Sunday, October 30, 2011

Review: Young Miles

Author: Lois Mcmaster Bujold
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: 1-3/22+
Warnings: Ableism
Rating: 4.5/5

There is something fantastically wonderful about this series. I'm revealing my preferences here, but these books have a feminist sensibility that is beyond refreshing. In addition they're all short with thrilling plot-lines! It makes it hard to put a Vorkosigan book down once you've started. Still, there is so much worthwhile going on in these books. They're fantastic! Check 'em out.

I should point out that "Young Miles" is actually an omnibus of Vorkosigan books, starting with the novel in which Miles is the youngest and continuing with two short stories in internal chronological order. In the case of this omnibus all three stories are also in real-world chronological order, but that isn't always the case. I think it's pretty cool that a few of the books that take place later in Miles' timeline were written before parts of "Young Miles" (publishing order can be found here). My general stance on anthologies from a single author is "No, thank you," because all the books are written by the same author around the same period of time, so they share similar themes and ideas. However this anthology (less so than "Miles in Love")  feels like it was written by several different authors.The staggered nature of each story in the publishing order does a good job of cutting out any feeling of monotony.

For this reason I'd prefer to offer a short review for each book:

The Warrior's Apprentice (1986)
This was the weakest book in "Young Miles" in terms of plot. Looking back, it felt like Bujold had a very specific set of things that she had already determined would happen in this book and had to fit them in. However, it took a while for me to reach that realization: the plot is rushed in the same way as a movie chase screen. While reading, I paused maybe once in the 200-some pages to wonder if everything was falling into place just a little too ridiculously perfect, but then I immediately dived back in.

In terms of characterization it was a fantastic hook, clearly showcasing the best aspects of Miles Naismith: how brilliant, charismatic and goddamn lucky he is. If you need a reason to read these books, Miles is it. He's one of the greatest main character's I've ever read. Sure, he's a walking cliche, but the Vorkosigan books in general and "The Warrior's Apprentice" in particular serve as a reminder why cliches exist: when done well, they're irresistible.

The Mountains of Mourning (1989)
This is a very touching short story, but I don't think murder mysteries are Bujold's (or Mile's) strong suits. I found the plot good, but not great. All the characters beyond Miles were only mildly interesting (aside from Ninny, obviously) and the conclusion of this story was far sadder than I was expecting.

I sometimes imagine the Barrayarans as slightly British in the sense that they cling pretty desperately to their monarchy, and they all have an attitude of stiff upper lip when it comes to personal tragedy. Many of the characters across the Vorkosigan universe never speak openly of exactly what's bothering them, and it lends a sense of authenticity to everything. Out here in the real world, few people will open up and spill their deepest secrets after you've known them for a few days, but the characters in "The Mountains of Mourning" did. I recognize the brevity of the story is partly at fault, but it still bothers me a little.

Something wonderfully positive I'd like to say about this book is ahead of it's time in representing ableism.

The Vor Game (1990)
This was my favorite book of the "Young Miles" omnibus! It has all the same rushed, thrilling plot as "The Warrior's Apprentice" but it didn't seem as outrageous. One of the strongest points about Bujold's writing is her ability to create a sense of suspense that lasts an entire novel. There was no point in this story where I didn't desperately want to know what was going to happen next.

Bujold is also good at creating a memorable cast. Tung, Bel and Gregor are all distinct, interesting (fictional) people who it's possible actually care about. Miles is the creme de la creme of poignant characters, as you might imagine. He reminds me a little of Ender from "Ender's Game" with his unflappable charm and brilliance. Unlike Ender he's around 19 at this point and significantly more interesting for it.

"The Warrior's Apprentice" and "The Mountains of Mourning" located free online.

Similar Authors and Books
"The Dispossesed" and "The Left Hand of Darkness" by Usrula K. Le Guin
"Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card

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