The numbers marched higher. When they broke ten million, she plunged out of the command spindle and into the room she had claimed for her own. She pounded the wall until her fists bled. Triumph tasted like salt and venom. It wasn’t supposed to be so easy. In the worst dreams, a wolf roved the tapestries, eating shadows – eating souls. And the void with its tinsel of worlds was nothing but one vast shadow.
Yoon Ha Lee is a Korean-American writer. These short stories span the SFF spectrum but are all infused with a distinctly East Asian flavour. Folded paper and origami charms are a recurring theme, and the longest story in the collection, Iseul’s Lexicon, is loosely based on a Japanese invasion of Korea. One or all of them, take your pick.
There’s variation in quality and appeal, of course. All the stories hold their own, but while those towards the fantastical end of the spectrum are best described as ‘interesting’ or ‘diverting’, some of the SF is truly stunning. Which is why I’m not convinced that Ghostweight, the opening story and source of the above quote, should have been first up. It’s astounding: poignant, chilling, brittle, and shatteringly brilliant.
It would, honestly, be asking for the impossible to maintain that level across an entire collection, and I can understand why you’d want to open with a bang, but it’s hard not to feel slightly disappointed when the rest of the stories are merely very good because, well, you end up using phrases like ‘merely very good’.
Lord, I can be an unpleasantly picky bastard sometimes, can’t I? Ghostweight is still available to read online, and I highly, highly recommend it. A lot of the other stories are also still floating around the internet and they too are well worth a bit of effort in tracking down and enjoying. There are a couple of stories that share the same world, and in the author notes she explains that these were aborted stubs for a projected novel. Here’s hoping that we get something on that score in the near future.