The Mountains Of Mourning - Lois McMaster Bujold

 ~~Moved from GR~~


Mountains of Mourning (Vorkosigan Saga ~#3.5, Miles Vorkosigan ~1.5)

(novella; can be found solo, in Young Miles, and in Borders of Infinity)

by Lois McMaster Bujold


Miles Vorkosigan, crippled son of the Prime Minister and a new graduate from the academy, is looking forward to his first posting when he is derailed by a peasant woman who has come to his father's house to seek vengeance for her child's death. She claims that the father of her child murdered the baby because it showed signs of one of the mutations so hated and feared by Barrayarans: an (easily corrected) harelip. Miles' father sends Miles himself to investigate-- a highly political move, since Miles himself is stunted and fragile from a transmutation at birth--tetragenic rather than genetic, as Miles would be the first to assure you. But Miles soon discovers that his task is rather harder than he expected, for the case is not as straightforward as it seemed.  Miles must both find the true murderer and convince a sceptical populace of the immorality of murdering their "mutie" babies.

As one might guess by the title, The Mountains of Mourning is not filled with rainbows and unicorns and afterschool-special-type endings. With Bothari absent, Bujold no longer has to dwell upon the themes of rape that have been present in the last three books.  Unfortunately for my afterschool-special mentality, she replaces it with the cheery topic of infanticide. However, the story is neither hopeless nor artificially bright.  True to form, Bujold takes the opportunity to explore the terrible power of entrenched traditions and the intolerance that a community can so easily develop.  At the same time, the story exhibits flashes of Bujold's characteristic humour, from Miles' antics with his horse, Fat Ninny, to his musings on uniforms and the importance thereof.

Despite its short length, I feel the story adds critical depth to both the history of Barrayar and Miles himself.  We glimpse his continuing struggles with his deceased grandfather, witness his hopes, understand his deep and gut-wrenching yearning to prove himself to his family, both alive and dead.  In this more serious story, Miles acts more like a responsible adult and less like a child on a sugar high--I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the story came from a comment in its afterward. As is peculiarly clear in this story, most of Miles' concern is invested in impressing and living up to the expectations of his father, with a small portion reserved for his dead grandfather.  He totally discounts his mother, who has probably assassinated more Vor than any man currently alive in their society. The structure of the Vorkosigan Saga itself shows the same trend: as soon Cordelia has her baby, she is dismissed to the background. In her discussion of Miles' tendency towards "great man's son syndrome," Bujold notes,

It is a curious comment on our culture that this particular psychological profile, which to my observation appears in both genders, is never called "great man's daughter's syndrome." I wish that this were only an artifact off the power of alliteration.

Yet to me, the comment itself is equally curious.  Despite Bujold's feminism, she appears to completely miss the fact that it is "great man's son" rather than "great woman's son" syndrome.  This oversight is rather illuminating, as it seems to indicate that, while girls may attempt to follow the paths of their fathers, there is an unquestioned assumption that women simply do not leave legacies that their children would aspire to follow.


Because of its brevity, I think Mountains of Mourning follows more of what I consider the "traditional scifi format": a brief glimpse of another world and a set of characters whose major role is to send a very direct message to the reader.  Taken as a solo piece, the story lacks the depth of the novels, and the mystery itself is rather weak.  However, in conjunction with the rest of the series, it adds another layer to the rich amalgamation that is the Vorkosigan Saga.