the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Yoon Ha Lee’ Category

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee

Published in January of 2019

where I got it:  purchased new

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About half way through Raven Stratagem, I realized I wanted to read everything Yoon Ha Lee had written. The Machineries of Empire series only has three books, and I needed more of this kind of writing, of this style of story weaving. So, I ordered myself a copy of Conservation of Shadows, and bought a copy of Lee’s middle grade book Dragon Pearl.

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Dragon Pearl was very cute, and it is definitely book aimed towards the 8 to 10 years old crowd. My niece justs turned six, I can’t wait for her to be old enough to read this. I hope this is the book that has her asking her parents a million questions about how the world works, why adults do the things they do, if she can be a fox spirit when she grows up, and how terra-forming works.
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When Min’s older brother Jun joined the Space Forces, his family hoped he’d return home to a better world. When Min’s mother receives word that Jun abandoned his post to seek the Dragon Pearl, the family is shocked. Min knows her brother would never do something like this. She knows what he was looking for, out there in the deepness of space, and she knows why it would tempt him so much. But his letters home make no sense, she knows something is very wrong! Knowing that she can’t let anyone outside her immediate family know that she is a fox spirit who can shapeshift, she leaves home (a little Binti like, actually!), in search of her brother’s ship and his last known where abouts.

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Dragon Pearl is very fast paced, and in short order Min loses her possessions, is embarrassed to learn exactly why her family doesn’t want their children ever using their fox-spirit magic such as shapeshifting and Charm in public, escapes the gravity well of her impoverished planet, gains a ghost, and ends up having to shape shift to imitate a dead boy who was posted on the same ship as her brother. Speaking of not using her Charm magic in public, I got an absolute kick out of the scenes in the casino.

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What started out as “find out what happened to my brother” has now turned into avoid the scary tiger captain, keep a ghost happy, quickly learn how to be a fifteen year old male cadet, somehow gain access to the planet of the dead (literally. It’s covered in ghosts and when you go there they kill you) and most importantly, don’t get stuck in this physical form forever! Some members of her brother’s ship were on a secret mission to find the Dragon Pearl, and if Min can understand what happened, her dusty, unfinished planet could become a paradise. It sounds very convoluted, doesn’t it? Luckily, Lee is a fantastic writer, so while it is fast paced, it isn’t convoluted at all.
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Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Machineries of Empire, #3)

published June 2018

Where I got it: purchased new

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One of the reasons I write reviews is to help myself process how a book makes me feel. I’m not super good at expressing myself verbally (or at all, actually), but somehow writing a book review helps me express myself and process my thoughts.  Somehow, with words, I am making a picture of the journey a book took me on. A picture of a journey, made of words? Magic!

 

Anyway.

 

I finished Revenant Gun nearly a week ago.  I’d been reading this book very slowly, savoring every page.  Like Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun is fucking smart. I can’t tell if this trilogy is the decade’s smartest science fiction epic, a treatise on management and communication, step by step instructions for how to take down a government, or if all of those things are actually in a way the same thing.  Among other things,  The Machineries of Empire trilogy is the story of what happens when choice is removed, and then many generations later, it is given back. If you’ve never had something before, how do you know what you’re supposed to do with it? I’ve grossly oversimplified the plot, of course. Sort of like saying Star Wars is about a guy who goes on an adventure, meets his dad, and then decides to kill his dad’s boss because of a political disagreement. I skipped over all the good parts, didn’t I?

 

I finished reading Revenant Gun nearly a week ago. That day, and the next day, I was no shape to write a review. Nearly in tears, I’d emailed my best friend and tried to explain to her (hey, remember that e-mail I sent you? And I said I wasn’t going to tell you the name of the book I was talking about? Well, it’s this book!)  that a particular scene had taken place, and that I felt rather positive about that scene. That I’d liked that scene.  And then later in the book, I found out that what I thought was happening that scene wasn’t actually what was happening at all.  And now that I knew what was really going on, what kind of fucking monster was I for liking that scene??   You guys, this was beyond #Allthefeels.

 

After I was done crying (I still didn’t feel any better, I’d just cried myself out), I ordered a copy of Yoon Ha Lee’s short story collection.

 

But enough about me and my mushy feelings,  you want to know what this book is about, right?  I don’t know what’s better – the overarching theme and plot of the trilogy or that these books are so damn smart and perfectly written that maybe the overarching plot doesn’t matter.

 

I was hoping for another Cheris book, and while she does make an appearance in Revenant Gun, this final volume is Jedao’s time to shine.  He’s awake, has only himself in his mind, doesn’t seem to have an anchor, and he thinks he’s 17 years old. His body is 40 something years old, and the soldiers expect him to order them around. Makes sense, since he’s been hired to win a war.  The soldiers are also terrified of him, and he doesn’t know why. Jedao is functioning without an understanding of what happened between him and Khiaz. He’s functioning without any understanding of his place in history. Even worse, he’s the only person who had no idea who Cheris is.

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raven stratagemRaven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

published June 2017

Where I got it: Purchased New

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Looking back at my review of the first book in this series, Ninefox Gambit, I wrote a pretty crappy review.  I remember when I finished that book, my mind was absolutely blown, and I had absolutely no idea how the heck to talk about what I’d just read.  So I wrote a passable review and then ordered the 2nd book in the series, Raven Stratagem.

 

I had a similar experience with Raven Stratagem.  My mind was utterly blown, and I knew I had no idea how to discuss what I just read.

 

So I read Raven Stratagem again, paid closer attention, and took more notes. You guys.  I don’t even like military scifi. And I loved the living shit out of this book. I never thought I’d say that some military science fiction books had become my comfort reads, but 2017 is a weird place.

 

Ninefox Gambit was on a comparatively small scale. It mostly took place on one ship, with Jedao manipulating the shit out of Cheris, and then showing her how powerful a skilled manipulator can be and how easy their society is to manipulate. All Kel cadets learn about the madman General Jedao who slaughtered his own troops, but they have no idea who he was as a person. Cheris gets to learn who he is as a person. It changes her mind.

 

Raven Stratagem is manipulation on a much, much larger scale.Yes, Jedeo is running around in Cheris’s body (is there anything of her left in there? Who knows), but in this novel we also get a look at the Hexarchates and how they run their factions.  Running a faction mostly means manipulating your fellow leaders so that you can get what you want, and right now, they all want immortality.  All this political manipulation would be sick if it wasn’t so darn entertaining!

 

If the first book was algebra, then this second book is trigonometry – with a focus on the study of angles.

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Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

published in 2016

Where I got it: purchased new

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What’s your opinion on getting thrown in the deep end, buried in terminology, and a world that’s never fully explained? If you answered “I’m good with that”, you’ll enjoy Ninefox Gambit.  If that sentence made you quiver in your seat a little, then maybe this book isn’t for you.  And I’ll admit, I struggled through the first 50 pages or so – the language was gorgeous, almost musical,  with animal, insect, and bird signifiers telling me something. I had no idea what was going on, or what the signifiers were supposed to tell me, but it sure was pretty.   So started the book again, from the beginning, forcing myself to pay close attention to the political maneuverings, unique military terminology, cultural slang, and calendrical heresy.

 

Calendrical Heresy, that’s one I should explain, isn’t it?  But doesn’t that phrase sound delicious on your tongue? Say it out loud with me: Calendrical heresy. It tastes like apricots and caramel, and looks like leaves falling on a calm pond.   A militaristic society built on mathematics and belief, the technology of the Hexarchate depends on everyone following the same calendar, and observing the same holidays and observances all at the same time. If you are doing something against the calendar, you are heretical, and after the military catches you, you’ll be re-educated. No government wants disruptors, right?   Is it math that makes the technology work? Religious observations and belief? Spirituality? Some pretty deep stuff.

 

The novel is broken up into three discreet acts. The first act involves Kel Cheris is “partnered” with the digitized ghost of a famous military general.  General Shuos Jedao never lost a battle, but he also slaughtered his own soldiers.  He’s suicidal, depressed, angry as fuck, and now bonded to Cheris’s brain.  Lucky her.  One of the Hexarchate’s most important fortresses, The Fortress of Scattered Needles, has fallen to heresy.   Jedao was known for breaking all the rules, and Cheris is known for following all orders to the letter thanks to her unbreakable Formation Instinct, so they make an interesting pair.

 

I should explain Formation Instinct a little? Simply put, it’s brainwashing.

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clarkesworld4Folks, this is it. With this post I’ve let you know about all the original fiction Clarkesworld published during their fourth year. They just celebrated seven years, by the way. Pretty awesome, right?

just joining us? catch up with parts one, two, three, four and five.

This “go through their entire year” project was fun. You interested in me doing something like this again? I only did one year out of seven, but I feel like a bit of a completest anyway.

These final stories involve memory theft, magic candies, murderous whirlwinds, a vengeful astronaut, and a tragic military science fiction story. Let’s dive in!

Between Two Dragons, by Yoon Ha Lee – The nation of Cho has tried to stay neutral. On one side is the war like Yamat rattles it’s sabers, and makes plans to invade Feng-Huang, located on the far side of Cho. Avoiding violence from one side all but forces them to betray the other neighbor. And the famous Admiral Yen Shemar will remember none of it. Knowing the fate that awaits him after the war, he opts to face it on his own terms, and pays a visit to a woman who can erase his memories and in the process change his personality. This was the part of the story that struck me the hardest. The person being “re-written” doesn’t remember the procedure, doesn’t understand why their mother or child or sister looks at them funny afterwards because they no longer love their favorite foods, or claim to have never seen the film or read the book or poet that they used to always quote from. Your loved one becomes a stranger. At work recently, I overhear two people comparing their closed head injury recoveries. What they both agreed on was that the injury changed their personality. they could remember who they were before, but their personality changed afterwards. Is being “rewritten” a little like that, except you can’t remember who you were before? It was uncanny, to overhear that conversation shortly after reading this story. Between Two Dragons is a military science fiction story, but it doesn’t read like you’d expect a military scifi story to read.  It reads like a list of fears, of regrets. It’s not told in chronological order either, as if the characters are writing down fleeting memories before they can be forcefully taken.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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