The Borders of Infinity has a different structure than the earlier VORKOSIGAN books. It’s actually three previously published novellas with a frame story. Simon Illyan, head of Imperial Security, is visiting Miles while he’s recuperating in the hospital after a surgery for bone replacements. Knowing that the government will start asking questions, Simon needs Miles to justify three large vague items in his expense reports. When Miles protests, Simon explains that because he’s the prime minister’s son, Miles must avoid even the appearance of shady accounting practices. And so Miles explains each item and thus we get the stories in the novellas “The Mountains of Mourning,” originally published in Analog in May 1989, “Labyrinth,” (Analog, August 1989) and “The Borders of Infinity” (Free Lancers anthology, 1987).
In “The Mountains of Mourning” young Miles is home on the planet Barrayar after graduating from the Imperial Academy and he’s waiting for his first military assignment. One day he is sent by his father to the backwoods to investigate and deliver justice for the murder of a deformed infant. Since Miles was also born with a deformity, Aral Vorkosigan thinks his son will be the perfect envoy — clearly he intends to teach those backward folks that a twisted body doesn’t mean that a person’s brain doesn’t work. This has been a recurrent theme throughout the VORKOSIGAN SAGA.
This story is a departure from the usual tone of the series. It lacks the humor and frantic pace of the novels, but it represents an important learning experience for Miles. He has to deal with some difficult people in a tragic situation and it’s sure to affect his future behavior. “The Mountains of Morning” won the Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novella in 1989. In the internal chronology of the entire series, these events occur after the novel Warrior’s Apprentice and before The Vor Game. You can also find this novella as a stand-alone or in the Baen omnibus edition called Young Miles.
If you want to follow the chronology, the next two stories should be read after Cetaganda and before Brothers in Arms.
“Labyrinth” tells how Miles (in his guise as Admiral Naismith) and his Dendrarii mercenary fleet go to the planet Jackson’s Whole to grab a geneticist who wants out of his contract with his evil boss so he can work for Barrayar. Jackson’s Whole has got to be the most degraded place in the entire universe. This is where mad scientists set up shop to create bizarre creatures to fulfill all their customers’ sensual desires. They also create clone bodies for rich people who want to transplant their brains into these bodies when they get old (the clones’ brains are thrown away). This is where Miles’s meets future enemies such as Baron Ryoval, Baron Fell, and Baron Bharaputra. This is also where Miles meets the eight foot tall weregirl (if that’s what she is) named Taura. You’ll definitely want to read this funny story before Taura shows up again in Mirror Dance which is my favorite VORKOSIGAN novel. You can also find “Labyrinth” as a stand-alone or in the Baen omnibus edition called Miles, Mutants and Microbes.
In “Borders of Infinity” Miles infiltrates a Cetagandan POW camp, ostensibly to find and rescue a Barrayan officer who is one of his relatives. He’s disgusted by what he finds there. The Cetagandandans are obeying the letter, but certainly not the spirit, of the universal laws for how prisoners are to be treated. Though he’s the smallest and weakest person among the thousands of prisoners, and though there’s plenty of strong opposition, Miles sets out to better their circumstances. This is an exciting story with lots of laughs and lots of loss. It’s an important part of the VORKOSIGAN series because it explains why the planet Cetaganda wants revenge on Admiral Naismith — an issue later in the series. It also explains some of Miles’ behavior in the novel Komarr. “Borders of Infinity” can also be found as a stand-alone novella and in the Baen omnibus edition called Miles Errant.
Like the other VORKOSIGAN books, The Borders of Infinity is available in audio format. Grover Gardner is doing such a great job with the narration.