Author: Yoon Ha Lee
Title: Ninefox Gambit
Series: Machineries of Empire #1
This year started out very well – at least with regards to my SF reading 😉 I have only had the misfortune of reading one dud during these first two months of 2020, and it was fantasy, which I’ll definitely scour in a scathing review sometime in the future – but as this review deals with a violent military SF of the highest order, I shall focus on that with all the delight and diligence it deserves.
Ninefox Gambit, the first installment in Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy, presents a world in which math is the language of magic. Or, more precisely, where math begets magic – as long as there are people who absolutely believe in this possibility. The magic of math – of geometry and probability, of statistics and analysis – is a lethal one. The unforgiving inevitability of right angles and straight lines alters the fabric of the universe, creating temporal pockets of reality where life becomes impossible. Radiation, mutation, extreme temperatures – whatever you like, whatever you deem necessary, is at the tips of your fingers. The only thing you need to do is to have enough soldiers to make a meaningful formation and keep it despite constant winnowing by the opposite forces – and, of course, social belief.
Here’s where things become tricky. The power of the mathematical magic is based on popular belief. It can be upheld only through meticulously calculated and obsessively observed rituals and modes of behavior dictated by a uniformly accepted calendar: such and such number of days in a week; such and such day a sacred one; such and such rituals falling on certain dates; such and such number of human sacrifices made when occasion demands. The belief must be absolute and unquestioned; it must form the foundation of the people’s worldview, must be inculcated from the start and rigorously, continuously reinforced. Otherwise you’re bound to find calendrical rot at the core of your perfectly oiled and ticking empire – a dissident movement, a desperate revolution against the totalitarian society which treats an individual only as a replaceable cog in the machine.