by The Wanderer
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Publisher: Baen Books
Genre: Space Opera, Science Fiction
Series: Vorkosigan Saga Book Six (Publishing Order)
(Spoilers for Vorkosigan Saga novels 1-5 in publication order)
Borders of Infinity is a collection of three novellas written about Miles Vorkosigan that are wrapped around a shortly framed story of Miles awakening in a hospital after surgery who tells them to Simon Illyan. Each novella is a given its own score and the final aggregate score at the top is an average of all three.
Overall Score: 8.8
The Mountains of Mourning
Synopsis: This novella takes place chronologically between The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game. Miles is at home at Vorkosigan Surleau after recently graduating from the military academy when Harra Csurik, a desperate woman from the Hills arrives at his home seeking justice.
As Bujold has been alluding throughout her novels the Barrayaran locals, particularly those living in the mountains and other rural areas, hold a lot of superstitious and antiquated beliefs, especially in regards to disability and birth defects. The Mountains of Mourning addresses this directly as Miles is sent with Harra back to her village to discover the murderer of her child whom was born with a harelip.
There are two interesting interactions at play here: A young well educated wealthy lord having to interact with a group of poorly uneducated peasants, and a disabled man having to interact with people in a culture that hate disabilities. Bujold handles all of these issues well, an achievement considering where the conversation about disabilities was in the late 1980's. Plot wise everything is paced perfectly, there are twists, little spurts of action, and a number of intense verbal standoffs.
The ending is immensely satisfying and the overall feelings of hope and justice are conveyed in a way that's near perfect.
Synopsis: This novella takes place chronologically between Ethan of Althos and The Borders of Infinity. Admiral Miles Naismith and Captain Bel Thorne are traveling to Jackson's Whole under the disguise of buying weapons. In reality they are trying to smuggle Hugh Canaba, the top geneticist of House Bharaputra into Barrayaran hands.
Labyrinth is an adventure story. And Bujold does what she does best with adventures: starts at one place and ends up somewhere you weren't expecting. Especially when it comes to uncovering and bringing about a bunch of new and unpredictable worldbuilding elements into her story.
Bujold also takes time to develop Bel Thorne the Betan hermaphrodite who loves Miles and has a big heart for those who have undergone genetic experimentation. Thorne quickly falls for a quaddie musician named Nicol, who's essentially an indentured servant for Baron Fell. From there, making contact with Canaba only leads to more drama as he won't leave without one of his experiments being destroyed, a genetic weapon of war that's nearly eight feet tall and has a massive appetite.
Labyrinth focuses on people who think or look differently from the norm. Bujold does an excellent job of humanizing these characters by making their needs and desires resemble the needs and desires of those who don't think or look differently. In short, everyone is still looking to participate in the human experience. And subverting these ideas into this adventure story adds depth to something that could have easily have just been pulp.
The Borders of Infinity
Synopsis: This novella takes place chronologically after Brothers in Arms. Looking to prolong a war between Cetaganda and Marilac, Miles is sent undercover to a new state of the art Cetagandan prison to begin staging a rescue attempt on Colonel Guy Treamont, a military genius who could begin to mount an effective resistance.
As a prisoner Miles doesn't fair well, and the few possession he possesses are quickly removed from him, and for the rest of this novella he spends a lot of time wandering around in the nude with only a hat. He's quick to befriend a half crazed religious man named Suegar. Using the few pages of scripture that he carries around, Miles begins to move around the camp looking for the Colonel, while trying to come up with a plan to mount an effective resistance to Cetagandan captivity.
Miles's time spent roaming around the prison doesn't offer as much as other Vorkosigan stories. Suegar is an interesting personality, and a woman named Beatrice is introduced as a potential new love interest. Aside from this, Miles is essentially doing what he did in The Warrior's Apprentice. Organizing the prisoners and forming new alliances until a rescue can be mounted.
Some ideas that haven't previously been explored in the Vorkosigan novels do get explored though. The power of religion being one of the most prominent. The cruel treatment of prisoners despite having "laws to protect" them being another. The bar was set high with the two previous novellas and Borders of Infinity never quite reaches their level of entertainment, emotional catharsis, or their ability to keep you turning the pages. An excellent story still, but one that falls a little short.