Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Saturday, April 18, 2015

TITLE: Memory
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 480

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Sci-fi
SERIES: 8th full-length title in the Vorkosigan series

Dying is easy. Coming back to life is hard. At least that's what Miles Vorkosigan thinks and he should know, having done both once already. That was when he last visited the planet of Jackson's Whole, while rescuing his brother. Thanks to quick thinking on the part of his staff, and incredible artistry on the part of the specialist who revived him, his first death won't be his last. But his next one might be, a realization he finds profoundly unsettling.

Even after he returns to military duty, his late death seems to be having a greater effect than he's willing to admit. Unfortunately, his weakness reveals itself to the world at large at just the wrong time and in just the wrong way, and Miles is summoned home to face Barrayaran security chief Simon Illyan. But when things begin to go subtly wrong in Imperial Security itself, 'Who shall guard the guardians?' becomes a more-than-rhetorical question, with a potentially lethal answer. Things look bad, but they are far worse than Miles imagines, as he discovers his worst nightmares about Simon Illyan don't compare to Illyan's worst nightmares-or are they memories?

This is many readers' favourite in the Vorkosigan saga, and by the time I finish reading the series, it may well be mine. I'm going to try to not include spoilers in the review below, but I will need to be, well, spoilerish to properly discuss anything!

In Memory Miles faces the fall-out of some of what happened to him in Mirror Dance. Or rather, he tries not to face it, and his efforts lead to things going horribly wrong for him, and in front of Simon Illyan, too. Miles is left to face the consequences of his actions while stuck in Barrayar. But in the midst of a fog of misery, he finds a mission when Simon's memory chip goes wrong. Something about how ImpSec is dealing with it doesn't sit well with Miles, and he feels it his duty, both to the Emperor and to the man who's been like another father to him, to get to the bottom of things.

I was sure at the beginning that the book was going to be about how Miles got back this life he had created and that meant so much to him. It wasn't. It was about Miles becoming a whole person again by coming to terms with the Lord Vorkosigan part of his character, realising that he'd put his all into his Admiral Naismith persona and neglected what is actually a huge part of his character.

The way this was done was just perfection. First there's the crisis. That, while painful to read, had me thinking back to my secondary school literature classes, when we studied classical tragedy. Miles' downfall is not external. It's not something that happens to him, but something he does to himself. It's inevitable, being who he is. It all had the whiff of hamartia (the "tragic flaw" in the protagonist's character so many classical tragedies are based on).

But, and here's a big difference, here this is just the start, not the conclusion. Miles' reaction to seeing his life crash down on him is all about growth and change. There were some elements in his actions that I expected (his doggedness, his determination to do what is right), but his resilience and willigness to change the very course of his life surprised me (just as much as it did Cordelia, which I thought was a nice touch. She'd been coming across as almost supernaturally perceptive about her family in previous books, so it was good to see that some of Miles' depths were hidden from her, as well as from the reader).

That change in Miles' life marks a change of direction of the series as well, which is a move that I find hugely admirable. It's much easier to just keep giving readers more of what they want (have got used to?). More books about Miles having entertaining galactic adventures, again and again. It's much tougher to do what Bujold does here and change -and bring readers fully with her. It felt at the end of the book that this was a necessary change, both for Miles and for the series, and absolutely the right move.

Memory is much more understated in the adventure side than previous books, but that didn't mean it lacked excitement. There were plenty of emotional highs and lows, and the stakes were extremely high, easily as high as in previous books.

There's a bit of romance here, not for Miles, but for several characters I love. That was all lovely, both sweet and funny. We also get a mystery plot in Miles' ImpSec investigation. That is not just something for him to do while he comes to term with his new life, but an interesting, clever mystery in its own right. I feel quite proud that I figured it out right ahead of Miles, but because there was so much book left, I thought there might be a few more twists and turns left.

Turns out not, the mystery is resolved earlyish, and we get an extended aftermath, a bit like Jane Austen does in her novels, where all the conflict has been resolved, but you get more about how things work out for people. I actually loved this, although I must say I did get the impression I should have had stronger feelings about the final scene with Elli Quinn. The thing is, I found it hard to believe this was a hugely emotional thing for Miles. I never felt he really loved Quinn, a feeling strengthened by the revelation early in the book that Miles has also been sleeping with Taura all along, in a sort of friendly way. That was the only tiny bit of the book that I didn't think perfect, but it's a small flaw!



Anonymous,  18 April 2015 at 14:46  

This is a great review, Rosario. I've been waiting for your thoughts, and am so happy that you enjoyed Memory! This is one of my favorite Miles books, and I always think of this, Komarr, and A Civil Campaign as a trilogy within the larger arc of the series.

One of the details that I love in this book is how Miles moving down into his grandfather's former suite of rooms echoes his own growing up and moving into the parameters of his "real" life. He finally takes his place not just within Barrayar, but within the family.

And so far as Elli Quinn goes, I was never a huge fan of that relationship, so the resolution of it felt more like a relief to me than something that was melancholy.


Sun,  18 April 2015 at 16:03  

Ms. Bujold at her best. My heart broke and soared many times while reading this book. And to see Miles finally found his inner peace is the most satisfying of all.

CD,  20 April 2015 at 22:57  

At last!!!

I do find that MEMORY is definitely an "older" book. I first read it soon after it came out and although I obviously loved it, I remember being rather disappointed with the end as I just wanted more "Adventures in Space with Admiral Naismith". Which I know was kind of the whole point. However, re-reading it a few years ago (ie around my 30th birthday ;-)), really resonated, particularly as I was also at a crossroads in my life at that point. Just shows what a genius Bujold is.

I still find the main plot rather disappointing but that's not at all the point of the book.

For a series that's ostensibly a space opera, it's interesting that people's favourite books are the ones set completely on Barrayar.

OK, so where are you on A CIVIL CAMPAIGN?

Rosario 23 April 2015 at 08:45  

Sorry for responding to your comments so late; I've been away unexpectedly, and I can't write properly on my phone! :)

Aoife: Thanks! I was sure I'd like it, but had no idea just how much. Those details really resonated with me, especially because Miles doesn't do these things consciously, but it's clear that this is exactly what's going on.

And yes on the Elli Quinn bit. Although I'm not sure I'd call it a relief for me, because I never thought it would come to anything. The ending was nothing more than I'd been expecting for a while.

Sun: Yes, this! I was feeling what he was feeling all through the book, so it was a bit of a rollercoaster!

CD: I didn't mind the change of direction at all, but maybe that's because my 30th birthday happened quite a while ago ;-)

I've finished A Civil Campaign now! And I loved it so, so much! I've got the review of Komarr ready to post later this week, and I'm writing the review of ACC right now.

Marianne McA,  24 April 2015 at 00:01  

Nothing to add - but I'm glad you liked both Memory and ACC. Together with Ivan's book they're my top three. I think. Maybe.
And did you see she's announced a new book 'Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen' for next year?
(I was positive the series was finished with Ivan's book - I'm entirely happy we're getting more.)

Rosario 25 April 2015 at 09:17  

Marianne: Thanks! I think I'll probably waver about which my favourites are, as well :)

I have heard of the new book! I'm trying to avoid spoilers, so I haven't read much about it, beyond the fact that Cordelia plays a central role. Exciting!

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