Daily Archives: July 30th, 2011

Diplomatic Immunity: Miles really needs it

Tehani and I approach the end of our mammoth Bujold re/read with the (currently) penultimate novel in the Miles universe. Many many spoilers for this one and all the preceding! The others can be found here. 

 TEHANI:

This is a fantastic book because it brings together a whole heap of elements from books gone by. It’s a very nostalgic read, while still being centred very much on Miles in the “present”, learning to be a husband (and father-to-be!) and an Imperial Auditor. It’s got lots of Ekaterin, which is great, but we also get Bel Thorne! And Cetaganda! And quaddies! And of course, mystery, misdirection, action and danger. All par for the course in a Vorkosigan adventure!

ALEX:

If anything could be said to be a ‘standard’ Miles adventure, this probably comes close. It includes many aspects of previous adventures, as you mention, and it’s definitely a Miles-solves-the-mystery-and-saves-the-day. And it doesn’t have the excruciating embarrassment that A Civil Campaign sometimes offered! ‘Nostalgic’ is indeed the word I am searching for here. 😀

Adding to the nostalgia, and something that I loved, is the fact that we are brought back Miles’ own birth in many ways with Miles and Ekaterin waiting for their babies to be born… from their uterine replicators. While they are in a tizz about getting home at the right time, the reality is that missing the birth would be sad but not actually tragic – and how weird to think that this applies to both father and mother! That it’s not the end of the world for, ostensibly, a pregnant woman to be off having adventures! (Makes me think of Gail Carriger’s latest Alexia Tarabotti novel, Heartless, where her heroine is seven or eight months pregnant, and still running – or waddling at least – around.) This compares directly with Cordelia and Aral’s immense worry over Miles – that he had two births! – and of course with Count Piotr’s immense distaste for the very procedure that Miles now sees as, if not routine, then not abnormal. (Also? I’m quite sure every mother reading this either fainted in horror or hilarity at the suggestion that if they wanted to have four children, they should just get them all out of the way at the same time…. I’m not a mother, and even I couldn’t decide between my reactions, and feel sympathy for Ekaterin for having to deal with such a manic as Miles.) 

TEHANI:

I hadn’t even thought of the parallels to Miles’ own birth, but you’re completely right. The bit where Ekaterin and Miles are jaunting off round the solar galaxy while officially eight months pregnant? FRUSTRATING! *I* want that!! 🙂 And yeah, twins is enough work I reckon, although people do have more at once even NATURALLY, so I guess it could happen – but four lots of baby Miles? Eep.

ALEX: 

Plus: Bel Thorne! Not forgotten! Hooray!

TEHANI:

One of the best elements of the Vorkosigan Saga is that Bujold builds on what has gone before, allowing growth and change in her world but still giving the reader familiar elements to cozy up to. The use of Cetaganda in Diplomatic Immunity is far better here than the match up between Ethan of Athos and the book Cetaganda – Bujold played to the strengths of the better worldbuilding this time, ensuring continuity.

ALEX:

Yes, I was very pleased that Cetaganda made a comeback; they seem like far too important a part of Barrayar’s universe to not interrupt Miles’ life again. (I loved that the Emperor sent a delegation to Gregor’s wedding, as of course he had to, in ACC – and Miles’ interaction with Benin and the haut Pel.) 

TEHANI:

 There’s only one tiny point where this falters, and that is easily explained. Diplomatic Immunity was published before “Winterfair Gifts” was written. In “Winterfair Gifts”, Roic has an interlude with Sergeant Taura, which would be a pretty important memory to him, and Ekaterin is nearly poisoned by a wedding gift. However, when Taura’s visit and the wedding are mentioned in Diplomatic Immunity, there’s no note of this (understandably, as Bujold probably hadn’t conceived of it at that point!). What grated though, was the reference to Ekaterin’s “tense, distraught state the night before the wedding” which “reminded Miles forcibly of a particular species of precombat nerves he’d seen in troops facing, not their first, but their second battle. The night after the wedding, now – that had gone much better, thank God.” Having just read “Winterfair Gifts”, this jars significantly because Ekaterin’s “nerves” or behaviour had nothing to do with worry about her first marriage or what lay in store for her in her second. But we have to allow for these little issues, I guess!

ALEX:

As someone reading these now, in internally chronological order, it still weirds me out to see these inconsistencies because overall, the series is so consistent – for something not written thus! 

TEHANI:

Other than that, this is a brilliant book. Miles is learning to rely not just on his on manic wits, but on Ekaterin’s thoughtful observations as well (and his own reliance on her to moderate him and calm him is becoming very sweet). The extra element of needing to be back on Barrayar to open the uterine replicators for the birth of their first children gives a very important deadline to wrap up the case, which naturally means the case gets more and more complex! The actual plot of this one is nicely twisty, and it’s the sort of mystery that ONLY Miles, with his rather varied background, could have solved, at least without a major interplanetary incident. 

ALEX:

I really liked Miles’ comment on basically wanting to use Ekaterin to help his investigation – recognising that some people would be more willing to talk to her about things, in order to relay information. Of course this only works because Ekaterin is herself more than willing to be involved, at least to some degree, and readily acknowledges that she does indeed have talents and uses that Miles just doesn’t. They are delightfully complementary.

I was bemused at the start as to how all of the various skeins would end up tying together – because I knew that they would. I certainly didn’t expect the ‘herm’ to actually be a ba! And a renegade ba at that! The tie back to Cetaganda was very neatly accomplished, I thought, and of course Miles’ dealing with the whole thing was perfect.

TEHANI: 

Was very cleverly put together indeed – Bujold working her magic as usual!

Great to see Nicol back, and with Bel – so sweet. Bel’s departure from the Dendarii was a bit heartbreaking, so it’s really good to see what happened to it, and where it ended up.

ALEX:

So SWEET!!

TEHANI:

It was also interesting to see how other places react to Barrayaran ships and their crews at a local level – we know that Barrayarans are generally regarded as fairly brutish by civilised races, but this is drawn more explicitly in Diplomatic Immunity. It’s particularly interesting given that we’ve seen such a lot of gentility on Barrayar more recently, as well as the brutality (particularly towards mutants), and could have been fooled into thinking this perception may have changed.

ALEX:

I was intrigued by the idea of a Barrayaran having deserted in order to be with a ‘mutie’ – one of the quaddies – and then of course his shipmates’ responses to this. I can’t help but see it as a comment on responses to mixed-race couples, personally. 

TEHANI:

In all, it’s a great book. But so sad because we’re getting so close to the end…!

ALEX:

ONE MORE! Well… one more published so far, anyway… oh my, I’ve joined the ranks of Bujold fanatics rather hard…

 

This chick digs time lords… although maybe not as much as them

I got sick, realised that I had this to read thanks to the Hugo voters’ pack, and read it in a day. Well, there were a couple of entries that I skipped over a bit because they weren’t that engaging for me and my experiences, but I swear I read almost all of it.

I love Doctor Who, but I do not LOVE it. I am a fan, but I am not a FAN. I don’t think I ever realised the difference between the two before meeting people like Tansy and other serious, mad FANS (in much the same way that I didn’t really know about or understand about SF fandom before attending conventions). That is, I will watch Doctor Who anytime it is on TV, and go out of my way to do so, but I don’t own any DVDs, and I’ve never read the books; I’ve not watched the entire history, although I watched a fair chunk of the First Doctor when the ABC put him on a few years ago. So… love, but not obsession, perhaps?

This book was written largely by women who are closer to the obsessed end of the spectrum. I don’t imagine that I would ever attend a Doctor Who convention, but it seems most of the women here have done so. That’s ok, though; I certainly don’t think any less of them for it! In fact it was really fascinating to see what it would be like to be fully in a fandom on which I am at best on the periphery. What many of the writers were writing about, at heart, was the sense of community that being in Who fandom allowed them to experience: the cosplay, the acceptance of a child with special needs, people who shared a wider range of interests than Who but which converged on that central point. The fact that frequently, the cast and crew of Doctor Who featured in these reminiscences adds to their overall appeal, too. (The fact that I too have been on the receiving end of the warmth of Rob Shearman’s generosity and boundless nuttiness made it all the more amusing.)

When they weren’t writing about that community aspect, writers tended to be dissecting aspects of the Who universe and their own love of it, despite its flaws: the role of companions was a particular topic. I remember one of my university tutors remarking once that there are some loves that can withstand ruthless and relentless examination, and that others just can’t (her example for the latter, I recall, was Home and Away…). Who clearly falls into the former category for these authors, and it was with great joy that I read critical (in the best sense) examinations of Donna, Martha, and Rose – often different from person to person.

The thing that I haven’t mentioned yet about this anthology, of course, is that it was entirely written by women. Not being a part of Who fandom either during the Wilderness Years or even with New Who, it had never really occurred to me to consider whether it was a boy thing or not; I guess I’ve always just read and watched whatever and not been fussed by it – and been lucky enough not to be told not to by anyone I met. So it was also very interesting to read a little about how female fans have been treated, and also about how people (especially women) coming to Who lately have been treated by old-school fans (badly, often). I am led to wonder just how different this book would be were it written by men. I think it probably exists, but honestly I have little interest in seeking it out. I may be wrong, but I harbour a suspicion that it would be more hung up on internal consistency (or lack thereof), and lavishing attention on gizmos. This is probably a dreadful generalisation, and I apologise to male fans to whom this is insulting, but….