Carve The Sky is a 1991 science fiction novel by Alexander Jablokov starring Anton Lindgren (Seneschal to George Harvey Westerkamp, Lord Monboddo, Interrogator of Boston, Colonel Division of External Security {Westerkamp wears a lot of hats}) and Vanessa Karageorge (Ordinary Fellow of the Academia Sapientae). Hat tip to Movies With Mikey.

The plot of the novel revolves around the search for a famous and skilled sculptor who’s supposed to have been dead for a couple of years. A new piece by him has appeared and it contains a very special extra-terrestrial mineral. A mineral that might contain the secret to space travel. The Union of Nations wants the mineral. The Technic Alliance of the outer planets and satellites wants it. And nobody knows what the Academia Sapientae wants, but they’re involved. The threat of the Second Solar War looms. It’s a Macguffin hunt. It’s a tour novel.

But what makes this novel special is that it’s so wonderfully decadent, filled with delightful touches. Because of weapons satellites left over from the Orthodox Empire, there’s no high speed travel on Earth. No jets or anything like that. All long distance travel is done by zeppelin and train. A slow decadent pace for a book that goes from Boston to the Pamir Mountains via an art gallery in Paris and a monastery in Istanbul and then to the Asteroid Belt via a stop on the moon for more art and a boar hunt.

It’s on the Moon, in the city of Rutherford which rests in the Crater Clavius, where Jablokov sets the scene that truly informs the reader that this isn’t a usual SF novel. The scene is a wild animal hunt. On the Moon. A regular event where the Justice of Clavius, a member of the nobility, releases a flood of wild animals in the streets and forests that stretch below the surface of the Moon. Boar, deer, gazelles, pronghorn antelopes. All of them being hunted with spears and bows by the citizens. On the Moon.

Jablokov does something that I greatly admire on the level of technique. Many of the chapters start with extracts from books, reports, catalogues, tourist guides. The extracts give a little background to the chapter: lunar culture, Anatolian politics, cult history, best place to get noodles in the Asteroid Belt. This is a very artful way to avoid info-dumps. So artful, that I’m going to steal it for my next book.

Jablokov has written several other very good SF novels. River of Dust takes place in the same universe as Carve The Sky, some of the same characters but younger. Same flavor. Nimbus is a near future SF novel informed by the chaos of the post-Soviet 90s. There’s a very cute bit in Nimbus of jazz playing LARPers who pretend to be living in a world where rock and roll never happened. It’s a typically Jablokovian grace note. He’s a very good writer who, as far as I can tell, fell victim to the collapse of the mid-list. And we readers are the poorer for it.

I highly recommend Carve The Sky. A very good SF novel written with imagination and verve.

Next week… Well, next week, I give in and review a Warhammer 40K novel. That’s right, next week is all shooty-shooty stabby-stabby all the time.



Yoon Ha Lee has made a name for himself with such short stories as Snakes  and Falcon-And-Sparrows and The Knight of Chains, The Deuce of Swords. Ninefox Gambit is his first novel.

It’s military SF, which (stating my biases upfront) was a bit disappointing, since the genre is inherently conservative one within the infinite possibilities of science fiction.

The Hexarchate (which used to be the Heptarchate before the Liozh were declared heretics and destroyed) is a standard authoritarian interstellar government that keeps its power through the enforcement of calendrical and religious protocols. All conquered peoples are forced to follow the same date and time systems. Control at the level of basic societal assumptions.

The Hex in the Hexarchate refers to the castes in the system: Kel, Shuos, Nihrai, Rahal, Andan, and the last one that starts with a V (Vordai? Sorry, bad note taking while reading). The lead character in the book is Captain Kel Cheris. She’s a genius at math and has been very successful in the ranks of the Kel, the Hexarchate’s military caste. Her success has brought her to the attention of the leaders of the Hexarchate who are dealing with an outbreak of heresy that has taken over the Fortress of Scattered Needles. When asked what weapon she will need to destroy the heretics and take the Fortress, she answers that she needs the insane traitor General Shuos Jedao. Jedao has been on ice for the last 400 years, too traitorous and insane to keep alive, too useful to kill. He never lost a battle, you see. The Hexarchate responds with a long ooooookayyyyy… and gives Cheris what she wants.

Cheris goes into battle with Jedao welded to her shadow, offering her advice and strategy in her mind. Which is a problem for Cheris when she realizes that Jedao is playing a very long game. A game of vengeance. An extremely long gambit.  

Lee uses his imagination best in this novel when it comes to weapon design. Amputation guns. Threshold winnowers. Carrion bombs which leave behind nothing but shards of personality traits and memories that can be ingested. Cannons both erasure and dire. Infantry formations that bring on hive mind states and also act as mathematical armor for the entire formation. Military SF, yes, but not your standard shooty-shooty (yes, Warhammer 40K, I’m looking at you).

There’s a lot of talking in this novel. But Lee is a skilled writer and is able to keep the scenes tension filled and moving along. It’s never a boring novel.

One of the weakness of the book is that there isn’t a great sense of place. A variety of command centers and hallways, it seemed.

Reminded me a lot of Anne Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, down to gloves as civilizational signifier and AIs that are secretly helpful to those who they like.

It’s almost like a fantasy novel (cue: any sufficiently advanced tech = magic). Sword and sorcery overlay of the science fiction elements. This came to mind when I read the place names: Fortress of the Scattered Needles, the Entangled March, the Citadel of Eyes.

I’m not saying Ninefox Gambit is a bad novel. It’s imaginative. Read it if you can get it from a library or torrent. I’m going to read the next one in the series. I was just hoping for the pure quill weirdness that Lee showed in his short stories.
Next Review: Haints Stay by Colin Winnette