Posts Tagged ‘Yoon Ha Lee’

After the amazing debut, Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee has built on that success with the exceptional Raven Stratagem. Further exploring the larger universe, including the complicated political landscape of the hexarchate, this series is space opera at its finest. Battles large and small, both physical and intellectual abound in a story peopled by gripping cast of characters.

Following the protagonist Cheris/Jedao as they embark on what seems to be a madness induced campaign of warfare, Raven Stratagem drives forward with a thrilling story while setting up a number of ideas for the next book. Turning the hexarchate’s calendrical mathematics against them, Jedao/Cheris is able to take over a huge fleet of Kel ships yet continues to pursue the enemies of the ruling hegemony instead of attacking it. Whilst one Lieutenant is able to resist Jedao’s commands, the fleet is soon gaining popularity and traction in a universe desperate to find hope and freedom from the stifling rule of the hexarchate.

But, nothing is as it seems. The various factions and their leaders are simultaneously at each other’s throats whilst pursuing similar goals. Equally, Jedao/Cheris isn’t trying to murder innocent populations on undefended planets but is, instead, looking to protect those people and maintain a sense of order within the greater culture.

Raven Stratagem is full of intrigue, covert agendas, space battles and wonderful, intoxicating world-building. Yoon Ha Lee has a unique vision and voice and this is definitely a fantastic series for fans of sci-fi.

Review copy

Published by Solaris Books

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Continuing the tradition of rounding up my best reads of the year, I’m going to do my utmost to pick some of the top books from a heap of excellent work I’ve had the pleasure to review. It’s taken some serious beard stroking and moustache twiddling but here goes…

I’ve read some great horror stories this year, two of which really stood out – Nod by Adrian Barnes and A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Though very different both were psychological thrillers that picked away at the fabric of reality, personality and what grounds us in truth. Pleasingly, the shock and terror of each novel was produced alongside excellent writing and superb characters, making them both very memeorable books.

The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu was one of my top fantasy novel reads, in close contention with Brian McClellan’s The Crimson Campaign. A brilliant setting made even more enjoyable by the distinct and well defined protagonists, The Grace of Kings managed to mix political intrigue, epic battles and an original, atmospheric world. It’s quality fantasy in every sense.

When it comes to top notch, awesome fantasy, Joe Abercrombie consistently serves up some of the very best. His short story collection, Sharp Ends, set in his First Law universe was, without a doubt, sheer brilliance. New characters were introduced, older actors had their origin stories told and the whole world he’s built is weaved together with exceptional skill. Hugely enjoyable, Sharp Ends is a big, bold barnburner.

Whilst I admit I’m a fan of action, adventure and gritty battle based fiction, I’ve had the chance to read some intelligent and mindful science fiction this year. Savant by Vik Abnett epitomised that. Unique worldbuilding, a slightly retro yet original tone and an engaging story revolving around mathematics and companionship, this was a standout novel in my year.

Featuring a very different yet equally enthralling maths based concept, Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit is an amazing novel. Distinctive and innovative, Yoon Ha Lee’s inspired setting brings a new vibe to sci-fi. As I said in my review, ‘It’s a stunning piece of creativity that melds futuristic ideas of technology and the feel of an epic space opera with the ephemeral and magical vibe of pure fantasy’.

Finally, the self-published novel from Malcolm F Cross, Dog Country, proved to be another highlight. A thought provoking look at geo-political warfare, Dog Country is a brilliantly written piece of military sci-fi. Genetically modified, humanoid, dog soldiers fighting in a crowdfunded revolution whilst, simultaneously, trying to find their place in a society that created yet rejected them. Great characters, a clever concept and an even better plot.

I’ve also watched a few decent films but hats off to Mad Max:Fury Road. Though time has been a precious commodity this year (my wife and I still haven’t started season 7 of TWD) I did manage to catch Westworld and the sixth series of The Walking Dead – I will have some posts on that very soon.

I’m whittling my way through my reading pile and have some interesting books lined up. It’s been a good year for reading and I’m looking forward to more reviews and interviews.
Happy reading!

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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.

IMG_4442.JPGThere’s world building and then there’s world building; Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit falls firmly in the latter category. It’s a stunning piece of creativity that melds futuristic ideas of technology and the feel of an epic space opera with the ephemeral and magical vibe of pure fantasy. Add in to that a complicated relationship to mathematics and ideas of game theory, you’ll be somewhere close to what Ninefox Gambit achieves. Yet, it does so much more.

Cheris, a Kel soldier, is made a pawn in the schemes of the ruling hegemony as it seeks to destroy the rot of heresy within one of it’s star system citadels. Shuos Jedao, a long dead, mad general, is a data ghost resurrected and implanted into such pawns to crush uprisings and rebellions. However, Cheris is a formidable mathematician and Jedao is far from insane. Together the pair are forced into a game of far-reaching politics and terrible consequences.

From the outset the application of unique symbols and signifiers, far from the normal tropes of sci-fi, give the novel a wondrous appeal that grips the imagination tighter and tighter as the story gathers pace. While on the surface Cheris and Jedao engage in a siege action against the heretics, where we get to learn more about the math based technology (a fascinating feature) and hierarchy of archetypes (like Kel and Shous) it is the underlying plot that slowly and ominously surfaces to produce such a memorable conclusion.

Yoon Ha Lee possesses an amazing talent for prose, adding a tumbling poetry to the stark rigidness of the society he has created. Yet his ability to weave the story and hide the twists and turns of his plot so effectively was refreshing. Ninefox Gambit is epic fantastic sci-fi at it’s best; it’s full of politics, space warfare, treachery and revenge. The book is an astounding work of creativity, sumptuous writing and thrilling story telling. As the opening of a proposed trilogy, Ninefox Gambit promises to be the start of an awesome series.

Review copy
Published by Solaris Books