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review 2020-01-07 23:58
Memory / Lois McMaster Bujold
Memory (Vorkosigan Saga, #10) - Lois McMaster Bujold

Forced to abandon his undercover role as leader of the Dendarii Mercenaries, Miles Vorkosigan persuades Emperor Gregor to appoint him Imperial Auditor so he can penetrate Barrayar’s intelligence and security operations (ImpSec). Simon Illyan, head of ImpSec and Miles’ former boss, is failing physically and mentally, and Miles sets out to find out why -- and who, if anyone, is behind Illyan’s rapid decline.

 

I always enjoy the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, but this is the best book in the series so far in my opinion. I’ve always been entertained by Miles’ forward momentum, his dual roles as Lord Vorkosign and Admiral Naismith, and his willingness to plunge into danger with only a skeleton of plan. This is the book when Miles grows up and becomes a much better human being.

The book begins with Miles making a very serious error in judgement and being removed from his Imperial Security position by Simon Illyan, the head of ImpSec. Now, Lord Vorkosigan must find out who he is when he’s not pretending to be someone else. When something bad happens to Illyan, it is Miles who steps up to the plate and convinces the Emperor to let him investigate. This installment may not have interstellar travel or gun fights, it has a more “spy novel” vibe.

I wonder if Bujold became tired of the military type adventures and decided to change Miles' life course? If so, I highly approve and I can hardly wait to read the next book in the series.

Book number 346 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading Project.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2019-02-16 14:43
The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Warrior's Apprentice - Lois McMaster Bujold

Never got around to do a review of this book, so I decided to re-read it and amend this oversight.

 

After failing his entrance exams into the military academy and the death of his grandfather, Miles Vorkosigan, 17 years old, handicapped by brittle bones, suffering from (more or less) latent depression, is sent to distant Beta Colony. There he stumbles upon a Barrayaran deserter, a jumpship pilot and a contract to ship cargo - erm, weapons - through a blockade.What follows is, as they say, history. Forward momentum anyone?

 

Coming back to the beginnings of this saga is kind of strange experience: Miles feeling like a failure (and having this feeling reenforced by his grandfather's death and some ill-thought through, and misunderstood, statements of his father's), being rather narrow-minded - well, like a normal 17 year old, I guess. His whole world exists of getting into the academy and impressing Elena, his childhood friend and daughter of his bodyguard Bothari. Stumbling his way through creating an army, dealing with history that's been kept hidden from him, and facing loss and pain broadens his horizons and defines who Miles's ultimately going to become.

 

In a sense this novel concludes the first part of the Vorkosigan series. It puts a preliminary ending to plotthreads set out in Cordelia's Honor, such as Bothari, Elena, Miles's grandfather, the Regency, Vorhalas's family's involvement with the soltoxin attack etc. The epilogue will be found in "The Vor Game" where Gregor'll have to come to terms with his family's past.

 

But the board is set for part two of the saga: Miles's time in the Imperial service - and with the Dendarii... and finding his way back to his roots in more figurative sense.

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review 2019-01-06 00:00
Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga, #1)
Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga, #1) - Lois McMaster Bujold,Grover Gardner Shards Of Honour" is Science Fiction at its best, using the conflict between two cultures and the attraction between two strong, independent, action-oriented leaders both to tell an exciting tale and to spark insights into the nature of power, honour, personal courage, leadership and personal and institutional evil.

"Shards Of Honour" doesn't have a particularly strong plot. The story is linear and mostly unsurprising. On the surface, this seems to be a love-on-the-battlefield meets culture clash between a hierarchical male-dominated militaristic culture and a less obviously hierarchical, more sexually egalitarian, science and commerce based culture. If it had been a "Star Trek" episode it would have been cheesy but fun.

Two things lift "Shards of Honour" beyond level of cheesy romantic space romp and make it into science fiction that continues to be relevant and challenging.

The first is that the two characters at the heart of the story are richly drawn. They both decline to be what others expect them to be. They both struggle to define and do the honourable thing. They both succeed in being both lionised and rejected by their home cultures and neither of them defaults to the simplest understanding of a individuals or the circumstances that drive their behaviour.

Cordelia Naismith is calm, courageous, resourceful, leans heavily on humour to keep threats at a manageable distance and driven almost entirely by have values and her curiosity.

Aral Vorkosigan is a born strategist, prone to both anger and violence but who seeks to control both in the name of honour. He serves loyally but not uncritically and he leads because he cannot help it.

The second is the depth of political and moral thought in the novel. "Shards Of Honour" was published in 1986 but the political commentary is perhaps even more relevant now than it was in those, in retrospect, optimistic times.

The need for personal honour is shown by its lack in a sadistic senior officer who uses his power over women prisoners to break them for his pleasure using rape and torture. After an up close and very personal encounter with this man, our Cordelia describes him as "the ultimate in evil".

I agreed with her but Aral, the strategist, the man who commands fleets of warships sees a greater evil. He describes the sadistic rapist as:

"...just a little villain. An old-fashioned craftsman making crimes one-off. The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green-silk rooms who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust or anger or desire or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crime they hope to prevent in that future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present, they are real."

In this time of Brexit, we need reminders that the now is real and the future just an imagined thins we ask others to sacrifice themselves to protect.

In this time of Trump, this quote resonated with me:

"A Caligula or a Yuri Vorbarra can rule a long time while the best men hesitate to do what is necessary to stop him and the worst ones take advantage."

In another lesson that seems more relevant than ever today, we are shown how we create false but appealing narratives to feed our own desires. At one point, her own people hail Cordelia as a hero and attribute actions and attributes to her that she knows to be false. I was fascinated by the explanation of Cordelia's inability to get the truth across. Again it, seems relevant to today's politics. Cordelia, being carried on the shoulders of an excited crowd says:

"It's not true. Stop this."

It was like trying to turn back the tide with a teacup. The story had too much innate appeal to the battered prisoners, too much wish-fulfilment come to life. They took it in like balm for their wounded spirits and made it their own vicarious revenge. The story was passed around elaborated, built up, sea changed, until within twenty-four hours it was as rich and unkillable as legend. After a few days, she gave up trying. The truth was too complicated and ambiguous to appeal to them..."


To my mild embarrassment, as someone who has been an avid reader of Science fiction for nearly fifty years, I failed to notice Lois McMaster Bujold until 2017 when a number of people recommended her to me and her "Vorkosigan Saga" won a Hugo for Best Series.

I bought "Shards of Honour", the first book in the series, and then let it sit on my TBR pile for seventeen months. I've only picked up now because I set myself a"Thirty Firsts TBR Challenge". Now that I've finally read it, I'm kicking myself for my inattention.

Lois McMaster Bujold is now on my "read everything she's ever written" list. I'll start with the rest of the Vorkosigan Saga and go from there.
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-26 20:48
Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ethan of Athos - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a side-novel to Bujold's Vorkosigan series with Miles only being mentionned.

 

The planet Athos is facing a crisis: populated only by men, the eggs needed for reproduction entirely come from ovarial tissue brought with the founders to the planet and/or purchased via trade. Now, the latest shipment turns out to be replaced by non-usable material. Ethan, a specialist in reproductive medicine (who's never seen a living female), is sent out from isolationist Athos to find out what happened to the shipment and, if necessary and possible, procure new ovarial tissue. Caught ill-prepared, he finds himself on Kline Station and is soon embroiled in a plot involving Elli Quinn, Cetagandans, telepaths, station environmental control... and women in general.

 

A rather average novel, I'm afraid, as it concentrates more on action and plots-within-plots rather than on the characters themselves. Therefore, many questions about Athos remain unanswered: I mean what led to the Athosian society's founders to emigrate and denounce/villify all females? How does a society with only one gender work? Why not focus on this social and sci-fi issue instead of devolving into another rendition of the outsider meets real world-theme?

 

Also, I'd have liked Ethan to interact more with Quinn or Cee... because even though the whole novel is from his point of view, he spends most of it confused, chased around, interrogated, told what to do or finding Cee cute. Just those first 2 chapters showing him in his usual environment on Athos aren't enough to make him become real as a person...

 

So, there's some groundwork in world-building and in characterization but it lacks some serious fleshing out - and knowing what Bujold's capable of in both regards, this leaves me rather unsatisfied.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-17 15:07
Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold
Diplomatic Immunity - Lois McMaster Bujold

Once you catch the bug (again), you keep reading... so, still on my reading spree through the Vorkosigan series, and I fear once I run out of books I'll restart from the beginning. *sigh

 

On the return flight from their honeymoon, Miles is assigned to investigate a situation involving the military personnel accompanying a Komarran trade fleet. One officer seems to have gone missing, and another missed the call to duty, his retrieval causing a major incident and all of the involved being arrested on Graf Station in Quaddie space. And something seems to be happening in Cetagandan space.

 

This is my second run through this novel, and I have to say, the situation here is quite the opposite from Komarr. I had good memories of the latter novel, rather lackluster ones of this. But the reread turned the tides quite a bit.

 

First of all, the whole novel is from Miles's PoV, it includes sarcasm, irony and in-jokes (shopping anyone?), this inimitable drive forward, and makes for one coherent story, not bogged down by relationship-issues or angsting over said relationship-issues etc. Just a simple reminder of the Vorkosigan-stories of old, a good old mystery that needs to be solved, nothing more, nothing less. And his inner voice leaves me at times with tears of laughter, and at others with a pensive smile or even a lump down my throat. That's what I'm looking for in books, relatable characters, flawed characters, characters who don't take everything that's happening to them lying down. And how far has Miles come from his beginnings in Warrior's Apprentice to the final few pages of this novel? How far has Barrayar come?

 

Of course, it helps that Bel Thorne makes an appearance and that his character-arc gets some closure. And the deep irony surrounding their reacquaintance, all the changes the characters have undergone since the end of Mirror Dance ("So I've killed Admiral Naismith after all") are meaningful, yet understated.

 

Ekaterin takes a bit of a backseat here. All her contributions (which save Miles and Bel in the end) remain off-screen. But that's okay since we know she keeps her head in emergencies... and quite frankly, she's a supporting character and having her PoV would distract from the ongoing mystery. Armsman Roic again takes over the task of guarding Miles. His feelings of inferiority become a tad repetitive, though, but he's definitely showing some growth into his role by the end.

 

Generally speaking, it's the small things that make this a very enjoyable reading experience: shows of loyalty, things/opinions just expressed with a small gesture, Miles fighting for Bel's life, exasperation all around at Miles's shenanigans etc. It's not the grand stories, the mysteries why I enjoy this series so much. It's rather the connecting subplots (like here the shout back to Cetaganda), the worldbuilding, the 3-dimensional characterization, the slow moments of introspection and realization. The saga might be set 1000 years from now, but it's still dealing with the same basic issues we do every day. Which is what makes is so eminently re-readable (even the weaker parts).

 

So, overall a pretty straight-forward detective story, mixed with old and new friends, a helping of political messes at home and abroad... despite having already read the book before, I was still captivated and at the edge of my seat for the latter half. Pretty good sign, isn't it?

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