The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Werthead

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Book 13: Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Ivan Vorpatril is one of Barrayar's most eligible bachelors and notorious rakes, but now in his mid-thirties he is finding his life of chasing women and partying is no longer as satisfying as it once was. On assignment to Komarr, his path crosses of that of two fugitives from a coup on Jackson's Whole and his attempts to help only make things worse...and change his life forever.

The most interesting thing about the Vorkosigan Saga has been Lois McMaster Bujold's willingness to experiment, switch protagonists and POVs and generally not sit still and bash out a load of action-adventure novels. Her willingness to put the series on hold for years at a time until she has a good idea for a new book has also helped it retain a high level of quality.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is one of the lighter novels in the series. It is a romantic farce with an underlying adventure story and also dwells on the notion of ageing, growing up and maturing, a theme of Bujold's that she returns to repeatedly in the later books in the series. Using Ivan, Miles's womanising cousin with no interest in settling down, to explore this theme is extremely effective. It would have been easy to have done a "growing and learning" story in which Ivan suddenly mans up and accepts responsibility, but this would not have been true to the character. Instead Bujold develops Ivan's character (and, we realise, how she's been developing it subtly in the background all along) naturally and much more convincingly, by having him fall for a woman who seems to be right up his street (superficial and pretty) but whose hidden depths and complex background make her a lot more interesting.

These elements of growth and change are accompanied by some quite uproariously hilarious scenes, some nice catching-up moments with old characters who we haven't seen for a while (most notably Simon Illyan) and some more musings on the changing nature of Barryaran society, which are all handled quite well.

On the downside, the novel is a bit too long (over 500 pages) to support a slight premise and the lack of some well-motivated villains (we never even meet the bad guys who set the whole story in motion) and there are a few too many scenes of Tej's family scheming or Ivan feeling overwhelmed. A bit more of a serious editing pass to streamline the book would not have gone amiss.

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (****) is not one of the best books in the series and could be a bit better paced, but it remains well-written with a refreshing focus on the characters and how they have evolved over the years, with some nice SF flourishes and very funny moments. It is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Werthead

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Book 14: Cryoburn

Kibou-daini is an obscure planet in a remote corner of the wormhole nexus, but one with a specialisation in cryogenic freezing and revival as a means of cheating death. With the planet planning to expand to Komarr, the Barrayaran Empire decides to take a closer look. This means sending in Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan. Unfortunately things go wrong almost as soon as Miles arrives. Left lost and injured in a maze of cryo-tombs that extends for kilometres, Miles needs to call upon every ounce of his resourcefulness to survive.

Cryoburn is the most recent Vorkosigan Saga novel to focus on the series' erstwhile central figure of Miles Vorkosigan. The two more recent books (Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, published later although set earlier than Cryoburn, and Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen) have focused on other characters with Miles playing a much-reduced role. So this is the last ride, maybe for a while, we get to have with Miles encountering a problem and sorting it out in his own, inimitable style.

Cryoburn is satisfying on that level, but it also sees Bujold flexing her writing skills. A lot of the book is told from the point-of-view of an 11-year-old boy, Jin, whom Miles encounters on his travels. Given the labyrinth plotting, conspiracies and feints of the average Vorkosigan book, having it filtered through the understanding of a child is challenging but Bujold pulls it off to deliver something fresh, giving us a new perspective on Miles and his world (and makes me think that a YA-focused Vorkosigan novel could actually be a very interesting read). However, the book also give us something more evolutionary and adult as well. This book is set seven years after Miles's previous adventure in Diplomatic Immunity and he is now approaching forty. He has matured a lot in that time, becoming a father several times over and is now less manic, less prone to blundering straight into situations and is more thoughtful and analytical. This is all relative to his former self, of course, and he remains the same character, but an older, more seasoned and more wary one.

Indeed, Cryoburn feels like a musing on the passing of generations, with Jin representing a new generation of children growing up in a more peaceful period of nexus history and Miles spending chunks of the book analysing his father's and grandfather's lives and what they went through. The book's musings on death, mortality and legacy also feed into this, but Bujold expertly avoids making this a maudlin or depressing book. Quite the reverse, the notion of mortality and the precious commodities of life and time are joyously celebrated...right up to the final, startling moments of the novel, which may rank among Bujold's finest-ever pieces of writing.

Cryoburn, an upbeat and uplifting book about death, is one of the stranger but stronger books in the series (****½). It is available now in the UK and USA.
 

psikeyhackr

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At this point I have listened to Cryoburn and CVA multiple times. I do text to speech these days more than read actual books. (Ain't technology wonderful)

I was somewhat disappointed with Cryoburn the first time through, good but not as good as expected. My initial reaction to CVA was much better. I felt that Bujold had been giving Ivan the short end of the stick for years. Although Cryoburn does not introduce any new technology to the Vorkosiverse it does present the idea that what a society does with technology on a large scale is as important as the technology itself. Who gets to make these decisions? Ultimately Cryoburn is more thought provoking than CVA. But CVA still says something about technology. "What do you mean it has not been field tested?" Though in this case the results were mostly hilarious.

psik
 

Old_Man_Steve2016

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One thing I really enjoyed about the series was the quirky sense of humor. Miles' military career and espionage work seem to never be what he thought it would be in his head.

Also, the bug thing was hilarious.
 

Werthead

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Book 15: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Three years have passed since the death of the legendary Aral Vorkosigan. His widow, Cordelia, continues to live and work on Sergyar, third world of the Barrayaran Empire, as vicerine. Aged 76, but expecting to live at least to 120, Cordelia has almost fully half her life ahead of her and is unsure of what to do with it. Complicating matters is Admiral Jole of the Sergyar Fleet, a respected officer and a close friend of Cordelia and her late husband's. With Sergyar in political uproar as a controversial decision to move the planetary capital is made, Cordelia has some important decisions to make.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the latest (so far) novel in the Vorkosigan Saga and one of the most wrong-footing. Each of the sixteen novels in the series has been different, but at least incorporated some elements of action-adventure, political intrigue, war or undercover criminal activity, which the protagonist (usually Miles Vorkosigan but occasionally other characters) has to deal with. This novel doesn't have that. There are no villains, there are no explosions (well, one, but not quite what you'd expect) and no exchanges of energy weapon fire. The political intrigue is very slight, at best, and the novel is unfolds without much fear of mayhem, death or destruction taking place (unless you count a rather remote threat from a volcano).

Instead, this is a novel about relationships, the changing nature of life as people grow older, and the philosophical acceptance that we are not here for very long and people have to make decisions for their happiness and that of those around them, sometimes unorthodox or complicated ones. The tensest moments in Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen come in conversations, as Cordelia is forced to reveal that she's been leading a rather more interesting life on Sergyar then her son Miles believed and grapples with the baffling decision of just how you start a new live over when you've already done all the usual stuff - had children, gotten married and beheaded your most lethal political opponent in battle?

In this sense Gentleman Jole continues the themes from Cryoburn, musing on the passing of the generations, but the book again rejects this as a maudlin idea. Instead it also celebrates the commodities of life and time, delights in the arrival of new life and new children (and grandchildren) and spins out, in a good-old fashioned manner, an everything-but-old-fashioned romance between two people at a more mature time of their lives.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (****) is not a rousing space action-adventure novel. It is a life-affirming, warm romance that returns to some some of Bujold's central SF ideas (most notably the science of uterine replicators), introduces some new ones (Cordelia's utter disbelief at people refusing to believe a destabilising volcano may erupt and destroy their town) and unfolds with a stately, mature pace. Is it slightly self-indulgent? Maybe, but then after thirty years of putting the Vorkosigan clan through the wringer, both the author and her characters deserve a break, especially when it's as thought-provoking and enjoyable as this one. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Jo Zebedee

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Because this series keeps coming up, I thought I'd have a look at the ebook for Shards of Honour.

Definitely a contender for one of the worst and cheapest cover designs out there.
If you don’t like Shards don’t be put off. It is a series that builds with the earlier books variable but the middle books are the best character led sf I have read. My husband picked them up and is currently devouring them.
 

Bugg

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That's better than some of the earlier covers :D

I read Shards in the 'Cordelia's Honor' omnibus edition with Barrayar and was glad I did.
 

Werthead

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I'd definitely read the omnibuses. They reduce the books from an imposing 16 (including the quasi-prequel - or quaddie-prequel! - Falling Free) to 10, which is much more approachable.

That order is:

Cordelia's Honour (Shards of Honour and Barrayar)
Young Miles (The Warrior's Apprentice, "The Mountains of Mourning" and The Vor Game)
Miles, Mystery and Mayhem (Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos, "Labyrinth")
Miles Errant ("Borders of Infinity", Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance)
Memory
Miles in Love
(Komarr, A Civil Campaign, "Winterfair Gifts")
Miles, Mutants and Microbes (Falling Free, Diplomatic Immunity)
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance
Cryoburn
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen
 

WarriorMouse

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Because this series keeps coming up, I thought I'd have a look at the ebook for Shards of Honour.

Definitely a contender for one of the worst and cheapest cover designs out there.
Once you get to the Miles Vorkorsigan stories the series picks up in a big way. The stories in which Miles or Ivan are not the main focus are the weak ones. But that is just my opinion.
 

psikeyhackr

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I didn't like it either, and I have really enjoyed the rest of the series.
Are "not liking" and "disliking" the same thing. A neutral attitude is "not liking" while disliking is having a negative response.
 

psikeyhackr

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Because this series keeps coming up, I thought I'd have a look at the ebook for Shards of Honour.

Definitely a contender for one of the worst and cheapest cover designs out there.
LOL

That is funny. Bujold was involved in creating that design. Having read most of the series multiple times I presume the re figure is Cordelia cutting the blue figure, Aral Vorkosigan, loose from his Barrayaran cultural strings.

All of the covers she helped make are artistically simplistic but have some meaning in relation to the theme of the book.
 

Brian G Turner

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Involved? As in told she could get a new cover, so long as it didn't cost more than $50 or take more than an hour to do? :D
 
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