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Unstrung Zither: 04/11/09
In the introduction before the story, Gordon Van Gelder explains that Yoon Ha Lee lists Anne McCaffrey and Orson Scott Card as two influences in in her writing (p. 40). Having not read any of Card I can't speak to his influences but I can see McCaffrey in the music and dragons of "Unstrung Zither."
Xiao Ling Yung is the unstrung zither of the story. She's a musician for the Phoenix Command in a world at war with the ashworlders who are dragon riding assassins. There is a lot of mysticism, music, role playing and military maneuvering in "Unstrung Zither." A basic understanding of the tonality of Chinese and some cultural practices helps but isn't completely necessary to enjoy the story.
The world in which Ling Yung and the others live is only hinted at and that's fine. The only bits of information are that the population on the main world is roughly 110 million (about three times the size of California) and the population of the ashworlds is roughly 70 million. Military forces for both sides is classified. Ling Yung decides to make up her own mind about the prisoners by interrogating them herself, unusual but not unheard of.
I like political stories where information is uneven or completely hidden intel. I like stories that present a world based on different traditions than my own. Having had this one glimpse at the world of Ling Yung I want to see more.