On a Red Station, Drifting is a novella set in the Xuya universe, the first according to publication order, and of course I unintentionally read this (companion) series backwards. It also ended up being my least favorite so far.
…which means I can tell you that this series gets better with each book.
This novella is a story about the repercussions of war on a space station. We do not actually see anything about the war, but we see how the station struggles with resources when more and more refugees come in. I thought this was a really interesting choice, and that’s one of the things I like the most about this series – it focuses on the stories we usually do not see in sci-fi books. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading about space battles, but I also like to read about characters living their lives in space. This kind of point of view usually gets ignored.
It’s also a story about family and the way difficult circumstances tend to strain those bonds. Many of the characters in this story resent each other – Quyen is looking for control while the station’s AI is deteriorating, Linh is dealing with the consequences of choices made on a distant planet, and other characters are looking for escape, or desperately trying to challenge inequality with the wrong means.
The characters’ decisions were never unbelievable, but the constant clashes between them, paired with the (very short) length of this story, prevented me from ever really caring about anyone.
The main reason I didn’t like this story as much as the other two novellas was the way it talked about suicide. I don’t want to spoil anything, but what happened felt a lot like the usual “suicide is selfish” narrative. Now, I know the characters’ thoughts about that are both due to the fact that they were obviously upset and also to the way their culture thinks about suicide, but it still hurt to read. I wish I had know it was there, because now I kind of wish I hadn’t read it. I prefer to believe basic mental health awareness exists in space.
Anyway, I still really enjoyed many aspects of this book – mainly because I love the worldbuilding. It’s set in a Vietnamese space empire, and with every novella I get to know more about the details, from the way marriage is seen to the inequalities that exist in this universe. My favorite parts are always the ones that have to do with Minds, and the station’s AI was my favorite character in this book.
My rating: ★★★¼
I thought I hated sci-fi books. That was before I decided to try the adult ones instead of limiting myself to YA, as YA sci-fi tends to disappoint me more often than not.
The Collapsing Empire is one of the books that helped me understand I actually love this genre, and I’m so glad I decided to pick it up. I may haven’t found a young adult book that gets the mix of politics, science and action right yet, but this one does. It’s also surprisingly easy to read, for an adult book heavy on politics. It’s violent, but it also made me laugh a lot.
The first time I read it, I rated this book a full five because I was surprised by how much I liked it. With this reread, I decided to lower it to 4.5: some of the character weren’t as developed or as interesting as they should have been.
It mainly follows three PoVs:
🌟 Cardenia Wu, the new empress, who is trying her best to rule a collapsing empire. Deserves better, but she’s kind of bland;
🌟 Marce Claremont, a physicist. He’s kind of a stereotypical character, as he’s a socially awkward, physically weak scientist, and while I didn’t feel strongly about him, I did end up liking him;
🌟 Kiva Lagos, merchant and disaster bisexual (it’s canon!) whose vocabulary is mainly composed by swear words. This would have been irritating in any other book, but not here – I loved her and her rude pragmatism a lot, she’s my favorite PoV character.
One thing that I missed the first time I read this book was the environmentalism. The empire is falling apart, but (most of) the people in power are either in denial or trying to make more money out of the situation, because priorities. It’s really entertaining how disgusting some people – like the villainous Nohamapetan family – can be in those situations, but the parallels with global warming aren’t as fun.
My rating: ★★★★½