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Lois McMaster Bujold – A Civil Campaign

August 5, 2011

80. A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold (1999)
Vorkosigan Saga, Book 13

Read my review of book:
1. Falling Free*
2. Shards of Honor*
3. Barrayar
4. The Warrior’s Apprentice*
5. The Vor Game
6. Cetaganda
7. Ethan of Athos*
8. Brothers in Arms
9. Borders of Infinity
10. Mirror Dance
11. Memory
12. Komarr
(stars indicate stand-alones/starting points)

Read By: Grover Gardner
Length: 18h 49m (544 pages)

Genre: Science Fiction, Romance

Started: 03 June 2011
Finished: 14 June 2011

Where did it come from? From Blackstone Audio for review.
Why do I have it? Read ALL the Vorkosigan Saga!

Miles finds out the hard
way why they so often call
battles “engagements”.

Summary: While a lot of, if not most, science fiction has to do with the interplay between culture and technology, A Civil Campaign uses that interplay in service of a romance — or, as the subtitle puts it, “a comedy of biology and manners.” In this case, the manners come in the form of Barrayaran society, which is still clinging to the feudal government and rigid sex roles that it developed during the Time of Isolation. The biology comes primarily in the form of galactic uterine replicators, which, when they were first introduced to Barrayar, were primarily used by the Vor class to produce sons and heirs.

However, now that this generation of sons has grown up, they’re suddenly feeling the dearth of marriageable women rather sharply. Miles Vorkosigan has never lacked for partners, but the galactic women he’d previously favored all found Barrayar to be backwards and repressive. Miles thinks he has found the answer in the Vor widow Ekatarin Vorsoissin, but she comes with a host of complications: Miles was present at her abusive husband’s suspicious death — the details of which are strictly classified — and Ekatarin herself has no desire to remarry, ever. However, fearful of losing such an intelligent, beautiful, and eligible woman to other suitors, Miles sets out to woo her in secret — or, at least, secret from her.

Miles isn’t the only one that’s having relationship trouble: his cousin Ivan has also never lacked for female attention, but now that he’s starting to give up his playboy ways and think about settling down, he’s run up against the same lack of eligible women. He’s got his sights set on a older woman — and former lover — but when they re-connect, her recent brush with galactic technology puts a serious crimp in Ivan’s plans.

Finally, Miles’s clone brother Mark has spent the past year of schooling and therapy on Beta Colony falling hopelessly in love with Kareen Kudelka, the youngest daughter of his parents’ friends and former armsmen. Mark and Karene have returned to Barrayar with the eccentric Dr. Enrique Borgos in tow, complete with a plan to use biological agents (the truly revolting “butter bugs”) to revolutionize Barrayar food production — and make Mark rich in the process. However, being back at home has put a damper on their relationship, as their freewheeling Betan sexual experience is thrown into direct conflict with the stricter Barrayaran cultural mores.

Dealing with interpersonal romantic relationships is not exactly a strong point of Ivan’s, Mark’s, or Miles’s, especially when they’re up against some deeply-rooted societal norms, but for the sake of their future happiness, they’ll have to learn to think on their feet… and they’ll have to do it all while preparing for Emperor Gregor’s Imperial wedding.

Review: Things that will surprise absolutely no one: I loved this book. I mean, really, what other reaction would you expect when you put an audiobook subtitled “a comedy of biology and manners” into the hands of a period-romance-loving scientist? And, true to its dedication (“For Jane, Charlotte, Georgette and Dorothy — long may they rule.”), A Civil Campaign absolutely reads like a Regency romance… just a Regency romance that happens to be set on another planet. The inheritance disputes and marriage proposals may be complicated by technological advances, but the story remains remarkably true to its roots, with a complicated dance of suitors and titles and courtship and heirs and country manor houses and a disastrous dinner party, not to mention one of the best love letters I’ve seen this side of Persuasion. This is a book that really highlights how broad the genre of sci-fi can be, and how broad of an audience to which it can appeal.

The reason A Civil Campaign is so widely appealing is that while it certainly has all of the trappings of conventional sci-fi — foreign planets, genetic engineering, uterine replicators, wormholes — its focus is always on the people, not the technology. A real pleasure of this series is in watching its protagonist(s) grow and change over time, and in this volume, we get not only Miles, but also Mark and Ivan, all of whom by this point feel like family. This book is just packed full of absolutely wonderful character moments for everybody, not just the romantic leads. Aral and Cordelia are both in fine form, especially when dispensing romantic advice; Emperor Gregor continues to be quietly, solidly awesome; even Nicky, Ekaterin’s nine-year-old son, gets in a few great scenes. Lois McMaster Bujold’s talent for clever, dryly witty dialogue extends to farce as well: during the aforementioned dinner party, as things just kept going so spectacularly wrong, I was nearly choking from laughter, even as my heart was breaking for Miles.

Some of the subplots involve a fair amount of Barrayar politics, which were certainly interesting in their own right, but occasionally they seemed to distract from rather than complement the main romance storylines. That’s about the only negative I can come up with in this entire book, however. It was enormous fun and a satisfying listening experience, and Grover Gardner reads it so wonderfully that I can’t imagine anyone else as the voice of Miles. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: While part of me wants to run the street recommending this book to everyone and anyone, particularly romance readers who wouldn’t normally touch a sci-fi novel, the truth is that it’s really best read in order — so much of the joy of these books comes from the established investment in the characters. But I still secretly think that any reader who gave this series a chance would fall in love with Bujold’s characters just as much as I have.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Ela’s Book Blog
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First Line: The big groundcar jerked to a stop centimeters from the vehicle ahead of it, and Armsman Pym, driving, swore under his breath.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 5, 2011 9:12 am

    I really need to read this series. I have been waiting to the whole time you have been reviewing them, but still haven’t started!

  2. August 5, 2011 1:49 pm

    Kailana: You really do need to read this series. Everything she has said about it is absolutely true.

    • August 8, 2011 10:07 am

      Bookwyrme – Hooray! It’s so nice to find other Bujold fans. I know they’re out there, but not nearly as numerous as I think they should be!

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