Miles Vorkosigan is at it again, merrily planning (and attempting to execute) a very exacting military campaign. The only trouble is, the military objective is inducing his new-found lady love Ekaterin to marry him. His plan includes notable pieces of strategy: not to be too obvious about it, as she is still in mourning for her late husband (see the earlier book Komarr for details); keep other suitors well away; make sure there are frequent opportunities for the two to be in each other's presence; ensure that she becomes aware of all the niceties that would entail from marrying into one of the noblest families on Barrayar. Each piece of his plan, though, runs into one minefield after another, and as he puts emergency stop-losses in place, his situation continuously deteriorates, culminating in a dinner where absolutely everything goes wrong. The dinner may be the high point of this book - the person who can read this section and not fall over laughing, cringing, and crying all at the same time isn't a real human being. For this book is not about military action, political plots, or single-handed world-saving, but is rather a very witty comedy. The picture of Miles making just about every mistake a lovelorn suitor can is both marvelously funny and very believable, and the picture of Barrayaran society is solidly fleshed out, making the whole a perfect environment in which to play out such a comedy of manners. As usual, Bujold keeps several plot threads spinning at once, whose resolution, while (for once) not at all earth-shaking, makes for a nicely unified wholeness to the basic story. In another departure for Bujold, this story is told from several viewpoints, not just Miles', which adds a lot to the reader's perspective of the society and situation, and also allows for much greater character development of Ivan Vorpatril, Mark (Miles' clone brother), and Ekaterin than has been the case with previous books in this series. Perhaps my only real objection to this book was that some of the side plots from the main story just didn't seem to have enough importance and weren't detailed enough to make me really get involved with them, so that their major effect on the final outcome seemed to be larger than justified and a little bit of a surprise. This is a pretty minor quibble, though. Nominated for the 2000 Hugo award, this is a fine entertaining read, full of chuckles and belly-laughs, managing to make Miles into a normal human being without totally losing his aura of impossible competence, engaging and heart-warming. Possibly the best of all the Vorkosigan books.
"A Civil Campaign" is described by its author as "A Comedy of Biology & Manners" and is dedicated to Jane, Charlotte, Georgette, and Dorothy* (long may they rule). This alone should tell us that it crosses genres - brilliantly. It is a Regency romance set in the 31st Century on a distant planet, it is a true Science Fictional study of the effects on society of several different biotechnologies, and it is a work of great humour. Do not read Chapter 9 (the dinner party) in any place where loud sustained laughter might be embarrassing.
The action of this book, which takes place on the Imperial Planet of Barrayar during the run-up to the marriage of the Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, occurs late in the Vorkosigan series but it is an excellent introduction to it - it is a tribute to the author's skill that any book in the series can be read on its own without any sense of something missing.
When I re-read one of Lois Bujold's books, I am delighted by all the little details I had forgotten. She is a master craftsman, her characters always seem real (villains have their virtues and heroes their vices), and she does not overlook the smallest detail of language or plot.
This is a book to read and reread, but I shall not spoil the delight of a first reading by attempting to summarise the plot without revealing the surprises. I shall simply say that if you have never read anything by Lois you have a treat in store, and if you have read some of her other works this is one of the best.
The Miles Vorkosigan series of adventures is probably the most amusing comedy science fiction series ever written. This is the ninth Miles Vorkosigan adventure, and in my opinion the funniest book in the series.
It is slightly different from the other ten books in the series - the first eight and the last two all have elements of action adventure, mystery and detection. This one, on the other hand, can best be understood as a regency romantic farce set several hundred years in the future on a planet which in some ways is used to high technology and in others is a quasi-feudal militaristic Empire.
The Miles Vorkosigan stories, and four other books set in the the same future universe, can stand on their own. However, a number of them, of which this is one, will give you something extra if you have previously read some of Bujold's books set earlier on the same timeline.
If you have not previously met Lord Miles Vorkosigan, he is
1) a brilliant intriguer who at one stage was juggling at least three identities; 2) physically very small, having been injured in his mother's womb by poison gas; 3) a former spy for Imperial Barrayan security, former mercenary admiral and present "Imperial Auditor"; 4) desperately trying to find a wife; and 5) hysterically funny to read about.
The book is set in the run-up to the wedding of Miles' cousin the Emperor. Several other people are thinking about love and marriage, including Miles himself, who is very much in love with Ekaterin who he met in the previous book, "Komarr".
His friend Duv Galeni, his brother Mark, and his cousin Ivan also have their own romantic plans, and their various romantic intrigues collide not only with each other, but with those of various scheming nobles who are fighting over the inheritance of two titles, Ekaterin's idiotic relatives, and two luckless Escobarran policemen.
At one point, Miles' mother Cordelia has to sort out the angry parents of his friends the Koudelka sisters. If you want to understand some of the references here, you will have to read the story of how the previous generation of Vorkosigans and Koudelkas got together, which can be found in the books "Shards of Honour" and "Barrayar." These two books have been publised separately, and also together as "Cordelia's honour".
Sound complicated? It is. That's why there is something to be said for reading these stories in sequence. Having said that, you can read this on its' own and it is still funny.
The story of the romance between Miles' parents: "Shards of Honour" "Barrayar"
As mentioned above, these books have also been published together in one volume as Cordelia's Honor
The Miles Vorkosigan adventures:
"The Warrior's Apprentice (Vorkosigan)" "The Vor game" "Borders of Infinity" (comprises three linked novellas) "Cetaganda" "Brothers in Arms" "Mirror Dance" "Memory" "Komarr" "A Civil Campaign" "Diplomatic Immunity" "Cryoburn"
Finally, there are two stand-alone adventures which give two of Miles' friends and supporting characters a chance to take centre stage. His friend Elli Quinn, a beautiful woman, meets a doctor from a world populated entirely by gay men in "Ethan of Athos."
most recently published and set between "Diplomatic Immunity" and "Cryoburn," Miles' cousin and "straight man" Ivan Vorpatril, who rather unfairly comes over as a bit of a duffer in most of the books because he is usually in Miles' shadow, gets his own chance to be the hero in "Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures)" (CVA) which is very nearly as funny as this book.
All these books prior to the two most recent (Cryoburn and CVA) have also been republished in a set of omnibus volumes containing two or more of the original novels or novellas. I have already mentioned "Cordelia's Honour" and the other omnibus volumes are
Readers of previous Vorkosigan books will know how Bujold has been able to combine a cracking adventure yarn with serious issues (as in the best in the series, Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance). Even as Miles has retired from his mercenary fleet, Bujold has kept the series fresh by involving him in the fascinating political scheming of Barrayar and its neighboring worlds (in Memory and Komarr). While A Civil Campaign might seem to be a throwaway volume, focusing on the imperial wedding and Miles's own romantic frustrations, Bujold has managed to fill it with still more political intrigue, interesting ideas on gender issues, and more character development for Miles, as his romantic hopes can only be fulfilled by using strategies different to those which have brought him success in the past. His love interest, Ekaterin, is also a fully developed character, and clone brother Mark and his friend Kareen get much attention as well. Then there's the comic scenes--Bujold has hinted at a skill for these in the past, but the chapters on Miles's first dinner party are classic! While A Civil Campaign is different in tone from other books in the series, it's still written to as high a standard. I hate waiting for the next volume!
This is quite simply a great book. Even allowing for the fact that I am a “fan” of Bujold’s work this one and ‘Memory’ stand out from all the others. Where ‘Memory’ felt plot driven ‘A Civil Campaign’ carries as compelling a plot but through words which are worth reading and re-reading time and again. This is the only book I will open just to read a favourite paragraph, whether it be “Lately I’ve come to realise that the principle difference between heaven and hell is the company you keep there” or “The only way you win that war is to start with unconditional surrender.” As for the plot, well it’s not one which brings huge surprises, boy meets girls etc. but in this case it’s padded out with a number of complications and satisfyingly complex subplots and additional characters. Bujold re-introduces a new major character whose point of view we are given and fleshes out some of the minor characters we’ve grown used to. Of course for Bujold a minor character seems to have the care and attention other authors can’t even get for their major characters. Readers used to Miles’ adventures will enjoy this hugely, bringing one stage of Miles’ life to a significant point and to some extent marking him reaching his adulthood. I can’t help feeling though that to enjoy it as much as I did readers would benefit from having read all the previous books. That’s not a criticism, simply an observation which I believe is true of many long running series. Considering what a joy that is I strongly suggest you turn on 1-click and get ordering, especially as the first two books are now collected into a single volume and you won’t have to wait a year for the next instalment!
A fantastic book! Miles has faced many difficult tasks in the past but none so difficult as trying to court Ekaterin without letting her know about it. Not to mention the problems with butter bugs and the world of politics! This book is very funny (don't read in public unless you want people to stare at you when you start laughing), but in places it is also heart-breaking. It is told from several people's point-of-view, which allows us to get a different view of Miles than we had before, and gives us insights into other characters, including Ivan - who tries *so* hard to be an innocent bystander. You need to read Komarr, the book before A Civil Campaign, for this book to make sense, but if you've read all the Vorkosigan books you will appreciate more of the 'insider comments' such as the effect one particular couch in Vorkosigan House library can have on Kou and Drou.... Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the top writers in sf. I would recommend the whole series to anyone - they may appear to be standard 'space opera' but they are in fact so much more than just that.
Associate Reviewer David Brown writes: Lord Miles Vorkosigan, a recent galactic covert agent & now the youngest Imperial Auditor appointed since the Time of Isolation, is madly in love with the beautiful Vor widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson. She is violently allergic to marriage as a result of her first exposure & Miles comes up with a cunning plan. Both his clone brother & cousin have also devised cunning plans to catch the loves of their dreams & that's when the fun begins. Fun is what A Civil Campaign is all about! Miles' universe is a rich one: food, drink, atmosphere & relationships. Would I like to be Miles? Absolutely not! Do I like to read about him, oh yes! In case you haven't got it by now & you're muttering: "Well, is he recommending this book or not?" I am, I am, I am! When I read about Miles Vorkosigan I laugh, I cry, I call him stupid & then I'm immensely pleased when he finds his way out of his dilemma. Definitely world-class science fiction with a comedic twist.
Gregor Vorbarra, Emperor of Barrayar, is due to wed Laisa, an heiress from the (reluctant) Imperial client-world of Komarr. For the Emperor's diminutive cousin Miles Vorkosigan, the great social event provides the perfect cover for his courtship of the Lady Ekaterin Vorsoisson. Unfortunately, events are complicated by the complicated love life of Miles's clone-brother Mark, two landmark legal disputes in the Barrayaran Court...and a whole ton of butter-producing bugs.
A Civil Campaign (subtitled A Comedy of Biology and Manners) was originally conceived by Lois McMaster Bujold as the second half of Komarr. However, she separated the two books out for reasons of length (A Civil Campaign is the longest novel in the series by itself) and also for tone. Komarr is a serious book but A Civil Campaign is a romantic comedy that at times descends into flat-out farce.
It's hard enough to carry off romance or comedy or science fiction by themselves, so for Bujold to tackle all three genres in the same novel suggests either cast-iron confidence or outright insanity. After completing the book, the key to its success seems to be a bit of both. A Civil Campaign is flat-out crazy, a dramatic change in tone from the rest of the series to date. For starters, the novel has five POV characters, which is unusual given that most books in the series have just one, Miles himself. This novel adds Mark, Ivan, Kareen Koudelka (Mark's own romantic interest) and Ekaterin to the mix. This makes for a busier and more tonally varied novel than any of the preceding ones. Even more interesting is how Bujold mixes up the POV storylines: the normally frivolous Ivan gets the serious, political stuff to deal with whilst the emotionally-scarred, PTSD-suffering Mark gets the farcical butter-bug storyline to handle. Expectations are subverted throughout with great skill.
Most intriguingly, this is a novel about adults, relationships and how damaged people can help (or hurt, if they are not careful) one another or choose their own paths through life. Through comedy, tragedy, horror and humour, Bujold builds up each of her POV characters (and numerous supporting ones) and deconstructs them in a manner that is impressive and enjoyable to read.
That said, a key subplot revolves around a disputed succession between a dead lord's daughter and nephew, with Barrayar's laws of male inheritance favouring his nephew...until his daughter gets a sex-change. The resulting legal maelstrom is the result of a collision between fantasy cliche and common sense (and Barrayar has always felt it had more in common with Westeros than an SF setting) and signals an impending transformation in the planet's social order. It's also - arguably - the novel's sole misstep, with Bujold uncharacteristically more interested in the legal and political ramifications rather than the character-based ones. That isn't to say that Donna/Dono isn't a fascinating character, but it feels like Bujold did not engage with the issues raised by the gender reassignment with as much as depth as she might have done.
There is some action in the book (a single shoot-out, which feels a bit incongruous given the tone of the novel, and a more farcical, Bugsy Malone-esque battle sequence involving tubs of bug-butter) but primarily A Civil Campaign (****½) is a comedy of manners, a grown-up romance and a great big coming-together of almost every major subplot and character in The Vorkosigan Saga to date. It's a terrific read.
I now buy Lois Bujold in hardback since I couldn't bear waiting once I'd seen the sample chapters (still on website Baen.com). I am now buying paperback copies for friends and family. LMB's writing skill improves with every book, this is another Miles Vorkosigan adventure for the many admirers of the hyperactive dwarf but this time set in the middle of the politics of his home planet as he tries to court the widow he met in _Komarr_ (also recommended), play his part as his cousin the Emperor finally gets married and everyone around him refuses to do what his cunning plans require. The author's skill in describing Miles's disaster of a dinner party amazed me as I reached the climax, weak with laughter. It is seriously unwise to read this book while eating or drinking, damage to keyboards may occur. Brother Mark also has a plan, involving a galactic scientist who Mark had bailed from the wrath of the shareholders who find he has sold them 500 % of the company to provide funds for his great idea. The impact of biological advances on society drives this and a number of sub-plots and Miles's parents Cordelia and Aral get some good lines and scenes as they try to overcome the "will to stupidity" (Cordelia) inherent in human nature.
Witty without being self-conscious, funny but not silly, this novel about Miles Vorkosigan's "campaign" to marry Ekaterin is the rest of the story which started with "Komarr" (the events in Komarr occur just before the start of "A Civil Campaign"). There are other, earlier novels about Miles but he was only a baby in the only others I have read in this series (Shards of Honour and Barrayar) so I don't think you need to read all of them to make sense of this one. Miles' attempts to court Ekaterin do not work out as he expects, at least not at first. In the meantime his "clone-brother" Mark also has a girlfriend with her own ideas, picked up from the free-and-easy planet Beta, and the subsidiary characters are very enjoyable - funny without being caricatures. The humour is sophisticated and sometimes sly. I am not interested in descriptions of alien technology or battles in space and this book has none of these at all. There is political intrigue and a subtle and realistic interweaving of future technology and human behaviour in a modern feudal society. All done with a light touch and so well-written you feel you have met the characters in real life, or wish you could.