RogerBW's Blog

The Tea Master and the Detective, Aliette de Bodard 03 July 2019

2018 SF novella, set in what I now learn is known as the Xuya Universe, the Vietnamese empire in space with mindships. A ship who's working as a blender of mildly psychoactive teas has an odd new client, a "consulting detective".

There's an obvious Holmesian echo here, but the characters are ones who fit into this universe – even if it's not immediately obvious how they do. The ship, The Shadow's Child, is crippled by a wartime trauma; on the other hand she comes over as excessively anxious about everything in a way that's not much fun to read about, and the specific action needed for her redemptive moment is heavily foreshadowed such that it becomes all too obvious.

The detective, Long Chau, is clearly influenced by modern interpretations of Holmes: primarily, she's a socially-blundering nuisance, and only secondarily does her deductive competence become apparent. (And again, the Watson is shown as useful rather than blundering.)

There are some odd bits of language; "deduct" rather than "deduce" is used as the verb form, but more strangely time is measured in "centidays". Surely a multi-world empire would rapidly stop caring about day length, and (if it changed its time units at all) would build them up from fundamental units like seconds?

But mostly this is a very effective story of detection, one which makes the personalities of the people involved (both the detectives and the suspects) at least as important as the evidence.

(This work was nominated for the 2019 Hugo Awards, and that's all the novellas. My voting order:

  • Artificial Condition, by Martha Wells
  • The Tea Master and the Detective, by Aliette de Bodard
  • The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark
  • Binti: The Night Masquerade, by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire
  • Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, by Kelly Robson

Any of my top three would be worthy winners as far as I'm concerned; then there's a huge gap before the other three.)

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