Lee, Yoon Ha -- Conservation of Shadows

(Interest: I've known Yoon on the Internet for years, through interactive fiction forums and such.)

Despite the above, I have not read most of her stories, because I don't read many short stories. (Just not in the habit.) Thus I have suddenly been smacked with a decade's worth all at once! Which turns out to be a good thing.

This book is full of... it's easy to say "Asian-flavored". The introduction (by Aliette de Bodard) says "Asian-inspired". Both are thready generalizations. The science fiction is full of elements of Korean mythology, Japanese culture, Chinese history; (permute! permute! Okay, and add in all the bits I am insufficiently educated to recognize). Ninefox is a clan emblem; origami is the techne of starships and mass destruction; more than once, a peninsula is divided and at war. Stellar nations are autocratic, varying degrees of totalitarian, and not very much like 20th-century America at all. These are specifics. It is a distinction well beyond chopsticks, tea, and Asian-sounding names. (Though all of those do appear.)

What else? The author is cheerfully fond of physics and math, and the storylines are frequently wrapped around those bones. I was often and startlingly reminded of early Greg Egan. These stories aren't as militantly philosophical as Egan, and they don't have his incessant edge of horror, but they have that... love of system, let's say. Occasionally it's too nakedly presented for my taste (Euclid's fifth postulate isn't enough to hang a story on) but in most of the stories it's structure and confidently-handled terminology, which is exactly what I want in SF.

A wider criticism: several of the stories show a character arc without much emphasis on the changing angles. (Do I have math on the brain now?) So we see a character betray her nation; the decision is inevitable, and I even have a sense why. But I don't have a sense of making the decision, the rupture seen in approach and falling away. Certainly that already-there-realization is a mode of decision-making, but it's not the only one, and after a while I started to want a little self-reflection already.

(Which is unfair; this collection has a good variety of tones and storytelling modes. It's not all the same thing.)

I appreciated the story notes at the end, which dig deeper into sources and inspirations and goals than most authors are willing to 'fess up to.

Anyhow, this is good stuff and I recommend it. If the author gets through a novel, I will jump on it; otherwise, I'll probably drift until another collection of stories hits me. Look, they call them "habits" for a reason.

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