Discussion Post: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

Brothers in Arms is the latest novella we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Borders of Infinity (the novella), and before Mirror Dance. In this one we get to see what Earth is like in the far future when Miles and his Dendarii mercenaries stop off there for repairs.

You can read Katharine’s review of Brothers in Arms here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Katharine: And so we get to see London up close and personal, pretty much from the word go. I would have loved to see more stuff, really. At the end I still only have a Futurama-style twist for the city and that’s about it. Does it still rain all the time there? It didn’t seem to!

 

Tsana: Yeah, they were in London for the whole book and it didn’t rain. Very unrealistic! And there can’t have been a climate apocalypse because the Thames barriers seem to be in more or less the same place as they are now. And yet we have passing mentions of Lake Los Angeles, and great dykes in New York. Very confusing!

 

Katharine: For the rest of it, Miles is on his ship as he splits his time down to the wire as Admiral Naismith. When we meet up with him he’s just finished his stint with the Dendarii and needs to cover their funds… something that turns into a bit of a drama.

 

Tsana: I was surprised at how closely Brothers in Arms followed on from Borders of Infinity. The repairs Miles is commissioning are the direct result of the prison escape in Borders of Infinity. And he’s still upset about those very recent events.

 

Katharine: He has to report in as his regular Miles self in order to get the approval for funds as part of the secret Denarii-are-really-working-for-Barrayar, and this means reporting to Galeni. Only Galeni is Komarran. Which means…

 

Tsana: It’s a complicated political situation for Miles on top of the usual complications of juggling his Vorkosigan and Naismith personae. All he wants is to get his Dendarii paid (and pay for the repairs) but because Earth isn’t a hugely important outpost for Barrayar (except for one aspect which we’ll get to later), Captain Duv Galeni, who is the senior military attaché for the Barrayaran Embassy, hasn’t ever been briefed on Miles’s two identities. And, to make things even more awkward, he greets Miles very coldly because of Miles’s father and Aral’s reputation as the Butcher of Komarr and his role in the invasion/annexation of Komarr. Which is one side of it, but since the trouble in Komarr was a while ago now, things have mostly settled down and Komarrans like Duv Galeni are allowed to enter the Imperial Service. But that calm was won through a lot of very careful balancing and politicking by Aral in his Prime Ministerial role. Since Duv Galeni is now suddenly in charge of Miles, if something bad happens to Miles then not only will he be blamed in the usual way for losing a Vor lordling, but it will be assumed that he had Komarran political motivations as well, which could restart conflict with and hence political unrest on Komarr. Phew, that wasn’t straightforward to explain!

 

Katharine: You did an excellent job! Galeni handles it all pretty well, considering the history of their fathers. He’s quite weary about the seemingly gold spoon life Miles has – thinking that the Dendarii are a little play thing for the little Vorling (as it sure does seem odd), but if anything he’s only a little bitter. He performs his job as dictated, and takes Miles’ instructions (that are certainly above his station) without much grumbling. That is, until the requested funds never seem to come, despite two requests, and ten days of waiting each time (due to the time the messages take to reach across space). Which I found quite interesting, really. As you’re the astrophysicist, do you want to explain to the people who it all works?

 

Tsana: It’s kind of interesting how the long-distance messaging works in the Vorkosigan universe. Since, in the normal course of events, radio waves and hence messages can’t travel faster than the speed of light, communicating without using wormholes world be very slow. All the planets that are mentioned in the Vorkosigan series are light years apart and so can only be reached using wormholes, which seem to be naturally occurring phenomena (not, as far as we know, in real life, however). Messages can’t be sent directly through wormholes, however, and must be sent to a ship, which jumps through the wormhole with the messages and then sends them on to the next ship/wormhole interchange until their reach their destinations. So messages can travel a bit faster than ships, because they cover the distance between wormholes at the speed of light, but they still have to wait for the ships doing the wormhole jumps, which presumably follow some sort of regular schedule.

 

Katharine: So, as Miles does happen to be in hiding for his life after all, he starts to suspect Galeni may be up to something. If only hiding the funds for himself, but then what could he be doing with the money? It’s not like he’s run off to their equivalent of the Bahamas… (or I guess it could be the real Bahamas considering they’re on Earth…)

 

Tsana: Haha, yeah. Well, Miles has a lot of pressures on him, as per usual (though not quite the usual set of pressures). The Cetagandans are angry about the events of Borders of Infinity and have put a hit on Miles. The Dendarii need to not go bankrupt and some of them manage to get into trouble while on R&R. The fact that the pay from Barrayar is late or has been stolen is an additional complication Miles really doesn’t need. He doesn’t want to suspect Duv Galeni, partly because of the political ramifications, but being suspicious in this situation is kind of necessary for his survival. On the other hand, his suspicions of Galeni don’t really fit together…

 

We should probably engage the spoiler shields now

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Review: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1886778744
ISBN 13: 9781886778740
Published: 1989
Pages: 318
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

We join them close to where we left them in Borders of Infinity – Miles has returned to his Barrayan job in order to tidy things up with his Dendarii and do a stint as being ordinary Vor Miles again. This involves reporting in to Simon and requesting funds to cover wages, supplies and most importantly, repairs their ship suffered in the recent battle. This is Miles though, and things are never that easy.

He’s happened to have to report in to Earth, to Captain Duv Galeni, a man who 1. hasn’t been briefed on Miles’s two identities, 2. doesn’t understand the need for the Dendarii and assumes it’s yet another ‘Vor thing’ where Miles has only got where he is thanks to his father, and, 3. has a bit of an issue with that considering his own background. Komarran. And considering the war that no one can forget and the fact he’s had to fight everything and everyone for his chance to get where he is… Oh, and, of course the fact that Miles’ father ‘the Butcher of Komarr’ is likely the one who killed his own father… well. He’s pretty civil, considering. Just bitter.

Requests have to be manually jumped through wormholes in order for one part of space to contact another, so it’s ten days between message to Simon and back to Galeni in order for the requested funds to come through. Considering the requested funds are to the tune of eighteen million marks, which is ‘more than ten times to budget for this entire embassy for a year’ this does nothing to invoke anything less than passive aggressive remarks, but he follows through. And then for a second time, when the funds are missing from the first response.

From here it’s a rollercoaster of spoilery-emotions. There’s a big reveal in this one that gives the book its title, but what’s interesting in this is how it’s handled. We have Miles, who is referred to as a mutant for all his health defects, and he’s come to terms with this all years ago. We see discussion of him and why his parents have never had any other children, more discussion on Barrayar and their thoughts on how fit he is in all senses of the word… and more that you can see in the upcoming discussion with Tsana.

Overall, this was an excellent piece of work, and I really hope we get to see all of these characters (Galeni and Mark mainly) much more, very soon.

#SPFBO – The Transit Room

From here will be continued reviews of novels that unfortunately didn’t quite make it through further to the review stage.

The Girl Called Dust by V.B. Marlowe

Arden is the black sheep of the family as well as her school. She’s a loner, makes her own clothes, doesn’t like chocolate or cookies, and is pretty much the opposite of the popular crowd – which includes her mother and younger sister.

Then she witnesses a boy get hit by a bus and run away just fine, a boy who can heal, who says he’s different, just like she is. Arden assesses each place she enters and categorises the ways she can die every time.

While this has an interesting premise the writing unfortunately let it down. The language and ways the characters are described is both forced and below the level we’re told Arden is, this would have been better suited to a primary school aged MC.

~

Arcana Zero by Aidan Meyer

Written in first person, we meet Alex, who is bound to do whatever the goddess of Chance asks of him. Full of a bad past, panic attacks, Alex has a pretty bad time of things and we follow him along as he tries to save people, fight, and so on.

Being written in first person, it rather slows down the action and violence, of which there is a fair bit of. We’re told and not shown pretty much everything through the book – partly because of being told in first person, and partly through being reminded quite often of what a bad life everyone has, full of struggles and so on… but you don’t really see it. You’re told of it constantly.

Overall, like the above book this book unfortunately suffers from the characters acting much younger than they’re supposed to be. Their angst and feeling betrayed at the world paints the characters at about 12-14yos – for a character who’s suffered through trauma, you really wouldn’t think they’d get upset over so little.

Harsh review, as it’s a little offensive to people who’ve seen some pretty horrible things, and it’s treated fairly cheaply here.

Review: Faithless by Graham Austin-King #SPFBO

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B071FYSCZ2
ISBN: 0993003737
ISBN 13: 9780993003738
Published: June 2017
Pages: 380
Format reviewed: mobi
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the another that I chose to further consider out of my initial 30, trying to whittle them all down to a single title to put forward to the other judges.

Wynn has been given to a temple ‘just for a year’ in order to serve the priests – which turns out to be working in a backbreaking mine as they need to collect ores for various reasons. He’s constantly asking questions, constantly called an idiot, and we don’t really get to see much else of his personality in this pretty horrid place. Though everyone around him acts rough, they certainly help him out for some unexplained reason (heavy lifting, gentle explaining) and then are suddenly callous again. There’s a quota they have to meet else they’ll be lashed, there’s some terrifying ‘call’ in the deep black where they throw the waste rock, and their only chance at getting out of the mines is if they happen to show some slight talent – though where these chosen go to, no one is quite sure. We do of course learn this through Wynn, eventually.

The oppression and deep blackness of the mines and shafts certainly paints a picture. Wynn struggles to breathe, struggles to see, and is pretty much thrown in the deep end without much explanation of what they’re even mining for (well, he knows gold, but not how to seek it), or how any safety techniques may work to save his own life or those around him. There’s little to no hope in this world. This is effective shown rather than told, rather than Wynn’s personality and character which we’re told of often, and just simply rarely see anything contrary to the matter.

With Wynn (initially) in the mines, we also have a secondary main character, Kharios, who is above in the Temple, also a novice, apparently where all those in the mines aspire (or, like Wynn when he was given to the religion, expected to be when they first arrives). As their religion and gods somehow all revolves around the Forgefather, a lot of his novice duties revolve around learning smithery. Hence the mining.

Not that their gods have been heard of for a very long time.

As if the conditions aren’t bad enough both above and below, there is of course also rape and bullying, which made this book a pretty hard read at times. While it certainly felt realistic I’m not overly sure it was needed (or could have been alluded to) as it slowed down the plot and honestly just made you wonder why more of the novices didn’t just throw themselves off something tall much more often – there’s not exactly anything in their lives to look forward to.

This is set pretty firmly in the grimdark sub-genre, however while it hit that nail pretty well on the head and the writing was basically good (the pacing needed some work perhaps), this also felt like it doesn’t really go anywhere until the very last final bit of the book… and then it’s over.

This is a dark and brutal read, but well written and well delivered.

Review: The Eagle’s Flight by Daniel E. Olesen

Published by: self-published
ASIN: B01GCWII0I
ISBN: 8771700420
ISBN 13: 9788771700428
Published: May 2016
Pages: 500
Format reviewed: epub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

Read for the SPFBO, this is the another semi-finalist book that I chose to further consider out of my initial 30, trying to whittle them all down to a single title to put forward to the other judges.

After an unfortunately slow start we meet the King’s scribe, who is known as Quill. He has an apprentice, who listens in as a stranger meets his master, bringing sly news from Alcazar – once the stranger is gone, the Quill questions his apprentice through the information to teach the boy what it all means. He takes the fact of importing a lot of timber means war – for the king and his son have died, leaving a too-young grandson to rule, and this spirals the plot out for the entirety of the novel as we see conflict as various factions try to overthrow the new ruler.

The plot in this novel is its strongest element. Through war and ever-shifting political alignment the reader is taken through the world through many different point of view characters – and as a point of world building many of the characters of each house have very similar names, which does get a little confusing at times – and we see the plot unfolding through characters of both high and low birth.

The research and creation into the world itself is to be commended. You can see from the first chapter that a great deal of thought has gone into everything – the families and their histories, the land and each culture and religion, and once you reach the end of the book you have pages and pages of notes.

One of the weaker aspects of the novel were the characters. I was three quarters through the novel when I realised I still hadn’t connected or really cared for any of them, other than perhaps Egil (the Quill’s apprentice) – possibly because there’s not really any main or secondary leading characters. At times the plot moves quickly and before you know it you’re in the eyes of yet another character. Not necessarily a bad thing, but did, at times, make it very easy to put the book down.

Another point to make is the writing. It’s written with a fairly heavy archaic tone, which does suit the novel itself but again, makes it easy to put down if you have other books on hand to read. At times, you just can’t find the mood for a Tolkienesque novel, especially when it’s all war and characters that seem a little samey.

This is however a strong novel. It has a high degree of finish – I didn’t notice any typos, and you can tell it’s been edited well. The plot is faultless, the world building as I said is excellent, and the fight scenes and battles are easily described as you get such a strong feel for the lands. The characters themselves are decent, and I honestly wouldn’t know how myself to flesh them out as individuals without slowing down the novel when trying to include such a hefty number of POVs to tell the story – which does cover such a wide range of both land and individual personal vendettas and stakes that it is the right choice to make.

Overall, a strong contender.