Thursday, February 16, 2017

Extracurricular Activities, by Yoon Ha Lee

Read this story
(Space Opera; Machineries of Empire) A Heptarchate undercover mission lead by one of Jedao’s friends has gone missing, so Jedao goes undercover to try and rescue them. (14,259 words; Time: 47m)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ Average
Recommended By: RHorton:5

This is a prequel to “Nine Fox Gambit,” but it’s not necessary to read that book first. In fact, it’s possible that reading this story first would make the book more approachable.

"," by (edited by Jonathan Strahan), published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The best part of this story is the hilarious ways that the narrator rationalizes Jedao’s different actions. For example, “Jedao had a standard method for dealing with new commanders, which was to research them as if he planned to assassinate them.”

It’s a good plot, with a clear resolution.

The world building is extensive.

Con: The world building is confusing.

Although Jedao isn’t a Mary Sue, he acts like he thinks he is. It’s hard to believe anyone so reckless as he would be put in command of anything. (Similar to complaints about Star Trek’s Captain Kirk.) His success has an unearned quality to it that makes it less-satisfying.

The Gwa-an are hard to take seriously. Their priorities are so impractical that it’s hard to believe their society functions at all.

Other Reviews: Search Web, Browse Review Sites (Issue 02/15/17)
Yoon Ha Lee Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

Follow RSR on Twitter, Facebook, RSS, or E-mail.

9 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. Interesting to see Shuos Jedao alive and on his own.

  2. Yes, I was rather glad I read this and "The Battle of Candle Arc" before reading either of the novels.

  3. I read the books first and then the short fiction. Worth reading if you are a fan of the novels.

    What is very good about this piece...
    We see Jedao as a young man before the incident
    Jedao's inter-action with his new commanding officer - Essier
    Jedao's working relationship with Haval
    Jedao flirting with Teshet
    The goose fat Jedao's mother sends him

    What is very UN-convincing is when Jedao convinces Meng to come back with him.

    We know the government Jedao works for is ruthless. That was what tipped him over in the end. By the time we get to Ninefox Gambit, it was worst. Meng just goes with Jedao.

    Micah Epstein, the artist, is already on my Hugo ballot for Best Pro Artist. Now that I have read the story, I know the artwork he did is an excellent match for the story.

  4. I liked this one at first, but it seemed to get worse as it went along. The writing at the end was not up to the same standards as the beginning. And the one twist at the end didn't work for me, in part because it was completely unnecessary and had no bearing on the plot.


    1. You didn't like the deus ex lubricante ending? :-)

      As far as the writing, I didn't notice a big difference across the story. I've read almost all of Yooh Ha Lee's work, and the writing is normally excellent. Can you put your finger on what disappointed you? (I realize it can be hard to articulate why you did or didn't like a story, but it makes it more fun to discuss.)

    2. Oh, no, the twist I didn't like was having the rescued character turn out to be a double agent. It didn't seem to have any effect on the story, but it did diminish the sense of accomplishment I wanted as a reader. Doesn't the double agent's betrayal basically mean that the whole mission was pointless?

      And the moment I thought the writing took a bad turn was when Jedao was behind enemy lines, particularly the scene where he takes a prisoner. There's a lot of telling rather than showing there (and I'm someone who generally thinks that "Show, don't tell" is suspect writing advice). Plus, the pacing seems rushed all the way to the end.

      That said, this story is a hair's breadth away from 3/5 for me. The first half, taken alone, might warrant a 4.

  5. "Show don't tell," as I learned in a class once, is about emotions, not events. Infodumps are a completely separate issue, although they can be bad too, but show-dont-tell failures ruin stories like nothing else. In this case, I suspect you're talking about an infodump, since otherwise I'd have likely given the story just one star. (And wondered what happened to Yoon Ha Lee!)

    Here's the distinction: When an author tells the reader "John was afraid," it leaves the reader thinking "Okay, the author says John was afraid." But when the author describes events (and physical responses) that show that he was afraid, the reader concludes "Wow, John's really afraid!" The reader believes at a deep level the things he/she deduces but only has a shallow belief in things he/she is merely told.

    I've never read a slush pile, but I've been a long-term member of critique groups (the slush before it's slush), and I'm pretty confident that the reason editors are able to reject 90%+ of all submissions after just a page or two is that excessive "telling" ruins the tale. In fact, I think that's what causes most ordinary readers to look at a piece of prose and say "this isn't professional. It looks like a kid wrote it."

    Infodumps are places where the author stops the action in order to explain something the reader neither needs nor wants to hear. Sometimes you can turn an infodump into info if you just move it later in the story--to a point where the reader will actually be curious about it.

    I usually say "intrusive narration," not "show don't tell," but it amounts to the same thing. It's a fatal error, and good writers (almost) never do it. I don't remember any intrusive narration in this particular story, but I'm prepared to believe that was a big infodump in it somewhere.

    1. The scene I'm thinking of begins with the line "He ran into no other sentinels on the way". What bothered me is that the conversation between Jedao and his prisoner is written as narration, which is what I mean by "telling rather than showing" (the author tells us what the characters are saying rather than showing us through dialogue). Of course, there's some justification for doing it this way: the two characters are trying to overcome a language barrier, so maybe their conversation involved some gesturing and other forms of communication. But it was a bit too much for me, especially after a long stretch of narration.

    2. Ah, I see it now. Hmmm. The biggest SvT violation (in my view) is "By the time the sentinel figured out that the “medic” was anything but, Jedao had taken her gun and broken both her arms." The reason this works for me is that is distances us from a scene I'd rather not see closely (Jedao breaking a woman's arms). It takes something that's rather awful if you think about it and makes it almost funny.

      For the following parts, given the the whole point is that his translation package was sabotaged, I'm not sure how it could be avoided without turning it into absolute slapstick. Did you ever see a Saturday Night Live sketch (I think it was SNL--I never saw it myself, but I've heard it described a lot) about a sabotaged Berlitz guide to some Eastern European country? It went something like this.

      Tourist, needing to say "Where is the railway station?" actually says something that translates to "I lust after your breasts."

      Woman smacks him and walks off without a word.

      Tourist meets a man and repeats the same phase. Man replies with something that translates to "It's down the road two blocks on your left." (Or maybe he says it in English.) Then he mumbles. "When are they going to get that book fixed?"

      Of course, just because it wouldn't work as humor (given the tone of the story) doesn't mean it works as it is . . . Anyway, I enjoyed the story enough to give it 3 stars, but, as I've said elsewhere, that's not a terribly high bar.