Labyrinth is the latest novella we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It runs after Ethan of Athos takes place, and we see Miles as Admiral Naismith once agian. In it, we meet Taura for the first time – a character who becomes more important later.
Tsana: Well, the first thing I can say about Labyrinth is that it was not very memorable the first time I read it! For the first significant chunk of the novella I couldn’t remember what was coming up next as I was reading. Once Taura was introduced I finally put the pieces together and remembered the point of the novella (which was to introduce Taura) but up until that point it was a bit of a bland but enjoyable Miles shenanigan.
Katharine: In it, we see Miles on a mission to provide safe passage for a research scientist, who refuses to leave unless Miles can do something for him – eliminate an earlier project the scientist now regrets. Miles must enter a place run by some pretty vile and cold blooded businessmen in order to try, and he only has 24 hours to do so.
Tsana: And in the meantime, Bel Thorn and the other Dendarii have to look like they’re just at Jackson’s Whole to buy weapons. Nothing unusual to see here. Oh, our Admiral is just having a chat with the suppliers, etc.
Katharine: Once again we get to see Miles’ short stature as a positive. When buying out the regretted science project doesn’t work he reckons he’ll break in and solve it that way – so he sneaks in where others can’t fit, and slowly leads the way in… Though the plan literally seems to be 1. Break in. 2. Look around and fast-penna someone. 3. ??? 4. Profit!
Tsana: Well Miles is known for thinking on his feet. I did find it interesting though that the scientist they’re extracting on the down-low was involved in the sciencey back story of Ethan of Athos. And the fact that he’s being extracted by the Dendarii to Barrayar (via a handover on Escobar) and still no one suspect’s Miles’s true identity? That’s pretty impressive.
Katharine: I guess it’s a big universe out there – almost like we’d probably walk by Benedict Cumberbatch on the street because there’s no chance he’d be here, right? Though it is pretty closely related, and you’d think that when people die and others are foiled, they’d want answers and information.
Anyway. Miles takes a small unit in with him, but they’re quickly spotted and thrown out, leaving Miles alone. He plans to see if he can find at least the location of what they need to make it easier to break in the next time but, of course, he happens to end up exactly where he shouldn’t, and is thrown in the basement as punishment.
Tsana: I think this is the time to raise the spoiler shield.
Tsana: …Because it is in the basement that Miles meets Taura. Except she’s not called Taura yet. At that point she’s a scary, fanged monster of a supersoldier that Miles’s enemies are hoping will eat him.
Katharine: And we first see her tearing into a rat. Miles is first surprised that she can talk, when she demands water, and then warmth, and he trots around and points out which pipe to break in order to get what she needs. He quickly asks her IQ and is surprised yet again, and it’s from here that he starts getting a bit annoyed at the scientist.
So I’m guessing Taura becomes important (very important?) later on?
Tsana: She’s certainly a recurring character. I think it’s interesting that as soon as Miles learns that Taura can talk and has a high IQ — things that make her more human than monster — he immediately takes her side. I’m guessing he seems some of himself in there, with all the “mutie” insults he’s taken in his life.
Katharine: Possibly. And I wonder if he sees her as a way out of the place, or if he really feels that he can’t harm anyone who can think and talk. And then we come to the part that I have fairly huge issues with.
Tsana: Yeah, Miles is 23 in this story and we quickly learn that Taura is only 16. But she demands sex from Miles and, despite some reservations, not wanting to hurt her feelings seems to win the day and Miles agrees. Among other things, the seven-year age gap when one of the participants is so young is kind of icky.
Katharine: I also find it a bit disappointing – especially where Miles later notes that in his position of power there can’t be any fraternisation between the ranks. He’s known for being able to talk his way out of trouble so I feel he would have been able to get out of the situation without hurting her feelings… but he often seems a bit needy when it comes to sex.
Also, Taura isn’t really of sound mind when we first meet her. She’s being kept prisoner, she’s been poorly treated, and she knows how her life is going to end up (probably) thanks to witnessing what happened to the other experiments… so she’s not really mentally healthy enough to know what she wants. Later, at the end of the book, as she points out that she’s currently technically a guest the fraternisation rule doesn’t exist yet so they spend most of the trip ‘playing it slow’ apparently, and it could have worked much better here – she’s now her own person, she’s got her own clothes and has had a few hearty meals… delaying it until then would have worked much better in my humble opinion.
He and Taura manage to break out, but of course, again, they only manage to break in to somewhere even more secure where they have less chance of breaking out from.
Tsana: I agree that Taura wasn’t in a place to make good choices. I think the novella’s main saving grace is that she is definitely the one initiating or suggesting the sexual stuff. Miles doesn’t start it, he just goes along with it, which is slightly better. And I think he sympathises with the “too ugly to have sex with” aspect a bit too strongly. But there also isn’t anyone else around to make snide comments about Miles’s choices, which I think could have mitigated some of the ick. I suppose overall it’s a novella and there wasn’t room to go into everything in too much detail.
The part where Miles sabotages the large tissue sample storage fridge was pretty amusing though. Sounds like something House Ryoval might want revenge over down the line…
Katharine: Oooh is that a hint?
Tsana: A very vague one because I can’t remember certain details. But I’m pretty sure they are involved in something that comes up a few books down the line.
Katharine: I would love to see Bujold’s notes for this series and what she wanted to do with how so many bits link into each other.
So with that bit of sabotage done they go on to find another way to escape. This means Miles has to leave Taura behind, and she doesn’t believe he’ll return. Then he does, and everyone’s happy, and aww, and then because this is a novella almost as soon as they get out they meet up with their friends who have since arranged a ransom, and then we get a splash of excitement.
Tsana: I was pleased to find the “prelude to escaping Jackson’s Whole” made the cover art of one edition of Borders of Infinity, a novella collection including Labyrinth. In it we can see Taura throwing a random grunt aside as Miles struggles with another one.
But for all that it’s a novella, I didn’t find the ending all too abrupt. We get quite a bit of denouement with Taura being introduced to life among the Dendarii and so forth. As someone who was reading late at night in bed, I thought it would be over slightly sooner ;-p
Katharine: Me either, it had good pacing throughout, and didn’t needlessly go on and on as they try to get out. And I always like seeing how he interacts with his Dendarii team. And I really like how these three novellas are set up as he talks to Illyan.
Tsana: I actually haven’t read the Borders of Infinity framing narrative at all. I’ve mainly heard it’s crap and my novellas all came in different omnibuses without it. Is it worth reading? I do think my Miles, Mystery & Mayhem omnibus did a good job putting Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos and Labyrinth together, since all involve genetics AND are chronologically adjacent.
Katharine: I read that as chocolately adjacent. Oops. I do like the little interludes of him and Simon – though they’re only each a page or two long before it dives into the novella, so you’re not missing much at all.
Tsana: Hmm. Well instead of working out which omnibus contains the “Borders of Infinity” novella, maybe I’ll just grab the Borders of Infinity collection (that’s not confusing at all) that came in my Hugo packet for the next instalment. Onwards!
Katharine: Yay! Onwards! Just in time for my flight to Helsinki!
Next up we’ll be discussing “Borders of Infinity” from the same laptop! *gasp!*