Friday, June 17, 2011
Lois McMaster Bujold and her Miles Vorkosigan saga series seems to be a bit of a favourite amongst Hugo voters. 3 of the books have won the rocketship (1991, 1992 and 1995) and including 2010’s Cryoburn (nominated for the 2011 award) a further 4 have been nominated.
Cryoburn is the 15th full length novel in the series. It was not my first experience of the physically impaired galactic investigator. I read the first book in the series to see what all the fuss was about. While I didn’t hate it, it didn’t strike me as particularly memorable, nor did it inspire me to read any more of the series. So why did I pick up Cryoburn? I want to make an informed decision on the Hugo’s this year and the best way to do that is to read all the nominated works of which Cryoburn happens to be one.
It was an enjoyable enough SF outing, for all that it has the flavour of a detective novel that just happens to be set in a mildly futuristic setting. I’m still none the wiser as to why Miles has such a large and devoted following. There’s nothing particularly new or different about him or the world in which he operates. The world this particular one was set on had a Japanese flavour, but could have easily been set in a Japan some years from now. Despite his impairment, which seems to revolve around the fact that he’s quite small, Miles is a remarkably bland character to have become so popular. His youthful assistants in Cryoburn, pre teen runaways; the animal loving Jin and little sister Mina, were far more entertaining and amusing. They were also better drawn characters. The writing is merely competent without being outstanding.
What Bujold did do well was allow the reader to come in 15 books into the saga and not feel like they were lost. There were some references to the world and characters that were unfamiliar, but they were easy enough to pick up. The ending was obviously written for the long time fans and their reaction is likely to be more extreme than mine. Having read the earlier books in the series would probably add context and readers of long running series like to encounter old favourites, which the peripheral characters of Miles’ bodyguard Roic, his brother Mike and others obviously were. As I said they didn’t do a lot for me and I would have preferred to read a book about Jin and Mina, I felt they made better protagonists.
Not having a frame of reference to judge by I can’t tell if this is a superior entry in the series or just a continuation of a familiar and well loved theme. I suspect it is the latter. If you’ve liked other Vorkosigan novels this probably won’t disappoint and if you’re not a fan, but want something light and diverting with an SF slant then you could do worse.