Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cryoburn (The Vorkosigan Saga)
In her Miles Vorkosigan series, Bujold has often explored - in the Campbellian tradition - the effects of a particular piece of future technology or political philosophy on the human race. In Ethan of Athos, she shows us the societal effects of uterine replicator technology on a planet populated entirely by males. In Komarr, we see folks adapting to life in domes on a planet that is slowly being terraformed. In Cetaganda, we see the effects of long term genetic manipulation on the human race. In Diplomatic Immunity (and Falling Free, which is not part of this series, per se)  we see the how humans who have been adapted to free fall live, love and entertain themselves.

In Brothers in Arms, we find out how people on Earth have built tidal barriers to survive the slow rising of the seas. In Mirror Dance, on Jackson's Whole, we see what might happen on a world run entirely by unfettered corporate greed and criminal "Barons". In Memory, we explore the possibilities of human brain enhancement through cybernetic implants. And now, in Cryoburn, we look at what might happen when an entire society on the planet Kibou-daini takes advantage of cryogenic technology to postpone death.

Things start out innocently enough when Miles is sent by Gregor to a conference on cryogenic technology to investigate what the expansion of the cryo-corporations into the Empire might mean. As one might expect from all that has gone before, Miles just can't stay out of trouble, and is first kidnapped by a half-assed terrorist organization that wants to tear down the cryo corps hold on power, and, when he starts pursuing the threads of corruption after one of the cryo executives attempts to bribe him, he really stirs things up.

I'm afraid, after all of my eager anticipation of this book, that it's a little disappointing. First, this just doesn't seem to have the old "magic" that Bujold has always brought to Miles' madcap mishaps. There's really no sense of "out of the frying pan" in this book, and the people that Miles gathers around him in this book don't have that fully fleshed out feel of earlier sidekicks. Roic is still around, of course, and Lord Mark makes an appearance about two thirds of the way through, with Kareen in tow, but even the most developed characters in the book, like the waif Jin who rescues Miles and is rescued in return, are just missing that certain something. If you're a Vorkosigan fan, you're going to have to read it, because it is, after all, Bujold writing about Miles, and there are some key events, but don't expect too much, ok?

Maybe someone can clue me in if there's a short story I missed, but I always thought we'd see something thoroughly describing the passing of Sargent Taura in this latest novel, and Miles and Roic merely muse about the funeral, in passing.


What is it with authors this year? Once again, in the vein of Child (whom I understand now from the publishing of Worth Dying For has resurrected Reacher) and Butcher's killing off Harry Dresden, Bujold has done away with a major character. In the very last line of the story, before the Aftermaths section, a Vor lord approaches Miles and addresses him "Count Vorkosigan, sir?" Aral Vorkosigan is dead.

In light of some of the discussion that takes place earlier in Cryoburn, we know that Aral is getting old, feeling the ravages of time, and Miles and Mark are hoping to persuade him to take advantage of life extension technology that Mark's Durona Clinic is piloting, so it doesn't come as a total surprise. The Afternmaths section, where the funeral is described, will definitely bring tears to your eyes - it did to mine.

The really tough thing about this is that in light of another discussion between Mark and Miles, it's apparent that Miles doesn't really think of himself as grown up yet, and that his position as Imperial Auditor allows him to dash around the galaxy just like the good old days, leaving Ekaterin in charge of hearth and home (and four children now!). With Aral's passing, Miles is going to have to take over all of his official duties, and it seems highly likely that we're done with Lord Auditor Vorkosigan and all of his crazy adventures. Bujold's writing in this one just feels lackluster, and I think the bloom has worn off of the relationship with her oldest, best hero. I think she's moved on to other things, and this book is meant to give closure to all her fans who've begged for a new adventure with our old friend. She can now say that he has to stay close to home, as district Count, and will be busy raising his family and serving the Empire for a long long time. Very disappointing.

Hope I'm wrong.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

I think this book is more than an exploration of the effect of a particular technology, it's an exploration of death and the effect it has on the surviving. As you note, Sgt. Taura's death is reminisced about, but not described. Aral's death is a shock, but really shouldn't be.

I concur that this is not Bujold's best work in the Vorkosiverse, but I think the subject matter didn't lend itself to a rollicking "Forward Momentum!" storyline like, say, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance did.