REVIEW: Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
This review comes to use from Charlene Teglia whose 2007 book, Wild, Wild West, was a big winner here at DearAuthor. Her next latest release, Satisfaction Guaranteed, is due out March 08.
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.
This book can be purchased in mass market or ebook format.
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I love reading all of the Vorkosigan series, but the best for me are Memory, Mirror Dance, and Barrayar. And now that I’ve read your review, it comes to mind that it may be because they all deal with characters dealing with duel identities, Miles, Mark, and Cordelia, that they have to reconcile as a price for being part of the Vorkosigan family. Bujold shines at the internal conflict in these books and you feel it with the characters every step of the way.
I’ve not read this in a couple of years. Thanks for reminding me of them.
I love that book. She puts her characters through hell, but pulls off a believable positive resolution. And I had the same “when I grow up I want to write like this” reaction to it.
Isn’t Memory brilliant? I’ve probably read it thirty or forty times. I know, I know. I think one of Bujold’s most frightening talents is her ability to turn a cliche on its head, in all possible ways.
And, of course:
Jan, you’re right, the three books really do deal with the same sort of conflict. She has an amazing way of intertwining plot and character arc; I’ve really never seen any other author balance the two the way she does.
Jules, not a bad role model! *g*
CM, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it, but I’m starting to think I’d better trade up the paperback for hardcover.
I’ve *got* the hardcover. :-) I think that was the point in the series where I decided that I was simply going to get the hardcover if that’s what I saw first, and never mind the shelf space issue.
Memory was one of the two books (the other being A Civil Campaign) at the top of my own list of books I’d like to submit a guest review for. I got my copy of ACC signed at Worldcon a few years ago. I hope I wasn’t *too* drooling a fangirl…
I think I’m going to have to start reading this series. Excellent review, Charlene!
I’ve been on the fence about Miles Vorkosigan. I never seem able to grasp all the backstory. *sigh* Guess I’ll have to start the whole series from the beginning.
But The Sharing Knife, Vol 1 is in a position of honor on my keeper shelf.
I reread this series all the time, and Memory is the book that most often pulls me back into that world.
Have to admit I tend to skim the first part, because it’s so hard to watch Miles make his fatal mistake.
What seems so clever, is how, through the series, Miles grows up and changes, and yet is always himself. You know, at the end of the book, that if the character faced the situation again, he’d react differently.
(Jane, sorry to mention it, because it seems to be only me, but I’m having font issues again. Your preset font is really large on my computer, so I always shrink it when I’m reading the site. Turns out, if I touch it at all, I can’t comment, because the font in the comment box is so small that it just looks like a series of miniscule dots. I tried the page at three different font sizes, and every time, it weirded out the comments.
At the preset size, there’s no problem commenting, but the font on my screen is very large. As I see this particular comment, it’s the length of an A4 sheet.)
Oh, Vanessa, you have hours and hours of happy reading ahead!
Sela, I think it does help to start at the beginning. You can either start with The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first with Miles as protaganist, or with Shards of Honor and Barryar (or the 2-in-1 volume Cordelia’s Honor). And if you liked The Sharing Knife, you should read Chalion! *swoon*
Marianne, it is hard to watch. I agree, it’s fantastic how the characters grow and change but they change by becoming more fully their true selves. Consistency AND growth.
Oh, I love the scene CM quoted.
Memory’s one of my favourite Miles books as well, the others being “A Civil Campaign” and “Cetaganda”… if I really really had to pick favourites.
I’m actually in the midst of rereading all the Vorkosigan books (even though I’ve a TBR stack a mile high) and I can’t get over how brilliant she is. Every word and action is always completely spot on for that character at that point in time, if that makes sense.
For those who haven’t yet read this series, if you can get hold of the omnibus “Young Miles”, that’s a great place to start. It contains two full-length stories and one novella in chronological order, with Miles just entering adulthood.
Actually, the novella is available online in the Baen Free library *praying I don’t mess up the code*
The Mountains of Mourning
Right, fangirl gush over – for now!
I think that when it comes down to it, A Civil Campaign is probably my favorite. But I’m a romantic that way – so Shards of Honor is also accorded a high place.
I guess I’ll have to get Miles in Love (on Webscriptions) so I can get an electronic copy of Winterfair Gifts….
Winterfair Gifts is available as a standalone title on Fictionwise:
Ah, Miles. I just spent a month burning through the Vorkosigan books, and I don’t regret a minute of it… except that I might have made them last longer. And Memory is probably one of my favorites (though it is also bittersweet, because though I love that Miles comes together in this book, merging Vorkosigan and Naismith, I still miss Naismith a little, and the Dendarii a lot). Though the omnibus “Young Miles” is also up there, and Cordelia’s of Honor (especially Shards) is probably in my top five favorite books ever. Miles is in my top five characters.
In all, Bujold is a genius. I have yet to read The Sharing Knife, but I’m looking forward to it (I’m trying to wait until Legacy comes out in paperback so I can buy both together and not splurge too much- also, a matching set is always nice!).
Oh, and I forgot to mention that I was directed here from Bujold’s mailing list… so she’s read this review, too!
For those of you who love to listen to books, almost all of Bujold’s stuff is available on audio. Grover Gardner has done Warrior’s Apprentice up to Diplomatic Immunity, I think. Shards and Barrayar are only available in the Reader’s Chair version.
At first it took me awhile to get used to Grover’s voice, being used to the the RC version. But after a while you just sink into the books and don’t notice the narrator.
I agree with this review Memory is one of my favorite novels. I have read the ebook at least three times and the audiobook version twice so far. And of course like the others I love A Civil Campaign and Shards of Honor. I am always re-reading or re-listening to those.