Discussion Post: Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold

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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

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

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Discussion Post: Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Borders of Infinity is the latest novella we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Labyrinth, and before Brothers in Arms. It’s another example of Miles being very clever, but is a lot bleaker than most of the stories that came before it, without as much humour, dark or otherwise.

You can read Katharine’s review of Borders of Infinity here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Tsana: So this was pretty much the most memorable of the Miles novellas for me. What I specifically remembered was slightly wrong though. What stuck in my head most was how clever Miles was at his rescue scheme, going into an ice-moon prison. Turns out it wasn’t quite an ice-moon prison, though, (just a normal, slightly-crappy-planet prison) and the second reading of it left me with a different impression, probably because I stopped to think about it a bit more.

 

Katharine: It was certainly able to get my attention fairly quickly. Basically from the first page Miles is thrown into a prison for prisoners of war, barely has any belongings to his name (what he’s wearing, a sleep mat, and a single cup) and is promptly beaten and robbed of everything. Including his clothes.

 

Tsana: I don’t think he’d really thought through how crappy a PoW camp would be until he found himself in out, either. Miles is very smart, but I think he sometimes walks into beatings a little too easily, especially given how fragile his bones are. (Interesting to note that by this story his leg bones have been replaced with stronger artificial ones, although the same cannot be said for his arms or wrists.

 

Katharine: Agreed, I think he is very much ‘eye on the prize’ and kind of flails his way through the beginning and middle of the plans until he gets what he wants. Mostly through perseverance. He IS super clever with getting people to do what he wants, but my goodness just how many beatings does he experience in this short novella?!

 

Tsana: A lot! And that’s before he even gets a chance to start putting his plan into motion. It’s a very clever plan too, but it should probably go under the spoiler shield…

 

<spoilers ahoy!>

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Discussion Post: Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold

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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.

You can read Katharine’s review of Labyrinth here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

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.

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Discussion Post: Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Ethan of Athos is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. In it, we meet Ethan for the first time – this is the third book in the publishing order which means Bujold wrote of Cordelia and Aral, then Miles, and now Ethan, as if trying out which storyline she wanted to continue with. Her decision becomes clear as we proceed onto further books.

You can read Katharine’s review of Ethan of Athos here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Tsana: So turns out I had completely forgotten the main plot of Ethan of Athos, despite having read it before. I remembered the premise of Athos and that Ellie Quinn was in it, but that was about it. Some of the story was more of a surprise to me than it should have been. And I enjoyed it more this time around than the first read through, probably because I was paying more attention and not just being disappointed that there was no Miles. What did you think of it overall?

 

Katharine: I was surprised by how much I really, really enjoyed it. I’ve personally always wanted to write space opera and this being mostly based in a space station where you have to consider so many other things like what they consider actual threats (fire and disease as opposed to a murderer on the loose) was of a huge personal interest. Ethan had such character growth throughout, and I felt as attached to him as I did with Cordelia and Miles – and surprised it happened so quickly.

 

Tsana: Yes, that part was fascinating. I loved how quarantine/biosecurity basically had more power to arrest and detain people than what we would think of as “normal” security. And it lead to some very amusing interactions between some of the characters. The question of how to dispose of a body or other incriminating evidence was similarly interesting since everything is so carefully monitored all the time and a rotting corpse would quickly set off alarms.

 

Katharine: I love it so much – it’s that type of worldbuilding which sets this series apart as it’s so hard to think about what would be so different to earth.

This book felt a bit more like a mystery book set in space than the previous have – so many characters who are hunting out answers and crazed men with guns coming after them. Love it!

 

Tsana: Yes, definitely a mystery set in space, but let’s leave the details of that for under the spoiler shield. My other favourite thing was how realistically Ethan thought his world was normal and his reactions to being confronted with a society that we would think of as closer to the real world. He starts off thinking women are evil and not really people, which is problematic for him when half the space station’s residents are female!

 

Katharine: So amusing, and still so true for some small groups of people depending on their religion in our world today – I know a group who will remain at least a meter away from women they don’t know or who are unattached so… I don’t really understand why – to say temptation demeans them both – I guess ‘just to be proper’? Anyway.

I also liked how at the same time Ethan is scared of women that he comes from a place that has very open thinking about sex and relationships and how a community can work together fairly and earn their way up. One of his first interactions when he arrives is with a gang of homophobic blokey blokes, and it’s an interesting juxtaposition to show just how backwards and forwards Athos manages to be at the same time.

 

Tsana: Yes, that’s true. Although I was mostly disappointed at how not progressive the stationers were on that front. I like to think the future will be less homophobic than the present, not more (although, this book was written in the 80s…). After hearing so much about how progressive Beta Colony is in the other books, I was disappointed to see that’s not how most places are in this universe. Even Quinn seemed a little homophobic, although it was outweighed by her acceptance.

 

Katharine: And I was a little disappointed that it was most evident in the gruff men workers – kind of like our current typical ocker Aussie stereotype. But I guess the story needed some kind of confrontation early on, and it’s the easiest thing to go for.

 

Tsana: And it was published 30 years ago. On the other hand, I actually thought Ethan’s fear of women was handled pretty well. It could easily have come across as more misogynistic than ignorant and fearful.

 

Katharine: And he could have been dismissive and rude – so I agree that was handled well. What I also loved is Quinn, and how her intelligence shines through – she makes quick and hard decisions, disappears and reappears, and you never really know what she’s capable of. I love seeing so many female characters who are pretty much the most capable nearby. Even if it’s the scary waste disposal woman…

 

Tsana: Hah, she turned out to be more than what she seemed too. But that’s getting into spoiler territory… Perhaps we should raise the spoiler shields?

 

Katharine: Spoiler shields… Activate!

 

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