Cryoburn – Lois McMaster Bujold

Cryoburn is chronologically placed about six years after Diplomatic Immunity. Miles is sent by Emperor Gregor to investigate a corporation on the planet of Kibou-Daini, where millions of people are cryogenically frozen, hoping to be revived when they can be cured or rejuvenated. As inevitably seems to happen, large corporations (in this case specialized in cryopreservation) have accumulated more power than any nation should feel entirely comfortable with. Miles, as is his wont, stumbles on a whole big conspiracy and, as usual, can’t restrain himself from stretching his official job description of investigator to the very limit. Well, way beyond the limit for that matter.

McMaster Bujold had Vorkosigan fans wait seven long years for a new adventure with Miles. Luckily for me, I only started reading the books in 2008, but the wait for this next installment still felt far too long. Stepping back into the Vorkosiverse and being a fly on the wall while Miles plows through his adventures like a “hyperactive lunatic”, as Dr. Raven Durona so aptly describes it in the book, is a sheer visceral pleasure. Ms. McMaster Bujold has most definitely not lost her touch, mixing humor, an interesting and thought-provoking plot and emotional impact in perfect measure. Her skill at encapsulating emotions within a clever and witty little sentence is peerless. While it felt somewhat sad that only Miles and Armsman Roic were actually on this jaunt, (SPOILER: Mark and Kareen join up at the end) the colorful supporting cast loomed over them in spirit, with many references scattered about like easter eggs for the serious fan.

As usual with her novels, Bujold wrote this one to fit both into the wider series and a standalone, and it works perfectly well as the latter. With Miles flying solo again, it felt like a throwback (perhaps even an homage) to the pre-Memory books, before Miles became got his “adult” job of Imperial Auditor. McMaster Bujold even hints at this in the epilogue, when Ivan wonders what “the old Miles would have said”.

All the books are good, and while this one is not quite as superb as, say, Memory, it still easily proves why McMaster Bujold is one of my very favorite authors.

Labyrinth – Lois McMaster Bujold

This short story is set in the Jackson’s Whole system, a place where capitalism has run completely wild and unchecked. Miles’ mission is to pick up a scientist wishing to defect from one of the large syndicates that run Jackson’s Whole. But of course, things are never that easy and simple when Miles is involved.

This piece was a lot of fun, with McMaster Bujold showcasing how she understands what makes characters tick and how they react to one another. Quite enjoyable.

This short story is collected in the “Miles, Mystery & Mayhem” omnibus.

Ethan of Athos – Lois McMaster Bujold

Somewhat unexpectedly, this story doesn’t feature Miles at all. One of the main characters is Elli Quinn, introduced back in “The Warrior’s Apprentice”. She is now a Commander in the Dendarii Free Mercenaries and is hunting down a mysterious character named Terrence Cee. The titular protagonist, Ethan of the planet Athos, comes from an isolated society made up exclusively of males. He is a reproductive specialist who is sent on a mission to find ovarian cultures in order to enrich Athos’ failing gene pool. On arrival to his first waystation, he finds himself embroiled in the struggle surround Terrence Cee and his valuable genetic heritage.

Ethan’s initial contact with galactic society is very entertaining. He has never met a woman, and really has understanding whatsoever of that sex. Luckily, McMaster Bujold doesn’t make the entire novel an essay on this point. The action, almost exclusively confined to one massive space station, is entertaining and leavened with the author’s almost trademark sharp wit. The evolution of Ethan’s character from hopeless naif through angry victim to assertive decision maker makes this a bildungsroman of sorts, and a good one.

This novel is collected in the “Miles, Mysery & Mayhem” omnibus.

Cetaganda – Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles, now a Lieutenant working for Imperial Security, is sent off to a Cetagandan state funeral along with his less than brilliant but dashingly handsome cousin Ivan Vorpatril. While there, they are embroiled in a complex plot to stir the waters of Cetagandan nobility genetic engineering.

The plot is in fact very complex, and while showcasing Miles’ intelligence, it goes perhaps a bit too far. The Cetagandan empire is a remarkable edifice constructed by McMaster Bujold. The highest caste controls the evolution of their own and the soldier caste through rigidly held gene banks and elaborately calculated pairings. It is almost worth reading the book for the descriptions of ceremonies, locations and people. Unfortunately, the plot is not as strong as one would want, and quickly bogs down in far too many twists and turns. I’m all for a nice mystery but there is very little actual action to propel the mystery along. I caught myself no longer caring very much what actually happened, as long as I could read about Miles and his ever entertaining adventures.

This novel is collected in the “Miles, Mystery & Mayhem” omnibus.

The Vor Game – Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles’ first assigment after graduation from the Barrayar Service Academy seems like a complete dead end. Weather officer at a remote arctic training station. He is replacing an officer who has spent fifteen years at the base, and uses his nose to compile the forecast. Miles has been more or less promised a very attractive ship assignment if he can prove that he can follow orders and keep out of trouble for six months. For even after graduation there are many who believe Miles is too weak and short to be a real officer, and too arrogant to follow orders. Of course, Miles doesn’t manage to stay out of trouble, and ends up leading a mutiny against the deranged commander of the base. A just mutiny, perhaps, but this wasn’t what they meant when they told him to stay out of trouble. In the end, his father the prime minister and the head of Imperial Security decide that it would be safest to make him part of Imperial Security itself. To that end, he is sent as a subordinate on a fact finding mission about an impending crisis at an critical frontier wormhole hub. Yet again, Miles cannot stay out of trouble. He is forced to rejoin the Dendarii Mercenaries (from The Warrior’s Apprentice) and finds himself attempting to rescue the young Barrayaran emperor while trying to prevent an invasion.

The entire first part of the novel at the arctic base felt like an (admittedly entertaining) throwaway for quite a while. I was worried that this would make the novel disjointed, but one of the main characters from that section did crop up in a key role later. So no worries there. McMaster Bujold certainly knows how to throw together a complex plot. Luckily for the reader, she also knows how to sort it all out. The Vor Game is entertaining, engaging, exciting, and at times laugh-out-loud funny.

This novel is collected in the “Young Miles” omnibus.

The Mountains of Mourning – Lois McMaster Bujold

After graduating from the Barrayar Service Academy, Miles has a few weeks of leave. He ends up having to solve an infanticide while acting as the “Voice” of his father, Lord Vorkosigan.

This rather long short story is neat little piece. Miles gets to be clever and driven, while at the same time acquiring an increased sense of purpose for his life. Very good.

This short story is collected in the omnibus “Young Miles”.

Deception Point – Dan Brown

NASA discovers a meteorite in the Arctic ice pack. It holds a wondrous discovery. But does it? Rachel Sexton, daughter of a the presidential challenger, is caught up in a web of conspiracies while she races to find the truth.

Did the last paragraph sound like the blurb for an over the top action novel? That’s because this one is. Dan Brown is fine at creating intricate plots full of action and suspense. This time, however, he went way too far. So much stuff is just “too much”. He has an annoying tendency to get people out of sticky situations with deux ex machina. The right tool or idea for the job seems to pop out of thin air just as it is needed.

I dislike it when authors state in an introduction that all the technologies described already exist, then write military technicalities in completely inaccurate ways. Case in point: The Delta Force operatives int he book are painted as inhuman robots who never talk about a mission after they have performed it. Really? No after action reviews? That seems absurd. There are plenty of other examples where the tech just seems a bit too “neat”.

Part of the central premise of the story itself, that if NASA were disbanded and lost its monopoly private contractors could undercut by factors of two or three, seems quite implausible to me. If nothing else, NASA only has a monopoly in the USA. If NASA is so protected by legalities, why aren’t space companies simply shipping their operations abroad? In conclusion the book is a semi-decent diversion but not much more.