The Borders of Infinity, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Wednesday, October 29, 2014

TITLE: The Borders of Infinity
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 1987
PUBLISHER: Self-published

SETTING: Futuristic
TYPE: Science Fiction
SERIES: One of a couple of short stories set right after Cetaganda

On a rescue mission gone wrong, Miles Vorkosigan is captured by the enemy Cetagandans and thrown into a dome-shaped prisoner of war camp that seems a literal Circle of Hell. Against impossible odds, Miles organizes thousands of angry and dispirited prisoners into military formation that may offer the only chance for escape..

This is the 3rd story in the anthology of the same title. As I mentioned in my recent review of Labrynth, the first story is set much earlier in the series, so I read it a while ago. This one comes right after Labrynth.

It starts right in the middle of things, with Miles being dropped into a Cetagandan POW camp. It's a fiendishly ingenious camp, one which complies with the letter of galactic rules for how POWs must be held, but definitely not with the spirit. Prisoners are simply dumped into a force-field dome and left. The exact amount of food required by the rules is sent in all in one lump, with no distribution. The result of this has been chaos and the victimisation of the weak by the strong. And into this chaos goes Miles, naked and on his own, and creates a functioning, functional society.

It's a really clever story. Miles obviously knows what's going on and what he's there to do, but we readers don't. Bujold manages to give us his point of view in a way that makes sense taken at face value, but which I'm sure will reward a second reading with a further layer, once readers find out what was really going on. It's a hell of an "a-ha!" moment.

The only thing I wasn't crazy about is really an incremental issue. Miles seems to be taking a page out of the James Bond rulebook and having a different love interest in each book or story. I don't have a problem with each of those romantic threads in isolation, but the fact that there's one in each story, and that they're all with different women, bothers me. It's not the women themselves. They've all been quite fabulous characters, and I have no issue with their portrayal, or even with the way Miles has treated them. It's just a distaste for the device, I guess.


NOTE: There's a really interesting review on goodreads where someone theorises that the story is "a riff on Dante's inferno". It's pretty convincing!


CD,  30 October 2014 at 22:53  

Oh, I loved this one: it's so, well, Miles ;-)! Plunk this guy naked, shivering and starving in a version of hell, and he still manages to overturn the odds and turn up triumphant. Forward momentum indeed...

Strange - I never thought of Miles as a James Bond character although I see what you mean. I always thought of him as basically unlucky in love until XXX for a while and then XXX, although that's probably more due to his internal monologuing over his insecurities rather than the clear evidence to the contrary. Although there is a hilarious/eye-roll of a scene in MIRROR DANCE when he muses that his problem is not that he picks up so many women, but that he just doesn't put any of them down...

As for the deep breath required for MIRROR DANCE - it's probably the darkest and most painful book in the saga but it's also so intensely satisfying, if that makes any sense. And the ending is so triumphant yet bitter-sweet, and both profound and prosaic - amazing book.

Rosario 31 October 2014 at 07:43  

I guess that's why it's only a minor annoyance: his internal monologue is clear that he is delighted at what he sees as his luck whenever any woman pays any attention to him!

I'm almost afraid to read Mirror Dance now, but at the same time, it sounds like the perfect audiobook for my long flight to Uruguay next month...

CD,  1 November 2014 at 12:45  

Don't be afraid!! MIRROR DANCE is an AMAZING book and even when I reread it, I simply can't put it down (although there's one particular passage that I always skip over). The highs are SO much higher because of the lows. And then it leads to MEMORY which in some ways is its companion piece.

Marianne McA,  3 November 2014 at 20:33  

And Memory on the long flight back again...? (It might be my favourite of the series. Though I have a soft spot for the two romances as well...)

I hadn't noticed the new book, new woman pattern until you pointed it out. I feel it should bother me, but it doesn't. I think that's because the women have lives beyond Miles. (And, more unusually, they have worthwhile existences post-Miles.)

Also - unlike the James Bond-type characters - Miles feels essentially monogamous. Taura excepted, he's looking for someone to be in a lasting relationship with, and he's just working through a number of crushes and failed relationships on his way to finding her.

Rosario 3 November 2014 at 22:01  

CD: You're tempting me to abandon Brothers in Arms, even though I'm enjoying the hell out of it! ;)

Marianne: Hey, that could work very well! If there's anyone who could make the 15 hours of flying bearable it would be Miles.

You're right about the differences with the James Bond model, and that's probably why it only bothers me a little bit. Plus, Miles is still so young in these books. It would be weird if he didn't have crushes!

CD,  4 November 2014 at 18:08  

Marianne: I think most people tend to rank MEMORY or A CIVIL CAMPAIGN as their favourite - I think it says something about Bujold that her most popular books in her space opera series are the ones where very little actually happens ;-).

And your comment on Miles' women reminds me of that classic scene in KOMARR when he lists all the extraordinary women that he's had crushes/relationships with, only to completely miss the point and conclude glumly that none of them wanted to marry him...

Rosario: Here's the plan - finish BROTHERS IN ARMS [have you got to the fast penta scene - loved that!] and go straight into MIRROR DANCE. They sort of book-end each other. Save MEMORY for the flight there, read KOMARR while over there, and then A CIVIL CAMPAIGN on the way back. You'll disturb people sitting next to you with your incessant guffawing but hey, you need something to keep you happy on the flight back to a cold rainy UK...

Rosario 10 November 2014 at 18:42  

CD: Sounds like a plan! But I do need to hurry with Brothers in Arms. I've been away a lot (with people, so I can't just sit there and listen), so it's taking a lot longer than I'd like :(

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