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Bookends: Exploring the Results of Reproductive Technology August 2, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Exploring the Results of Reproductive Technology
By Dan Davidson
May 2, 2012
– 848 words –

Miles, Mystery & Mayhem
Lois McMaster Bujold
Baen Books
576 pages
$11.99

Miles, Mystery & Mayhem is another omnibus volume collecting a chronological sequence of stories in Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. These are mostly, but not all, stories featuring the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan. Bujold says that she was sort of inspired by the Horatio Hornblower novels of C.S. Forester in creating the universe and various planetary cultures in which her main protagonist lives and works. If so, she joins Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, whose Captain Kirk was also inspired by the adventures of the fictitious 19th century sailor.
Miles’ mother, a soldier, was exposed to some toxic chemicals while she was carrying him, and as a result he is plagued by stunted physical growth and brittle bones. He lives in a culture where physical prowess is valued above almost everything else and anything less than normal is considered a mutant and fit only for culling. Miles survived into young adulthood by virtue of his place within one of the noble families of the planet Barrayar, and continues to survive by virtue of his wits and personal charisma.
He is a brilliant tactician and a born leader who inspires great loyalty in his followers. He is also very good at improvisation in the face of setbacks.  He overcomes obstacles.
At this point in his history he is in his early twenties and has two separate identities. Under his own name he is an operative of the Barrayaran Empire, Lieutenant Lord Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, acting as diplomat, soldier and spy. A few years earlier, in order to save his own life and a few others, he was forced to create the identity of Admiral Naismith, and take over the leadership of the Dendarii Free Mercenaries. Very few people know that he is both individuals, and his mercenaries have no idea that some of their missions are actually on behalf of Barrayar.
There are two novels and a novella in this collection. They are partly linked by the theme of mystery, but more by the fact that all of them deal with genetic manipulation, bioengineering and the use of the “uterine replicator,” a device which allows completely human reproduction outside of a woman’s body.
The first novel, Cetaganda, features Miles as himself, sent to the planet Cetaganda on a diplomatic mission that turns into a murder mystery of some complexity. It works out that there is a plot to pin the blame for several deaths on members of the Barrayaran embassy, especially Miles and his cousin, as part of an internal palace coup. The Cetegandans are heavily into genetically controlled breeding, and their social structure is based on enhanced genotypes.
The second novel, Ethan of Athos, does not concern Miles, but a member of his mercenary force, Commander Elli Quinn, is paired with Dr. Ethan Urquhart, an obstetrician from an all-male planet where women are forbidden. The morays of an all-male planet, where same-sex relationships are considered the moral and ethical norm, and anything else is a sin, make for an interesting planetary society. The somewhat hapless Ethan is sent off-world to acquire new biological breeding material and falls into an espionage plot. He would never have survived it without the assistance of Quinn, a gorgeous and very effective mercenary soldier. The book is a thriller with lots of humour built in.
“Labyrinth” is a novella length tale that takes place after the previous two and has Miles, in his Admiral Naismith persona, helping to liberate a scientist from a criminal cartel that specializes in genetic mutation. The scientist wants to smuggle some of his research out with him and also wants Miles to eliminate a failed super-soldier experiment, which he claims is a monster. When the “mission impossible” style infiltration and theft from the cartel’s lab fails, Miles finds himself tossed in with the “monster”, who turns out to be a very confused and lonely teenage girl.  She is an eight-foot-tall warrior, complete with fangs, claws, superhuman strength and speed, and a ravenous appetite, and Miles has to find a way to both survive her and help her.
Realizing he has been duped by the man he is supposed to be rescuing, Miles has to figure out a way to escape from capture, take the girl with him, and trick the various elements of the syndicate families of the planet called Jackson’s Hole into tripping over each other while he escapes.
Saying that a story is light-hearted is often taken as a put-down, so let me correct that interpretation in advance. Bujold tells upbeat stories with lots of adventure and some very effective world building included. There are also quite a few chuckles along the way and a good many of her chapter end cliffhangers are of the “whoops!” variety.
The original books seem to be mostly available in either print or eBook editions, but I like these collections in that they present the stories in their internal chronological order.

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