Ninefox Gambit (Machineries of War)

cover

In a word

Contrived.

Read If...

I don't recommend reading this book, but if you're really interested, read if:

  • You are interested in military sci-fi fantasy
  • You don't mind needlessly gratuitous violence

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, and mirrors that don't show reflection
  • "Invariant" artificial gravity (I would even accept magic calendrical gravity, but since calendrical effects are not always present, gravity should neither be present)
  • Supposed "invariant" 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 common video game mechanic)
    • Space fungus (what?)
    • Dismemberment field (sadistically contrived)
    • Gun that corrodes guns (just guns... not spacesuits, nor explosives, not itself, nor pretty much everything that might exist on a space station)
    • Cannon that explodes people into glass (glass cannon?)

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.

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 footsoldiers by leadership, but at this point in the novel betrayal is 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?

Overall, it's pretty uncompelling fantasy.

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

It didn't begin with the character 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 a complete waste of time. I won't be continuing the series anytime soon.