Bujold, Lois McMaster. Cryoburn.

NY: Baen Books, 2010.

The previous ten or so volumes in this series have advanced about one year each in the life of Miles Lord Vorkosigan, from the age of twenty to thirty-two. This time, though, the author jumps ahead seven years after the events of Diplomatic Immunity; Miles and Ekaterin now have four kids and Miles has been an Imperial Auditor for a decade, with more than a dozen cases under his belt.

(Since Bujold has occasionally departed from strict internal chronology in the past, one hopes she intends to go back at some point and fill in the gap with a few more novels.)

This case takes Miles back into the world of cryogenics, of which he has traumatically first-hand experience. The Kibou-daini, the culture of which appears to be largely Old-Earth Japanese in origin, has developed a fixation on cheating death. Freezing the recently deceased or the medically compromised has become routine; many older people even choose to be frozen while they’re still healthy (just in case). The goal is to be thawed out again at some point in the future when specific terminal diseases have been cured, or when a general rejuvenation treatment has become available. Competition used to be fierce among the planet’s hundreds of “cryocorps,” but the industry has inevitably consolidated and the half-dozen surviving companies are much more interested in freezing new clients than in thawing the old ones, since they hold the voting proxies of those in the cryochambers. Now one of the largest of the corporations is about to establish a branch in the Barrayaran Empire and Miles has been sent to look into things and make sure all is on the up and up. (He already has reason to suspect it isn’t, of course.)

Another change from the usual pattern is that much of the story is told from the P.O.V. of eleven-year-old Jin Sato, a runaway and semi-orphan with an intense interest in any form of animal life. At the moment, he’s scraping by on the roof of an abandoned cryogenics facility, where his menagerie of small animals can be kept corralled. (Except for the occasional chicken jumping off the roof.) Jin rescues Miles from a kidnapping gone wrong and Miles takes the opportunity to investigate the local society and political situation from the bottom up — which, naturally, reveals a number of problems and crimes he would not otherwise have happened upon. Miles being Miles, he undertakes not only to see that the mighty are brought low, he also rescues Jin’s mother, brings his clone-brother, Mark, into the action, and engages in covert ops himself for the first time in years. Miles always knows how to enjoy himself while getting things done.

This isn’t one of the best in the Vorkosigan series, but it’s not bad. It seems a little lightweight and rushed in places, as if Bujold simply had a contract to fulfill with her publisher. But it’s still an enjoyable read. However, the narrative ends with a major change in Miles’s life, so that subsequent episodes will have to be somewhat different from what went before. I’ll be very curious to see how she — and Miles — handle things in his new life.

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