Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee
Solaris, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by John C Adams
Opening an anthology of short stories with a chronology of the invented universe seemed like a bold move, but my first thought was ‘If you’re a New York Times Bestselling Author you can get away with it!’ so I dove in with enthusiasm. We’re soon into a more personal groove and being introduced to Rhehan (who’s non-binary status is established in the first line, a swift revelation that was highly welcome to this non-binary reviewer).
These stories are billed as space opera and the book sits comfortably within that genre. Rhehan’s tale was very action-driven, and I liked the balance between the personal and the plot.
In many ways, the strength of this anthology lies in its confident variety. The second story, ‘How The Andan Court’, is really a prose poem. It’s ever so short but represented a lovely change of tone towards the more emotional. This was in keeping with the personal feel of the ‘Author’s Note’ after each story. Somehow, the author felt very present in this collection, and by the end I felt as if I’d really got to know him.
There was quite a bit of inventive structure at work in this book. ‘Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam’ is a short description of how cadets were selected via a practical and written test. The story had a post-modern feel courtesy of the way it was presented as fragments of documents, with the reader left to piece together the whole and interpret it. Its playfulness with form felt a little bit like Vladimir Nabokov.
Later stories feature an extended family, an approach I appreciated because it provided a depth of backstory and a sense of unity between the individual pieces. There was an endearing focus on the little things in life as well as wider family relationships: birthday customs, games and the sport of fencing. Altogether it felt real and sincere, and there’s not enough of that about.