“Counting the Shapes” — Yoon Ha Lee

Yoon Ha Lee’s work has appeared in Lightspeed, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Fantasy Magazine, Ideomancer, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Farrago’s Wainscot, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Electric Velocipede, and Sybil’s Garage. She’s also appeared in the anthologies Twenty Epics, Japanese Dreams, In Lands That Never Were, Year’s Best Fantasy #6, and Science Fiction: The Best of 2002. Her poetry has appeared in such venues as Jabberwocky, Strange Horizons, Star*Line, Mythic Delirium, and Goblin Fruit. Learn more at yoonhalee.com.

Our next story involves some math. Wait, don’t go! It’s also got demon armies, a lie-detecting magic sword, bitter family drama, and all that good stuff, we promise. But there’s some math too, or at least, mathematical concepts.

Yoon Ha Lee is a former high school math teacher, and her work often incorporates aspects of her training. Most of us tend to imagine magic as an easy path to power, a way of getting something for nothing, and we’re enticed by the notion of flying through the air and hurling fireballs the moment we pick up our first wand. We tend to think of magic as something at which we would be naturally and effortlessly talented. But what if learning magic was a lot like learning math? What if you actually did have to learn a lot of math in order to perform magic? How many of us would stick with it?

Our next story presents a world in which magic and mathematics are inextricably linked, and in which solving equations is a matter of life or death. But don’t worry, you won’t need any calculus or trigonometry to enjoy this story. And no, this won’t be on the test.