A loyal commander teams up with a traitorous general to crush a rebellion through a combination of super advanced weapons and manipulation of the calender.
Weird is easy. Believably, coherently and off-puttingly weird is much harder. I found Ninefox Gambit immensely disorientating – the world fit together so naturally, and yet none of it conformed with my expectations. Indeed, Yoon Ha Lee has created something that is half serious military sci-fi, half Warhammer:1 the characters are played completely straight, but the technology has looped around to Gothic fantasy. The only book I can compare it to is Mary Gentle’s Rats and Gargoyles, where a world of five compass points and too many degrees created a world in an uncanny valley between normal fantasy and weird fantasy.
This makes it sound like I didn’t like Ninefox Gambit, but despite having to reread passages to make sure I understood them, I found this an incredibly compelling novel. It is just exploding with great ideas – weird and wonderful technology from doomsday weapons to immortality is empowered by enforcing a strict calendar, and ‘calendrical rot’ caused by uprisings can cause the best weapons to stop functioning. Strategic command is carried out by collective intelligences, taking on the aspects of the various clan affiliations of the officers and politicians constructing them and in combat, and formations based on advanced mathematics can create ghost forces, provide shielding, or achieve other fantastic feats.
The writing and plotting is also meticulous, though the characters stand second fiddle to the world building and the wacky weapons. Everything you need to know about whether you will like the book is captured by a section in the middle – Cheris’ forces engage in a feint in the hope that the enemies celebration of their defeat will disrupt their calendar and enable the use of a weapon that will cause deadly radiation to poor out of every doorway and portal in the affected area. It’s the combination of crazy grounded by the practical that makes this such a strong work.
For military sf fans who want something different, and connoisseurs of the weird.