Book Club - Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Book Cover

After the Genji debacle, I felt it was only fair to use my next book club selection on the book most requested by the listener of this show, Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. That does not mean this pick is without merit. Despite being the author's debut novel it was nominated for several awards, and won some as well. It is the first book in the Machineries of Empire series.

The book itself is a fundamentally a sci-fi novel full of space battles. It truly deserves to have a space ship on the cover. It tells the story of Kel Cheris, a captain in the hexarchate, a space empire. A large and important space station, the Fortress of Scattered Needles, is overthrown by heretics. Cheris is chosen for a mission to take it back.

Of course it's not just some pulp action adventure space opera. The book is actually about calendars, orthodoxy, democracy, immortality, consciousness, memory, folklore, traditions, math, games, and more. I think the parts relating to game design where perhaps why the listener wanted us to select it.

So humble listener, I hope you are happy we have chosen the book you have requested. Look forward to us discussing it probably sometime this summer.


I’ve been waiting for an excuse to re-read this book, and now I have it.

Books two and three of Ninefox Gambit take a turn for the uninteresting, in my opinion.

Instead of the series being called “Cool Space Battles with Weird Shit and Game Design Discussions” it’s called “The Machineries of Empire” and, turns out, I’m much less interested in Empire building than I am in what made up most of Ninefox Gambit.

Not bad books, but certainly a step down from my “five stars book of the year” reading experience of the original novel.

1 Like

If the character sheet isn’t a blank calendar, this is a failure.


Having now read the trilogy, I am extremely happy with it. The second and third books were, for me, even more compelling than the first.

They get into the actual revolution and how to design a society. You also have clones of the same general squaring off against eachother, and a host of fun interrogation of the servitors and the moths.

I absolutely recommend reading to the end of the trilogy.


This has been on my list actually for a long time. Time to chex it out perhaps.

When you find out the deal with the Moths. You specifically will enjoy that.

1 Like

Did the calendrical regimes remind anyone else of Prince of Nothing schools? All abstractions and competing ideologies.

Not the only thing I was reminded of, reading this:

  • Mazer Rackham, ancient mythic (atrocity-committing?) general teacher
  • Player of Games (all the… games)

I wonder what the author has read/was referencing and what’s just convergent sci-fi evolution.

And also a shot of “think, dammit!” as Cheris learns/tries to figure out what is really going on. Blindsight by Peter Watts is another one with that device.

Meta: a podcast episode where one host is “well in the second book you’ll blah blablah” is a little grating.

The author hadn’t read the culture novels before writing Ninefox Gambit, as I remember from a Twitter exchange. But now I seem to be blocked on Twitter by Yoon Ha Lee so I can’t find the tweets.

Convergent sci-du evolution is a valid concept :slight_smile:

Also, from a selection point of view, I recommended both Player of Games and Ninefox Gambit to Rym as books very much in his wheelhouse, so it’s not as if it’s a mystery why they both feature board games!

1 Like

I recently ran across So You Want To Abolish Time Zones again.

  • No matter what the law says, people will continue “unofficially” using their own local time for most purposes, maintaining two clocks in parallel if need be. This already happens in western China, and can only increase ambiguity. (I guess you’d call that “civil time disobedience”?)



After finishing all 3 books, something I feel is unresolved:

All 3 spoilers

Why Jedao 1.0 lost it, and killed everyone at Hellspin 400 years ago.

Jedao anchored to Cheris doesn’t seem to know why he did it.
Moth Jedao thinks he deserves to be executed, as soon as he finds out what happened.

I was waiting for it to come out that Kujen triggered some brainwashing, or the Shuos were faking a coup, or something.

I guess Jedao wanted to free people from the high calendar, and his plan was to do something so heinous they’d keep him alive until he could accomplish it. And that’s all?

Yeah, that’s basically it!

He had the same plan Finn and Jake had in Adventure Time with the cosmic prison. :wink:

The Battle of Candle Arc, the outnumbered-8-to-1 victory by Jedao everyone’s always bringing up. It was based on a real, even more lopsided victory, but the author didn’t want it to be too unbelievable:

Japanese forces: ~130 ships
30 lost

Korean forces: 13 ships
Zero lost

There was actually a movie based off of this that came out in 2014 called The Admiral: Roaring Currents. I saw it in theaters twice because it was so epic. This movie has some of the best naval battle sequences I’ve ever seen.

1 Like