CryoBurn by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published by Baen, November 2010
Review by Mark Yon
It is quite shocking to realise that, by my reckoning, this is Bujold’s fourteenth Miles Vorkosigan novel, a series that since 1986 has gained Awards a-plenty (2 Nebulas and 4 Hugos). Miles’ last appearance was in a novella, Winterfair Gifts, in 2004; the previous novel was Diplomatic Immunity in 2002.
Both of these were good, but, to my mind, mere shadows of earlier novels such as Mirror Dance, Cetaganda and Memory. In Wintergifts and Diplomatic Immunity I felt that Bujold’s attention was clearly elsewhere, or just running out of things to say about Miles, and therefore I had prepared myself to say goodbye to the series.
But now we have this new novel, set six or seven years after Diplomatic Immunity. Miles is now nearly forty, still an Imperial Lord Auditor in the Barrayaran Empire, but when visiting the planet of Kibou-daini/New Hope, he has been kidnapped. In just five days Miles now finds himself trying to escape the clutches of people hoping to hold the Lord Auditor to ransom.
As events unfold we find that this is an attempt by terrorists, the New Hope Legacy Liberators, to bring attention to their cause. Disorientated by sedatives, Miles is found by twelve year old Jin, who lives in a seemingly disused cryogenic factory.
Miles escapes. Investigating further, he finds that the major cryogenic companies on Kibou are involved in conspiracy and subterfuge and that there is a major cover-up. One that Miles feels should be brought out to the open.
So here we have Miles ‘meddling’ again, in events off-world from his home on Barrayar. There’s lots of underhanded political machinations by the cryo-corporations with designs on setting up on Miles’ homeworld, the recovery of Jin’s mother, an activist frozen to keep her out of the way, and attempts to dispatch the off-worlders who interfere with the companies plans.
However for those expecting major Miles action, you may be disappointed. Though Miles is a central focus point, much of the narrative focuses upon the characters around him – his armsman Roic, the cryogenics specialist Raven Durona, the young Jin and his family. We have the tale told mainly through three points of view – Miles, his armsman, Roic, and the teenager Jin. My abiding impression at the end is that the tale seems to focus on Jin, his sister Minako and the diplomatic staff on Kibou, rather than Miles, who is surprisingly unobtrusive by comparison.
On the positive side, there’s some nice mentions of earlier characters, which will be appreciated and perhaps saddened by those who have read the earlier novels. I’m not quite sure whether readers coming in cold to the series will get all the nuances, though the plot’s easy enough to follow.
And that perhaps is my niggle. The tale’s told deceptively well, the characters are well written and the plot’s engaging. And yet, towards the end, I don’t feel that we’ve really advanced things very far, for Miles at least. As much as I liked it, as much as I kept reading, I felt that there was nothing really new here. Though it pains me to say it, like the previous two books in some ways, this felt like a tale treading water.
Until the end. The last chapter is told in five ‘diggles’ – views from different perspectives, of no more than one hundred words. There is a major event, which changes Miles’ life and which is told through these five perspectives. And there’s more changes that happens there than the rest of the book altogether.
If this was a TV episode, this would be the cliffhanger. It opens the story out, should Lois wish to take it further. Despite my reservations that Miles may have gone as far as we might wish to go, it does make the future look interesting.
In summary, this is a pleasant enough return to the world of Vorkosigan. The story is humorous, exciting and fun, and shows that Lois can still write about the world of Miles: even if Miles isn’t as involved as I thought he would be.
Though I was a little disappointed, the ending in particular shows that there may be more to hear from this series in the future. Welcome back Miles.
Mark Yon, October/November 2010.