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!

Comments

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

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!

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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 mystery: Cetaganda

July 2nd, 2011 at 6:02 pm (Reviews)

Alex and I continue our review series of the Miles Vorkosigan saga with the novel Cetaganda. 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.

Cetaganda

By Lois McMaster Bujold

ALEX:

I really enjoyed this story! Miles – and Ivan – are sent on what ought to be a relatively boring diplomatic mission to bear witness to the Cetagandan Empress’ funeral, and of course things go haywire from the first moment. Mischief certainly seems to dog Miles’ footsteps. There’s an attempt to frame him as part of a conspiracy against Cetaganda (Barrayar’s longstanding rival) and several attempts to wound and/or assassinate him – as a result of which Miles ends up investigating a potentially enormous Cetagandan conspiracy, involving the genetic inheritance of that race. Miles falls in love (well, in lust), goes to parties, gets hurt, and meets the Emperor … pretty much a standard fortnight, as far as I can tell, for him. There were a goodly number of twists and mysteries and surprises to keep me guessing and intrigued – it was much more a detective story than a space opera. It just happens to be set on an alien planet with a whole lot of genetic engineering going on (those kitteh plants are just weird). I allowed myself to be carried away by the story and didn’t spend too much time trying to outthink Miles (or Bujold), so the ultimate revelation – that it was a haut woman married to a ghem man, conspiring with a planetary governor – was a surprise, albeit one that made perfect sense.

TEHANI:

I was certain I remembered this as one of my least favourite Miles books, but on rereading, I found it really enjoyable. I think I know the source of my mistaken assumption though – it is very much, as you say, a detective story, with barely any space opera-ish events! Nothing wrong with that, but when read in the wrong order (ie: after a bunch of action-packed Miles adventures), it was a little tamer by comparison…

ALEX:

I can understand that coming at it from a more adventurous story would be weird. For me, it worked – The Vor Game isn’t exactly packed with space battles.

On the gender politics: I though the revelation and discussion of the intricate power balances within Cetagandan society were really interesting from a gender point of view. Miles’ surprise at the power that the haut women had, and the way in which it manifested, was perfectly appropriate: he wasn’t surprised they had it, but the way they had it, I think. The very idea that they have power over the development of the ghem and haut genetic development is a neat twist on the idea of maternal responsibility for children, I think. I’m not sure what to make of the ending, in light of this – the Emperor ‘marrying’ the Handmaiden, attempting to gain control over it? Will Rian give up control, or is the power structure too embedded?

TEHANI:

That’s a good point and I hadn’t really picked it up! I think that Miles, for all that he has grown up in a male dominated society, is pretty damn accepting of women in powerful roles (mainly thanks to his mother, no doubt). So you’re right, that was expressed well here, and it was mostly Miles trying to adjust his own notions of what an imperial society looks like, and who has the power.

To me, it seemed that Rian cemented her power base by “marrying” the Emperor, and I really couldn’t see how it would benefit him more than her. However, it was a smart move by the Emperor, at the same time!

ALEX:

Hmm, perhaps you are right about Rian. Perhaps it’s both being pragmatic about how best to deal with a dangerous situation, and do what is best for the haut, which seems to be the overriding concern for both anyway.

On Cetagandan society: there have been references to the ghem and haut in other novels, if briefly, so it was good to get some greater understanding about what the heck is going on in this society. I still can’t say that I entirely understand it! It’s a fascinating way of thinking about genetic engineering as a way for society to express itself, and as a way of bettering itself too. Miles has some interesting insights into their collective attitude towards expansion which I still need to think about; there’s certainly an assumption – on Miles’ part as well as the Cetagandans – that expansion must happen, but quite why this is so imperative is opaque to me. One of the unfortunate things about the name choices is Bujold’s habit of saying “the haut Rian,” because I couldn’t help but read that as “the hawwwt Rian”…

TEHANI:

It is a really interesting way to consider genetic engineering. Expansion I think is a theme right from the beginning of the saga though – after all, Cetaganda invaded Barrayar when it was rediscovered; Cordelia and Aral met on opposites sides of a planetary claiming of Sergyar. It’s almost like the Wild West – who can claim the most planets, even when (like Komarr and the Betan colony), they are barely livable! But expansion is the reason Earth went a-colonising in the first place I guess, and despite all other advancements, humans are STILL overpopulating their habitats!

We need to talk more about the portrayal of the Cetagandan society when we look at Ethan of Athos – this book was written nine years AFTER Ethan, even though it precedes it in the internal chronology, and I think it’s one of the few places where Bujold mucks up her consistency with all the popping around. I like what she does with Cetaganda here better, for the record.

ALEX:

Ethan of Athos, up next!

On the characters: I so knew Maz was going to end up with the ambassador. Saw it a mile off. I enjoyed Lord Yenaro immensely – the idea of scent-work being a worthy art to pursue is delightful. Rian was … I was going to say impenetrable, but that gives all sorts of nasty implications. She was appropriately hard to fathom, I guess. I liked that she was mysterious and that it made sense for her character. Having Miles fall in love/lust with her makes sense, because of her great beauty and her untouchability. Miles continues to develop here, although it was hard to remember how young he was supposed to be – so much has happened to him! And Ivan isn’t nearly so annoying as he threatened to be in earlier books.

TEHANI:

I loved Maz! And I loved that the Ambassador loved Maz. I think it’s a very clever thing Bujold does with her minor characters – it’s very subtle and I wonder if you’ll notice it. Frequently there’s some little side story or a throwaway characterisation that shows about how some Barrayaran person or other has taken a step outside the old-fashioned, quite restrictive societal norms of the planet. Look out for these! They are showing the progression and modernisation of the planet from a sideways view!

I also loved Ivan in this. You need to watch Ivan closely too, as the series progresses. I want to talk more about him, but I won’t, til you’ve read some more books :)

ALEX:

Ooooh you are giving me such teasers! I did wonder whether she was going to keep Ivan in a cute-Obelisk kinda role, or whether he would develop greater diplomatic insights as time went on. On Maz etc, it’s so nice to see secondary characters actually having a life outside of their interactions with the principal cast.

Questions: will Miles indeed have more to do with the Emperor Giaja? Will Miles ever be allowed to leave the planet again? What are Elena Bothari and the Dendarii Mercs up to??

TEHANI:
You know, I can’t remember if Miles runs across the Emperor (or Rian) again! Could they really STOP Miles from going space-side? :) As for the Dendarii, just wait… :)

ALEX:
ARGH. Mooooore Miles to come!

Comments

The Magic of Miles: what it means to be Vor

June 18th, 2011 at 6:08 pm (Reviews)

Tehani and Alex forge on to the end of the second Vorkosigan omnibus, watching Miles grow up and cause havoc. Alex falls further in love with the universe and Tehani watches gleefully. Spoilers!

“The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game

By Lois McMaster Bujold

TEHANI:

“The Mountains of Mourning” was an early foray into the Vorkosigan world for me. It was available for free from the Baen e-Library and I downloaded it, among a bunch of other stuff. It’s a novella, not a novel, and it is somewhat different to most of the other Miles books. It’s a rather introverted story, in which Miles is given an opportunity to consider the Vor aspect of himself and what it means, at the same time as confronting some ingrained social issues in his society that relate directly to him. “Mountains” gives us a rather more thoughtful Miles than we saw in The Warrior’s Apprentice, and fills out a bit more of his personality, and, again, grounds his honour more solidly. It’s a sad story, but one that ultimately fits in very well with the overall world-building.

ALEX:

I really enjoyed “Mountains,” and thought it worked nicely in the omnibus. It provides a clear bridge between Warrior’s and Vor Game, and allows some great insight into Barrayar home life. I was interested to see the degree to which Bujold makes the mutant-horror real in the life of the Barrayar hicks. I had neither expected that we would meet such back-country types (it’s certainly not typical in space opera), nor that the revulsion would be so real. I enjoyed the characterisation of Harra, the mother of a murdered ‘mutant’, and hadn’t actually expected the culprit to be her own mother; it was nice not to see the husband being responsible. And, of course, it grounds Miles more solidly, as you say Tehani.

TEHANI:

The Vor Game switches speeds again, and does it twice! This feels like two books squished together, because the first and second halves are quite different stories. In her afterword (in the omnibus edition Young Miles) Bujold says people often think that the second half of the book, the more military space opera bit, must have been tacked on to pad out the first half (which was published alone in Analog). It’s not so, she says, as the novel was always written as published. It’s a fair thought though – the initial story is of Miles, newly graduated from the Imperial Academy, given a backwater Barrayar-bound posting to prove that he can submit to authority rather than subvert it. If you really look at it, nothing much happens, plot-wise. Yes, Miles is almost killed (accidentally), he finds a body (accidentally) and he stops a mass torture scenario (on purpose), but all that is quite incidental. It is all designed to set up the second half of the book, which sees Miles return to space, legitimately, under the instruction of ImpSec, and take back his Dendarii mercenary fleet (not quite as legitimately). It’s full of the action and adventure that I associate with the Vorkosigan Saga, but which I’m realising, through this reread, is not always the biggest part of any of the books!

ALEX:

BAHAHAHA Miles kidnaps the Emperor!!

Ahem. That Gregor turned up in this story, having got himself captured by unwitting contractors, and then Miles turns up accidentally … yeah, that was hilarious.

Anyway, yes, there is certainly a change in speed in this book, and I can understand why it might feel like two stories. However, with the continuation of the Metzov character – which I honestly had not expected, and led to groan aloud in horror when he appeared as Cavilo’s right-hand man – it doesn’t feel like it’s unconnected. If anything, it probably reflects the reality of life for an ensign who gets sent willy-nilly on assignments!

Kyril Station is horrendous, and that whole section of the book was just one horror on another. I was initially disappointed by the reality of the drowned body, but I guess it was better than having genuine mystery chase Miles around – that might have strained credibility a little too far. It’s a nicely realised base in all, and with Miles parading around on drain duty Bujold gets to describe the realities of the place in more detail than she might otherwise. I do wonder whether this base will turn up again…

TEHANI:

One of the most appealing parts of The Vor Game is the unfolding aspects of Miles. He’s such a complex character that watching him evolve, grow and really let loose is a great delight. It’s easy to forget, having read all the books and become used to it, that his manic manipulating is something he almost fell into, rather than a strategic gift he always had. I also really enjoyed seeing the relationship between Miles and Gregor – the genuine friendship, tempered by remembrance of the past and concern for the future, is superbly written, and is a counterpoint to the relationships we see of the older men in the books, such as Aral and Illyan.

ALEX:

Manic manipulation is EXACTLY the right description. Mad Miles is about right too. It really, really is like watching someone who in reality is stumbling, but making it look like they’re running. From one obstacle to another … and ending up paid three times for his efforts. There was a bit less emphasis on his disability in this book, which was interesting, although there was one mention of his neck bones being coated in plastic which startled me! Miles’ reaction to Elena was more muted than I had half expected, and yes his relationship with Gregor is great. It also highlights the differences between Miles Vorkosigan and Miles Naismith, on which there is a fair amount of emphasis in this book. I can see this being a major source of difficulty, and skilful character building, in the later books – especially if the Dendarii do end up doing a lot of covert work for Barrayar, and Miles has to interact with ImpSec both as himself (Lieutenant) and as Admiral!

TEHANI:

The character of Cavilo is problematic. In some ways, she’s Miles’ own mirror – highly intelligent, cunning, strategically brilliant. She would have to be, to end up in the position she is in (again, somewhat of a mirror to Miles). But she lacks Miles’s sense of integrity, and of course this means she is also self-centred, deceitful and disloyal. I would have liked to see more of Elena, or something at all of Elli Quinn, in this book, to redeem the balance of this dishonorable female character, particularly as we don’t really have any insight into the reasons WHY Cavilo is like she is. At least in The Warrior’s Apprentice, we can’t hate the elder Elena for her murder of Bothari – we understand it, even if we know murder is wrong. Cavilo gives us no such reason not to despise her just for being a manipulative, self-centred bitch. I kind of would have liked one.

ALEX:

Oh yes. Very problematic. Actually, she wouldn’t have been so problematic if she hadn’t appeared to try and seduce Miles the first time she meets him. Then, it would have been less like Scheming Seducing Manipulative Woman, and more like Scheming Manipulative Mercenary. In other words, even more like Miles’ alter-ego. The thoughts she leaves Miles with – that he might end up like her – are intriguing, and haunting indeed. Like you, I was disappointed there wasn’t very much Elena here, although I did like the development of her personality – particularly the marked lack of deference towards Miles.

TEHANI:

Yeah *sigh*. I wonder if Bujold would have written Cavilo the same way if she wrote that story today?

ALEX:

Questions: WHO IS ELLI?? Did you just let slip something there, Tehani?? Also: will Kyril Base feature again? What on earth is Miles going to do with the Dendarii? Will Cavilo return? And will Miles make Simon Illyan go white-haired by the end of the series? (Let me guess, he dies in the next book…)

TEHANI:

No! Hmm, maybe? Elli is Elli Quinn (mostly referred to just as Quinn) who was the mercenary whose face was obliterated in The Warrior’s Apprentice. Miles took her to his Betan grandmother and paid for her facial reconstruction. Um, and yes, she only had a bit part really in that book, but has a much bigger role as the series goes on. So it really makes no sense that she’s not actually in this one. Has always bugged me. Sorry if I spoiled you for her! You’ll like her, I promise :)

ALEX:

Oh, THAT Elli. Yes ok, I remember now. I hadn’t expected her to play a role later so I forgot her name  :)

TEHANI:

As for the rest, you’ll just have to wait and see!

Comments

The magic of Vorkosigan: The Warrior’s Apprentice

June 17th, 2011 at 9:45 am (Reviews)

Tehani and Alex continue their conversational review of Lois McMaster Bujold’s  Vorkosigan saga – Alex for the very first time. Spoilers ahead.

The Warrior’s Apprentice

By Lois McMaster Bujold

TEHANI:

The Warrior’s Apprentice was actually one of the last Vorkosigan books I read, despite it being the very first Miles book in the internal and publication date chronology. I probably couldn’t tell you which book I actually started with, but I know Young Miles (which contains this novel) was the last omnibus I worked through on my first time read. It was quite strange at the time, reading it with all the knowledge of what was to come but absolutely fascinating to see where the split personality that is Miles – Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar, and Miles – Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii mercenary fleet, really began. It absolutely encapsulates everything we come to know of this mad little man – the fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants ingenuity, his hyperactive intelligence, his sarcastic dry wit, his absolute faith in the abilities of those around him to do everything he thinks they can and more. We as the reader can’t help but fall in love with him as he careens from crisis to crisis, almost falling flat on his face more times that we can count but with that incredible brain working ten steps ahead of anyone else.

ALEX:

Well, that answers my question about the significance of the mercenaries! I figured they would continue to crop up; it seemed like too much perfect setting-up to simply have them only play a bit part in the continuing saga. Your assessment of Miles is spot on, and I think his faith in others is one of the more interesting aspects of his capabilities as a leader. It’s a much more realistic view, for a start. I guess you could argue that it allows Miles to get away with stuff that he really shouldn’t, and perhaps he could be seen as grasping too high/too fast; but really the ability to inspire others, and knowing when and how to use others (in good ways) is key to any leader actually succeeding. I was amazed by the careening – it was like watching someone who is just on the brink of falling flat on their face but instead manages to turn into semi-competent running. Also, the speed with which he went from washed-out wannabe officer to recruiting his first fellow-washouts was hilarious. Watching the development of the Dendarii force was mesmerising … like watching an avalanche and not knowing whether this is a good thing or a bad. It’s so unlikely, and yet … it works.

TEHANI:

In this book, we get our first glimpses of the darkness that dogs Miles, a counterpoint to his hyperactivity and seemingly endless hubris. Always the outsider on Barrayar, set apart by his physical deformities as well as his intelligence and questioning mind, Miles suffers greatly when facing rejection or personal failure. This ties into both his sense of honour, instilled by his family and his social environment, and his own desire to prove himself. In Warrior’s Apprentice, he faces down defeat and finally feels like he’s made something of himself. But of course, what he’s made is completely made up! It’s a fascinating premise, and the action and characterisation, of even the most minor characters, is what makes it work.

ALEX:

Honour is clearly going to play a seriously large part in the whole series – the Cordelia books set that up, of course. I was amazed by the fact that he failed his physical, and deliberately within those first few pages! Not exactly an auspicious start for a hero. And the continuing darkness that, indeed, dogs him, is fascinating. It too lends Miles a sense of reality; he’s closer to three-dimensional because of it. I’m going to be really interested to see what Bujold does with that. I can see ways that it could be done badly – wallowing, or using it as a mark of a hero, getting repetitive or eventually letting it slip away without explanation … I hope none of those come about!

I’m assuming at this point that one of the reasons for Miles’ despondency in later books is the loss of the lovely Elena. Their relationship was a really fascinating one. I had assumed from early on that Elena and Miles would end up growing up together, and was curious to see where that went. I was saddened that it didn’t out with her! I really liked the honesty of Elena’s reaction to Miles’ declaration of love, though – that she would be swamped by him, which is I’m sure a fair assessment. To see her develop as a character, and to see Miles encourage her in that even as it means she’s growing away from him, was a really nice touch of character development. It must be said that Elena’s wedding to someone else was not the moment at which I had tears in my eyes, though. No, that was reserved for Bothari’s funeral. It was heartbreaking! And I was surprised that she got rid of him so early in the series, but I guess it would have been awkward for a cadet in the Imperial Forces to have a bodyguard all the time. Connected with Bothari is the other rather raw moment of emotional honesty: when Miles stupidly tries to bring Bothari together with the original Elena. Her hatred and revulsion of Bothari are so appropriate, and it was nice not to have an author thinking that should be smoothed over for … I don’t know what reasons can be used there, but I know it’s been done.

TEHANI:

Oh, Bothari! I always forget that he dies here because Bujold lets him live large in Miles’ life in future books, simply by way of the enormous presence the Sergeant had in his early life. It was a spectacular way to demonstrate that no-one is safe in Bujold’s books, no matter how much of a staple they might appear, and also a very apt way to resolve (sort of) Elena’s mystery. To be fair, it also ties into helping Elena say no to Miles’s mad proposal – knowing the truth about her origins could have only strengthened her knowledge that realistically, a marriage to Miles would in no way be condoned on Barrayar. And Elena too was brought up with the same strict sense of honour that surrounded Miles, so it was something she could no way get around. Poor Miles – with the mother he has, only a certain type of girl is ever going to appeal to him, but finding the one who can cope with him, and his background, is never going to be easy!

ALEX:

I was impressed by Bujold’s treatment of Miles’ disability in this book. I had wondered whether it would simply pop up when it was narratively convenient, but the reader is hardly ever allowed to forget it – like Miles – not because it’s being forced down your throat but because she keeps reminding you that his legs drag, or limp, or that he’s slow and wears braces, and so on. It’s genuinely a part of the story, and that’s really really nice.

Also, one of the nice things I picked up – eventually! – is the fact that the pilot is Mayhew: presumably the same Mayhew who has a cameo as the pilot gulled into helping Cordelia escape Beta Colony. Nice tie in!

TEHANI:

Ooh, I never figured that out! I’m a terrible reader – I am hopeless at noticing cameo characters!

ALEX:

I continue to be hooked. Questions raised: where will the Dendarii fleet end up next? What assignment will Miles end up with at the end of his training? Will Elena feature in the later books?

TEHANI:

Again, I only answer one questions – YES, we will have more Elena! :)

Comments

The magic of Bujold – rereading and a journey of discovery

June 13th, 2011 at 8:45 am (Reviews)

Alex has never read anything by Bujold. Tehani is a long-time fan. Welcome to a conversation of discovery and re-reading that will undoubtedly include a lot of squeeing, spoilers, and misdirected guesses from Alex. Also a fair bit of meta-commentary, since we can’t help ourselves.

Cordelia’s Honor (sic) omnibus: Shards of Honor and Barrayar.

By Lois McMaster Bujold

ALEX:

I can’t believe Bujold has never had an Australian print run; are we really that small a market that someone with so many Hugo nominations hasn’t been formally brought to our attention? I only heard about the series from Tehani and Tansy, who raved about it. I am actually quite happy, and lucky, to be able to read these in books in internal chronological order (barring any prequels she may see fit to write!), although a little sad that I don’t get the joy of reading this omnibus as a prequel, since I’m sure most long-time devotees of Miles were immensely excited to read his parents’ story. I’m also immensely pleased that I have so many more books to read, already published, and am not in the position of my friends who pounced on Cryoburn like so many starving wolves. I hadn’t realised just how hooked I was, by the way, until I finished Shards of Honour in two days and just kept ploughing right on into Barrayar almost without realising…

TEHANI:
It’s quite amazing really that this is the first Vorkosigan book (Falling Free, set some centuries prior to the Vorkosigan period, is set in the same universe, but isn’t a Vorkosigan book, so I don’t count it) in both internal and external chronology. Such a huge amount of world- and character-building happens in even the first few chapters, without ever being info-dumpish – it’s an astonishing feat for an author, and just one of the things I adore about Bujold!

ALEX:

I absolutely agree. The universe Bujold has created puts me slightly in mind of the Hainish universe of le Guin – people have been (re)discovered and brought (back) into a galactic-wide society. There is a mention of the Time of Isolation, from which it’s obvious that there’s been some galactic community in the past from which some planets, at least, have been sundered for some period of time. In Barrayar we discover that that planet has only been brought back into communion 80 years ago, which seems a remarkably short period of time for that planet and society to acclimatise to galactic standards and norms – which some individuals actually haven’t managed.

The characters:
Meeting Aral and Cordelia like this, for readers of the Miles-proper books, was surely a fascinating experience. It makes me wonder whether they are known as the Butcher of Komarr and the Killer of Vorrutyer to Miles’ acquaintances, in the later books?

I like Cordelia. I was surprised by how quickly Bujold had Cordelia and Aral fall in love, but I guess it was a case of extreme circumstance.

TEHANI:
It seems the romance between Cordelia and Aral does happen very suddenly, but I think it works, in this instance. Aral’s stumbling proposal is very sweet in his hesitancy, and Cordelia’s reaction to it is wonderful in the way it defies the normal expectations of romance tropes. The relationship development could be viewed to support the idea (posited in the movie Speed!) that pressure forces ties to form more quickly and of stranger bedfellows than the normal course of daily life allows. But the characterisation shown for Cordelia and Aral really allows the reader to see the inherent connection between them.

Aral may have other motives (conscious or unconscious, it’s difficult to judge here – I’d be interested to hear what you say on this, without the benefit of having read the later books!), but his genuine admiration for Cordelia’s strength, wit and intelligence is obvious. In turn, Cordelia is drawn to Aral despite her clear distaste for the society he comes from. This mutual connection is not for the usual romance reasons: there is not an instant physical response – neither are described as classical beauties! – nor is there immediate, unwarranted, trust. Instead, in just a few chapters, trust is earned, insights into each other unfold, and although it takes place in a short span of time, the relationship seems real. It’s a very skilled piece of writing that delicately subverts the romance tropes to become a believable developing relationship.

ALEX:

I can’t so far tell that there might be other motives on Aral’s part to falling for, or choosing, Cordelia. The sap in me hopes that I never get dissuaded of that romanticism!

I really liked that Cordelia is old! – well, by romance standards anyway; 33! Practically haggard! And surely beyond romantic entanglements… I particularly enjoyed the sense of duty and responsibility and common sense that attended this positively elderly romance – connected with the quiet desperation in their eyes. But back to Cordelia – she’s strong, and smart; a little bit broken by the past but resilient; a good leader, and someone I could definitely enjoy knowing. I admire her resourcefulness and was appropriately shocked by her ruthlessness on a few occasions.

Aral is awesome. Again, older; and it may be somewhat heretical to make this comparison, but I can’t help seeing the similarities between him and Eddings’ Sparhawk. World weary, largely unflappable, no beauty, violent when necessary, intensely loyal and honorable. I like the humanity that Bujold shows in his sensitivity to Cordelia, and towards his men too. He and Cordelia complement each other nicely, I feel. Having Aral be bisexual was an immensely interesting choice, too – up to that point I’d had no idea that this would be anything but a universe where heterosexuality was the only acceptable mode (maybe the Miles books are full of non-hetero sexuality and this is something Bujold fans expect; again, I look forward to finding out).

TEHANI:
Sparhawk, yes!! I agree, some readers might find that heretical, and the books the two appear in could not BE more different, but there are definite similarities in their characterisations!

ALEX:

It’s so wrong, isn’t it?

Bothari is … complicated.

And Miles? Well, I really hadn’t expected that he would be – what’s the right word? – malformed? Not completely physically perfect, anyway. I think I had assumed I was getting myself into a series where the hero was a fairly typical hero, to be honest. Although I was shocked by the attack on Cordelia and Aral, and the fact that theantidote had such an impact on the fetus Miles, I admit that I expected that the doctor’s work would come out perfectly and the Count would have to eat his words. To have him born with bones so fragile that one breaks in the first 30 seconds, and the Count then renouncing familial ties (although that’s somewhat resolved in the epilogue)… I realised at that point that this was not going to be the sort of series I was expecting.

TEHANI:
I think Miles’s imperfections are part of the reason we adore this world so much. That he has so much to overcome from the very beginning makes him far more fascinating than if he’d been handed looks, ability and brains on a platter! You’ve moved on into Barrayar here, which while second in internal chronology, was actually the seventh book published, and it’s really interesting that Bujold went back to fill out the circumstances surrounding Miles’ birth. These two books work really well as a duology, which is brilliant given they weren’t written or published in order!

ALEX:

I really am amazed that they were written so far apart. They flow so seamlessly together! It really would have driven me wild to read them out of order. Also- yes, I can imagine that Miles’ imperfections are very attractive, in a hero.

The worlds:
Barrayar and Beta Colony are (literally) worlds apart, and I’m now wild to find out where Miles spends most of his time – at one quarter through Barrayar I guessed Beta Colony, because there’s so much more on Barrayar that it seems like it might be filling in gaps for readers. Barrayar is a fairly recognisable military-dominated world – recognisable from other SF/fantasy that is – with attendant philosophies and values. It’s Beta Colony that fascinates me, though, because it is a more classically science fictional world: uterine replicators, hermaphrodites, parental licenses, a liberal view on sexuality … yet all of this takes place of a planet that’s happy to use drugs on someone to get information, is unwilling to believe their officer’s testimony, and has a President that apparently no one voted for. Deliciously complicated. I can’t wait to find out more.

TEHANI:
Oh, so MUCH more to come for you! :)

ALEX:

The narrative itself:
I really enjoy being thrown straight into the action when it’s done well – which is something I can’t define – and Shards of Honour definitely manages that. Traitors, unlikely alliances, honour … so much goes on in what is a relatively short book. I was horrified by the actions of Vorrutyer, of course, and Bothari doesn’t really make those circumstances any better … but Aral bursting in on the scene is marvellous, and would surely play well on screen! The reception of Cordelia at home, and then her efforts to get away without betraying herself or Vorkosigan, are nail-biting indeed. I jumped straight into Barrayar after Shards, so I admit they muddle together in my head – but I love the vision of Cordelia turning up unannounced as Aral starts on a binge, and that their relationship just goes on from there. Civil war is always an interesting narrative mode for setting up alliances and world politics, and for outlining personalities too. I enjoyed the action bits of Cordelia and Drou etc running off to rescue the replicator with Miles in it, although it did feel just a little out of place – direct violence and action had been removed from the story for what felt like a long time. It was nice to have the conclusion with the Vorkosigan family making some attempts at reconciliation with each other, and I’ve no doubt this sets things up for the rest of the series.

Questions I’m left with:

Will Bothari and Elena feature in the Miles books? What about Kou and Drou (gotta say, that’s a bit tacky), Piotr, Gregor and Ivan? Will bone density continue to be an issue? Do we visit more than just Barrayar and Beta Colony? Will I continue to be hooked??

TEHANI:
I can only answer one of those questions without venturing into spoiler territory so I’m just going to go with the easy one – YES, YOU WILL CONTINUE TO BE HOOKED! :)

ALEX:

Awesome :D

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