Seven of Infinities: The intricate plot is the star of this tale

Seven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard (Subterranean Press, 2020)Seven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard

Vân opens the front door to her room to see that the avatar for the mindship The Wild Orchid in Sunless Woods is in the common access area used by Vân and her student, Uyên. Sunless Woods is there to tell Vân that the poetry club in which they are both members is considering ousting Vân on the grounds that she is “commonplace” and “vulgar,” limited by her birth into poverty rather than as a privileged member of the scholarly and wealthy class. It’s a judgment with which Sunless Woods does not agree, so she’s come to warn Vân.

Vân fears this action for several reasons: she’ll lose her job as a private teacher for the wealthy Uyên; but more than that, she risks exposure. For Vân has a mem-implant that is not only unconventional but illegal: a conglomeration of sharp minds and not an ancestor at all. But that problem quickly takes second place when Uyên comes into her teacher’s quarters to tell her that a visitor who just joined her a few minutes ago is dead.

So begins Seven of Infinities (2020), a lovely novella by Aliette de Bodard that has been nominated for a Locus Award. It’s a science fiction mystery, an unconventional romance, a glimpse into an entire culture de Bodard has created in her Xuya universe (though one need not have read other stories set in this universe in order to appreciate Seven of Infinities).

Aliette de Bodard

Aliette de Bodard

Sunless Woods is an especially fascinating character, a thief, a lover, a scholar and a fundamentally decent person who also happens to be a starship. Vân is mostly meek and mild, filled with guilt and fear, but with a steel core; people regularly underestimate her. De Bodard manages to convey the utterly alien character of her deep space setting and how humans have adapted to it.

But the intricate plot is really the star of this tale. I often have trouble with de Bodard’s work in that I tend to feel like I’ve been thrown into the deep end of a pool with no swimming lessons. Perhaps it is my unfamiliarity with Vietnamese folklore, religion and customs that make her work difficult sometimes for an American of Eastern European descent like me.

This novella speaks past my ignorance, however, and gives me a completely engrossing tale that stretches my imagination. It’s one of the best stories she’s written yet.

Published in 2020. Vân is a scholar from a poor background, eking out a living in the orbitals of the Scattered Pearls Belt as a tutor to a rich family, while hiding the illegal artificial mem-implant she manufactured as a student. Sunless Woods is a mindship—and not just any mindship, but a notorious thief and a master of disguise. She’s come to the Belt to retire, but is drawn to Vân’s resolute integrity. When a mysterious corpse is found in the quarters of Vân’s student, Vân and Sunless Woods find themselves following a trail of greed and murder that will lead them from teahouses and ascetic havens to the wreck of a mindship–and to the devastating secrets they’ve kept from each other.

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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