Saturday, March 10, 2012
Normally I'm a fanatic about reading series books in order, but as I've read and reread books in the Vorkosigan saga for years, I only felt a few qualms about going out of order as I re-experience these books via the audio versions. I've come to love Grover Gardner's narration of the series, so when I saw this listed as available for immediate checkout from my library's audio download site, I snapped it up.
This book is really three novellas tied together by the narrative device of Miles being interviewed regarding suspicious expenditures during several missions performed for Barrayar's Imperial Security department. Miles defends the expenses he authorized by telling his superior officer exactly how each mission went down.
The first story, "Mountains of Mourning," is set in the countryside beyond the Vorkosigan's country estate. A woman shows up asking for justice because she believes her husband has killed her baby - who had the "unacceptable" deformity of a cleft palate. The planet of Barrayar, during the Time of Isolation, had such unvaried genetic stock that any deformities were immediately, brutally, stamped out, and although times have changed and such a minor defect as a cleft palate could easily be fixed surgically), infanticide is still a sadly common occurrence out in the country. Miles, who has suffered physical deformities because of a biological attack on his mother when she was pregnant with him, is quick to point out that he is not a genetic mutant. But he still looks like one. So when his father sends him out to the village to sort out the issue, his appearance is more than a legal formality. Miles must use his considerable ingenuity to unravel the complicated mystery.
In the second story, "Labyrinth," Miles goes undercover as a Dendarii mercenary to Jackson's Whole, a planet that is the equivalent of one of those wild, unlawful towns in old Western movies, but with illegal cloning and sexual slavery - a place where anything goes. His mission is to extract some valuable scientific research, but when he ends up as a prisoner in an underground maze with a ferocious laboratory experiment, he discovers that the description of his mission was missing some essential information. Much entertaining action, adventure and mayhem ensues.
The third and final story is a harrowing tale in which Miles is imprisoned in a Cetagandan prison camp, and he must organize the former soldiers, who are living in a Hunger Games-type mentality, imposed upon them by the diabolical psychological tactics of the Cetagandans. When Miles is left naked and shivering, befriended only by a man with a scrap of paper in his pocket that he believes is a prophecy, his situation looks dreadfully hopeless.
As always, the writing is tight and skillful, the characters deftly portrayed, and the plots surprising and often moving. Bujold's Vorkosigan novels are character-driven science fiction at its very best, and even though I've read this book before, I was still on the edge of my seat listening to Grover Gardner's excellent narration. If you haven't read the Vorkosigan Saga yet, what are you waititng for?
Books in the Vorkosigan Saga:
1. Shards of Honor
3. The Warrior's Apprentice
4. The Vor Game
6. Ethan of Athos (almost a spin-off)
7. Brothers in Arms
8. Borders of Infinity
9. Mirror Dance
12. A Civil Campaign
13. Diplomatic Immunity
The Borders of Infinity (#8 in the Vorkosigan saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold; narrated by Grover Gardner (Blackstone Audio, 2010)
Also reviewed at:
Fyrefly's Book Blog: "None of the stories has the same oomph as some of the full-length novels, but I certainly didn’t mind spending time with Miles on a few mini-adventures."