Short Story Highlight: “Scattered Along The River of Heaven” by Aliette de Bodard

A fantastic start to 2012, with a major new story from French author Aliette de Bodard in the latest issue of Clarkesworld Magazine: Scattered Along The River of Heaven. Aliette says:

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.

Read the story at Clarkesworld!

I grieve to think of the stars
Our ancestors our gods
Scattered like hairpin wounds
Along the River of Heaven
So tell me
Is it fitting that I spend my days here
A guest in those dark, forlorn halls?

This is the first poem Xu Anshi gave to us; the first memory she shared with us for safekeeping. It is the first one that she composed in High Mheng—which had been and remains a debased language, a blend between that of the San-Tay foreigners, and that of the Mheng, Anshi’s own people.

She composed it on Shattered Pine Prison, sitting in the darkness of her cell, listening to the faint whine of the bots that crawled on the walls—melded to the metal and the crisscrossing wires, clinging to her skin—monitoring every minute movement she made—the voices of her heart, the beat of her thoughts in her brain, the sweat on her body.

Anshi had once been a passable poet in San-Tay, thoughtlessly fluent in the language of upper classes, the language of bot-handlers; but the medical facility had burnt that away from her, leaving an oddly-shaped hole in her mind, a gap that ached like a wound. When she tried to speak, no words would come out—not in San-Tay, not in High Mheng—only a raw croak, like the cry of a dying bird. Bots had once flowed to do her bidding; but now they only followed the will of the San-Tay.

There were no stars in Shattered Pine, where everything was dark with no windows; and where the faint yellow light soon leeched the prisoners’ skin of all colors. But, once a week, the prisoners would be allowed onto the deck of the prison station—heavily escorted by San-Tay guards. Bots latched onto their faces and eyes, forcing them to stare into the darkness—into the event horizon of the black hole, where all light spiraled inwards and vanished, where everything was crushed into insignificance. There were bodies outside—prisoners who had attempted to escape, put in lifesuits and jettisoned, slowly drifting into a place where time and space ceased to have any meaning. If they were lucky, they were already dead. – continue reading.


2 thoughts on “Short Story Highlight: “Scattered Along The River of Heaven” by Aliette de Bodard

  1. I like the ending very much, but it’s difficult.for the reader to sort out/keep track of the back story sections. Having said that, the ending is worth the effort.

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