Pseudo-Hugo: Borders of Infinity

Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold, published 1989
(In-Universe #8 chronologically in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga)

This was a compilation of the three novellas in the Vorkosigan universe, with a little bit of a frame narrative to string them coherently together. These three novellas (“The Mountains of Mourning,” “Labyrinth,” and “Borders of Infinity”) have also all been collected in the various omnibus editions, but placed in the proper in-universe chronological order between the novels.

The Mountains of Mourning. You know, I was reading up on historical methods of birth control for one of my stories. Turns out the most common, socially acceptable, and widely practiced method of birth control was infanticide. Miles, honey, I love you, but I can’t decide if the human rights stance in these books is extremely liberal or the most horrifically conservative thing I’ve ever seen. It seems to be some terrifying mixture. Basically, a kid born with a harelip is offed and Miles is sent to figure out who did it. Ladeeda.

Labyrinth. Further proof that Miles will screw anything female that shows interest. Also further proof of Miles’ bordering-on-unbelievable human rights stances. It occurs to me that, long long ago, before I was made aware of intense overpopulation issues and zealots dedicated to the human meat puppet, I would have more-or-less agreed with all of these positions. But now they just make me fairly uneasy. And I want to say “Miles, get your ass back out into space and play soldier.” Jackson’s Hole, by the by, seems exceedingly interesting. Also, it’s very much a shame that Miles won’t screw Bel Thorne as he/she (I cannot say it, like the text) is a Betan hermaphrodite—but aside from that is one of the coolest characters in this series. See, Beta colony screws my mind up because you have people who are violently against abortion but are exceedingly sexually free. The way you get around that, as an author, is that you give Beta Colony default sterility treatments until people actually want to reproduce. This does not make things better, in my opinion. Also, I just wish Miles could practice what he preaches. It’s not like Bel isn’t female.

Borders of Infinity. This is the story that gets the whole little compilation an A+. It has war, intrigue, tactics, crazy people, Miles-being-Miles, and no strange sexual situations of a dubiously political nature. This is also the “Dagoola incident” that I heard so much about in Brothers in Arms and was like “um, hello, I want to read that.”

I know that I’m way over-thinking these books by this point. I also know that most books aren’t written to be in-your-face socio-political at every turn. But I certainly tend to read things that way. Plus, trying to apply my socio-political position to books from the ’80s and ’90s is not the wisest thing to do, but I don’t usually have such deep-seated problems with books that I whole-heartedly adore. That’s just the power of Bujold, I suppose! I can overcome even my personal issues with the books while I’m reading them. They are that awesome.

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Pseudo-Hugo: Brothers in Arms

Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold, published 1989
(In-Universe #7 chronologically in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga)

I skipped Ethan of Athos 1.) because it’s not in my library and 2.) because it doesn’t have Miles. I’m fairly sure I’ll go back later and read it at some point.

This was a really nice suspenseful novel and it made me laugh frequently, wig out frequently, and essentially keep turning the pages. I liked Elli Quinn’s character here and how we actually get to meet her now instead of her just being an injured soldier in the infirmary like she was in The Warrior’s Apprentice. I am pretty much hopelessly in love with Ivan Vorpatril. In fact, Miles went a little weird in this one and started to rub me the wrong way like Barrayar and Shards of Honors did and I’m getting to like Ivan more.

I liked the story Miles made up about being/having a clone. I loved how Miles was frazzled and pretty much had his multiple personalities splitting and converging and going absolutely wild. What I did not love was the actual appearance of a clone and Miles going wiggy over the really odd human rights status of said clone in various cultures and then to his own mind. I just don’t find it believable that someone finds out they have a clone and is instantly accepting of that. That’s fairly unrealistic. “Hey you have a clone!” “Awesome!!” No. By the end of the novel I was pretty fed up with Miles and his “free-thinking.” I’m inclined to agree that clones have human rights (like androids!), but seriously I just don’t think someone who was unwittingly copied is going to be that thrilled about it. That’s probably why I was far more sympathetic to Ivan by the end who basically ends up on the bad end of all of Miles’ plots. I love Miles being a spastic hyper genius, when he went off into unthinking Betan human rights lala-land he rubbed me wrong enough that his spastic hyper geniusness ended up being quite annoying. So, let’s get back to Awesome Miles instead of Annoying Miles, ok?

I liked this novel. Yet again. Bujold and Miles continue to amaze (and continue to eat my brain). So far, I think my favorite is definitely The Vor Game. That certainly stands out as the high point at this point.

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Hugo: The Vor Game (1991)

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold
Read February 6, 2011 – February 9, 2011

Premise: Miles Vorkosigan (remember Miles?) has a problem following orders. As in if it would be better to disobey the order to achieve the goal, he cannot obey it. So he ends up gallivanting across the universe, rather by accident, and rescuing Barrayar from the evil Cetagandans (again, by coincidence), not to mention saving his Emperor from himself.

Verdict: This novel won the Hugo the year before Barrayar did. And you know what? Since Barrayar only exists to tell the story of Miles genesis, I’m now willing to forgive it a ton of things that rubbed me the wrong way to begin with. Miles is a snark. He’s entertaining, absurdly lovable (from the reader’s standpoint anyway), and just all around fun to read about. This novel follows his trials getting through his first few months in the Barrayaran military (I think the military came out on the bad side of that deal, if that gives you any idea about Miles.) Last time, I said the only person I loved more than Miles was his father. This time, the only people I love more than Gregor Vorbarra (Emperor of Barrayar) are Miles and his father. Ha. Another interesting character was the psycho-lady Commander Cavilo—the leader of another mercenary group sort-of-fighting against Miles. She basically uses sex for evil. Bujold managed to pull her off as a terrifying character instead of just throwing her in for titillation which I definitely commend her for. And what is “The Vor Game” anyway? As far as I can tell it’s “the game of life” that the upper classes of Barrayar have to play involving honor, intention, politics, and on and on and on (in this case it’s much about the Emperor of Barrayar). If you like space opera, political intrigue, the rest of this series, or good books in general, I’m fairly certain you’ll like these.

Certainly keeps you turning the pages. Onward!

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Pseudo-Hugo: Cetaganda

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold, published 1996
(In-Universe #5 chronologically in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga)

This one was fairly weird and utterly not like the others in the least. Miles and his cousin Ivan are sent to Cetaganda (remember evil Cetaganda? They’re really just a weird eugenics culture that’s pretty nuts) as a diplomatic courtesy to attend the funeral of the Dowager Empress. They end up embroiled in some internal Cetagandan political turmoil.

There aren’t really space battles, or tactics or anything beyond explorations of the Cetagandan culture and a pretty transparent “mystery” story of court intrigue here. It was fun and I was interested in the Cetaganda social structure (which was pretty nifty) but this one definitely leans away from the amount of substance you get in the other books. It was fairly strait forward and suspenseful enough to keep the pages turning, but it lacked the really urgent suspense and anticipation that I’ve seen in the other books in this series.

Bear with me as I ramble off into theoretical land. BUT! I keep thinking about how much I hate Dune (see evidence here) and why. Essentially, it’s written by a male member of a patriarchy about a male character who is also a member of a patriarchy and who is doing nothing but reaffirming said patriarchy by proving the uselessness and redundancy of women. The Vorkosigan saga is written by a female member of a patriarchy about a male character who is also a member of a patriarchy but who sees the structure in which he operates and—being himself handicapped—is essentially demoted down that ladder of dominant hegemonic respect to the level of women who are deemed useless, frivolous, and who garner less-worth in the social structure. It’s essentially Miles’ mission in life (and the point of his existence) to expose the patriarchy to those who are so wrapped up in it that they cannot see it. Rock on Miles. For some reason, every other minority group—racial, geographic, religious, etc—are currently getting some level of respect as far as acknowledgment of their status as legitimate human beings within the power structure. Even those of non-traditional sexual orientations are gaining visibility and respect. But when it comes to the subject of women, society is still pretty full of scorn and skepticism. Bujold: I love you.

Now that I have all of those run-on sentences out of my system…

As ever—ONWARD! The next novels have earlier publication dates. Lookin’ forward to ’em.

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Pseudo-Hugo: The Warrior’s Apprentice

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold, published 1986
(In-Universe #3 chronologically in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga)

Basically, stunted “mutant” Miles Vorkosigan (who you may remember from last time), fails to get into Military Academy, goes to see his grandma on the liberal planet, ends up accidentally getting into a war, and is (as he has been so perfectly described to me by a friend) “such a spaz.” But a genius, hilarious, endearing, and brilliant spaz.

I don’t have much to say about this. My sheer glee and adoration of it is beyond my powers of in-depth description at the moment (and frankly, I’d rather go to sleep, given the hour). What I do know is that I adore Miles Vorkosigan. My love for him is surpassed only by my love for Aral Vorkosigan. Curse these feudal class systems of honor and female oppression! They are far too tantalizing. Thousands of years of cultural evolution is hard to combat with only a few decades of feminism. That’s probably why all the female characters in these novels are such intense badasses. The Counts and Lords and all their barbaric ways speak so deeply to the human psyche, even as we know that the enjoyment of such things are a dirty secret to indulge in. I shall say that I am slightly willing to overlook the utter-oddness of some of the stuff in the first two books, just because it gets me Miles (and since they were written completely out of order, I guess maybe it took some retconning to get it to work right.)

Onward! I have checked out this entire series from the library in one fell (and, I am told, “aggressive”) swoop to prevent anyone else from checking them out while I’m trying to blast through them. Bwahaha. The next one is an actual Hugo winner.

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Hugo: Barrayar (1992)

Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
Read January 15, 2011 – January 19, 2011

Premise: Aral Vorkosigan, Imperial Regent of the planet of Barrayar, is set upon by various hostile mutinous forces as he tries to keep control of the planet and not allow it to slip off into a wasteland of conservative politics. His unbelievably amazing wife Cordelia (who is from the highly liberal planet called Beta Colony) pretty much rules the universe by wanting to be left alone. No, really.

Verdict: There is a lot of stuff in these books that sort of bothers me. On the other hand, there is so much awesome that I ignore the stuff that bothers me. As the first “official” entry into the Vorkosigan Saga for this project I suppose I should explain a bit about it. There are many many novels in this series and they were written utterly out of chronological order. I’ve started by reading them in in-universe chronological order which is possibly akin to watching all six Star Wars films in in-universe chronological order—one gets the sense that one is perhaps missing something important. However, I pretty much fell in love with all the characters from this novel by reading Shards of Honor which was set before it. The series focuses entirely on a character named Miles Vorkosigan. Shards of Honor was about how his parents met. Barrayar is about how Miles comes to be born with a strange affliction. The planet Barrayar (which I necessarily pronounce with an exotic accent) is basically a stand-in for every patriarchal conservative custom that Bujold could think of to enslave and ensnare its citizens—most of which are currently actively practiced on our own world. Women are patronized and trivialized into child-bearing housewives. People with disabilities and injuries are ostracized and killed. There is a very strict class system in place with discrimination in all directions. Then, enter Cordelia the futuristic-Utopian Betan who is exceedingly liberal by default when it comes to human rights issues (excepting abortion which apparently makes you akin to rapists and torturers. Oh, wait, rapists are ok as long as all of the children conceived by their actions are saved and cared for. No, really. Shards of Honor.) AT ANY RATE, Cordelia is a former space captain who married Vorkosigan because… well… Shards of Honor. She finds Barrayar restricting, and thus you have the entire crux of what I presume will continue down through the series. How does one with liberal sensibilities deal with originating from and living in a conservative world? I’m excited to see how Miles turns out. I hear good things about him. Cordelia, by the by, is pretty much amazing. Except when she bothers me. Which is often. Somehow, the argument for having children that’s presented in these books doesn’t sway me. “I want babies because… I want babies!” Real rational, there, future citizen of the universe. But whatever. I shall not complain. No crazy Cordelia, no Miles, no series.

As far as I can tell these books are like crack. Very addictive and quick to read. If I could just get whoever has it to return the next one to the library I would be a happy camper.

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Pseudo-Hugo: Shards of Honor

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, published 1986
(In-universe #1 chronologically in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga)

This is just a sort of informal write-up. Three books in this series have won Hugo awards so I decided it was necessary to read the entire series. I’m in for a long haul with it and I’d been avoiding it as I was laboring under the misapprehension that it was a huge fantasy series. It is not—it is resolutely science fiction. There are far-flung planets, wormholes, space battles, weird alien lifeforms, etc. Yes, it’s science fiction, albeit a bit off somehow.

To begin with, this book starts off on a raging torrent of awesome that runs off the charts of awesomeness. There’s a fairly moody legendary military butcher and a fairly moody initially awesome and ultimately wishy-washy redhead (held up as a paragon, naturally) who are mashed together out of necessity when left behind after a botched joint-assassination+ambush attempt. Please don’t ask. It makes sense in context. At any rate, it’s this redhead Cordelia’s apparent wobblyness and the sudden violent inthrusting of pro-life, rape-is-ok mentality that makes me a little reluctant to like this book (rape is apparently ok if people take care of the babies later). The rating swung from a resolute five stars to a two and a half mark within about two chapters. However, it took a mild upswing when psychologists were portrayed as emotional criminals who harass their victims into taking drastic action. That maybe ups it back to three hypothetical stars. This was enjoyable, and I don’t expect a book’s views to jive with mine, but I’m tetchy about things like rape and overpopulation (meaning people having far too many children). So hopefully the rest of the five million novels I have to read in this series to get to the Hugos won’t veer off into moral preaching land like some of the other Hugos I’ve read. And then I will be able to ignore the improper logic and misplaced humanitarianism and enjoy the sci-fi.

Something I was thinking about, however, while reading was the fact that fantasy novels tend to be set in medieval European worlds with distinct species in place of races where there is justifiable racism and odd treatment of women by modern Western standards. So far, the existence of a patriarchal politically volatile militaristic planet like Barrayar is just that same sort of excuse to have women be the strong sturdy (silent) backbone for men. We shall see. I am probably very wrong in this assumption, but it’s what was at the forefront of my mind at some points.

At any rate, don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. This will simply serve as a reminder to myself should things begin to rub me the wrong way.

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Hugo: Spin (2006)

Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
Read December 20, 2010 – December 27, 2010

Premise: Three childhood friends must cope with the sudden extinguishing of the night sky and the resultant time-gap between Earth time (very slow) and Universe-time (super-fast), as they grow up and each cope with the crisis in their own ways.

Verdict: I really loved this novel. The narrator is Tyler, a rather poor boy whose best friends are the twins Jason and Diane who live in the house where his mother is the housekeeper. Tyler becomes a doctor, Jason a genius at everything (but mostly an expert on the Spin, what the time differential star-extinguishing phenomenon comes to be known as), and Diane seeks solace in religion. I have to say, I generally hate when people put religion in science fiction. It’s usually there for one of only two things: to preach at me, or to degrade and humiliate the people who believe in religions. This book manages to show religion—even extremist crazy religion—from an atheistic point of view but also allows it the dignity and respect that millenia-old religious traditions and the poor people who adhere to them deserve. Kudos on that. Also it’s got overbearing and/or absent parents, mysterious hard-sci phenomenon, Martians, copious sci-fi references (I had fun with those), and largely unrequited painful pining love affairs. Plus it addresses overpopulation issues which is my favorite modern crisis and the root of all other modern crises. So. Yeah. I loved this book and I had a lot of fun reading it.

Fast, interesting, and engaging. You lose nothing by giving this book a chance.

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Hugo: To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1972)

To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer
Read November 26, 2010 – December 20, 2010

Premise: In some mysterious place at some mysterious time all members of the human race from the first pre-Monolith Kubrick ape down to the extra-terrestrial who has destroyed all of humanity are resurrected to fend for themselves and are protected, nurtured, and presumably studied by mysterious benefactors. The people resurrected include Richard Francis Burton, Alice Liddell, and Hermann Göring. It’s all quite mysterious. Ooo.

Verdict: I have never read a more stupid useless book. Except for some of the other Hugo winners that I’ve read. Burton the manly explorer is resurrected, has much sex with nameless “beautiful women,” is creepishly in love with Alice Liddell (as in, Lewis Carroll’s real Alice), and continually bucks authority to try and find the point of the whole resurrection exercise—meaning he commits suicide to escape the creatures controlling the resurrections and is resurrected somewhere else on the great river of humanity. That’s fine, that’s great, that’s all mysterious and wonderful. Oo, I’m impressed. Except there isn’t even an ending to the stupid book. The ending is “Curse you evil future beings monkeying with my life! I will defeat you some day and find out your nefarious purpose!” I didn’t care for this novel at all. There is no real plot beyond Burton being an asshole and the premise is at first intriguing but ends up coming off as stupid, boring, and like nothing more than poorly written hero-worshipping “real person fic.” 19th century adventure stories at least have excuses for their misogyny and general weird state-of-being. This does not.

Just wtf. Don’t even bother. This is the first of a series that you’d have to pay me good money to waste my time reading.

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Hugo: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1967)

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Read October 16, 2010 – November 26, 2010

Premise: In the near-ish future, the Moon is used as an international penal colony and the prisoners as well as the free-born, and citizens are essentially enforced labor for growing grain and other foodstuffs for Earth. Finding themselves ill-treated, the citizens of Luna rebel against Earth, aided in this rebellion by a computer mechanic (Manuel Garcia O’Kelly-Davis) who has made friends with a super-computer who has gained sentience (Mike).

Verdict: Heinlein always impresses, but also always manages to piss me off. This time around, he only pissed me off to such a tiny degree that I could ignore my anger. This book is so good. For one, I’m in love with Mike the computer who basically runs everything on Luna, the entire Revolution etc. He’s like Hal’s polar opposite (see 2001: A Space Odyssey) and just makes me want to be nice to my computers, waiting for the day they gain sentience so they don’t rise up against me. At any rate, this novel is (as I was told before) probably the most political of Heinlein’s books—mainly in that it deals directly with a Revolution and the running of a government. The thing that makes Heinlein’s utopian ideals possible, however, is the society they’re placed on—one where anyone truly unsavory who doesn’t play by the rules is simply killed without fuss the second they hit Luna soil. This novel has “Loonie-speak” which is a perfectly intelligible dialect that the citizens of Luna speak: combinations of every language under the sun, mostly English, with a lot of fun slang thrown in, and very few extraneous words that are necessary to formal grammar, but not to comprehension. Heinlein always pisses me off with the way his female characters behave, but never pisses me off enough to overpower my enjoying his books. In this one, I managed to not be pissed off too very much and even enjoy the female characters. All were sexy, hot-mamas who mostly wanted babies (one of my primary piss-off points) and were deferred to and mollycoddled in all things by males, but also occupied positions of power outside places like beauty parlors and kitchens (and inside them too)—in the end, not a thrilling future to look forward too, but not as ridiculous as some of his others.

I highly recommend this book, especially to those who enjoy political thrillers, and theories of how to be moderate and sensible. And to anyone who ever wanted to live on the moon. Or has been in love with a computer.

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