HADRON AGE SF (62)
March 8, 2023
One in a series of posts about the 75 best sf adventures published during the genre’s Hadron Age era (from 2004–2023, according to HILOBROW’s periodization schema). For Josh Glenn’s Hadron Age Sci-Fi 75 list (a work in progress), click here.
Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit (2016).
During a war among factions of a despotic interstellar empire, the Hexarchate, Kel Cheris, a disgraced young captain (and mathematical whiz), is given the opportunity to redeem herself — by recapturing the outer-space Fortress of Scattered Needles from heretics. To aid her in this mission impossible, Cheris requests the aid of the revived Hexarchate tactician and traitor, General Shuos Jedao — a centuries-old ghost infamous for having massacred his own army in his first lifetime. What’s so fun about this story is what Lee doesn’t explain, at least not in any kind of expository, info-dump manner: In this galaxy, the laws of nature are a question of consensus… which the Hexarchate manipulates via the population’s adherence to an imperial “calendar” (a numerical system, which seems to have something to do with Korean folklore). Thanks to the empire’s “timekeeping,” captains like Cheris enjoy access to technologies like stardrives and FTL communications. The heretical forces who’ve captured the Fortress of Scattered Needles are causing calendrical “rot” — which threatens the Hexarchate. (This is a semiotician’s sci-fi: the dominant discourse influences reality.) Can Jedao help Cheris win the war for hearts and minds, wiping out the rot? How far can Cheris trust Jedao?
Fun facts: Ninefox Gambit, which won the Locus Award for best first novel, is the first of three Machineries of Empire installments; it’s followed by Raven Stratagem (2017) and Revenant Gun (2018). In interviews, Yoon has said his influences include ethnomathematician Marcia Ascher’s Mathematics Elsewhere, Harlan Ellison’s “The Paladin of the Lost Hour,” and the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons setting Planescape — where reality itself is shaped by belief.
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