Monday, October 1, 2018

Ethan of Althos Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Publisher: Baen Books
Genre: Space Opera, Science Fiction
Series: Vorkosigan Saga Book Three (Publishing Order)
Pages: 224

(Contains spoilers for Shards of Honor and The Warrior's Apprentice).

Dr. Ethan Urquhart is the chief biologist on the all male planet of Althos. When the next shipment of human fetuses doesn't arrive, he is charged with the task of recovering them by his home planet. 

Taking place a few years after the events of The Warrior's Apprentice, Ethan of Althos kind of functions like a standalone adventure that only mentions major characters from what has so far been the main arc of the story. That is except for Elli Quinn, who features prominently as a lot of her backstory is flushed out prior to having her face surgically reconstructed.

Intriguing is simply the best word to describe the premise for this plot: homosexual doctor leaves highly traditional all male planet for the first time and meets woman. Ethan's introduction to women and heterosexual culture is as entertaining as I hoped it would be. And Elli Quinn could not be a more perfect woman for Ethan to end up meeting. In many ways traditional gender roles are reversed as Ethan is more like the blundering sidekick that's always inviting additional trouble to the adventure while Elli ravages through danger like the relentless ass-kicking machine she is. 

At the same time considering this was written in the 80's I was afraid this story could get swept up in some sort of Ethan "learns the merits of heterosexual culture" and decides to convert and change his life "for the better." Fortunately that doesn't happen, but Ethan does learn to appreciate women and gets to see worlds with wider viewpoints than the one he originated from. In other words he gains a lot of perspective, and changes accordingly.

As for the rest of Ethan of Althos, as it progresses it adds a supernatural magical element to the series that had not present before this book. I don't know if this will play out in future installments, but it could definitely change a lot of worldbuilding aspects in future stories if it does. 

The addition of a Cetagandan plot adds an element of danger to the story that is also needed. Basically plot-wise and character-wise, Ethan of Althos is firing on cylinders as far being an adventure story is concerned. It certainly makes you wish Bujold would revisit these characters in the future. 

Score: 8.8

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