Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Review - The Vor Game

The Vor Game
by Lois McMaster Bujold
1991 Hugo Winner for Best Novel

So I've finally reached Her.

She deserves to be capitalized like that. No other author gave me such a rough time. She's a monster and as my difficulties with her compounded I grew convinced that she was out to get me. My archenemy: Lois McMaster Bujold. Her crimes against me are numerous and cruel.

You'll note that Cherryh and Brin were kind hearted when they won. Although the books they won the Hugo for were part of ongoing series a reader could simply pick any of them up. Bujold saw this as a chance to inflate all of her book sales and so every single book that she has won best novel for is a direct sequel to a book that has not. Oh she writes the books out of chronological order in her series thinking she can disguise it but the ones that she wins Hugos for are the ones that are directly attached to previously written books. As I result I had to read more than half of her total output just to read the books that she won the Hugo award for.

That isn't enough for Her, though. Bujold's older books are also nightmarishly hard to find in hardcover. One of the required ones doesn't even have a hard cover edition! (That would be Brothers in Arms which is required reading before Mirror Dance which won a Hugo.) There's some omnibus editions out there but most of those are just as hard to find. For one of her Hugo winners I had a choice of a leather bound reprint or a first edition hard cover. I can just envision Her sitting at stately Bujold manner on piles of first edition copies of books selling one or two off every time she feels like getting another solid ivory back scratcher. The woman is stone cold evil.

I'm also pretty sure she convinced other authors at the time to do this. I spent more on the books of the 1990's than on the rest of the collection combined.

And perhaps her worst crime of all, the one that makes me convinced of her status as an evil genius: she writes pretty good adventure novels.

Bujold's Vorkosigan books focus on the class of cultures on Barrayar who lost interstellar contact centuries ago and fell into barbarism. Rediscovered only a few decades before the start of the series they were immediately conquered and fought a decades long war which reaffirmed their military culture and feudal loyalties. This sets up a division between the people who hold to the old ways and those who are trying to rejoin galactic culture.

The Vor Game is a fine example of her usual work. After his daring adventure in The Warrior's Apprentice the brittle boned genius Miles Vorkosigan has been accepted to his home world's military academy. Despite being far in advance of everyone in his class in everything except physical conditioning he's sent to a dead-end position gathering meteorological data at an arctic training base. An incident there demonstrates how well he could fit into the military and Miles winds up embroiled in a plot involving a scheme to start an interstellar war, a missing emperor, and the mercenaries he lead in the previous book.

Bujold's style has wild swings of light humor with brooding seriousness and she deftly balances each. Miles has a very sardonic sense of humor and his comments are a high point in the novel. The situations he finds himself in are often completely outrageous.

The plot requires quite a few stretches to accept but Bujold's breezy style carries everything past the rough bumps to get into the interesting interactions. The universe seems to run on serendipity as people coincidently wind up in just the right place at the right time over and over again.

Her characters are all sharply defined and in this case are much more interesting than the story that they're involved in. Miles in particular is a fascinating construction of conflicting drives; his body is fragile but he's often involved in action scenes, he's hated by his countrymen for looking so odd but is driven by patriotism. Even though Miles is the focus of the book all the characters are richly developed.

The Vor Game makes for fun reading but its not particularly deep. But who cares if there isn't a rich message, it's an entertaining book and that's what matters.

Even if Bujold is the most evil science fiction author who has ever lived.