Discussion Post: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

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.

Discussion Post: Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

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!>

Continue reading

Review: The Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 0671578294
ISBN 13: 9780671578299
Published: 1987
Pages: 115
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

And so then we come to this novella. We’re immediately thrown into a Cetagandan war camp where Miles has found himself where he is promptly stripped of the few resources he has left to his name (clothes, a single cup, a bed roll) and beaten. He’s befriended by the only other person in the camp less popular than he is – a fellow who thinks he’s the chosen one. 

Miles enlists him to the whole reason why he’s there – to track down a military genius by the name of Tremont, who they unfortunately find near death. The war camp is in shambles thanks to the Catagandan psychological tactics to break their spirits which means Miles’ simple plan has suddenly become infinitely harder, and he’s left to wonder whether this may be it.

However, he and his brilliant mind will always overcome brute strength. He rustles up an idea and plays harsh odds – asking one person to rally up 20 friends (as he’s more popular), and Miles commits himself to winning over the women’s camp – where all the women of the camp have fortified themselves together to protect against rape and other attacks which have been rife. He gets himself thrown out countless times in order to make them understand he has guts (or is just very stupid and hence, not a threat) and it’s with their combined forces that they soon win more and more of the other prisoners simply through their astonishing numbers.

They beat the Cetaganadan mind games and slowly bring order to the camp. And because this is a novella, it’s shortly fixed, leaving us to Miles discussing what had happened to Simon yet again. Miles is finally left to rest and recouperate in hospital, and we finally get to see Cordelia again. 

Overall this was a very quick read – things move swiftly and you can’t put it down because you don’t really want to lose count of how many bones Miles has broken so far. 

Discussion Post: Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

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.

Continue reading