Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

Warning! This review is probably going to be more about my uneasy relationship with science fiction than the latest entry in the Vorkosigan Saga.

It seems that every time Lois McMaster Bujold writes a Vorkosigan book it gets nominated for the Hugo. I think three have won the rocket ship for best novel and if Captain Vorpatril's Alliance gets up that will put her level with Robert Heinlein for Best Novel Hugo's, with five overall (she also got one for an unrelated fantasy series).

For some reason the Vorkosigan's don't do it for me. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is the third one I've read. I read the previous book in the series (Cryoburn) when it was nominated for the Hugo in 2011 and I think I've one of the early books, maybe the first one, years ago, but I can't reliably say that I did. If I did, it again failed to excite me.

I should have liked Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. Yes, it is science fiction, but it's heavy on the fiction and light on the science, which is how I tend to like my SF. It's also one part heist novel and one part romance. I can take or leave romance, although if it's done well with strong characters I can often be drawn in by it, but the word heist or caper is generally enough to sign me in.

The basic idea behind Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is that the one of the least highly regarded members of the powerful Barrayaran Vor clan, Ivan Xav (my wife, who has read more of the books than I have, and quite likes them, tells me that he is generally referred to by his family members as 'you idiot Ivan') becomes involved with an attractive girl called Tej, marries her hurriedly to give her the protection of his family, falls in love with her and then discovers that she appears to be from a family of con artists and thieves who want to steal the Barrayaran hidden fortunes and use Ivan to do it.

I think a lot of my issues with the Vorkosigans is that while Bujold tries to bring new readers up to speed on where the saga is that she's been writing these books since 1986 and they span a period in excess of 30 years. Most of the books take place in Miles' lifetime, but there are others about his parents generation as well.  So coming in cold is very difficult. I liken it to attending a party where you really don't know anyone and all the other guests have a shared history.

I find the amount of names and history I'm trying to deal with confusing and hard to follow. In this book it didn't help that Tej also had a large and convoluted family.

I didn't dislike the book, it just didn't hold my interest. The romance was nice and ended happily ever after. The heist was audacious and quite often amusing, if a little too clever for the good of the plot, and had possibly catastrophic and startling consequences, but I just felt a little lost throughout most of the time I was reading it.

I've seen nothing but high praise elsewhere, but my final conclusion is that the Vorkosigan books simply don't connect with me and that could be because most science fiction tends to leave me rather flat.

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