The Knight of Chains, the Deuce of Stars.
File under “settings I adore”: futures so distant that the lines between magic, technology, fantasy, and reality completely vanish. What raises this story to an even higher level for me is that it is willing to erase yet another line: that between games and the rest of the world. It is difficult to imagine that kinds of games that will exist, say, five billion years from now, though Lee makes a fascinating stab at it.
The set-up is familiar. A petitioner challenges a death-like figure to a game in exchange for a boon. Yet, in reading, it does not feel familiar. The prose is dripping with the run-off from a thunderstom of dreams, ash from the collision of a starship built by the ghosts of comets with an asteroid inhabited by warlocks that half-exist. This is but one way to describe it. I expect each one who reads it will have a unique way of describing the feelings this prose engenders, which I think is the intent. No two will have the same idea of “melting gears” or “fortress of neutronium whispers.”
The story has many thoughts about games, which continue to percolate in me. Are all games, even far-flung and worldspanning games played with lives and physical laws, built from the same fundamental game-particles as chess or go? Can a game subsume another? What is winning, what is losing? These kinds of questions are pertinent to us, right now, but even moreso to those who inhabit this bizarre and tantalizing universe where, perhaps, everything is a kind of game. There is just enough light shone on the world outside the tower that I wonder even still what other grim and beautiful people exist there, and what games they choose to play.