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Lois McMaster Bujold – Borders of Infinity

March 16, 2011

8. Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold (1989)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 9

Read my review of book:
1. Falling Free*
2. Shards of Honor*
3. Barrayar
4. The Warrior’s Apprentice*
5. The Vor Game
7. Ethan of Athos*
8. Brothers in Arms
(stars indicate stand-alones/starting points)

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 9h 32m (311 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction, Short stories (or, rather, a compilation of novellas)

Started: 08 January 2011
Finished: 14 January 2011

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? Click on any of the links above.

Even within a
short story, Miles can get in
all kinds of trouble.

General Summary: Borders of Infinity is not a novel proper, but rather a collection of Miles Vorkosigan novellas. All three deal with Miles (who is deformed from a prenatal gas attack on his mother) as he must use his considerable intellect get out of – and occasionally in to – trouble.

The three shorter works are linked into a novel by a framing story that involves Barrayaran Security Chief Illyan visiting Miles in the hospital, and demanding an accounting for some of the more unusual expenses that Miles’s Dendarii mercenary fleet has accrued. It’s a pretty weak pretense, especially given that it’s only clear in one of the three stories where the expenses come into play at all. Fortunately, though, the framing bits are kept quite short, mostly letting the stories speak for themselves.

“The Mountains of Mourning” takes place immediately following Miles’s graduation from the Barrayaran military academy. He’s returned home to his family home with plans for a little bit of relaxation… plans that are swiftly cut short. A woman from a remote mountain village has arrived at Vorkosigan Surleau, demanding Count Vorkosigan’s Justice for the murder of her infant. Miles’s father decides to send Miles to investigate and arbitrate in his stead, and so Miles must face head-on the rural prejudice against mutations if he is to get to the truth of the matter.

This was my favorite story of the three, and not only because it featured a cameo appearance by Miles’s parents. (Aside: Hi Cordelia! I still think you’re awesome!) While Miles’s disability comes up quite often in the series, it doesn’t actually inconvenience him that much – his personality and intelligence usually more than compensate for his physical shortcomings. Therefore, it was really interesting to see him in a situation that puts his appearance into such stark relief, and to watch him struggle with a deeply-ingrained problem that can’t be readily solved by being clever and charming.

“Labyrinth” starts with Miles and the Dendarii fleet making a pick-up from Jackson’s Whole, a planet that specializes in ethics-free genetic engineering. However, the doctor they’re supposed to be transporting refuses to leave without some of his genetic samples – samples that are being incubated inside a prototype engineered super-soldier. To complicate matters, this soldier is being held prisoner inside the compound of one of the two leading rival genetic companies, so Miles must stage a rescue op… but what he finds isn’t exactly human.

I enjoyed the bulk of this story quite a bit. It’s an interesting set-up, there are plenty of possibilities for Bujold’s blend of dry humor and ethical dilemmas, the action clicks along at a good pace, and we get to see some more of the infamous Jackson’s Whole. However, the whole thing was soured by one detail that is surely reflective of my own innate prejudices. I’d like to think I’m fairly open-minded, but the idea of Miles – tiny, brittle-boned Miles – getting physical with an eight-foot-tall fanged quasi-werewolf? Not sexy, and the “…really? Her?” factor majorly distracted me from the rest of the story. I did appreciate the return of the Quaddies (from Falling Free), though.

“Borders of Infinity” is without question the darkest of the bunch. It starts with Miles being thrown into a Cetagandan prison – not a normal prison, but a wide flat expanse covered by an impenetrable dome. He is immediately set upon by a gang of toughs, and relieved of his sleeping roll and clothing… and things go downhill from there. Now Miles has to escape, with only the help of a seemingly crazed religious zealot. Miles has gotten out of impossible situations before, but this one might be a little more impossible than most.

I was simultaneously impressed and disturbed by this story. It turns out that Bujold’s talent at world-building doesn’t only cover the nicer intricacies of her created universes. Her description of the Cetagandan prison that follows the letter of the human rights laws while defying their spirit was brutally realistic enough that it gave me chills. This story also showcases a slightly darker side of Miles – the horrible situation leading him to some actions that, while necessary, were distinctly un-Miles-like. I also thought the story was a little too cagey about explaining why Miles is in prison in the first place; it’s used to a good end, but it initially left me wondering if I’d missed something.

Gardner does his usual great job with the narration; it’s come to the point where he just *is* the voice of Miles in my head, and I can’t imagine anyone else doing it better.

Recommendation: Within the Vorkosigan Universe, “Mountains of Morning” takes place after The Warrior’s Apprentice, while the other two stories occur at more-or-less the same time as Ethan of Athos, and the framing story is after Miles gets back from Earth in Brothers at Arms. While they could theoretically be read as stand-alones – the first one in particular – they’re much richer for being read in place with the rest of the series. None of the stories has the same oomph as some of the full-length novels, but I certainly didn’t mind spending time with Miles on a few mini-adventures. 4 out of 5 stars.

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First Line: “You have a visitor, Lieutenant Vorkosigan.”

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2011 12:40 pm

    I really need to start this series!

  2. Lyssa permalink
    July 27, 2011 2:20 am

    For myself, Borders of Infinity is one of the most well written short stories I have read. On first reading I liked the story, then I read it again with the knowledge of the underlining story behind Miles’ actions. And that is where Bujold’s writing really impressed me. Every action has two meanings, two purposes, one for those who are there and one for the unseen audience. To convey this without cluing the reader in adavance of the ‘big reveal’ is artful writing. (I personally have a great love of the well written short story, and Mountains and Borders are both so well written I can only admire her skill.)

    I agree with you on Gardner’s narration. I was introduced to the stories back when the Reader’s Chair were narrating them, and I prefer his narration to the others’ I have heard.

  3. March 4, 2012 5:55 pm

    I’m so glad you recommended the audio versions of these books to me. Grover Gardner does do a fantastic job, and I’m enjoying having my old favorites read to me! :-)

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  1. The Mountains of Mourning – Lois McMaster Bujold « Bibliophage's Buffet

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