Komarr: A futuristic detective novel

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsLois McMaster Bujold Vorkosigan Saga Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold

This is Marion’s review of MemoryKomarr and A Civil Campaign. Kat’s thoughts about Komarr are at the bottom.

In Memory, Komarr and A Civil Campaign, Lois McMaster Bujold turns the VORKOSIGAN SAGA from space opera to planetary politics.

Miles Vorkosigan has always been a risk-taker. Usually the person he puts at risk is himself, but in Memory, Miles’s choice injures a crew member. Miles compounds the problem by procrastinating and then outright lying in his report. Even hundreds of years in the future, the cover-up is often worse than the original act, and the consequences for Miles are serious. He must give up the mercenary fleet and the alter ego “Admiral Naismith.”

Miles, though, is too valuable an instrument to leave on the shelf, and Emperor Gregor soon makes him an Imperial Auditor. At first this sounds punishingly tedious to Miles, but Gregor points out that an Auditor is an Imperial inquiry agent, and the unique traits that make Miles so, well, Miles-like are exactly what Gregor needs.

Komarr is a futuristic detective novel. Komarr, a neighboring planet in the Barryaran system, is being terra-formed, and there has been an incident with the equipment that might have been sabotaged. The name Vorkosigan is met with hatred on Komarr, where Lord Aral Vorkosigan brutally put down a rebellion decades earlier. Political skullduggery, criminal conspiracy and a love story all unfold. In Komarr, Miles finally meets a woman he may be able to be happy with. After his exotic liaisons and hook-ups with galactic tough-girls, Ekaterin is something of a surprise; a conventional Vor woman. She has a son with a genetic condition, and Miles soon bonds with the boy. Ekaterin is well-drawn and believable, a good match for the Vorkosigan scion and the secretly lonely hero.

A Civil Campaign is a book with many subplots. Back on Barrayar, Miles continues his courtship of Ekaterin, who is trying to make her own way under very difficult circumstances. Miles’s clone-brother Mark is pursuing a business venture with madcap results. Emperor Gregor is involved in a royal wedding — his own, to a Komarran, a match that will finally join Barrayar and Komarr in peace. And a young Vor lady brings information to Gregor that will change the political landscape of the whole planet.

Mark’s butterbug marketing scheme was the least successful storyline here as far as I was concerned. The Vor books are filled with dry wit and slapstick humor, but this Three-Stooges-style farce, especially the predictable dinner party scene, didn’t work for me. I also thought that Gregor, who comes to the aid of a nine-year-old-boy at the eleventh hour, was too good to be quite true. Yes, he had told the boy to call him if he were in danger. Yes, Gregor must be a man of this word, and yes, I do understand that we must see Gregor as a protector of children in order to recognize how different he is from his sadistic, insane father. Still, Gregor has a planet to run and a wedding to plan. I would have expected a snappish comment or an acerbic remark directed at Miles, at the very least.

Still, there is so much here to like. Miles and Ekaterin are poignant as two vulnerable people trying to be together in the face of huge odds, and the subplot involving gender politics hits all the right notes.

Early in the Vor Saga, Bujold gave herself a huge canvas and filled it with an extended ensemble of characters. From Cordelia and Aral, Miles and Mark, to their very Vor cousin, to family retainers, to Gregor and the royal court, she has left herself plenty to work with, and deploys these interesting people with skill, humor and panache. At the end of A Civil Campaign, Miles is no longer a space pirate/undercover operative. He has found a woman to share his life, and a way to be Vor and still be fulfilled. And has he truly settled down? Only time will tell.

~Marion Deeds


Lois McMaster Bujold Vorkosigan Saga There is a mystery to solve on Komarr and Miles is sent in his new role as Imperial Auditor. There he befriends a Vor woman who has an unhappy marriage and a son with a genetic disorder. Each of them learns a lot from the other and Miles specifically has some insights about his own body image. To enjoy this story fully, you should read The Borders of Infinity first.

~Kat Hooper 

Publisher: Accident or Treachery? Komarr could be a garden-with a thousand more years work. or an uninhabitable wasteland, if the terraforming fails. Now the solar mirror vital to the terraforming of the conquered planet has been shattered by a ship hurtling off course. The Emperor of Barrayar sends his newest Imperial Auditor, Lord Miles Vorkosigan, to find out why. The choice is not a popular one on Komarr, where a betrayal a generation before drenched the name of Vorkosigan in blood. In the political and physical claustrophobia of the domed cities, are the Komarrans surrounding Miles loyal subjects, potential hostages, innocent victims, or rebels bidding for revenge? Lies within lies, treachery within treachery-Miles is caught in a race against time to stop a plot that could exile him from Barrayar forever. His burning hope lies in an unexpected ally, one with wounds as deep and honor as beleaguered as his own.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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7 comments

  1. Yeah, the usual problem with a “Science” fiction review.

    The reviewer does not give a damn about the science. Did she even notice it?

    This story has two engineers, a physicist and a methematician. Lois Bujold’s father was an engineer. Does that affect the stories she creates?

    Now this story involves “wormhole” physics which at this point in time does not exist. But not very long ago, like before 1970, Black Holes were nothing but a mathematical fantasy and most physicists did not like the idea. Now they are telling us that there are super Black Holes at the core of most galaxies. Dumb ass scientists. LOL

    So what does the wormhole physics that Bujold imagines have to do with this story? The “criminals” develop some new technology but it does not work the way they expect. This presents the same idea as Tom Godwin’s The Cold Equations. Reality does not care what we think. Get it wrong and it may kill you.

    But the reviewer either does not notice this or does not care, it is all about Miles’ personal relationships. Why call it “Science” fiction if the science is not relevant.

    I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.

    • Your comments seem a little unfair, Karl.

      Marion’s review covers an omnibus edition and Komarr gets only one paragraph of that review. I added one paragraph to offer my opinion of the story. Since wormholes are common futuristic elements in science fiction, why spend that paragraph discussing the physics of wormholes or the author’s father’s job? Just because these items weren’t mentioned doesn’t mean we didn’t notice or didn’t care. Readers do, however, care about Miles’ life by this point in the series (that character is why this series is so popular) and it seemed logical to focus on its progression.

      But thank you for the comment. I appreciate that you added interesting information for readers and welcome your comments on our reviews!

      • I am not saying that the physics should be discussed I am saying that how the science is integrated into a story should be relevant to evaluating any story claiming to be “science fiction”.

        Plenty of stuff called science fiction is nothing but sci-fi tropes that are simply background to that story. Consider Bujold’s story Brother’s in Arms. It has the same main character in the same universe but no application of science is central to the story. There is a clone but there is nothing about cloning. So there is a significant variation in the treatment of science in “science fiction”. Shouldn’t an objective review take that into consideration or do reviewers decide what readers are supposed to care about? LOL

        However, what do you think the conversations in the home of an engineer are going to be like? What effect do you think it will have on the thought processes of the children? So if any of those children grow upto be writers how will that affect their writing. But how many writers without that kind of influence produce inaccurate science fiction. I know starting to read SF at age 9 affected my thinking because it introduced me to ideas years before I ever heard them from any adults if ever.

        • Speculating about how Bujold’s father’s job affected Bujold’s wrriting would be an interesting discussion, but it is still only speculation, so not necessarily appropriate for a review of this book.

          I am the daughter of an engineer and a math teacher. My brother and uncle are engineers and my two oldest sons are studying engineering. And I myself am a scientist. As someone with a lot of experience being around STEM type people, my speculation is that the greatest influence Bujold’s father had on her writing was his own bookshelf. That was my experience. It’s why I started reading SF in elementary school — I read my father’s books.

          It is also likely that Bujold’s sense of humor was influenced by her father. It sounds a bit like an engineer to me. But, I’m speculating.

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