Category Archives: Mythology

Ninefox Gambit in Review

Every once in a while, my wife will suggest I read something she’s just read because I will, just like her, love it. I resist these recommendations. Somehow it feels like a set-up for failure; I’ll fail to love the book, the author will fail to live up to the advertisement, my wife will fail in her recognition of my preferences. So much riding on such small acts.

I just finished reading Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. I think you should read it.

cover of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

As a writer, I resist the temptation to compare and contrast myself against authors. Any such comparison would be beyond odious. I have, mostly, shed this wretched habit. I wanted to practice this newfound appreciation of others. I do not need the proverbial bitters before this meal. I long to pull out a chair at Yoon Ha Lee’s table.

This is the type of story that has stepped light-years out along a continuum and brought back a story of the future.

The writing feels a bit dense in the beginning as you struggle to find a raft in the sea of new perspective Yoon Ha drops you into. From the very first, you’re deep in the universe of the story. This is a powerful opera in the making; rich worldbuilding saves you from drowning, only to push you back under, once or twice, and fabulous character development gives you bridges into worlds beyond your imagining. Or not. If you’ve lived this kind of madness, there are a thousand gurus seeking you.

The teacher in the novel is a dark presence. There are no light presences. This is a story of liferafts. The characters lurch from the debris of one disaster after another. If you read quickly, you’ll find yourself grabbing the edges, just as you grabbed the toboggan on those really ragged, long hills; speed and height leave you scrabbling for a handhold.

The pronouncements provided by Ninefox Gambit, written into this amazing adventure by Yoon Ha Lee, are cutting edge in a social dynamic that roiling with uncertainty and rip tides. Some might call it brave. I call it scalding. I think you have to be brave to really read it.

It helped to have read the Locus interview with the author.

The novel is an equation to be solved. Reflecting back on the story with that in mind, I find that each scene is both an equation and a result inserted into the larger equation. It’s a pragmatic view and one shared by few writers. The idea percolated and with a light switch from music to math, we find ourselves traveling an entirely new universe.

The plotline is tangled enough to satisfy the lustiest of plot lovers. There are scenes that may, momentarily, seem jarringly unrelated to the core story arc, but as you chew on the author’s vision, it becomes clear that the divisions of society both work and don’t work. A working version of the universe is in place, but, as always when the powers have everything settled to their satisfaction, a rebel is born. Some rebels must then be cultivated and set against that external rebel.

Rebellion is not a new idea in this universe. Meet the riskiest rebellion yet. Let’s increase the ante! Introduce two internal rebels and pray that they cancel each other out as internal rebels while applying a quantum leap of rebel logic to the problem, the immediate problem, the external problem. The solution of this larger problem, defeating the most dangerous heresy to date, occupies the space opera slot of this heavily driven plot. Breathless pacing.

The development of the central characters is rich and arrived at through the view of actions and motivations. Lee writes brilliantly. While pulling you down into a whirlpool, Yoon Ha shows you the character acting habitually and thinking beyond those habits. Wishing, as we all have at some point, that things could be different.

Character development appears effortless. Not long into the story, you begin to wonder who people are. Who they really are. The characters emerge, are revealed and transformed, as seen through their actions and their asides. Skillful writing! The protagonist, Cheris, is someone you want to connect with, someone you want to see Cheris win in this complex collapse of civilization. Or the collapse of a complex civilization.

Flashbacks are handled consciously. Come here. Look, a flashback. This character learns. You learn. Each flashback contributes to the development of the story, the universe, and the characters. There is a lot to know in this story. As complex as the mathematic basis may feel, at the beginning, you can understand it, with increasing confidence, as the story develops. There are ongoing expansions of the concepts. With exquisite writing, Yoon Ha brings us along the story arc, no matter how well we meet the mathematics.

Can one trust one’s own rebel? Can one trust?

My advice remains: read this book.

Losar and Renewal

Tomorrow is Losar, the Tibetan New Year. I’ve just learned that the word losar is composed of two words, lo means “year ago” and sar means “new fresh.” I like this idea of refreshing the year. Also, this is a Fire Rooster year (it’s all over the place as the Firebird year).

I also like the idea of taking Fire Rooster and regurgitating Firebird, the year of the Phoenix. A year of renewal, burn the old to give birth to the new. A year of reincarnation for us all, some of us without even dying.

What I don’t like about it is the whole burn it down part of the Phoenix story. That might be my entitlement talking. Though I don’t think I’m entitled, I know I am. I’m white and middle-class. I’m so middle-class that even in poverty I act like I’m still middle-class; my clothes are well-made, if worn. I actually had to buy new pants after I lost weight when my Fibromyalgia morphed into IBS.

I eat organic, locally grown food. I buy heavily during the summer and I preserve food for the winter. That’s both madly old-fashioned and radically new-fashioned (or recently enabled and re-fashioned, I can’t decide). I let go of other things: television, movies, concerts, restaurants, live music, vacations, and more. My priorities dictate my choices.

I mostly feel invisible in the larger culture. In spite of some amazing steps forward in our society, I’m still lost from the crowd. I’m the gazelle sacrificed to the hunters by lot; my lot is that I’m not a member of the herd.

May we have a year in which we come to our senses, may we learn this lesson: “politically correct” is a phrase used to demean people who exhibit kindness, empathy, and curiosity about others. That dangerous other.

Let us rise from the ashes of our horror and dismay, let us be renewed, let us be politically correct where that means: be considerate, treat others as you think they want to be treated, and think about more than yourself. The idea of self-sacrifice shouldn’t be applied to mean that those who disagree need to sacrifice themselves on the altar of rage.

All the same, I’m nervous. I feel like I did the day I headed home from school knowing there was a crowd waiting for me. When I came around the hill in the middle of our complex and I saw nearly every member of my grade seven class standing there, with Kelly Dewar standing in front, pissed as pissed can get. My feet started dragging but I walked straight up to her. I had lots of practice at this. I carefully removed my precious glasses and put them on the curb of the parking lot we’d gathered ourselves in, everyone moved to encircle me, and Kelly beat the crap out of me while I stood there, arms limp and useless at my sides. That’s what I feel like these days, that I’ve come around the hill and I see disaster standing firmly in my way. I don’t run, I don’t fight, I don’t even hide.

Just as an aside, as a kid I hadn’t heard the word phoenix and had sounded it out to end up with something that sounded more like phonics.

The Myth of Family

Dad & friends in their haphazard London taxi pretending to drive about in Halifax during the war.
Mom at Basic Training in Cornwallis Ontario

These are the people who became my parents. I have thought long and hard about both of them. I probably spend more time looking at me, but since they’re my mirrors and my source of so many habits that I need to know them, at least within the context of what I came out of our relationships with.

Scars, mostly.


Indeed, scars that I’m working over and getting the fascia to loosen up a bit, act a bit more like my body is undamaged. It’s all complicated when you’re not “normal.” Normals will argue with you “Well, I’ve had thoughts/done deeds that are not that much different from your examples of your behaviour.” Except they hadn’t been examples of behaviour but examples of habitual predilections, habitual perceptions, and habitual actions (or reactions).

That all said, if you read it, means I’ve had lots of bizarre questions about my parent, about whom I know little or no personal history. I have some building blocks: one had a business man father, the other was raised by a mortician; both enjoyed riotous youths but neither got into serious trouble; they are both the youngest child in their family of origin (oh, that lets so many cats out of the bag, except, it’s just a phrase I’ve picked up and found useful); one had serious mental illness, the other was clueless; one was a vicious predator, the other was clueless; both worked hard, but for very different reasons.

I recently decided to find something I could connect with in one parent, a difficult parent. I’d already felt that I’d come to a place of acceptance and love. But, recent events have revealed the truth about just how tied up I am in the utterly terrifying place my childhood was.

Time to untie another string, loosen another bow, and unwrap the package another layer.

Patience, The Virtue, And Me Without A Saint

Once upon a time.

Isn’t that how it all starts? Once upon a time, there was a woman who experienced a crisis. Yes. A crisis. Not of faith but of physique. Wait, don’t jump to conclusions because the story doesn’t start there, that’s somewhere near the middle. but it’s where we’re starting.

So, once upon a time there was a child who was born a ghost. The ghost child recognized its role as a sacrifice. The ghost child’s parents recognized their willingness to make the sacrifice in their hope for bounty in return for their gift. The parents could not decide how best to sacrifice their ghost child. One parent set to chewing on the ghost child’s body. One parent took the ghost child into the woods and left it there to be consumed by the beasts and insects until the last iota. Because the ghost child did not succumb to the efforts, the parents then treated the ghost child as a beloved living child. When their arms could not embrace the ghost child’s form, they turned their backs, they beat the ghost with holy water and holy men, and they wailed to their friends and neighbours that their child had forsaken them. The friends, the family, turned from the ghost child and left it to wander through the world untethered and unfettered.

The ghost child did not dissipate. After a long and lonely existence lived on the gruel of motherlessness, the ghost child put on the garb of a living person and took up a life.
Early and frequent success as a living person led the ghost child to believe that it was saved, reborn, or perhaps simply born.

Now…there was a woman, who had been a ghost child, who had been alive, and who had a crisis. Illness and its prescriptions wore away at her vitality but not her intensity. The urge that had wrapped a ghost in the living skin of a person had been fueled by an intensity, a stubbornness, a firmness and that strength stoked her collapse, just as it had driven her earlier transformation.