on 13 December 2010
Miles Vorkosigan is the character that made Lois McMaster Bujold's name as a writer of smart, readable, fun SF. Miles is a native of Barrayar, a traditionalist planet coming out of a period of isolation, and Miles is used to show Barrayar encountering the moden galaxy around it. The series, of which this is the 11th full novel, has taken a crippled, hyperactive, intelligent boy and, through a series of adventures and encounters, made him a man. When we last left him, he had found stability in both his professional life (working as a trouble-shooter for his Emperor) and personal life (married, with children on the way). Most major plot points, such as rival empires or Barrayan internal politics, have been resolved or drifted away.
The true brilliance of the series has always lain in McMaster Bujold's light touch in writing, and the sheer wonder of her central character. Her skills in world building are average and, as "Cryoburn" involves introducing us to a new world where countless dead lie in cryostasis awaiting resurrection, this brings the first problem. It's an interesting idea, taking an old theme of hers to an extreme conclusion, but it would be out of character for her to delve too deep into it - gritty social realism has never been her strong suit - and so it simply remains an intriguing but underdeveloped idea. Instead, we see Miles thrown into the middle of a convoluted plot about the cryostasis business that threatens Barrayar in a slightly unspecified way, which he attacks in his usual forthright and entertaining manner, producing a swift plot with some nice supporting characters, who tend to fall into familiar niches.
The usual elements of success for a Miles story are there, but never really gell. Most worrying is the decision of McMaster Bujold to use a side-character, Mile's bodyguard Roic, as a narrator. Roic is a solid, dependable character, who narrates in a solid, dependable voice, but he is simply not that interesting. The other narrator is a young native of the planet, who brings a refreshing viewpoint, but isn't given that much to do. In fact, at a pivotal point for his character, he gets almost sidelined to allow the main plot to proceed.
Ultimately, while it is very nice to read more of Miles, this adds very little to his story. The entire book has something of the feeling of an epilogue. Miles has thoroughly grown up, and it is hard to see where any further development will come from without shattering his world in a way that legions of fans will hate. It is only in the very final part that we see a hint of where McMaster Bujold may be able to send Miles next.
on 24 December 2010
It is quite shocking to realise that, by my reckoning, this is Bujold's fourteenth Miles Vorkosigan novel, a series that since 1986 has gained Awards a-plenty (2 Nebulas and 4 Hugos). Miles' last appearance was in a novella, Winterfair Gifts, in 2004; the previous novel was Diplomatic Immunity in 2002.
Both of these were good, but, to my mind, mere shadows of earlier novels such as Mirror Dance, Cetaganda and Memory. In Wintergifts and Diplomatic Immunity I felt that Bujold's attention was clearly elsewhere, or just running out of things to say about Miles, and therefore I had prepared myself to say goodbye to the series.
But now we have this new novel, set six or seven years after Diplomatic Immunity. Miles is now nearly forty, still an Imperial Lord Auditor in the Barrayaran Empire, but when visiting the planet of Kibou-daini/New Hope, he has been kidnapped. In just five days Miles now finds himself trying to escape the clutches of people hoping to hold the Lord Auditor to ransom.
As events unfold we find that this is an attempt by terrorists, the New Hope Legacy Liberators, to bring attention to their cause. Disorientated by sedatives, Miles is found by twelve year old Jin, who lives in a seemingly disused cryogenic factory.
Miles escapes. Investigating further, he finds that the major cryogenic companies on Kibou are involved in conspiracy and subterfuge and that there is a major cover-up. One that Miles feels should be brought out to the open.
So here we have Miles `meddling' again, in events off-world from his home on Barrayar. There's lots of underhanded political machinations by the cryo-corporations with designs on setting up on Miles' homeworld, the recovery of Jin's mother, an activist frozen to keep her out of the way, and attempts to dispatch the off-worlders who interfere with the companies plans.
However for those expecting major Miles action, you may be disappointed. Though Miles is a central focus point, much of the narrative focuses upon the characters around him - his armsman Roic, the cryogenics specialist Raven Durona, the young Jin and his family. We have the tale told mainly through three points of view - Miles, his armsman, Roic, and the teenager Jin. My abiding impression at the end is that the tale seems to focus on Jin, his sister Minako and the diplomatic staff on Kibou, rather than Miles, who is surprisingly unobtrusive by comparison.
On the positive side, there's some nice mentions of earlier characters, which will be appreciated and perhaps saddened by those who have read the earlier novels. I'm not quite sure whether readers coming in cold to the series will get all the nuances, though the plot's easy enough to follow.
And that perhaps is my niggle. The tale's told deceptively well, the characters are well written and the plot's engaging. And yet, towards the end, I don't feel that we've really advanced things very far, for Miles at least. As much as I liked it, as much as I kept reading, I felt that there was nothing really new here. Though it pains me to say it, like the previous two books in some ways, this felt like a tale treading water.
Until the end. The last chapter is told in five `diggles' - views from different perspectives, of no more than one hundred words. There is a major event, which changes Miles' life and which is told through these five perspectives. And there's more changes that happens there than the rest of the book altogether.
If this was a TV episode, this would be the cliffhanger. It opens the story out, should Lois wish to take it further. Despite my reservations that Miles may have gone as far as we might wish to go, it does make the future look interesting.
In summary, this is a pleasant enough return to the world of Vorkosigan. The story is humorous, exciting and fun, and shows that Lois can still write about the world of Miles: even if Miles isn't as involved as I thought he would be.
Though I was a little disappointed, the ending in particular shows that there may be more to hear from this series in the future. Welcome back Miles.
on 8 November 2010
This book takes place 9 years after the memorable events in A Civil Campaign: A Comedy of Biology and Manners (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures) and Miles is well and truly a married man. He is sent to Kibou-daini to investigate some possible cryo fraud that was being set up in Komarr by a Kibou-daini company. Once there Miles finds himself kidnapped and things finally start to get interesting for him. In this book Mile's story is told from multiple view points.....and suffers for it.
The zany craziness of the earlier books in the series that was one of the great attractions of Mile's stories mostly seems to be missing. Nearly all the other books in the series make me laugh at reasonably regular intervals throughout, something that seems to be lacking in this book much to my disappointment. That alone makes this book, for me, one of the lesser books in the series. It's real sting, and best writing, comes at the end of the story. There's no denying that this book is another turning point in the series, but as an auditorial outing, Bujold has done better with earlier books. It's hard to decide if it should get 3 or 4 stars, but it's certinaly not a 5 star outing, but is nevertheless recommended reading for established fans of the series.
The book:Miles Vorkosigan, Imperial Auditor for the Barrayar Empire, is sent on a solo mission to a planet where he has to attend a conference on cryo-freezing people, keeping them on ice until they can be revived. Of course there is another reason, or two: vote-rigging, corporate shenanigans, even planetary plots. See the hero go from panic to reacting cleverly to playing the field and in control - and back again. His strategy? ' "I plan..." Miles hesitated. He didn't exactly have a plan, yet. More of a stab in the dark. He still wasn't sure what his blade would connect with.' How people react to his way of dealing with problems? They look '... like a man staring at a groundcar wreck. In slow motion. That he was in.'
The author: Lois McMaster Bujold has won a whole string of awards for her space-opera Vorkosigan Saga (of which this is the most recent, the thirteenth!) plus a series set in an alternate Middle-ages World, Chalion; plus a series set in an alternate Mississippi-World, `the Sharing Knife'.
The CD-that-comes-with-it: has a lot of stuff - pictures of covers, interviews and speeches by the author... and *all* the book texts of the whole Vorkosigan series in 'html files! (you can impiort these onto your iPad, oh joy). Plus 'The Vorkosigan Companion' in .html too. Pretty amazing, for this price - but my five stars are for the book alone - the CD is an unexpected bonus!
My opinion: I am happy to see Manic Miles back on his karma delivery service, as he himself calls it in this book. Excellent. The usual breathless style, dragging you along willy-nilly, meeting some people you begin to care about almost without noticing; problems you start taking personally, multiplying problems you rather desperately want to see the outcome of, so you keep going - only to discover even more, and different, problems, more people who have to be dealt with, while manic miles drags you along in his wake. As usual, it is personal! Strays and waifs, evil corporate associates, lots of problems... and showing Miles a problem is worse that dangling a string in front of a cat. With a rather stunning end, this is a real corker - Miles is back, and as good a read as ever.
on 1 November 2011
Starting 'in media res', we open with Miles staggering around following an unsuccessful attempt to kidnap him on the planet of Kibou-Diani (a sort of amalgam of Japan and Egypt) where the major (and apparently only) business is the storing of Cryofrozen corpses. This, we later learn, is due to one of the Cryo Companies (New Egypt) planning on expanding into Komarr and a few investers who examined the figures thought they looked "fishy" and so told their neice (Laisa) who told her husband (Gregor) who told Miles to go check them out, which brings us to where we came in.
Of course, there really is corruption on Kibou-Diani that Miles uncovers, mostly revolving around a kid called Milo, his sister and his (Cryofrozen) mother, which was remarkably fortunate as she was a rebel who had the critical bit of information on New Egypt that will blow the whole gig open. We also get told that their move into Komarr is some backdoor plot to take over Komarr, though its not really clear how since it would seem to require Komarr (and by extension, Barrayar) to adopt the same laws that exist on Kibou-Diani.
Having literally just finished "Diplomatic Immunity" prior to starting this book, I was hoping that we'd get to see what sort of a father Miles is - would his family prove as much of a source of stress to him as he doubtless did to his parents? But in fact his interactions with his family are limited to one video call from Ekaterin and his now four kids (wow, busy couple!), not including Nikki (though his interactions with his son-substitute, Milo, indicate he's a pretty decent dad). In fact, there are virtually no interactions with characters from previous novels other than Armsman Roic (except for Mark and Kareen, who appear about halfway through) - no Ivan, no Gregor, no Pym, no Cordelia, no Aral. And there's surprisingly little action - the one part where Miles attempts a guerilla raid on New Egypt it goes off without a hitch. Now that may be meant to represent the fact that Miles' planning is better than it used to be, or the fact that he's getting older (he now walks with a cane, partly thanks to the events of "Diplomatic Immunity"). In fact, death is a pretty near constant motif in the novel, what with all the frozen corpses, deaths of characters (we learn that Taura has died and is now buried in the Vorkosigan family plot) and the discussion between Mark & Miles about how a potentially life extending treatment might be really handy for their father.
I'm not going to spoil the major gamechanger that occurs at the end (though other reviews have, so read those if you want to know!), but suffice to say that things will be different for Miles in any future adventures.
After several years of writing fantasy, Ms Bujold is back with the SF series which justifiably made her reputation as one of the field's top writers. That said, this is one of the lesser works in the series, though no less fun for all that.
Miles is visiting the planet Kibou-daini whose major industry is cryogenics to investigate the planet's exportation of it to one of Barrayar's worlds. Naturally he uncovers skullduggery and sets out to put matters right, meeeting a couple of nice animal-loving children on the way. The enemy is, however, a bit of an Aunt Sally posing no real threat to the resourceful Miles. Indeed the tone is almost playful. Fans of the series, of which I'm one, will certainly enjoy it but those new to the series will wonder what the fuss is about. I hope this is the equivalent of Ms Bujold warming up her engines, getting ready for a full on road trip. The shock at the end suggests so.
But wait, there's more!
Specifically a freebie CD-ROM containing the entire series, including Cryoburn itself, plus the very interesting book length The Vokosigan Companion. If you haven't read the Vorkosigan books before or if you like reading electronic versions then this is one of the best freebies I've come across anywhere. I was just happy to have the Companion. Incidentally that isn't listed on the disc's onscreen menu and I had to open up the disc's contents via My Computer to find it. Once there I opened it and saved the entire thing as a Word document so it's now on my hard disc ready to dip into any time. The disc alone is worth a 5-star rating.
Now, Ms Bujold, what's next for Miles?
Note: I've recently edited this review because I stupidly called the Companion a concordance which is not the same thing at all. Apologies to the people I confused.
Kibou-daini is an obscure planet in a remote corner of the wormhole nexus, but one with a specialisation in cryogenic freezing and revival as a means of cheating death. With the planet planning to expand to Komarr, the Barrayaran Empire decides to take a closer look. This means sending in Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan. Unfortunately things go wrong almost as soon as Miles arrives. Left lost and injured in a maze of cryo-tombs that extends for kilometres, Miles needs to call upon every ounce of his resourcefulness to survive.
Cryoburn is the most recent Vorkosigan Saga novel to focus on the series' erstwhile central figure of Miles Vorkosigan. The two more recent books (Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, published later although set earlier than Cryoburn, and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen) have focused on other characters with Miles playing a much-reduced role. So this is the last ride, maybe for a while, we get to have with Miles encountering a problem and sorting it out in his own, inimitable style.
Cryoburn is satisfying on that level, but it also sees Bujold flexing her writing skills. A lot of the book is told from the point-of-view of an 11-year-old boy, Jin, whom Miles encounters on his travels. Given the labyrinth plotting, conspiracies and feints of the average Vorkosigan book, having it filtered through the understanding of a child is challenging but Bujold pulls it off to deliver something fresh, giving us a new perspective on Miles and his world (and makes me think that a YA-focused Vorkosigan novel could actually be a very interesting read). However, the book also give us something more evolutionary and adult as well. This book is set seven years after Miles's previous adventure in Diplomatic Immunity and he is now approaching forty. He has matured a lot in that time, becoming a father several times over and is now less manic, less prone to blundering straight into situations and is more thoughtful and analytical. This is all relative to his former self, of course, and he remains the same character, but an older, more seasoned and more wary one.
Indeed, Cryoburn feels like a musing on the passing of generations, with Jin representing a new generation of children growing up in a more peaceful period of nexus history and Miles spending chunks of the book analysing his father's and grandfather's lives and what they went through. The book's musings on death, mortality and legacy also feed into this, but Bujold expertly avoids making this a maudlin or depressing book. Quite the reverse, the notion of mortality and the precious commodities of life and time are joyously celebrated...right up to the final, startling moments of the novel, which may rank among Bujold's finest-ever pieces of writing.
Cryoburn, an upbeat and uplifting book about death, is one of the stranger but stronger books in the series (****½). It is available now in the UK and USA.
Fantasy and science fiction writer Lois McMaster Bujold returns, after a few years away from it, to the science fiction series that made her name. The exploits of Miles Vorkosigan. The man short in statue but strong in mind and wit. Once mercenary, now happily married imperial auditor.
There is a fair bit of exposition in this and new readers may be able to get into it. But even so, it is the thirteenth novel in a series and thus there's a lot of back story. So start with Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan Saga).
Regular readers, read on...
This volume runs for four hundred and six pages of story [after that comes a timeline of the series plus previews of books by some other writers] and is divided into twenty chapters plus a short epilogue.
It sees Miles in the middle of a new mission. On a world that is home to a company which specialises in suspended animation. For those who have diseases that can't currently be cured and who are looking to wake up in a time when they can. Or those who just want to wake up in what will hopefully be a better future. When they seek to expand their operations into the empire, Miles is sent to check things out.
Naturally he runs into trouble, and discovers shady goings on.
Can Miles find the truth of things, and help a young orphan who loves pets and his sister be reunited with their mother?
The book begins with Miles having just escaped a kidnapping and being in something of a disoriented state. Thus it does drop the reader right in the middle of things and you can feel almost as disoriented as he does from the start. But Jin, the aforementioned orphan who comes to his aid also becomes a viewpoint character, and his is an instantly sympathetic perspective, providing someone you can feel sympathy for and who is easy to relate to.
Everything does swiftly become very readable in due course.
There are other viewpoint characters, such as Miles' armsman Roic, who does have his moments as well.
The characterisation is strong and the prose very readable and the story does zip along nicely enough. It's not the most major story in the series though. But after so long away - it being a few years since the previous volume - regular readers might just be happy to be back in this universe.
Time has passed for Miles in the interim. Whilst his family remain at home during the story and only appear briefly, that passing of time is addressed by the scene in question.
There's not a great deal of incident here and the mystery doesn't amount to much, but there are good characters who interact very nicely, and that makes for a very pleasant read.
Not the strongest book in the series by any means, but a decent return for it.
However the end does bring in a surprise development for the series as a whole. And will leave you wondering what might happen next.
The next book in the series Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Miles Vorkosigan) is due out later this year.
In the meantime: welcome back Miles. It's nice to read you again.
Ever since I picked up a book of Lois McMaster's Barrayar series in a second hand bookshop in Canada I was hooked. I gradually collected every one of the series and impatiantly wait for the next to be published.
THe latest 'Cryoburn' is another great book but I would suggest to any new reader to start with Cordelia's Honour and go from there.
Cordelia's son Miles at seventeed then became the central character of the following books and has had some great Si-fi adventures in this universe. Even visiting a futuristic Earth where an enemy agent plans to replace him with a clone. He survives and takes his replica home. He has always wanted a brother.
In his next adventure Miles is killed,frozen and resusicated which leaves him unsuitable for space duty and he is appointed as an Imperial Auditor. A roving position sorting out the Emperior's problems. This leads to a further series of adventures.
In Cryoburn he is sent to a planet where people can be frozen and await resusitation at some future time. One of the companys involved want to expand their franchise to one of the Barrayaran Emperor's planets. He sends Miles to look into the matter. Trouble follows.
on 4 April 2011
If you don't know this series, don't start here - but do start somewhere (suggest: "Cordelia's Honour") if you like quirky science fiction with strong characterisation, wit, and excellent dialogue. If you do know the series you will enjoy this one - it is well up to standard - but it does feel slightly unfinished, as if it is a bridging novel. There is clearly something else coming up.