Discussion Post: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Vor Game is the latest novel that we read as part of the Vorkosigan Saga Project. It sequentially falls, after the novel The Warrior’s Apprentice and the novella Mountains of Mourning, and before the novel Cetaganda. It’s about Miles Vorkosigan again and was first published in 1990. Miles is given his first mission after graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and it is not what he expected or hoped for.

You can read Katharine’s review of The Vor Game here, and Tsana’s review here.

 

Tsana: After skipping over the academy years, we meet Miles again as he gets his first assignment as a freshly-graduated ensign. To be honest, I’m a bit disappointed we missed out on Miles’s inevitable Academy hijinks, but this book does deliver plenty of hijinks to make up for it.

Katharine: Do we get to see any in flashbacks?

Tsana: Not that I remember. Certainly nothing major.

Katharine: Well that’s a dang shame. Bujold is still writing though, so perhaps we could get some further short stories… doubtful, but maybe if she’s reading our discussions… :p

In all seriousness, I do mostly appreciate that we jump from action to action – we know enough about their human nature to assume what went on in those years – he manages to outwit most of their exercises and instructors and gets bullied but mostly copes with it all. We meet him again when he receives his first actual mission… and it’s pretty disappointing.

Tsana: Yep. After hoping for ship duty, Miles is assigned to a polar weather station. Cold, miserable and occasionally filled with infantry cadets. Not at all in space. I think the only reason he doesn’t kick up a fuss is because it’s suggested that if he manages not to stir up trouble for six months he might be rewarded with a shiny new ship assignment. But Miles is bad at not stirring up trouble…

Katharine: Basically as soon as he gets there he’s overwhelmed with how poorly it’s run. The chap doing his job and supposed to be handling his handover is a drunk, many of the other workers don’t seem to care for the standard of their work, and of course Miles has a whole new range of people to be bullied by. It doesn’t take him long to be almost killed by a hazing attempt.

Tsana: All of which was almost expected, but… well, before we get into spoilers, should we briefly talk about how there are two very distinct parts to The Vor Game? The first part, set on the miserable polar island, and then a very distinct second part set elsewhere.

Katharine: Yup – by the end of the book it seems like a lifetime ago we read about the polar station – they don’t feel connected in the slightest. It isn’t a bad thing, or jarring in any way… if anything, it just shows how chaotic Miles’ life is. I’m not sure how much else we can say without the spoiler klaxon?

Tsana: *klaxon sound effects*

<spoilers below>

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Review: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Baen Books
ISBN: 0671720147
ISBN 13: 9780671720148
Published: 1990
Pages: 346
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

The Vor Game won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1991, and although parts seemed a little slow in the cacophony of travel that takes up the middle, the ending is what really dazzles the reader with how it all comes together and all becomes worth the ride. Not that the middle was ever boring – it was just exhausting for one to even consider having to go through. Poor Miles and his lack of sleep certainly made me feel entitled to extra naps here and there in the novel.

But I’ll backtrack. We last left Miles having finally earned himself a place in military academy and we find him now going out on his first deployment. It’s to a harsh place of constant-winter, where he is to be working in weather prediction… though this quickly gets out of hand when he nearly dies in a hazing ritual and, Miles being Miles, shakes up the order of the place substantially within days, earning himself a few more enemies in the process.

He’s then whisked back to his father’s side, and sent on a more secretive mission under ImpSec whilst under the appearance of being kept somewhere safe and out of the way as punishment… so of course Miles manages to throw aside all orders for the greater good, reunites himself with the Dendarii and Elena (and Baz), and then manages to save the one thing Barrayar hold most sacred. All in all, Miles certainly deserves a holiday after this one. By the end of the book, you can hardly believe the beginning is as it is – surely that awful time in the snow is another novel entirely?

We get to see Elena has become entirely her own in the time Miles has spent away from the Dendarii, and a few people note how she is by far more experienced and capable than those who’ve had limitless training and opportunities thrown at them. Chapter fifteen had me wriggling in my seat with glee, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed an ending more in a long time in any book this year.

Once again, I can’t wait to see what happens to Miles and everyone else next. Especially Gregor.

Discussion Post: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Mountains of Mourning is a novella that we are reading as part of the Vorkosigan Saga Project. It sequentially falls, more or less, between the novels The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game. It is about Miles Vorkosigan and was published in 1986. Miles is back home on holiday after graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and is given an official task by his father the Count.

You can read Katharine’s review of The Mountains of Mourning here, and Tsana’s review here.

Katharine: So we left Miles just as he gains entry to the Imperial Military Academy and we join him again just as he’s graduated – he’s on home leave, ten days out from his first assignment… very seamlessly done! Do we get any or many flashbacks to his time in the academy? I’m glad we didn’t have to see it all but I wouldn’t have minded seeing some!

Tsana: I think there might be a bit about it in The Vor Game? I’m not entirely sure, so we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, The Mountains of Mourning had a very different tone to The Warrior’s Apprentice, although the setting did remind me a little of what Cordelia sees in Barrayar. What were your impressions of it?

Katharine: It was good – it didn’t treat the reader like an idiot. There are quite a few changes, such as his new bodyguard, and it doesn’t take pages upon pages to labouriously introduce the reader and really hammer home how weird Miles felt or still feels about it. We’re just given the new bodyguard’s name and then we learn of him as the story goes on. Excellent!

Tsana: And there are some memories on Miles’s part to remind us that Bothari existed and that Miles still thinks of him. In terms of the actual story, I think this is the one that deals most directly with ableism and the attitudes of Joe Poor Barrayaran towards Miles and other people with “mutations”.

Katharine: Yeah, the term ‘Mutie’ is a bit confronting. I wonder how Miles got by in the Academy with this hostile and antiquated view… should we raise the spoiler shield so we can jump right into specifics?

Tsana: WHOOOOP WHOOOP SPOILERS ENGAGED

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Review: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold

Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Published by: Phoenix Pick
ISBN: 1612421857
ISBN 13: 9781612421858
Published: 1989
Pages: 102
Format reviewed: ePub
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Related Reviews: Reading Challenge: Vorkosigan Saga Project

The next in our Vorkosigan read-through is a novella, a weighty one that won the Hugo Award for Best Novella (1990), Nebula Award for Best Novella (1989), and the SF Chronicle Award for Best Novella (1990) – so even though it’s short, hopefully I’ll have a few paragraphs of discussion handy!

We meet Miles again, now newly graduated from the Academy and having earned the rank of Ensign Vorkosigan – however at times as we see in this novella, still far out-ranking even though who’ve reached the 20-year mark of the militia because of who his father is, and the duties that come with the title. It’s one of these duties which suddenly eats up the remaining ten days of his home leave before he’s granted his first assignment, which means a quick trip to Vorbarr Sultana with his cousin, Ivan, and the purchase of a new lightflyer are thrown by the wayside.

The duties require Miles to act as Voice for his father, travelling back with a woman, Harra, who has come to them for justice for infanticide, to the mountain district (hence the title). Her baby was born with a harelip and a cleft palate, and being from a more old-fashioned part of the once quite savage Barrayar, the baby is killed for being born less. There was a new clinic Harra wanted to travel to with the baby for an operation – when she had recovered from the birth – but that option was taken from her. And now it’s up to Miles to investigate the old-fashioned way (ish, he has a few technical advances) to find out who the criminal is, and what the punishment should be. Harra swears it was her husband, Lem, and though the community lacks for communication technology Miles is used to taking for granted, Lem has gone into hiding by the time Miles arrives, and almost every person there expects Miles has come to kill him – fairly or no.

This is an interesting novella, and packs the punches you may expect from Bujold, especially when it’s backed up with three of the biggest awards our genre has to offer. What’s good about this is that things are never simple, and Miles (poor Miles) never has an easy go of things. The ignorance, prejudice, and downright insulting nature of the community are put on for show at both a shindig that kicks off one night basically in his honour, and then also when he gives his Speaking (verdict). There’s an attack on Miles’ life, on his horse (the only one remaining from General Count Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan’s personally trained stock), and disrespect shown for the elite in general. And yet, Miles takes things slowly (even when he doubts himself), and goes to extra lengths to instruct, inspire, and lead people to seeing himself and his family, their cause, justice, and the truth in a better light. He doesn’t always succeed which is always good – some minds will never be changed after all, but Miles is truly an inspiration for his ability to interact with people, and his determination to be and do the best he possible can.

A highly enjoyable novella I didn’t put down for a second, and I can’t wait to read the next in our reading challenge, The Vor Game.

Discussion Post: The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Warrior’s Apprentice is the third book we are reading as part of the Vorkosigan Saga Project. It sequentially follows on from Barrayar and is the first book (chronologically and in publication order) about Miles Vorkosigan, published before Barrayar was in 1986. Miles is the son of Cordelia and Aral and we join him as he tries (and fails) to gain admittance to the Imperial Military Academy and has to turn to other ideas.

 

You can read Tsana’s review of The Warrior’s Apprentice here, and Katharine’s review here.

 

Tsana: When I first read the Vorkosigan saga, this was the first book I started with. It seemed like a good place to start at the time — it introduced Miles, who everyone talked about as the main character, and it was one of the first books written and published. I didn’t read the first two Cordelia books, Shards of Honour and Barrayar, until the very end, which meant that the impact of some of the references to the past in The Warrior’s Apprentice was completely lost on me. I am very glad to be rereading the books again in this order. What were your impressions of The Warrior’s Apprentice, having picked it up for the first time?

Katharine: I honestly wonder what I would have thought of Miles for the first section of the book, without having being brought to him via his parents. From this journey I’m already protective of him because we saw the struggles his parents had… without that, I think he would have won me over when he first uses his crazy schemes to save Mayhew… but before then, I might have found him a little too… what’s the word… Fervent?

Tsana: Hah, fervent is certainly the word to describe him (and you haven’t even seen half of it yet)! But that’s understandable just from knowing about his disability and desire to prove himself in the militaristic and ableist society of Barrayar. That said, there wasn’t as much ableism in the book as there could have been. Miles spends most of it off-world where other people just think he’s a bit weird instead of making the sign of the devil against him like we see Barrayarans do. What were your impressions of this?

Katharine: I found it interesting that as soon as he drew any ire it was the first thing they went to – calling him awful things about his (lack of) height or crookedness. But overall I think the novel did a good job at introducing the reader to him – we start the novel off with him not being successful in gaining entry into the Imperial Military Academy on Barrayar because of his disability, and then for the rest of the novel we see him, more or less, in situations where it doesn’t hold him back at all.

Tsana: I remember someone somewhere (I think it might have been on Galactic Suburbia) saying that in zero-G his disabilities didn’t matter anymore. But we don’t really see that in this book. What we know about Miles’s limitations are that he has very brittle bones — he breaks both his legs in the opening scene — and that he’s short with a crooked spine. We also briefly learn that he’s allergic to some medication, but that doesn’t feature too much. While none of those things stop him doing anything other than passing the Imperial Military Academy physical exam, he’s also not put into any equalising situations, not really. Galactics (ie non-Barrayarans) might not care so much that he’s different, but he still has to prove himself in a normal fashion without any sudden advantages. The only advantage he had in his life was more time to read and study growing up due to being unable to play outside as much. The rest of his advantage is all personality and intelligence (the latter having nothing to do with his disabilities).

Katharine: And all thanks to his parents – there’s several references that show he knows what they would do or think in a situation and he seems to take their way as gospel – he uses what his mother would think in a situation to reassure Elena, for example.

Tsana: Yes, it definitely helps that his parents are good role-models. He probably wouldn’t have gotten nearly so far with his crazy schemes if not for his father’s military and political strategy rubbing off on him.

Katharine: And his mother’s ability as a warrior – he wouldn’t have got nearly as far in his schemes without being able to see women are equal from the very start – something that threw a few of his adversaries off. Should we lift the spoiler zone so we can get into the nitty gritty?

 

<spoilers start here>

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