Memory (Vorkosigan Saga, #10) - Lois McMaster Bujold

~~Moved from GR~~


by Lois McMaster Bujold


Sometimes, resurrection isn't all it's cracked up to be. Even if you come back from the dead, you may not be able to regain your past life. After his previous adventures in mortality (Mirror Dance), Miles Vorkosigan is trying to get back into his routine. This is, naturally, complicated by the fact that he spends most of his time in his alternate persona, the aggressive, intelligent, and daring Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Free Mercenaries. Unfortunately, his adventures did not leave him unscathed: he has developed an unnerving tendency to go into epileptic convulsions at the worst possible moment. In this case, the worst possible moment happens to be right in the middle of a daring rescue mission while holding a plasma gun. After his crew picks up the (rather too literal) pieces, Miles realizes that his condition will inevitably lead to his real commander, Captain Illyan of the Barrayaran Imperial Security, taking his Naismith identity away from him. Terrified at the prospect of the loss of this integral facet of his personality, Miles makes an incredibly stupid decision: to lie to Illyan. The consequences are more drastic than he could possibly have imagined. But Miles has little time to mope: the Emperor of Barrayar has fallen desperately in love, Illyan himself has developed a frightening illness, ImpSec is in chaos, and Miles has forced himself right into the centre of all of it.

Like Mirror Dance, Memory is an exploration of identity. Both Miles and Illyan are locked into unfamiliar identities, without the authority and history and determination that shapes their actions and perceptions. If one's memory, one's position, one's very mission in life is lost, what remains of the self? Miles has spent his life trying to overcome his own inadequacies. Resurrected into a broken shell, his very memories shattered, he must now come to terms with his failure to meet his own ambitions, his suspension between two identities while everyone around him has matured and progressed. Throughout, Miles has achieved greatness by faking it--and throughout, people have been endangered by his reckless bluffing. Now, finally, his "forward momentum" has turned against him. The book is not just a major turning point in Miles' life journey, but also an exploration of the definition of self.

Of course, since this is the Vorkosigan Saga, all the deep stuff is wrapped in a tasty bundle of colourful characters, hilarious events, and random appearances of That Idiot Ivan.(I found him particularly likeable in this one.) And, of course, there is Miles himself. I have realized recently that the protagonists I stay with never seem to have harmonious personalities. For me to become passionately attached to a series, I require some truly significant flaws. Without exception, the protags of "my series" are sardonic, self-deluded, obnoxious, saturnine, self-hating, self-destructive, or just plain batshit crazy. Miles gets bonus points--he fulfils all of the above, as well being probably diagnosably bipolar. I think I understand why, apart from the homophily aspect: I need the character to occasionally take the unpredictable, stupid, immoral, idiotic, selfish, attritional, craven, guilt-driven action. For their decisions to feel real and suspenseful, I need them to sometimes take the wrong choice and for that choice to have consequences. Of course, this also makes my tendency to bounce between bouts of aching sympathy and absolute fury with the protagonists practically inevitable. This book set new records in that department, and not just for the character of Miles.

[ I loved his entrance: in only a few chapters, he manages to shoot off another man's legs because of his own arrogance, cheat on his girlfriend, and lie to his boss. And be irritatingly self-righteous the whole time. And even so, I was aching with sympathy for him by the time he leaves Illyan's office.

I'm still surprised by how unphased everyone was by the events of the last book. I also found the conflict infuriating. I think Barrayar was unfair to Miles--more unfair than usual, I mean. Illyan literally put a dead man back on active duty--what did he think, that death had no problematic side effects? The result was at least equally his responsibility and he blew it. To make it worse, he set up a situation in which honesty was impossible. Miles is only too well aware (Border of Infinity) of the rigidity and unfairness of Barrayar; honesty would not have led to a fair outcome (e.g. keeping him as Naismith, but out of combat.) How could Miles ask for aid when no mercy could be expected from honesty?

The person who irritated me most in this respect was Gregor, who had the temerity to lecture Miles, inform him that he was a disappointment, and expect an apology from him. Keep in mind this is coming from the guy who was (1) tricked by his flatterers into resentful idiocy, (2) ran away on a stupid, self-destructive quest, and (3) lives his life as a safe, secure mouthpiece for everyone else. How does he have the right to act as an arbiter of morality? He's never met a difficult decision he couldn't foist off on someone else.]

(show spoiler)

If there is one flaw in the book, it's the whodunnit component. Bujold is fantastic at building characters, but a mystery writer she ain't. The first time I read this, I started suspecting the villain before the crime actually happened, I continued to suspect the person throughout, and I was unshocked by the ending. The only thing that actually did surprise me was just how idiotic and myopic Miles et al. were over the whole thing, and how much praise was eventually heaped on him for seeing the obvious. However, while this doesn't really function as a whodunit, Bujold has created characters that practically breathe, and I loved the opportunity to delve into the personalities of some of the series' well-beloved and longrunning characters, from Illyan to Lady Vorpatril. It makes for an entirely enjoyable and quite thoughtful story, and in the end, that is what matters. 


A last thought from Miles:

“I am who I choose to be. I have always been what I chose, though not always what I pleased.”