Bujold, Lois McMaster. Cetaganda.

NY: Baen, 1996.

The author’s “Miles Vorkosigan” yarns are a high-quality series of space opera novels (and shorter pieces) but this one has hardly any “space” in it. Instead, Bujold shows off her considerable talents at world-building in a manner reminiscent of Cherryh’s “Foreigner” series.

Bujold tends to jump around in her protagonist’s timeline when she writes a new story in the series, and this one is about Miles in his early twenties. He has now been a courier-officer for Barrayaran Imperial Security for three years when he’s sent off to the glitteringly breathtaking world of Eta Ceta, with his cousin Ivan in tow, as official diplomatic representatives at the funeral of the late Cetagandan Dowager Empress. (Miles is not only Lord Vorkosigan, he’s the son of the prime minister and a close friend of his own emperor.) Eta Ceta is the capital world of a sprawling eight-planet empire far wealthier and grander than the somewhat backwater Barrayar — but Miles’s ancestors managed to defeat the Cetagandans several generations earlier when they tried to annex his world. Nowadays, though, there’s a touchy peace and Miles is somewhat overwhelmed by the upper-class Cetagandan emphasis on esthetics and ritual — though not enough to quite suppress his natural smart-ass approach to problems. There are several levels in the empire’s upper power structure and it’s not at all clear, either to Miles or to the reader at first, just where the lines of authority lie, nor how closely they conform to the conduits of actual power. But within minutes of the party’s arrival at the orbiting transfer station, Miles and Ivan are set upon (rather ineffectually — but was that deliberate?) and acquire a mysterious small artifact, the control of which turns out to be the key (literally) to the entire Cetagandan social and political system — and the two young visitors don’t even know what the thing is. Reasonably, he should turn over the artifact to his embassy’s head of security, make a full report, and have done with it. But that isn’t how Miles does things. This is a challenge, dammit, and he’s going to figure it out all by himself, and maybe pick up a little glory along the way. But then, naturally, things start to blow up and the mystery becomes very delicate indeed. Can he save Cetaganda from its own internal plotters? He’ll have to, in order to prevent his own world being set up as the villain.

To attempt to describe even superficially this near-Oriental society of haut-ladies and ghem-lords, and the carefully orchestrated genetic engineering practiced over the centuries by those at the very top, would take pages. (And, for that matter, we never see even a single member of the plebian, laboring level of society.) But I will say that Bujold handles it all quite well. This is a mostly intellectual adventure with a number of assassination attempts thrown in, as opposed to the sort of military maneuvering we saw in The Vor Game, which immediately precedes it by internal chronology — nor does “Admiral Naismith” appear in this one, which probably will upset some of Bujold’s fans. I imagine it won’t be to every reader’s taste, but we also get a deeper look into Miles’s mind and motivations and I enjoyed it all very much. But I did have to pay close attention.

Published in: on 15 June 2012 at 5:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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