Young Miles

~by Lois McMaster Bujold
1990 Hugo Award Winner
1990 Nebula Award Winner
1991 Hugo Award Winner

Recently, a coworker and I got together to talk about books over lunch. (Imagine that, librarians talking about books, who would have thought?) Specifically, we were making a point to discuss science fiction and fantasy. We quickly realized that we had read very few of the same books and we both ended up with lists of books to pursue. And that's how I came to read Louis McMaster Bujold's Young Miles--an omnibus containing the novel The Warrior's Apprentice, the 1990 Hugo and Nebula award winning novella "The Mountains of Mourning," and the 1991 Hugo winner The Vor Game, as well as an afterword by the author specifically written for the omnibus edition.

The Warrior's Apprentice begins with seventeen-year-old Miles flunking out of the military academy due to his physical limitations. During a failed assassination attempt, his mother was exposed to a poisonous gas while she was pregnant, as a result he has a fair number of health issues--his growth is stunted, his bones are frail, and his body is misshapen. Not exactly what you would expect of an heir to one of the most powerful men on a planet that would traditionally let such children die after being born. A tradition that Miles must directly confront several years later in "The Mountains of Mourning." In The Vor Game, Miles finds himself graduated from the academy (after a few political strings were pulled to allow him to reenlist) but is given an undesirable military assignment due to his problems with insubordination. When he is faced with a decision to do what he thinks is right or to do what is required of him, even his connections to the emperor and other high government officials can't completely shield him from the consequences.

Although I recognized Bujold's name, I had never heard of her Vorkosigan books before. This utterly astounds me since it is apparently a rather well-known, well-loved, not to mention award-winning, series. All of the Vorkosigan stories are meant to be able to stand alone and there's not really a definitive reading order. I began with Young Miles for two main reasons. First of all, since I was new to the Vorkosigan Saga, I wanted an omnibus. (Three stories for the prince of one! And it would result in more exposure to the series. Plus, I just like omnibuses.) The second reason was that the book contained The Warrior's Apprentice; I recognized the plot from my discussion with my colleague where it had caught my attention. (I mean, come on, he more or less becomes the commander of a mercenary fleet on accident--how great is that?) I think Young Miles ended up being a good place to start reading even though the works are neither first chronologically or in publication order since the book covers a pivotal time period in the life of Miles Vorkosigan, one of the foremost characters of the entire series; thus, the apt title.

The writing is somewhat awkward in The Warrior's Apprentice, "The Mountains of Mourning" is rather predictable, and The Vor Game's plot relies too heavily on coincidences to work...but, damn, Bujold knows how to tell a good story! I found Young Miles to be exceedingly entertaining. Miles makes for an excellent character; what he lacks in physical prowess, he more than makes up for with his brilliance and charm. Bujold also does and excellent job of introducing important background information and history in each of the stories with out being repetitive. So far the Vorkosigan Saga has been quite amusing--a predominately lighthearted romp and a rather fun space opera--I'll definitely be reading more.


Christine said...

Oh, yes, Bujold is brilliant! I recently (re)read through the whole Vorkosigan saga -- they get better as they go on, and the second-last is probably the best in the series... you'll have to get to it in order, though :)

She also writes really excellent fantasy; try The Curse of Chalion if you're interested.

Phoenix said...

Thanks for stopping by, Christine! If you would give an order for reading the Vorkosigan Saga, what would it be? You probably also know that a new book in the series is scheduled to come out in 2010 called CryoBurn.

I'll definitely have to look into some of Bujold's fantasy, too. I've heard great things about the Chalion books and I first recognized her name from The Sharing Knife books (which are currently offered through the Science Fiction Book Club, which is how I found out about them).