Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy (Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun) is one of the most mind blowing and original space opera series in years. In Hexarchate Stories, Lee revisits the main characters of those books (Shuos Jedao and Kel Cheris) and their universe in a series of short stories and a couple of novellas that work their way chronologically through his universe.
After a palate cleanser about a thief set in the ages before his main tale (“pre-calendar’), Lee moves to the story of how Shuos Jedao’s mother met his father (Jeado and his siblings all have different fathers). This is followed by a number of stories of Jedao as a child, a student and then as a successful general, some answering hints that were scattered through the main novels. This series of tales ends with the famous Battle of Candle Arc, in which Jedao wins against a far superior force. Lee then jumps forward in time to give readers an unused prologue to Ninefox Gambit followed by stories of young Cheris in a similar vein. The collection is capped by a novella, a sequel of sorts to the series which brings the two characters together again (in a way) and potentially paves the way for more stories in a changed universe.
The most fascinating part of this collection is the series of author’s notes after each story. These give insights into Lee, his family and the influences on his works. The Battle of Candle Arc, for example, is based on a famous battle between Korea and the Japan. While the Jedao story Black Squirrels is based stories from his college days and the Cheris tale The Robot’s Math Lessons on Lee’s discovery of the joys of mathematics in his youth.
While some of the stories stand on their own, these are really only for fans of the existing series and its characters. Most are short pieces of flash fiction, written for various purposes explained by the author. What they reinforce is Lee’s sense of fun but also the humanity of his writing and his deep understanding of these characters and the world around them. Taken in that vein, Hexarchate Stories is a welcome and enjoyable addition to Lee’s Machineries of Empire universe.