Discussion Post: Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

 

Mirror Dance is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Brothers in Arms and before Memory and contains a major spoiler for Brothers in Arms (don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoiled!). In Mirror Dance the story is split between Miles’s point of view and that of his brother, Mark. This is the first time there have been multiple points of view in a Vorkosigan Saga book.

You can read Tsana’s review of Mirror Dance here and Katharine’s review here.

 

Tsana: Well. That was one of the least funny and light-hearted installments in the Vorkosigan Saga so far. Still a compelling read, but it did nothing to cheer me up while I was reading (I made the mistake of marathoning a depressing TV show at the same time, so that was a bleak few days)…

 

Katharine: That’s almost putting it lightly. My personal review of the book was brief, because there’s not a lot to be said without spoilers (at least for a previous book) and it was just too full on. It’s important to mention that it dealt with it all so well – we’ll get into it more as we go, of course, but for how triggering it could be for anyone who’s suffered any type of trauma, I thought the way the characters reacted and handled it was incredibly positive.

 

Tsana: Ultimately it was a heavy book that dealt with some heavy topics. But those themes were kind of unavoidable given Mark’s past. This is really the book where we, not only get to know Mark, but also get to see him grow and start to come into his own. But Mark had a traumatic childhood and young adulthood, so there’s no escaping negative stuff. Throwing Mark into the mix with Miles and the kinds of dangerous shenanigans he usually gets up to and disaster is bound to strike. Although this is hardly the first time the Vorkosigan stories have gone to dark places.

 

Katharine: All very true. So basically, it’s been two years since Mark has had anything to do with Miles—

 

Tsana: OK, sorry but I’m going to interrupt here. It really bothered me how it says it’s two years later but it’s really more like three or four. Mark was 18 in Brothers in Arms and now he’s 22. Miles was 24 and now he’s 28. Minor continuity errors are annoying when you’re paying closer attention than usual because you’re going to be dissecting the story later. (But really, Bujold does a pretty good job, especially since these two books were published five years apart.)

 

Katharine: I have to admit I just flicked through as I was sure it was four years, however there’s countless references (mostly at the start) stating two. Which makes a little more sense as to how far Mark has come so far (ie, not very) but …that’s about it.

So really, it’s been about four years since Mark has had anything to do with Miles, the Dendarii – anyone. Miles has been splitting his life between being his Vor self and as Admiral Naismith, and it’s now that Mark makes a grab for getting his revenge on Jackson’s Whole. To do this, he’s going to pretend to be Miles once again, take the Dendarii, and hopefully free a whole lot of kids and burn their business to the ground.

 

Tsana: Yes, Mark seems to have flittered around not doing much and living off Miles’s money (that he gave him at the end of Brothers in Arms) until now, when he decides to mount a clone rescue. Amusingly, an idea first put into his head by Miles, not long before they parted ways. At this stage, it looks like Mark wants to be a better Miles — a better hero. Freeing clone kids is more heroic than undermining the Cetagandans, right?

 

Katharine: Especially with the mentions of how Miles had the chance to do exactly what Mark wants to, and decided to pass it up… it looks like Mark is going to fight the good fight. He manages it for a while – calls the ship to come get him, fobs off the reasons as to where Quinn is, manages to win Bel to his way of thinking (not hard, as Bel says how glad it is they’re finally righting this), and then…

 

Tsana: Well Bel isn’t fooled for very long. There was a moment when Mark worries that Bel’s onto him and then relaxes when Bel continues on as normal, but that was totally the moment when Bel became sure that Mark was Mark rather than Miles. I think Mark’s biggest mistake in dealing with Miles’s people is underestimating how much Miles cares about him. Those closest to Miles have presumably spent the past two-to-four years hearing him worry about his brother so when Mark, disguised as Miles, refers to himself as the “clone”, it’s a huge red flag. But Bel, as you said, goes along with it because they believe in the mission. But Mark isn’t Miles and his plans don’t go anywhere near as smoothly… Especially not once Miles is on their tail.

 

Katharine: Bel quickly takes control once Mark’s decision making and tactical experience is shown to be pretty subpar when it comes to mounting an attack and directing units of people. Mark has somehow forgotten what it was like to be a clone in that very facility, and is shocked when the clones don’t sing their praises and escape with them gleefully. They fight back, they manage to run and hide back with their captors, and the delays cost them the valuable time they were counting on to get out safely. They get pinned down, thankfully just around the time Miles has figured out what the hell has happened (when the Dendarii haven’t waited for him, and he’s had to make his own way following them, almost a week behind), meaning Big Brother Miles is here to save the day.

 

Tsana: Not that Mark wants him to save the day, exactly. But Mark wasn’t prepared for the pressures and requisite snap-decision making in combat, so he does want someone else to take over and fix it (so long as he still gets credit for the rescue).

Miles jumps into the fray but with fewer resources than usual. He has borrowed armour, because Mark stole his, and doesn’t have his control helmet to get a proper overview of the situation. It… doesn’t end well.

Should we have already put up spoiler shields?

 

Katharine: Probably. Beep beep boop!

–Spoiler Shield Activate!– Continue reading

Review: Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 0671722107
ISBN 13: 9780671722104
Published: 1994
Pages: 560
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

This book covers some pretty grim scenes – easily the most graphic in the series so far, which is saying something. Some parts are pretty horrific, which at least when it comes to the near-end the reader is able to take some other quite graphic actions in hand, and almost feel relieved they’ve happened.

Bujold is pretty incredible. If you were to note down the plot points in a vague list and give it to someone, saying that the author has managed to carry this all off in a way that seems believable – they would think you’re crazy. Or that at least you’re easy to please.

It’s been remarked upon before that I, as a reader, am not easy to please. Hence why I think it’s pretty incredible that Bujold has managed to orchestrate Miles and Mark in such a way. She ruins you for other books, that you may have once enjoyed but now will struggle to spend time on – because they’re just a bit too easy or not as clean with the intricacies of plot and/or world building as Bujold presents, book by book.

That’s about as coherent I think I’m going to manage to be for this book. To say much would be to spoil something in this or the previous book, though I will of course unpack certain things when Tsana and I get around to doing our discussion post for this book. Stay tuned, and for goodness sake read this damned series. But this book is hard, and if you’ve suffered any kind of trauma then trigger warnings galore on this one.

Now I need some damned tea and a British comedy panel show. Or five. To revive myself.

Discussion Post: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

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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

Continue reading

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.