1/12/2010. Contributed by Kelly Jensen
Cryoburn (Miles Vorkosigan book 14) by Lois McMaster Bujold. pub: Baen. 352 page hardback. Price: $12.99 (US). GBP13.25 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-43913-394-1.
check out website: www.baen.com
Miles Vorkosigan is not your usual hero. To those who know him, the unusual is what makes him what he is, truly unique. To those who don’t, his differences can be hard to grasp. He’s short, deformed, manic and at times, quite scary. But nearly always, the odd little man embodies everything that a hero is or should be. He is loyal to his family and his country, even when he doesn’t always agree with them and he’s devoted to helping others, even when it’s not the always best thing for them or himself. He is irrepressible and brave and wonderfully endearing. Finally, Miles Vorkosigan can be hysterically funny.
Lois McMaster Bujold introduced the world to Miles Vorkosigan in 1986 with the novel ‘The Warrior’s Apprentice’. The Vorkosigan Saga is space opera at its best and there are now over fifteen novels and short stories set in the same universe, the latest of which is ‘Cryoburn’. When reading these novels, it’s easy to see why the author has won so many awards. Each and every one is an adventure and full of all the best elements of storytelling: compelling characters, intriguing plots, edge of the seat action, laugh out loud humour and the lighter, sweeter moments of romance. They are a delight to read and though I’m sure it’s not so, they feel effortless, as if Bujold could write Miles forever without running out of ideas.
‘Cryoburn’ is set on the planet Kibou-daini and explores yet another interesting cultural phenomenon of the future. A good portion of the planet’s population is frozen, in vast cryogenic storage facilities known locally as Cryopolises. People submit themselves to this procedure for several reasons. They have attained a certain age and are unwilling to go to a final grave, suffer an incurable condition and hope the future will hold the answers and, increasingly, they simply want to avoid old age altogether. The odd thing about the society laid out here, besides the fact it feels as if the majority of the planet’s population is frozen, is that even after they take up residence in a Cryopolis, they still retain ownership of property and have a vote. They are considered citizens and these votes are called proxies and are controlled by living and, in the case of many, by the corporations that monopolize the cryogenics industry.
Miles, in his role of Imperial Auditor, attends a conference on the planet in a thinly veiled attempt to gain information on the industry’s plan to expand onto the planet Komarr. It feels like a something is afoot and, for Miles, that’s more than enough. He just needs a whiff of something fishy and he swings into investigative mode, whether it’s his business or not. This is how the story of Jin, a boy who rescues him, unfolds and becomes irrevocably entwined in the main plot. Again, to those of you who are familiar with Miles, this is not at all unusual, this is how he operates. All business is Miles’ business. Oh, the rescue? Miles was kidnapped from the conference, at the beginning of the novel, of course! He wanders an underground Cryopolis for several hours in a scene that quite resembles a good horror story, before emerging onto the street and making friends with the natives in quite the deranged fashion. We fans of Miles and his creator would expect nothing less than such an exciting start…
The story is told from three points of view: Miles, his armsman, Roic, and a ten year-old boy who lives on a rooftop with chickens, Jin. As we learn the story of why Jin lives on a rooftop with chickens, Miles combines the two plots and sets out to save everyone. The Cryocorps are trading bodies and proxy votes like commodities and there is a suspicious lack of revival going on. On top of that, Jin’s mother disappeared a couple of years ago because she discovered yet another dirty secret that threatened the industry’s plan to freeze everyone and control the world!
As always, I enjoyed Mile’s point of view. I missed Ekaterin, his wife, and while his musings over married life and fatherhood were sweet interludes, it was not the same as hearing her voice. Armsman Roic tells his side of the story in his wonderfully dry manner that serves to only highlight Mile’s oddness. Here’s a typical example:-
M'lord's eyes crinkled in speculation. "I wonder if we should add a box to tick off—Reason for travel: creepy planetary conquest...no, I suppose not."
Here is another:-
Roic frowned. "Very riveting, m'lord, but...what has this got t' do with Barrayar's interests?" M'lord cleared his throat. "It is far too early to say," he said primly. Roic, glumly, read that as, I haven't made up a reason yet, but give me time.
I love his take on events. When he contemplated methods of suicide while being held after the kidnapping, I actually giggled. I did not always enjoy Jin’s side of the story. I liked it at first and his observations of Miles could be quite funny but, as the novel wore on, his simplistic view felt strained and at times unnecessary.
Of all the Vorkosigan novels, this would be my least favourite. This is not to say I did not enjoy the book. I did! But the plot did not engage me as much as the characters this time around and with Jin being not quite old enough to understand a lot of what was going on, there were sections of the story that felt clunky. But that being said, it’s still a fun read and a worthwhile entry into the saga. The adventures in bodysnatching had me in stitches. Miles has been through a lot, however, and seeing him at thirty-nine years of age (this novel is set six years after ‘Diplomatic Immunity’) is enlightening. He is still uniquely Miles and there are definite flashes of the young man we met in ‘The Warrior’s Apprentice’, but he finally seems to have sort of grown up and if possible, slowed down just a tad.
If you’ve not met Miles yet, the first novel featuring Miles, ‘The Warrior’s Apprentice’ and one of the short stories, ‘Mountains Of Mourning’ are available for free download at the Baen Free Library. http://www.baen.com/library/. The early novels are also available in omnibus editions and the published order differs slightly from the chronological order. Both can be found here, at the author’s official website: http://www.dendarii.com/
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