Lois McMaster Bujold is perennially a Hugo, Nebula, or Locus nominee, and I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. So, I spent the latter half of 2010 locating, and reading, each novel of her Vorkosigan series. Many of the titles aren’t readily available, even in the larger chain bookstores, but are becoming rather ubiquitous as Omnibus sets–usually two or three of her novels, and perhaps a novella or short story, in a single binding. I must say, it’s a large chunk of book to haul around, if you read at lunch, or on breaks. LibraryThing.com records Miles in Love as nine inches tall, and weighing over two pounds (some “fan”atic took rather seriously the task of *weighing* Bujold’s novels). I sat on the sofa and read the three constituent stories over the weekend.
Miles in Love is comprised of the novels Komarr, A Civil Campaign, and “Winterfair Gifts,” the twelfth and thirteenth, chronologically, of the Vorkosigan saga, and a novella that features incidental characters.
Miles’ story is a difficult one without spoiling every novel in the series, so I’m aware I am being rather vague: let’s just see where this leads us. Miles has had a long career, working covertly for the planet Barrayar. A few mistakes has led him to retirement, and he is now one of seven Imperial Auditors. An enormous light-reflecting mirror is destroyed in Komarr’s orbit, which threatens all terraformed work on this fragile planet’s ecosystem. Miles is sent to observe this audit, and meets Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the wife of a scheming middle-manager. During the course of the novel, Ekaterin’s husband is accidentally killed by the same environmental terrorists who destroyed the mirror, as they are trying to create a super-weapon large enough to destroy the wormhole that connects Komarr with the rest of the universe. Miles slowly learns, as the title of the Omnibus package suggests, he is in love with Ekaterin.
I feel guilty, as if I’ve simultaneously spoiled, and hardly said a thing, about Komarr. I suppose this signifies how strong a writer Bujold actually is. Her characters are rich, her worlds extravagant and plausible, and the relationships she builds–well, a review can hardly do them justice. Ekaterin is very likeable, and we enjoy her family, her absentminded uncle, her genetically-weak son, and her very strong aunt, as much as any minor characters Bujold has ever invented.
A Civil Campaign brings the story back to Barrayar, where Miles and his cousin Ivan plan for the grandest event of a century–Emperor Gregor’s wedding. Miles courts Ekaterin in a reckless haphazard manner that makes us realize within a few chapters, that gods of farcical comedy are about to collide with the young Vor’s best-laid plans. His brother Mark returns from the (sexually) liberal Beta Colony, thoroughly smitten with family friend Kareen Koudelka. Mark also brings a Escobarran researcher and crates full of butter-bugs, which are simultaneously nutritious, and the most disgusting pus-like insects imaginable. All the vectors collide simultaneously at a dinner party hosted by Miles, and, I guess, hilarity ensues.
I never found whole scenario all-too funny because I’ve become attached to Miles, and despite his bullheaded courtship, I hate seeing a collision of mishaps to this magnitude. It makes me uncomfortable. Despite this minor complaint, there were some beautiful passages; for example, Gregor’s audience with the young Nikki Vorsoisson, where he forthrightly, yet with elegance, explains his father’s death. Gregor, who early in the series, I found to be an annoying complainer, has become a wonderfully wise and complex character, smitten with his Komarran bride-to-be.
A third story, “Winterfair Gifts,” tell the story of Miles’ and Ekaterin’s wedding, and of the uncovering of a plot to poison the Vorkosigan-to-be. Another favorite character of mine, the super-intelligent, and genetically altered, Taura, is featured in this story. She deserves her moment in the limelight, and the story is delightful.
Throughout, Bujold goes where her gifts lie: She creates believable characters, whether monsters, deviants, or emperors, or armsmen. Each of them (even the antagonist) is captured lovingly and sympathetically by her writing. Her worlds are interesting, and her ideas are strong: but these are not where the force of her stories lie. Bujold excels at creating relationships. There is possibly no better place than a love story to do this, and no writer better to accomplish the task.