PrintE-mail Written by Ed Fortune

Science Fiction is a genre which tends to encourage originality and weirdness in equal measure. Space is very big, which means that creators have plenty of room to try out the strangest of ideas. Yoon Ha Lee’s Nine Fox Gambit is an excellent example of this; it is big in every possible way. It’s a space opera story with ghosts, social commentary, epic battle, but it’s also much more than that.

One of the novel’s central ideas is that entire civilisations are run on an calendrical systems. This means that the beliefs, calendar, and observances of society create topologies that in turn alter the fundamental laws of reality and allow the use of strange and exotic weapons.  The story centres on Kel Cheris, a brilliant captain who happens to be down on their luck. The only mission they’re allowed to embark upon is an insanely hard one; They must recapture the impregnable space station, the Fortress of Scattered Needles. Her ally is tactician Shuos Jedao, the only person to ever get into the station. This might sound like a standard sci-fi trope, but Lee adds their own twist to it. For a start, Shuos is sort of dead. And insane.

The writing is superb and clever. The ideas are strong and constantly fascinating.  The pacing is a quite bumpy, however. In order to cram in so much world building, something has to suffer and in this case, it’s a consistent speed to the action. We go from space battle to personal drama to really cool exposition pretty quickly at times, and though all these elements are great on their own, they can be a little jarring for those of us who like to read at more than a leisurely pace.

Though this is, at its core, a pulp sci-fi page turner, it’s also intelligently written in a way that would appeal to fans of Hannu Rajaniemi and Ian M Banks.  That said, don’t be afraid of the complex ideas here; the super science blurs into magic pretty quickly, lending to the space opera stylings of the book.  Yoon Ha Lee is a powerful talent, and one to watch out for.


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