26 January 2013

Mirror Dance

Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
1995 Hugo Award Winner
Narrated by Grover Gardner
Got it from: Public Library
18h 6m

I didn’t know it but Miles Vorkosigan had previously escaped an assassination attempt by his own clone (curse the scattered nature of Bujold’s Hugo winners!).  Eerie right.  Well, it turns out Miles forgives him (Mark Pierre), because of the terrible conditions he’s been put through as a clone, and allows him to take on his own secret identity as Admiral Naismith.  Well, as Naismith, his antics (trying admirably to save the rest of the clones on the planet Jackson’s Whole) get Miles shot with needle grenade and his cryo-frozen body lost somewhere…anywhere.  And you can imagine this causes some problems.

In Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold continues with just about everything I loved about Barrayar.  Cordelia’s appearances are few, but she’s still so…well, she’s still so Cordelia.  And Mark, despite being a clone, is SO Cordelia too.  Mark was exasperating, fascinating, pitiable, disgusting, and just the world’s biggest underdog ever.  He was one of the most conflicted characters ever – and believe me – Mirror Dance WILL force you to live through his excruciating mess and you WILL feel like an emotional punching bag.  As with Cordelia in Barrayar, Bujold uses Mark as a mirror for our own ugliness and beauty.

As an example (one of many) let’s consider Mark’s pain after the attempted rape of a 10-year old, (artificially) physically-matured clone.

In short, blunt phrases, he described exactly what he had just tried to do.  It all came out sounding terribly ugly, though it had been her beauty that had overwhelmed him.
…and he knew he had alienated the one person who might have spoken for him.  It hurt, a killing hurt, to have so little and then lose it.
Chapter 10

Despite being disgusted by Mark, his real human pain and a honestly terrible past makes it hard not to feel bad for him as well as the clone girl.  It’s disturbing, it’s sad, and I didn’t like what seemed like light treatment for his actions, but I also really wanted him to have a normal connection with another person.  It made me feel horrible and complicit but also even more bound up in Mark’s pain.   Needless to say, it stimulated some soul searching.

I think this might be that thing I admire most about Bujold.  She can make some really interesting and troubling cultural observations look like any other light-hearted fun SF romp.  Despite the fact that there’s a heck of a lot to unpack from a book under 400-pages (I think all three Hugo winners have been), Mirror Dance is just as readable as anything.  She’s dynamic and it is really something to behold.

Sometimes when people die, they stay dead…other times, they don’t.  In only a few books from this series, I already know Miles is one of those people who will be in the latter category.  Being that this is only my third Vorkosigan novel though (and one of them took place before Miles was born), I still don’t really know much about Miles.  He seems to be the world’s most slowly unfolding character…or maybe it’s just me?

As such, Miles’ convalescence was only interesting insomuch as the technology is interesting.  He’s scrappy, he doesn’t give up, he has kind of a thing with women, I get all that, but I still don’t feel like I know him very well and while it was pretty shocking that he’d be so thoroughly and completely incapacitated, I struggled care as much about him as I did Mark, who in only one book was just so damn absorbing.

Well okay, who am I kidding?  At some point, I’m going to have to acknowledge that Miles is tipping the scales and becoming a character that is just fun to be around.  Maybe starting with The Vor Game was a jarring first experience, and he was absent in Barrayar, but hey, now that I’m actually taking stock of my Miles experiences, they’re actually pretty crazy/fun/ny.  He’s been frozen into the snow, blown-up, gassed in-utero then grown in a petri dish, cloned, and nearly killed how many times now? Since I’m being honest with myself and the internet, I guess I have to admit now that it’s going to be pretty exciting to see how many different ways Bujold can find to beat him up throughout the rest of the saga…and how long Miles can maintain his indestructible pluck.  She really puts him through it!

I enjoyed this book, though I’m not sure I was actually ready for it.  I think I needed to get a few more Vorkosigan books under my belt prior to Mirror Dance.  Luckily, Mark was interesting enough to keep me engaged.  At the same time, just the act of writing this review has seriously increased my appreciation for the book and the series as a whole.  Of the three Hugo winners, I’d put this one in the middle, just behind Barrayar, which is to say it is a thoroughly enjoyable read!


Universe 4/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 4/5
Scientific Wonders 3/5
Characters 5/5

Overall 21/25

Well folks, that’s two reviews in as many days.  Lately they’ve been a little short and maybe not my finest, but I’m nearly caught up now.  Maybe I go for a Grandslam and get another done tomorrow?!

And since I’m finally into books I read in January, this one counts for Carl’s 2013 Science Fiction Experience, for which I also hope to have some non-book reviews done in the coming weeks too.  Yay!

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