Review of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

I bought Ninefox Gambit late last year because it was on sale. There were good things said about it and, more importantly, the audiobook version was only a few dollars more. So I started to listen during my long commute home but by New Year’s I had stopped. This Hugo Challenge forces me to give it another chance.

There were two main reasons why I stopped. The first being that the holidays are always filled with distractions. The other, that this book isn’t of my normal, intermediate reading level (#humblebrag). It’s considerably more challenging.

Ninefox demands your attention. It forces you to listen to the context in a way that most writing never attempts. You’ve heard of the “show-don’t-tell” policy amongst writers and storytellers? There is barely any telling going on in this book. And honestly, it could use some more showing. I reread certain passages multiple times and still didn’t quite understand what had happened.

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The Way of Kings Review

The Way of Kings Review

Ever heard of Tony Mandarich? He was a football player back in the ’90s –hold up!! Let’s pump the brakes. This is, after all, a review of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings, the first novel in the Stormlight Archive which seems to be getting all of the praise as “The Next Big Thing”. First off, it’s huge, a thousand pages huge, the first book in a prophesied 10-book series huge. And, in case you’re wondering what I thought, it’s great.

See, all fiction books come down to three essential things: Characters, Plot, and Setting (and I would argue Theme, although it isn’t always a requirement, sadly). You need compelling characters to care about, so that when good and/or bad things happen you have someone to care about. Characters are the point of the story. The plot is any motivations to spur the characters into action. The setting is also important because it helps form our frame of reference and the context of the story.

The Way of Kings has all of them turned all the way up. Even theme.

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Four of My Favorite Books

New blogs are weird. Immediately there’s a thought in the back of your mind that you’re reading someone’s boredom. This could just be another person in who got 80% more ambitious than normal, started a free WordPress blog, wrote a post or two, and then completely forgot about the endeavor within three weeks. Honestly, it’s happened to me before.

But this time is different. And it’s all because I have a goal: Ten books in four months. This is the good kind of goal. It’s achievable only through perseverance and actually sticking to the deadlines. I’m not guaranteed – or guaranteeing – success.

As a blogger, I need to be appealing to you. Why should you read this blog? The only thing I can really think up is that you want opinions on the Hugo Awards. And there’s a chance you may not even like my opinions. It happens. We’re all different people and blah blah blah. The best I can give you right now is who I am as a reader. A warning, essentially. This way you might have an idea about what to expect.

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The Math and the Rankings Behind the Challenge

At some point during every book, you check how much longer you have to go before it ends. It doesn’t matter if it’s bad and you’re forcing your way through, or if it’s good and you want to enjoy it as long as you can. You always check. Of course I’m going to do the same thing with the challenge. But to do that, I’ll need to do some math. Simple math, really — maybe a little algebra, but nothing too difficult. But with something this big, I’ll need to set minor checkpoints to ensure that I’m keeping pace for that August 11th deadline.

Ten books in four months. That’s the goal, basically. Once I finish Sanderson’s The Way of Kings — ETA: April 20th — I’ll be continuing in earnest on Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, which I’ve already read to the one-quarter mark. That gives me around sixteen and a half weeks to read an estimated 4,451 pages. <Does MATH> That’s a required pace of 270 pages per week or 40 pages a day. That’s not a lot for some. But in my case, it equates to me, a day-job desk jockey, starting the Pacific Coast Trail tomorrow.

Book Author Series # Goodreads Ratings Goodreads Score Pages
All the Birds in the Sky Charlie Jane Anders  –  13,852  3.58  320
The Fifth Season N.K. Jemisin  1  18,969  4.32  468
The Obelisk Gate N.K. Jemisin  2  8,546  4.38  448
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet Becky Chambers  1  16,113  4.18  518
A Closed and Common Orbit Becky Chambers  2  3,978  4.41  365
Ninefox Gambit Yoon Ha Lee  1  2,602 3.96 384
The Three-Body Problem Ken Liu/Cixin Liu  1  35,129  4.00  400
The Dark Forest Ken Liu/Cixin Liu  2  12,852  4.38 512
Death’s End Ken Liu/Cixin Liu  3  7,405 4.48  604
Too Like the Lightning Ada Palmer  1  1,824  3.97  432

Now, it is very important to note that The Three-Body Problem and The Fifth Season are both past winners of the Hugo Awards (2015 and 2016, respectively). So they already come highly recommended.

And here lies an interesting comparison. The nominations are only compared to the small group of peers from the same year. And it is (usually) mandatory that one is declared as “The Best”. But what if that one year just wasn’t that good. Sure, one book was decidedly better than the rest of its class, but what does that mean? Maybe it won because the competition was lacking. Could it have been the king of the mud?

By comparing two past Hugo Best Novel winners with the batch from this year, the real standard of quality is approaching an even more absolute definition. We’ll have a perspective that couldn’t be obtained were this challenge to only pertain to the 2017 novels.

Each books will be evaluated using three separate methods. There are pros and cons to each method but together they hopefully give the best overall impression of my thoughts.

The first will be to give it a score on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the best. Because nominations are considered to all have a high-degree of quality, there likely won’t be any scores below five. But you never know.

The second measurement ties in closely with the first: A simple ordered list from worst to best. This guarantees there will be no ties. No matter what happens, I will not give a cop-out answer.

The last method is the best, most precise gauge of quality, but also slightly the worst. It’s the written review. It’s the most time-consuming method, for both me and you, but it will let proclaim what exactly makes the book so worthy of reverence.

Because that’s really the point of this challenge and this blog. To find out which one of these books is the best. As I hinted at above, it may not even be the best of this year’s nominations. We’ll just have to see.

What It Is

What It Is

I’m making myself a challenge. The good kind where the goal is difficult but still maintainable with enough diligence. You’ve heard of the Hugo Awards? One of the top awards for Science Fiction and Fantasy literature? I’m going to read all of the books nominated for Best Novel, and any of their predecessors, before the winner is announced on August 11th.

And this blog will be my ramblings and thoughts of their contents. Spoilers will be notified when needed. But I was always a fan of reviews with spoilers too. I’ll have two reviews for each novel — one with no spoilers, and another that chunkier than three-month-old milk. There will likely need to be something to fill in between reviews. Look for other book reviews, previews before I enter the next book and maybe some classic blog-style lists.

Let’s take a look at what I’m getting myself into. The Best Novel nominations are as follows:

Of those, three have at least one prequel in their series:

By my calculation, that’s ten books and over four thousand pages. The last time I read that many books in less than a year, my fifth-grade teach was baiting me with Dairy Queen certificates.

Before I begin though I’ll need to finish what’s on my plate. Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is an anvil of paper. At just over a thousand pages, it’s a huge epic fantasy and only the first in a series of supposedly 9 more anvils. Try though I might to read it quickly, it takes forever to get through.

I’ve already started on Ninefox Gambit. It was on sale near the end of 2016 and I bought it on a whim. Turned out I got lucky in terms of this challenge. It’s being read in parallel to The Way of Kings and is likely the first novel crossed off the list.

Hopefully, you’ll be back to hear me break down each of the picks. I’m not look for the political meanings of the nominations nor will you hear me complain about the selections themselves. These authors put countless hours into writing these. I’m sure they are far more proud of these novels than I ever will be of finishing this challenge.

The goal — beyond just reading more — is to know how I feel about each candidate and who truly deserves the award. In the meantime, I’ll have some fun. Best character? Best prose? I hope to find out.