Friday, September 9, 2011

Ethan of Athos, by Lois McMaster Bujold

Ethan of Athos (in the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem collection) is sort of a side trip in the Wormhole Nexus, not in the line of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, though he is mentioned.  This story features Elli Quinn, a mercenary who fought for him and had her face blown off.  But it centers on Ethan Urqhart, a doctor from Athos, a planet far out of the way founded for men only.  He must leave it to find ovarian cultures to continue their cell lines.

This book has a very different feel from the others in that the hero is himself not a particularly colorful character.  Ethan is a solid, down-to-earth doctor who ends up part of an espionage caper.  Kind of like Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in The In-Laws, only Elli Quinn isn't so crazy.  It's an action book, but the flavor is much less warlike than the main series.

It always takes some guts to write mainstream novels with a gay character of any kind, let alone a lead character.  Bujold wrote and managed to sell this one in the 80's, when AIDS was first running rampant.  What's really interesting here is that while his sexuality is not hidden, it's not so much of a big deal in the book.  On Athos that's all there is, so homosexuality is taken for granted and isn't a special part of one's identity.  Although being Athosian is, and not having contact with women.  I think the latter is the bigger deal.  Ethan comes to some realizations on that score as well.  So the book is of some interest as a period piece from a time when LGBT was just starting to move into the mainstream, propelled in some part by sympathy.  Ethan needs no sympathy, or special treatment of any sort.  He is capable and fully comfortable in his own skin.

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