Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire is hands-down my favourite space opera of recent years. The third book, Revenant Gun, was published this week, bringing the series to a close (or does it? There’s a promise of short stories to come, at least) and I’m delighted to be part of the supporting blog tour. To celebrate, I’m giving you my top ten reasons to join the Hexarchate…
1. Because they will eliminate you with prejudice if you don’t
Let’s not pretend the Hexarchate is anything but what Yoon Ha Lee calls it: a grimdark dystopian space empire. Governed by a squabbling group of six (the clue was in the name) factions jockeying for influence and scorning their colleagues, it’s a house of cards just waiting to be toppled. But in the meantime, it’s a well-oiled bureaucracy (oiled with the blood of heretics, no less) that believes the ends justify the means and which tortures dissenters to death in public celebrations.
With a pitch like that, do I really need to tell you that this trilogy is all about whether the Hexarchate can be brought down? Of course it is.
2 …and they have weapons of WTF
Yoon Ha Lee is equally praised and criticised for his approach to world-building: the ideas come thick and fast with no explanations, leaving you to figure out what the hell is going on from your interpretation of what things are called. But you don’t really want to know what the Hexarchate will point at you if you’re on the wrong side. Once Yoon Ha Lee starts describing what the weapons actually do, you’ll wishing he’d left it to your imagination.
As a case in point, let’s talk about the infamous threshold winnowers, weapon of choice for Shuos Jedao (whether he’s pointing them at the enemy or his own people). On the other hand, let’s not. Trust me. You really don’t want to know what they’re about to do.
3 Don’t worry, you can be yourself (as long as you follow doctrine)
Yoon Ha Lee made a point of designing a repressive regime that has no prejudices whatsoever relating to race, gender or sexual preference. In the Hexarchate, being a manform doesn’t make you a man (and certainly doesn’t result in you being treated differently to any other form), and nobody cares who you sleep with (unless you’re Kel, but we’ll get to that). It doesn’t matter what planet you’re from or what you look like – so long as you’re a loyal citizen.
This trilogy is about moral dilemmas, not moral equivalences. Don’t worry – it’s not going to suggest that your good points make it okay that you think and do reprehensible things. And if you get to the end of it and decide those things were worth it, it’s got a mirror for you to stare into for a while.
4 There’s a faction for everyone
If you are going to be part of the system, you need to work out where you’d fit in:
- The Rahal: the ones nominally in charge – legislators, governors and judges
- The Kel: the helplessly loyal Hexarchate military
- The Andan: the graceful, manipulative diplomats and politicians
- The Nirai: the smartest kids in the room, dedicated to science and engineering
- The Shuos: the secret service of spies and assassins, who know damn well they’re smarter than the Nirai, actually
- The Vidona: the ruthless enforcers of loyalty and reality, keepers of the calendar – oh, why even dress it up – they’re the regime’s torturers. And, erm, educators. Be very afraid
Not sure you’re a natural fit for any of those? Luckily, there’s a quiz to help you figure it out. Unluckily for me, it included the now-heretical faction of the Liozh – so rest assured, if you’re not comfortable propping up a fascist regime, it’s possible to believe in reform and dare the consequences! Die horribly but gloriously and be written out of history! Erm, wait.
5 Unrivalled motivational techniques
Join the Kel and you’ll never have to worry about disobedience or disloyalty, because you’ll be physically incapable of resisting authority. Of course, having no choice but to obey anyone more senior than you are, you could find yourself in a heap of trouble for just following orders if the wrong person is wearing the General’s insignia this cycle.
Guess what this trilogy features frequently?
(Side note for those leaping to an obvious and awful logical conclusion: there’s a reason Kel are forbidden from having relationships with other Kel. Even in the Hexarchate, freely-given sexual consent matters)
…for those who didn’t end up as Kel, the mere existence of the Vidona is highly motivating.
6 They throw a good party
Okay, the calendrical remembrances are actual ritual torture to preserve reality, but – yes, well, erm, moving on. Maybe don’t join for the parties. Although I bet the Andan throw a good party when the Rahal and the Vidona aren’t looking (and I bet the Shuos gatecrash it).
Just remember your gloves if you’re going to a Kel banquet (assuming you’re Kel; don’t presume to wear gloves if you aren’t) and bring an appetite for pickles.
7 Enjoy all the drama, all the time
No, not the endless manoeuvring for influence and authority or the intricate dance of misunderstandings when people from different factions attempt a courtship – I’m talking entertainment. Like any good dystopia, the Hexarchate is big on entertainment with mass appeal – however historically inaccurate it may be. Don’t judge me for wanting to watch the one with the MacGyvering of calendrical swords.
We only ever get to experience the dramas second-hand (AWW), but every book has some exceedingly unlikely character completely addicted (and in Revenant Gun, has the glorious outrage of a character watching dramas about themself in complete disbelief). The fandom is strong with this one.
9 You’ll be waited on hand and foot
You might think that a repressive regime would push its most recent or least fortunate citizens into service, but you’d be wrong. The Andans and the Vidona ensure that new citizens are assimilated (as citizens, or as heretics. Don’t think too hard about how you assimilate a heretic), so there is no servant subclass. Besides, would you trust the secrets of your faction to a civilian?
No, the Hexarchate relies heavily on robot servitors to support their everyday needs. Birdforms, catforms, snakeforms, beetleforms – the servitors are as diverse as the needs they silently serve and as adorable as kittens. Needless to say – given that everyone ignores them as part of the furniture – they know more than most about more or less everything. And just like humans, servitors have preferences and loyalties (not to mention strong opinions about dramas). What can possibly go wrong when you have an access-all-areas underestimated subclass?
10 Don’t forget to bring a sense of humour
For a grimdark dystopia, Machineries of Empire has a hell of a sense of humour. From the entirely amoral (or is he) Hexarch Shuos Mikodez to charming psychopath Jedao himself, there’s no shortage of characters flicking a spotlight onto the absurdities of the universe and combatting horror with a quip. Maybe it’s the only way to cope.
So there we have it
What do you mean that wasn’t ten? It’s a dangerous game to suggest someone is introducing calendrical rot into the local system, citizen. Even if you’re very, very sure that I’m a heretic out to subvert you, are you confident enough to risk being questioned by the Vidona – who are sure to wonder how you can even tell? Do you honestly have nothing to hide? Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear… yes, I thought you’d agree that was ten perfectly good reasons to get reading.
Check out my reviews for Machineries of Empire (minimal spoilers on a per-book basis, although each review will naturally include spoilers for the previous book):
Looking for more? Check out the other stops on the blog tour for interviews, guest posts and reviews
- Marzie has a review of Revenant Gun
- Brad Homer has a guest post from Yoon Ha Lee talking about the tricky transition from writing short stories to writing novels
- 1000 Year Plan poses a few questions in an author interview
- The Quill to Live has a guest post from Yoon Ha Lee talking about why the Hexarchate fly moths, not spaceships
- Joe has a booktube review of Revenant Gun
- Tsana has a review of Revenant Gun
- EM Aldred at Strange Alliances has a guest post from Yoon Ha Lee discussing his approach to world-building
- Sarah interviewed Yoon Ha Lee for the Illustrated Page