Friday, November 25, 2011

Cryoburn, by Lois McMaster Bujold

With Cryoburn I come to the end of two quests for the year--one, to read all of the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominees for 2011 (see the list at Free SF Online, my all-time favorite website), and two, to read the entirety of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series (so as to be ready for number one).  As Bujold has now generously provided the world with free versions of the series (at the Cryoburn link above), with the curious exception of Memory, I was able to stick mostly to my goal of reading freely available SF, via the web or public library.

First, the final novel.  For most of it I thought that Miles was pretty much doing more of the same as Imperial Auditor--the wife he acquired in "Winterfair Gifts" now holding down the home front, a mere homesickness memory.  He gets into plenty of physical scrapes, but is now handling them with diplomacy befitting a family man.  He resolves the latest threat to the Empire with his usual savoir faire.  One doesn't find a whole lot new going on.  But the very ending changes things, so SPOILER ALERT.

We get just 500 words (exactly--five "doodles") on Miles' reaction to his father's death.  But with those 500, Bujold has changed Miles quite thoroughly, such that it would be near impossible for her to justify writing another Vorkosigan novel that simply follows Miles on an adventure.  He appears to have made a conscious decision (very nicely rendered in a paragraph) not to be that fellow anymore.  He is an accomplished politician now, and his next moves would likely be in some sort of royal political thriller.  Hard to say how interesting Bujold could make it.  Me, I think he's done.  Maybe the Wormhole Nexus continues, maybe not, but he's background now.  Miles will not die, he will just fade away.  I see by the latest update to Bujold's Wikipedia entry that Ivan Vorpatril is the focus.  He seems a reasonable heir apparent.

Am I glad to have spent the last four months reading 15 novels and a few short stories in the series?  On the whole, yes.  It's hard to find an ongoing series that has maintained such high quality throughout.  The plots are well-developed and the characters sympathetic.  Miles has been interesting to get to know.  But it's easy enough to put down.  The suspense is contained within each volume--it's not a monolith like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. There is a Vorkosigan Companion volume on the Cryoburn CD, but I can't say I'm that curious about it--the characters in the end are vehicles for making Bujold's moral points, with the exception of Miles himself, so I am not sure what others could unpack that they are not finding within themselves somehow.  Miles definitely has a dark side, and Bujold has never brought herself to explore it--perhaps she is a little too fond of him, or his image, to let him fall prey to mere human temptations of power. Here's hoping she gets up the nerve.  Give this book three stars, and the series four.

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