gió, gặp bão”: “sow the wind, meet the storm”.

In other news, I have learnt more vocabulary by translating a fairy tale (Mỵ Nương and Trương Chi). I’m pretty sure mandarin ranks of Ancient Việt Nam are of no practical use, but “hát” (to sing) could conceivably come in handy. Still torn over words like “cung” (palace, temple), ngôi (throne), and “nhan sắc tuyệt trần” (exceptional, divine beauty), but who knows, I might need them some day…