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Conservation of Shadows

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  821 ratings  ·  128 reviews
There is no such thing as conservation of shadows. When light destroys shadows, darkness does not gain in density elsewhere. When shadows steal over earth and across the sky, darkness is not diluted. Featuring an Introduction by Aliette De Bodard, Conservation of Shadows features a selection of short stories from Yoon Ha Lee.


"Ghostweight" (2011)
"The Shadow Postulate
Paperback, 332 pages
Published April 3rd 2013 by Prime Books
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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Conservation of Shadows is my favorite short story collection.

On the surface, this is about beautiful sci-fantasy universes with complex magic systems - from spaceships tuned with music to quantum chess battles, from shadow magic to mythological characters coming to life from paper - and beautiful, terrifying technology, which includes shadow ink, killer stardrives, flying war-kites, guns that can erase a person's ancestry, books that grow teeth.

But Conservation of Shadows is so much more than t
Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee is a terrifying collection of short stories to review. The stories themselves are rarely scary in the traditional sense, but their individual complexity and astonishing level of variety make this an impossible book to encompass in just a few paragraphs.

It’s not that there aren’t any hooks or approaches; it’s more that there is such a bewildering number of them that, as a reader or reviewer, you feel somewhat like you’ve wandered onto a hitherto undiscovered
Jun 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
...As usual, I've had a lot of trouble writing this review. It took me well over a week, where I usually do a draft in one day and clean it up the second. Short story collections are a pain to review but Conservation of Shadows was even more difficult than usual. Lee writes very complex stories. He packs a lot into a few pages and often steps outside the western cultural framework. He makes me work pretty hard and I'm sure I missed quite a bit. In fact, without the story notes I might very well ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle, 2013
Yoon Ha Lee sets the bar pretty high with her opening lines:

It is not true that the dead cannot be folded. Square becomes kite becomes swan; history becomes rumor becomes song. Even the act of remembrance creases the truth.

But "Ghostweight," the story this paragraph begins, left me cold. So did about half of the tales in Conservation of Shadows. Don't get me wrong; they're all beautifully written, well-paced stories full of unpredictable imagery, careful to linger no longer than necessary. B
Peter Tillman
"Ghostweight" was the standout for me, 4.5 stars, excellent. You can (and should) read it here: You will also find links to 8 other Lee shorts there, including "The Battle of Candle Arc", General Jedao's great victory against overwhelming odds, referred to often in his first 2 novels. I should reread it.

The rest of the collection had its up and downs for me, and my 2013 notes found Lee a promising writer, but the collection a bit disappointing. But you ca
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
(Interest: I've known Yoon on the Internet for years, through interactive fiction forums and such.)

Despite the above, I have not read most of her stories, because I don't read many short stories. (Just not in the habit.) Thus I have suddenly been smacked with a decade's worth all at once! Which turns out to be a good thing.

This book is full of... it's easy to say "Asian-flavored". The introduction (by Aliette de Bodard) says "Asian-inspired". Both are thready generalizations. The science fiction
Book Riot Community
Lee writes the kind of speculative fiction that incorporates abstraction and math, resulting in prose that is as contemplative and challenging as poetry. But what makes the stories work is the astounding imagery that accompanies his meditations on revenge, fate, colonialism, and other weighty themes. He writes evocatively about intergalactic war-kites, fatal music, paper doll warriors. One story takes on Star Trek’s famous Kobayashi Maru scenario and turns it on its head. The writing evokes bare ...more
DNF at 80 pages. I gave the first three stories a try then decided they didn't tickle my fancy enough to continue. The first story I liked, but at the end felt I had missed something to make the ending matter. The second story almost said something important. The third story felt like something better suited to novel-length. I'd try this author again, but won't finish this collection.
A collection of sf and fantasy stories., many inspired by physics concepts, Asian history, and questions about ethics in warfare.

"Ghostweight." Lisse was only a child when her planet was scoured by the Imperium's mercenaries. She devoted herself to rising through the ranks of the Imperium until she was in position to steal one of the mercenaries' war-kites, and embarks on a mission of revenge. (view spoiler)
Jun 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fierce and fragile flowers
Recommended to Alan by: Previous appearances in various venues
Conservation of Shadows begins and ends with contradiction. The first sentence of its first story, "Ghostweight," tells us that "It is not true that the dead cannot be folded." Already the reader is thrown a little off-balance—whoever said the dead couldn't be folded in the first place? And as the collection's final, titular story reminds us, "There is no conservation of shadows." As light pours in, shadows are banished—but darkness elsewhere does not become more intense as a result.

By the time
Tim Hicks
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
If I have a complaint with this collection, it's that it makes me feel less smart than when I started. Lee has a very wide thinking range indeed.

The Shuos Jedao story is exceptional, not least because it re-frames a real battle from Korea's history.

The others were uneven, but the bright flame of Lee's imagination kept me fluttering around.

It will probably help if you have already read some or all of the Ninefox Gambit series. I found them a tad more accessible, and as such good preparation fo
When checking out the works of an authors unknown to you, it's usually best, or, at least, safer, to go for a stand-alone novel or a collection of short-stories. In this case, I went for 'Conservation of Shadows', a book that was (is?) hard to get on European soil. Luckily, an American supplier of the Belgian bookshop Sterling Books (Brussels) had a copy in stock.

This first short-story collection contains sixteen of Lee's stories. While the majority was published previously in magazines like Be
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've been reading this collection very slowly to appreciate its beauty: intricate worldbuilding, myth-like quality to high fantasy plots, characters who may exist just for the duration of a short story, but their existence is powerful and lingers. And, most importantly, the lyricism and aesthetic side to sciences and mathematics; Lee knows these are emotional, aesthetic endeavors, and pours his fondness for them onto the pages. Between Conservation of Shadows and Machineries of Empire, I think I ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a totally solid short story collection, but not all the stories resonated for me. I like Yoon Ha Lee's work a lot, and this is a much easier entry point than Ninefox Gambit, so I still recommend it. Common themes include mathematics- and music-based magic, tactical warfare in space, and weird, creepy twists. My favorite stories were "Swanwatch", "Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain", "Iseul's Lexicon", and "The Battle of Candle Arc".
Sep 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bought-in-2018
Ghostweight: 3.5 stars
The Shadow Postulates: 4 stars
The Bones of Giants: 4.5 stars
Between Two Dragons: 3.5 stars
Swanwatch: 4.5 stars
Effigy Nights: 3.75 stars
Flower, mercy, needle, chain: 2.5 stars
Iseul’s Lexicon: 5 stars
Counting the shapes: 2.75 stars
Blue ink: 3.25 stars
The battle of candle arc: 4.25 stars (we stan Jedao ⭐️)
A vector alphabet of interstellar travel: 3.5 stars
The unstrung zither: 4.5 stars
The black abacus: 3 stars
The book of locked doors: 5 stars
Conservation of shadows: 3 star
Francesca Forrest
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: for-sirens
I read most, but not all, of the stories in this collection, and since I very much enjoyed the stories I read, I assume I'd enjoy the ones I didn't read as well.

The reason I didn't read all of them was because the tone, theme, and plot of the ones I did read created an overall flavor that's very strong and particular and more something that I want to savor in small doses than at length, especially when the at-length is continually starting over with new characters. They're like very rich desser
Morgan Dhu
Feb 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Conservationof Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee's collection of short stories, is a treat in every way. Lee's voice is a unique one, his rich and evocative prose telling stories synesthetic in their blending of the diverse languages and symbologies of words, music, mathematics and programming.

There is an otherworldliness to his stories, but not the kind of otherworldliness one is accustomed to find in stories of science fiction or fantasy. It is not just the story itself that is in another world, but the v
Dec 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fantasy
Honestly, I didn't expect it to be so good, but this is possibly the best book I've read this year.

First sentence is there to catch attention of the reader, to show how good is the book. The first sentence of Conservation of Shadows?

It is not true that the dead cannot be folded.

What more can you want?
Liz Henry
Jun 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Seriously blown away by the stories in Conservation of Shadows. Subtle & beautiful! Never obvious! Weird and spacetastic and elliptical. Kick-ass writing. ...more
Sep 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to David by: R.J.
Often with short story anthologies, you find several stories that carry the collection, a bunch of good/okay ones, and a handful of duds. I enjoyed every story in "Conservation of Shadows". Ghostweight is brilliant. The themes in Lee's stories are highly compelling. A quote from the introduction: "One thing Lee does not shy from is portraying the harrowing cost of war, genocide, and occupation, whether it is for the occupying forces or for those fighting for peace or independence.... far from gl ...more
May 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
General comments

This is a fabulous short story collection. The stories I loved, I really really loved. Out of sixteen stories over half got 4 stars or above.

The writing is absolutely beautiful. It is sort of jarring, but has this magical quality to it at the same time. The closest comparison I can think of is Tessa Gratton's writing in Strange Grace.

The themes were quite serious, ranging from colonialism, war, revenge, culture, language. Lee does not pull any punches.

The inspiration behind many
Oct 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
A book mostly about violence, about invading empires, resistance, and battle. Steeped in Asian history (mostly Korean, according to the authors notes, but China and Japan as well) and Asian imagery (from music and art to anime influence) but mostly set in other times on other worlds. I wish every story didn’t need to be quite so much high drama, but even the stories that end abruptly end pretty well.
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love sci fi short stories and I love Yoon Ha Lee but I just didn't love this collection as much as I was looking forward to it. Possibly, because the stories veered more towards fantasy than sci fi, possibly because my favourite of the lot was one I'd read before - Ghostweight.

That said, this was still an amazing collection of ideas in fiction form and absolutely worth a read.
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't usually like short stories, but these were so good! My favorites were "Iseul's Lexicon" and the young Shuos Jedao one (which reminded me how much I loved Ninefox Gambit and made me wistful for where I hoped that series would go rather than where it seems to be going), but all of the stories were smart and gorgeous and gave me something to think about.
Like any short story collection, some of the stories here resonated more with me than others, but Lee's use of language is so consistently beautiful and unique, and the universes are so twisted and intricate that I just kept wanting more.
Katie Styrt
Sep 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Some stories were gorgeous, some were dry. Lots of beautiful language about music and art.
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

really liked the elements of Korean culture in these. I did not understand everything but that's a mark of good science fiction
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I won a free copy of this book by random number generator at the author's blog, but would have bought it anyway. Worth it!

The post I linked to has a list of the stories in this collection with a very short description of each. I've copied this below and added a quick review; the title and author's description are in bold. Asterisks by my favorites!

* "Ghostweight" (not-literal war-kites and genocide) -- Also, lethal origami and being physically bound to a ghost whose job is to advise you about th
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“In the peregrinations of civilizations grand and subtle, each mode of transport is an alphabet expressing their understandings of the universe's one-way knell. One assumes that the underlying universe is the same in each case.”
“Tamim tried to look receptive to the idea of learning something more complicated than an alphabet.”

I had been wanting to read some more of Lee's stuff after I read “The Combustion Hour,” which is available free to read online; please go check it out! It's a great littl
Labeebah Hasan
It is not true that the dead cannot be folded. Square becomes kite becomes swan; history becomes rumor becomes song. Even the act of remembrance creases the truth.

So begins Ghostweight, the first story in Yoon Ha Lee's debut collection Conservation of Shadows.

What don't I love about this collection?

It's about art, love, war, math, the intricacies of politics, the devastation of war, and the tragedy of genocide, all wrapped up in a gorgeously poetic bow. Lee has a way with language that is fresh
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Yoon Ha Lee is an American science fiction writer born on January 26, 1979 in Houston, Texas. His first published story, “The Hundredth Question,” appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1999; since then, over two dozen further stories have appeared. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. ...more

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