Guest Post: “Culture As Weapon” by Yoon Ha Lee

When I conceived of the Andan faction of the hexarchate, I saw them as beautiful, rich, and cultured. In particular, I saw them as the people who weaponize culture. Raven Stratagem depicts a major Andan character for the first time, and while she’s somewhat atypical (she went into special ops against her mother’s wishes), she hasn’t entirely escaped her early training.

Years ago, when I was in college, I borrowed some of my boyfriend’s Robotech tie-in novels. I went online (as one does) and looked up more information on Robotech on the internet, and found an interesting essay that questioned the novels’ portrayal of singer Lynn Minmei and her songs as a cultural weapon. I’m sorry I can’t link you to the essay; cursory Googling has failed to turn it up and, as it’s been something like fifteen years, I have no idea if it’s even still on the web.

Nevertheless, the essay’s argument bothered me. It seemed clear to me that culture could be weaponized, or, on the other hand, treated as something to be attacked. I was thinking of Korea’s history, in particular the Japanese occupation, mainly because that was the example my mother told me about when I was growing up, but of course similar examples can, unfortunately, be found all around the world, in many other times and places.

I intended the Andan to fulfill several roles, including the (evil) one of cultural imperialism. They oversee hexarchate finances and the economy, which of course makes them immensely influential all by itself. They are responsible for high culture and entertainment (including the dreadful dramas that Cheris likes to watch), which also makes them influential; if you think of them as the overgrown Disney of the hexarchate you won’t be far wrong. They’re in charge of first contact and diplomacy, and they also study anthropology, sociology, and psychology specifically as regards assimilating other cultures to the hexarchate’s Doctrine.

The Andan love of beauty is related to all these things. It’s not frivolous. Rather, because of the way people react to beauty in spite of themselves, the Andan use it as a weapon. This extends to body modifications. An Andan will not hesitate to mod themselves in such a way to give themselves an advantage in negotiations. One of the reasons the Kel military reacts so poorly to body mods is that the Andan are more powerful, which the Kel resent, and the Kel are xenophobes, so the fact that the Andan deal with foreigners, even if it’s part of their job, makes the Kel suspicious of them and their methods.

I didn’t get much opportunity to portray the Andan in Ninefox Gambit because it emphasized military action, which meant a lot of Kel (military) and Shuos (strategy/spies) in the heavily regimented hexarchate society. But in Raven Stratagem I had the chance to show a glimpse of what the Andan were like. This was admittedly complicated by some background history that I didn’t have the space to include. The Andan and Shuos hate each other, mainly because they share similar spheres of influence and are competing for each other over power, and ordinarily they counterbalance each other. During the time period in which Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem takes place, the Shuos are in ascendancy because of Hexarch Mikodez’s unusually long and stable reign, while the Andan have weak leadership. But this has not, of course, always been the case historically.

In any case, I had a lot of fun with the Andan special ops agent who shows up in Raven Stratagem. I hope you enjoy meeting her!

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Yoon Ha Lee‘s Raven Stratagem and Ninefox Gambit are out now, published by Solaris Books.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Also on CR: Interview with Yoon Ha Lee (2016)

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