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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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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-15 21:19
The Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Flowers of Vashnoi: Vorkosigan Saga (English Edition) - Lois McMaster Bujold

Ha, a new Vorkosigan novella - entirely in Ekaterin's PoV, set concurrently with "Captain Vorpatril's Alliance", i.e. before Miles inherits the Countship.

 

When Ekaterin and Enrique set out to test their new radiation bugs in the fallout zone of Vorkosigan Vashnoi, they stumble across a long-lost secret.

 

Take "Mountains of Mourning", a new use for the butter bugs, the establishment (and surveillance) of a fallout zone, Ekaterin and Enrique confronting the Vorkosigan backcountry... stir... and sit back. Distilled from this mixture is a tragic story, again a conflict between past and future and quite a lot of introspection into the question of how long past events remain in our memory, but unfortunately it doesn't carry the impact of earlier novellas. Maybe because Ekaterin is an outsider and therefore more of a commentator than actual participant, maybe even because the story isn't actually over at the end. It's barely begun.

 

In short, while it's good to revisit beloved characters, I'm not sure whether this story actually needed to be told... retold in a way...

 

 

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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! 2018-08-07 13:52
Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold
Winterfair Gifts (Vorkosigan Saga) - Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the epilogue to A Civil Campaign, Miles and Ekaterin's wedding (including some last minute assassination plot) told from Armsman Roic's point of view.

 

Roic isn't your usual ImpSec trained armsman. He was a policeman in the Vorkosigan district capital and some heroism brought him to the attention of senior armsman Pym who recruited him. Then he "extinguished" himself in the bug butter disaster, and since then suffers from some kind of minority complex. Now he gets to meet Miles's galactic acquaintances when his Dendarii Mercenary companions join the wedding party - and is confronted with Taura, the bio-engineered super soldier Miles rescued from Jackson's Whole.

 

It's the little things that make this short story memorable: Taura's wariness concerning Ekaterin, absent Quinn's ambiguous wedding present - and Taura's agonizing over whether Quinn would actually hurt Miles (and Ekaterin). And there's of course the innate fear of mutants that hamper Roic's initial interaction with Taura, and Miles's desperate attempt to make her comfortable.

 

But the moments I enjoy most are the little glimpses again into the Vorkosigan family and friends. Gregor's attending Miles's wedding, Ivan getting admonished by Aral not to screw things up (only to leave some kind of obscene sculpture in the garden). This outside view again sums up nicely what's been shown so far in the series.

 

Overall, an enjoyable short story.

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