Bujold, Lois McMaster. The Warrior’s Apprentice.

NY: Baen Books, 1986.

I’ve been aware of the “Miles Vorkosigan” series for some time — it has an avid fan following — but I somehow never got around to reading any of them until now. At that, I had a difficult time finding a copy of this first novel in the saga and had finally to get it through Inter-Library Loan.

The setting is a far future time in which the world of Barrayar is still somewhat medieval in its laws and social institutions, though it has had advanced (“galactic”) tech for the couple of generations since being rediscovered by the rest of mankind. Miles, age seventeen, is the son of Admiral Vorkosigan, once Regent for the young emperor and now his prime minister. His pregnant wife (a non-Barrayaran) survived a poison gas attack but the fetus was damaged; Miles is under five feet tall and has very brittle bones, which leads to his failing the physical entrance exam for the Naval Academy. He’s extremely intelligent, however, and inventive, and tends to engage in dreams of derring-do, in hopes of winning the love of the daughter of his bodyguard, Sgt. Bothari. So when he goes off to visit his mother’s mother on Beta Colony — a very socialist, very controlled (being resource-poor), very technologically advanced world — he quickly becomes involved in matters that are really none of his business. Almost accidentally, he acquires ownership of an obsolete freighter, plus two rather damaged crewmen, and takes on a cargo of “agricultural implements” (weapons, actually) destined for one side in a planetary war a wormhole away. On the way there, his merchantman is stopped by a blockading warship and — again, quite on the spur of the moment — he invents the “Dendarii Mercenaries.” And things just keep escalating from there.

It’s a fun read and Miles is an engaging character — very aware of his own lack of experience but also aware that an increasing number of people are depending on him to provide leadership. The author’s prose is forthright and the dialogue, including Miles’s internal arguments with himself, is quite good. Bujold also attempts to come to grips with more serious matters of ethics and responsibility, and the action itself is carefully worked out, generally speaking. But I have a more basic problem with the notion that experienced mercenary officers are going to fall in line under the command of an obvious teenager, his physical limitations notwithstanding. If you can kind of push that key problem to the back burner, though, it’s a decent enough space opera. Though I’m still not sure what all the fuss is about.

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