Friday, January 14, 2011

Cryoburn

I felt like throwing a party when I learned that a new book in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga was coming out.  It's been a long wait since the last one, which was published nearly ten years ago (aside from the novella, Winterfair Gifts).

If you are going to stop reading this post because you don't read science fiction, please don't!  Yes, this series is undoubtedly in the SF genre, but it is so much more than that.  These books are about people, amazing people, characters so real and complex that you'd recognize them immediately if you ran into them in real life.  The books cross genres effortlessly, as well.  This one, for example, is really a mystery.  Others are novels of manners, or swashbuckling action/adventure, coming of age, even romance.  With a different time and place as a backdrop, sure, and with elements from that different time and place that are intrinsic to the plots.  I was once at a science fiction convention where Lois McMaster Bujold's books were likened to the works of Jane Austen.  Really!

The writing is excellent, and the stories are so masterfully told that they will pull you in with an immediacy that is relevant and fascinating, no matter the setting or genre.  These are not books that put the ideas first, or the gadgetry, or the cool extraterrestrial gadgets and gizmos.  Bujold never offers indigestible info-dumps full of futuristic technological jargon.  These are books about people, first and foremost, and once you get to know Miles, if only a little, you'll want to keep reading about him.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.

Before I talk about the book, though, let me just mention that the series is best read in order, even though each novel tells a complete story.  It is certainly possible to start with any of them - Bujold fills the reader in with relevant details from previous events - but the payoff is enormous if you start out with the first one.  And that first book isn't even about Our Hero.  It's about his parents, and how they met.  It's not my absolute favorite in the series, but it's certainly worth reading.

Cryoburn is, as I've said, a mystery novel at heart.  Miles, who is now an Imperial Auditor, is sent to investigate something that doesn't feel quite right on the planet Kibou-Daini.  So he travels there, ostensibly to attend a conference about cryonics. Miles narrowly escapes being kidnapped by a fanatical government opposition group, and after an allergic reaction to the sedative the kidnappers administered, Miles is hallucinating, wandering the underground labyrinthine corridors of a cryonics corporation.  A chance encounter with a young boy who lives on the fringes of Kibou-Daini's society gives Miles some insight into the situation, and soon Miles is working on opening the can of worms as sneakily - and productively - as possible.  Of course there are a few obstacles in the way, and some unexpected turns of events, but it is, as always, a joy to watch him take care of business.

The tale is narrated in the third person from three separate points of view.  There's Miles, of course, but there's also his armsman Roic, who is separated from Miles during the kidnapping attempt, and there's also Jin, the boy who rescues Miles.  The three points of view lend the story a depth (and often humor) that succeeds beautifully.  This installment in the series was a treat, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly while reading it.  This is one of those rare and wonderful books that, when I'm in the the middle of it but not reading it at the moment, just thinking about it sitting there, waiting for me, gives me a lovely frisson of anticipation. 

Books in the Vorkosigan Saga:
1. Shards of Honor
2. Barrayar
3. The Warrior's Apprentice
4. The Vor Game
5. Cetaganda
6. Ethan of Athos
(almost a spin-off) 
7. Brothers in Arms
8. Borders of Infinity
9. Mirror Dance
10. Memory
11. Komarr
12. A Civil Campaign
13. Diplomatic Immunity

14. Cryoburn

Cryoburn (#14 in the Vorkosigan saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen, 2010)

Also reviewed at:
The Good, the Bad and the Bookish:  "As has been the case with the series as a whole, the writing is lucid and engaging, the dialogue rings true, the characters are multidimensional, and the different cultures are truly unique (rather than cosmetically different but substantively similar)"
Gripping Books:  "The book is not particularly deep, but it's a fun one. I enjoyed the mayhem around Miles as well as the younger characters of the novel."
Mervi's Book Reviews:   "...pretty much all of the elements I most enjoy in this series are present: writing style, humor, and characters. The plot is a bit too convenient in parts, though."

10 comments:

  1. I really must read this series at some point.

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  2. I've just come to the Vorkosigan books in the past year or two (just finished Borders of Infinity today), so I had no idea there was that big of a gap! Of course, she wrote the Sharing Knife books in the meantime, which I really enjoyed, so I probably wouldn't have minded so much even if I had been waiting for a new Miles book with the rest of you!

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  3. I have what I thought was the first book to read for Carl's Sci Fi experience - The Warrior's Apprentice. Am I starting with the wrong one?

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  4. Kailana - Yes, you absolutely must try it!

    Fyrefly - Can you believe I haven't read The Sharing Knife books yet? I was waiting for a few to come out so I could read them all at once. But they are on my list, hopefully for this year.

    Cath - You could certainly start with The Warrior's Apprentice - it's not a bad one to start with. But I think if you read Shards of Honor and Barrayar, the rest of the series would be an even better experience for you. Granted, I'm a bit over the top with my love of reading things in order. So take it with a grain of salt! :)

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  5. I like to read things in order too, Darla, so I may save it for later in the year and try to get hold of those other two first. Thanks for the advice.

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  6. Cath - I will really be interested to hear your thoughts on this series. I should have mentioned in my review that this book contains a CD Rom that has nearly every book in the series available for download in all kinds of formats to read on your computer or e-reader. Also, if you scroll down a few posts here on my blog, there is a link to the Baen Free ebook website - I think they offer the first two books for free there. If you have an e-reader. Just a thought!

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  7. One of my friends has been going on about this book. I will defintely have to give this author a try at some point.

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  8. I find the order of the books for this series very confusing because like Cath I thought The Warrior's Apprentice was first. The fact that there doesn't seem to be a definitive first book is the thing that has stopped me from starting them, despite having enjoyed The Sharing Knife series.

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  9. Marg, knowing which Vorkosigan novels to start with is confusing because "The Warrior's Apprentice" was the first accepted for publication, but Ms Bujold had already written "Shards of Honor" (also published as "Cordelia's Honour").
    In reading order, you could start with the first novel in the Vorkosigan universe, "Fallng Free," but as it's set some 200 years ealier than anything else, starting with "Shards of Honour" is fine.
    As Darla said, they're all fully self-contained, but I've found reading them in chronological order adds a layer of depth and satisfaction that made a suberb reading experience sublime!

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  10. Marg, I agree with Alex and Lynn. You can definitely skip Falling Free as it has no real bearing on the rest of the series. I recommend reading in the list order I included in the review. My e-copy of the first book of The Sharing Knife just came in for me yesterday - I'm looking forward to reading it soon!

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