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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-07-09 14:16
Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
Memory (Vorkosigan Saga, #10) - Lois McMaster Bujold

If you choose an action, you choose the consequences of this action.

 ... and this novel is ripe with consequences.

 

First of all, Miles's cryorevival comes with a seizure-condition that rears its ugly head in the most inconvenient moment - moreover, Miles then lies about it in his mission report, and Illyan has little choice but to dismiss him from service.

 

And Miles now has to learn for himself who he is if he doesn't have ImpSec and through them the Dendarii Mercenaries to prop him up. Who is he on Barrayar? Just the little mutant who gained access to the Imperial service through nepotism? Can he be Lord Vorkosigan, and survive without the little admiral?

 

Add to that Gregor falling in love - and Illyan himself falling to pieces. And Miles's focus quickly shifts from personal anguish and depression to that which he does best: problem-solving.

 

I've reread Memory now 5 or 6 times from cover to cover with countless repetitions of the various most memorable scenes, like the confrontation with Illyan over lying, or all the meetings with Gregor... and I'm still as pulled into this story as if it's the first time. The Vor Game was Gregor's story, Mirror Dance Mark's - and this is finally Miles coming fully into his own, accepting and embracing who he is (and not only what he created for himself). He's wrestling with temptation: go down the easy route, or do it right; the realization that despite all insecurities and yearnings there are lines that he won't cross; and the moment calm finally settles his mind, and clarity focuses it - that's still immensely satisfying to read.

 

Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart.

 

It doesn't come as much of a surprise that I especially love the Barrayar-set novels within this series. First of all, Bujold's talent to create characters is fantastic, and it's one thing to see Miles in all his glory among the Dendarii (as head of the chain of command), but it's a wholly different experience to see him in a more socially complex setting. Remember, on Barrayar children like him were killed not so long ago (and boy is it an intense scene when he seeks out Raina and Harra Csurik to ask for forgiveness!), even his own grandfather tried to kill him. He's had to fight his whole life to make a place for himself, and most people still think that nepotism is all that got him into service. And that most of his service was in covert ops doesn't help with his self-esteem issues. So, coming from the top of the food chain, he's suddenly the odd one out, having to find his way against prejudice, suspicion and jealousy.

 

Seeing him interact with Gregor, his foster-brother, friend and ultimate liege-commander is always a joy because of the various, sometimes contradicting layers of their relationship. Love Gregor, pure and simple, and seeing him find love and joy is one of the many highly enjoyable facets of this novel (as is his courtship told from Miles's PoV - the horse, groomed to within an inch of its life!!!). The same goes for Illyan who was a confidant of Miles's father, always the protector... but who couldn't protect Miles from himself. Again, so many layers of loyalty, familial and personal, not to mention the chain of command make for a complex and differentiated relationship. Add to that Ivan and Galeni whose lives are inextricably bound to Miles's through various reasons, and the story unfolds. Loyalty, friendship, trust, all these build the foundation and, paired with Miles's (and Gregor's) inimitable judgement of character and indomitable drive, make for a fascinating study of loss, betrayal and overcoming adversity.

 

Yes, Memory isn't an action-packed, fun romp through the galaxy. It's introspective, it's sometimes painful, but, again, oh so rewarding. Chicken always come home to roost. My favourite of the entire saga.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-02 09:38
Worlds of Star Trek: DS9: #1 Cardassia by Una McCormack & Andor by Heather Jarman
Cardassia and Andor - Una McCormack,Heather Jarman

"The Lotus Flower" depicts the problems and antagonism Keiko is facing in her multispecies effort to render Cardassian soil fertile again. Meanwhile, the new castellan Alon Ghemor and Garak are fighting to keep the fledgling democracy alive in the face of isolationist movements.

 

This is quite a good story about the rise of isolationist movements, about the recruitment of young people for extremist purposes (because they lack certainty and purpose over their own future), and about finding where you belong in a democracy that is still forming after the age-old reign of dictatory leaderships. Quite a mirror of modern politics... if just finding similarities and common ground (or at least having the intention to do so) were so easy in real life, many atrocities could be prevented, I guess.

 

"Paradigm" forces Shar to confront the loss of his bondmate Thriss, his guilt and his position in Andorian society... all while being under pressure by his "mother" and having increasing feelings for Prynn Tenmei.

 

I'm afraid I'm not going to become a friend of Jarman's style any time soon. Her prose doesn't flow as well as that of other authors and I had the feeling of being stuck on a single page for ages. So that's a definite negative point. On the other hand, by the end I was fully engaged in this story and moved by the final few scenes. Shar's being pressured by practically all sides, reminded of his duties in a diminishing Andorian society (due to reproductive issues which led to a population of 3 billion dwindling down to a mere 90 million) but also fighting for his own freedom. Because how can anyone in a society that only revolves around bonds, that are matched artificially instead of naturally, and parenting duties be free? What about individual desires such as careers or partners outside a bond? And what about those who can't withstand that pressure (like Thriss)? This is quite a melancholy story about a person who fights to escape but in the end decides to go through with his societal obligations after all, even though the outside pressure (and inborn guilt) is more or less removed from him. A decision which left me pensive.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-04-10 20:22
Star Trek: Articles of the Federation by Keith R. A. DeCandido
Articles of the Federation (Star Trek) - Keith R.A. DeCandido

Star Trek meets The West Wing should probably be enough to sum up this novel that is set after "Star Trek: Nemesis" and "Star Trek: Titan: Taking Wing" and tells of United Federation President Nan Bacco's first year in office.

 

There are numerous problems, the Reman situation after Nemesis, the aftermath of the events on Tezwa and the resignation of her predecessor (see "A Time to..."), B-4's legal status, a disastrous state dinner just to name a few, and we learn of them like in glimpses, filtered through various middle-men until the matter gets deemed important enough to reach the president's ear.

 

And this is perhaps this novel's biggest problem: It tries to emulate The West Wing a bit too much, we are led from meeting to meeting, people even meet on the hallways at random... but the characters themselves remain rather bland. Well, The West Wing had 7 seasons, this novel just 390 pages, and you can't cover everything within those. I love West Wing, it's one of my favourite programmes, especially the earlier seasons, so, of course, I was struck by the similarities. Once again, a morally sound president comes to power and has to sometimes do things of a shade of grey (or cover them up)... and of course, she has multiple wisecracking conversations with her highly-intelligent staff and an obsession with trivia and baseball. Somehow, I think all those quirks and meetings work better in a visual medium but I know I'm in the minority here, since within the TrekLit-fandom this is one of the most highly regarded novels.

 

But until the last quarter or so when a few moral issues were raised (such as a reporter uncovering what really happened on Tezwa and that Admiral Ross practically forced then-President Zife to resign, and let him be taken and executed by Section 31, or a Tzenkethi-child needing a surgery only a Starfleet doctor can perform who had been imprisonned by the Tzenkethi for 4 years), there was little to no emotional anchor for me. Granted, I was reasonably entertained, at some points amused (i.e. the translation of "ad astra per aspera"), but that was it. Unfortunately.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-04-05 22:22
Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
Mirror Dance - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is a novel that grows on you. When I first read it back in 2005, I reasonably liked it. Except for Cordelia's Honor it was the best part of the saga up till that point in the narrative, but I didn't love it. So I only reread parts of it, but never in its entirety - until now. And boy, this time I absolutely fell in love with it. It has a bit of a slow start (which costs it the half star-reduction), but once the shit hits the fan it's one tour de force of psychology and emotion that keeps you biting your finger nails.

 

After 2 years, Mark turns up and basically kidnaps the Dendarii posing as Miles for a raid of House Baraputhra's cloning facilities on Jackson's Whole (where he was created as well). Miles races after him and arrives just as the mission fails spectacularly. He ends up shot in the chest and put in a cryotube which then gets lost in the following chaotic retreat. Mark and Elena have the unenviable task of relaying the news to the Vorkosigan parents which means for Elena a return to a difficult past - and for Mark a step into an uncertain future. But the race to recover Miles (dead or alive) isn't over, and Mark won't stop until there's certainty of his clone-brother's fate.

 

This is Mark's story, who he was, who he is and who he ends up to be. The various roles he has to or chooses to play showcase this, from impersonation, to reluctant and unsure son, to brother and business man - dealing with doubt, guilt, and all the aftereffects that his upbringing with Galen (which is elaborated on here) left him with. Add to that the torture he's put through here, and you get a young man who's somehow toeing the line towards insanity, but nevertheless has never felt more sane and true to himself. It's a veritable tour de force to come to that point, and some chapters are incredibly difficult to read (the black gang's emergence) and make no mistake, Bujold doesn't pull any punches here. This might be the most explicit book in terms of violence and torture against one of her main characters in this saga so far (and overall), and even immoral acts perpetrated by a main character, but it's so rewarding nonethess. Honestly, up till now I've never liked Mark, but in a way Bujold managed to bring him to life in just one (albeit very long) book just as much as she did with Miles. And the Vorkosigan-universe is richer for it.

 

Miles himself takes the backseat here, but of course he gains a new perspective in life - having an brother, not just a clone, for once not being in the heart of things... and a glimpse of mortality. But his resurrection doesn't come without a price as we'll see. Among all the psychology and character-drama the plot surrounding the Duronas and the despicable machinations on Jackson's Whole get a bit sidelined. But I guess we'll revisit both. Overall, I love the image of reciprocity in this novel: every action has a reaction, just like in the Mirror Dance, a popular dance on Barrayar, and that's transferred to practically everything that's going on here.

 

Other than Mark himself, the parts that most fascinated me (and the ones that I kept coming back to) are set on Barrayar: the effects Miles' not-quite death has on the Vorkosigans, Mark's introduction into this family, Aral's health crisis which suddenly turns an academic question of succession into a very real one, Cordelia going toe to toe with Simon Illyan, even the small glimpses and huge nudges of Gregor and Kareen Koudelka who both accept Mark for who he is from the start - not just as Miles's clone, but as an individual.

 

Overall, a stunning novel.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-03-02 13:59
Conclave by Robert Harris
Conclave - Robert Harris

The pope is dead... and 117 cardinals are about to seclude themselves in the conclave to elect a new pope. No, make that 118. There are 4 favourites, but as the saying goes: Who goes into the conclave as pope, comes out a cardinal.

 

Although it's mostly talk and introspection, Harris manages to keep one yearning for more. Especially his point-of-view character Lomeli who presides the conclave is a surprisingly relatable protagonist, with doubts and a crisis of faith that's heart-felt, especially the conflict between faith in Christ and faith in the institution of the Catholic Church. I think that's an important difference because lots of people have lost faith in the Church but not necessarily in God or Christianity. Unfortunately, for some officials that's often the same thing and those people, now looking for a new spiritual home, are left adrift, ripe for the picking for demagogues with unsavoury goals hidden within sweet promises.

 

In the end it's not so much a story about the election of a new pope but of a man regaining his own faith. That's where this novel very much succeeds. As it does in portraying a range of characters, from super-progressive, to manipulative, ambitious, world-weary, some deeply flawed, others shaped by circumstances.

 

However, the plot itself doesn't hold many surprises and much is left unsolved (the events in the outside world, the old pope's last weeks etc), but I imagine that's due to the constraints of the conclave's seclusion which doesn't lend itself to starting investigations. Still, I was captivated throughout but mainly to see if my predictions were right (and they were, every one of them), rather than because of unforeseen twists and turns. And I could have lived with that because it's still a gripping tale of introspection and psychology. But the final twist (especially since it's obvious from a mile away) was a bit too much and went beyond credibility, even more so in modern times. I think that Harris wanted to add something unique into his story - and I agree that at some point such a development will and has to come to pass. But the way this twist was introduced doesn't necessarily mean progress for the Church itself as long as an agenda that speaks of lasting and fundamental change within the structure of the Church isn't mentionned. And let's face it, the respective character and the story itself didn't need this. So, somehow, I can't help but think of this twist as some kind of trendy publicity stunt, and an unnecessary one at that, mind you.

 

Therefore, the ending did put a bit of a dampener on my enjoyment of this novel - but it's still a good and suspenseful tale.

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