11 May 2012

Miles to go

Science Fiction | Lois McMaster Bujold

I reread the Young Miles omnibus, which has The Warrior's Apprentice, The Mountains of Mourning,and The Vor Game by one of my favourite authors (top 3, to be precise), Lois McMaster Bujold. And then I read the latest novel, Cryoburn, which I'd got someone to buy and hand-carry for me. Whee!

The Miles Vorkosigan series is great fun, space adventures with satisfyingly complex plots, villainous but human villains, heroic but human heroes, and pithy observations on what constitutes integrity, among other things. I frequently mutter that it's a shame these are not nominated for the Nobel prize. At least people would enjoy reading Nobel winning material when it wins.

Anyway, on to the books.

The Warrior's Apprentice, as you would guess from the title, is a riff on the famous tale of the sorceror's apprentice--the more he tries to extricate himself from the messes he gets himself in, the more Miles gets himself in deeper. The situations are a bit facile, particularly in the beginning. I seriously doubt anyone could take over a whole fleet that easily, but hey, it's Miles. There are dark bits, light bits, funny bits, and wrenching bits. The main supporting character in this book is Sergeant Bothari, a complex character I had less sympathy for till this book was over. This would have been Miles' coming-of-age book, but then you have The Mountains of Mourning.

This is a novella, in which the new officer Miles gets faced with backward Barrayar, the planet that, as his Betan mother says, "eats its young". Miles comes face to face with the fact that, if his head is in the stars, and his heart is in the stars, his feet are still in the Count-his-father's district's muddy lanes. This is a short and poignant tale, that stands at the core of the character development of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan. If you have read this, the following stories become easier to understand. You know that, mad as he may seem, he's going to come through for those who need him to.

The Vor Game has Gregor, the Emperor of Barrayar, as the supporting character. Miles, having created enough problems in Kyril island (where they send the hopeless cases, Miles' hopelessness being chronic insubordination), is stuffed into ImpSec (Imperial Security), where Simon Illyan can keep his eye on him personally. Miles gets misplaced, and finds <spoiler deleted>. OK, he finds the most villainous person in the whole series, and she's... read it for yourself. Very satisfying. But the gravitic imploder on the Prince Serg should not have been so superior to the enemy's, I mutter and cavil. (Now I cackle at the pun, which you have to read the book to understand).

So, on to Cryoburn, eagerly awaited. This is the only book in the series which I think cannot be read independently. Some characters, like Lord Mark or Kareen Koudelka, have such cameo appearances that if you haven't met them in previous novels, you won't quite know who they are or why and how they pop up as they do. Ditto Cordelia and Ivan in the last section of the book. Some of Miles' problems in Cryoburn get solved by walking, instead of the twisty stuff we have come to expect. I hate to say that LM Bujold has lost her touch, but the Sharing Knife series as well as this book, are slow in comparison with the rest of the Miles series. This is a book for Miles' fans, no more. Being a Bujold book, it's better than much of the rest of the books out there, but don't read it first. That said, it has a tremendous ending.

(Hey, don't take my word for it, you can read this review by a reader new to the series).

And, final mutter: Why do writers need Emperors and Counts and Lords in a future with spaceships? Surely, we won't go forwards with technology and backwards with sociology?

TL;DR summary: The whole series is strongly recommended!

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