Reporting from Mount TBR (September Edition)

I’ve never been much of a re-reader. I’ll watch a movie fifty times (no joke) but tend to read a book only once. Over the past two years, however, I’ve started re-reading some of my favourites, but have refreshed the experience by opting for a different format. Audio instead of print, or vice versa. I’ve re-read my favourite Le Guin’s just because the stories are so great. I re-read Dune to prepare for the new movie. I’m re-reading the Vorkosigan Saga because Mr. Jensen has been listening to them on audio, and I’m jealous of the fun he’s having.

In between all of this re-reading, I’m still managing to hit the TBR. Not as aggressively as planned, but I *think* I bought fewer books than I read over the past two months. Maybe.

Continue reading “Reporting from Mount TBR (September Edition)”

Review: Memory (A Miles Vorkosigan Novel) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Memory (Vorkosigan Saga, #10)

Summoned home to Barrayar to follow up on an incident where he might have accidentally cut the legs of the Imperial Courier he had just rescued, Lord Miles Vorkosigan finds that his own integrity is not the only thing awry. Simon Illyan, Chief of Imperial Security (Imp Sec) is having trouble remembering things, which should be impossible, as he was implanted with a special memory chip thirty years ago.

Illyan becomes incapacitated and is hospitalised. Paranoid to a fault, the Barrayaran Imperial Security forces suspect sabotage and, in the time honoured tradition of Imp Sec, Illyan’s successor, Lucas Haroche, is charged with solving the case of Illyan’s (perhaps) attempted murder. Due to his current state of disgrace, Miles is barred from visiting Illyan. One would think Haroche would know better than to tell Miles he cannot do something. Miles finds a way into Imp Med and onto the case and then solves it. There are a couple of twists and turns along the way, but the question of who buggered with Illyan’s implant is merely the plot of Memory 1997 book by Lois McMaster Bujold and not the whole purpose.

I fell in love with Miles Vorkosigan the moment I met him, and he is one of my favourite literary heroes. I embarked upon my Vorkosigan journey several years ago by reading the books in order of internal chronology, rather than publication. Then I skipped ahead to read CryoBurn, which halted my progress for a while. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the earlier novels. The later release of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance cemented the ‘Vorkosigan Saga’ as perhaps my favourite space opera, however, and reminded me that I had missed certain pivotal events.

Reading a series out of order does come with the possibility of spoilers, but discovering the why of something can be as exciting as arriving somewhere unprepared, as Miles might say. In Memory, Miles’ foremost adventure is through his own psyche and he is unprepared for what he finds. As Illyan fights to remember the last five minutes, Miles trips down memory lane in pursuit of a very illusive target: himself. Recent changes in his career path leave him spinning or rather spiralling through the depths of despair. We’ve seen Miles depressed before, but not quite like this. He becomes still. Miles, still, is disturbing. Really, really disturbing! Instead of constant action, there is a lot of thought and self-examination.

I loved every minute of it. Memory covers a turning point in Miles’ life and it’s so sensitively and wonderfully done. It’s nothing short of perfect. I wept in so many places because I was so touched by both Miles’ thoughts and actions and the way Bujold handled an obviously beloved character. I also enjoyed the chance to see Illyan and Miles interacting outside of Imp Sec. The fishing trip would have to be one of my favourite scenes, ever.

Without knowing Miles as well as I do or profess to, as a fan, I might not have enjoyed this book as much. This one definitely can’t be read out of order. But, without having skipped ahead to read Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance first, I might have missed several subtleties. One of the joys of reading a series, in order or otherwise, is the in-jokes between the characters, and the author and the reader. Memory is full of such moments and they are wonderfully rewarding.

Ultimately, though, the reward for reading Memory is seeing Miles rediscover himself or the self he discarded thirteen years ago in pursuit of his alter ego, Admiral Naismith, and adventure with Dendarii Fleet. At the age of thirty, Miles Vorkosigan finally grows up but he doesn’t change all that much. He simply accepts himself, all of himself, and he is still Miles. He still has a whole life ahead of him.

As he says toward the end of the book, ‘I am unprecedented.’

His father makes the only proper reply, ‘This is not news, Miles.’

Written for SFCrowsnest.


Review: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

12998057Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance’ is the book many fans have been waiting for. Finally, we hear Ivan’s story—in his own voice. Avid readers of Lois McMaster Bujold’s award winning Vorkosigan Saga will enjoy hearing Ivan’s perspective on many things, from his manic cousin, Miles, our more usual protagonist and guide to all things Barrayan, to Barrayar itself, the emperor, the military, Imperial Security, politics, intrigue and family. Newcomers to the saga will simply enjoy Ivan’s voice and story and will be intrigued by the glimpses of the larger story.

In the course of a routine assignment (if such a thing exists, Bujold has yet to include it in her saga), Ivan is visited by one of his cousins, By Vorrutyer, an agent with Imp. Sec. Premonition prickles and Ivan tries, unsuccessfully, to keep By from giving him an assignment. A picture of the target—an attractive woman with attractive ‘qualities’—changes his mind. Ever willing to help out a damsel in distress, Ivan sets out to meet the woman…and ends up stunned and bound to a chair where he spends an uncomfortable night cursing all things Imp. Sec. Then the real threat arrives. Not the best date he’s ever been on, but for Ivan, not the worst situation he has been in, either.

With the aid of his original captors, the mysterious woman, Tej, and her even more mysterious blue-skinned friend, Rish, they evade the real threat and Ivan, being the quietly heroic man he is—flapping and flailing—offers his protection to both women. An alliance is formed, one of convenience, and while the repercussions of his hasty decision ripple through the galaxy, Tej’s story is unraveled and revealed…and Ivan falls in love.

‘Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance’ has all the intrigue and adventure of any entry in the Vorkosigan Saga and Ivan’s gentle theatrics more than make up for Miles’ more usual drama. As always, humour and the absurd are sandwiched in between high drama. Where this book truly shines, however, is in Ivan’s point of view. Every story has several facets and through Ivan’s eyes, we gain a new perspective on Miles, Gregor, Simon Illyan, Lady Alys and even Cordellia and Aral Vorkosigan. Interwoven throughout the plot are glimpses and reflections of the history of the saga and Barrayar, itself.

Ivan has long been one of my favourite characters; ‘Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance’ has firmly placed him at Miles’ right hand, in my mind. Though I know it’s not necessary we hear from him again, I do hope the Bujold writes another Ivan book, or maybe gives him equal voice in a future Miles adventure.

Written for and originally published at SFCrowsnest.