Saturday, 6 July 2013

Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold

Do you know that moment when you realize you're in the hands of a master storyteller? It's relaxing, because all the tension about whether-this-will-be-a-good-book-or-not just drains out of you, and you can marinate in what's happening, confident that whatever comes will be worth the trip.

It doesn't happen often. I can't tell you what it is that tips me off. But when it does, I know I've found a new friend. And I found it in these books. Almost from the first chapter, I started to grin. Something about these books hit me in exactly the right spot, and I settled in to enjoy the ride. And enjoy it I did.

I'm late coming to these books, in general, and in the group read Science Fiction Aficionadoes has been doing the last little while. I beg for leniency on the grounds that our local library is not very good at science fiction and fantasy. They didn't have the first two books that make up the story of Miles' parents, and neither did any of the local used bookstores. So I have slunk quietly into the back of the room with the third book in our read, and even though I'm late, I'm very glad to finally be here.

Because Miles as a character is just so much damn fun. Small, with brittle bones, the result of a chemical attack on his mother while she was pregnant with him, Miles is brilliant. And energetic. And insubordinate. But brilliant. And this book is an omnibus of two books and one short story covering Miles' early career. In the first, The Warrior's Apprentice, Miles washes out of military school because of his size and physical limitations, and is sent on a visit to his grandmother. How he more or less accidentally gets from there to being the admiral of a mercenary force, I'll leave it to Lois McMaster Bujold to tell you. Suffice it to say that when I read the author's afterword and got that she was making a direct reference to The Sorcerer's Apprentice and how things get out of control in that story, it made perfect sense. Each individual decision Miles makes is perfectly logical, and perhaps even necessary - but they all get him, collectively, in over his head.

The short story, "The Mountains of Mourning" is a little gem, sadder than the books, as Miles faces head-on the prejudice that has tainted his life, and in this case, has resulted in the murder of a baby whose only fault was being born with a harelip. He must dispense justice while being seen to do so, and the story treads this ground very well.

Then we get into The Vor Game, where Miles finishes military school, and is sent on a horrible first assignment to the Barrayaran equivalent of Antarctica, to prove that he is capable of following orders. Of course, he ends up joining a mutiny. From there, it's an interstellar romp, as he's sent on an intelligence gathering mission, and ends up back with his mercenary forces, with the fate of the Barrayaran Emperor on the line.

But what is really special about these books is not that they are fun. They are, absolutely. I love them for their fun. But they also slip little moments of poignancy in that make them something more. I have great fun following Miles on his crazy adventures, but there are touches of pathos, of difficulty, of prejudice, considerations of honour and what it means, dark shadows of what Miles could become. And these are layered in effortlessly, in amongst the heady enjoyment I got, and both together are an intoxicating brew.

Booklinks:

I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

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