Ninefox Gambit (Machineries of War)


Read If...

  • You are interested in soft sci-fi: space fantasy
  • You're ok with puzzling over futuristic tech words with their modern equivalents (spaceship=moth, grid=internet, etc)
  • You don't mind a future with needlessly gratuitous violence
  • You have a flexible definition of loyalty

Thoughts (spoilers)

You know the quote: any technology sufficiently advanced enough is indiscernible from magic.

Science, math, and technology are all interesting because they solve problems based on (rigid) sets of rules. Magic (as a "technology"), still needs to follow rules, otherwise it's just deus-ex-machina arbitrary. Here's some of the arbitrary magic in this novel:

  • Shadows that don't respect light, mirrors that don't show reflection
  • "Invariant" artificial gravity (I would even accept magic gravity, but since calendrical effects are not always present, neither should gravity)
  • Supposed "Ice" shields are actually magic (and you can scare its operators with symbols apparently, which wasn't a rule set up beforehand, so it had no payoff)
  • Underwhelming, uncreative weapons
    • Shadow multiplier, aka "kaleidescope gun" (a very common video game mechanic)
    • Space fungus
    • Dismemberment field
    • Gun that corrodes guns (just guns... not spacesuits, nor explosives, nor pretty much everything that might exist on a space station...)
    • Cannon that explodes people into glass (glass cannon? hehe)

Speaking of cannons that explode organics on space vessels, why didn't the Kel just lead with that on the Fortress? There was a little blurb in the beginning about trying to take the Fortress intact, but there's a very real (and difficult) discussion to be had about the cost of invasion in terms of long-term casualties (Hiroshima, anybody?). I guess utilitarianism is completely shirked in the novel though....

There's also quite a few unanswered questions:

  • Why would someone turn to heresy? What do they stand to gain? As far as I can tell, people become heretical just as a change of pace in their lives....
  • Did most of the citizens of the Fortress become heretical? How did that happen? How were the heretics and loyalists separated? Were citizens forced into heresy? Or was it appealing? Or were they under duress? As far as I can tell the citizenry of the Fortress might just be a bunch of cattle.
  • There were 6 sections of the Fortress presumably filled with their respective faction. What were they doing this whole time? Did they become heretics? The subject of existing ranked hexarchate members was completely glossed over, even though the Fortress represented a "microcosm" of the hexarchate.

Not having these very reasonable questions answered was a major hurdle in my enjoyment of the novel. Moreover, there were a few very confusing parts where I think the author was either trying too hard to be clever, or just didn't elaborate enough:

  • Boarding the Fortress was confusing. Where did they board? Why didn't the Fortress fire upon the boarding parties? Was it because they trusted Jedao and his ruse? Did the Kel jsut start firing upon the heretics when the doors opened? If so, how did Kel Nerevor get captured? (All of this was so inconsequential to the plot anyway, functionally it's just easier to assume that the Kel boarded under fire and engaged the heretics.)
  • What was with the suicide-formation that supposedly cleared one of the guns? (Either the dismemberment gun or the corrosion gun, I forgot which.) Was that the second time Cheris sacrified troops for a small advancement? It seemed like the author was continuing to show the betrayal of high command, but at this point in the novel it's so commonplace that I'm used to it.

Speaking of Kel and supposed Kel loyalty, most of the Kel casualties in the book come directly from the Kel themselves. Kel "loyalty" seems pretty loose-weave... loose-weave loyalty isn't exactly loyalty, now, is it?

What I did appreciate about the novel is that there's no isn't that weird moments, which Hyperion and Neuromancer are guilty of. In Ninefox Gambit, everything that's brought up is more or less directly related to the plot. Even though I didn't enjoy the novel a whole lot, the author wasn't wasting my time.

Overall, pretty uncompelling sci-fi.

I bought the whole series, so after I finished the first book, I opened the second one.

It didn't being with Cheris; red flag. Wondering just how long it would take to get back to Cheris' story, which only just got interesting, I flipped through all the pages scanning for "Cheris" or "Jedao".

Nothing. I'm glad I did so, because it sounds like the second book is an absolute waste of time. I won't be continuing the series anytime soon.