The science reality behind science fiction. [Credit: Niko McCarty | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
What do you get when you combine a modern calendar with military science fiction? Probably something like Yoon Ha Lee’s novel Ninefox Gambit , which cannot in good conscience be called “accessible.”
It is, however, a rewarding read. The story centers around Kels Cheris, a soldier in a futuristic society who, with the aid of the ancient ghost-general who has been non-consensually stuffed into her brain, is tasked with combating “calendrical rot.”
Got it? Good. Neither did I.
‘But WTF is calendrical rot??’ you may well be wondering.
In Lee’s world, technology, and by extent, society, only functions as well as its populace adheres to a calendar. The government controls said calendar, adding things like holidays, extra months or even years. In turn, this produces tangible effects in the real world, altering the laws of physics — as long as everybody buys in.
That’s where calendrical rot comes into play. A faction of radicals who disagree with the powers that be have sealed themselves in a fortress and created their own calendar. As a result, the laws of physics around the occupied territory have gone wonky.
Lee plays with this concept in some really interesting ways. Sometimes, you’re late to work; sometimes, your face melts. You never know.
As wild as it may sound, there is science behind the idea of a calendar constructing reality. Take, for example, daylight savings time. Originally introduced in 1916, daylight savings was conceived as a way to maximize the amount of sunshine in the workday. However, recent science suggests that suddenly losing or gaining an hour is a great way to throw off your circadian rhythm — the natural sleep/wake cycle regulated by your body’s hormones. This can have side effects like insomnia, headaches or irritability.
Zooming out, introducing a new calendar can cause some timey-wimey malarky. When the current Gregorian calendar was instated (in Catholic countries) in 1582, it modified the existing Julian calendar just enough that roughly 13 days disappeared from existence.
In the Gregorian year 1999, panic swept the United States as doomsday preppers began to stock up for Y2K, an apocalypse that was supposed to short circuit every digital device at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000. Of course, it didn’t happen. But that didn’t stop people from freaking out again in 2012 about the now-infamous end of the Mayan calendar.
On a much darker note, forcing invaded peoples to adopt an invader’s calendar is a hallmark of colonialism. This plays an important role in breaking down resistance, as it severs the invaded culture’s ties to their own history.
While a calendar might not have the power to literally alter the fabric of reality, it can certainly alter our perception of it. In this small way, the bizarre world of Ninefox feels a little more familiar.