Sci-Fi Month 2019: KOMARR, by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth


For the first time in this series, the narrative perspective does not belong uniquely to Miles, because he shares it – in alternating chapters – with a new character whose point of view on Miles allows us readers to see him in a somewhat different, if equally intriguing, light.

It’s been a few months since the events shown in Memory, and the newly-minted Lord Auditor Vorkosigan departs for Komarr together with senior Auditor Vorthys to investigate an accident that partially destroyed the planet’s soletta array, the orbiting mirror assembly that supplies the planet with the light and warmth its meager sun cannot provide. While the older man is tasked with the inspection of the mechanics of the accident, which claimed several lives, Miles, thanks to his former ImpSec training, researches the possibilities of human mischief, since it’s not yet clear if what happened originated from mere fatality or planned sabotage.

During their stay on-planet the two Auditors are guests of Vorthys’ niece Ekaterin Vorsoisson, and it does not take long for Miles to detect the tense undercurrents between the woman and her husband Etienne, the administrator of the Komarran terraforming project. Etienne, an intractable, overbearing individual, has been diagnosed with a genetic degenerative disorder, but being a Barrayaran through and through he’s not only loath to admit openly to the mutation, but keeps delaying the cure that would solve his problem and also safeguard his and Ekaterin’s son Nikki from the same fate. As we meet her, Ekaterin has all but buried her personality and desires under the double weight of fear for her family’s future and Etienne’s mood swings: love for her husband has long gone, but she keeps faith to her marriage vows out of a firm belief in her duty as a Vor.

Love was long gone, in her. She got by on a starvation diet of loyalty these days.

In the course of the investigation it becomes clear that there is much more than accident or sabotage at play and as the scattered pieces of the puzzle slowly come together into an ominous picture, some unpalatable truths come to the fore, giving Ekaterin the strength to take back control of her life and to show her true mettle, the spirit she has suppressed for so long. And of course Miles finds himself powerfully attracted to this woman who seems so different from the warrior type represented by Elena Bothari, Elli Quinn or Taura, but possesses her own kind of fighting spirit he cannot fail to respond to.

The mystery at the center of this novel is certainly an intriguing one, and it’s also quite different from the usual “dastardly plot” Miles faces in all his adventures because it touches on the theme of freedom from oppression (either actual or simply perceived) and paints the antagonists in shades of gray rather than in starker, less hazy tones. Still, the best part of Komarr comes from the characterization, something Bujold knows how to exploit for the best: for once Miles shares the spotlight with another equally intriguing character, and it would not be wrong to say that this novel concerns more Ekaterin’s journey than Miles’, even though here we see him in a new, different light – a more sedate, more thoughtful person who is learning to balance the power of his Auditor’s role with his inner sense of fairness.

Ekaterin Vorsoisson is, at the beginning, a woman trapped into an abusive marriage – not in the physical sense, but rather in the psychological one: her husband, in perfect old-Vor fashion, is the supreme ruler of the household, and the kind of person who likes to exert at home the kind of iron control he lacks in his public life. Yet Ekaterin is not a victim because the choice of staying with Etienne is based on personal honor, on duty perceived not as a burden but as a responsibility, so that what might look like meekness requires instead a great inner strength, the same strength she is able to draw on once she discovers that honor and duty were flowing in one direction only. That’s when the real Ekaterin, the one that was subsumed by the ever-compliant wife, takes back control of her existence and takes action: at first only where her personal life is concerned, and later when though decisions are required of her. If I had not already admired her at that point, I would have come around seeing how she was able to save herself instead of waiting for the proverbial knight to come to her rescue.

As for Miles, now that he has dismissed the role of Admiral Naismith and can be only himself, Lord Vorkosigan, he looks less hyperactive, more at ease in his own skin: Auditor duties still require the application of his keen intelligence, and the mystery of the partially destroyed array is the kind of challenge he enjoys, although he looks far more grounded than in his days with the Dendarii – days he still recalls with fondness but with no apparent lingering nostalgia, understanding they were only a part of the path that brought him where he is now.

“I’ve made a lot of grievous mistakes in my life, getting here, but . . . I wouldn’t trade my journey now. I’d be afraid of making myself smaller.”

Something is still missing in this picture, though, a woman willing to share his love for Barrayar and the life he intends to forge there for himself: Elena wanted only to fly from her culture’s restrictions, and Elli would never accept a planet-bound life, so that when Miles senses Ekaterin’s basic loneliness resonate with his own, it seems unavoidable that he would be attracted to this seemingly unattainable woman. For someone like me who tends to look with wariness on romantic entanglements, the slowly growing attachment between Ekaterin and Miles is a joy to behold, because it comes in small, tentative increments and still holds a great deal of uncertainty from both of them: the way Bujold develops this new path in Miles’ life feels very natural, and totally believable, especially since it stems from the acknowledgement of a kindred soul in need of support. I like to think that Miles responds not to any perceived weakness on Ekaterin’s part, but instead to the hidden well of strength he knows is there.

You have just experienced destruction; I know survival. Let me help.

Once again Lois McMaster Bujold has achieved a charming blend of a sci-fi environment with human interest angles and masterful characterizations that turn this new direction in Miles’ life into an adventure as intriguing as any of his previous escapades.


My Rating:


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Sci-Fi Month 2019: MEMORY, by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth


There is an interesting phrase about having to deal with one’s past that mentions mistakes which sooner or later come back to bite us in the behind, and that’s what happens to Miles in this novel, one of my favorites in the saga and the consolidation of the story’s more serious tone that started to appear in Mirror Dance, the previous book.

After being mortally wounded, cryo-frozen, misplaced and finally rescued in the course of the latest Dendarii operation, Miles is back in his position as Admiral Naismith with the mercenary outfit, but all is not well with him: an unexpected side effect of  the emergency cryo-freezing left him plagued with seizures which occur at unpredictable intervals, and during one of these episodes he accidentally fires on the person his team rescued, causing a grievous wound and making it clear that the seizures are not a passing phenomenon he can blithely ignore any longer.  Back on Barrayar, Miles doctors his report to intelligence’s chief Illyan to make the accident look like an equipment malfunction, but his lie is discovered and Illyan forces him to resign – on medical terms, to avoid the disgrace that the dishonorable lie would have entailed.

Lost and rudderless, Miles faces a time of bleak despair from which he comes out only when Illyan starts to show worrisome mental symptoms that soon turn out as the result of sabotage to his memory chip: on the emperor’s orders, Miles heads the investigation and applies his unique skills to uncovering the complicated plot, while finding a new channel for his energies and intelligence and a new lease on life – not in the direction he had dreamed of in his youth, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Memory is a book with many themes, and if the more prominent one turns out to be the investigation on Illyan’s mysterious illness, the character development angle – both for Miles and for the other players – offers many fascinating opportunities for thought.

Over the years, Miles has found a way to compensate his physical inadequacies by building himself the persona of Admiral Naismith, the charismatic leader of the Dendarii mercenaries, a fictional creation which allowed him to show the power of mind over matter, that a crippled body does not equate with a crippled mind. The success of the mercenary fleet – secretly enrolled by the Barrayaran government for all sorts of covert operations – has also allowed Miles Vorkosigan to obtain the recognition he craved at home, even though these ventures are classified, because the people who matter to him, like his father, emperor Gregor, and so on, are aware of his exploits. But as the novel opens, Miles is painfully aware that his body might be betraying him, and that losing the Dendarii, losing Naismith, he will be left with very little indeed.

Naismith had all the life. But Naismith was dead now—killed by that needle grenade on Jackson’s Whole after all, though the double-take of realization had required a full year to run its course.

And when Miles, no matter the identity her wears, finds himself in a corner, his first reaction is to change the rules of the game, to try and cheat the odds – only this time the trick backfires and he loses everything. What follows is a very hard segment to read, because we see Miles in such a depth of despair as we never saw him before – not when he failed his first application at the Academy, not when he lost Bothari – and witnessing his stunned withdrawal from everything and everyone was actually painful, the only ray of light in the situation offered by Ivan’s intervention when he bodily drags him out of it (and I’m growing ever fonder of Ivan this time around…)

The real change, however, occurs when  Illyan’s trouble surfaces and Miles launches into the investigation with the usual unstoppable energy and a good dose of empathy and compassion: the damage to the memory chip is plaguing Illyan with both a cascade of recollections from the past and a reset of his awareness every few minutes, in something that sounds painfully close to the manifestations of Alzheimer; Miles knows intimately what it means to find himself alone and lost, with no clues about one’s identity, and the way ImpSec is dealing with its chief’s illness – a way not so dissimilar from the one once employed in mental hospitals – spurs him into angered action.

He remembered the lingering nightmare of his own bout of post-cryo-revival amnesia […] was Illyan experiencing something like that right now? Or something even more grotesque? Miles had been lost among strangers. Illyan seemed lost among what should have been friends.

It’s easy to forget your own problems when you deal with someone else’s, and when the investigation starts in earnest the story moves back into more familiar territory, with Miles running all over the place subverting traditions and disrupting dastardly plans: the mystery section of Memory is so well crafted that even though I know now who the villain was I was able to follow the progression from clue to clue with the same breathless anticipation of the first time, enjoying the way those hints were presented and their careful positioning in the narrative flow.  There is also the delightful bonus of observing the conversations between Miles and a partly recovered Illyan: both of them have experienced the deconstruction of what they used to be, and have to find a way to… reinvent themselves. To see them sharing those thoughts not as superior officer and subordinate, but as equals, is a heart-warming experience that taught me much about them as people, and I am in awe of Bujold’s skills in these wonderfully intimate moments.

Still, the best part of the overall story is the discovery that identity does not make the person, but rather is the product of what that person is, of their values, their moral code. By helping Illyan, Miles ends up helping himself, finally understanding who and what he truly is: there is a moment when he struggles under a temptation so strong that the merest nudge might cause him to fall, since he’s offered back everything he thought lost, but the recent experiences have changed him, he has now transitioned into true adulthood and acknowledged that some prices are too high, no matter the prize one might get in the end.

“The one thing you can’t trade for your heart’s desire is your heart.”

This acknowledged integrity plays an important role in Miles’ future occupation, one that does not come out of the blue but is presented with almost unobtrusive nonchalance and yet requires the severance of the ties with his past: he says goodbye to Quinn, having accepted that she will never choose to be a planet-bound Lady Vorkosigan; he leaves the Dendarii in her capable hands; and most important he decides to move into his grandfather’s suite of rooms: no longer in awe of the old man, no longer needing to prove something to him, Miles feels ready to forge his own way, not without a spark of his old cheekiness when he tells Aral:

“I am unprecedented.”

And his father replies:

“This is not news, Miles.”

We learned this a long time ago, indeed…   🙂


My Rating:


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Sci-Fi Month: MIRROR DANCE, by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth


So far, the books in the Vorkosigan Saga have been a mix of delightful fun, adventure and humor, but with Mirror Dance we step into serious drama and darkness, especially darkness of the soul, which imparts a new direction to the overall saga.  What’s more, this is one of the most engrossing novels of the series and, together with Memory, the next in line, remains my favorite of the whole Vorkosigan arc.

In the previous installment we met Mark, Miles’ clone-brother, created to fulfill a long-standing Komarran plan of vengeance, and at the end of the book the two siblings had parted ways still uncertain about how to deal with each other, although Miles had offered Mark a place on Barrayar as his brother, as part of the family.    In Mirror Dance Mark concocts a plan to save the Bharaputra clones on Jackson’s Whole, some fifty individuals created to offer a new body to various Jacksonian potentates: through a difficult procedure, the old brains would be implanted in the new bodies, offering the… wearers a new lease on life, while the clones’ brains are destined to be discarded as so much trash.

Having been cloned himself, and subjected to ruthless conditioning to impersonate Miles, Mark feels strongly about these innocents, so he poses as his progenitor and manages to depart for Jackson’s Whole with a Dendarii ship and crew for a rescue mission.  Back from a short vacation, Miles rejoins the fleet just in time to discover the scam and run in pursuit of his wayward ‘brother’.  Both missions encounter unexpected difficulties and in the course of a heated battle Miles is grievously wounded and put in cryo-stasis, only for the Dendarii to lose his cryo-pod during the hasty retreat. The frantic search for the missing Miles becomes then a convoluted dance of mirrors and deceptions while the situation becomes even more complicated by the intervention of other Jacksonian crime lords intent on exacting their revenge on Miles for his previous exploits.

The intricate, harrowing plot of Mirror Dance is a breathless succession of events where tension rarely lets up, laced as it is with uncertainties and mind-bending twists, and as such it would be an engrossing adventure read, but its real value lies in the issue of identity: for Mark as he tries to discover who he really is on his own, and for Miles as he struggles to regain the memories he’s temporarily lost after the cryo stasis.


I wanted to be Lord Mark. I just wanted to be Lord Mark. […] I just wanted to be human.


“I was a smart-ass little bastard who could think rings around the opposition, and prove it time after time. Without the brains . . .” Without the brains I’m nothing.

There is a segment – a long, excruciating segment – in which the reader doesn’t know what happened to Miles, if he’s still alive, and it’s no spoiler to confirm that he truly is, since the saga continues to feature him, but still not seeing him for that long stretch of pages, knowing nothing about his fate in such a dangerous place, is a very troubling experience and one that shows us how fond we have grown of this almost-crazy, hyperactive individual in the course of the previous books.

Yet Miles’ absence is what helps showcasing Mark’s struggle for acceptance, recognition and individuality, and his journey from tool to person. It’s not an easy road, of course, and it’s paved with a lot of pain, even physical pain as he’s subjected to horrific torture at the hands of Baron Ryoval, in one of the darkest and most disturbing narrative segments of the series. Here is where Bujold displays her skills by not focusing morbidly on the actual details but showing their effects on Mark’s psyche, and the remarkable, heart-wrenching way he finds to cope with them.  At that point I had already developed some sympathy for him, forgiving him for the foolish inciting event that caused Miles’ plight, because his desperate will to do something, to correct his mistakes, had turned him from an imperfect copy of the original into a worthy individual. But that part of the story made me feel for him with the same intensity that until now I had reserved only for Miles, and probably that process started during Mark’s sojourn on Barrayar where Cordelia and Aral’s acceptance of the young man as their other son managed to melt part of Mark’s defensive barriers – and mine towards him as well.

The Barrayar section of the story is both a much-needed interlude after the stress of the botched clone rescue operation, and the welcome return of Cordelia and Aral in person. They have always lurked in the background before, as the source components of Miles’ character, but here we finally reconnect with them while learning more about who they are through the way they deal with the possibility of having lost Miles while gaining another son. I love the conversations between them that show the differences in personality and outlook in respect of this fully-grown, unexpected son: Cordelia, in full Betan mode, is as always open to the possibilities in front of them, while Aral is more reserved and it’s easy to see how he might unconsciously believe that opening his heart to Mark could be a betrayal of Miles; it’s only when Cordelia urges him to get to know him better that he relents and gives himself permission to accept this strange… gift.

And they are not the only ones, so that this growing “circle of acceptance” seems to bolster Mark’s faith in himself as an individual – not just Miles’ copy – and ultimately compels him to lead the so-far-fruitless search for his brother, not so much as atonement for his own mistakes but because he’s starting to learn what having a family means, and he understands that this family will not be complete without Miles.   It’s a very emotional moment in a story where there are many others – real emotions wrought by a very skilled hand, like Mark’s discovery of a drunken, crying Ivan who realizes how much he misses his cousin, or the warmly sedated acceptance by Emperor Gregor, a man who knows what it means being alone among others.  Or again, Miles’ reaction as memory comes crashing back and his first thought goes to dead Sergeant Bothari: I confess my throat constricted then, as my admiration for Lois McMaster Bujold’s writing went up another notch.

It would not be far-fetched to say that in Mirror Dance both brothers face a trial by fire that leaves them profoundly changed, closer to each other and ready to establish mutual trust, and at the same time separates them as individuals, not just in physical appearance but where it most counts, in the mind.  As Mark muses at some point:

Miles would, demonstrably, lay down his life for his brother, but he did have a notable tendency to try to subsume the people around him into extensions of his own personality. I am not your annex. I am your brother. Yes. Mark rather fancied they were both going to be able to keep track of that, now.

They are truly brothers now, similar but different, and that’s the reason Mark can finally think about going home as they start their journey back to Barrayar.



My Rating:


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Sci-Fi Month 2019: BROTHERS IN ARMS, by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth


In the trend that has characterized the last few books in the series, this novel is again set on a different planet and this time it’s none other than Old Mother Earth: after the successful rescue mission on Dagoola IV, Miles and the Dendarii have suffered heavy casualties and serious damage from the enraged Cetagandans, who are hell-bent on taking revenge on Admiral Naismith for the recent defeat.  Seeking a safe harbor and a well-stocked repair dock, Miles lands on Earth – now far enough away from the more travelled space-lanes as to offer a relatively more secure hideout. And what’s even more important, the Barrayaran embassy in London should be able to release the much-needed funds required for ship repairs and medical expenses.

There is a double surprise waiting for Miles at the embassy, however: Captain Duv Galeni, the local head of Security, is a Komarran national – one of the new generation of officers that should serve as a bridge between the troubled past and the future for both Komarr and Barrayar – and he is suspicious of Miles’ double role and the real nature of the mercenary army at his command; and Ivan Vorpatril, Miles’ handsome womanizing cousin has been stationed on Earth under Galeni’s command.  A series of misunderstandings, coupled with a strange and worrisome silence from Barrayar on the matter of the money needed for repairs and the troops’ back pay, sees Miles running every which way even more frantically than usual (and we all know what usual entails for our beloved hero…), while he has to juggle his two personas – Lord Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith – without the customary distance he’s able to enjoy, to the point that the resemblance between them is noticed and commented on, causing him a great deal of panic where his cover identity is concerned.

Intrigue and complications seem to follow Miles like a shadow, and there is a great deal of both here: his ambiguous status as Lieutenant Vorkosigan, low in rank but supported by family affiliation, always made navigating the chain of command a subtle balancing act, while now the presence of Galeni as a superior officer adds a factor of uncertainty because of the edgy relationship between Barrayar and conquered Komarr and Miles’ doubts about Galeni’s trustworthiness – doubts that the delayed funds do little to dissipate.  And things get even more complicated once one of Miles’ bright ideas to explain the physical resemblance between himself and Admiral Naismith turns against him in one of the most surprising twists of the story….

As is to be expected from any novel featuring Miles Vorkosigan, Brothers in Arms quickly turns into a breakneck adventure where devious plots, daring escapades and political expediency blend seamlessly into a sequence of events that might look unbelievable even for this genre if it were not for Bujold’s admirable control of pacing and timing and her unfailing balance between comedy and more serious issues.  The latter are taking up more space of late and adding more facets and depth to the characters, especially that of Miles: as Admiral Naismith, he acknowledges the weight of responsibility for the people working under his command, and he wants the best for them – be it timely pay or the medical attention some of them badly need. He has come a long way from the swashbuckling youth who landed by accident into a mercenary outfit and took command of it with bare-faced boldness and deceit, and he feels the burden of every life lost, of every grievous wound incurred, especially after what happened on Dagoola, where he witnessed the bloody consequences of war without the safe distance allowed by giving orders from a ship’s bridge.

As Miles Vorkosigan, he still feels the need to prove himself but it’s less pressing than before: he has demonstrated his value, either as himself or as Naismith, and knows that the people who matter are aware of his accomplishments – just as they are aware he’s a loose cannon, but that’s another matter entirely… Yet he still wants – needs – desperately to belong in Barrayaran society, to offer his contribution as a Vor, and to that end he asks Elli Quinn, his executive officer, to marry him: Elli is a wonderful character, strong, capable, determined, and above all able to appreciate Miles for his keen mind and generous soul rather than for his not-so-athletic body, and while she finally represents the love interest he so far lacked, she is certainly not Vor-lady material.  I was not surprised Miles proposed: Elli shares many traits with his mother Cordelia and it’s easy to see how he might have thought that if a Betan Survey captain could mold herself into the role of a Vor countess, Elli could follow on the same path – but Quinn has other goals and priorities and above all the clarity of mind to understand that she could never adapt to Barrayaran society.

“And so you want to maroon me for the rest of my life on a, sorry, backwater dirtball that’s just barely climbed out of feudalism, that treats women like chattel—or cattle—that would deny me the use of every military skill I’ve learned in the past twelve years from shuttle docking to interrogation chemistry . . . I’m sorry. I’m not an anthropologist, I’m not a saint, and I’m not crazy.”

For the second time in his life Miles has fallen for a woman who rejects everything Barrayar stands for, and as it happened with Elena Bothari it is Barrayar that rises as a barrier between them.  Cordelia was right in saying that it’s a planet that eats its children, in that it requires many sacrifices of them, and here this harsh truth becomes even more plain when Miles reveals the reason his parents choose not to have other children, because cruel Barrayar would have forced them to reject Miles as the imperfect one, unworthy of one day becoming Count Vorkosigan, in favor of an able-bodied, untainted sibling.   This parental choice certainly increased Miles’ chances for his future role, but also enhanced his essential loneliness, a trait that often surfaces in his most maudlin moments and is expressed in the sentence “I wanted a brother” he utters at some point – which presents some intriguing possibilities given the huge surprise at the core of this book, one that will certainly have fascinating repercussions in the future.

Miles’ adventures would not be the same without the presence of his long-suffering cousin Ivan, and it’s only right to focus on him for a while, because like other characters he reaches better definition here in Brothers in Arms, not only as Miles’ unwilling partner in crime, but as someone who only plays at being foolish, to shift attention away from himself – and in Barrayaran society that might very well be a survival trait.  There are several instances in which Ivan replies with pointed quips which reveal his sharp intelligence under the fatuous façade, but the more interesting moments are those in which he recalls the outlandish childhood escapades in which Miles was the mastermind, while Ivan and Elena unfailingly ended up in trouble – if anyone wondered how Miles came by his present outrageous schemes, they need look no farther than that shared childhood….

With this novel, Bujold takes us into the more complicated, more profound part of her saga, where serious issues take precedence over happy-go-lucky adventures, and while the entertainment factor of the story remains the same, the complexities of plot and characterization become more fascinating, and I truly look forward to revisiting the next books.


My Rating:


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Sci-Fi Month 2019: THE BORDERS OF INFINITY, by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth


This is the more serious story in the series so far, one where even the trademark Miles Vorkosigan wit fizzles down in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation.

As the novella opens, Miles, together with a small group of people, is being herded by Cetagandan guards into a prison camp: the other inmates are all Marilacan troops, captured in the course of the war between the two planetary governments, and for a while one might wonder what Miles is doing here, and how he was captured – but since Marilac and Barrayar are allies and our favorite Vor heads a mercenary fleet, it’s easy to form an idea about the how and why…

Dagoola IV is a barely habitable planet chosen by the Cetagandans for their POW camp, one where no guards or constant patrols are needed because the inmates are held under a transparent dome where light shines constantly and there are no privacy or means of escape. What Miles finds is an extremely deteriorated situation: the strongest prisoners have banded together to prey on the weakest, and the appalling living conditions have caused most of them to regress to a more primitive, more animalistic state.  Miles, due to his very unprepossessing appearance, is immediately targeted by the worst local bullies, and finds himself literally naked, having been robbed of the few items allowed to each prisoner – clothes, sleeping mat and drinking cup – and savagely beaten.  Having made contact with an inmate who seems slightly deranged, the only one willing to talk to him, Miles starts with him on what turns out to be a recruiting operation of sorts, that will ultimately bring his plan to fruition – because of course he has a plan 🙂

As foolishly over the top as this adventure goes, in pure Miles Vorkosigan style, there is a definite darker side to the story, a pall of despair and hopelessness that is not completely lifted even in the end, when success smiles on the seemingly impossible enterprise despite the inevitable price to be paid.  The darkness comes from understanding how easy human nature can be debased when the conditions are right – or rather wrong – and from the realization that what is happening on Dagoola might very well be a sort of Cetagandan experiment, one that this time does not focus on gene engineering but rather on psychological manipulation.  The same exquisite care we saw the Cetagandans apply to the creation of their perfect gardens with singing frogs and artfully arranged flowers can be seen here in its more twisted, more blood-chilling expression: a transparent cage in which the captives are used more or less like rats in a maze, with a few calibrated stimuli applied to elicit the desired responses.  It’s worth relaying Miles’ musings about the whole setup:

Subtle torture . . . Miles reviewed the Interstellar Judiciary Commission’s rules for the treatment of POW’s, to which Cetaganda was a signatory. So many square meters of space per person, yes, they were certainly supplied with that. No prisoner to be solitarily confined for a period exceeding twenty-four hours—right, no solitude in here except by withdrawal into madness. No dark periods longer than twelve hours, that was easy, no dark periods at all, the perpetual glare of noon instead. No beatings—indeed, the guards could say with truth that they never laid a hand on their prisoners. They just watched, while the prisoners beat each other up instead. Rapes, even more strictly forbidden, doubtless handled the same way.

In a similar situation, it’s not so strange to see how even Miles falls prey to pessimism and despair, and there is a brief moment when it might seem as if he’s headed in the same direction as other inmates who have lost all hope and given up on survival – or escape. Not the kind of attitude we saw in him before, even in the worst circumstances, and that, more than anything else, can give us the measure of what the prisoners endured in that camp.

If we need some suspension of disbelief to accept the fact that a lone person – a small, naked, defenseless individual – would be able to rouse a few thousand disheartened prisoners and turn them into a cohesive force able to assist in their rescue, what is far easier to accept is that Miles possesses the kind of personality that brings other people to trust him: the strength of his convictions, founded on the sense of honor and responsibility he inherited from both parents, makes people listen to him, trust and believe him.  And this time around I found myself thinking that it’s a good thing for Barrayar – or for the whole galaxy, at that – that he has no ambition to rule, otherwise he might just as easily turn into the kind of tyrant whose power extends over vast populations just on the strength of his word.

Once again, Lois McMaster Bujold offers us much food for thought under the guise of adventure, and the seriousness of the situation adds some new facets to Miles’ personality, balancing out his usual posturing with some very welcome depth.


My Rating:


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Sci-Fi Month 2019: LABYRINTH, by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth


With this novella about one of Miles’ adventures as “Admiral Naismith” of the Dendarii mercenaries, Lois McMaster Bujold takes us to another planet in the Galactic Nexus, Jackson’s Whole, where everything is for sale, literally everything as long as the price is right.  Think of a pirate den of old, but imbued with any kind of evil imaginable, and you will have a pale idea of what this place is: weapon sales, money laundering, genetic manipulation and creation of slaves “tailored” to one’s needs, no matter how base.

Miles’s mission consists in meeting with a geneticist who wants to leave his current employment and has been secretly recruited by Barrayar: under the cover of an arms sale, the Dendarii will spirit the scientist away and no one the wiser.  Would it be surprising to learn that the operation does not work exactly to plan? After following a few of Miles’ capers, surprise need not apply any more…

First, the captain of Miles’ ship, the Betan hermaphrodite Bel Thorne, discovers that a Quaddie musician is being sold from one of the ruling Houses to another as if she were a piece of furniture: Quaddies are creatures engineered to live in microgravity environments and possess two sets of arms instead of arms and legs, and Nicol, the musician, strikes some deep chord in the Betan captain who wants to rescue her.  Then Dr. Canaba, the fleeing geneticist, informs Miles that some of his precious research – stored for safety in the flesh of one of his creatures – must be recovered, and the subject, a failed experiment in the creation of super-soldiers, has been sold by Canaba’s former employers so that he refuses to leave without first retrieving what has been hidden in the “monster”.

Faced with a double rescue operation, and having to deal with the cut-throat barons of Jackson’s Whole, Miles end up as a prisoner of House Ryoval and thrown in the cellar where the super-soldier, werewolf-like creature turns out to be a young girl – two and a half meters tall, granted, and sporting vicious talons and fangs – but still a girl, lonely, hungry and forlorn.  Quickly reassessing his plans, and feeling a great deal of kinship for the girl, Miles enlists her help for an escape plan and offers her a place with the Dendarii.   Something else happens, but I will leave you to discover it on your own: suffice it to say that Taura – this is the name Miles gives her, instead of the old designation “Nine” used by the lab where she was created – and Miles make for an interesting team, and the juxtaposition between his craftiness and her bruised innocence is a delight to see.

Once again Ms. Bujold presents us with the dilemma of the consequences of genetic manipulation and here they are pushed to the limits when we are faced with literal trafficking of sentient beings: the decadent and corrupted mindset of Jackson’s Whole makes the Cetagandans’ biological tinkering look like child’s play, and their concept that everything can be sold, everything can be turned into profit, is beyond chilling. The request from Baron Ryoval for tissue samples from Bel Thorne, the Quaddie Nicol and even Miles shows how they are always looking to improve their sordid offer to a jaded public – and on this subject I must point out that the interest for Miles’ genetic material stood out for me in consideration of some future developments in the series.

Another angle is that of the extreme loneliness of these beings that were created for a necessity (the Quaddies, so they could operate in free fall), for a misplaced sense of freedom (the Betan hermaphrodites), or for warlike purposes (Taura and her now-deceased mates): no one could understand them better than Miles, whose disabilities have always kept him apart from others, so that his reaction to Nicol’s plea for help or Taura’s tale of woe is so strong and brings him to an act of retaliation that might be highly satisfying now but might come to bite him in the behind in the near future…

Labyrinth brings us a Miles Vorkosigan in splendid form and it’s a story where he has the opportunity to show not only his keen mind, but the depths of his heart, which is a great combination indeed.


My Rating:


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Sci-Fi Month 2019: CETAGANDA, by Lois McMaster Bujold . #SciFiMonth


When I first read Cetaganda, several years ago, I was slightly disappointed with it for some reason, probably because it’s less “adventurous” than other Miles Vorkosigan capers, at least on the surface. Thinking about the overall plot now, though, I was able to better appreciate it and to catch several nuances that I missed before, like the unusual opportunity to visit a new planet in this region of space besides Barrayar or the few swift glimpses of Beta Colony.

The Cetagandan empress died recently, and the massive state funeral is attended by dignitaries of all neighboring systems, including the old adversary Barrayar, whose emperor sent Miles and his cousin Ivan Vorpatril as part of the delegation that will represent him, together with the Barrayaran ambassador on Cetaganda. What might have simply been an interesting, if somewhat boring, assignment turns out to be anything but when the two cousins’ shuttle is met by a strange individual who seems bent on assaulting the young men and then just as quickly disappears, not before leaving a strange object in Miles’ hands.  The item turns out to be a very important key to Cetaganda’s Star Creche, the repository in which the DNA lines are archived – the very core of the Empire’s structure. Unsurprisingly, Miles finds himself enmeshed in what turns out to be a planned coup and understanding that Barrayar has been targeted as the public scapegoat, and that war might ensue, he launches into uncovering the whole plot, often risking life and limb in his usual reckless way.

Until now, the Cetagandans had been only mentioned as the old enemies who tried to conquer and annex Barrayar at the time in which Miles’ grandfather was a young man, and when the elder Vorkosigan made his name as a cunning strategist who greatly contributed to the invaders’ defeat. Here we are finally allowed to see the Cetagandan culture in all its splendor, and splendor it is, indeed: these people value beauty and artistry above all else, as testified by their magnificent cities and luscious gardens, but mainly by that same creativity as applied to genetic manipulation. Cetagandan society is divided between the haut, the ruling class created and perfected through centuries of selective breeding, and the ghem, the military who enforce the haut’s power.  The whole setup always made me think of the old Japanese Empire, what with the complicated social structure, rigid customs and heavy accent on the exquisite beauty of one’s surroundings.

That beauty, however, hides cut-throat politics and subtle currents of shifting alliances that often look much too deadly even for Miles’ stubborn resiliency, and here is where cousin Ivan starts to come into his own, both as a character and as the foil for his relative’s foolish stunts: up until now, Ivan has been depicted as the feather-brained young Vor living only for wine, women and song (and he is that, granted, but not only), while in this novel we start to see how the insouciant attitude is only a cover for his desire to live as uncomplicated a life as possible. From some not-so-fond reminiscences we learn how the too-energetic Miles used to be, even in childhood, the bossy creature he grew up into, and how it always fell to Ivan, and Elena Bothari, to bear the brunt and the eventual punishment for Miles’ harebrained schemes.  So it’s understandable if poor Ivan now wants a quieter life, and why he keeps trying – sadly, without much success – to advise his cousin for more caution, and to stop acting outside the chain of command.

Not that hapless Ivan has any chance of being successful, of course: Miles is driven by the burning need to prove himself, to prove that being disabled in body does not impair his keen mind and intuitive powers, and it’s possible that here, on Cetaganda, where he’s confronted with beauty and physical perfection taken to the extreme, he might feel that desire become even more compelling. There are no space battles in this novel, no galaxy-spanning conflicts, but still the challenge posed to Miles’ intellect is no less complicated – or deadly – and here he’s motivated by another reason besides political expediency: the deep infatuation for a beautiful haut woman, the exact opposite of what he is and yet a goal he somehow needs to reach for.  This younger Miles, although not a virgin, is still painfully shy where women are concerned, which is understandable considering his problems, and despite everything he went through in his adventures he’s still a young, insecure youth dreaming of love – and he also seems determined to set himself unattainable targets, either to prove himself that he can, or unconsciously reaching for what he knows is impossible.  Once I understood this, I could not avoid cringing in sympathy every time Miles makes some self-disparaging remark: it’s not pity I feel for him, but rather the realization that he embodies all the insecurities and, yes, hurts we all felt in the difficult years of our adolescence – and that’s one of the reasons he’s such an easy character to understand and love.

One of the facets I was able to appreciate more, this time around, was the ethical angle that comes to the fore every time we are presented with some Cetagandan genetic “wonder”: these people did not limit themselves to perfecting their genome, they extended those studies to their entire environment, selectively breeding animals and plants and sometimes crossing them in new and – to them – spectacular ways. When Ivan is angered out of his usual bonhomie at the sight of a plant whose “flowers” are mewling kittens, we ask the same question about moral boundaries and whether the search for perfection might not be tainted by the loss of our humanity, as flawed as that might be.

In many ways, Cetaganda is a more restrained, more thoughtful story, and that’s the reason I did not fully appreciate it in the past, but now that I’m following these books’  temporal sequence I realize how there is a natural progression that follows Miles’ journey as a person: here he starts to leave his early life behind, moving toward a more responsible maturity (well, up to a point, since this is Miles Vorkosigan we’re talking about…) and infusing some seriousness in his chaotic adventures. I know that this seriousness will become more evident in the future, and I look forward to retracing his steps in that direction.

My Rating:


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Sci-Fi Month 2019: THE VOR GAME, by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth


When we left Miles at the end of The Warrior Apprentice, he had been finally granted admission to the Imperial Academy, a goal that had previously eluded him because of his physical impairments: now, three years later, he just graduated with brilliant results and is looking forward to his first posting, hoping for a commission in space.  What he gets instead is the assignment to a remote arctic weather station on the freezing Kyril Island – otherwise known as Camp Permafrost.  The reason for such a lackluster post is the need to teach him some humility and how to obey and respect the chain of command, two qualities that are sorely lacking in the young ensign Vorkosigan.

Disappointed, but determined to show he can work within the system, Miles reaches the lonely compound and sets himself to learning all he can about weather patterns, certain that after the 6-months stint of this unsavory assignment he will get the career he hopes for.  The universe being what it is, and Miles being who he is, things don’t go exactly that way and he’s soon forcibly returned to the capital, once again back to square one – but not for long. A series of complicated events, including young emperor Gregor’s attempted escape from his pressing duties, force Miles to revive the old Admiral Naismith persona and to launch into a series of breakneck events which include a hostile takeover of the Dendarii mercenaries, an attempted Cetagandan invasion and several dastardly schemes from various players.

The Vor Game is the typical kind of Miles Vorkosigan adventure we can expect from the early incarnation of this character: a whirlwind chain of circumstances that seems like the direct continuation of what we saw in The Warrior Apprentice, with Miles at the center of it all like a master puppeteer holding each and every string, and as such it might look both impossible and absurd – and in some measure it is, because it defies reason that a single individual, and one so young, would be able to influence galaxy-spanning events simply through sharp wits and improvisation, always landing in the right place at the right time and always able to do that on his feet.  At times, I’m reminded of those initial scenes from the 007 movies, when we see Bond parachute from an airplane, land on a snowboard headed down a frozen slope and execute a perfect stop in front of some glitzy palace he enters wearing the spotless tuxedo that was hidden under the snow suit. But unlike those preposterous Bond scenes, Miles’ antics – implausible as they sound – hold up to scrutiny because of Lois McMaster’s Bujold excellent control of the narrative balance, the sheer impetus she can impart to her stories, and her main character, so that we are taken in the very center of things, not as simple spectators but entranced participants, and it all makes sense.  Or at least to me it does, most probably because I already know how Miles’ journey progresses and that the insouciant freedom he’s enjoying now will not last long when more pressing – if not dramatic – concerns will change both his outlook and the course of the overall story.  If this represents his “age of innocence”, it’s not going to go on forever…

Moreover, there is a subtle difference here: despite the happy-go-lucky attitude he’s still displaying, Miles is showing the first signs of maturity, of becoming more attuned to what it means to be a Vor, which does not only entail privileges, but above all responsibilities, as he demonstrates with his actions on Kyril Island, where he risks his life in the name of non-negotiable principles. It’s something whose seeds were planted in The Mountains of Mourning, and here we see them starting to grow and infuse Miles with some necessary doubts and uncertainties which act as a vital balance to his innate recklessness.  Another fascinating side of his nature comes from his ease in switching between the various characters he’s called to portray: the lowly ensign Vorkosigan and the young Vor lord; Admiral Naismith the commander of the Dendarii Mercenaries and the bogus gun smuggler he plays for a while. Apart from the entertainment value of these kaleidoscopic changes, there is a very serious question about his personality and which one of those he wears is actually true, or if all of them reflect a side of his being: there is a scene here in which he plays the part of the evil schemer, only to have his childhood friend Elena wonder (and worry) if there is not some crumble of truth in that portrayal.

What becomes blatantly clear in this novel is that Miles is not someone who can fit any given mold, that his drive and energy cannot be channeled too tightly and rather need a different outlet according to the circumstances – he’s a loose cannon, granted, unpredictable and sometimes dangerous, so that the solution finally devised by his superiors is not to try and confine him into rigid schemes, but to use this flexibility, this ability to think outside normal parameters, to their advantage. There is one of the antagonists he faces in this novel, a crafty “dark lady” who looks like Miles’ mirror image, someone with his same skill at lateral thinking but devoid of any moral standards: the fascination she exerts on the young Vor is an intriguing element, because we can easily imagine him thinking, as he observes her, that the tiniest shift in circumstances might have turned him into the kind of person she became.

The Vor Game is not only about Miles, however: there is some considerable space given to young emperor Gregor Vorbarra, a few years Miles’ senior and a longtime friend and companion. Gregor is the opposite of Miles: thoughtful, somewhat introverted and very lonely in the gilded cage where he holds great power but enjoys little freedom.  Some of the best dialogues in this novel come from their exchanges, where Gregor admits to feeling trapped in his role and to his envy of the younger friend’s freedom – these exchanges serve both as a way for Miles to see his own life and limitations in a different perspective, and as a means to show he’s capable of his own brand of introspection and even wisdom, when he’s able to offer consolation and a way of looking at things with some of his hard-earned optimism.

On hindsight, this novel marks the end of Miles’ carefree youth (in the omnibus version of the series, The Warrior Apprentice and The Vor Game, together with the novella The Mountains of Mourning, are appropriately collected under the title Young Miles), and as fun as these have been, both in my first reading and in revisiting them, I can only look forward to the more serious stories, where the usual fun will still be present, but more pressing issues will put this wonderful character to the test.


My Rating:


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Sci-Fi Month 2019: THE WARRIOR APPRENTICE, by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth


The Warrior Apprentice is the first book in this series featuring Miles Vorkosigan as a main character, although he appears briefly as a child – a very active child – in the epilogue of Barrayar. By the way, this was also my first Bujold book, the one through which I fell in love with this universe and characters and was prompted to backtrack to the origins of the story before moving forward once again: it’s indeed not necessary to read Shards of Honor and Barrayar before The Warrior Apprentice, since the author does a wonderful, info-dump-free work of summarizing previous events, and in truth the latter of the two ‘prequels’ was published after this one, but this revisitation is teaching me that following the internal chronological order of this series adds further layers to the overall background and enhances the reading experience.

As the book starts, Miles is seventeen and in the final stages of the admission course for the Barrayaran Imperial Academy: while he breezed through the written tests thanks to his keen intelligence, the real hurdle for him comes in the form of the obstacle trail all prospective cadets must run – the damage he sustained as a result of the assassination attempts on his parents left him with brittle bones, besides a short stature and a somewhat bent spine, and he’s painfully aware of such shortcomings.  Not surprisingly, he ends up with both legs broken and the burning failure of his dreams: to lift his spirits, his father suggests a trip to Beta Colony – Miles’ mother’s planet of origin – and the young Vorkosigan leaves home accompanied by the bodyguard Sergeant Bothari and the man’s daughter Elena, Miles’ longtime friend.

A chance conversation overheard in a public place leads Miles to acquire an obsolete cargo ship, which requires him to accept a delivery of weapons in a war zone, which in turn brings him to take over a small mercenary outfit and so on and on in what looks like a growing avalanche of circumstances that keep reaching ever-dizzying heights.  If this brief summary of the events in The Warrior Apprentice sounds somewhat over the top, well… yes, it does, but believe me when I say that Lois McMaster Bujold’s control of both narrative and characterization will keep you so totally enthralled that any kind of logical objection will evaporate like fog under the sun. Characters are indeed this author’s strong suit and Miles’ evolution here is so compelling that it’s quite easy to overlook the more demanding requirements in your suspension of disbelief: there is a phrase that is used often in this story, forward momentum, and that’s what carries it – and Miles’ journey – all the way to the end.  As one character tells him at some point:

“Your forward momentum is going to lead all your followers over a cliff someday […] On the way down, you’ll convince ’em all they can fly.” He stuck his fists in his armpits, and waggled his elbows. “Lead on, my lord. I’m flapping as hard as I can.”

And this sums up quite nicely the impact that Miles and his adventures can have on the readers, even on a revisitation, where there should be no more surprising discoveries…

Miles Vorkosigan is an irresistible character, not in spite of, but because of his disabilities: granted, here he shows an uncanny aptitude in thinking on his feet, overcoming apparently insurmountable obstacles, gaining allies on the sheer strength of his personality and always coming up on top – and with someone else it would be easy to tag him as the proverbial Gary Stu, but the face he presents to the universe – the bold, brazen dealer and shaker – is balanced by his private insecurities and a fragility of the soul that’s even worse than the one of his bones.  Miles is painfully aware that he’s a… sub-standard human being – at least by Barrayaran canon – and he’s the first to acknowledge that everything he’s accomplishing here is based on a fraud, but he knows that once in motion he cannot stop, that if he arrests that forward momentum, everything is going to come crashing down, and he drives forward not with courage but in fear, in sheer terror of what would happen if he stopped.  His desire to prove himself, to demonstrate his worth, is what always propels him, and it’s impossible not to feel for him and to cheer him on, no matter how preposterous the course he takes.  And once he confesses that he’s striving to show his worth to his father, despite knowing the man loves him without reservations, it’s a poignant moment in which we see clearly behind the mask of recklessness, and our heart bleeds for him:

When I couldn’t serve Barrayar, I wanted—I wanted to serve something. To—” he raised his eyes to his father’s, driven to a painful honesty, “to make my life an offering fit to lay at his feet.” He shrugged. “Screwed up again.”

“Clay, boy.” Count Vorkosigan’s voice was hoarse but clear. “Only clay. Not fit to receive so golden a sacrifice.” His voice cracked.

Miles’ need for recognition mirrors Elena Bothari’s equally strong need for independence and agency: as a woman on Barrayar, she must bow under the social pressures that relegate women in an ancillary position – wives, mothers – and the further pressure of her father’s strict adherence to those rules.  It’s clear she chafes under that double pressure, so that working alongside Miles with the mercenaries finally allows her to tap all the suppressed talents she could not employ in Barrayar’s backward society: at some point Miles muses about the waste of such potential, and being the great guy he is rejoices in seeing Elena blossom into her true self.  There is a fascinating dichotomy here between these two characters, since Miles wants to excel for acceptance in his own society, while Elena realizes that to do so, to be allowed to do so, she must cut her ties to her home planet – and on that path lies some heartache…

This would not be a complete review if I did not mention Sergeant Bothari: he’s been present since the beginning of this saga, but it’s here that the many layers of his troubled personality take on a more substantial shape and present one of the most dramatic, most heart-wrenching aspects of this story, the dark counterpart to Miles’ crazy adventures.  A man deeply wounded in spirit and mind, Bothari keeps hold of his sanity by strict observance of the rules: his personal story is one that elicits both horror and compassion, and I appreciate how Bujold does not pass judgment on him despite his terrible sins, but shows his light and darkness with the same equanimity, allowing him a sort of… redemption that felt right and painfully emotional at the same time.

The Warrior Apprentice can be viewed as a coming-of-age tale and it’s certainly the start of Miles’ adventures, but this time around I perceived a… seriousness I had missed before, the realization that this series gains a great deal when returning to it, revealing many hidden “treasures” I missed before: this discovery of new depths in a beloved story is what makes me look forward to what still lies ahead of me.


My Rating:


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Sci-Fi Month 2019: BARRAYAR, by Lois McMaster Bujold #SciFiMonth


If revisiting old favorite stories can sometimes make you realize how much you have changed as a reader, and how different your tastes are at present, I fully avoided this pitfall in my return to Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga: on the contrary I’m discovering that not only I still enjoy these books as much as I did some twenty years ago when I first read them, but that the knowledge of the overall story arc helps me appreciate those early installments even more than at first sight.

This is particularly the case with Barrayar, the second book (in chronological, not publication, order) of the series and the continuation of the story on the heels of the events we followed in Shards of Honor: where the internal timeline puts the beginning of Barrayar just days after its predecessor, the narrative focus and characterization have improved greatly since the author published a few more books in the sequence before returning to Cordelia and Aral and portraying the events leading to the birth of their son Miles, the true protagonist of the series, and it shows.

As the title suggests, the story develops on Barrayar, Aral Vorkosigan’s home planet where Cordelia came to live after marrying him: to Cordelia’s Betan sensibilities the place is backwards and unrefined – both in attitude and technology – and the feudal system put in place during the Time of Isolation, when the planet was cut off from the rest of the galaxy due to the closing of its wormhole, relies on a rigid caste division and the separation of roles according to gender.  To further complicate things, the couple’s projects of a quiet retirement oriented toward building a family are obstructed by Aral’s appointment as Regent for the young Emperor, which embroils them further into Barrayaran poisonous politics, a bloody civil war and an assassination attempt whose major consequence will be the as-yet-unborn Miles’ grievous physical damage that will shape his future.

Where this book deepens our knowledge of the main characters and introduces a few new ones that will also be part of Miles’ future, its main attraction to me is the depiction of Barrayaran society, which we see through Cordelia’s more sophisticated, and often sarcastic, eye: the accent on physical and military prowess, the open scorn visited on those who suffer disabilities, all sound much more ominous than they did in the past, because looking at them with hindsight I can see how the author was paving the way, so to speak, for Miles’ upward struggle toward acceptance.  In Shards of Honor there was a first inkling of this attitude, when Aral did not understand Cordelia’s determination to carry her severely injured comrade along their arduous trek, and he suggested a mercy killing, pointing out how on his world that would be the required, accepted norm. Here in Barrayar we see how young officer Koudelka, whose encounter with a nerve disruptor left him motor-impaired, is the object of contemptuous pity and worse; or again how Sergeant Bothari, whose unstable mind was compromised by the callous misuse from his previous master, is seen as a monster to be caged rather than a lost soul to be cured.

Cordelia often remarks on the cruelty of Barrayar, comparing it to a ravenous parent who devours its own children, and even while she tries to partly conform to its less archaic rules to gain acceptance, she attempts to change them from the inside, to bring a veneer of galactic modernity to this place so firmly set in its past. Because Barrayar is on the cusp of a major change as forces for a more enlightened outlook battle with the old guard, still set in its ways and afraid of losing its privileges: Aral Vorkosigan tries to be the man to usher this transformation, as he straddles the uneasy border between the old and the new seeking a viable balance, and his willingness to be a… Renaissance man, supported by Cordelia, will see them accepting this difficult role and paying its high price with the future life of their son.  A failed attempt on Aral’s life through a poison grenade exposes them both to soltoxin, whose antidote would prove fatal for Cordelia’s baby’s bone growth: again, the Barrayaran solution would be to abort the child who’s destined to be a “monster” by planetary standards, but Cordelia stubbornly refuses to give up and attempts an untested procedure that will allow the baby the possibility of an almost normal life.  “Almost” being the operative word here, because we know that Miles will be born with fragile bones and a too-short, partly twisted body that does not meet the Barrayaran norm.

It’s through Cordelia’s battle that we see the unmasked nature of the planet she chose as her new home, one that wears the face of Count Piotr, Aral’s father, the man we first encountered toward the end of Shards of Honor, who welcomed the woman who was to marry his son and who later treated her as a precious creature once he knew she was carrying his grandson, his lease on the future of House Vorkosigan. That face turns so very rapidly from avuncular kindness to obstinate ruthlessness as he first insists on the abortion because he’s not ready to accept a less-than-perfect heir, and then tries to kill the fetus as it’s receiving medical care in the uterine replicator where it’s been placed.  Piotr is indeed the incarnation of much which is wrong on Barrayar, of the desire of the few to be in total control and their terror in seeing this control slip from their fingers: he’s not much different from those of the old guard who are afraid of Aral’s more modern ideas and of how these will change the status quo – once Piotr understand that Cordelia, with Aral’s backing, will not budge from her course, he lashes out with a viciousness that’s even more disturbing than the actions of the rebels, because it’s turned against family, and it sounds utterly wrong.

Once again we are witnesses to Cordelia’s determination and strength of character, here enhanced by the powerful will of a mother to protect her child, not only from a merciless grandfather but from those who would use the baby as a tool in their games: this woman who knows how to exert compassion also knows how to turn into a ruthless killer when circumstances require it, and the ferociousness with which she defends her unborn child is only equal to the pain in realizing that she had to sacrifice some of her principles to adapt – for Miles’ sake – to the unforgiving environment where they will live, and that he will have to do the same.

“Welcome to Barrayar, son. Here you go: have a world of wealth and poverty, wrenching change and rooted history.  […] Have a twisted form in a society that loathes and fears the mutations that have been its deepest agony. […] Have your body ripped apart and re-arranged. Inherit an array of friends and enemies you never made. Have a grandfather from hell. Endure pain, find joy, and make your own meaning, because the universe certainly isn’t going to supply it. Always be a moving target. Live. Live. Live.”

These words touched me deeply, because I know what awaits Miles down the road, I know they are a peek into that difficult future in which he will have to fight an uphill battle but, on the other hand, I know he will take to heart his mother’s advice to live, and that following his path will be both exciting and inspirational.   I will miss a little the presence of Cordelia and Aral, since from here on the focus will be mainly on Miles, and yet I can better see them now as the roots on which his amazing personality rests: getting to retrace his steps is going to be a fun journey, one I’m eagerly anticipating.


My Rating:


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