Tuesday 30 August 2022

Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee (2016)


Rating: Admirable

I bought this book on a whim, mainly because I thought it was Chinese science fiction, but Lee is actually an American, however, despite my admittedly rather limited exposure to Chinese science fiction, Lee does display some stylistic similarities to some of the Chinese writers I've encountered. There's a certain formal tone to the writing, which has both advantages and disadvantages. The formal tone suits militaristic science fiction, with its array of exotic weapons (amputation guns and something sinister and powerful known as a Winnower, are two of many examples) and space battles, which can be difficult to get right, but Lee does well here. However it's not so good with character development, leaving many of the characters as two-dimensional actors in settings dominated by military technology and imperialist ideology. The two main protagonists, captain Kel Cheris and the 'undead' mad and traitorous Shuos Jedao, have some depth to them, particularly as their circumstances allow for some pretty dark psychological intensity, but all the other characters are one dimensional or impenetrable. The novel became less satisfying as it progressed. In fact I became indifferent throughout the last third and just wanted to finish so I could move onto another book, which is never a good sign.

Despite the novel's flaws the concepts found within Ninefox Gambit are intriguing. There's a struggle between a despotic space Empire called the Hexarchate and other groups that are under its control, who have a tendency to become 'heretics' and develop alternate ways of living. This is were it gets really interesting - civilisation, and objective reality itself, is maintained and altered by the development and establishment of calendrical mathematics. The Hexarchate is run by a strict calendar that all disparate parts of the empire must adhere to, otherwise reality itself can change in ways that undermine its function. It's a great concept and I also enjoyed the fact that Lee throws you in the deep end from the first page and it takes quite a while to work out what is going on. Ninefox Gambit is the first novel of the Machineries of Empire trilogy. The combination of Lee's ideas, space opera tropes and mathematic concepts make the novel and the trilogy an intriguing proposition, however because Lee's style left me cold it is likely that I will not read the other two novels, Raven Stratagem (2017) and Revenent Gun (2018). Other's may find Ninefox Gambit totally satisfying, so don't be necessarily put off by my reaction to Lee's writing. The novel won the Locus Award for best first novel and was shortlisted for the Nebula Award, so I may well be in the minority.

Monday 15 August 2022

Something to Hide - Elizabeth George (2022)


Rating: Mediocre

This is the first book I've had to read for the library's book club for quite a while. At over seven hundred pages long I'd hoped that it would be worth the effort, but it turned out that I could only last two hundred pages. It's rare for me to give up on books, particularly book club books, as I display a reasonable degree of dedication. However Something to Hide is the dad-bod* of novels - bloated, bland and with a curious self belief that it is better than it actually is. The novel is a police procedural, with a detective called Lynley on the case (although we do not encounter him until one hundred pages in). This is George's twenty-first Lynley novel, so obviously plenty of readers enjoy these books. The novel has a seriously important theme - the effort to stop female genital mutilation, however the narrative is so slow, the style so overly descriptive, and the characters display a level of blandness that is enough to irritate and not care, that such an important theme is rendered inert. I could go on, but I just can't be bothered. My lack of enthusiasm for this novel has bled over into this review, making it almost as bland. Read this novel only if you are already a fan of the series and, I guess, crime/police procedurals in general, although I'm certain there are better ones out there. 

* I used this description when talking about the book to a library casual, so I decided to use it, even though when written down it loses something along the way...