Monday, January 31, 2011

A Fictional Funeral - Or Is It?

When I find an author I like, I hunt down all of his or her past works and anxiously await the next new book, so I'm amazed that I missed the release of the latest novel in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series.  Of course, Ms. Bujold has spent the last few years writing about other universes - the last all-new Vorkosigan book came out in 2003 - so I had begun to think she was abandoning the saga.  Last week, though, I stumbled on Cryoburn in my local Barnes and Noble at 50% off.  It had to come home with me.

Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan meet in Shards of Honor, and its sequels follow their family - particularly their son Miles - for the next 40 years.  The series has often been described as space opera because it's situated in a future that includes wormhole-traveling spaceships and exotic genetic engineering, but that's too simplistic.  The novels are fun and action-packed, but the characters are fully realized and most of the plots also force the reader to think about ethical dilemmas.  What is the meaning of honor?  When, if ever, is military action justified?  If human cloning becomes commonplace, what should be the responsibilities (if any) of the cloned person toward the clone?  Cryoburn explores the ethics of cheating death through cryostasis, and at the very end the author kills off one of the central characters in the saga.

Cryoburn is probably not the best starter book for the Vorkosigan series; although Ms. Bujold provides enough backstory to keep new readers from being lost, the death at the end will not have the resonance for them that it has for long-time fans.  For me, though, the last chapter was so devastating that I've been sniffling on and off for the last two days.  I know that's ridiculous - I can pick up the book where the deceased appeared for the first time and start our relationship all over again whenever I want - but the character was so well conceived and developed over the course of the books that I feel as if I've lost an actual friend.  Either Ms. Bujold has a fabulous imagination, or she's actually a time traveler earning a living by reporting future history.

"If you're trying to take a roomful of people by surprise, it's a lot easier to hit your targets if you don't yell going through the door." ~Lois McMaster Bujold, "The Warrior's Apprentice," 1986

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