Memory

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cover image

Series: Vorkosigan #9
Publisher: Baen
Copyright: 1996
Printing: November 2001
ISBN: 0-671-87845-X
Format: Mass market
Pages: 462

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This is the ninth book of Bujold's Vorkosigan series, the seventh focused on Miles, and probably shouldn't be read out of order. There's a bit of a recap, but the characters aren't reintroduced and many plotlines continue from previous books in the series.

Bujold again returns to the standard Miles formula in Memory: Miles does something stupid and stubborn, lands himself in major trouble, something else goes wrong at the same time, and Miles manages to fix the problem while also dealing with the consequences of his actions and comes out in the end smelling like roses. The previous book, Mirror Dance, moved away from that formula and was the best book of the series so far; this entry, unfortunately, is a step backwards.

The largest problem with this book is that the first 200 pages or so contain little other than an extended angst-fest. Miles's stupid decision happens right at the beginning of the book and he then spends nearly half the book moping, including extended passages of internal dialogue, self-examination, and outright pity parties. The backdrop for this rather unappealing reading is social encounters and capital politics among the Vors, events that do set up the plot and resolution but which feel quite inconsequential. I was, to be blunt, bored through too much of this book.

When the plot finally starts, involving Simon Illyan and Barrayaran Imperial Security in a high-stakes bit of twisty detective work, it's up to Bujold's usual standards. Miles battles insecurities and political constraints to uncover a plot with several false bottoms and complex motivations. It all hangs together nicely in the end and is wrapped up quite satisfyingly, and the last hundred pages of the book are difficult to put down. Bujold does pull a rabbit out of an unpromising hat again, and the result is certainly worth reading for those following the series.

Still, Miles's emotional angst, while not ringing that false, does make one want to grab and shake him. He is, unquestionably, extremely privileged and lucky, and in Memory yet again he never has to truly work within a power structure or make do with what he has. Being personal friends with the emperor in a society with a very flexible power structure means that a new position can conveniently appear which lets Miles act the way that he wants to act with imperial blessing. I would have found his angst and self-examination much more convincing had it led to hard decisions and trade-offs; when it concludes in a position better in nearly every respect than the position he had before, it feels rather trivial and pointless.

Bujold has improved a great deal over the flippant tone this series started with, but her ability to put effective strong emotion into Miles's story still seems hit and miss. A couple of the books have been excellent; this one degenerates into whining. Her grasp of plot and timing serve her well, though, and once the story starts, it's a satisfying read regardless of Miles's emotional state. Hopefully the next entry will involve fewer internal monologues, more showing, and less telling. And maybe a bit less formulaic of a setup.

Followed by Komarr.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2006-10-20

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21