This is yet another indication that I need to pay more attention to book review blogs. I picked this up because of an interesting post on one, and am very happy with the result. I doubt I would have come across it on my own (despite the excellent cover), and finding current recommendations has been one of my problems. Not that I don’t already have enough authors to try and catch up on.

On a Red Station Drifting has hidden depths. From the naming of characters, the culture and traditions are obviously based around Vietnamese culture. This is all you really need to know, and all that needs saying in the course of things, but the background is actually an alternate timeline (described on the author’s website) where China never turned completely inward, and derailed parts of Europe’s ascendancy, allowing for large-scale colonization from pre-communist Asian cultures.

It is also based around a 19th Century novel, borrowing themes and ideas, I assume, fairly well, though I’m sure the result doesn’t much resemble the original. At any rate, the story centers around the conflicts that happen away from conflict: The Dai Viet Empire is in the middle of troubled times, with rebellious warlords breaking off from central authority. While this is one of the more important parts of background, the war is not here, there’s no fighting or action during the course of the book. But the problems of the book stem from that fact; Prosper Station is overcrowded with refugees, many of the best people have gone away to war, probably never to come back, and one of the focus characters has arrived directly from the war zone.

A last note is that it is nice to see the growth of the moderate-length story again. From the 70s to the 90s, SF&F novels grew in average length, which is good for some stories, but not everything needs that much room. It seems like the ebook format is helping bring the novella to new prominence (the novella has always had trouble, as they cramp short-story collections, but make for an excessively-thin book by themselves).