These are the stories that keep me reading speculative fiction.
Orphaned as a child, raised by a ghost, and driven by revenge, Lisse steals a deadly weapon of war and rips a fiery swath of devastation across space in pursuit of the mercenaries who killed her parents.
And she discovers the price of vengeance is to become that which you hate.
Aerie 586 Chiu reminded Lisse not of a nest but of a pyre. Flyers and transports were always coming and going, like sparks. The kite swooped in sharp and fast. Falcon-jerengjen raced ahead of them, holding lattice formation for two seconds before scattering toward their chosen marks.
The aerie’s commanders responded commendably. They knew the kite was by far the greater threat. But Lisse met the first flight they threw at her with missiles keen and terrible. The void lit up in a clamor of brilliant colors.
The kite screamed when a flyer salvo hit one of its secondary wings. It bucked briefly while the other wings changed their geometry to compensate. Lisse could not help but think that the scream had not sounded like pain. It had sounded like exultation.
The real test was the gauntlet of Banner 142 artillery emplacements. They were silver-bright and terrible. It seemed wrong that they did not roar like tigers. Lisse bit the inside of her mouth and concentrated on narrowing the parameters for the voidcurrent disrupter. Her hand was a fist on the control panel.
One tapestry depicted the currents: striations within striations of pale blue against black. Despite its shielding, the core was visible as a knot tangled out of all proportion to its size.
“Now,” the ghost said, with inhuman timing.
She didn’t wait to be told twice. She unfisted her hand.
Unlike the wolf-strike, the disrupter made the kite scream again. It lurched and twisted. Lisse wanted to clap her hands over her ears, but there was more incoming fire, and she was occupied with evasive maneuvers. The kite folded in on itself, minimizing its profile. It dizzied her to view it on the secondary tapestry. For a panicked moment, she thought the kite would close itself around her, press her like petals in a book. Then she remembered to breathe.
This is just a taste. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone write space combat this well and in perfect harmony with a soul-wrenching human narrative.
“Ghostweight” was a finalist for the 2012 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. This will not be the last award nomination for Yoon Ha Lee, and I will be very surprised if she doesn’t turn up among the Nebula and Hugo finalists sometime in the next few years. If you want more, like I did, Clarkesworld Magazine has several of her stories available for online reading, plus an excellent interview. I recommend “Effigy Nights” and “The Battle of Candle Arc,” to start. There’s also a print collection of her short stories, Conservation of Shadows, published in 2011 and available from the usual suspects. Stephen Raets offers a detailed review at Tor.com.
UPDATE: And here’s one more that might appear on 2014’s Hugo or Nebula lists: “The Knight of Chains, the Deuce of Stars,” in which two opponents meet in a surreal battle of wits at the universe’s end, with two different flavors of freedom at stake.
If that’s not enough, Ms. Lee has authored a fun interactive story/game called Winterstrike that’s well worth a look. Rescue the city of Iria from its doom of eternal winter, if you can…