REVIEW: Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
I love the Vorkosigan series. It’s full of adventure and excitement and clashing cultures, romance, mystery, humor, space battles, diplomatic struggles, and the best cast of characters I’ve ever come across. When Memory came out, though, I was almost afraid to read it because the plot essentially assassinates the main character. Bujold is not an author who plays nice with her characters or flinches away from the tough questions. That said, this book is overwhelmingly positive in its inevitable resolution. I can’t recommend it highly enough and it’s my favorite of the series, the one I re-read most often.
Miles Vorkosigan has been living a double life until the events in Memory. In one life, he is an unassuming Vor lord and low-ranking Barrayaran military officer, very visibly handicapped in a society that prizes perfection and has a horror of any sign of mutation. In his other life, he is a galactic hero who leads a mercenary force to spectacular victories utilizing the mental strengths he’s cultivated to compensate for physical weakness. Admiral Naismith, his alter ego, is successful, brilliant, and has the love of Elli Quinn.
But both of his selves are forced to deal with the consequences of his death and revival when lingering effects make him unfit to command. In a very messy and public disaster, Miles has a seizure and injures the party he’s rescuing. Rather than admit his infirmity, he fights to cover up his weakness and his mistake by falsifying the mission report. When the truth comes out, Admiral Naismith is dead and his covert ops career is over. He’s confined to Barrayar and his life as Lord Vorkosigan.
I can’t think of any other book I’ve ever read with a blacker moment. Miles has lost everything – his career, his freedom, his friends and his lover – and if it ended there, it would have been heart-breaking. But that’s the beginning.
While Miles grapples with the issue of his forsworn honor and the loss of his identity, another crisis erupts. Simon Illyan, Barrayaran Imperial Security Chief and Miles’ former mentor and boss, disintegrates into mental confusion when his eidetic memory chip is the target of a peculiar form of assassination. Miles has to intervene on Simon’s behalf and solve the mystery of his collapse to identify Simon’s enemy inside ImpSec itself.
His actions on Barrayar force him not only to resolve his own personal dilemma and forgive himself for his mistakes, but to act as Lord Vorkosigan. It takes killing his covert operation identity to force Miles to integrate his two selves. The result is full of surprises for everyone, most especially for Miles himself.
This book does the impossible and does it so brilliantly that it makes my jaw hang open. When I grow up, I want to write like this. It’s amazing, wonderful, profound, entertaining, thought-provoking, and the kind of book you want to save from a burning building. Buy it, read it, and read it again. You won’t be sorry.
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