Wednesday, February 14, 2024

7. Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold (#8 in the Vorkosigan saga) + Labyrinth novella

I don't have this edition
Mirror Dance takes the series in a new direction by giving Miles' clone-brother Mark a full narrative and development of his character.  I assume he will show up in other stories in various levels of import.  The tone here, or perhaps the intensity, is really ramped up as well with some horrific torture and more sex.

The story follows directly on from Brothers in Arms, where we first meet Mark and learn about his creation as a secret clone of Miles, trained and indoctrinated to be used as a sabotage device by Komorran rebels.  The story in Mirror Dance starts with him impersonating Miles and tricking a subset of his crew of Dendarii mercenaries to go on a mission to Jackson's Whole, the immoral cloning world, to liberate a bunch of clones from the clone-creche where he was raised (their destiny is to have their brains removed and their bodies used by their elderly owners).  The raid goes wrong and the real Miles in hot pursuit, tries to rescue them and he himself gets killed.

Mark makes it out and his plan is revealed to both the Dendarii mercenaries and Barrayar's ImpSec and Miles' family.  The problem is that one of the medics stuck Miles body in a cryochamber and shipped it off planet when they were under fire (this was kind of a cool idea, that there was an automated shipping center all handled by machines that did its job despite a firefight going on around them).  The first half of the book is Mark returning to Barrayar and being accepted as a Vorkosigan but with much guilt and trepidation on both sides.  I found this section a bit trying, as Mark is really unlikable, whiny and insecure.  It makes sense as he is basically a profound victim of abuse, but it grated on me.

Fortunately, it gets much better as Mark starts to figure himself out and assists with the search for missing Miles and the narrative switches over to Miles himself who finds himself as a sort of prisoner/patient in a very high-end clinic manned (womanned) by clones.  There is lots of excitement as Miles figures out what is going on and the various narratives converge.  The end result is that a blow is struck against the evil Houses of Jackson's Whole and Mark learns who he really is, what he is good at and what he wants to do. It's all a bit accelerated but that is the fun of these books.  Furthermore, Miles now has a real rival for his own hyper-success.  We shall see how their relationships develop.

I found this book quite interesting, as it is a strange blend of Georgette Heyer (namechecked by Anne McCaffrey on the back cover) filtered through good old nerdy sci fi space opera and spiced up with some real nastiness.  Mark's torture session with Baron Ryoval is about as dark and nasty as you can get psychologically and physically and yet somehow lightened up so that it is all kind of fun reading (especially the outcome).  It's quite a trick Bujold plays.  She also deals with a lot of themes of abuse and consent while yet still having oddly inappropriate behaviours (Miles and Mark are often kissing women where maybe they shouldn't be) which I guess is a function of the late 90s when they were written.

Addendum:  Labyrinth (novella)

The one real issue with the Vorkosigan saga is the editions that Baen puts out.  The order is super confusing and often makes no sense.  Part of it may be a function of when Bujold published her books, but still it really requires way too much work to figure out what book you are supposed to read next.  When I started Mirror Dance, there is a cool new character Taura, a genetically-engineered wolf/human super soldier with reference to her having a romantic connection with Miles as well as to Jackson's Whole.  But she came out of nowhere.  Turns out her backstory is in this novella Labyrinth, which I could read in either a collection called Borders of Infinity (which has framing devices of him talking with Illyan but otherwise two stories that I have already read) and the one I did pick up (in at least a normal paperback size for once instead of those oversized volumes that scream nerd and take up half my bag on the plane) called Miles, Mutants & Microbes. This book has Falling Free, a story that takes place 200 years before Miles is born and Diplomatic Immunity which is the 16th book in Miles' narrative!  I guess it is thematically built around quaddies, the species of two sets of hands and no legs that is introduced in Labyrinth, but still.

Anyhow, this story was really cool!  Miles and the Dendarii mercenaries are sent on a mission to pick up a top geneticist from Jackson's Whole who wants to secretly defect.  However, the scientist won't leave unless they also take his viral research, which he injected into a failed super soldier experiment, which had recently been sold to evil Baron Ryoval.  So Miles and the crew are sent to find this creature, destroy it and cut out a chunk of its calf with the genomes.  I really wish I had read this before Mirror Dance, because the surprise is quite fun.  Also, you really get to hate Baron Ryoval here, so his comeuppance in Mirror Dance would have been that much more satisfying.

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