2018’s Revenant Gun is the third volume in Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy.
Seventeen-year-old Shuos Jedao wakes to discover he is actually over four centuries old. Most of his memories have been stolen by the enemy. Despite having few conscious memories of military experience, he is expected to command a vast military in a war over the fundamental rules of existence.
Jedao quickly realizes his subordinates fear and despise him. The reason is one of the memories lost to this version of Jedao, a spectacular massacre that established Jedao as too mad to trust, but too brilliant to simply discard. Thus a long existence as a ghost summoned from the shadows whenever the needs of the interstellar empire demand his presence. Even a shard of Jedao is useful enough to be incarnated. Also a threat sufficient to make everyone treat him with profound suspicion.
Jedao’s external enemies are bad enough. They include, for example, an older, more complete version of himself incarnated as part of someone whose math skills (necessary to properly exploit the exotic technologies of this era) eclipse those of Jedao. A more immediate threat: Jedao’s own allies, and most of all Jedao’s boss, Kujen. Kujen is quasi-immortal, nigh-unkillable and his hobbies include reshaping minds to suit Kujen’s needs. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to those who disappoint Kujen.
If there’s one talent Jedao in any form is revered for, it’s his ability to sow death amongst those who displease him. But how to kill someone who has reshaped reality to make killing him impossible?
There’s a lot to be said for political systems where the worst problem one faces is that the Home Owner’s Association won’t let one place a bird feeder on the lawn. The Machineries of Empire series depicts a number of political systems, most of which generate a lot of pain and heaps of bodies. They need to do so in order to make their pain and death technology effective. Chicken-egg. However, such systems do seem to be stable for centuries, if not longer, which is pretty damn good for political systems.
While Kujen deserves a lot of blame for conditions being as they are, it’s important to remember that none of it would have been possible without legions of steadfast conformists. Some were subjected to active conditioning, but many of the functionaries commit the unpleasant acts they do because they believe that their actions serve the greater good. To quote Pratchett,
(…) there are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.
Although Cheris, co-protagonist in the earlier instalments, plays a significant role in this volume, the focus is on Jedao and his fumbles through a lethal version of the actor’s nightmare. The narrative could easily become repetitive and boring (like a recounting of a dream, in which one thing follows another without rhyme or reason) but it does not. This is a worthy finale to the trilogy.
If finale it is. There is room for more stories in this setting. I wonder if we will get them.