Cryoburn, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Tuesday, February 07, 2017

TITLE: Cryoburn
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 345

SETTING: Another planet
TYPE: Science Fiction
SERIES: 11th full-length title in the Vorkosigan series

Kibou-daini is a planet obsessed with cheating death. Barrayaran Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan can hardly disapprove—he’s been cheating death his whole life, on the theory that turnabout is fair play. But when a Kibou-daini cryocorp—an immortal company whose job it is to shepherd its all-too-mortal frozen patrons into an unknown future—attempts to expand its franchise into the Barrayaran Empire, Emperor Gregor dispatches his top troubleshooter Miles to check it out.

On Kibou-daini, Miles discovers generational conflict over money and resources is heating up, even as refugees displaced in time skew the meaning of generation past repair. Here he finds a young boy with a passion for pets and a dangerous secret, a Snow White trapped in an icy coffin who burns to re-write her own tale, and a mysterious crone who is the very embodiment of the warning Don’t mess with the secretary. Bribery, corruption, conspiracy, kidnapping—something is rotten on Kibou-daini, and it isn’t due to power outages in the Cryocombs. And Miles is in the middle—of trouble!
First things first: I haven't reviewed Ivan's book yet, but I have read it. But if I wait to post this till I've written that review, who knows when this might happen. My new year's resolution is to be less rigid about how I read and review stuff, so here goes!

This was a curious book. For 98% of the book, it’s a pretty light adventure. Miles is away from his growing family and on a mission to a planet called Kibou-daini. It’s a place so obsessed with cheating death that everyone gets cryogenically frozen when it looks they’re about to die. They hope technology will advance and treatments will be developed for whatever ails them in the near future, so they can be revived, healed, and live for many more years. Over the years, this practice has led to all sorts of legal complications, as people are not really dead, and so they still own their assets, which are then controlled by the corporations offering the cryo-freezing services.

Mies has been asked to investigate what’s going on by Emperor Gregor, after one of the Kibou-daini corporations tried to expand into Komarr in a way that feels fishy, although in a way no one can pinpoint exactly where the fishiness comes from. Who better than Miles to get to the bottom of this?

Simple enough, but of course, Miles being Miles, he pretty immediately gets involved in chaos. There’s kidnapping, there’s a young boy with a menagerie, there’s a rag-tag group of street people running their own co-op cryofreezing venture, there’s evil corporations freezing people against their will. So Miles' supposedly easy mission expands (and expands, and expands).

So, fun and games, and mostly nothing that presents much peril to Miles himself. The stakes are high, don't get me wrong, only not to Miles. It's kind of a cozy detective story, in that way. It's clever, there are great secondary characters (the long-suffering consul is a particular favourite), and I was really interested in the issues raised by this strange world and its relationship with death.

And then in the very last bit, the tone changes, and it becomes clear that it is the latter that is key here. The whole thing has been working up to what's really a meditation on the nature of dying. And having read the end, you think back to what you thought was a fun, insubstantial romp, and realise it was anything but. It’s effective, but also a bit startling, I must say. Does it work? I'm kind of in two minds about it, but the more I think about it, the more I think "yes".



Fernande,  8 February 2017 at 10:59  

Hi Rosario. I really liked Cryoburn, perhaps in part because it was so pleasant to read about an episode in Miles' life where he isn't in dire peril -- just him being his clever, kind self, surrounded by interesting characters and solving a very intricate and thought provoking puzzle. It was quite funny and I particularly liked the bits written from the point of view of Roic, his Armsman. And then the ending. It still haunts me.

8 February 2017 at 10:57

jmc 8 February 2017 at 12:28  

I think Cryoburn is a better book than some other Vorkosigan books (Gentleman Jole, especially). But it's the one book I've never reread. The end shouldn't have surprised me given the theme of the book and timeline of the series...and yet it still did.

Rosario 14 February 2017 at 06:33  

Fernande: Yes, after some of the previous books, it was quite nice to read this and relax. Still, the books where stuff is at stake for Miles are my favourites. It seems to me LMB's done with him now. And yes, that ending, particularly the little snippets at the end. They really packed a punch!

jmc: A couple of people have said that to me, that this is the one they don't reread. I was expecting something a lot more traumatic than I got, although maybe the reason I didn't find it traumatic is because I had been spoilt about the ending :(

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