Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Yoon Ha Lee, who is the author of Ninefox Gambit (Solaris Books, June 2016).
Yoon Ha Lee is a writer from Houston, Texas, whose work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He has published over forty short stories, and his critically acclaimed collection Conservation of Shadows was released in 2013. He lives in Louisiana with his family and an extremely lazy cat, and has not yet been eaten by gators.
Information about Ninefox Gambit:
A tale of massacres, madness and mathematics in deep space - and a stunning debut.
Kel Cheris, a disgraced captain of the Hexarchate, is given the opportunity to redeem herself by recapturing the formidable Fortress of Scattered Needles.
Given command of a fleet and dispatched to take care of the heresy that has gripped the Fortress, Cheris requests - and receives - a single devastating weapon from the Hexarchate's arsenal: the revived, near-immortal traitor general Shuos Jedao.
If anyone can overcome the fortress, it's Jedao. Feared throughout the stars and undefeated in battle, he is the perfect weapon. But Jedao is gripped by a madness that saw him massacre two armies in his first life - one of them his own. Preserved for his brilliance and tamed by his handlers, no one knows how long his good behaviour will last.
Unleashed from captivity, the mass murderer must work with Cheris to destroy the heresy - and save the Hexarchate...
Ninefox Gambit, the bravura opening instalment of Yoon Ha Lee's The Machineries of Empire trilogy, is a tale of massacres, madness and mathematics in deep space.
AN INTERVIEW WITH YOON HA LEE
- Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
I'm Korean-American and was born in Houston, Texas, but don't have the accent except when I say "y'all." Sometimes I write rough drafts with fountain pens because you can get the ink in a rainbow of colors. My family and I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a cat who has the personality of an unusually submissive marshmallow, and we have not yet been eaten by gators.
- How did you become an author? Have you always been interested in speculative fiction?
My third grade teacher, Mr. McCracken, used to promote creative writing by dressing up as the superhero Story Man once a week. Before then, I hadn't realized that books came from people--I guess I thought they randomly teleported into the library or something--but afterward, I decided to give it a go.
Although I read a few speculative fiction books in childhood, the origins of my interest in speculative fiction go something like horses to unicorns to spaceships! I was horse-crazy as a kid and eventually gravitated to fantasy equines. Belle Sherman Kendall Branch Library in Houston shelved the science fiction and fantasy books in the same area, so from there it was a short hop from all the unicorn books to the spaceship books.
- Have any science fiction authors been an important source of inspiration to you?
Roger Zelazny was one of the authors who showed me that prose could be beautiful for its own sake. I learned a lot about nonstandard story structures from Harlan Ellison's Deathbird Stories. Margaret Weis's Star of the Guardians series is one of my favorite space operas. I love Tony Daniel's "A Dry, Quiet War" for its bleak depiction of far-future war. And Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game was the novel that made me want to write about military ethics.
- Your debut novel, "Ninefox Gambit", will soon be published by Rebellion Publishing (Solaris Books). What inspired you to write it? How did you come up with the story?
I'd been been wanting to write a space opera for some time, and was starting to find short fiction confining for this particular genre, so I knew that for a story of large scope I would need to write a novel. I started with the mystery of the antagonist, Shuos Jedao, an apparently perfect general who goes up in flames one day when he massacres the enemy army and his own army, and why he did that. The entire story is a game of cat-and-mouse between the protagonist, Cheris and Jedao--Cheris needs Jedao's help to complete her mission, and as it turns out, Jedao may need Cheris's, but neither of them is quite able to trust the other.
Everything followed from the way the two matched wits.
- Did you find it challenging to write a full novel after writing several short stories?
Absolutely, yes. My last attempt at a novel had failed horribly after ten years of rewriting the beginning few chapters over and over--I eventually finished the draft, but it turned out to have major flaws.
As a warm-up exercise, I actually wrote a 27,000-word Fullmetal Alchemist fanfic to see if I could write a work to outline. When that went well, I decided to plunge in and try something original!
- What kind of a novel is "Ninefox Gambit"? What can readers expect from it?
It's military space opera where the magitech is based on what calendar people follow--if people start using a different calendar, your old tech, including your stardrives, stops working! This results in a dictatorial government that spends most of its time trying to put out "heresies" and controlling what people think.
- What kind of a protagonist is Captain Kel Cheris? Could you tell us something about her?
Cheris joined the military to prove her loyalty to the system, but she's not as good at being loyal as she originally thinks she is. She makes friends with individuals from the oppressed underclass of sentient robots, which is definitely not normal for an officer. And she's addicted to ridiculous, over-the-top soap operas, which she and her robot friends watch together. She's also an ace mathematician, which makes her more dangerous than even she realizes in a world where the magic system has roots in mathematics.
- Because this novel features mathematics, it would be interesting to know if you're intrigued by mathematics? What kind of mathematics will readers find in the story?
I love mathematics--I got my B.A. in the subject, and briefly taught high school math. For this novel, I considered coming up with a bunch of congruences and whatnot out of abstract algebra, and then my husband pointed out that nobody picks up a space opera novel because they want to read about abstract algebra. There are references to bits and bobs of math, like matrix diagonalization and fractals, but the main idea is that the magic system is basically math that affects reality, especially number theory.
- What was the most challenging part of the writing process? Did you have to do any research for this novel?
The hardest part was characterization. When I write a short story, I don't have to be in any given character's head for very long because, well, the story will end in a few thousand words. With a novel, I had to get to know the main characters very well to be able to portray them.
Most of the research I did was about the military. One of my favorite resources was FMFRP 12-2 Infantry in War, and it helped that I like military history and have been reading it for a while. I also looked into things like security engineering, social engineering, and geese farming! Thanks to that last, I now know how to roast a goose and how to render goose fat and make goose hash.
- "Ninefox Gambit" is the first novel in "The Machineries of Empire" trilogy. When can readers expect a sequel and where will the story go from here?
I've already turned in the sequel, _Raven Stratagem_, so at this point it's up to my publisher! In _Raven Stratagem_, we meet Kel Brezan, who is Lawful Good and very grumpy about the fact that he lives in a horrible dystopia. Brezan is the only person to escape his fleet being hijacked in the middle of a foreign invasion by a certain dangerous individual from _Ninefox Gambit_, and he vows to stop them. Of course, he may have more in common with said dangerous individual than he realizes.
- Is there anything you'd like to add?
If you're interested in different calendar systems and ethnomathematics in general, I highly recommend Marcia Ascher's Mathematics Elsewhere.