REVIEWS: The Vor Game, Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

The Vor Game, Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: Baen Books (1986-1996), eBook, 885pg
Source: Freebie
Genres: Fiction, GLBTQ, Sci-fi

Vor Game

The Vor Game: Miles Vorkosigan faces enormous challenges in this Hugo Award-winning novel as he leads a mutiny against his military commander’s criminal orders, rejoins his Dendarii mercenaries, and attempts to rescue Emperor Gregor after Barrayar’s royal scion has run off straight into trouble … Sequel to THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE, this novel brought the Vorkosigan saga to major bestseller lists. THE VOR GAME continues to attract new readers to this internationally acclaimed series that Publishers Weekly described as “among the most enjoyable and rewarding in contemporary SF.” (from Amazon)

I feel bad about mushing three books together like this, but I have GOT to catch up on my reviews or I’ll go insane. So!

The Vor Game is kinda weird; the first part was actually a novella originally, and then it was expanded later into a full book. So, like, the first half of The Vor Game is Miles in space!Antarctiva, and the second half is Miles reunited with the Dendarii mercenaries. I liked both of the stories, but it was also a weird reading experience. Luckily some stuff from the first half of the book shows up again in the second half, or I would have been wtf-ing all over the place.

Story-wise, I liked BITS of The Vor Game. I didn’t like the whole as much as some of the other books, but I think that’s just because of the two-stories thing. It threw me off. Miles is really great in this book, though– still young and slightly naive, but he’s growing more into an adult book by book. Yay, character growth!

Cetaganda: When the Cetagandan empress dies, Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin Ivan are sent to Cetaganda for her funeral as diplomatic representatives of Barrayar. Upon arrival, the two men are inexplicably attacked by a servant of the late empress. When the same servant turns up dead the next day, Miles and Ivan find themselves in the middle of a mystery. Miles tries to play detective in a strange, complicated, and deceptively alien culture, while lascivious Ivan manages to get himself involved with several noble females at the same time, a diplomatic no-no of the first order. As the plot thickens, it becomes clear that it’s up to Miles to save the empire. With her usual skill, Bujold addresses timeless issues of human identity through the personal dramas of her characters. (from Amazon)

Cetaganda. Uh. I’m not sure how I feel about it? On the one hand, the story is cohesive and interesting and Miles (and Ivan) are great in it. There’s conspiracies, which I like, and some action stuff (also good), and we get to learn more about a planet other than the two places Miles has lived on. Cetaganda

But! Cetaganda (the planet) made me really uncomfortable. For most of the book I felt really weird about the fantastically beautiful women floating around in bubbles. Why are the women the ones in the bubbles? Dudes aren’t in bubbles. And bubble-women can be given away to lower-class dudes. UNCOMFORTABLE. Especially since no-one seemed to think that the bubbles were weird and/or bad. Miles DID disapprove of the giving-away-women thing, so that’s good. But apparently the bubbles are okay because they keep people’s heads from exploding from TEH AWESOME BEAUTY of the bubble-women. Okay, then.

I just. idk. I think I need to reread Cetaganda again later in the future, and maybe I can form a more coherent opinion about it. The author’s notes at the end DID help with some of the issues I had (other than the bubble-women), so that’s pretty cool. Maybe part of my problem is that I can’t see the tropes and genre conventions being played around with in the Vorkosigan books as well as someone who’s a MAJOR sci-fi fan would.1

Ethan of Athos That problem cropped up again in Ethan of Athos, one of the Vorkosigan books not starring Miles or one of his family members. It’s a reverse “planet of women” story, only I didn’t figure that out until about 30% in when I read another reviewer’s notes. I don’t think it’s NECESSARY to know this stuff, btw, in order to enjoy any of these books. But it probably helps if you want to dig deeper into what’s going on in the writing/story.

Ethan of Athos: Our hero is a quiet, upstanding citizen of Athos, an obstetrician in a world in which reproduction is carried out entirely via uterine replicator, without the aid of living women. Problem: the 200-year-old cultures are not providing eggs the way they used to, and attempts to order replacements by mail have failed catastrophically. But when Ethan is sent to find out what happened and acquire more eggs, he finds himself in a morass of Cetagandan covert ops and Jackson Whole politics – and the only person who’s around to rescue him is the inimitable – and, disturbingly, female – Elli Quinn, Dendarii rent-a-spy. (from Amazon)

Anyway, I liked Ethan of Athos. The characters made the book for me; Ethan’s a great protagonist not only because he’s totally weird (he’s terrified of women!) but he also goes through great shifts in his beliefs. In a very realistic way, too!

Athos is such a weird place. Everyone on Athos thinks women spread “sin,” but they don’t know how. They’re scared of women, but they’ve never actually met any. Also a good chunk of them are gay (something that I think tends to be avoided on “planet of women” stories?). Oh! And they reproduce using uterine replicators, which at least makes more sense than the self-replicating ladies in Herland.

It’s kind of unfortunate that a book starring a gay dude is ALSO a book where there’s a whole planet full of (mostly gay?) men who’re afraid of women, but there’s a decided lack of GLBTQ in hard sci-fi nowadays so I guess I’ll take what I can get. Plus, Ethan learns to be not-afraid of women and to appreciate them as real people and whatnot, so it works out okay.

I’m letting myself read more Vorkosigan books next month. Only three more days to go!

Read: Feb. 7-10, 2013

  1. I DID get that although the bubble-women could be viewed as weak/captives to their society/whatever, they’re really not. The bubble-women are actually very powerful, just in a different way from how you’d expect. Maybe I got so sucked into the militaristic viewpoint of Barrayar that I forget there’s other ways of power than physical might?

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