Mirror Dance (Vorkosigan Saga #8) (1994) by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Hey! It’s Richard Branson, everybody!

With clones and diplomatic intrigue muddling up the Vorkosigan lifestyle, yet again, another adventure takes Miles out of the picture. Instead of our normal Vorkosigan friends, Mirror Dance offers a unique point-of-view, that of an intruder, giving fans, and detractors, a new perspective on this wealthy Barrayaran family

A series with character, as in strictly character driven, with things happening and things to be accomplished, Mirror Dance belongs somewhere in the early middle of this lengthy series that revolves around members of the same noble family. The Vorkosigan series reminds me of a dollhouse where the fashionable and wealthy characters leave their mansions each day, and drive their expensive, powerful cars (or starships), to run errands and have adventures. Maybe someone gets kidnapped, or deals with a bad guy, or sinks into quicksand… I’m pretty sure I played out these plots with my dolls as a little girl. (Though my dolls did more dressing up than hijacking of rocket ships, but they were pretty adventurous.)

In this episode, Miles’ doppelgänger, Mark, the genetic clone brother who was originally created for the infiltration and destruction of the Vorkosigan family, tricks Miles’ mercenaries into aiding in the rescue of other clones held on Jackson’s Whole. Miles finds out, but before he can put a stop to the violent conflict that follows, he is killed by a grenade. His body is cryogenically frozen for future medical attention, but then lost in space in the chaos of battle. Despite this, the Vorkosigans accept Mark into their home, but Mark feels responsible for the loss of his hated clone/brother/enemy, and his investigative actions result in his own imprisonment and subsequent torture.

But, like the adventures of Barbie and Ken, it’s always going to work out for Miles and his lot, and there is always the same root, the same hearth, the same heart to which they return. But unlike Barbie and Ken, the Vorkosigan charisma and fortitude might be entertaining and inspiring enough to distract from the aristocratic glaze of this elite Barrayaran family. Continue reading

Paladin of Souls (2003) by Lois McMaster Bujold

paladinofsouls1stI enjoyed Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion (2001) more than I had anticipated, which means it was okay, not terrible, and way better than the books from her Vorkosigan series. (This is an example of why I am incapable of rating books using a number system.) Although Chalion was pleasant, it concluded satisfactorily, calling to question the need for a follow-up novel. I loved series novels in my younger years, but I have little patience for them now that I recognize them as money-milkers that are never as strong as a single, thorough story with a beginning, middle, and end between the covers.

Authors: Unless you’re writing a lame kid’s series, cram it in to one book. If your ideas are not good enough for the first book, or you haven’t even thought about it until the fans started asking, please, for the love of the Bastard, let it be. Bujold circumvents this rule by remaining in the same Chalion universe, but pursues the stories of new and minor characters in a different part of the world. She also addresses some of the weaknesses in her previous novel.

In other words, Paladin of Souls is not what I had feared: The Continued Amazing Adventures of Cazaril and Friends (and gods).

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The Curse of Chalion (2001) by Lois McMaster Bujold

The_curse_of_chalion_coverWhen a demon is in your belly and it has nothing to do with last night’s dinner…

It seems my latest theme is reading the fantasy works of popular science fiction authors. I’ve made a few bleak attempts into Bujold’s Vorkosigan universe only to be disappointed by this vaunted female SF author, but I wanted to give her another try. I feared The Curse of Chalion would be much of the same: stilted plot driven by stilted dialogue dumps, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that her fantasy writing style relies more upon narrative than dialogue. Overall, Chalion is a pleasant read with a well-developed spiritual world, but it offers little to challenge the intellect or contribute to the genre.

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Shards of Honor/Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

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By Sigismund von Dobschütz (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t really like the artwork on these books, so here’s a picture of an adorable little puppy.

I wanted to hate this book, just so I could call it Sharts of Honor, but my ambivalence toward this series is bereft of any emotion strong enough to justify the effort of a scatological insult. Actually, I really wanted to love these two novels, just so I could identify with the legions of Lois McMaster Bujold fans who buoy her consistent status as the second most nominated, and second most won, author of Hugo Best Novel Awards.

But, alas, I remain unimpressed. I’m sorry, Bujold fans. Once again, I am just not cool enough to fit with the in-crowd. Continue reading

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Is it my fault because it was my first foray into the Vorkosigan series? Maybe I should have read a few of the earlier novels to get a taste of McMaster Bujold’s world. I weighed that option considerably, and chose to go ahead with this book for two reasons. First, I was in a hurry. Hugo voting takes place next month, which is a deadline I set for myself to have read all the nominees for best novel. Two, I wanted to see what it was like to jump in the middle of a series. It was an experiment.

But the book wasn’t that great, and I don’t think it had anything to do with my jumping in the middle.

Synopsis

Ivan Vorpatril, the least bright of the Vor clan, works a safe and simple bureaucratic job on the planet of Komarr. That is, until is sketchy buddy Byerly gets him wrapped up in the affairs of two exotic, and attractive, illegal aliens. Could this be Ivan’s chance to finally live up to his family’s legacy, and possibly find love?

Things I liked:
1.  The protagonists are likable enough. Unambitious heroes are kind of appealing, although they can get boring if they are not surrounded by enough struggle, which is the failure of this novel. The lead character, Ivan Vorkosigan, is the “idiot” of the Vorpatril series, and this is the first novel that centers on his life. At first, he kind of reminded me of Jez from Peep Show, which helped me to like him more. His romance with Tej is cute, but could have been more compelling if the author had taken more risks with her characters.
2. I got enough of a taste of the Vorkosigan world that I might want to try another book one day. The promising reviews of other novels in this series make me think I just ran into a dud. Some of the outlying characters in this story happen to be main characters in other stories, and their personalities promise more depth. This particular novel hints at enough of their struggles to interest me.

Things I didn’t like:
1. The novel is full of lazy writing. Bujold completely ignores that old writing adage, “Show me, don’t tell me”? Every bit of planning, deceit, and intrigue is revealed in dialogue. Long, boring dialogue. It includes lots of scenes of people sitting in living rooms, or dining rooms, or studies, and talking about things that are going on. Only Dostoevsky can get away with that. Hardly any revelations occur through action and surprise. I can’t believe this book is nominated for awards.
2. The plot is clumsy and contrived. The entire plot for Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is contrived. Nothing about this book feels organic. It is as if the author started with the ending (which I think she probably did, because it appears she is now just inserting new books into the middle of her acclaimed series), and plotted things backwards to justify the ending.
3.  The stakes are never high enough to matter. Why is the big heist such a secret if nobody cares in the end. Besides, there is an unsaid understanding that anyone who knows anything is going to tell everyone else. Any scheme bungle is greeted with a fist shaking and a “Why you… grumble, grumble, grumble,” but nothing more. There is no convincing danger for any of the characters.

Perhaps Ms. McMaster Bujold’s techniques are another way to develop the unambitious natures of her two protagonists. I can give her that, but it’s a little too meta if that’s her excuse for the forced and artificial plot that makes up Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. I’m not done with the Vorkosigan world just yet, though. All of those 4-star reviews make me think this book is the product of a strong series, so I’ll be trying one of the earlier, Hugo-winning novels in the near future.