Review: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen Books
ISBN: 0671720147
ISBN 13: 9780671720148
Published: 1990
Pages: 346
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

The Vor Game won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1991, and although parts seemed a little slow in the cacophony of travel that takes up the middle, the ending is what really dazzles the reader with how it all comes together and all becomes worth the ride. Not that the middle was ever boring – it was just exhausting for one to even consider having to go through. Poor Miles and his lack of sleep certainly made me feel entitled to extra naps here and there in the novel.

But I’ll backtrack. We last left Miles having finally earned himself a place in military academy and we find him now going out on his first deployment. It’s to a harsh place of constant-winter, where he is to be working in weather prediction… though this quickly gets out of hand when he nearly dies in a hazing ritual and, Miles being Miles, shakes up the order of the place substantially within days, earning himself a few more enemies in the process.

He’s then whisked back to his father’s side, and sent on a more secretive mission under ImpSec whilst under the appearance of being kept somewhere safe and out of the way as punishment… so of course Miles manages to throw aside all orders for the greater good, reunites himself with the Dendarii and Elena (and Baz), and then manages to save the one thing Barrayar hold most sacred. All in all, Miles certainly deserves a holiday after this one. By the end of the book, you can hardly believe the beginning is as it is – surely that awful time in the snow is another novel entirely?

We get to see Elena has become entirely her own in the time Miles has spent away from the Dendarii, and a few people note how she is by far more experienced and capable than those who’ve had limitless training and opportunities thrown at them. Chapter fifteen had me wriggling in my seat with glee, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an ending more in a long time in any book this year.

Once again, I can’t wait to see what happens to Miles and everyone else next. Especially Gregor.

Review: Best Novelette – The Hugo Awards 2017

Best Novelette

1097 ballots cast for 295 nominees.
Votes for finalists ranged from 74 to 268.

  • Alien Stripper Boned From Behind By The T-Rex, by Stix Hiscock (self-published)
    • Seems to be an attempt at Chuck Tingle, which either way isn’t worthy of notice let alone award.
  • The Art of Space Travel”, by Nina Allan (Tor.com, July 2016)
    • Nice enough writing to read, but it feels like not much happens – I love character driven pieces but I didn’t connect with any of them, and though this was about relationships it was a little too airy-faerie to really get into. A bit fanciable, a bit boring. I also don’t feel it does anything genre-wise to make it worthwhile of a genre award.
  • The Jewel and Her Lapidary”, by Fran Wilde (Tor.com publishing, May 2016)
    • Perhaps the idea of this can work better in a longer format, but under 50 pages seems too short to effectively discuss and unpack the whole ‘slaves’ thing – this piece as it is left me uncomfortable and discontent. Add on the fact that some parts lost me and were a bit boring with so few pages already when there were more important things to handle better… I was disappointed. And stories that involve jems have to be damn good to get me past the ‘eh why?’ query.
  • The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)
    • I appreciate Grandma Harken. Same last name as one of the QI elves from my favourite podcast, and living on the edge of town people majority of people are rubbish. This is a simple and enjoyable tale about an elderly witch who loves her garden – especially her tomatoes… so when they start to be stolen, one by one, it’s pretty much as bad as it gets for Grandma Harken. (I can’t stand tomatoes so don’t really care, but…) It’s a lovely story that keeps you reading, and well written to boot.
  • Touring with the Alien”, by Carolyn Ives Gilman (Clarkesworld Magazine, April 2016)
    • I wanted to enjoy this one as the premise sounds fun, but it seemed so hammered down and treated the reader like they were five with no ability to come to their own conclusion. A few elements felt forced like the plot had to go a certain way even without the proper stepping stones to get there, and the ending was a bit too weird without the clever to make it work. Really disappointing, unfortunately – just not for me.
  • You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay”, by Alyssa Wong (Uncanny Magazine, May 2016)
    • The best one of the lot – two orphans keep each other steady even as their lives start to pull them apart as they grow older. Marisol works in a brothel, and Ellis, our protagonist is a necromancer who’s pulled into the desert each night to seek the dead. It’s a piece that’s beautifully written, elegantly handled, utterly engaging, and Wong needs a book deal this instant. Southern Gothic music is my favourite at the moment, and this short story is music in written form.

Review: Best Short Story – The Hugo Awards 2017

Best Short Story

1275 ballots cast for 830 nominees.
Votes for finalists ranged from 87 to 182.

  • The City Born Great”, by N. K. Jemisin (Tor.com, September 2016)
    • ‘I don’t stink, but these people can smell anybody without a trust fund from a mile away.’ – HA. Excellently described. A lone homeless guy loves to paint. He’s told to listen, and he can start to hear something out there in the city. He’s told that if they’re not careful, their city (new York) will die  like Pompeii, and Atlantis… or turn into a shell like New Orleans. Jemisin also notes that libraries are safe places. There are lovely notes throughout that give this short story depth and warmth and a fill of our character, as well a his hardships, and though he’s resistant at first he’s then there to help their city through her pains. A rewarding a nice short story with simple depth.
  • A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers”, by Alyssa Wong (Tor.com, March 2016)
    • Personally not for me, and a little triggering. Lovely writing, but I’m not in the best frame of mind for this currently. I do love things that are clever and play with time, but just a little painful.
  • Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies”, by Brooke Bolander (Uncanny Magazine, November 2016)
    • Absolutely amazing. An empowering revenge piece where an awful man hurts the wrong woman, who turns out to be a fearful goddess who returns with her sisters to rip him apart and leave him crying and begging. All in about two pages. This takes an awful event and presents it in a way that’s strong, and vengeful and returns the power to the victim.
  • Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales, Saga Press)
    • Another empowering piece of how women and their friendship can help with the unjust demands of men. Tabitha is cursed to walk until she wears out seven pairs of iron shoes, which would surely demand such a huge length of time and miles I can barely perceive it. In a way it seems okay – the magic also helps with her hunger, sleep, and keeps her from freezing or burning… so… could be worse? And then we find to be stuck on the ground when she belongs in the air… Brilliant, brilliant piece.
  • That Game We Played During the War”, by Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com, March 2016)
    • A field medic is in enemy territory – though the war is now over. She attracts stares and suspicion, but she carries on doing what she’s there to do – visiting someone in a hospital. She’s Enithi, surrounded by Gaantish who are telepathic, which makes things interesting as there’s no point in ever lying to won. Certainly changes things when you’re in war, and have been captured. The two previous shorts I’ve read for this were important and excellent, but this is gripping and character driven – my favourite. Now voting will be dang hard.
  • “An Unimaginable Light”, by John C. Wright (God, Robot, Castalia House)
    • Failed to hold any interest, and certainly not at the level of those above.

Review: The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Published by: Gollancz
ISBN: 0575094990
ISBN 13: 9780575094994
Published: 1975
Pages: 207
Format reviewed: Paperback
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Women of Speculative Fiction

This is part of my reading challenge for 2017, to expand my woeful knowledge of women in speculative fiction by reading at least 24 books by women that were and are instrumental in our genre.

Books like this stress me out a little. There’s so much build up, and there’s the expectation that I’ll get so much out of reading it – and that to appreciate it fully I need to be rested, ready and put in the effort to allow that to happen. Otherwise I’m doing the book a disservice. So then I put it off, and off, thinking I’ll feel smarter some other day and ready to tackle it.

Winner of the Nebula Award and James Tiptree Jr. Award for Retrospective (1995) – so important to Tiptree – her criticism – her essays on pornography and sexuality – she’s an intimidating writer to approach. What’s refreshing is to read this book, be a little taken back by some parts and do some research, and see how Russ came to realise her own errors in part. It’s a book from the seventies, and this is evident from her treatment of transexuals (and apologies if I use any incorrect or outdated terms in this review, please let me know and I’ll learn and update.)

This book is pretty awful. It’s short and powerful, and shows how terrible things were for females. It’s then something to check against today and see how little has changed, or how recent events have shown us to go backwards almost in response to our general advances, as if the privileged are scared or feeling threatened.

I would have loved to read and study this book in university with a decent lecturer. And I’m sure it’s been done, but guided (and intelligent) discussion on a con panel would be amazing.

Discussion Post: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Mountains of Mourning is a novella that we are reading as part of the Vorkosigan Saga Project. It sequentially falls, more or less, between the novels The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game. It is about Miles Vorkosigan and was published in 1986. Miles is back home on holiday after graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and is given an official task by his father the Count.

You can read Katharine’s review of The Mountains of Mourning here, and Tsana’s review here.

Katharine: So we left Miles just as he gains entry to the Imperial Military Academy and we join him again just as he’s graduated – he’s on home leave, ten days out from his first assignment… very seamlessly done! Do we get any or many flashbacks to his time in the academy? I’m glad we didn’t have to see it all but I wouldn’t have minded seeing some!

Tsana: I think there might be a bit about it in The Vor Game? I’m not entirely sure, so we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, The Mountains of Mourning had a very different tone to The Warrior’s Apprentice, although the setting did remind me a little of what Cordelia sees in Barrayar. What were your impressions of it?

Katharine: It was good – it didn’t treat the reader like an idiot. There are quite a few changes, such as his new bodyguard, and it doesn’t take pages upon pages to labouriously introduce the reader and really hammer home how weird Miles felt or still feels about it. We’re just given the new bodyguard’s name and then we learn of him as the story goes on. Excellent!

Tsana: And there are some memories on Miles’s part to remind us that Bothari existed and that Miles still thinks of him. In terms of the actual story, I think this is the one that deals most directly with ableism and the attitudes of Joe Poor Barrayaran towards Miles and other people with “mutations”.

Katharine: Yeah, the term ‘Mutie’ is a bit confronting. I wonder how Miles got by in the Academy with this hostile and antiquated view… should we raise the spoiler shield so we can jump right into specifics?

Tsana: WHOOOOP WHOOOP SPOILERS ENGAGED

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