Discussion Post: The Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois McMaster Bujold

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The Flowers of Vashnoi is the latest story we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project and the most recently published, with the ebook having dropped only days ago. This novella follows Ekaterin and takes place after Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance and before Cryoburn.

You can read Katharine’s review of The Flowers of Vashnoi here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Tsana: Such perfect timing to have a new novella come out that fits perfectly into our chronological read-through!

 

Katharine: I’m actually here for a new book! It’s a weird feeling to be one of the first to read it and see how few reviews/chatter there is out there (I mean, still tons as heaps bought and devoured it first day of course) but it’s still all so fresh!

 

Tsana: And, OK, it wasn’t a super long novella, but still, yay. And it’s a story that’s all Ekaterin’s own, instead of alternating chapters with Miles like in the novels she’s featured in.

 

Katharine: And she was really able to hold her own. Not that there was any doubt on either her or Bujold’s ability, but it’s so excellent to see Ekaterin so relaxed and confident in her not-so-new life, when you think to how she was when she barely thought she deserved any kind of happiness.

 

Tsana: Right? This is the first time we’ve seen her properly after she’s had a chance to get used to her new life with Miles and of course she kicks arse because that’s basically a prerequisite for being around Miles.

 

Katharine: And I love how she’s so easily able to be loving and exasperated with both him and their kids (and the battle tactics on the poor cats). It’s almost as if it’s a realistic portrayal of a decent marriage – shock, horror!  

We also see the return of our favourite (well, only) scientist, Enrique Borgos. And the bugs.

 

Tsana: Yep. Although there’s two books that happen in between, The Flowers of Vashnoi seems to be a successor to A Civil Campaign, which introduces Enrique and the butterbugs (to much hilarity) and sets up the possibility for The Flowers of Vashnoi. I don’t think this new novella has as much impact without having read A Civil Campaign first (but I still hope people nominate it for a Hugo next year…)

 

Katharine: Agreed. So in this we see that the bugs have now been engineered to be able to assist with fixing the bit of land that’s still radioactive. It’ll be pretty incredible if it is possible, which does seem hopeful after their first visit to the area. However, they also find that some of the bugs, once again, have escaped the confines of their new habitat much to Miles’ disgust.

 

Tsana: Spoiler tag time!

<shields up!>

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Discussion Post: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. For the first time we get to focus on Ivan, Miles’s cousin. Chronologically, this story takes place after Diplomatic Immunity and, for all that Ivan frequently appears in Miles’s stories, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance contains very little Miles…

You can read Tsana’s review of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance here, and Katharine’s review here.

Katharine: Wooo Ivan! (That is the tl;dr of my review.)

Tsana: In which we learn that Ivan is quite capable of having strange things happen to him even when Miles is safely on another planet. Despite what we’ve seen in snakes?earlier books, it’s not all Miles’s fault.

Katharine: And when it does happen, he’s quite adept at coming up with suitable scenarios and resources for saving the day. All while being quite considerate, too. Line right up for your Ivan fan club badge, people!

Tsana: When what does happen?

Katharine: Strange things. Such as By appearing from nowhere and asking Ivan to keep an eye on a woman who seems to have some trouble after her.

They’re out on Komarr – neither Miles or Ivan are on Barrayar – with Captain Ivan Vorpatril playing secretary to an admiral. Cousin By who we met in A Civil Campaign appears out of nowhere and doesn’t leave much information at all… which is probably why Ivan quickly winds up being tied to a chair and foiling an attempted kidnaping. Which is one way to win the trust of the woman he’s been asked to protect, at least…

Tsana: It’s a continuation of the general trend of “no one ever tells Ivan anything”. But the absence of anyone to hide behind does bring out the best in Ivan and shows the reader just how competent he really is, despite trying to hide it and not draw attention to himself. In the earlier books we got glimpses suggesting that there was more to Ivan than just “that idiot”, but now we really get a chance to see it.

Katharine: Such as being able to run on very little sleep, handle questioning from local authorities, and sure, he may seem to ‘just’ be a secretary however doing such a job well shows just how much intuition and greater understanding of everything as a whole is needed in order to keep your boss afloat. We often see Ivan referring to snakes, as in, what does the admiral need to see sooner rather than later – something his eventual replacement doesn’t seem to get right at all. But now I’m really jumping too far ahead.

Tsana: We see Ivan being good at his job, which doesn’t contradict anything we’ve seen earlier but which also isn’t something we’ve witnessed either way. His job was always relatively peripheral to Miles’s stories. Ivan’s General likes him and that puts Ivan in quite a senior position, even though he is still only a captain. And Ops is also not the same can of worms/snakes as the ImpSec we have frequently seen through the eyes of the other characters (and continue to see in this book).

Katharine: Ivan got promoted before Miles did, didn’t he? Way back when Miles was ‘just a courier?’

Tsana: Yep. Miles was very jealous and got himself retrospectively captain-ed during/despite his medical discharge.

Katharine: Thankfully they’ve both matured quite a bit since then. So, the woman By has asked Ivan to keep an eye on is a woman called Tej. Who happens to have a hidden half-sister, Rish. Hidden because she’s bright blue and stands out quite a bit. Half-sister because they’re from Jackson’s Whole. Tsana, care to explain their family (I certainly don’t really understand the older members very well), and why they’re on the run?

Tsana: It does get a bit complicated, doesn’t it? I think if I’m going to explain it all in detail, we have to put the spoiler shields up.

<spoilers below!>

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Discussion Post: Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Diplomatic Immunity is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. We’ve returned to Miles and Ekaterin, joining them almost a year after their marriage (as we saw in “Winterfair Gifts”). They’re now expecting the birth (well, hatching) of their two children… however, of course, work has sprung up and Miles diverted to Quaddiespace.

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

 

Tsana: Well I remembered basically none of that from my first read through. I’m not sure why, but all that stuck in my head was that Miles and Ekaterin visit the Quaddies. Partway through I started worrying that I also remembered the death of a character, but, well I won’t say above the spoiler shield whether that was correct or not. Suffice to say a lot of the story came as a surprise to me.

 

Katharine: That must be good! I loved this one, especially comparing to Falling Free. It was interesting to see how they have expanded their part of the world and all the facilities they have now – like their own forensic investigators and such. And the story itself was rather exciting.

 

Tsana: I really liked the name references to some of the significant characters in Falling Free. Like how the Quaddies decided that they would only have first names, but the more popular names get numbers appended to them. So Leo Number and Silver Number and other founding quaddie characters are really popular. Also the bits of station named after Falling Free characters like Graf station and the Minchenko ballet.

 

Katharine: I agree – that was really quite lovely to see. And… oh, I should leave that for after the spoiler warning. Uhm. Well, so to the plot recap – so there was some trouble on the Quaddie station docks involving a security officer from the convoy’s Barrayaran military escort. Miles and Ekaterin were the closest to Quaddiespace at the time, so Miles was asked to go see what the trouble was all about, and it turns out the military have assaulted one of their own for sleeping with a local and he’s now seeking asylum, and another Barrayan has been killed (or at least there was a lot of blood), and the body nowhere to be found.

 

Tsana: All this while in the background Miles and Ekaterin are keen to get back to Barrayar for the decanting of their babies. Miles figures that if he can get the scandal with the Quaddies sorted in two weeks they won’t be late for the decanting. But when do things go smoothly where Miles is involved? He uncovers far-reaching conspiracies wherever he goes.

 

Katharine: Decanting – I like that. Sounds classy! And yes, because it’s not as simple as a bit of rough-housing and a maybe-murder, no. There’s explosives and biochemical threats and all sorts. And that’s even before they discover… well. Spoiler shield time?

 

Tsana: Spoilers ahoy!

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Discussion Post: Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Falling Free is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It’s actually the earliest book to take place chronologically and was published fourth out of all of them. Set about 200 years before the other books in the Vorkosigan universe, Falling Free is about a race of genetically engineered “quaddies” who were designed to function better in freefall than normal humans do.

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

 

Katharine: Hello everyone! Welcome back, and apologies this discussion is so late. Totally my fault, and totally because I struggled to finish reading this one. I was not a fan.

 

Tsana: While this is definitely not one of my favourite Bujold books, I didn’t hate Falling Free. There was one aspect I was definitely not a fan of (and that was true the first time I read it as well), but other than that I found it to be an interesting hard science fiction book.

 

Katharine: We meet Leo Graff, who is being hired on a top-secret project and based out on a self-sufficient space station, to teach welding in space, and how to do it safely. Unfortunately it turns out that his boss is someone he’s run into before, and didn’t exactly give a glowing recommendation for… so even before he begins, he knows he’s up against someone who has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

 

Tsana: Well I don’t think the boss knows that Leo hated him, which is why he gets Leo hired… but I’m jumping ahead a little. The interesting thing about this space station is not who’s in charge of it, but the project that is being run out of it. The company that owns the station has genetically engineered a new race of humans that can work and live in microgravity environments much better than normal humans can. Their most visible biological difference? A second set of hands instead of feet.

 

Katharine: Called quaddies, the oldest are only just at childbearing age, which several of them are now experimenting. Tony and Claire are the first parents, and Tony happens to become quickly Leo’s best student. The quaddies are mostly far too innocent for their own good and are considered property of the company.

 

Tsana: Yes. And when we say childbearing age, they’re like 15 or 16, not adults. That, and some of the interactions with adults in positions of power over them contributed to a significant squick factor. Is that the main thing you didn’t like about it, Katharine?

 

Katharine: Can go more into that after we raise the spoiler shield as it’s too hard to discuss without it. But basically… the quaddies exist and Leo is only one of many of their instructors, except we don’t see much of any of the others. We see doctors and the ‘mothers’ who care for the kids, and that’s about it.

 

Tsana: A lot of the book is a look at what might be thought up as a solution to various problems normal humans face working in space for long periods of time, as well as, er something that I’ve just realised is a major spoiler.

 

Spoiler shields up!


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Discussion Post: Winterfair Gifts by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Winterfair Gifts is the latest story we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It follows on after the novel A Civil Campaign and before the novel Diplomatic Immunity. In Winterfair Gifts we get a glimpse of the Vorkosigan household in the lead up to a wedding from the point of view of Roic, a junior Vorkosigan Armsman.

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

 

Tsana: Well. I had only vague memories of this one before re-reading. I think I probably just inhaled it on my first read through without stopping to think about it very much.

 

Katharine: It kept me up so late on a work night. I thought to myself ‘I’ll just get started for now and then hopefully finish it this weekend…’ and zip. Got to 90% past midnight and tore myself away.

 

Tsana: Lol, you managed NOT to finish it in one go when you got that close? That’s extremely impressive. I read it in one sitting in the middle of a weekend day. I had forgotten why we should care about Roic too, but as the novella quickly reminded me, he was the one that ended up covered in bug butter in A Civil Campaign.

 

Katharine: I was so tired and stressed about work that I figured I should keep something to look forward to. How old do we think Roic is in this one?

 

Tsana: He has to be in his 20s, I think? Upper limit of 25 at a guess? Which, on a slight tangent, isn’t it convenient how everyone counts time in Earth units? Even though Barrayar has longer days, I don’t remember them saying anything about different year lengths and hence different ways of calculating ages…

 

Katharine: It’s a bit sad that’s seemingly been thrown in the ‘too hard’ basket and they don’t care to explore that into something interesting. They could have said age doesn’t matter for that reason and yet they do rely on it for all their Vor quirks.

 

Tsana: I mean, it makes sense to have a galactic standard, so that part’s fine. But I do wonder about what happened with it in the Time of Isolation. Perhaps we’ll never know… :-( (Although, as someone who has devised a different time system in fiction, it is a pain in the arse to explain and keep track of, so I can understand the reluctance.)

 

Katharine: Maybe it’s something we can ask if we ever happen to go to the same Worldcon (or other con) as Bujold. So, Roic tells the story from his POV – guests are coming back to Barrayar for another wedding. Presents and messages are arriving for the happy couple and being put on display. And one of the guests just so happens to be Taura.

 

Tsana: And Elena with husband plus baby in tow. But perhaps this is the moment for the spoiler shields.

 

~~~~ SPOILERS AHOY ~~~~

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