The Magic of Marriage: Diplomatic Immunity

July 30th, 2011 at 5:35 pm (Reviews)

Alex and I reach the penultimate book in the Vorkosigan Saga, Diplomatic Immunity. We previously looked at Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar), the Young Miles omnibus (The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game), the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus (Cetaganda, and Ethan of Athos and “Labyrinth”), “Borders of Infinity” and Brothers in Arms, Mirror DanceMemory and the Miles in Love omnibus (comprising KomarrA Civil Campaign and “Winterfair Gifts”).

Diplomatic Immunity

By Lois McMaster Bujold

TEHANI:

This is a fantastic book because it brings together a whole heap of elements from books gone by. It’s a very nostalgic read, while still being centred very much on Miles in the “present”, learning to be a husband (and father-to-be!) and an Imperial Auditor. It’s got lots of Ekaterin, which is great, but we also get Bel Thorne! And Cetaganda! And quaddies! And of course, mystery, misdirection, action and danger. All par for the course in a Vorkosigan adventure!

ALEX:

If anything could be said to be a ‘standard’ Miles adventure, this probably comes close. It includes many aspects of previous adventures, as you mention, and it’s definitely a Miles-solves-the-mystery-and-saves-the-day. And it doesn’t have the excruciating embarrassment that A Civil Campaign sometimes offered! ‘Nostalgic’ is indeed the word I am searching for here :D

Adding to the nostalgia, and something that I loved, is the fact that we are brought back Miles’ own birth in many ways with Miles and Ekaterin waiting for their babies to be born … from their uterine replicators. While they are in a tizz about getting home at the right time, the reality is that missing the birth would be sad but not actually tragic – and how weird to think that this applies to both father and mother! That it’s not the end of the world for, ostensibly, a pregnant woman to be off having adventures! (Makes me think of Gail Carriger’s latest Alexia Tarabotti novel, Heartless, where her heroine is seven or eight months pregnant, and still running – or waddling at least – around.) This compares directly with Cordelia and Aral’s immense worry over Miles – that he had two births! – and of course with Count Piotr’s immense distaste for the very procedure that Miles now sees as, if not routine, then not abnormal. (Also? I’m quite sure every mother reading this either fainted in horror or hilarity at the suggestion that if they wanted to have four children, they should just get them all out of the way at the same time… I’m not a mother, and even I couldn’t decide between my reactions, and feel sympathy for Ekaterin for having to deal with such a manic as Miles.)

TEHANI:

I hadn’t even thought of the parallels to Miles’ own birth, but you’re completely right. The bit where Ekaterin and Miles are jaunting off round the solar galaxy while officially eight months pregnant? FRUSTRATING! I want that!! :) And yeah, twins is enough work I reckon, although people do have more at once even NATURALLY, so I guess it could happen – but four lots of baby Miles? Eep.

ALEX:

Plus: Bel Thorne! Not forgotten! Hooray!

TEHANI:

One of the best elements of the Vorkosigan Saga is that Bujold builds on what has gone before, allowing growth and change in her world but still giving the reader familiar elements to cozy up to. The use of Cetaganda in Diplomatic Immunity is far better here than the match up between Ethan of Athos and the book Cetaganda – Bujold played to the strengths of the better worldbuilding this time, ensuring continuity.

ALEX:

Yes, I was very pleased that Cetaganda made a comeback; they seem like far too important a part of Barrayar’s universe to not interrupt Miles’ life again. (I loved that the Emperor sent a delegation to Gregor’s wedding, as of course he had to, in A Civil Campaign – and Miles’ interaction with Benin and the haut Pel.)

TEHANI:

There’s only one tiny point where this continuity falters, and that is easily explained. Diplomatic Immunity was published before “Winterfair Gifts” was written. In “Winterfair Gifts”, Roic has an interlude with Sergeant Taura, which would be a pretty important memory to him, and Ekaterin is nearly poisoned by a wedding gift. However, when Taura’s visit and the wedding are mentioned in Diplomatic Immunity, there’s no note of this (understandably, as Bujold probably hadn’t conceived of it at that point!). What grated though, was the reference to Ekaterin’s “tense, distraught state the night before the wedding” which “reminded Miles forcibly of a particular species of precombat nerves he’d seen in troops facing, not their first, but their second battle. The night after the wedding, now – that had gone much better, thank God.” Having just read “Winterfair Gifts”, this jars significantly because Ekaterin’s “nerves” or behaviour had nothing to do with worry about her first marriage or what lay in store for her in her second. But we have to allow for these little issues, I guess!

ALEX:

As someone reading these now, in internally chronological order, it still weirds me out to see these inconsistencies because overall, the series is so consistent – for something not written thus!

TEHANI:

Other than that, this is a brilliant book. Miles is learning to rely not just on his on manic wits, but on Ekaterin’s thoughtful observations as well (and his own reliance on her to moderate him and calm him is becoming very sweet). The extra element of needing to be back on Barrayar to open the uterine replicators for the birth of their first children gives a very important deadline to wrap up the case, which naturally means the case gets more and more complex! The actual plot of this one is nicely twisty, and it’s the sort of mystery that ONLY Miles, with his rather varied background, could have solved, at least without a major interplanetary incident.

ALEX:

I really liked Miles’ comment on basically wanting to use Ekaterin to help his investigation – recognising that some people would be more willing to talk to her about things, in order to relay information. Of course this only works because Ekaterin is herself more than willing to be involved, at least to some degree, and readily acknowledges that she does indeed have talents and uses that Miles just doesn’t. They are delightfully complementary.

I was bemused at the start as to how all of the various skeins would end up tying together – because I knew that they would. I certainly didn’t expect the ‘herm’ to actually be a ba! And a renegade ba at that! The tie back to Cetaganda was very neatly accomplished, I thought, and of course Miles’ dealing with the whole thing was perfect.

TEHANI:

Was very cleverly put together indeed – Bujold working her magic as usual!

Great to see Nicol back, and with Bel – so sweet. Bel’s departure from the Dendarii was a bit heartbreaking, so it’s really good to see what happened to it, and where it ended up.

ALEX:

So SWEET!!

TEHANI:

It was also interesting to see how other places react to Barrayaran ships and their crews at a local level – we know that Barrayarans are generally regarded as fairly brutish by civilised races, but this is drawn more explicitly in Diplomatic Immunity. It’s particularly interesting given that we’ve seen such a lot of gentility on Barrayar more recently, as well as the brutality (particularly towards mutants), and could have been fooled into thinking this perception may have changed.

ALEX:

I was intrigued by the idea of a Barrayaran having deserted in order to be with a ‘mutie’ – one of the quaddies – and then of course his shipmates’ responses to this. I can’t help but see it as a comment on responses to mixed-race couples, personally.

TEHANI:

In all, it’s a great book. But so sad because we’re getting so close to the end…!

ALEX:

ONE MORE! Well … one more published so far, anyway … oh my, I’ve joined the ranks of Bujold fanatics rather hard…

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QWC writing courses (a public service announcement!)

July 30th, 2011 at 5:01 pm (On writing)

Writing Science Fiction Short Story
Six-week course in July and October
Cost $150
Join one of Australia’s most successful authors of science fiction, fantasy and horror, Lee Battersby, for a journey through the fantastic art of the science fiction short story. Over six weeks you will learn how to build worlds, character, voice and mood in this challenging and rewarding form.

Kim Wilkins’ Year of the Novel led by Trent Jamieson
Year-long course starting August 2011
Cost $445
Challenge yourself to complete the ultimate writing journey in Kim Wilkins’ Year of the Novel under the tutelage of author of Dust, Christine Bongers. Christine will guide you through this course created by Kim Wilkins and help you get that manuscript finished in a year!

Pitching to Publishers with Tiana Templeman
Four-week course in October
Cost $150
This four-week course, starting 9 May, will show you how to push all the right buttons to attract a publisher’s eye. Discover what commissioning editors love and what they loathe.
From writing a captivating synopsis to deciding where to send it, learn about all facets of the proposal process for a range of writing including non-fiction, fiction, and children’s.

Introduction to Creative Writing
Six-week course in August and October
Cost $130
There are a lot of us out there who write, scribbling ideas on bus tickets, boarding passes and coffee shop serviettes, but who never seem to turn these notes into anything. If you have been scribbling away quietly but have never taken the leap to finish anything or call yourself a writer, clear a few hours a week in your schedule to sit down and rediscover the art of creative writing in this practice-based series of online activities and resources.

For more information on any of the courses, or to book your place, contact the Queensland Writers Centre!

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Guest blog: Ian Irvine – writing for children and young adults

July 27th, 2011 at 8:10 pm (Miscellaneous)

We are delighted to welcome highly acclaimed Aussie author Ian Irvine to the FableCroft blog, for a guest post on writing for children and young adults. Thanks Ian!

Tehani asked me if I could post about writing for children and young adults. Though I’ve written a lot of books (27, in fact) and most of them are read by young adults, I’ve never written a book specifically for that age group, so this post will focus more on what I know about writing for children.

I’m best known for a long epic fantasy sequence set in the Three Worlds, though in recent years I’ve also written three quartets for younger readers – the Sorcerer’s Tower, Runcible Jones and Grim and Grimmer series’. However, writing for children covers a vast range of ages, abilities and interests, and each of my children’s quartets has been aimed at a different audience. I always keep the audience in mind while writing, and each series had to be written differently.

The Sorcerer’s Tower books, published in 2008, were part of Scholastic’s illustrated Fantastica series for mid-primary readers (the other quartets in this series were written by Kim Wilkins, Fiona McIntosh and Richard Harland) and were only 10,000 words each. My books were illustrated by DM Cornish, incidentally, and he did a magical job. For such a young audience I restricted the stories to a handful of characters, linear story lines, only one viewpoint, simple language, and of course concepts suitable for this age group.

You might think that such little books would be easy to write, but I found them a real challenge. In one sense they were easier – being much shorter, I could keep the whole story and all the characters in mind while writing each book. This isn’t possible in an epic fantasy quartet which can total 800,000 words or more, and where every editing task, even getting all the inconsistencies out, is a cosmic labour. On the other hand, big fantasy novels offer the writer more freedom, because readers are more tolerant of diversions and many fans love huge, complex plots. For children, however, the writing has to be tight, focused and clear.

Because I was used to writing the epic Three Worlds novels, it wasn’t easy to adjust my writing style to small, simple books. Simple can be surprisingly difficult to write – you have to create engaging characters, with a degree of complexity, and tell an exciting, fast-paced story, within a very small canvas. However reviewers and librarians have said that the Sorcerer’s Tower books are ideal for reluctant readers in primary school, and I’m delighted that they’ve encouraged some children to read who might otherwise have not done so. In doing these books I also learned a tremendous amount about writing economically, and that’s changed the way I’ve written since.

My first children’s series was Runcible Jones (published 2006-2010). These are much longer works, written for 9-14 year olds but also read by YA and adults. Here I could write more complex stories with strongly developed characters, though I still simplified the language, used a single viewpoint character and avoided ‘adult concepts’ such as sex, graphic violence, crude language, and strong crime and horror. These are okay in YA literature (with some limits) but rarely acceptable in children’s books. I spent a long time developing the story world for this series – an Earth where magic is illegal twinned with the world of Iltior where science is banned but magic routine – though in retrospect I think the canvas was too broad, the story world too large. Also, at 105,000 words each, these books were a bit long for the target audience. 60 – 80,000 words is the ideal length for younger readers, because a lot of children are daunted by the size of big books.

Why did I want to take time off from my very successful epic fantasies to write for children anyway? Good question. The eleven books of the Three Worlds sequence run to 2.3 million words and, though I love doing them, they’re mentally and creatively exhausting. At the end of each series I need a writing escape and after the last, The Song of the Tears, was finished in 2008 I longed to write something completely different. And much shorter.

Another reason – if a writer only ever does one kind of book, he or she tends to become typecast by both publisher and readers. Readers are reluctant to read something quite different by that writer, and publishers understandably reluctant to publish it. For this reason, all my writing life I’ve alternated epic fantasy with other kinds of books, to give me the flexibility to write whatever I feel like (within reason).

After finishing Song of the Tears, I wrote a proposal for a series of relatively short, humorous adventure stories called Grim and Grimmer (published by Scholastic in 2010 and 2011). Each book was to be around 25,000 words, and aimed at readers 8-13. This was going to be a real challenge because I’d never written humour before – well, not intentionally! – and wasn’t sure I could do it. It would be highly embarrassing if my attempts were unfunny.

I’d also noticed that, while there are plenty of humorous books for children, and plenty of adventure fantasy too, there aren’t many books that successfully combine humour with a strong, compelling plot. The really successful series that do both, such as Artemis Fowl, Skulduggery Pleasant and Bartimaeus, are for older readers. A gap in the market, I thought, ha!

I originally planned six of these books though, in the middle of the global financial crisis, my publisher could only commit to four. However when it was time to write them, Scholastic wanted longer books, 40,000 words or more each, and I was happy to make this change because the added length offered more scope for the stories I was developing. Such is the give and take in developing a series.

There’s oodles of fantasy adventure around for this age group and, for the Grim and Grimmers to succeed, I had to find a way to make them stand out. This wasn’t going to be easy, since they’re set in a fairly traditional world of children’s fantasy, with stock characters like goblins, trolls, dwarves and so forth. Don Maass (a top NY agent) wrote, in The Fire in Fiction, that most stories his agency sees fail because they’re too familiar, too bland, and too much the same as all the others. It’s the same with characters – most characters fail not because of too much exaggeration, but too little. And exaggeration and hyperbole is particularly important in writing humour, so I decided to indulge my zany side for once. I also acknowledge the assistance of John Vorhaus’ The Comic Toolbox here. It’s not just the best book on writing humour, it’s better than all the others put together.

To make stereotypical characters fresh, I twisted the stereotypes. My goblins are still greedy and calculating, but in Grim and Grimmer the entire goblin nation is under an enchantment that drives their flaws out of control – they’re so obsessed with gambling that they neglect their homes, children, personal hygiene and even the kingdom itself. The mournful goblin king, Dibblin the Doughty, constantly accepts responsibility for everything that’s gone wrong in his kingdom, then turns back to the gaming table without doing anything. The villainous Aigo bets on whether Useless Ike (the hero of the series) will survive various deadly ordeals he puts him through.

The dwarf Con Glomryt (all the dwarves are named after rock types), who challenges Ike to a contest, isn’t a typical dwarf warrior with an axe and chain mail, but a gold-toothed, smirking conman who resembles the lowest form of TV game show host. The huge, handsome demon Tonsil is as dumb as a doughnut and sweats crude oil by the barrel – he’s a real fire hazard at a party! The apparently kindly old lady, Fluffia Tralalee, who lives in a cave carpeted in pink shag pile, with fluffy bunny wallpaper, turns out to be a bloodthirsty old bat with an armoury big enough to start World War 3. And Tonsil’s sister, the demon Spleen, specialises in psychological pain. She doesn’t just get inside Ike’s head, she actually puts her head inside his head (via another plane), to identify his secret terrors and see how to best torment him. And so on for the entire cast of characters.

But were the books funny, you ask. Well, they had lots of reviews and all the reviewers thought so. Writing these books was the first time I really let go, and it was worth it. Grim and Grimmer is the most fun I’ve ever had writing, and I’m sorry that the series is finished.

However, epic fantasy calls. I’m presently doing the final edits for Vengeance, book one of a brand new series, The Tainted Realm, out in Australia in November and the UK and US in 2012.

Ian Irvine is a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for the protection of the marine environment and still works in this field. He has also written 27 novels, including the internationally bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence, an eco-thriller trilogy and twelve books for children. Website: http://www.ian-irvine.com/

On his Facebook author site, Ian is giving away three sets of his trilogies and quartets every week for the whole of 2011, plus other great prizes. To celebrate the publication of Vengeance, there’ll be another iPad2 giveaway later in the year.

To enter any of the comps, go to http://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author.

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The Magic of Romance: Miles in Love

July 24th, 2011 at 1:12 pm (Reviews)

Alex and I delight over Miles finally finding the right woman to fall in love with, with a few pitfalls along the way, in the omnibus Miles in Love, comprising Komarr, A Civil Campaign and “Winterfair Gifts”. We previously looked at Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar), the Young Miles omnibus (The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game), the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus (Cetaganda, and Ethan of Athos and “Labyrinth”), “Borders of Infinity” and Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance and Memory.

Miles in Love

Lois McMaster Bujold

TEHANI:

It seemed logical to do the whole omnibus at once this time. We had both raced ahead of ourselves, more interested in reading the books than reporting on them, and before we knew it, Komarr, A Civil Campaign and “Winterfair Gifts” were all done! These three works are very strongly tied though, with the arc of the love story between Miles and Ekaterin, so it makes sense to talk about them as a whole.

ALEX:
Yes, absolutely. Reading them in the omnibus, I just … kept right on reading…

Komarr

TEHANI:

Now an official Imperial Auditor, Miles tags along with Imperial Auditor Vorthys to investigate an incident on the Barrayaran colony world Komarr, and finds himself imposing on the hospitality of Vorthys’ niece, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, and her husband and young son. The Vorsoisson household is not a happy one, with Ekaterin’s husband Tien hiding a secret. Miles finds himself drawn to Ekaterin, although his honour forbids him ever to act upon this, and Ekaterin, miserably trapped in a marriage she long grew out of, can only dream of a happier life. Despite his change in status, trouble still follows Miles wherever he goes, and the Komarr situation is no different. Balancing a diplomatic disaster in the making with the mystery of the solar mirror accidents, Miles, as always, finds more problems than he bargained for.

ALEX:
And it’s not like Miles doesn’t half COURT danger, let’s be honest. Nosey little git is a NICE way to describe him, most of the time! Anyway, there are indeed two narratives going on her. First, the detective business that the Auditors essentially find themselves in and bring them to Komarr, figuring out what happened to the soletta – deliberate or accidental damage? – which in turn leads to a much bigger issue: someone trying to close Barrayar’s wormhole permanently. I really enjoyed the investigative aspects of the story, and the way in which Miles used and explored his new Auditor powers. Pairing him with Vorthys, much older and much wiser, with different skills and a more relaxed take on life, was clever from the Emperor and from Bujold – it sets Miles up nicely to work the way he works best, as well to continue growing as a character. And I really really liked that the issues at stake got so much bigger from something quite small; it developed over the course of the novel very smoothly.

The second narrative, of course, if Miles falling in luuuurve with Ekaterin – already married, and then widowed, partly through Miles’ own negligence. And doesn’t that play on his conscience…

TEHANI:

One very interesting aspect of this book is that it’s the first time we get another point of view character for a big chunk of a Miles story. And this in itself is a dead giveaway as to Ekaterin’s importance to the world. Elli Quinn and Elena Bothari-Jesek were never given the narrative. Obviously things were a bit different in Mirror Dance, when Miles was dead or missing for much of the book, but in this case, it is as much Ekaterin’s story as it is Miles’, if not more, and this is very telling.

ALEX:

I loved that we got Ekaterin’s perspective! I’ll admit that I had accidentally looked over a chronology of Miles’ life and saw “MIles and Ekaterin on honeymoon”, so there was no surprise for me in their relationship developing – although I did wonder what we were going to do with Tien! – which I was a bit cranky about. As you say, that she gets so much personal airtime in the book is indeed a giveaway. The insight into the more domestic side of things, and how Miles impacts on people, was a fascinating one.

TEHANI:

I didn’t feel like Komarr was the most engaging of the newer books, but really, that’s a comparative issue – when the two books that precede it are Memory and Mirror Dance, it’s a challenge to stand up and be equal or better! It’s still absolutely solid storytelling, giving us action, drama and mystery, with a little glimpse of love thrown in.

ALEX:

I really enjoyed it! It’s a very different book from either Mirror Dance or Memory, and it benefited from that. There’s a bit less introspection from Miles, and a bit more action, which helps to distance it from Memory in particular. It’s a nice change of pace, given we still get to keep Miles being Miles.

TEHANI:

I’m really glad Bujold didn’t leave poor Miles in the lurch again here. It’s really been so unfair that all the women in his life are not interested in being Barrayaran wives, and while of course, happy ever after is not where we leave the book, at least we know the possibility is now open.

Ekaterin herself plays an important role in Komarr. She’s not there to be Miles’ love interest or complication, although there is that aspect. She plays a big part in the plot as well, but I think the most interesting aspect is her insight into what it means to be a Vor woman. We’ve seen a bit of this with Ivan’s mother and some others, but here, Ekaterin is in the spotlight and she is true Vor. Miles has been our benchmark of Vor, supplemented by Ivan, Aral and many other MEN. now we get the other perspective, one that Cordelia, being Betan, could never offer – that of what it’s like to grow up, and live, as a Vor woman.

ALEX:

The insight into being a Vor woman was utterly captivating – as you say, Cordelia is so totally off the map for Barrayar that she can’t offer this sort of perspective. My heart ached to see Ekaterin’s personal life … and realise that actually Bujold is talking about the experiences of many women today. Her relationship with her son Nikki was interesting too, for being (it seems to me) very real. I was so pleased that she got an action part to play, too – although I will admit that when she and her aunt got nabbed at the station, I had to put the book down and walk away for a little while, because Bujold just KEEPS DOING NASTY THINGS TO HER CHARACTERS. I was fairly sure she’s be ok, but the stress was no good for me. And then Ekaterin destroyed the weapon and it was all ok. Thankfully. Also, I really really liked Aunt and Uncle Vorthys and their relationship – which is developed much more in the next book – that they both have successful, professional careers and have a good marriage says that the Vor aren’t completely and totally useless.

A Civil Campaign

TEHANI:

THIS BOOK IS SO. MUCH. FUN!

ALEX:

Hell yes!!

TEHANI:

I adore this from beginning to end. Bujold once again demonstrates her incredible ability to cross genres, writing a marvellous romantic comedy with intrigue and gender bending and politics and Miles bumbling about! There’s a name for that, right?

ALEX:

Awesome?

TEHANI:

There are lots of plot threads crisscrossing this book. Underpinning it all is Miles’s attempts to woo Ekaterin, now living back on Barrayar with her aunt and uncle Vorthys (side note: I ADORE Ekaterin’s aunt – she’s up there with Cordelia for awesome) and Nikki, her young son. We know how well Miles does in the romance stakes, so his concerted efforts go rather awry – he really must get used to the fact that his vision is not always the same as the vision of those around him!

ALEX:

Oh heck, that dinner party!! That was another moment when I just wanted to crawl under the carpet on behalf of Miles and his shame. But honestly, why the hell did he go around talking about her?? I guess I understood, a bit – hard to keep your trap shut about being in love – but at the same time, he was telling himself so firmly that he had to WAIT … and then it got out of hand … and then it all came good! Hurrah! I think this is one reason why I don’t tend to read or watch romantic comedies, actually; I do not enjoy other people’s embarrassment; I feel it too keenly myself.

Once again I enjoyed Ekaterin’s perspective – that she is coming to understand herself so much more, in particular with how she treats her would-be suitors and her relatives. That she is still trapped to an extent in Barrayar legalities and expectations is excruciating. I also really enjoyed her love of gardening – it’s nice to have at least one person expressing an appreciation of the native flora, rather than just wanting to totally terraform the place. On the Miles front, being privy to her turmoil in thinking about him was very cleverly done. Also, it ends up giving us a whole new insight into Miles himself – and finally a proper tour of Vorkosigan House!

TEHANI:

But the side plots are such fun. The butter bugs, brought to Vorkosigan house by Mark, under the erstwhile care of the mad professor (that’s totally what he was, right?), and Mark’s own love affair with the wonderful Kareen Koudelka gives us a madcap zaniness, which while often under the surface in the Vorkosigan saga, is rarely so overt. And seeing Mark really becoming a person, with a girlfriend and a business, is just lovely. Lady Alys is still organising that darn imperial wedding, keeping everyone, particularly Ivan, hopping. And poor Ivan, now left on the shelf, thinking he might have a chance with a three-time widow who goes and has a sex change in order to take legitimate success of a District … well, that’s just typical for Ivan, isn’t it? I do love that Ivan gets a chance to be a hero here though – without him, the outcome of the meeting of the counts would have been rather different. And you know I’ve always had a soft spot for Ivan :)

ALEX:

BUTTER BUGS!! So gross. And Mark turns up, hurrah! I like Mark – the sub-plot with him and Kareen was also a very interesting one, with Kareen paralleling Ekaterin in some ways, with her trying to figure out how to be herself with her parents as well as with Mark. I love Mark for his love of her – and I really love the way Cordelia deals with Kou and Drou, dragging that couch out of the attic!! Ivan … see, Ivan lost some of my goodwill, for trying to be nasty to Miles in upsetting the Ekaterin applecart somewhat. Grrr.

TEHANI:

This book shows Barrayar itself growing up too. The count with the replicators, the one who finds he has Cetagandan heritage, and the Donna/Dono subplots demonstrate ways in which Barrayar is becoming more galactic, and how well her people are, or are not, dealing with this change. I think it’s a very important change Bujold is making here, because while Barrayar has been so set in its cultural ways for many generations, things HAD to change (and it’s a nice tip of the hat to Aral and Cordelia’s own efforts to bring about change).

ALEX:

The Donna/Dono plot was AWESOME. I had so not expected that, and it was a marvellous challenge to the stuffy Counts! I did get a giggle out of the fact that they were, in the end, more scandalised that one of their own could attempt an assault – and worse, fail – than by the sex-change. Additionally, Gregor and Laisa finally get married (with almost no problems!), which provides a nice bit of development/improvement for Barrayar as a planet too; ties to a colonial possession at a very personal level certainly help.

TEHANI:

This book is full of misunderstandings, miscommunications, missed opportunities and mischance. It’s surprisingly long, but is the most amazingly quick read. The characters are so dryly funny, even in their utter despair, and the story absolutely belts along in pace, weaving the myriad plot threads into a gorgeously fun tapestry of a book. I think this has to be my favourite book, for the sheer fun of it (with its underlying serious elements), despite my adoration of Memory and Mirror Dance. I can’t imagine being like Tansy and STARTING with this book, because the back story adds so much more depth, but I can see how it would provide a brilliant introduction to the madness of Miles!

ALEX:

The idea of starting with this book makes my head HURT. This is indeed a whole lot of fun, but it can’t rate as my favourite, I’m afraid; there were too many cringe-moments!

“Winterfair Gifts”

TEHANI:

While not next in the publishing schedule, “Winterfair Gifts” is a neat little tie up of the events of A Civil Campaign. Miles and Ekaterin are finally getting married, and this sweet little tale tells that story. Again we switch point of view, this time to the young armsman Roic, who gives us a fresh perspective into what being around the Vorkosigans is like. Naturally, nothing is easy on Barrayar. Sergeant Taura comes to the wedding, shocking Barrayar with her fearsome appearance (but the Lady Alys handily takes her under her wing and helps Taura understand her own beauty) and uncovering a nasty plot that would destroy not only the wedding, but Miles himself, by killing Ekaterin. In a fairly short piece, all is resolved and tied up in a bow of the beautiful winter wedding.

ALEX:

It was nice to have this next in the omnibus – although I did wonder at Ekaterin’s nerves and whether Bujold was going to actually make Miles WORK in this one! It was awesome to get Roic’s point of view, this time – his discomfort at not being from the military was sweet, and his reaction to Taura was awesome – as was Taura’s reaction to Lady Alys! But, a winter wedding in the garden? The man is crazy.

TEHANI:

If I have one disappointment it was that we didn’t see any more than a brief glimpse of Elena and Baz and their baby, and more of Ekaterin than as a plot device here. That said, Taura and Roic were lovely, if sad, and I liked that it showed the backwater boy learning to understand a bit more that looking different doesn’t mean being different. I don’t know that we had to have “Winterfair Gifts” to complete the Miles/Ekaterin love story, but it’s a nice touch.

ALEX:

True. I was a bit sad Quinn wasn’t there, but I guess having one old flame and one old lover in the place for the wedding was enough for Miles’ potential discomfort…

TEHANI:

Onwards, to Diplomatic Immunity where Ekaterin once again gets to demonstrate why she really is a great match for Miles and we run across some old friends!

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The Magic of Memory: Miles hits bottom

July 15th, 2011 at 3:57 pm (Reviews)

Alex and I see Miles hit rock bottom in Memory, in our conversational review series on the Vorkosigan saga. We previously looked at Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar), the Young Miles omnibus (The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game), the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus (Cetaganda, and Ethan of Athos and “Labyrinth”), “Borders of Infinity” and Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance.

Memory

By Lois McMaster Bujold

TEHANI:

Well, where to start? I think this is one of the most powerful of the Vorkosigan books, for so many reasons. Having said that, it’s probably one that suffers for being read in chronological order, because it follows Mirror Dance, which is just brilliant and so emotionally draining!

ALEX:

I finally feel, with Mirror Dance and Memory, that here are books that I could really imagine reading again. I mean, I loved Cordelia’s books a LOT, and can imagine re-reading the entire series over the years, but these two felt like a massive step up in … complexity, I guess? In narrative depth, maybe. I’m quite sure that I have missed some of the subtleties going on, which I will enjoy on a second read. I quite liked this after Mirror Dance, because while it’s emotional and fraught it’s quite different - and this is another demonstration of Bujold’s complexity as an author, which I keep being impressed by.

TEHANI:

Memory is very confronting in its own way, where Miles deals with the fallout of having died, and the long-term consequences of this. It leads him to not only bring about his own downfall, but brings about a massive life change, leaving us, the reader, to come to terms with what could Miles possibly DO after having lived such a wild ride to date. No way could he sit at home just being Count’s heir!

ALEX:

Oh yes, I knew that no way was he going to end up being the lad-about-town with Ivan.

You know, when I said I thought Miles would take Illyan’s job, I didn’t want him to actually leave the job…

TEHANI:

I know! Illyan has been such a staple of Miles’ (and Aral and Cordelia’s) life, it’s hard to imagine how the Empire will run without him!

Fortunately, Bujold doesn’t leave Miles on the shelf, and so he embarks on a new vocation, one which gives him even MORE power and authority than he had before, more than even he could have imagined. It’s a very sweet scene when he steels himself to beg Gregor for a post-discharge promotion to captain, and is given an Imperial Auditorship! Not thinking big enough for once!

ALEX:

I realised when he was granted those powers that of course, this was really the first book in which Auditor powers had been explained at all … but I never thought, from the conversation at the ballroom, that Miles would end up having those powers, even temporarily! I loved the scene with Miles putting ALL of his medals on, including the Cetagandan one – and that it made Miles Vorkosigan feel like he actually had some worth, apart from Miles Naismith. I think this has been the most intriguing part of Miles’ character arc so far: that he has genuinely divorced Naismith and Vorgkosigan in his head, that the latter is jealous of the former … exactly how that would impact on someone of barely thirty is a bit horrifying, actually.

TEHANI:

That’s such a good point – Cordelia mentioned in an earlier book that she worried for Miles’ sanity if he ever had to give up the little Admiral. Here, we have to worry too, because it’s not something he copes with immediately (and I love that Ivan, poor Ivan, has to deal with this).

Memory gives us a chance to see more of some backstory characters - Miles comes home to Barrayar and this means we get to play with Ivan, Lady Alys, Gregor and of course, Illyan. I love how Bujold draws her people together, and how we learn more about them over time. Lady Alys starts out as a young wife way back in Barrayar, and look how far she’s come (and still further to go!) past the overbearing mother/aunt of Ivan and Miles’ early life.

ALEX:

I like that Bujold keeps the supporting cast so consistent, with new people only brought in when necessary and quite appropriately. Also, I just knew where things were heading as soon as Illyan described Lady Alys as a reliable woman. Ha! Old people making out! Hilarious. Bujold likes pairing off her minor characters, which makes Ivan and Miles look very left out! I mean I know Miles Naismith is ‘with’ Elli, but it’s clearly not going to be a permanent relationship, which Miles certainly longs for and even Ivan may be sort of interested in… Also, POOR GALENI. Having your ladylove stolen by the Emperor has gotta hurt. I was pleased that they made Gregor and Laisa’s relationship gooey but also sensible – and that both Galeni and Gregor came out well, which sometimes doesn’t happen when there are love triangles.

TEHANI:

It’s also fun to see Miles assemble his own household. It really is the first time Miles has had to be a grownup, running a house, dealing with cooks, cleaners and all the daily minutae of this. He is, as always, very clever at getting good people, recognising in others what they may not have seen in themselves, and I think this is lovely to see in a domestic setting.

ALEX:

Domestic Miles! I loved it! And the fight to keep Ma Koti was a really awesome little side-play.

TEHANI:

The plot in Memory is a twisty mystery, with the usual red herrings and wrong turns, which forms the backbone of this change of life story (not just for Miles, for Illyan as well, and to a lesser extent, the Dendarii and Elli Quinn). Bujold again demonstrates her mastery of writing in yet another form.

ALEX:

For me it was one of the classic “I bet it was him ooh no he’s let off the hook ooh maybe it WAS him!” mysteries, and cleverly done too. I was VERY sad about what happened to Illyan.

TEHANI:

I love this book, which lays Miles bare, to possibly his lowest point, and forces him to reinvent himself. A definite favourite!

ALEX:

Yup, it’s ranking up there for me too.

 

Comments

Need some inspiration for Apocalypse Hope?

July 13th, 2011 at 8:40 pm (Apocalypse Hope)

*giggle* Here’s Chris Brown and Justin Bieber doing Apocalypse DANCE! :)

Apocalypse Dance

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Comments

The Magic of Brothers: Mirror Dance

July 11th, 2011 at 8:03 am (Reviews)

Alex and I delve into one of Bujold’s most powerful Vorkosigan novels, Mirror Dance, in our conversational review series on the saga. We previously looked at Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honorand Barrayar), the Young Miles omnibus (The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game), the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus (Cetaganda, andEthan of Athos and “Labyrinth”) and “Borders of Infinity” and Brothers in Arms.

Mirror Dance

By Lois McMaster Bujold

TEHANI:

Mirror Dance brings back Mark in full bloom, building on the seriously conflicted character we met in Brothers in Arms and making him the catalyst for a whole new era of Vorkosigan adventures. While Miles is away from the fleet (enjoying some Elli-time!), Mark swings in and masquerades as Admiral Naismith, commandeering a vessel to undertake his own vendetta. With predictably horrible consequences. Which lead to further terrible events, that force Mark to both confront his fears and also step up and become the man he needs to be.

ALEX:

Ohhhh, NOW I understand your comments about Aral and his love for Cordelia! Cordelia’s own dissection of Aral’s predilections – that he prefers soldiers, and that she was attractive because of that … and, although she doesn’t make the connection obvious when she’s speaking to Mark, she therefore solves the problem of children and inheritance. This is a very cold analysis! That Cordelia is fine with it – comfortable, even indifferent – is I guess because of her Betan heritage, which is indifferent towards non-hetero forms of sexuality. I guess, too, that since she fell in love with him at the same time and it wasn’t like she had to convince him to accept her, what does it matter who else he’s attracted to or exactly what makes her attractive? It works, and that’s all that matters.

I had been longing for more Cordelia, so this was an awfully nice interlude on Barrayar, even if it was fraught and difficult!

TEHANI:

Cordelia is fascinating in this book. She’s so pragmatic and stoic about everything that happens, which is totally in character, but makes you wonder how much is going on beneath the surface. I mean, her son is dead and MISSING, her husband has a heart attack and almost dies, she has this new son who is, let’s be honest, somewhat hard to get used to, compared to Miles, and yet, she just copes! And it’s all completely believable. She’s totally my hero.

ALEX:

Yes, Cordelia is much the most self-controlled of the family, and the most accepting too. I love the comments throughout from various people about how they’d have to account to her for what they’d done to or for her son… and they mean Mark, even before he’s met her.

Anyway… I finished this book a week ago and it has taken me this long to write down my thoughts because, well, it was a really hard book to read in many ways. What Bujold does to Mark! Oh my.

I really liked the structure of this book, and was especially appreciative when we found out about the Barrayar dance called the mirror dance. Miles and Mark do indeed mirror each other for much of the book – I will have to re-read at some stage to really see some of the deeper resonances which I am sure are there. Flipping between two characters is obviously not new (hey, I’m a Lord of the Rings fan from way back), but Bujold uses it brilliantly. And again, it’s a different sort of narrative structure from previous books – she really didn’t want to get bogged down.

TEHANI:

The mirror dance is a nice touch and shows how clever Bujold is. I love too the trouble Mark has with interacting with women – if you remember, Miles was very similar in the early books! It wasn’t until Elli that he really began to feel comfortable in his own self with the opposite sex! Hmm. And even then, I suppose he was Admiral Naismith and not himself! So Miles Vorkosigan with women is still a problem (and one I’m enjoying now, in A Civil Campaign – no spoilers!) :)

ALEX:

The Miles story is the easiest one, I think, even though he is actually dead for a large chunk – and wasn’t that a shock to the system!

TEHANI:

Shock? What! It was HORRIBLE! It was like Bujold went, oh, well, I’ve got this OTHER character now – we don’t need THIS Vorkosigan any more… ARGH! And then to LOSE him! Elli’s reaction in this was the most heartwrenching – even though she doesn’t want to marry Miles Vorkosigan, she totally loves Miles, and her decisions and actions here are very telling.

ALEX:

Yup, absolutely. I continue to love Elli!

The early part of his story is interesting and all, but it’s the coming out of amnesia that is seriously intriguing, and shows that Bujold knows exactly what she is doing with him. His automatic expectation that people will listen to him – even when he doesn’t know who he is! – and other visceral responses are I think an indication of just how innate all of that is to Miles as Miles. The fact that Mark does not have those responses gives an indication, at least for me, of just how much Miles is a product of his environment.

TEHANI:

Too true! Mark was pretty much a slave who Miles freed, whereas Miles fought for everything he had and forced it to happen through strength of will. Chromosomally identical, it’s fascinating to see their differences here!

The relationship with the doctor is interesting – Bujold doesn’t let little things like ongoing relationships get in the way of the story, does she!

ALEX:

No indeed. Once Miles has a bit of self-confidence – at least as the Admiral – sex sex sex… :D

And then there’s Mark. When he managed to con Bel (if only briefly) and go off to rescue some clones, I was wondering just how Bujold turned this story into a novel the length it was – I wondered whether it would be like The Vor Game, with what seemed like two different halves of a narrative. But no, things went badly … Miles comes to the rescue and is killed because he won’t abandon his brother, and then eventually Mark is kidnapped in his own attempt to rescue his brother. Ah, mirrors. Before the kidnapping of course we have Mark on Barrayar, and isn’t that revealing and compelling all on its own! I loved the bits with Cordelia and Aral coming to terms with Mark and their different reactions – Aral being more like his own father than he is probably comfortable with – and Mark finally seeing what it might be like to be part of a family. I cannot BELIEVE that on top of Miles dying Bujold then damn near killed Aral, too! And then to have Mark tortured!  … well. The torture was of course a really horrible part of the narrative. Bujold handles it skilfully and sympathetically with regard to Mark, I thought – that is, I didn’t find it gratuitous in description, and the idea of Mark splitting his personalities (just like Miles has done under slightly less fraught circumstances…) promises some very interesting future ramifications.

TEHANI:

Bujold is mean to her people. MEAN. And this book has so many bad things happening to good people, which is different from the past books I think – bad things happen, of course, but not in such numbers to our favourite characters!

It’s very easy to forget that Mark has had a lot of training in a lot of things – he’s not ever going to be Miles, but he was TRAINED to be Miles, and that included a simulcrum of the military training Miles undertook. I liked the scene where Mark almost kills some Barrayans inadvertently, because it reminds us not to underestimate him just because a) everything he’s done so far has been a debacle, and b) he’s not Miles.

ALEX:

It was a very good point, that one – that he may not be Our Miles but he still has a lot of things going for him.

I was so pleased with the way the book finished, too. Miles and Mark on near-equal footing, Mark happy with being – having consciously chose to be! – heavier than Miles … yeah, I can really see this series going some interesting places.

TEHANI:

And now you’re on to Memory. If you thought THIS book was hard to process, just wait!

ALEX:

Oh great!

3 Comments

Aurealis Awards 2011

July 10th, 2011 at 8:24 pm (Awards)

2011 Aurealis Awards to be held in Sydney again

Chimaera Publications and SpecFaction NSW are delighted to announce that the 2011 Aurealis Awards will again be organised by SpecFaction NSW and held in Sydney.

Aurealis Awards Co-convenor, Susan Wardle, said that after the success of the 2010 Awards, SpecFaction was thrilled to be back on board as the organisers of the event.

The nomination period for the 2011 Aurealis Awards is from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2011.  The awards website is expected to be ready to accept entries from mid-July 2011.

The awards website is at www.aurealisawards.com.  Queries can be addressed to convenors@aurealisawards.com.

If you wish to register an interest in being on a judging panel please email the Judging Coordinator at editormum75 [at] gmail [dot] com (and by the way, that’s me!) :)

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The Magic of Family: Borders of Infinity and Brothers in Arms

July 6th, 2011 at 8:53 pm (Reviews)

The adventures of Miles Vorkosigan continue as Alex and I look at the novella “Borders of Infinity” and the novel Brothers in Arms. We have discussed Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar), the Young Miles omnibus (The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game), and the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus (Cetaganda, and Ethan of Athos and “Labyrinth”) previously.

“Borders of Infinity” and Brothers in Arms

By Lois McMaster Bujold

ALEX:

“Borders of Infinity” is a curious novella, in that it sets Miles almost completely apart from all of the other characters we’ve come to know and love. Here, he doesn’t have the support of his parents, or Ivan, or a Bothari … it’s just him and his wits. And for much of the story the reader has no idea what is going on, which is also quite different from Bujold’s style in earlier books. No idea why Miles is in the POW camp – was he captured? is this deliberate? – no idea where everyone else is … at least we do have a vague idea why he’s organising the camp: because he can’t help himself. He is an inveterate organiser, schemer, and meddler; he could no more leave the camp disorganised (even without the greater plan that he turns out to have) than a cat could ignore catnip.

TEHANI:

It’s my absolute favourite of the novellas, because it showcases Miles being completely, utterly MILES! All he has are his wits and the insane charisma that makes people follow whatever the heck mad scheme he comes up with. No trappings, no trimmings (not even any clothes!) – just Miles.

ALEX:

That’s exactly it! It is – heh – naked Miles…

I did, of course, really enjoy this story. It was fun to watch Miles build something from nothing, and to see people’s reactions to him when he has absolutely nothing concrete to offer them. And the number of times someone asks, dubiously, “What did you say you were?”, and he replies “A clerk,” only to have them respond with “Yes sir”… brilliant.

TEHANI:

Heh! Best lines :) There was some interesting stuff in here too. These people had been stuck in the dome for three years, succumbing to the machinations of their captors and degenerating into anarchy, but who were the organised ones? The women. They formed their own enclave within the prison, to protect each other – it’s a very telling little message from Bujold I think. I also think the story examines leadership – Miles is a fascinating leader, and has mastered the skill of making the most of the abilities of others, even when he has no idea what they might be!

ALEX:

That the women were the organised ones was an interesting aspect, yes. I think the idea that they would do so for protection makes sense. Other takes on this idea have often seen women essentially becoming part of a harem, in exchange for men’s protection. There was one interesting comment about Tris, the leader of the women – the fact that she was a trooper, not a tech, like most of the other women. Not sure what to make of that; women as soldiers still not accepted on this world?

I was heartbroken at Beatrice’s death. I could so see her joining the Dendarii. Also Murka. Looking forward, I am … not glad, but impressed maybe? respectful certainly of Bujold making sure Miles is haunted by those deaths. It makes him much more real.

TEHANI:

You’re fishing for spoilers! Won’t give. But yes, Beatrice was a sad loss, but I like that Bujold reminds us no-one is safe in her books – we can’t get complacent about characters we love!

ALEX:

Who, me? Fishing?? Beatrice died! … didn’t she?

TEHANI:

Ah, oops! Forgot that Murka was already IN the Dendarii (from “Labyrinth”) for a minute there! Carry on… :)

ALEX:

For me, this story reminded me in some ways of the hell described in Iain M Banks’ latest novel, Surface Detail, although Bujold’s is not nearly as unpleasant as Banks’.

TEHANI:

Darn you Alex, you’re always adding to my reading pile!

Brothers in Arms

ALEX:

Lesson #3432 I have learnt from Miles Vorkosigan: don’t joke about having a clone brother. It might just be true.

Miles has an evil twin! HAHAHA! Brilliant.

Brothers in Arms follows directly on from “Borders”, with Cetagandan forces chasing Admiral Naismith to deliver retribution for rescuing so many POWS at Dagoola IV. He ends up on Earth – Earth! – something of a backwater from a commercial point of view, due to its lack of wormhole entrances, but still commanding a cultural and psychological hold over humanity, it appears. Things, naturally, go wrong, mostly because of the plot to replace Miles with his six-years-younger clone twin.

TEHANI:

I like that it takes quite a while for the actual clone story to start here. It gives us time to anticipate the incipient disaster we just know will come! And one of the best bits is when Miles thinks he’s hallucinating, but later realises he really was seeing the clone!!

ALEX:

Yes, I thought that was a nice twist – that he wasn’t going quite as crazy as he thought he was.

On the plot:

Awesome. Nice plot twists with the struggles of the clone. One of the highlights of course is the utter DISASTER of Admiral Naismith and Lieutenant Vorkosigan being on the same planet at the same time – which is what leads to the crazy story of the clone … oops. It didn’t feel like there were that many sub-plots going on in this book as with some of the others; there’s the Miles/Quinn love story, but it’s not like Ivan or Galeni get their own little thread. Also, this wasn’t really a detective story like Cetaganda, nor was it space opera-y Warrior’s Apprentice. It is certainly SF, of course, and it’s a lot of fun knowing that, in reading a Bujold novel, you do not necessarily know what sort of a plot you’re in for, nor what sort of a setting. Very clever, and very attractive.

TEHANI:

Very skilful too. There’s not all that many authors around who can write equally well with a detective plot, a space opera, a romance (just wait), an action adventure and so much more! This one was relatively straightforward I agree, without the twisty turns of some of the other Vorkosigan books, but also important, in the larger scheme, particularly because of Mark, but for other reasons too. No, I’m not telling!

ALEX:

On the characters:
Miles continues to be awesome, natch. He also develops quite a lot of humanity in this novel, I feel, as he has nightmares about Beatrice and Murka dying (from “Borders”), as well as his great quandary over whether to get it on with Quinn or not. He finally seems to be learning a bit more about how to be subordinate – although it sure doesn’t come easily. The effect of having the clone mirror to him his gestures and words and entire personality is a really neat trick to force some self-reflection. In his mid-20s, it finally feels like Miles is almost old enough for his brain, which continues to devise interesting, if somewhat desperate, schemes. I particularly enjoyed the little trap under the Thames barrier – getting everyone to eliminate everyone else while searching for Miles.

TEHANI:

Oh yes, VERY effective. And the business of Beatrice and Murka hanging over him is sobering for him – he’s had people die before, but he’s beginning to understand one of those huge responsibilities of leadership – the introspection of that is quite a settling force, in some ways. I was particularly sad about Murka – we’d already seen him in action in “Labyrinth” and he was a great character! Bujold really subscribed to the “Kill off your darlings” mantra eh? :)

ALEX:

Mark, the clone, promises to be a verrrry interesting part of the saga from now on. Bujold does an intriguing thing here with the question of nature/nurture, because while Galen was attempting to re-create Miles, he was doing so in a completely different environment. Let’s not even go into what was necessary to turn Mark physically into Miles – I had hoped that they would have tried introducing the poison into the uterine replicator or something similar, but no… I felt an immense sympathy for Mark, which I am sure was Bujold’s point; he’s just a pawn for everyone, even Miles, it’s no wonder that he has trust issues. I can’t wait to see what Bujold does with him over time. I admit that I had rather expected everything to be tied up, if not neatly then with greater hope than we are left with re: Mark’s position, by the conclusion of the story. Bujold doesn’t exactly make things easy, does she?

TEHANI:

Never! And just you wait til Mirror Dance!

ALEX:

On the other hand … yay Quinn! More Quinn is good! It was fun to see Miles finally having a mostly-normal relationship with a woman (not pining unrequitedly, not getting it on with an 8ft, 16-year-old genetic experiment…), particularly when it’s a woman who most definitely knows her own mind stands up for herself. The bit where she refuses to be Lady Vorkosigan but still wants to jump his bones? Marvellous.

TEHANI:

I like that Quinn doesn’t succumb to Miles here. We know he’s got such a forceful and charismatic personae that it really would have been something he could have talked her into. And, traditionally in stories, the hero gets the girl, right? And he’s already missed out on Elena, so it’s his turn now, right? Which makes it so much cooler that he DOESN’T get the girl! It’s logical, and sensible, and I’m glad that Bujold let it happen this way.

ALEX:

Their relationship makes sense – on her terms, not his.

Ivan … still not that intriguing, I’m afraid. I like him and all, but he’s not come into his own yet. I admit it’s clear that he’s nowhere near as dense as Miles might sometimes think though.

TEHANI:

We definitely are starting to see some sparks of who Ivan really is, when he’s not completely bombarded by Miles. The flashes of innovative thought are hopeful!

ALEX:

For some reason I was thinking about Tom Clancy the other day, and it occurred to me that if Clancy were writing Miles, he would end up being the Emperor. Or at least in Illyan’s job. That would be awesome.

TEHANI:

You’re fishing again!! Interesting train of thought… :) Onwards!!

Comments

The Magic of Elli: Ethan of Athos and Labyrinth

July 3rd, 2011 at 8:59 pm (Reviews)

Alex and I carry on with our review series of the Miles Vorkosigan saga with the novel Ethan of Athos and the novella “Labyrinth” (published with Cetaganda in the omnibus Miles, Mayhem and Mystery). We have discussed Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar) and the Young Miles omnibus (The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game) previously.

Ethan of Athos and “Labyrinth”

By Lois McMaster Bujold

ALEX:

This novel started enjoyably enough, if weirdly, what with the discussion of uterine replicators – it is an unusual enough thing to encounter in SF that imagining a roomful of the things with an attending physician is weirder for me than reading about FTL! Anyway, things then got even weirder, and for me way harder to read, when it’s revealed that these replicators are being used because Athos is a world populated entirely by men.

TEHANI:

It’s really clever, the way it starts out. We know about uterine replicators because of Cordelia’s story (and Elena’s too, in fact), and so we naturally assume these are simply gestating children for some parents of the “usual” type. It’s quite a shock when we find out differently! It was a good introduction to the world though, setting us up to be fond of the main character.

ALEX:

The opening few chapters, those set on Athos, were quite a trial for me to read. The misogyny was so believably portrayed that, were this my first encounter with Bujold and/or I thought it was written by a man, I would probably have given up in disgust and never touched the series again. I swallowed my bile and continued because I figured a) Bujold deserved some trust after the characters of Cordelia and Elena, and b) neither Tehani and Tansy would have put up with that sort of crap. Turns out, thankfully, that this was a fair decision. Of course.

TEHANI:

Of course! Would we steer you wrong? I think Alisa might have stumbled into that problem though – have a feeling it may be the books she tried to start with, which really isn’t a good idea. Readers, be warned! Ethan of Athos is NOT the place to start reading this series!

ALEX:

Whoa, I cannot imagine starting with this book.

TEHANI:

Having said that, I didn’t have the same reaction as you. For some reason, I wasn’t offended that this was a lifestyle choice made by a group of men a couple of centuries earlier. I guess I read it as that while yes, some of the men making up the colony originally might have been women haters, others would have joined for different reasons. And many years later, there is that whole whisper game that’s gone on about what women are like, causing both inaccuracies and naivity in the current generation. Ethan’s own reaction probably demonstrates that best, when he reads the scientific journal and can’t tell which articles are by men and by women! (Hilarious, by the way, in light of recent discussions on just that!). I was more cross that the children growing up on Athos weren’t educated about the outside world, and women, in any sort of way other than to dismiss or demonise them. Hmm, maybe that’s what you mean!

ALEX:

I think I find the very idea of men wanting to escape from women in this permanent way – since that’s what the planet is all about – irrational and offensive, when they also want to ensure continuity of their genes. They’re not giving their sons the chance to make the choice for themselves. There are some lines that really struck me – the “revolted silence” that greets the idea of growing female fetuses to harvest their ovaries, for example. It is a revolting idea, but the men are revolted by the idea of women being present in any real way on their planet. The way that some of the characters spoke of genetic choice I also found uncomfortable.

Anyway, the ovaries that Athos has been using for 200 years to develop their foetuses from are coming to the end of their productive lives. Ethan is an … obstetrician, I guess … who discovers that the replacements they’ve purchased are not what they thought. In turn, he gets sent on a mission off-world, to get some more. This of course means that he has to deal with that sin-inducing entity, Woman. His first encounter on the station where he disembarks is with just such a personage … who turns out to be Elli Quinn! Tehani, she is back in my life, just as you promised! Ethan ends up getting involved in a Cetagandan mess concerning genetic experiments with telepathy. He learns that women are not (necessarily) the enemy – although he does end up going home, to Athos, and mostly happily.

TEHANI:

Yep, it’s an overdose of Elli! She’s so awesome, and I think this book is fantastic because it really sets her up as an intelligent and resourceful person all on her own, not just as a sidekick to Miles. Well played Bujold!

ALEX:

Yeah, I am definitely an Elli fan.

Athos as a planet is a really interesting place. I’m very interested to hear, Tehani, what you think of it coming from a mother’s perspective. Like I said I found the misogyny hard to deal with. As a society, though, I was fascinated. The idea of earning social credits so that you can become a Designated Alternate – and the idea that being a parent is actually, hugely, valued in society. Ethan’s shock and horror that parenthood should be treated as unpaid labour was quite welcome coming from a male character! The idea also that celibacy is an accepted part of society was nice to see, as was the genuine love for children and Ethan’s desire to have a large, connected family.

TEHANI:

I think the actual societal model is brilliant! There are some people who really shouldn’t have kids, and parenthood is definitely undervalued in our society – to have both issues dealt with (in what I think is actually a very smart and sensible model) was a delight. Somebody make that world with women and I’ll be there! :)

ALEX:

Cetaganda does not come off well in this story at all. Their genetic experiments are shown as just that, experiments, and the idea that they might just possibly be serving an admittedly somewhat dubious greater purpose – as demonstrated in the novel Cetaganda – is barely alluded to. This is one of the disparities between the two stories.

TEHANI:

See, this is where it fell apart a bit for me. Terrence and his background simply don’t fit the Cetagandan societal mould set up in Cetaganda! Here’s a quote (from p 319 in the paperback omnibus) to demonstrate:

“Is Cetaganda – controlled by women or something?”
A laugh escaped her [Elli]. “Hardly. I’d call it a typical male-dominated totalitarian state, only slightly mitigated by their rather artistic cultural peculiarities…”

It goes on to talk about genetics projects headed by men, sponsored by the Cetagandan military. In Cetaganda though, genetics is the sole province of women, right? And telepathy is NEVER hinted at!

Later (p 373), this conversation takes place:

There was no talk at all of ever admitting him to the ghem-comrades, the tightly-knit society of men who controlled the officer corps and the military junta that in turn controlled the planet of Cetaganda, its conquests, and its client outposts.

It all just feels WRONG given what we know from Miles’ adventures on Cetaganda – which surely Elli knows too!

Ethan of Athos was published about ten years before Cetaganda though, and therein lies the problem. Bujold obviously changed her mind about how she wanted Cetaganda to work between the two books, but reading them in close proximity makes the continuity issues very apparent. I like the Cetaganda version better (as I mentioned in the last review) and I think comparing the two, it’s pretty easy to see why Bujold changed track there. Terrence’s Cetaganda, what we see of it, seems just another male-dominated society, whereas the exploration of the society we see in the novel Cetaganda gives us a very different norm.

Bujold’s afterword in the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus which contains these stories is interesting for her discussion on the way she let the Cetagandans evolve in their own book, rather than just being the “rather all-purpose bad guys” they started out in the earliest stories. She also talks there about extra-uterine replication and genetic engineering, themes in all three books to one extent or another, making it a great wrap up to the sequence!

To be fair, I think the Cetagandan glitch one of the very few continuity problems with the Vorkosigan saga as a whole, so maybe I’ll simmer down and just let it slide now :)

ALEX:

It is indeed an interesting look at lack of continuity. I’d be interested to know what sort of notes Bujold kept!

Miles does not feature in this story personally. He does get several mentions, though, as Quinn reflects on her ?love/admiration? for him, and the role that she is playing within the Dendarii Mercenaries as an information agent. It’s a curious part of the Miles universe in that sense, and I can’t help but wonder whether Bujold considered a series featuring Quinn in her own right…

TEHANI:

OOOH!! What a GREAT IDEA!! Let’s write to her and ask her for that :)

I liked the ending of this book – I think Ethan shows tremendous but believable growth throughout the story, and his admiration of Elli is expressed in the most important way he can. Perhaps taking Terrence back with him and the little hopeful romance projected are a bit trite, but overall, it works pretty well.

ALEX:

I was shocked at first by Ethan’s request/suggestion I was shocked at first by Ethan’s request/suggestion that he take one of Elli’s ovaries, but came around to your point very quickly – that it’s an expression of immense respect, actually. Terrence is the character we haven’t spoken of much yet – he’s quite the enigma, since Elli and Ethan have slightly different takes on him and the Cetagandan has a very different view. I actually wondered, towards the end, whether the Cetagandan was telling the truth and that Terrence would actually end up betraying Ethan, so I was pleased to discover that he was on the up and up. And I didn’t think the romance was that trite, in the end.

The omnibus is complemented by the novella “Labyrinth” which rounds out quite nicely, I think, a discussion of genetic engineering in the Vorkosigan universe. Miles gets employed to pick up a disaffected geneticist from Jackson’s Whole. Things (of course) go somewhat awry, and Miles ends up having to retrieve a genetic package … which is secreted in the leg of a genetic experiment … which is locked in a dungeon at the bottom of a very nasty man’s research facility. The genetic experiment turns out to be a fanged, clawed and 8-foot-tall 16 year old girl.

TEHANI:

And isn’t it fun how Miles’ adventures ALWAYS go awry? One of my favourite things about the books.

ALEX:

SO MANY DISASTERS.

I enjoyed this story, and it was nice to get back to Miles relying on his wits to get things done – and, this time, actually finding that his lack of height is af advantage, when having to crawl through ducts. I will admit to being a bit uncomfortable about Miles’ sexual encounter with Taura – no matter that she’s huge, she’s still young! And I’m not comfortable with the idea that sex can be used quite so (ahem) mercenarily – not and have both parties apparently enjoy it. Yes yes, perhaps I am confused in my attitude towards this bit; I’ll be the first to admit it!

TEHANI:

Yep, I struggled with that too. So many reasons this is not cool. From one angle, if you squint, it could be said that Bujold is using Miles like women are often used in books – as a sacrifice on the altar of sex in order to get to a higher goal. But yeah, Taura is so young, and naive, and unsophisticated, that it’s just icky. It also makes me wonder why, exactly, the character had to be this age? Miles is 23 in this story, and it’s something that bothers me a lot – if there’s no real reason the character couldn’t be a year or two (or three) older, why not make them that? I mean, Taura has a shortened life span, so making her 16 means Bujold can get more years out of her I guess, but really? It’s her own world building she’s dealing with! And while we aren’t going to read Falling Free in the reread (it’s not a Vorkosigan book, it doesn’t count I tell ya!), Bujold does the same thing with a character there too, which also squicked me (and is one of two main reasons I don’t really like the book – the other being, it’s not MILES!). So yeah, not cool, especially when it’s avoidable. If Bujold gets so much right, should we fuss when we have a problem with one thing?

ALEX:

I guess it’s disappointing to find these sorts of issues in books that we otherwise enjoy – I don’t like finding flaws in those I admire!

Anyhow, I also enjoyed this story for its greater exploration of Bel Thorne, the Betan hermaphrodite, and other Dendarii. I can see the crew developing in further stories, and I look forward to it greatly.

TEHANI:

Ah, Bel. I’m a fan of Bel – it is such a complex character, and Bujold draws it so well. Its emotional and physical journey is a highlight. Overall, I liked “Labyrinth”, and, no spoilers, but this story actually sows a lot of seeds that will grow hugely over the coming books!

ALEX:

Of course it does. Look forward to their growth and harvest!

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