Yoon Ha Lee’s THE BATTLE OF CANDLE ARC

“The Battle of Candle Arc”, by Yoon Ha Lee, is a short story set in the same universe as his novel NINEFOX GAMBIT.It was first published in 2012 in Clarkesworld Magazine (text and audio), and was later included in an anthology of his stories entitled CONSERVATION OF SHADOWS.

The action takes place many years before NINEFOX GAMBIT, as the novel’s hexarchate is in this story still a heptarchate. We know from the novel that there used to be seven ruling factions, but that one of them, the Liozh, the philosopher/ethicist caste, was eliminated for “heresy”, having tried to introduce democracy and a measure of freedom into the totalitarian regime of the high calendar and its compulsory “remembrances”.

The high calendar is an axiomatic system of beliefs, concordances, and ritual observances necessary to the obtention of “exotic” technological effects that suspend or surpass the ordinary laws of physics, including faster than light travel:

The heptarchate’s exotic technologies depended on the high calendar’s configurations: the numerical concordances, the feasts and remembrances, the associated system of belief. The mothdrive that permitted fast travel between star systems was an exotic technology.

The administration of this calendar and the regulation of life according to Doctrine and to ritual Remembrances falls to the dogmatic and sadistic Rahal (another of the seven ruling factions).

The protagonist is General Shuos Jedao, who is also one of the main characters of NINEFOX GAMBIT. The Shuos faction is given over to “intelligence” operations: diplomatic games, spying and assassination. Jedao however is atypical in that he actively seeks allies among the Kel, the military faction, and seems to respect the independent spirit they sometimes show when questions of battle and of honour are at stake.

We can see Jedao’s detestation of the Rahal’s rigity and cruely. He disapproves of their propensities for torture and of their general lack of compassion. Their adherence to, and imposition of, Doctrine borders on the fanatical.

The story begins with the “Remembrance” of a heresy that made an unacceptable demand for the freedom to venerate their ancestors.

Jedao would have called the heresy a benign one. People who wanted the freedom to build shrines to their ancestors, for pity’s sake. But the Rahal had claimed that this would upset the high calendar’s master equations, and so the heretics had had to be put down.

I have concentrated on the underlying principles of the physics and of the social order, but this is far from capturing the interest and excitement of this story. The story contains in a short space the speculative breadth and ethical intensity, the fusion of  poetic terminology and imaginative science, and the complexity of character that provide a good introduction to the hexarchate universe and that foreshadow the pyrotechnics and the sense of wonder of NINEFOX GAMBIT.

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