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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 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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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-13 20:26
Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold
Borders of Infinity (Vorkosigan Saga, #5.3) - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is an omnibus edition of Bujold's 3 earlier novellas, framed by Illyan's interrogation of Miles into the enormous bills the Dendarii Mercenaries seem to accumulate under his command. The framing story is set shortly after Brothers in Arms.

 

Mountains of Mourning (5++++++ stars) - set after Miles's graduation from the Imperial Service Academy, just before The Vor Game

 

already reviewed here - still dearly loved.

 

Labyrinth (3 stars) - set after Cetaganda/Ethan of Athos

 

Miles is sent to Jackson's Whole to extract a geneticist - whose terms are that Miles has to kill the last remnant of an experiment into creating super-soldiers, animal genes mixed with human DNA. But Miles doesn't find a monster, but a frightened, disillusioned girl.

 

The weakest of the 3 stories. Not because of the message, but it seems very compressed. Jackson's Whole and Taura would have deserved a longer introduction, especially because both will turn out to be quite important to Miles's growth as commander and human-being. The way the story stands now, Taura latches on too quickly... I don't know... one tumble in the sheets (well, a stone-cold floor) and she's convinced Miles takes her as fully human? And Miles thinks that the body can't lie? I mean, I'm happy Miles thinks for himself (sometimes too much) and doesn't simply follow orders stupidly - and Taura is certainly worth saving... but... still not satisfied with this story.

 

Borders of Infinity (4 stars) - set right before Brothers in Arms

 

Miles is sent to infiltrate a Cetagandan prison camp. Initially set to rescue one person he ends up organizing the whole camp.

 

Again a story that could profit from expansion because again Miles convinced those disillusioned prisoners who are merely existing instead of living, entirely without hope, that there's someting worth living for, a future worth fighting for. Bujold doesn't pull any punches describing the situation there. The Cetagandans are complying with the interplanetary charta to treat PoW... but only literally, reality is quite another thing entirely. You actually feel hope and even sanity leak from you while reading this story. In the end even escape isn't a victory to celebrate.

 

Curiously, this prison escape also marks the beginning of the end of Admiral Naismith - even if Miles only later learns that fact years later (in A Civil Campaign).

 

Overall, 3 stories definitely not to be missed in this saga.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-06 17:18
Post von Karlheinz von Hasnain Kazim
Post von Karlheinz - Hasnain Kazim

Untertitel: Wütende Mails von richtigen Deutschen - und was ich ihnen antworte.

 

Als Journalist der Zeitschrift Der Spiegel ist Kazim täglich mit Massen an Reaktionen auf seine Artikel konfrontiert... Er ist der Meinung, dass er nicht alles, was ihm an Hass und auch absolutem Blödsinn entgegen"gekotzt" wird, einfach stehen lassen kann. Und so tritt er in Dialog mit Leuten, die ihn oft lediglich wegen seines Namens und Aussehens rassistisch beschimpfen, diffamieren oder bedrohen. Denn:

 

Meinungsfreiheit bedeutet nicht Widerspruchsfreiheit.

 

Und genau darum geht es. In Zeiten, wo Likes in den Social Media bestimmen, was man zu lesen bekommt, und Widerspruch sowie gegenteilige Ansichten dementsprechend schnell ausgefiltert werden, sind viele nicht mehr gewöhnt, damit umzugehen. Das Spektrum an informierten(!) Meinungen verarmt zusehends, und intelligenter öffentlicher Diskurs findet so gut wie nicht mehr statt. Das ist die eine Seite.

 

Die andere ist die Verrohung der Sprache, der fehlende Filter zwischen Hirn und Mund/Fingern. Ich kann mich erinnern an die Anfänge meiner Online-Zeiten: Da gab's eine sogenannte Netiquette, an die man sich zu halten hatte in den verschiedenen Newsgroups oder Foren. Davon ist aber weit und breit nichts mehr zu sehen. In welcher geistigen Umnachtung man sich auch befindet, man postet oder mailt, beschimpft oder droht mit sogar strafrechtlich relevanten Taten. Ein Hinterfragen des Tons findet nicht mehr statt, geschweige denn der Wortwahl. Fürchtet man sich vor Konsequenzen? Gibt es überhaupt Konsequenzen? Scheinbar nicht.

 

Es ist salonfähig geworden, rassistische Dinge offen und unter eigenem Namen jemanden an den Kopf zu schmeißen... ganz im Sinne von: Steter Tropfen höhlt den Stein. Jeden Tag sieht man dies in der politischen Auseinandersetzung. Es prescht jemand aus der 2. Reihe mit einer rassistischen Äußerung nach vorne. Vielleicht wird die Aussage noch zurückgenommen, aber das ist vollkommen unwichtig. Denn die Samen sind gesät, das nächste Mal wird der Aufschrei leiser sein, bis er verstummt und die eigentlich unerträgliche Aussage einfach Alltag wird. So geschieht es in der Flüchtlings- und Migrationsdebatte seit 30 Jahren in Österreich.

 

Je nach Ausgangskommentar entgegnet Kazim nun entweder sarkastisch/ironisch, fallweise durchaus spöttisch, sehr oft aber auch sehr sachlich und erklärend. Wie darauf dann vom Kommentarautor reagiert wird, ist mitunter entlarvend...

 

Jedenfalls halte ich dieses Buch für eine Pflichtlektüre für alle, die auch nur halbwegs offen durchs Leben gehen, sich in Social Media bewegen oder in Foren partizipieren. Ich muss leider gestehen, dass mein Frustrationsplafonds sehr rasch erreicht ist, sodass ich es nach 1-2 Tagen wieder aufgebe, offensichtlichen Unwahrheiten, die stupide nachgeplappert werden und auf denen trotz Gegendarstellung insistiert wird, entgegenzutreten. Daher Hut ab, Herr Kazim!

 

Für Stoff zum Nachdenken und Diskutieren ist jedenfalls gesorgt - und das kann einer Gesellschaft nur gut tun.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-05 15:40
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Civil Campaign - Lois McMaster Bujold

Count Romeo Vorkosigan, the one-man strike team.

 

Oh, I've been looking forward to re-reading this novel, and it didn't disappoint.

 

Again with changing point of views, this novel is roughly told in 3 connected parts:

 

* Miles's courtship of Ekaterin - planned like a covert operation which blows up in his face spectacularly

 

* internal Barrayaran politics and

 

* Mark and Kareen's return to Barrayar, the subsequent cultural shock, and them starting a business operation.

 

I adore the first half of this book: Miles setting up his dinner party, hearing Mark's voice again, Kareen's struggle against the rules and regulations coming with her return home from liberal Beta Colony. And then there's Mark's bug butter enterprise with hapless (and clichéd/absentminded) scientist Enrique. There isn't a page that doesn't manage to bring a warm feeling to my heart, all the underlying shows of loyalty (Mark's Killer making an appearance when Mark perceives a threat to Miles's courtship), Ivan's good natured teasing - and of course, trying to make things difficult. The inner voices and humorous situations that don't fail to bring a smile to my face. All culminating in that absolutely hilarious failure of a dinner party because of a lack of communication and ignorance of social customs. I can't remember having laughed so hard reading a book as I did when the returning Vorkosigan parents come across Enrique trying to recover all the dispersed butter bugs.

 

A distracted-looking Enrique, his wiry hair half on-end, prowled into the great hall from the back entry. He had a jar in one hand, and what Miles could only dub Stink-on-a-Stick in the other: a wand with a wad of sickly-sweet scent-soaked fiber attached to its end, which he waved along the baseboards. "Here, buggy, buggy," he cooed plaintively. "Come to Papa, that's the good girls..." He paused, and peered worriedly under a side-table. "Buggy-buggy...?"

 

"Now... that cries out for an explanation," murmured the Count, watching him in arrested fascination.

 

It doesn't matter that the end is a foregone conclusion - that was obvious with the introduction of Ekaterin in Komarr. Too much time has been spent on her characterization and "voice" to have her fade back into the woodwork. So it's not the end that counts, but the road getting there. And perhaps Miles learned a lesson in humility... and also trust - in himself (because most of the spectacle stems from the disbelief that Ekaterin could ever choose him, a physically handicapped man) but also in others.

 

This is also a novel about growing up and stretching (social) boundaries. Cordelia's independence shouldn't pull wool over our eyes. On Barrayar women still are house-bound and don't play an overt role in society (with Lady Alys the obvious exception). Even with the invention of the uterine replicator which makes body births unnecessary, a real change towards equality hasn't occurred yet. Women are there to be married off, they don't have custody over their sons etc. A Civil Campaign addresses this issue in different ways:

 

We have Ekaterin and her custodial issues over Nikki (and her multiple husband-wanna-bes) where some estranged cousin of her late husband's wants to remove Nikki from her sphere of influence. Unfortunately, along with Miles's courtship this is solved by the traditional approach: In many instances she's a bit of a damsel in distress. Whenever something bad happens, a man is there to help her - be it Illyan, be it Gregor, be it her uncle, be it Miles. That Miles gains custody over Nikki in the end isn't mentionned any further. Well, to be honest, neither is the pressure on widow-Ekaterin to remarry. Granted, as said before, it's a foregone conclusion, but in the end she was pressured into her decisions. And as much as she might think otherwise - or that she might have made the same decision but granted more time for it -, the whole process, especially given her experiences with her late husband and the events of Komarr, leaves a bit of a sour taste.

 

Then there are Cordelia and Lady Donna who bulldoze their way through social boundaries. For Cordelia they don't even exist. Being Betan she isn't indoctrinated in Barrayaran customs but continues to view them as a kind of amusing anomaly... and fights for Mark and Kareen's right to lead their lives (and their relationship) the way they like. In a way Miles is Aral's responsibility (honor vs reputation) - and Mark's Cordelia's project.

 

Just a small point of criticism here: Cordelia's perhaps the one character that could use some more fleshing out, to be honest. She comes across as some kind of super-woman, all-knowing, omnipotent. Even Aral has his flaws - and he's had them from the start. And all that talk about her being Betan... it rankles a bit, her being the super-liberal, highly civilized woman for whom Barrayaran politics only serves as amusement. But that only renders her two-dimensional in the end.

 

And Donna? Well, in order to obtain the Vorrutyer Countship (which she de facto already held when her brother was still alive), she undergoes gene therapy on Beta and reinvents herself as Lord Dono. Interesting precedence?

 

I know I repeat myself, but it's this confrontation with tradition and regulation that make the novels set on Barrayar so interesting to me. Miles is a fascinating character, and I love him and his idiosyncracies. But put him back in this narrow-minded environment (albeit which already has changed and opened up so much within the whole series), and things get really interesting. Not to mention the fact that all the Barrayaran-based characters and their interaction are complex and vastly enjoyable in and of themselves. What would this series be without Aral & Cordelia, Ivan, Illyan, Alys, Pym or Gregor?

 

In a sense, this novel could have been the end of the series. Miles is settled in his private and professional life, he's accepted on Barrayar as heir to the Countship and important political figure himself. Mark's on the way to recovery. Gregor's married. And Cordelia and Aral enjoy their retirement on Sergyar. The rest of the series only puts on paper what's inferred here. But that's just a thought...

 

Anyway, an absolute highlight in the series.

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