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Friday, May 13, 2011

Cryoburn - Lois McMaster Bujold

I've never read Lois McMaster Bujold before. So logic follows, I've never read a Vorkosigan Saga novel either. It's hard to believe given how long I've been reading speculative fiction, but Bujold never jumped out at me. When the 2011 Hugo Nominees were announced and Bujold was once again among the nominations, I decided it was time to give her a shot. I'm glad I did. 

Some negative reviews have been written about Cryoburn. Most of them seem to be from long standing Vorkosigan Saga (or Bujold) fans complaining that Cyroburn doesn't measure up to the previous novels. After reading it, I can strongly say that is patently unfair. To judge this novel, against her others does a disservice to a great writer. Is this Bujold's worstVorkosigan Saga novel? I have no idea. If so, I'm immediately purchasing all 13 previous ones. 

Cryoburn takes place on Kibou-daini, a planet where nearly everyone is voluntarily placed in cryogenic storage prior to death in hopes that technology will be developed to extend life. This in itself is not unusual. The wrinkle is that while individuals are frozen, they are not dead, and thus still have the right to vote which is now tacitly controlled by the corporation responsible for their storage. One of these corporations is in the process of expanding their business model off-planet to Komarr, a planet of significant strategic advantage to the Barrayarran Imperium. Our main character, Miles Vorkosigan, is tasked by the Barrayarran Empire to visit Kibou and investigate the corporation. Shenanigans ensue. 

At its heart, Cryoburn is a caper book. Miles, the mastermind, plots the downfall of a corrupt corporation who has exploited the little people. It's also a family story centered on two young children separated from their mother. The pace of the novel is slow as Miles and his bodyguard Roic sort through local politics and family squabbles. There is almost no action, but it is warm, suspenseful, and funny. 

Many of the undercurrents throughout the novel center around life, death, and rebirth. Freezing someone before they die prompts a lot of questions about how we view life. It becomes clear that many of those who opted to freeze themselves did so without the true expectation of ever waking up. It's a fearsome concept particularly enhanced, I think, by the opening scene of Miles walking blind through endless corridors of frozen corpses(?). As in any great novel, the ending ties into these themes of life and death perfectly. But be warned, the ending - along with some of the other Miles centric moments - fell short for me as a Vorkosigan newbie. 

Is Cryoburn a worthy addition to the Hugo nominees? Yes and no. Bujold is a master. Cryoburn certainly exhibits that fact. It's beautifully put together and has all the elements of a brilliant novel. From that stand point, it deserves all the recognition it gets. It is difficult, however, to call something the best novel of 2010 when so much of the emotional content is in many ways predicated on knowing what has come before. 

In any case, I very much enjoyed it even as a newcomer. I'm sure it's not the best entry point, but I would recommend Cryoburn to anyone - including those new to Bujold.

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