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All of the Vorkosigan books - Qualified Perceptions
All of the Vorkosigan books
The Vorkorsigan series (by Lois McMaster Bujold)
Recently, tirinian and I were trying to convince mjperson that he should read this series. I guess "it's like Honor Harrington except actually good" might have been a little rude, but I stick to my claim. So then I had to read them all again, including the last two (by the time they came out, I didn't want to go read them all again yet to get back up to speed). They're kind of short, by modern doorstop standards, but oh how they shine.

Cordelia (early main character) is awesome and perfect (from a liberal-tolerant point of view - though her liberal-tolerant society comes in for a hilarious thumping towards the end of the book, which makes Beta Colony a lot less of a Liberal Utopia than it might threaten to be). She fades into the background as Miles takes the series over, but it's fun to see her occasionally show up and demonstrate that she's still an Elder Amberite, compared to the younger generation.

Her son Miles is less perfect (probably for the best), but his flaws are endearing and make for good plot. And though the plot is a lot of fun - dramatic and fast-moving and just enough confusing to be mysterious - the characters are what takes the books from Good to Great.

I think my favorite character moment is in Brothers in Arms. The Nefarious Plot involves the bad guys having cloned Miles, to try to replace him with a Nefarious Duplicate. Things are going wrong, and it seems possible that the clone will end up dead in the crossfire.
"...But what happens to your rather expensive clone?" said Galeni, puzzling out the threads.

Miles smiled crookedly. "Ser Galen doesn't care. He's just a means to an end." His mouth opened, closed, opened again. "Except that -- I keep hearing my mother's voice, in my head. That's where I picked up that perfect Betan accent, y'know, that I use for Admiral Naismith. I can hear her now."

"And what does she say?" Galeni's brows twitched in amusement.

"Miles--she says--what have you done with your baby brother?!"

It's astounding. The idea of having a familial responsibility for the Nefarious Clone Set Up To Replace You is not part of my default worldview. Yet, once it is suggested, it makes perfect sense that Cordelia would believe that, and that Miles would know and be influenced that way. That's just a tiny bit of the whole clone-brother plot, but it's all really rich in character as well as plot twists.

And, since I digressed into talking about chauvinism and the male gaze with the Dresden Files, I noted this bit.

Miles rubbed his neck and turned to the new autopsy report. Gruesome, as always. The pilot had been a Komarran woman in her mid-fifties. Call it Barrayaran sexism, but female corpses always bothered Miles more. Death was such a malicious destroyer of dignity. Had he looked that disordered and exposed when he'd gone down to the sniper's fire? The pilot's body showed the usual progression: smashed, decompressed, irradiated, and frozen, all quite typical of deep-space impact accidents. One arm torn off, somewhere in the initial crunch rather than later, judging from the close-up vids of the freezing-effects of liquids lost at the stump. It had been a quick death, anyway. Miles knew better than to add, Almost painless.
It's nearly equal to Dresden in "it's worse when bad things happen to women" but there's absolutely no sexual objectification to it. Whether or not the woman is pretty is irrelevant. It's not that Miles doesn't notice pretty women, but here, his gaze is entirely sympathy and empathy and it moves me far more than Dresden's chivalry-towards-hot-babes.

(Speaking of pretty women, I generally approve of how the romances are handled, but I do think Miles is a little bit too noodleheaded in A Civil Campaign. It veers from comedy-of-manners intoto comedy-of-painful-awkwardness, though I concede they're close neighbors.)

Final quote:

"Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart."

Five stars.


31 comments or Leave a comment
chanaleh From: chanaleh Date: February 12th, 2014 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

And that last is one of my favorite quotes, ever.
sorceror From: sorceror Date: February 12th, 2014 08:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes! And the books are full of other brilliant quotes as well.

“Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."

"Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it will. And outlive the bastards.”

“Aim high. You may still miss the target, but at least you won't shoot your foot off.”

“Don't wish to be normal. Wish to be yourself. To the hilt. Find out what you're best at, and develop it, and hopscotch your weaknesses. Wish to be great at whatever you are.”

“My home is not a place, it is people.”

“Some people grow into their dreams, instead of out of them.”

“You try to give away what you want yourself.”

“Experience suggests it doesn't matter so much how you got here, as what you do after you arrive.”

“One step at a time, I can walk around the world. Watch me.”

“Money, power, sex ... and elephants.”

“On the sixth day God saw He couldn't do it all, so He created ENGINEERS”

...now I have to go read the series again...
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 13th, 2014 12:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, that one really is yours. :}
desireearmfeldt From: desireearmfeldt Date: February 12th, 2014 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Miles is kind of noodleheaded in A Civil Compaign, though not in contrast to the people in the B (C?) plot (the science, not the politics), it's only fair to say. :) And at least his noodleheadedness is in character for him. He's noodleheaded in that sort of way about things other than romance too, especially in the early books.

I find it harder to go back and read the early Miles books, because they seem kind of...juvenile as books, not just because Miles himself is juvenile and grows up over the course of the series. *That* -- Miles growing up, and the focus of the books shifting as a result -- is something I really like about the series. (Though it does seem a waste to have setup the Dendarii and then end up doing so little with that part of the universe!)

In my opinion, the series peaks at Memory, with Komaarr and A Civil Campaign being still good books (worth re-reading) and serving an important purpose (finishing Miles's growing-up-and-finding-peace-and-a-partner arc). Everything after that is definitely post-shark-jump, partly because I think she got to the end of the interesting story and kept going, but more importantly because in several of them she's forgotten her own espoused rule of "think of the worst thing you can do to the character, and then do that." Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, which I finally got 'round to reading recently, having been given it for xmas, really read to me like a) she'd forgotten how to do plot, and b) not-especially-well-written fanfic.

(Hm, now this whole comment sounds like I don't care for the series, which is the opposite of true. I'm very fond of it. I just think it should have wrapped up several books ago, while it was still great.)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 12th, 2014 05:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance I kind of put in the same category as Civil Campaign, except that it's Ivan's noodleheaded romance rather than Miles (and Ivan is actually a little *less* noodleheaded, but Tej is more, so it came out about the same). Cryoburn I thought was about as good as Ceteganda.

(Huh, I realize only just now that I read them out of publication order - the back of the books has a very careful book-timeline, in which Cryoburn is last.)
desireearmfeldt From: desireearmfeldt Date: February 12th, 2014 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think there's a difference (structural, at least) between Miles in CC and Ivan in CVA.

Miles is being noodleheaded for specific, not totally unreasonable reasons: I can't confess my love because I explicitly promised I'd give her a year before bringing it up*, and Ivan has deliberately rattled my cage by sending in rival suitors.

Ivan and Tej are not talking about stuff because...they're in a hurry/busy, or the conversation might be difficult, or, I don't know, they just can't be bothered. There's really no good reason for them not to be talking, but the author's working real hard to assure that they don't. There's a plausible reason for them to doubt each other's feelings and their own -- fake marriage! -- but there just isn't the narrative support structure to convincingly string that out over a very long book. (And CVA is LONG compared to the other book in the series, with a lot less actual plot.)

Anyway, my beef with CPA is not that Ivan and Tej are noodleheads about their romance, it's pretty much all of the rest of the book, including the low plot density and the fact that a lot of the possible bad/hard things turn out to just not be true in not very interesting ways. And it spends a lot of time visiting all our favorite characters and then explaining why they won't be around to help when the plot arrives.

*The thing that is never quite explained in CC is why they both seem to have forgotten that they more or less mutually declared their attraction at the end of Komarr, so they both have *every reason* to think the other has romantic intentions.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 12th, 2014 07:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
There's a bit in CC where Ekatarine believes (has talked herself into) that it was just kidding that went out of control in Komarr. And Miles has several data points for "women are willing to have romantic intentions but not get married".

By which I mean "the book had explanations but it bugged me too." :)
laura47 From: laura47 Date: February 13th, 2014 08:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
i think there's something going on like "Baen will publish her fantasy if she keeps writing miles"
izmirian From: izmirian Date: February 12th, 2014 05:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Woo hoo! I highly endorse all of the Vorkosigan books.
desireearmfeldt From: desireearmfeldt Date: February 12th, 2014 05:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Also, about the gender thing: to me, Miles is very much...a pretty progressive guy who's comfortable with women as people and as his equals, except that he was raised in a culture of fairly strict gender roles, plus he has hormones, so he does sometimes react to them as *women* rather than as *people*, in a much more gendered fashion. He...I think plays at the forms of gendered chivalry more than he actually engages in it, but he does have some feelings in that direction, too. And he's not completely immune or exempt from Ivan-ish male-thinking-about-women -- though there he kind of code-switches depending on the company he keeps and whether it's more Barrayaran or Betan/galactic.

Though I didn't think the pilot moment was about "it's worse when it happens to women" for him, particularly. (As I recall. It's been a while. It's the mother who, in a way, genders it more, with the wedding dress and whatnot.)

This thought about Miles-and-women (I now realize) is just another item on my list of "Why Miles Vorkosigan is secretly Lord Peter Wimsy."
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 12th, 2014 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another nice gender moment is when Mark takes Elena's oath as armsman. Elena boggles some because you can't do that, and Miles boggles even more later.

I think the whole series does a lot of interesting exploration of gender with culture and individual people, sufficient for essays rather than brief reviews. :)

The reason I quoted the pilot bit was the explicit "Call it Barrayaran sexism, but female corpses always bothered Miles more" so it made a nice contrast with what I was talking about with Dresden before - it's not that I think it's a key Miles insight or anything. (The mother and the wedding dress is a different dead body entirely, at the end of Shards of Honor; the pilot is from Komarr.)
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: February 12th, 2014 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
and Miles boggles even more later.

I was never sure how much of that boggling was because Elena was female, and how much was because that had never been an facet of their rather complicated relationship. Did Miles have any armsmen at that point?

<ponders finding and reading the newer books>
desireearmfeldt From: desireearmfeldt Date: February 12th, 2014 06:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it was part gender -- that was certainly why Elena boggled -- her whole identity growing up had been wrapped up in "women can't be armsmen/in the military, and Miles also took that as an unfair-but-the-way-things-are fact of both their lives.

And part that it had/hadn't been a facet of their relationship -- they'd been simultaneously pseud-equals and master-servant, but it had also never occurred to Miles to explicitly make her his retainer that way. I think more for good reasons than bad; while having the luxury of the privileged position in their class relationship, he genuinely wanted her as a friend (or wife) rather than a servant. Though he'll certainly take her as a military subordinate, too.

And part because he'd assumed she was *his* and Mark was in effect claiming her, and she was a willing party to that.

Edited at 2014-02-12 06:54 pm (UTC)
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: February 12th, 2014 07:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
He was certainly her employer for a while, but being part of the mercenary company is a very different mode of employment than being an armsman (modulo the overlaps firstfrost pointed out that I had forgotten).

And part because he'd assumed she was *his* and Mark was in effect claiming her, and she was a willing party to that.

Yup. Mark being able to see around that assumed truth was one of his nice little shiny moments.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 12th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Miles has armsmen. He starts with Bothari, and the whole original mess starts with swearing Arde Mayhew as an armsman. (Though technically he does not have any "at that point" because he's dead. ;-) )
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: February 12th, 2014 07:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah, I'd forgotten that was how he'd leapt on the Arde. Thank you!

Was Bothari actually Miles' armsman rather than on assignment from his father?

And point. :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 12th, 2014 07:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
"Her father, the late Sergeant Bothari, had been Miles's liege-sworn armsman and personal protector from the day Miles had been born."

Which is not to say that he's not also on assignment from Aral, but he's definitely Miles's.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: February 12th, 2014 07:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
... huh. I would not have thought someone under the age of reason (and possibly under the age of majority) could have armsmen of their own, if for no other reason than that they couldn't accept the oath.

At some level, he's on assignment from Cordelia, but that's not about the legalities at all. :)

Edited at 2014-02-12 07:49 pm (UTC)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 12th, 2014 08:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not that it was covered, but I would bet that Aral accepted the oath on behalf of Miles, nearly the same way Aral was regent for underage Gregor.

Unless, no, my new theory is that there wasn't actually a new oath. There's the bit in Barrayar where Piotr tries to fire Bothari, but he technically can't, and he's Cordelia's at that point. So it's probably all running off of the original oath to Count Piotr, which was between grownups, and he's transfered to Miles at birth.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: February 12th, 2014 08:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Can Cordelia technically have armsmen? (Getting around the 'twenty armsmen' limitation by having a huge family each of whom has twenty armsmen seems like a loophole that would've been stomped ...)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 12th, 2014 08:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's twenty per District Count according to the Vorkosigan wiki.

I suppose this may be somewhere where the world is a little fuzzy - for example, when Miles first swears Arde, were the Vorkosigans below twenty armsmen at the time, or did that make him the 21st? (Same with Elena later. There's a bit about how the poor Counts don't have the full twenty, but nobody ever seems to mention keeping a couple of slots open for emergency swearings-in).

The Count can swear new ones, or the Lord, or the Lord's heir, so Cordelia couldn't have sworn a new one, but it's not clear to me that their Assigned Boss has to be one of those three, or the person who swore the initial oath.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: February 12th, 2014 08:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Miles breaks the rules all the time. But yes, good questions, and I doubt there are clear answers in the books. The system wasn't designed for people bopping all over the galaxy. :)
desireearmfeldt From: desireearmfeldt Date: February 12th, 2014 06:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Woops, yes, I just assumed that was the corpse-in-space scene that stuck in my mind, when in fact it's some other one.
tallou From: tallou Date: February 12th, 2014 06:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love those books. Though they used to all live here and then they moved out. :( My niece is named after Cordelia. (and I concur about the down hill toward the end)
visage From: visage Date: February 12th, 2014 06:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Reminded by the gender issues brought up, there was a great quote I recently read in a novel, which boiled down to one character calling out another in the following fashion: "Sure, the perp beat the everloving crap out of Naomi, but the Captain's girlfriend got hurt! He's the real victim here!"
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 12th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
That was brilliant. It's one of my highlighted passages too. :)
sorceror From: sorceror Date: February 12th, 2014 07:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love this series! Highly recommended. To everyone.
fredrickegerman From: fredrickegerman Date: February 15th, 2014 03:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wait, how is it possible that I've read a series before mjperson did?

I quite liked the series, but it definitely has its uneven points, and I find more of a disconnect between the characters of "Miles Errant" and "Miles Grown Up" than desireearmfeldt does.
mjperson From: mjperson Date: March 5th, 2014 07:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, somehow, I just never got around to that series though I've know of it for years. I'm through 3 of them now, heading into a 4th.
countertorque From: countertorque Date: February 19th, 2014 10:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
OK. I just finished the Old Man's War trilogy. So, I'm starting on this. I have a lot of book reading time on the train now.
mjperson From: mjperson Date: March 5th, 2014 07:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I liked the Old Man's War. Very Starship Troopers, but with more look at the inner workings.
31 comments or Leave a comment