Discussion Post: Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Komarr is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Memory and before A Civil Campaign. It introduces a new recurring character and gives us a closer look at the planet Komarr than we’ve had so far.

 

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

 

Tsana: So this novel shows us the start of the next phase of Miles’s life, which changed dramatically in the previous book, Memory, when he was forced to leave the Dendarii. Now he’s solving mysteries/problems and having adventures… which isn’t too far from what was happening before, just with fewer soldiers. What did you think?

 

Katharine: I liked how he was basically shadowing one of the other Imperial Auditors, yet they still worked in unison and bowed to each others strengths. More jobs in life need to be like that.

 

Tsana: I think it helped that Vorthys knows for certain how competent Miles is, whereas most people Miles encounters don’t because they haven’t read his classified files. Also, the whole reason they’re both Auditors is because they’re competent, which is sometimes a tall order in real life… ;-p

 

Katharine: Very true, but I can dream of my version of utopia :p So yes, Miles is on one of his first investigations as an imperial auditor, and it’s taken them to Komarr, where a spaceship has happened to crash into the solar mirror that’s vital to the continual terraforming of the planet. Imperial Auditor Vorthys is the other chap with him, and his niece happens to live on Komarr, so it’s there they go to stay for what they first assume will be a few nights and nothing else.

 

Tsana: However, Auditor Vorthys’s niece is, Ekatarin, our other point of view character in this book. So we know from the start that she’s going to be important for the story — roughly half the book is told from her point of view, in alternating chapters with Miles’s point of view. And, minor spoiler, Ekatarin is set up to be another recurring character. As a result, her personal journey from the start of the book to the end is much more significant than Miles’s. Miles just gets the hang of this new Auditor gig, while Ekatarin goes through some big life changes.

 

Katharine: It’s good seeing how people view Miles every so often. We’ve seen him go through some pretty significant changes and so you think he doesn’t look as ‘mutie’ as he would have previously, but this book reminds us yet again just how the majority of people view him.

Ekatarin is from Barrayar, and old Vor. She married young to Etienne “Tien” Vorsoisson, who has a genetic disorder that he’s frightened of being publicly known – even though Vorzohn’s Dystrophy is treatable – which just shows how judgemental Barrayans are about any condition. Ekatarin is worried for their son, Nikolai, and wants to start his treatment immediately… however Tien forbids it until they can treat it in absolute secrecy… which of course is far more expensive. This provides the majority of the tension between their once-happy marriage.

 

Tsana: When we got more of the backstory, it sounded like Ekatarin’s marriage to Etienne Vorsoisson started off well only because she was young (twenty to his thirty), idealistic and a bit naïve. As soon as things started to get a little challenging in their marriage, Etienne became emotionally abusive, mostly to Ekatarin, but also to his son. In the eight or nine years since (they’ve been married ten years at this point), Etienne’s moodswings, angry outbursts and a string of jobs in various locations, all quit prematurely, has eaten away at Ekatarin’s happiness and sense of self. It was really painful to read most of the married couple’s interactions.

 

Katharine: Especially as we see Ekatarin light up when eased into security around her uncle when they go out for lunch together, and then again as Miles becomes determined to make her laugh. We see hints of what she used to be passionate about – she has a deep interest in botany, but the constant moving made keeping her own garden pretty pointless after a while of barely a year in the same place. She has one plant that’s over seventy years old – that Tien throws from a great height at a certain point in the story when the options are either her, the plant, or himself.

 

Tsana: Maybe we are getting into spoiler territory now. (plant spoilers!)

 

~~~ spoiler shields up! ~~~

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Discussion Post: Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Memory is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Mirror Dance and before Komarr. In Memory the story sees significant changes in Miles’s life and in the lives of some of the people around him. This book has major spoilers for Mirror Dance, so stop reading now if you haven’t read that book!

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

 

Katharine: And so we meet Miles back with the Dendarii – and quite quickly we see Miles land himself in some pretty terrible action. After dying in an earlier novel we see the side effects have continued; namely that he has seizures – usually at inopportune times, which we later learn is because they’re triggered by stress.

 

Tsana: For a book that I mainly remembered as being about Simon Illyan, this one really did have some significant life changes for Miles. For all that Miles has had the opportunity to fix a lot of his medical problems — he’s been gradually replacing his skeleton with stronger artificial bones, for example — he’s also been accumulating new ones and now, after much hardship, they’ve finally caught up with him severely enough that it’s time for a medical discharge. From the start of the book, he has seizures left over from his cryorevival but he hasn’t actually told anyone about them. So things go horribly wrong when he goes on a field mission and has a seizure in the heat of battle.

 

And we’re getting into spoiler territory very early on. Should we put up the spoiler shields or jump to discuss something less spoilery?

 

Katharine: Sure thing. Beep boop beep!

 

— spoilers —

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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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