I've seen a great deal of appreciation in some quarters of the internet for Yoon Ha Lee's Hugo-nominated debut novel Ninefox Gambit. Me, I'm still trying to decide if I actually liked it or not.
Now, likeability isn't necessarily a sign of a great book, but if it's not aimiable it has to have other things going for it. And what Ninefox Gambit does have is a great idea: that of a totalitarian regime consciously shaping its own consensus reality through control of philosophy, physics and mathematics; right down to the calendar and how time is measured.
This might seem far fetched, until we recall revolutionary France's new calendar which renamed the months and introduced a ten day week, or the Cambodian Year Zero. Control of time, of information, of language is something we are all too familiar with from the last century.
Lee simply takes this to a logical endpoint. And then goes right over the edge with the idea that mass belief can generate special combat effects like something out of a role-playing game (or the human machine code of Snow Crash, or Julian May's psychic protagonists combining their powers in metaconcert).
Needless to say, there is something of a tension between the serious and the silly in Ninefox Gambit.
As a story, it plays out as philosophical military SF - a war of competing ideologies, but also of guns and ships powered by those same beliefs. There are scads of space battles, close-quarter fighting and political intrigue here to enjoy.
My reservations? It's not as sure footed in its storytelling or world-building as it thinks it is, and could do with a wee bit more exposition. Tonally, it's all over the place too, with ill-fitting comic moments not really working in a much grimmer bigger picture.
But having said that, Ninefox Gambit is a novel I'd like to think I would have published had I the opportunity - it may not be likeable but it sure is interesting. It's a calling card for a new talent and I'll certainly read it again, if only to get a better handle on it.