Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Solaris Books, 2016. 9781781084496.
I saw this on the new fiction table at Ravenna Third Place Books with a shelf talker comparing it to the work of the late Iain M. Banks and basically saying Lee is the future of space opera. Banks wrote the spectacularly entertaining Consider Phlebas as well as the other Culture novels, and I’m still looking for another writer whose vision of a powerful, interstellar culture is as unpredictable as it is well written. And I was hoping that Lee, being Korean American, would bring something fresh to the subgenre.
The book did not disappoint, but Lee doesn’t waste time explaining the book’s universe — it’s a puzzle for the reader to figure out. At the heart of the advanced science of this profoundly military science fiction is the hexarchate’s calendar. Adherence to technology and battlefield formations seems to be at the basis of its tech and prowess, almost as if belief is at the heart of not only the technology but the science behind it. When heretics (with a different calendar) take over the Fortress of Scattered Needles, the hexarchate needs a solution. Disgraced Captain Kel Cheris proposes using the immortal shadow of an undefeated and homicidal general to get the job done. After agreeing, the hexarchate attaches the shadow to Cheris, promotes her to general, and sends them to the fortress with an armada.
Exotic and terrifying weapons, intelligent servant robots with animal forms, and a general that’s always talking to or listening to a “ghost” no one else can really perceive — this book has both a grand scale, a backstory that requires close reading, and a use of language that is as impressive as it is occasionally confounding. But I altogether loved it. I’ll be reading it again before I pickup the sequel, which I hope arrives soon.