Tehani and I continue our read of the Miles Vorkosigan series. This review contains lots and lots of spoilers! (Previous conversational reviews here.)
Well, where to start? I think this is one of the most powerful of the Vorkosigan books, for so many reasons. Having said that, it’s probably one that suffers for being read in chronological order, because it follows Mirror Dance, which is just brilliant and so emotionally draining!
I finally feel, with Mirror Dance and Memory, that here are books that I could really imagine reading again. I mean, I loved Cordelia’s books a LOT, and can imagine re-reading the entire series over the years, but these two felt like a massive step up in… complexity, I guess? In narrative depth, maybe. I’m quite sure that I have missed some of the subtleties going on, which I will enjoy on a second read. I quite liked this after Mirror Dance, because while it’s emotional and fraught it’s quite different – and this is another demonstration of Bujold’s complexity as an author, which I keep being impressed by.
Memory is very confronting in its own way, where Miles deals with the fallout of having died, and the long-term consequences of
this. It leads him to not only bring about his own downfall, but brings about a massive life change, leaving us, the reader, to come to terms with what could Miles possibly DO after having lived such a wild ride to date. No way could he sit at home just being Count’s heir!
Oh yes, I knew that no way was he going to end up being the lad-about-town with Ivan.
You know, when I said I thought Miles would take Illyan’s job, I didn’t want him to actually leave the job…
I know! Illyan has been such a staple of Miles’ (and Aral and Cordelia’s) life, it’s hard to imagine how the Empire will run without him!
Fortunately, Bujold doesn’t leave Miles on the shelf, and so he embarks on a new vocation, one which gives him even MORE power and authority than he had before, more than even he could have imagined. It’s a very sweet scene when he steels himself to beg Gregor for a post-discharge promotion to captain, and is given an Imperial Auditorship! Not thinking big enough for once!
I realised when he was granted those powers that of course, this was really the first book in which Auditor powers had been explained at all… but I never thought, from the conversation at the ballroom, that Miles would end up having those powers, even temporarily! I loved the scene with Miles putting ALL of his medals on, including the Cetagandan one – and that it made Miles Vorkosigan feel like he actually had some worth, apart from Miles Naismith. I think this has been the most intriguing part of Miles’ character arc so far: that he has genuinely divorced Naismith and Vorgkosigan in his head, that the latter is jealous of the former… exactly how that would impact on someone of barely thirty is a bit horrifying, actually.
That’s such a good point – Cordelia mentioned in an earlier book that she worried for Miles’ sanity if he ever had to give up the little
Admiral. Here, we have to worry too, because it’s not something he copes with immediately (and I love that Ivan, poor Ivan, has to deal with this).
Memory gives us a chance to see more of some backstory characters – Miles comes home to Barrayar and this means we get to play with Ivan, Lady Alys, Gregor and of course, Illyan. I love how Bujold draws her people together, and how we learn more about them over time. Lady Alys starts out as a young wife way back in Barrayar, and look how far she’s come (and still further to go!) past the overbearing mother/aunt of Ivan and Miles’ early life.
I like that she keeps the supporting cast so consistent, with new people only brought in when necessary and quite appropriately. Also, I just knew where things were heading as soon as Illyan described Lady Alys as a reliable woman. Ha! Old people making out! Hilarious. Bujold likes pairing off her minor characters, which makes Ivan and Miles look very left out! I mean I know Miles Naismith is ‘with’ Elli, but it’s clearly not going to be a permanent relationship, which Miles certainly longs for and even Ivan may be sort of interested in…. Also, POOR GALENI. Having your ladylove stolen by the Emperor has gotta hurt. I was pleased that they made Gregor and Laisa’s relationship gooey but also sensible – and that both Galeni and Gregor came out well, which sometimes doesn’t happen when there are love triangles.
It’s also fun to see Miles assemble his own household. It really is the first time Miles has had to be a grownup, running a house, dealing with cooks, cleaners and all the daily minutae of this. He is, as always, very clever at getting good people, recognising in others what they may not have seen in themselves, and I think this is lovely to see in a domestic setting.
Domestic Miles! I loved it! And the fight to keep Ma Koti was a really awesome little side-play.
The plot in Memory is a twisty mystery, with the usual red herrings and wrong turns, which forms the backbone of this change of life story (not just for Miles, for Illyan as well, and to a lesser extent, the Dendaari and Elli Quinn). Bujold again demonstrates her mastery of writing in yet another form.
For me it was one of the classic “I bet it was him ooh no he’s let off the hook ooh maybe it WAS him!” mysteries, and cleverly done too. I was VERY sad about what happened to Illyan.
I love this book, which lays Miles bare, to possibly his lowest point, and forces him to reinvent himself. A definite favourite!
yup, it’s ranking up there for me too.
Welcome to July’s Tiptree Book Club story-discussion-thing, which I have inherited from TJ on the closing down of Dreams and Speculation. This month we’re looking at “With Delicate Mad Hands,” which marks the halfway point in the anthology Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. (A note on the next few months – I’ve changed it around a little so that we’re reading kinda-sorta the same number of pages each month: August will be “A Momentary Taste of Being;” September “We Who Stole the Dream;” and “Her Smoke Rose up Forever;” October “Love is the Plan the Plan is Death” and “On the Last Afternoon;” November “She Waits for All Men Born” and “And So On, and So On;” December “Slow Music” (yes those last two are not in the order given in the anthology).)
This discussion is completely riddled with spoilers, so don’t read on if you’d like the joy of discovery all for yourself!
It’s worth saying up front that this story did not go in any of the directions I had expected, which shouldn’t have surprised me with Tiptree. That a story could go from a discussion of how awful a girl’s life was because she had a squashed nose to her being the first human on a extra-solar planet, beloved by an alien and bequeathing an enormous amount of new knowledge… yeh, that’s pretty awesome.
Of course, to get to the awesome you have to struggle through some quite awful stuff. CP’s life is horrid right from the start – and I hope I’m not the only one slightly frustrated by the tantalising looks into this ?post-apocalyptic world offered by Tiptree, where you can rarely see the sky and Managers are the be-all and end-all. CP’s drive to get into Basic Space Crew Training eventually gets her there, and while I was initially impressed with a society that eventually lets girls in, that was rapidly quashed: she has to pay for her own sterilisation, which was awful on numerous levels, and, along with her other duties, she has to allow the men onboard to use her as a sexual ‘waste can’. My horror knows no limits…
The events on the ship, with CP eventually getting rid of the men and taking off towards Galactic North, I found surprising and I’m not sure why. Perhaps because of the no-nonsense way it was all described; and perhaps because CP’s preparedness for just this eventuality is chilling. I did, though, really enjoy her enjoyment of solitude, and finally doing just what she wants; that she went around and pulled off all the blinds to be able to see out felt so familiar that I think at this point I was able to identify with CP, just a bit. And then to have her find a roving planet… as I said, it was unexpected, and utterly utterly intriguing. That life could grow somewhere like this! That radiation could have a positive impact on life… that telepathy etc would develop, and the different ways that can be found to do science… Tiptree had a seriously amazing imagination. (Also, did anyone else feel like she might have been a little influenced by Yoda, in characterising some of her little aliens?? This story came out in 1981, so it’s just feasible….) The poignancy of discovering that yes, there really had been a voice in her head all that time, and that she was and had been loved, was a wonderfully touching conclusion.
Some questions to get discussion going:
How did you feel about CP, and did this change over the story?
Did the story develop as you were expecting?
What did you think of Auln, the alien world?