23 October 2016

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Originally published at Eggwhite's Eggbox. You can comment here or there.

I’ve not posted here for ages, it seems.  Probably because my efforts have been going elsewhere, but I thought I might post something now.

A while back I posted about books and reading; what they mean to me and how I’d had some problems but was getting past them.  I’m still not reading anywhere near as much as I did before my brain chemistry decided to go onto a long, drawn out spin-cycle…  but I am reading a lot more than I was when I first started to recover.

So I thought I might start to write a bit about a few things I’ve read recently.

I’ll start with Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, which might be a challenge . It’s a book I liked, but I’m going to really struggle to explain the book itself or why I liked it.  But I’ll give it a go.

It’s a military SF space opera where the weapons are ideas and the armour is convention and consensus. Essentially, the story is based around an insurrection against a rigid and dogmatic understanding of what reality is and the time in which is happens… by a slightly different rigid and dogmatic understanding of the same.  It’s about how the powers that be go about trying to stop it without being tainted by it – how to fight against a differing perspective and a different understanding without acknowledging to society that it’s even possible for it to  exist .

Our view into this story is via Kel Cheris – a name which is one part person, and one part role or caste.  Cheris is the individual, whilst Kel is the role she inhabits.

As a Kel, she’s essentially disposable infantry, trained to act on formation instinct  – which is basically programming to follow orders and behave according to certain pre-defined formations which prioritise tactical results over personal safety or comfort.  For the Kel, combat is all about using well established techniques en-masse to achieve set goals for the collective rather than to ensure personal safety.

Having a slightly unusual history for a Kel, Cheris displays a bit more free and individual thought than expected… and is highly (and unexpectedly) successful in battle as a result.  Which results in her being benched pending a reprimand,  but also noticed as being effective .

So when the aforementioned insurrection begins she is asked, along with a few others, to put forward a plan to stamp it out with the minimum collateral damage and the minimum resource expenditure.

Her plan involves freeing Shuos Jedao – a disgraced, brilliant, insane and (more importantly)  undefeated general from… well, essentially from death .  It’s worth noting that if Kel  means something between “infantry specialist” and “disposable meat shield”, then Shuos Means something between “strategist” and “two-faced sneaky bugger”.

She plans on using his strategic mind to win the battle, and then putting him back into the library of available resources afterwards. It’s a plan which only involves one extra resource and a bunch of disposable Kel, but less than some of the other plans proposed as they’re going to be lead by the infamous Jedao.

What she didn’t quite plan for was for his revival to involve her mind and his mind getting joint custody of her body for the duration of the misson…

Needless to say, things don’t go 100% to plan. If I’m totally honest… I’m not sure I could give a blow-by-blow of the plot, and that’s not what I’m trying to do here anyway. This book requires the reader to be able to do a couple of things to be able to get along with it:  First, you need to be able to just accept and read on – when the characters are operating on what feels like a fundamentally different understanding of reality… you need to be able to accept that reality and run with it. Second, you need to be able to cope with the idea of two personalities sharing a body, and how those two personalities can have different perceptions of the same events.

Throw in some artful plans-within-plans, a dash of dire machinations and a bucketload of things going completely off the rails when things come to a head… and you’ve got a recipe for something that’s a challenging but fun read, if slightly arcane and obtuse every once in a while.

If I had to pin it down as being similar to anything else, I’d say it’s what happens if something like The Forever War were to get down and do the dirty with an Iain M. Banks novel… after a) reading a library full of fairly esoteric physics & psychology books and b) trying to understand timecube (which is apparently gone, alas…   but the wayback machine has it ).

To sum up: I loved it, but can’t really explain it.

It’s well written. It’s well paced, with compelling characters in a compelling culture in a compelling universe. The way the whole thing fits together works , even if it frequently leaves your brain just saying “wait a minute – run that by me again, please?”. If you pick it up, expect to wait for explanations for concepts that, if they come at all, don’t really help… but fundamentally don’t matter if you just accept them and keep reading.

Next up:

If I manage to keep up posting, I’ll also be writing about Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman , A Closed and Common Orbit  by Becky Chambers , Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and 14 by Peter Clines (if I can work out how to write about the last without spoiling it utterly – which so far, I can’t).

August 2017

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