Bujold, Lois McMaster. Mirror Dance.

NY: Baen Books, 1994.

It’s sort of amazing just how much Bujold can cram into a single novel. This one has amnesia, torture, applied psychology, a military raid from space, mistaken identities, several kidnappings, slavery, brain transplants, medical crises, the death of a hero, an appallingly free market with no government interference, a whole battalion of clones, and a monster soldier (and a hell of a girl, too).

First, a warning: Some of the Miles Vorkosigan adventures can be read in no particular order, but not in this case. The story this time directly follows Brothers in Arms (1989), in which Miles discovers his clone, Mark, who was created as part of a plot to assassinate his/their (?) father, Admiral Count Vorkosigan. If you haven’t read that volume, you’ll be missing a great deal of important background and context, so stop and go and do that now. We’ll wait.

Okay. Four years have passed in which Mark has been notably unsuccessful at finding himself, or settling down, or making his mark, or anything else. There’s really only one thing he wants to do and that’s to strike back — hard — at the House of Bharaputra on the world of Jackson’s Whole. Bharaputra, to whom he owes his existence (and for which he is not particularly thankful), makes most of its income creating clones on demand. When the owner is ready, the brain of his or her clone is removed (discarded as “medical waste”) and the brain of the aging owner is inserted in its place, thereby ensuring another whole lifetime of wealth and power. Jackson’s Whole is the only world where such a thing is legal and the various Great Houses have become very wealthy as a result. Mark wants to hurt them by hijacking the current crop of fifty or more clones and spiriting them away to safety. To do that, he needs to masquerade once again as his clone brother, Miles, in the latter’s role as Admiral Naismith, and make use of a squad or two of Dendarii mercenaries for a hit-and-run raid. Unfortunately, Miles is a far better combat commander than Mark and everything goes badly wrong.

Miles, having discovered the switch, is in close pursuit and attempts, on his own arrival at Jackson’s Whole, to pull everyone’s bacon out of the fire — but then true disaster strikes in the form of an explosive projectile in the chest. Miles is dead. But not necessarily permanently. Provided they can keep the body under cryogenic wraps for a bit. Provided they can figure out where the body has wandered off to.

And that’s just the first part of the story. There’s a whole lot more to come, all of it exciting and quite fascinating. If Miles somehow ends up dead-for-good, is Mark capable of taking his place as Count Vorkosigan’s heir? How is Mother Cordelia, with her thoroughly Betan take on things, going to deal with it all? And can Mark ever learn to come to terms with himself? Or with all five of himselves? It’s an excellent piece of literate space opera and I recommend it highly — but do read the previous volume first.

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