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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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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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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-07-24 22:12
Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold
Komarr - Lois McMaster Bujold

His first mission as Imperial Auditor leads Miles and his colleague Vorthys to Komarr to investigate the partial destruction of the Soletta array, a sort of mirror construction to strengthen the sunlight for terraforming the planet. Much more interesting than the investigation, however, turns out to be his hostess, Vorthys's niece Ekaterin.

 

This is my second complete run through this novel... and admittedly the first one that I found difficult at times. I think most of that is due to the divided point of view between Miles and Ekaterin, the rest comes from the not too complicated plot that clearly takes a backseat here. Ekaterin is married to the administrator of a terraforming business - a man who's ignored his genetic defect for years, and therefore puts their son at risk, which Ekaterin can't abide by. Additionally, there's no love and respect left in their marriage, she feels trapped with little light at the end of the tunnel.

 

I actually liked her point of view in my first reading this novel - her interest in Vorkosigan and his seeming to cope with his defects, the way he apparently doesn't stifle his (past) girlfriends but lets them spread their wings; her horror when she suddenly finds herself in the middle of his investigation.

 

But now I thought this passages dragged on a bit too much. Of course, the whole novel only serves one purpose, which is to introduce Ekaterin as an equal partner for Miles. In the end, though, she comes across as a bit too good a fit: she's quick to look beyond Miles's physical deficiencies (including his seizure condition) because she's used to deal with the fear of genetic imperfection. She's rational, calm in a crisis. She loves Barrayar... and she ends up being available for courtship (which is dealt with in the next novel).

 

Komarr isn't a bad or boring story. But it lacks the re-readability which I've so enjoyed so far. And granted, I love Miles's point of view, and that half of this novel is taken away with bad marriage-turmoil from "other than Miles" doesn't satisfy me at all. Therefore: Komarr's so far, the weakest part of the series.

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