Elisabeth Vonarburg and Tran-Nhut

Aliette de Bodard is the author of novels including Harbinger of the Storm and award-winning short fiction in venues such as Interzone and Asimov’s.

I have a particular fondness for Elisabeth Vonarburg’s The Maerland Chronicles, which is a masterful look at a devastated future where women control society–seen through the lens of one woman’s life and personal quest. It probably loses somewhat in translation (I read it in the original French), since part of its appeal is the play on gendered words in French, but it’s still a very intelligent and compassionate look at the kind of relationships that would develop between women, and a gentle, nuanced portrayal of a society that makes it feel lived even as it acknowledges its limits. (Elisabeth’s non-translated works, particularly the Queen of Memory series which looks at French colonialism and its effects in an alternate history, are also well worth checking out, as are her short stories. You can get a glimpse of them here). From Vietnam, Linh Dinh’s Night, Again is an anthology of 20th-Century short stories from Vietnam, several of which have genre elements (ghosts, river spirits, …): my particular favorite is Tran Ngoc Tuan’s “The River’s Curse”, a Gothic horror story with a great sense of atmosphere and a sting in its tale–taking a jaundiced look at human good intentions and what they come to.

For non-translated works, I could cite dozens that people are missing out on, given the poor translation rate from other languages into English. For France, a look at the recent winners of Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire would give you dozens of good reading suggestions from Pierre Bordage’s large space opera Guerriers du Silence (Warriors of Silence) to Alain Damasio’s surprising La Horde du Contrevent (The Horde Against the Wind). But I’ll cheat and mention something dear to my heart that’s borderline genre, namely Tran-Nhut’s Mandarin Tân series: set in 17th-Century Vietnam (a particularly troubled historical period fraught with wars and the arrival of French missionaries), those books follow the investigations of the eponymous mandarin and his sidekicks, a scholar and a physician, and though it’s outwardly historical, there are many borderline supernatural elements that make this fantasy in my book. I love the strong sense of atmosphere and the pacing, which alternates the horrific with the comical in a very skilled way. The entire series is well worth a read, and I’m not surprised it’s still selling well in France. They’re best taken in order, the first one being Le Temple de la Grue Ecarlate (The Temple of the Scarlet Crane).

One thought on “Elisabeth Vonarburg and Tran-Nhut

  • July 11, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Good list. I second Bordage’s Guerriers du Silence, having read that three years ago on the recommendation of a friend of mine from Quebec.


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