Reasons for reading it: I've been tearing through the Miles books, partly because they're tremendous fun to read, and partly cos my lovely Beau has been lending me the whole series in order so that I don't have to get frustrated.
How it came into my hands: The Beau brought a nice little pile of books when we met up in Norway last month.
Cetaganda feels closer to fluffy space opera than some of the others in the series. It's fun, but not as twisty and complicated or profound as some of the strongest. I never seriously believed Miles was in danger, and the ending is paced strangely, with a bit too much winding down after the major climax. But less wonderful than some of the others is still a very high standard, and it's a highly enjoyable read.
As well as a rollicking story, Cetaganda has some lovely world building. Seeing Cetagandan high society through the eyes of Miles as an unusually observant young diplomat works very well. I get the impression with Bujold that she is constantly fighting an inclination to write detective stories In Space, and she seems to have succumbed a bit with this one. But the slightly silly detective story worked as a very good vehicle for presenting the background, and for Miles being his irresistable self. I think perhaps what it's missing is the double identity bit you get with the Dendarii books; Miles saving a dire situation is less twisty when he isn't also pretending to be a completely imaginary admiral! I really liked his failure to be sufficiently intimidated by emperors, though, and the way he gets over an inappropriate crush.
The thing where Cetaganda appears to be a patriarchal, militaristic society but is actually run behind the scenes by women pulling strings from behind an extreme version of purdah is not quite at Bujold's usual level of subtlety, and occasionally dips into something approaching feminist propaganda. And she's really not very good at describing inhumanly beautiful women, but that's a minor problem. Facebook tells me that my old friend L from Dundee had a baby daughter on Tuesday evening. Yay!
This is why I hesitated on lending it to you, because it's very good, in lots of ways, but I didn't quite have the same burning fire of "you must read it" as some of the others.
In fact, I really like the "detective story in space" theme, I think it shows up in a lot of books, very well. Except here it's just a little overspecific, the whole "guess which haut lord" was never really in contention.
Although, come to think of it, possibly I mean something different by "detective story in space" than I ought to. I think a true detective story is where there are clues presented that ought to let you solve the puzzle. However, I think much the same layout can be used to good effect where you have no way of predicting the answer, but the mystery of what the clues do mean is something that drags you through the story.
Almost all science fiction that isn't the Rough Guide To This Cool Bit Of Space I Invented Earlier is a detective story In Space; Bujold counts as interesting and edgy for having occasionally written romances In Space.
Thumpingly obvious Clues always annoy me, even if they turn out not to be quite as thumpingly obvious as anticipated; the Brandon Sanderson Mistborn series has about the best actually-subtle clue in it that I've seen, extended over three volumes.
Maybe I've just happened to read more of the Rough Guide kind, but I can't think of many examples of detective stories in space that aren't explicitly that. Some of the later Asimov, yeah. (I recently read an essay by Niven that claims that nobody ever writes SF detective stories at all, except him, which also seems completely OTT.) I basically don't like Clues in my fiction at all; if they're too obvious they're annoying, and if they're subtle I'm quite likely to be oblivious to them. When done well they feel satisfactory in hindsight, I think, but generally I'm reading for story, not for an extended logic puzzle.
A lot of SF is more like thrillers in space, or intergalactic war stories. I agree with you that Bujold is unusual for doing romances in space, though not all the Miles series fall under that heading. And she's particularly notable cos her romances are actually romantic, not just the hero getting the girl as his reward for saving the galaxy!
I think you're onto something; I have this not-quite-coalesced thought here, though, that SF which is idea-oriented, particularly SF which is development-of-idea-oriented, can come out feeling like a detective story because the process of assembling clues to tell who committed a murder is the most prevalent paradigm by far in non-SFnal literature and general pop culture for the process of fitting observations and deductions together to figure out how a neutron star works, and even if the characters do not have to do this for their world, in any half-way competent SF, the information concerning the world is being given to the reader in order to allow that. (This is for some reason inducing a strong desire in me to read Blindsight again.)
As clues go, I think my favourite example is a certain thing in Cryptonomicon where Stephenson has managed the remarkable trick of something being more obvious to people who know less about the area in question and fading into the background more for people who know the area well, which is a very clever reversal. (I have a suspicion that he is doing something similar at a larger scale through the entire series, but the thing of which I have that suspicion has not yet been resolved.)
Thank you so much. It's not enough inferior to the others that I would have wanted to miss out while I'm reading through the series.
I don't object to detective stories, especially if they do a good job of illustrating the tech or even better the imaginary society where they're set. I agree that you could have a good detective story in space that wouldn't necessary have a proper puzzle element to it, but would just be a way to create tension. But I think somehow Bujold feels that she shouldn't let stuff turn into a detective story, so that the unwitting detective story elements don't get enough attention. I agree that the haut lords thing isn't a very good detective story, they're not developed enough to give you a reasonably solvable puzzle pr even to care which of eight interchangeable characters is the culprit.
I thought The Vor Game came before Cetaganda, and the novella "The Mountains of Mourning" comes between Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game; have you been not keeping up with reviews ?
Most of what I have to say about Cetaganda is in the context of books you've not read yet, so I shall wait with some semblance of patience. I do think it's noteworthy that Cetaganda is the first to illustrate that Miles is exactly the same with a competent and honest superior as he is with a clueless or corrupt one, and I find it makes him somewhat less sympathetic to have that laid out.
I've basically dropped all my reviews from July until now. Combination of reasons; mainly it's that I've been doing a lot of my reading while travelling which tends to lead to backlog. But also a bit of NRE and the fact that I'm often discussing books with cartesiandaemon as I read them, which makes me feel less inclined to blog them. Usually when I get behind the way to get started again is to just review the most recent book I read, and then the backlog feels less intimidating and I sometimes manage to work through it, but I think the situation might be a bit too dire for that to work here. One possibility for catching up might be that I could borrow your format and just write about a month worth of books at one paragraph each; I usually only manage four or five books a month so that wouldn't be insane.
In fact I have read and enjoyed both The Vor Game and the whole of Borders of infinity, plus Ethan of Athos which is slightly out of order but also off the main plot arc. I was really, really impressed with many of the shorter pieces, Mountains of mourning in particular. I have Brothers in arms on my nice little pile of borrowed books. Thank you for being patient and avoiding spoilers!
I agree with you that Miles is a bit obnoxious in Cetaganda, but that didn't come as a surprise to me, I've always thought of him as more fun to read about than he would be to actually know. Of course you have sympathy with a character who is incapable of obeying authority, but sometimes there's a good reason to do so and Miles never seems to get that.
If you've read that far I can mention one of the other interesting thoughts I have heard about Cetaganda, which is Cetaganda-as-Faerie, and the suggestion that certain losses that Miles experiences, including name-escapes-me falling out of the transport in "Borders of Infinity", are his personal Teind for escaping.
*hug* If the backlog of reviews has become overwhelming, by all means do them more briefly, but I should hate to miss them altogether, if only for not knowing what you have and have not read when further discussions come up. (Have you read any more Vlad books since Phoenix ?)
Cetaganda as Faerie, that's wonderful! I don't know the world Teind, but a whole lot of stuff fits really well with that. *bounce* Thank you for that lovely reading!
Also thanks for being interested and encouraging about the reviews. I do want to keep up with them, if only for myself so I have a complete record for the future of what I've read. But I do enjoy your comments, and you are so well read that you seem to have something to say about everything I read, which is really wonderful.
I haven't read any more Vlad books, no; cartesiandaemon acquired the next omnibus edition, but it's in that funny large format and we couldn't manage to transport both that and my tiny computer, so he will lend it to me on other occasion.
"The thing where Cetaganda appears to be a patriarchal, militaristic society but is actually run behind the scenes by women pulling strings from behind an extreme version of purdah is not quite at Bujold's usual level of subtlety, and occasionally dips into something approaching feminist propaganda."
Bujold is fairly big on making and raising babies = power. Lots of her plots are concerned with making babies one way or another.
Yeah, I've noticed that she's into that. I think she develops it quite well in Ethan of Athos, talking explicitly about a society that doesn't just assume that child raising is something women do. I think the scenario in Cetaganda is overly optimistic, though. I can completely buy that the power isn't always in the hands of the official rulers, but I doubt the arrangement with the haut ladies would be even slightly stable.
I never thought the haut-women where supposed to have all the power. It's more like a system of checks and balances. Haunt women have genetic power, and Haunt Lords have political power, and Gem Lords have military power. Not that these are mutuality exclusive. Barrayan women are also often seen as having genetic power -- or at lest responsibility.
Also it's neat to see how Cetagandan society expands in the author's mind as before this book they where most thuggish bad guys with face paint. (Cetaganda was written after quite few of the other books that take place latter)
One of the things she wrote in a forward or afterward in one version in one of the Miles books or collections was that one of the things she wanted to explore was how culture affects technology use. How she wanted to take one possible technological breakthrough, she took the uterine replicator, and then show how it'd be used differently in different cultures and have different affects.
When looked at from that view, it's kind of interesting. And helps to explain things like why she might have particularly have wanted to write Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos.