REVENANT GUN is the third volume in Yoon Ha Lee’s THE MACHINERIES OF EMPIRE sf trilogy. It is a fitting final episode in the military space opera that began so impressively with NINEFOX GAMBIT, and continued in the less impressive but still engrossing second volume RAVEN STRATAGEM.
The story arc comes to a strong end, and the reading experience is full of the poetry, the sense of wonder, the humour, the sexual attraction, the political and strategic complexity that we have come to expect from the series. This signature stylistic formula is back once again for the third episode, so it is the true “revenant”.
We learn more about our heroes and about the difficulties they must face and overcome to succeed in their plans. However, the universe and its inhabitants beyond the confines of the empire are not explored.
The key word to describe this volume is “more”. We learn more about the world that was set up in the first volume, and that was filled in and expanded in the second volume. We learn more about the calendar and its remembrances, more about Hexarch Nirai Kujen’s plans for immortality, more about the robot servitors, more about the “moth” spaceships.
The new novel is more pedagogical, and more descriptive. Perhaps this is in response to complaints about the difficulty of the opening scenes, the unvisualisability, and the lack of essential explanations that characterised the first book.
Indeed, some of the things we learn here would have been better placed in the first book, such as the nature of the mothships and the torture and human sacrifices that alimented the High Calendar. It is possible that the author had no idea of the explanations behind some of his verbal fireworks, and only came to give determinate content to the evocative neologisms much later.
The pedagogical approach to filling in the missing information is mirrored in the plot by the familiar trope of bringing up to speed an ignorant character.
Both Jedao and Hemiola are brought up to date on the fly, in the course of a fragmented series of conversations, as are we.
This volume was slow-going during the first half, because of the different threads of the intrigue playing out in different times and places. The pay-off was a convergent plot-line that became quite gripping in the second half. The narrative culminated in a satisfying, but predictable climax, and then went downhill into a less predictable, unsatisfying, anti-climax.