Cryoburn

by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cover image

Series: Vorkosigan #13
Publisher: Baen
Copyright: November 2010
ISBN: 1-4391-3394-8
Format: MOBI
Pages: 352

This is an ebook, so metadata may be inaccurate or missing. See notes on ebooks for more information.

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Cryoburn is the thirteenth book in the Vorkosigan series (not counting a couple of related novels) and the eleventh about Miles. It's unfortunately a place where one could start reading.

Writing books this deep into a long (and open-ended) series is hard. The writer is facing increasing tensions between keeping the series true to its original feel (to retain readers), allowing new readers to jump on board (one doesn't want each book to sell fewer copies than the previous one), and, in the better sort of series, avoiding the episodic reset that makes each book of the series look too much alike. Bujold has juggled those conflicting requirements fairly well throughout this series. But both Diplomatic Immunity and now Cryoburn have been throwback books: returns to a manic Miles entering a situation like a whirlwind and turning over rocks until he figures out what's going on.

There is some merit in this. Manic Miles is always entertaining, as is watching someone take apart a twisty plot primarily through audacious determination. Bujold remains an excellent and entertaining writer; she tells stories well, keeps up the tension and momentum, and adds a couple of supporting characters (Jin and Raven) who I wanted to read about. Cryoburn does suffer from a very slow start, a surprising lapse in Bujold's normal pacing, but by 100 pages in I was drawn in by Miles's energy vortex again.

But long-time readers of this series have mostly seen this stuff before, and it was more interesting when Miles wasn't as powerful, self-assured, or confident in his allies. There is some question of whether he'll be able to pull off everything he wants to do in Cryoburn, but there's rarely much sense of actual danger. The worst thing that will happen is that people will figure out who Miles is before he figures out what they're doing and go to ground, or that something bad will happen to Jin. The plot device (cryogenics on a truly staggering scale, with some interesting economic and political implications reminiscent of rotten boroughs) is probably the best part of this book, but even it feels a bit thin and superficial in its eventual treatment. There are plenty of daring capers, but not a lot of extrapolative substance or significant interaction with the huge ethical and political considerations raised by the story.

Every reader develops their own individual sense of the direction of a series. For me, the most interesting thing that has happened to Miles was Ekaterin. Komarr remains my favorite book of the series, and I liked how it was evolving in A Civil Campaign. This is not the book I wanted to read. I wanted to read much more about Ekaterin and see Miles from a much different external perspective. Roic is not a good substitute (and the "m'lord" verbal tic that Bujold gives him was driving me spare by the end of the book).

There is also, apart from a very significant event stuck on the end of the book like an appendix, basically nothing here for readers looking for long-term plot development across the series. There's some contact with the larger supporting cast of the series, but it lacks much significance. Cryoburn is basically an episodic adventure and investigation story in the inimitable Miles fashion; apart from about ten pages of it, it's hard to see how it will have much impact on any future books, and the baggage that Miles brings with him is not particularly important to the story.

This is a solid but average story for Bujold: light fare to pick up when you're looking for something undemanding that will keep the pages turning. It's not bad, but it's not great either (and it's a somewhat mystifying Hugo nominee). If you've been eagerly awaiting a new Miles book for years, it may be a bit of a letdown, but on its own terms, it's worth reading. But probably not in hardcover.

A note on format: I read Cryoburn as an ebook in MOBI format, downloaded from Baen's free CD of the Vorkosigan novels. I therefore can't complain much about formatting shortcomings, since I got what I paid for. But it's somewhat surprising that, coming from a company that prides itself on pioneering ebook marketing in the SF genre, this is far and away the worst-formatted ebook I've read yet, to the point where it interfered somewhat with my enjoyment of (and ability to read) the story. There is no paragraph indentatation, so one can only tell when a new paragraph begins by the short line preceding it, and all em-dashes have been replaced with hyphens (which is a significant problem and frequently confusing).

To fully enjoy the reading experience, you may want to pick this one up on dead trees. Or at least avoid the MOBI format and try one of the others; the HTML version seems to have paragraph indentation, although it's still deficient in dashes.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2011-07-27

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21