Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Book Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Paperback, 384 pages

Published June 2016 by Solaris Books

Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (2017)

Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (2016)

Locus Award for Best First Novel (2017)

Arthur C. Clarke Award Nominee (2017)

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction (2016)

This book came on my radar when Luke Barrage of The Science Fiction Book Review podcast devoted a second episode to it. I didn't listen to much but when he said this book would re-wire your brain or how you think about I was sold. Paused the podcast,decided to read it myself. I didn't know it was a military sci-fi space opera with a far future setting. I didn't know anything going in. That is a good way to read this novel, but I think it could easily go over the head of many readers. If you are into mind bendy sci-fi and like space opera you will probably like this. Mind you those two kinds of sci-fi don't often come together. Most military themed science fiction are 10th generation copies of Starship troopers.

There are elements of traditional tropes but for the most part this novel strikes excellent new ground. There is a reason it has been nominated for so many awards. On the surface the story takes place in our future, but very far into the future. Lee keeps elements of humanity, but this human race has changed alot. I admit there were times that the language annoyed me like the glooks and glops style of made up words, that is not my favorite aspect of sci-fi. The moths being the far future word for starships and the dates are named the Year of the fatted cow and things of that nature. I liked all that stuff, but the best aspect of this was the gender issues. Gender is fluid but not a huge issue like it was in Leguin's classic Left hand of Darkness, infact it would be easy to not even notice. I was 3/4 of the way through the book when characters who identify as female off handily mentioned her penis. It was jarring and then I realized that through the book I was viewing the book all wrong and had to re-think it with one sentence. There is no binary normative in this novel and that was cool.

In that sense it feels alot like a fantasy novel. This has a very oriental influence also in the way the story is and narrative moves forward it is the story of a General her name Captain Kel Cheris She has the job of closing down an insurrection in a colony outpost. So she is giving "the ghost" or saved memories of a long dead general to assist her. As an adviser Shuos Jedao was seen as a little of a live wire notorious for the murder of his own army in an act of Pyrrhic Victory. He is undefeated in a ghost role but this battle for the Fortress of Scattered Needles is near impossible. Cheris has unique skill as well, being gifted at numbers a skill that eluded Jedao.

The battle is fought with arms, but also in the mind as the dead general pauses at times to invent games to be played, in part to test Cheris as much as the enemy. This is a trick we have seen many times in classic stories of Chinese Wuxia fantasy. While nothing is expressively Chinese the society and it's calendar have a Chinese feel to them. Perhaps I reading to much into this based on the author's background, but I like to think it has to do with the dozens of Wuxia novels I have read personally.

That said this book is filled to the brim with ideas and as challenging as it is if you stick with it there is a fascinating twist at the end. Lee doesn't cheat, the clues are all there if you do what I did and skim back through the pages to make sure that I read it correctly. I don't think this novel is for everyone, in fact I think as genius as it is I think your average reader will probably be totally lost. So how intense of a sci-fi reader are you? How out there can you get?

This is the weirdest military sci-fi novel I have ever read. This novel is imaginative on the scale of Hyperion or even Dune but also an action adventure story as harrowing as Old Man's War, but even cooler is after all that it requires deduction to figure the twists and turns in a PKD kinda way. That is alot of cool elements for one short novel. It is not easy reading but if you stick with it and really try to decode it it is worth it.

That said I am not entirely motivated to read the rest of the trilogy I don't feel the story set up for more in my mind. It is a thumbs up, and with alot of respect for this novel I have to say it was not my thing. I respect the hell out of this novel. Am I glad I read it? I sure am.

No comments: