“Extracurricular Activities” by Yoon Ha Lee is set in the same universe as Ninefox Gambit, which I haven’t read since last year, and so it took me a little while to realise that, oh, wait, THAT’s who the protagonist is. THAT being a young Shuos Jedao, years before his atrocities, and thus many, many years before his consciousness decanted into the brain of Kel Cheris at the start of Ninefox Gambit. So that was a double take.
This story is basically a spy story caper, in space. It contains many of my favourite tropes – I love characters who seem to be utter dilletantes or wastrels on the surface who turn out to be super competent, and we had some of that; I adored Jedao’s mother, who is even more formidable than he is, in her own particular way; and Jedao himself was a delight, and very nearly as brilliant as he thinks he is. I enjoyed the humour in the mis-translations when he is trying to infiltrate the Gwa Reality (and what IS the problem with his haircut?), and I liked the interactions between characters. (Also, just randomly, genderqueer characters seem to be a thing this Hugo year. The puppies must be feeling very sad indeed by now.)
In fact, I enjoyed everything about this story except… the story itself, really. I did not want that ending. I especially did not want that ending in that universe, given the prevalence of torture everywhere.
I’m not sure quite how to rate this one. Up until I realised where the story had to go, I liked it most of all the novelettes so far – but I don’t think the story was flawed in and of itself. Just… not the story I wanted. Which is probably unfair, because Yoon Ha Lee is always going to write well, but he is definitely NEVER going to be writing the sort of stories that make me happy – he likes to raise the stakes too much.