Daily Archives: June 18th, 2011

Miles grows up: my Bujold discovery continues.

Tehani and Alex forge on to the end of the second Vorkosigan omnibus, watching Miles grow up and cause havoc. Alex falls further in love with the universe and Tehani watches gleefully. Spoilers! (We’ve reviewed Cordelia’s Honor here, and The Warrior’s Apprentice here.)


“The Mountains of Mourning” was an early foray into the Vorkosigan world for me. It was available for free from the Baen e-Library and I downloaded it, among a bunch of other stuff. It’s a novella, not a novel, and it is somewhat different to most of the other Miles books. It’s a rather introverted story, in which Miles is given an opportunity to consider the Vor aspect of himself and what it means, at the same time as confronting some ingrained social issues in his society that relate directly to him. “Mountains” gives us a rather more thoughtful Miles than we saw in The Warrior’s Apprentice, and fills out a bit more of his personality, and, again, grounds his honour more solidly. It’s a sad story, but one that ultimately fits in very well with the overall world-building.

I really enjoyed “Mountains,” and thought it worked nicely in the omnibus. It provides a clear bridge between Warrior’s and Vor Game, and allows some great insight into Barrayar home life. I was interested to see the degree to which Bujold makes the mutant-horror real in the life of the Barrayar hicks. I had neither expected that we would meet such back-country types (it’s certainly not typical in space opera), nor that the revulsion would be so real. I enjoyed the characterisation of Harra, the mother of a murdered ‘mutant’, and hadn’t actually expected the culprit to be her own mother; it was nice not to see the husband being responsible. And, of course, it grounds Miles more solidly, as you say, Tehani.
The Vor Game switches speeds again, and does it twice! This feels like two books squished together, because the first and second halves are quite different stories. In her afterword (in the omnibus edition Young Miles) Bujold says people often think that the second half of the book, the more military space opera bit, must have been tacked on to pad out the first half (which was published alone in Analog (??)). It’s not so, she says, as the novel was always written as published. It’s a fair thought though – the initial story is of Miles, newly graduated from the Imperial Academy, given a backwater Barrayar-bound posting to prove that he can submit to authority rather than subvert it. If you really look at it, nothing much happens, plot-wise. Yes, Miles is almost killed (accidentally), he finds a body (accidentally) and he stops a mass torture scenario (on purpose), but all that is quite incidental. It is all designed to set up the second half of the book, which sees Miles return to space, legitimately, under the instruction of ImpSec, and take back his Dendarii mercenary fleet (not quite as legitimately). It’s full of the action and adventure that I associate with the Vorkosigan Saga, but which I’m realising, through this reread, is not always the biggest part of any of the books! 
BAHAHAHA Miles kidnaps the Emperor!!
Ahem. That Gregor turned up in this story, having got himself captured by unwitting contractors, and then Miles turns up accidentally… yeh, that was hilarious.
Anyway, yes, there is certainly a change in speed in this book, and I can understand why it might feel like two stories. However, with the continuation of the Metzov character – which I honestly had not expected, and led to groan aloud in horror when he appeared as Cavilo’s right-hand man – it doesn’t feel like it’s unconnected. If anything, it probably reflects the reality of life for an ensign who gets sent willy-nilly on assignments!
Kyril Station is horrendous, and that whole section of the book was just one horror on another. I was initially disappointed by the reality of the drowned body, but I guess it was better than having genuine mystery chase Miles around – that might have strained credibility a little too far. It’s a nicely realised base in all, and with Miles parading around on drain duty Bujold gets to describe the realities of the place in more detail than she might otherwise. I do wonder whether this base will turn up again…
One of the most appealing parts of The Vor Game is the unfolding aspects of Miles. He’s such a complex character that watching him evolve, grow and really let loose is a great delight. It’s easy to forget, having read all the books and become used to it, that his manic manipulating is something he almost fell into, rather than a strategic gift he always had. I also really enjoyed seeing the relationship between Miles and Gregor – the genuine friendship, tempered by remembrance of the past and concern for the future, is superbly written, and is a counterpoint to the relationships we see of the older men in the books, such as Aral and Illyan
Manic manipulation is EXACTLY the right description. Mad Miles is about right too. It really, really is like watching someone who in reality is stumbling, but making it look like they’re running. From one obstacle to another… and ending up paid three times for his efforts. There was a bit less emphasis on his disability in this book, which was interesting, although there was one mention of his neck bones being coated in plastic which startled me! Miles’ reaction to Elena was more muted than I had half expected, and yes his relationship with Gregor is great. It also highlights the differences between Miles Vorkosigan and Miles Naismith, on which there is a fair amount of emphasis in this book. I can see this being a major source of difficulty, and skilful character building, in the later books – especially if the Dendarii do end up doing a lot of covert work for Barrayar, and Miles has to interact with ImpSec both as himself (Lieutenant) and as Admiral!
The character of Cavilo is problematic. In some ways, she’s Miles’ own mirror – highly intelligent, cunning, strategically brilliant. She would have to be, to end up in the position she is in (again, somewhat of a mirror to Miles). But she lacks Miles’s sense of integrity, and of course this means she is also self-centred, deceitful and disloyal. I would have liked to see more of Elena, or something at all of Elli Quinn, in this book, to redeem the balance of this dishonorable female character, particularly as we don’t really have any insight into the reasons WHY Cavilo is like she is. At least in The Warrior’s Apprentice, we can’t hate the elder Elena for her murder of Bothari – we understand it, even if we know murder is wrong. Cavilo gives us no such reason not to despise her just for being a manipulative, self-centred bitch. I kind of would have liked one.
Oh yes. Very problematic. Actually, she wouldn’t have been so problematic if she hadn’t appeared to try and seduce Miles the first time she meets him. Then, it would have been less like Scheming Seducing Manipulative Woman, and more like Scheming Manipulative Mercenary. In other words, even more like Miles’ alter-ego. The thoughts she leaves Miles with – that he might end up like her – are intriguing, and haunting indeed. Like you, I was disappointed there wasn’t very much Elena here, although I did like the development of her personality – particularly the marked lack of deference towards Miles. 
Yeah *sigh*. I wonder if Bujold would have written Cavilo the same way if she wrote that story today?
Questions: WHO IS ELLI?? Did you just let slip something there, Tehani?? Also: will Kyril Base feature again? What on earth is Miles going to do with the Dendarii? Will Cavilo return? And will Miles make Simon Illyan go white-haired by the end of the series?  (Let me guess, he dies in the next book…)
No! Hmm, maybe? Elli is Elli Quinn (mostly referred to just as Quinn) who was the mercenary whose face was obliterated in The Warrior’s Apprentice. Miles took her to his Betan grandmother and paid for her facial reconstruction. Um, and yes, she only had a bit part really in that book, but has a much bigger role as the series goes on. So it really makes no sense that she’s not actually in this one. Has always bugged me. Sorry if I spoiled you for her! You’ll like her, I promise 🙂 As for the rest, you’ll just have to wait and see!
Oh, THAT Elli. Yes ok, I remember now. I hadn’t expected her to play a role later so I forgot her name  🙂

June Tiptree book club discussion

Along with everyone else, I was sad to see that TJ had made the (sensible!) decision to let her blog, Dreams and Speculation, go. I came across her because of the Women in SF Book Club, and have so far really enjoyed the books and discussion. Rather than letting a good thing go, Shara at Calico Reaction and I have made the decision to jointly host and continue the Book Club; she’s doing the novels, and I get the joy of talking about James Tiptree Jr. So, welcome! And enjoy.

June’s story from Her Smoke Rose Up Forever is “Houston, Houston, Do you Read?” – a story I have previously read as novella double, paired with Joanna Russ’ “Souls” (there’s a headspin for you). What follows is some of my thoughts on the story – completely full of spoilers, so if you haven’t read it yet, back away! Following in TJ’s footsteps, I’ve added a couple of questions at the end of the post – feel free to consider them in the comments or completely ignore them, as you see fit.

This story sees three astronauts on a solar mission; they encounter a flare and when they come back around to the Earth side, things are… different. Houston doesn’t answer, but someone else does. They get picked up by a very different spaceship, one that seems almost entirely crewed by women – and it’s several hundred years into their future.

This story does what my favourite stories do: with an awesome sf story, its focus is on the people – their reactions, their attitudes, their problems. The astronauts are appropriately different from one another such that a range of reactions can be explored, but they don’t feel like ciphers; Tiptree deftly sets them up as individuals. I believe this story first came out when Tiptree’s true identity was unknown; all I can say is, Seriously? Did they just not see the feminism?

Anyway, the slow unravelling of the men’s good nature at being rescued by women is very cleverly done. I found the attitudes of the men towards the men really quite harrowing; their patronising tone, their easy assumption of supremacy, automatic belittling of the women’s competencies – it was presented as so horrendously normal and obvious. Bud, in particular, is horrendous in his attitude towards women as nothing but sex objects. That said, in some ways Lorimer is almost more horrifying; as the narrator and because of his scientific background I felt sympathy for him, but still his attitudes and perceptions of the women are almost entirely sexist.

The gradual reveal that not only is the entire ship crewed with women but the entirety of the human race is women, thanks to an epidemic three hundred years previously, is very cleverly handled. The idea of a single-sexed humanity has been explored in other science fiction, with varying results; I quite like this idea, with clones to allow reproduction. The most poignant reflection on the differences between a single-sex and two-sex world comes right at the end, when Lorimer tries to defend Bud and Dave’s aggressive actions. I could almost feel sorry for all of them at that point.


1. Did you pick that the future society was single-sexed before it was revealed?

2. Was the futuristic society believable for you?

3. What were your reactions to the men’s characters and attitudes?

4. This story was published in 1976. Do you think it is still a relevant story?