Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain • 2010 • Time Travel short story by Yoon Ha Lee


Synopsis: Shiron is the oldest human in the universe, the ancient keeper of “Arighan’s Flower” – one of the four eponymous weapons from a famous artisan. Arighan implanted a fantastical superforce in each of his weapons. Flower is not only lethal for the shot person, but all of his ancestors, whiping them from history as if they never existed.

A robotic visitor asks Shiron to once again use her weapon – this time on one of Arighan’s children.

Review: The author constructed a kind of time travel loop – because if Arighan would be killed indirectly by his own weapon, he couldn’t have created it and in effect couldn’t be shot by it. Lee explains this paradoxon in a mystical reference to demigods, and if the fantastical weapon abilities don’t make this story to a work of fantasy, then the author’s explanation did it.

It’s very often the case that I admire and love Lee’s stories – his recent steampunk fantasy novel Phoenix Extravagant, or his novelette Foxfire, Foxfire. Very typical for him is to bring settings remembering of Korean traditions, and this story doesn’t deviate from that tendency: Believe in ancestor’s is an ancient tradition not only in Korea, and an ultimate kill would be to erase all of them with one action.

As a side effect of using the weapon, Shiron branches off a new universe within the multiverse and sends her to it, back in time of the first ancestor.

Lee’s take on multiverses and time travel ends in a philosophical narration about responsibility. These six pages is brimmed with self-referencing and deserves a second or third read before one can understand it completely.

I recommend this very short story to readers who don’t need an exact classification in a subgenre, who love mathematical / philosphical treaties and time travels. It is idea-driven, so don’t expect any action whatsoever.

Meta: isfdb. Avaiable online. I’ve read it it in the anthology The Very Best of the Best.

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15 Responses to Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain • 2010 • Time Travel short story by Yoon Ha Lee

  1. pdtillman says:

    I’ll have to re-read this one. It may be in the sub-sub genre of Simulation hypothesis stories, based on the (semi respectable) hypothesis that we, our lives, and our planet are simulations being run on a *really* powerful alien computer somewhere: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulation_hypothesis
    I just read a first-rate Robert Reed story along these lines:
    Which I rated at (almost) 5 stars: near-great, must read. If you missed it, you are in for a treat. And I need to reread “Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain” — which I’m almost sure I read back when, likely in that Dozois Years Best.

    I can’t say I find the arguments for that hypothesis compelling. But it makes for a good story device!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Sorry, I‘ve missed this comment – and what an elaborate one!
      The hypothesis is a newer recap of Zuangzhi‘s butterfly dream „Am I a butterfly dreaming to be a human?“
      I recently read a story by Reed – now I have to go for the Clarkesworld story, thanks for your link!


  2. Ola G says:

    This sounds pretty interesting! I do like Lee’s work, 9FG was one of the best books I’ve read this year (though, sadly, the rest of the trilogy wasn’t as good).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Redhead says:

    Everything I’ve read by Lee I’ve loved.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. pdtillman says:

    Cool. Thanks for the list! I see some new-to-me stuff that I’ll check out. Especially the Temple Cat one. Meow!
    In general, I’ve liked most of his stuff, but a fair bit also left me cold. And the low-paying (IE free) markets typically don’t get an authors best stuff. Unless it’s a reprint!

    Liked by 1 person

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