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on 9 October 2012
Cetaganda (Vorkosigan Saga)

In the Vorkosigan Saga, which is part of the greater "Bujoldiverse" which includes "Falling Free", there are at least four different human cultures which take genetic engineering to a high level. The low-gravity-dwelling "Quaddies" of Falling Free are the creation of a spacefaring culture which is still largely Earth-based, and no sooner have low-gravity humans been created than someone invents artificial gravity fields which makes them obsolete. That is in the distant past as far as the Vorkosigan saga is concerned, though a Quaddie musician does appear in one of the tales.

Beta colony has advanced genetic manipulation, mainly employed, it seems, to create a new gender for Betans to be sexually permissive about, and genetic engineering of the most dubious kind is a monopoly held by one of the vilest criminal houses of Jackson's Whole. In those cases, genetic engineering and all its products merely reflect the nature of those societies. Cetaganda, however, which in most of the Saga is seen simply as a militaristic and aggressive galactic empire, turns out to be a genetic project of the highest order. The empire is ruled by the "Haut" who are busy designing themselves, and not just their underlings, to better rule and colonise ever more of the galaxy.

For Barrayar, the home planet of the Vorkosigan family, its time of galactic isolation and technological backwardness ended with the bang of a Cetaganda invasion (by Cetaganda's "Ghem" warlord and artist class), brutal occupation, and bitter war of independence, during which enough Cetagandan nuclear weapons were used to make large tracts of land uninhabitable and for mutations to be a real problem and a social horror. Cetaganda is not only the defeated oppressor, but its culture is based on altering human form and nature, which most Barrayans would recoil from.

On the death of the Cetagandan Dowager Empress, who turns out to be much more important than outlanders ever knew, the Barrayan Emperor Gregor sends Miles Vorkosigan, his foster-brother, and Ivan Vorpatril, their mutual cousin, to represent him at the inevitable state funeral. It has only been a couple of years since Miles discovered a Cetagandan plot to invade a colony, Vervain, which was then thwarted by a Barrayan fleet commanded by his father. His grandfather having led the army which expelled the Cetagandan occupiers from Barrayar itself. There couldn't be a more diplomatically sensitive occasion, nor a more sensitive diplomat.

Within seconds of docking at an orbital station over the Cetaganda capital, Eta Ceta, Miles and Ivan are embroiled in a dangerous plot to overthrow the current Cetagandan Emperor and, indeed, change the whole direction of planned development for Cetagandan society, which will make it even more of a threat to Barrayar in the long term. Assuming that the plotters don't succeed in using Miles as a pretext for a more immediate war with Barrayar.

What follows is the usual ripping yarn of Miles Vorkosigan winging it through high politics and low violence by luck and instinct, with Ivan, informed by a dangerous childhood growing up with Miles, trying to stay out of the political trouble which Miles attracts and get himself as deep as possible into the sort of trouble represented by numerous lovely Ghem ladies. What is unusual, for this saga, is the intricacy of the world imagined and described, and the complexity and galactic importance of the plots and undercurrents which Miles encounters, and, with typical foolhardiness, attempts to manipulate in what he perceives to be the best interests of Barrayar and Vervain. (It takes but a single meeting with a female anthropologist, twice their age, from Vervain,to have Miles and Ivan seeing Vervain's interests as being just as important as Barrayar's.)

And the ruling Haut ladies, when Miles finally sees one (something hardly any outlander ever does), turn out to be even more compelling than Ivan's hareem of willing Ghem ladies.

Along the way, it is apparent that the Cetagandan fashion for Ghem lords and ladies to compete for the attention of the Haut by engaging in competitive genetic engineering for purely artistic effect, is capable of creating both exquisite beauty and abominations in Barrayan eyes to rival any horror made on Jackson's Whole for the amusement of its crime lords and their clients. A kitten tree, for example.

As ever, the Vorkosigans and the Vor class in general, appear to have walked out of one of Tamara De Lempicka's portrait's of Czarist Russian military aristocracy, but this is really about their Cetagandan counterparts, whom Miles ought to hate, and doesn't.

There's an imaginative vision of a very different human culture here, not just as Cetaganda stands at the time of the novel, but as it's meant by the Haut to become, and the intriguing possibility that Cetaganda may be more important for the long-term future of the Bujoldiverse than Barrayar and the Vorkosigans.
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on 5 April 1997
This is another installment in the continuing adventures of Miles Vorkosigan. If you haven't read any of the Vorkosigan stories before, this might not be the one to start with... it assumes some knowledge of the characters and their world, and it's also rather lightweight compared to the other books in the series. You might want to check out "Borders of Infinity" or "The Warrior's Apprentice" first. Still, this is a pretty good book (even lightweight Bujold is well worth reading), with an intriguingly offbeat take on genetic engineering. The Cetagandans are a culture dominated by one of the oldest SF canards of all, a genetically-engineered master race. The novel twist here is that the haut-lords are not your ordinary genetic supermen (super-strong, super-smart, etc.). They have designed themselves to be *aesthetically* superior... intelligent, yes, but more importantly, beautiful, charismatic, and with a superhuman sense of aesthetic appreciation. They rule (quite effectively) by manipulation and charisma rather than force. The interesting result is a warlike culture ruled by, well, movie stars. The book is somewhat flawed by a rather clunky murder mystery, but the Cetagandan culture is interesting, and there are some extremely funny bits. Any fan of Miles Vorkosigan will want this one to round out the collection.
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on 12 July 1997
For the first book to be read in the Vorkosigan series, this book is truly a masterpiece for Lois McMaster Bujold. You don't have to read the prequels to Miles Vorkosigan to understand his character and situation.

In Cetaganda, Miles is faced with a political overthrow while trying to "soak" up cultural awareness on the orders of Emperor Gregor. Little did he know that he would be swept into a beautiful lady's court, a police officer's suspect list, a Cetagandan's assassination list, and the Cetagandan culture itself.

But true to the Vorkosigan nature, Miles became the hero of an empire; but, it just wasn't the empire he was expecting.
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Miles Vorkosigan visits Eta Ceta, the homeworld and capital of the empire that formerly ruled his own planet, as a diplomatic envoy. What starts off as a fairly routine job - representing his world at a state funeral - escalates into a clandestine battle of wits between Miles and an unknown Cetagandan enemy who is trying to frame Barrayar for a crime and reignite hostilities between their two empires. Miles has to find and defeat this foe without offending his hosts or shaming his own world.

Cetaganda is the fifth novel (by chronology) in The Vorkosigan Saga and the shortest to date, clocking in at only around 250 pages. It's a slight story, and feels more like an expanded short story than a fully-fleshed out novel.

On the successful side of things, Bujold brings her trademark wit and readability to the story. To use a lazy reviewing tactic, if you liked the previous books in this series, you'll probably like this one as well. However, Bujold is arguably unsuccessful in really making the Cetagandans (here making their first on-page appearance after many frequent mentions) an impressive, convincing society. The Cetagandan Empire is ruled under a bewildering array of rules relating to male/female relations, genetic engineering and social function, which is all fine until you realise it would be too easy to topple the whole thing if enough people decided they didn't want to play along (as indeed almost happens in this novel).

More damaging is the fact that Bujold does not complicate Miles's story enough. Every time something bad happens, Miles immediately shifts it to his advantage, and he is never on the back foot for more than a paragraph or two. With a long series based around one character you have to constantly be on the look-out for that character becoming too infallible or invulnerable, and that nearly happens to Miles here.

Still, even a sub-par Vorkosigan novel remains a fun, if lightweight, read. Cetaganda (***½) is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus.
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The plot (without giving away spoilers): the Dowager Empress of Cetaganda has died, and Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin Ivan are despatched to attend the funereal ceremonies - as representatives of the Cetagandans heriditary enemies, the Barrayarans. Immediately upon arrival they are handed a mysterious artefact by someone who is murdered, soon after - and trouble ensues. Not just ordinary trouble (which seems to accompany Miles wherever he goes) but interplanetary trouble... multiple and dangerous cross-currents, plots and unexpected, um... relationships abound. The Barrayaran Ambassador gets more than normally exasparated with his two young trainee diplomats!

My opinion: hugely enjoyable, and superior to most other SF or space opera that I know - in that it is smart, complicated and fallking into place(s) in a *very* satisfactory way, exasparating, tense, moving. Very well-plotted, with delicious writing and fully-fledged 3-D people inhabiting a convincing, and fascinating, universe. Bujold has a knack of springing shock surprises on you (and her protagonists) that leave you reeling, mentally, and soon thereafter nodding your head at the convoluted logic of it all. Terrific stuff, and hugely enjoyable, in the way of Modesty Blaise, say, with a dash of Vance, Heinlein and Leiber.
Anybody who doesn't know the Vorkosigan series should start at the beginning ('Shards of honor') and work their way through; anybody who knows Miles will find him in full flight and top form.
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on 6 March 1998
This is another entertaining book in the Vorkosigan series. The part that appealed to me most is the new worlds and civilizations that Bujold dreams up and how the hero deals with them. All the worlds have human beings, but the cultures are different, even bizarre, but always entertaining.
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on 3 August 2011
Miles tries his hand at another bit of detective work again in this one. He's on a diplomatic mission to Cetaganda with his 'a bit thick but handsome' cousin. He's not even off the shuttle before he's knee deep in intrigue, and murder, dodging potentially fatal traps as he goes. Spending time in Miles head is always enjoyable and fun. I also enjoyed trying to imagine how beautiful the Cetagandan Haut women were. Probably similar to trying to imagine what Galadriel looked like - an enjoyable exercise but ultimately a futile one.
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on 1 April 2014
Bujold's universe, entirely peopled by what humans might become, is so imaginative. And Miles Vorkosigan is one of the most original heroes in fiction. I love this book and the whole Vorkosigan saga.
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on 12 June 2007
Bujold's great achievement is to write classical space opera, with all the fun that involves, while cleverly challenging its assumptions and cliches.

In the earlier (chronologically) Vor books the Cetagandans appear as just your typical Evil Empire. Here we learn that there is much more to them than Imperial Storm Troopers, and Miles learns to understand them and even work with them - not just for his own world's advantage, but because mutant super-imperialists are people too.
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on 25 December 2013
I do, of course, own all the books. Well who doesn't? But I lost this one during a house move and so I had the perfect excuse to buy again a book I have already bought. So what should I do now? Do you think I should go and dig out my books from a box of books? Or should I give in to the ultimate indulgence and buy them for my kindle? Well it is Christmas after all.
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