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SkyFi :: December 2019 :: Ninefox Gambit

Hello Fellow Travellers,

We held a quick check-in before the holidays to see if we could set up an epic read to fill the space of travel and rest over the next couple of weeks. We didn't quite get the whole crew together, and few of us had made it through the book, Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, so we only made glancing discussion of the military space opera with a body-snatching hive consciousness twist. While we did take a good amount of time to consider what we should dive into next, I have done some reflecting and feel that we should stick with our mission and get more of the group together around a completed book before getting too far ahead of ourselves.

Ninefox Gambit presents an interesting and wonderfully nerdy world building around the mechanics of a mathematical calendar system that governs all technologies, including the ability to travel the stars and unleash devastating weaponry, but it is all dependant on an extremely rigid, unrelenting, and grotesque social order that casts life aside at the slightest threat to order. I wanted to know a bit more about the author not that I am halfway through the third book in the series.

From Locus:

‘‘I approach writing like it’s an equation. What is the… moral is maybe too loaded a term… but what is the thing at the end that the reader should come away with? What is the final conclusion? What is the theorem that I am trying to prove, and what are the axioms that will get me there, and how do I show the steps? I often wonder if my math professors would approve of what I’m doing with what they taught me, because it’s something I learned as a math major, how to think in that manner. A lot of people think that math is about computation, or arithmetic. It’s not just arithmetic, it’s about argumentation. It’s about forming an argument. Certain kinds of stories, especially if you write didactic stories, are a kind of argument too. You can transfer the methods from math to fiction.”

and Lightspeed Magazine

This is a good one about the background of the Machineries of Empire series. Also Lightspeed:

" To be honest, the actual math in Ninefox Gambit is pretty minimal. I was going to come up with the equivalent of an applied algebra game engine for the calendrical warfare, but my husband talked me out of it on the grounds that none of my readers was going to sit still for that much math. (To be clear, my husband is not afraid of math; he has a doctorate in astrophysics from MIT, and he actually uses math on a daily basis. But he is also a science fiction reader.) While perhaps not one hundred percent true, he was correct to the extent that my agent and I almost couldn’t find a publisher for Ninefox—even with the minimal actual math in it, several publishers turned it down for having “too much math.” There’s honestly more security engineering than math. (I read Ross Anderson’s Security Engineering twice for inspiration.) "

I will offer our two primary considerations for our next adventure so that the group can weigh in on the topic and prepare for the decision when we convene next. We oscillated between Jeff Vandermeer's Dead Astronauts and William Gibson's The Peripheral. Vandermeer's novel has a striking and terrifying cover, not to mention a title full of foreboding. It seems to be a second of a series which means it may need further consideration. A couple of us had already read Gibson's book, but with the imminent release of his next book, Agency, and its connection to The Peripheral, it seems appropriate to bring it into our canon. Gibson also has a propensity for dissecting the present through a grim reflection on our near possible futures. There is also an interview with him in the most recent New Yorker about his flirtations with reality.

Along with the accompanying musical interest:


My suggestion, for now, is to stay the course with our commitment to Ninefox Gambit, and if you are looking for some more Outerspace adventure, join me with the sequels in the Machineries of Empire trilogy, Raven Strategem and Revenant Gun. The strange mechanics of calendrical society based on exotic mathematics and rigorously maintained cultural beliefs lead to some dark days. Technology fractures and is absorbed as biology when cultures as different as Chromagnans and Nedarthals dance for control of resources, the most valuable of all being humans. The ghost of a tortured soul finds refuge in a young idealist and together they take on the whole system with a long game plan that has to unfold carefully layer by layer as an uncertain game of fox and hound takes shape. Oh, and did I mention the secret society of droids subtly tinkering with the great machine and carving their own territory of existence?

We did have a bit of time to traverse mediums and download our shared cultural accumulation over the past month, a few of the highlights were:

We shared a collective shudder at Disney's appropriation of Hans Christian Andersen's, The Little Mermaid.

with a beautiful and bizarre Russian translation into moving images in 1968

The Dark Crystal - Jim Henson's and Frank Oz's 1982 classic of fantasy storytelling through the magic of puppets. This one has always been a touching influence of mine, everything from the ergonomic flowing curves of the furniture of the Mystics to the segmented bodies of the Garthem, to the majestic gate of the Land Striders. My dreams are still haunted by the soul-sucking rays of the corrupted crystal, I still fear that my eyes will sink into a milky void if I spend too much time in front of a screen. I have not yet ventured into the new unfolding world of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, but it sounds like it might be worth the adventure.

This can never be unseen!

Jumping forward in the lineage of Henson, his company was a major driver for the quirky and often wonderful SciFi television series, Farscape. While the first season takes a while to really find its stride, the character and storytelling influence of Jim Henson and Co brings some amazing creatures to life and sets up a thrilling far away galaxy adventure. A few of The Dark Crystal characters (a ship full of Skeksis) make an appearance and there are numerous references in the racing dialog. The second season pushes hard of the rails and may even have lost them altogether a few times, but settles into something beautiful.

I often wonder how much we have lost from our childhood in the analog process of storytelling with our increasing reliance on digital animation. Everything from the new Star Wars with epic space scenes, which are stunning and extravagant demonstrations of Disney's technology, but lose the focus on the feeling of the characters, to reborn live-action versions of classic animations. like The Jungle Book and Ghost in the Shell. There needs to be space for the child to imagine, not just to be absorbed by unrelenting visuals. The unreal frees our minds to dream and extract abstract qualities and lessons from the full spectrum reality of our material lives. One extreme atrocity is the translation of JRR Tolkien's, The Hobbit. The 1977 animated movie by Rankin Bass didn't cover everything from the book but painted an elusive and powerful aesthetic world with a useful 90-minute constraint. The book is for depth, the film is for gaps and wonder. Peter Jackson's hyper-real super detailed and epically boring rendition is stunning and flat, with no space to dream.

We should remember to indulge in classics such as Jim Henson's, Labyrinth (I am seeing a pattern here) with the unforgettable music stylings of David Bowie.

Speaking of 80's animation and storytelling and David Bowie, what would winter be without this wonderful classic: The Snowman

Being at home for the holidays must be having a time travel effect on me as the 80's are surfacing all around me.

> Your friendly traveller, signing off ~

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