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.

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Review: Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1590623827
ISBN 13: 9781590623824
Published: 1989
Pages: 110
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Three out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

I have been sometimes free with choosing the cover for my posts – this is the actual cover for the omnibus in my virtual library that contains The Mountains of Mourning (1989) (already reviewed), Labyrinth (1989), and The Borders of Infinity (1987) (coming later this month.) The majority of the covers for this series are horrible, but this one didn’t even really have any to pick from, being from the middle of an omnibus. Such is life.

In this novella we see what Miles got up to just after the previous book – Ethan of Athos – who gets a mention in this tale just in passing, and the knowledge of helps Miles make a pretty tough but quick decision. His original mission was to provide safe passage for a research scientist, but of course when Miles is involved things are never that simple. The scientist refuses to board until Miles does something for him – destroy a project he regrets – especially if it were to get into the wrong hands. And when Miles finds what exactly the project is he quickly decides there’s no way he’s doing any such thing.

Apparently this gives us the background of a character we’ll see a lot more of later on (damn you, spoilers!) which makes me a little more sympathetic to the plot, but I do have one major problem with it, and possibly because it’s something that comes up quite regularly in my line of work. So it’s time for a spoiler cut:

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Discussion Post: Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

vorkosigan

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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Review: Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen
ISBN: 1886778396
ISBN 13: 9781886778399
Published: 1986
Pages: 200
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

And so we meet Ethan. As we have seen in my previous reviews, I loathed to leave first Cordelia and Aral, and then Miles. Yet again we change to another main character – this time Ethan of the planet Athos – a highly religious planet that has zero need for women and have instead a complex and strict society where you can work additional hours in order to earn credits you can then exchange to be granted a child through their advanced biotechnology. In many ways, especially at the beginning, they seemed so entirely backwards – he’s petrified of women and completely devout… but then we see how progressive they are with being gay, and how backwards other otherwise ‘progressive’ planets are. It’s all very well done with a sly dig here and there.

We grow to love Ethan because he’s so boyishly excited and proud of his job and the work he does. He is simple in many ways. Cordelia and Miles before him were vastly intelligent and adept at almost everything they turn their hands to, and then we get Ethan who is also intelligent… but certainly not the guns blazing save a planet type of character. He doesn’t want to leave his planet, but does because he believes in the cause ferociously. He runs into Quinn, who we know from Miles’ previous ‘Admiral Naismith’ adventure, and it’s a joy to have her back.

This is basically a slight investigative drama meets space opera. The quest Ethan has left Athos for is to track down the biological shipment Athos needs to survive. He runs into Quinn and trouble pretty much straight away (I think it refers to what ordeals he goes through before he even has a chance to eat anything) but as he lacks Miles’ quick thinking and way with words, he suffers through a 7+ hour of torture (amongst other things), which shows just how over his head he really is. He’s bashed for being gay, he’s scared of women and it’s only through Quinn’s energetic personality that he’s often too stunned to react to her through the first initial meeting, and then from there he’s in hiding thanks to her skills… and from there, he’s determined to get to the bottom of everything just as much as everyone else who’s in play here.

I love seeing all the worldbuilding that goes into this books – like how biohazards and fires are the top notch worries whilst in space – murder they’re not really fussed over.

This is the lowest ranking book in the series (according to goodreads) but I loved every minute of it, and devoured it within about a day. More Ethan, I say! (Although I’m pretty sure there’s not.) More Cee! More Quinn!