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Just Finished (For the third time) - 'Mirror Dance' by Lois McMaster Bujold

Friday, February 8, 2013

1991 Hugo Award Winner- 'The Vor Game' by Lois McMaster Bujold

I had a hard time figuring out where to start my reviews for Bujold's Vorkosigan series.  I bought 'The Vor Game' a few years ago and found out it was part of an ongoing series, and normally I set those books aside and try to get the entire series so I can read them in order.  I started doing research on this book later and then couldn't figure out where the series started.  I felt like an idiot, but the series seemed to have no definite beginning.  The problem is that Bujold didn't write her series in order, she had the books written but couldn't find a publisher for the first few novels, then she would jump back and forth in chronology filling in different gaps in the story.  The other problem with this is that Bulold's writing gets stronger as she writes more books and she begins to tackle more complex narratives while not necessarilly further down in chronological order.  It can make for a complicated series to jump into.

So just forget it, chronological order is not important to the series.  There's a few points where you'll want to have read some of the other books before certain other ones (don't read 'Mirror Dance' before 'Brothers in Arms') but if you just read the books in the order written you'll be fine.  I didn't do that, I jumped around a little bit with the books, then went back and finished off most of the ones I hadn't read.  I didn't just stick with the Hugo and Nebula nominees (of which there are quite a few), and I still have a few of the novels to finish off.  The important thing is to remember that however daunting the series can look like as a whole there's really no bad place to start reading.

As far as reviewing these books instead of doing this in series or chronological order I'm going to review the Vorkosigan saga in the order I read them.  I finished Vor Game about a year ago, and it was such an entertaining read that I quickly grabbed the rest of the series.  At first I used them as quick filler reads between other novels, but after I read 'Mirror Dance' I started to find the series compelling enough to shove everything else to the side until I'd finished it off.  I'm still sitting on 'Cetaganda' and 'Borders of Infinity,' as it makes me sad that I might soon run out of Vorkosigan novels to read.
The series is just a lot of fun, and Bujold has handled it well.  The characters age and grow, the plotlines increasing in maturity with the age of the people who inhabit them.  The character of Miles Vorkosigan has been talked about in a lot of reviews, but it's worth saying that he's a lot of fun.  I really like that as a reader we've been able to watch him grow from this young kid desperate to prove himself in novels like Vor Game into this older man who can look back wistfully on his life in 'Cryoburn.'  It's just a lot of fun, and kind of a new way to handle this, in a different authors hands we might still have Miles Vorkosigan bouncing around space getting into adventure, with no explanation for why he has become Peter Pan, forever the same age.
'The Vor Game' might not be the most serious novel in the Vorkosigan Saga, and throws back a little to 'Shards of Honor' by feeling like a loosely connected group of short stories rather than one longer narrative.  Which it is, the first few chapters was previously published as the short story 'The Weatherman.'  This opening story deals with Miles' first military posting on a frozen crappy world.  The story follows up with a second half in which Miles is arrested and has to rescue his emporer.  Later he ends up foiling an invasion plot and gets his mercenary army put on secret retainer for Emperor Gregor.
So maybe this isn't the best place to start reading the series.  Reading that last paragraph makes the story sound too complicated a place to start the series.  It would have been nice if I had known who Emperor Gregor was, or who the Dendarii Free Mercenaries are.  But, this world isn't rocket science and it's not that hard to jump into the middle of this story and figure out what all the pieces are.  There's an outer space army that Miles' alter ego is in charge of, there, now you're caught up to speed.
This is just a really fun read, along the lines of John Scalzi's 'Old Man's War' or Corey's 'Leviathan Wakes.'  If someone liked either of those books they're going to like the entire Vorkosigan series.  The character of Miles has the right attitude to carry off this sort of grand space opera without limiting the scope or trying to overly humanize the large action pieces. 
While the Vorkosigan series as a whole does get to places where it will have important statements to make about life or ethics, this book does not press the issue so much.  Instead Bujold uses Vor Game to expand this universe and tell an entertaining story.  There's not much else to say about the novel, it's entertaining, and occupies a space in the life of Miles Vorkosigan where he is in between roles and still discovering who he is.  It aims simply to entertain and it does the job marvelously.

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