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Hexarchate Stories, Yoon Ha Lee 28 October 2019

2019 collection of short science fiction stories set in the universe of the Heptarchate/Hexarchate.

There are 21 stories in this book, but some of them are very short indeed, just a page or two to set a mood or show something interesting. Most have been previously published, either in various magazines or on the author's blog.

The Chameleon's Gloves is one of the longer ones: a pair of crooks is forcibly recruited to recover a doomsday weapon from the mad general who's stolen it. Of course things in this universe are never that simple.

Blowing up a region of space, even a very local region of space in galactic terms, would do no one any good. In particular, it would make a continued career in art theft a little difficult.

How the Andan Court is a short romantic prose-poem.

Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam looks at the purged heretical faction from the point of view of people who assume that those people were always heretical, because that is Truth.

Omens is a short story of the seduction (heterosexual, for a rarity) that led to Jedao.

Honesty is a story of Jedao's childhood; so is Bunny, and both are from the point of view of his sister Nidana. Black Squirrels sees him in the Academy, being sneaky. Silence has him home on leave, from the point of view of his older brother. All are vignettes more than stories.

Extracurricular Activities is more substantial, and I've read it before as it was nominated for the 2018 Hugos. Lee regards it as a "caper", though I'd say The Chameleon's Gloves is a better match for that description. Still, it's a largely enjoyable account of a covert mission.

Everyone knew the Shuos for their spies, saboteurs, and assassins, even though the analysts, administrators, and cryptologists did most of the real work. (One of his instructors had explained that "You will spend hours in front of a terminal developing posture problems" was far less effective at recruiting potential cadets than "Join the Shuos for an exciting future as a secret agent, assuming your classmates don't kill you before you graduate.")

Gloves deals with what Jedao did to relax when he had a body of his own. Hunting Trip is a minimal mood-setter.

The Battle of Candle Arc is another substantial piece, and a very good one; like much of Lee's earlier work in this setting, it digs into the implications of the calendar-based exotic technology used by the Heptarchate and its enemies, something that dragged me into the novel series in the first place but which I felt was largely forgotten by Revenant Gun. It's a good solid story.

Calendrical Rot is the prologue that was cut from Ninefox Gambit, explaining why it's a bad thing. I don't think it would have been a good prologue, but it's fun in itself.

Birthdays and The Robot's Math Lessons are incidents from Cheris' early life, and Sword-Shopping and Persimmons from her adolescence (the last from the point of view of a servitor).

Irriz the Assassin-Cat is another tiny piece, dealing with the home life of the administrator Shuos Zehun. Vacation looks all too briefly at the married life of Kel Brezan and Andan Tseya.

The book ends with two more substantial pieces; Gamer's End is the only second-person story I remember having enjoyed, dealing with the simulation-training of a Shuos agent, with appropriate twistiness.

Finally, Glass Cannon looks at the next steps for Shuos and Cheris; it might have worked well as a postscript to Revenant Gun, and while the rest of the collection is worth reading, this is I think essential for fans of the series, providing both some of the resolutions that were missing there and a jumping-off point for future stories should Lee ever write them.

All in all, a highly enjoyable and highly recommended collection.

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Previous in series: Revenant Gun | Series: The Machineries of Empire

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