Author Yoon Ha Lee was kind enough to answer some quick questions about her book Ninefox Gambit, some of the ideas behind her story and what we can expect next.
Could you give a brief introduction to who you are and to your novel Ninefox Gambit?
I’m a Korean-American writer living in Louisiana with my family and a very lazy cat. I got my B.A. in mathematics from Cornell University, although I’m not always sure my math professors would approve of what I’m doing with my degree!
Ninefox Gambit is about a disgraced captain, Kel Cheris, who teams up with an undead general, Shuos Jedao, to retake a fallen star fortress.
The good news: Jedao is a brilliant tactician and he may be the only one who can help her. The bad news: he’s also a mass murderer, and Cheris has to keep him from going rogue–if he doesn’t kill her first.
I found the symbols used in the book to be unique – could you explain a little on the inspiration for the ideas of moths (as space ships) and the signifiers of fox, raven and others?
I came up with the voidmoths because I wanted the spaceships to be biotech. Although the heroine doesn’t realize this, they’re actually enslaved cyborged spacefaring aliens. I went with “moth” because they’re creatures that can fly and it was a nice, succinct, one-syllable word. (Contrast, for instance, having space flamingos. Too many syllables! Also, very pink.)
The idea of a ‘calendrical’ technology was equally intriguing – can you expand on the ideas of math in the story?
The origins of the idea came from a couple places. First, I read a book by Marcia Ascher on ethnomathematics called Mathematics Elsewhere. It talked about different cultures’ calendar systems. For example, the Trobriand Islanders rely on the biological clock of marine annelids to set their calendar. I thought a lot about how the simplest act of scheduling relies on a mutually understood timekeeping system and cultural norms about being on time (or not).
Calendrical warfare came partly from the notion that dates come to hold particular significance in a given culture. I didn’t read Peter Watson’s War on the Mind: The Military Uses and Abuses of Psychology until after I’d written Ninefox Gambit, but it shows that the idea of exploiting other cultures’ special celebration dates in warfare for extra psychological effect is not a new idea.
Finally, I got the idea that different calendars induce different magical systems from vector calculus in college. It’s been a long time, but I was fascinated by gradients and vector fields, so I had this idea that at each point in space-time, you would have an associated set of laws of magic based on what calendar was dominant at that point.
The social landscape within the hexarchate is an interesting mix – what inspired the blend of ‘houses’ and hierarchical autocracy?
The hexarchate was always going to be a horrible police state because I wanted my characters to have something to rebel against. The houses, or factions, were inspired primarily by Alderac Entertainment Group’s Legend of the Five Rings (L5R), a roleplaying game and collectible card game (soon to be relaunched as a Living Card Game by Fantasy Flight Games) that I played for years.
L5R takes place in a fantasy samurai setting with zombies and dragons, and it has clans with different specialties, from the Crane, who dominate the courts with their artisans and duelists, to the Lion, who are honorable warriors with a strong connection to their ancestors. I loved the way that the clans gave people an immediate way to connect to the setting. Admittedly, I’m not sure anyone is going to identify with the hexarchate’s factions, because they’re pretty evil!
There’s a lot of political intrigue within Ninefox Gambit but also suggestions of a much larger universe – will we see more outside of the hexarchate?
Not much, unfortunately. We only really see glimpses of the world outside the hexarchate, mainly because there was so much plot already I ran out of space to do more than hint at anything else.
The ‘servitors’ also seem to be more than they appear – if it’s not a spoiler – will their importance become clearer in the next books?
Yes! They have important roles in the next two books, even if most of the characters don’t realize what’s going on.
Lastly, when is the next book available and where else can we find your work?
According to Rebellion’s website, the next book, Raven Stratagem, is due out in June 2017.