Book: Brothers in Arms / catching up with reviews backlog - Livre d'Or








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livredor
Book: Brothers in Arms / catching up with reviews backlog
Monday, 01 December 2008 at 11:20 pm
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Author: Lois McMaster Bujold

Details: (c) 1989 Lois McMaster Bujold; Pub Baen Books 2003; ISBN 0-671-69799-4

Verdict: Brothers in arms is magnificent fun.

Reasons for reading it: I should probably stop filling in this field for the Miles series, because really the only trouble here is rationing myself so that I don't spoil them by reading too many back to back.

How it came into my hands: cartesiandaemon lent it to me. I really ought to buy some copies of my own, because I'll certainly want to reread at least Borders of infinity and The warrior's apprentice

As I've come to expect from this series, Brothers in arms is full of delightful intrigue and tension and some very moving moments. In some ways it comes very close to classic farce, with all the multiplying clones and mistaken identities and people pretending to be someone who's pretending to be someone else, and ending with marriages. In some ways it seems to want to fold in the middle, there are almost two arcs, and the section after Miles' rescue seems to be a little bit Miles gratuitously buying trouble in order to make plot happen. But I can't complain because the plot that does happen is fun and thrilling. Also, the glimpses of far future earth are really cool!

I really enjoyed the development of the relationship with Ivan; in BiA he becomes real and isn't just a goofy flirtatious straight man to Miles. And the interaction between Miles and Mark is very well done; he isn't just a sucker who falls for Miles' silver tongue, and I did like the ambiguity of the ending, the realistic awkwardness rather than a nice neat resolution. I think I probably preferred the UST of the earlier books over the random romantic interlude; for one thing, it really does seem a bad idea for Miles to get involved with a senior officer, and the book seems to skirt over that in an annoyingly "love conquers all" kind of way. But I do like the fact that Miles at 24 is rather more emotionally mature than Miles at 17, though still not exactly confident romantically, and the relationship is perhaps a good way to convey this.

I'm starting to think that a minor problem with this series is that a lot of the tension is dissipated because in spite of all the intrigue and double-crossing, Miles has too many people he can absolutely trust: Elli and Ivan and Elena and to a pretty major extent Bel and Tung as well. Having one such person would probably work, because that person wouldn't always be available, but when there's a whole crowd of them, it makes it difficult to buy into the concept that Miles is just winging it completely blind. And it also makes Miles a bit too shiny, having this many people being passionately and unremittingly loyal to him.

Anyway, yay exciting space pirates frolic!

I'm still horribly, horribly behind on book reviews (and have been since summer, really), but here are a few of the books I've read recently:
  • Larry Niven: The long arm of Gil Hamilton
  • Greg Egan: Luminous
  • Jacques Monod: Chance and necessity

  • Whereaboooots: Future London
    Moooood: cheerfulcheerful
    Tuuuuune: October Project: See with different eyes
    Discussion: 22 contributions | Contribute something
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    leora: ouroboros
    From:leora
    Date:December 2nd, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
    14 minutes after journal entry, 02:41 pm (leora's time)
    (Link)
    Things change. One of the things I most like about the Miles books is that we see him at various points in his life from before birth and then at multiple different later ages - and he changes and grows. He sometimes does remarkably stupid things, sometimes he does remarkably clever things. Sometimes he looks back at things he did when he was younger and his own view of it changes. He matures with age. I find this really nifty.

    He really isn't a static character and this becomes more obvious the older he gets.

    Although I still like the description a friend of mine who has only read a few of the Miles books when he is still quite young gave of his approach to problem solving: when you have a problem create a whole lot of chaos so that everyone is off balance and then manage the chaos better than anyone else can.

    Young Miles really is the master of chaos. But older Miles starts becoming more sensible and thoughtful - I think, in part, because of the times chaos causes real problems and people get hurt.

    The books are fun. I whizzed right through them all. It's easy to do.
    (Reply to this comment) (Thread)
    rysmiel: default
    From:rysmiel
    Date:December 2nd, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
    56 minutes after journal entry, 07:22 pm (rysmiel's time)
    (Link)
    Young Miles really is the master of chaos. But older Miles starts becoming more sensible and thoughtful - I think, in part, because of the times chaos causes real problems and people get hurt.

    I have a sort of complicated objection to the ways in which older Miles does so which wants to wait until livredor has finished the series (at least up as far as A Civil Campaign).
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    livredor: livre d'or
    From:livredor
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 11:46 am (UTC)
    13 hours after journal entry, 11:46 am (livredor's time)
    (Link)
    Oh yes, I'm definitely enjoying the Miles growing up thing. And the way that he's actually affected by his experiences, partly he learns from them, and partly the fact that living his ridiculously exciting life actually does have emotional effects. I like the description of deliberately creating chaos; I used to play chess a bit like that.
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    rysmiel: vacant and in pensive mood
    From:rysmiel
    Date:December 2nd, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC)
    16 minutes after journal entry, 06:42 pm (rysmiel's time)
    (Link)
    I think Brothers in Arms is probably the weakest of the series, which says something impressive about the overall quality. part of that I think is involving Earth per se; though the bit with both identities together at the end is lovely, and it's just the right resolution for how to handle mark at that point.
    (Reply to this comment) (Thread)
    angoel: default
    From:angoel
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 08:52 am (UTC)
    10 hours after journal entry
    (Link)
    I'd vote for 'The Vor Game' to get that honour. I quite liked 'Brothers in Arms'
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    cartesiandaemon: default
    From:cartesiandaemon
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 11:15 am (UTC)
    12 hours after journal entry
    (Link)
    Oh, that's interesting. I'd probably have voted to Cetaganda -- it just seems less Milesy. Whereas sonic introduced them to me, and I think felt Diplomatic Immunity was something of an afterthought compared to the rest of the series.

    Obviously L hasn't read them all yet, but it's interesting we've got four different answers.
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    livredor: livre d'or
    From:livredor
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 11:58 am (UTC)
    13 hours after journal entry, 11:58 am (livredor's time)
    (Link)
    I am scared that I'm running out of the series, actually; I shall be so disappointed when it's over, as rereading is never the same. Though it's very nice that you so generously bring me the next sequel whenever I feel like it, so I never have to get frustrated looking for the next installment. I am feeling much less of my usual irritation with long series as a result!
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    rysmiel: vacant and in pensive mood
    From:rysmiel
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
    16 hours after journal entry, 11:25 am (rysmiel's time)
    (Link)
    I understand that Bujold intends another Miles book after finishing the current ongoing series. I'm actually more eager for the remaining Chalion books myself at this point.
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    livredor: Amelie
    From:livredor
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
    17 hours after journal entry, 04:10 pm (livredor's time)
    (Link)
    There's going to be more Chalion books?! Waaaaaaant!
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    rysmiel: vacant and in pensive mood
    From:rysmiel
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
    18 hours after journal entry, 12:50 pm (rysmiel's time)
    (Link)
    I understand the Plan to be that there should eventually be five, one for each god.
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    cartesiandaemon: default
    From:cartesiandaemon
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 04:44 pm (UTC)
    18 hours after journal entry
    (Link)
    Hm. Examining how I felt, I think perhaps it was that I was sure a new Miles book would be good, whereas a new Chalion book would probably be excellent, but might not work. Based on that, I should probably hope for Chalion books, as Bujold rarely lets me down.
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    cartesiandaemon: default
    From:cartesiandaemon
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 11:16 am (UTC)
    12 hours after journal entry
    (Link)
    ...in the ironic situation where that actually could be described as an honour, since as R says, the worst isn't actually very bad :)
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    rysmiel: words words words
    From:rysmiel
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC)
    16 hours after journal entry, 11:24 am (rysmiel's time)
    (Link)
    I like Vor Game for its lovely ratcheting plot, for what it does with Gregor as The Princess story-shape-wise, and for having what strikes me as a particularly emotionally satisfying climax.
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    livredor: livre d'or
    From:livredor
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 11:54 am (UTC)
    13 hours after journal entry, 11:54 am (livredor's time)
    (Link)
    Interesting; to me, I would have pegged this one as very typical of the series (so far). There are a couple of flaws, which are perhaps related to being in the middle of a series where in some ways the structure is a little formulaic. But I liked it better than Cetaganda, though as you say, we're picking the least wonderful of a very strong series.

    And I really liked getting a glimpse of Earth; I very much enjoyed the description of the futuristic flood barrier, and the background which shows Earth as the motherworld, but no longer the centre of the universe. Perhaps you're following papersky's line that writing is inherently more interesting if it makes up a new world from scratch without relying on connections to what the readers already know? I don't know, I think Barrayar and Cetaganda and Beta are pretty earth-like as imaginary worlds go, we're not talking Vinge or even Tolkien here.

    But yes, I do agree about the two identities and the non-resolution with Mark. That was really story-satisfying!
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    rysmiel: wilde thing
    From:rysmiel
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 03:27 pm (UTC)
    17 hours after journal entry, 11:27 am (rysmiel's time)
    (Link)
    Perhaps you're following papersky's line that writing is inherently more interesting if it makes up a new world from scratch without relying on connections to what the readers already know?

    Sort of. I think that Earth being Earth in that one seems to be deemed to excuse it being somewhat vaguer, as a setting, than what we see of Barrayar or Beta Colony or indeed Cetaganda.
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    cartesiandaemon: default
    From:cartesiandaemon
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 11:28 am (UTC)
    13 hours after journal entry
    (Link)
    Yay!

    the section after Miles' rescue seems to be a little bit Miles gratuitously buying trouble in order to make plot happen

    I know what you mean. I think I found it a little pat that Miles ends up going behind his superiors backs again. But OTOH, everything Miles does seems to flow naturally from the situation, what bothered me was that Destang was so gung-ho to assassinate the relatives and assume Illian would approve, thus giving Miles the excuse. But then, if they'd been enemies of the imperium Miles didn't have a positive personal connection to, I don't suppose he would have minded much, so maybe it does hang together.

    the glimpses of far future earth are really cool!

    Yeah, I liked those. How often does Earth have its own identity, but isn't either pre-eminent or completely lost or ecologically destroyed? :)

    it really does seem a bad idea for Miles to get involved with a senior officer

    Yeah. What interests me is how my impression changes over time, telling me more about me than the situation :)

    a minor problem with this series is that a lot of the tension is dissipated because in spite of all the intrigue and double-crossing, Miles has too many people he can absolutely trust:

    Yeah, you mentioned that before and it's a good point. There would be some middle ground between "alone" and "juggling everything" if Miles often had subordinates he couldn't completely rely on to get things right, if they agreed on most things, but had more blind spots, disagreements, incompetencies, etc.
    (Reply to this comment) (Thread)
    livredor: livre d'or
    From:livredor
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 12:20 pm (UTC)
    13 hours after journal entry, 12:20 pm (livredor's time)
    (Link)
    I think I found it a little pat that Miles ends up going behind his superiors backs again.
    Yeah, rysmiel made a very good point that Miles just instinctively pulls the wool over his superiors' eyes and goes off to do his own thing, even when the superior is actually competent and sensible and better able to handle the situation than Miles himself. Silly Miles.

    Destang was so gung-ho to assassinate the relatives and assume Illian would approve, thus giving Miles the excuse.
    I think Destang is a really interesting character, from the little glimpses we get of him. He's old-school Barrayaran and politically opposed to Aral, and of course militaristic, brutal, xenophobic and all the rest, yet he's obviously competent and honest. Which is pretty good for a minor character who's clearly only there to give Miles an excuse to go off and do something hare-brained but brilliant. And I suppose Miles feeling sentimentally attached to Mark does seem a plausible motivation; he even describes himself as quixotic, and I can just imagine him really wanting to be the white knight who redeems poor Mark. It's very much in character even apart from the irresistable urge to sneak out if he gets confined to quarters.

    How often does Earth have its own identity, but isn't either pre-eminent or completely lost or ecologically destroyed?
    Yay future Earth! I commented about it to rysmiel, and perhaps I'm parochial for liking it being there. But I somehow like the idea that all this exciting space piracy could actually exist somewhere in our future.

    What interests me is how my impression changes over time, telling me more about me than the situation
    Can you tell me more about how you're reacting to this relationship, without spoiling me for future episodes? If that's impossible I will be patient, because obviously I'm very good at delayed gratification *cough*, but I'm curious.

    There would be some middle ground between "alone" and "juggling everything" if Miles often had subordinates he couldn't completely rely on
    I don't think you should be able to completely rely on anybody, especially not in such ridiculously entangled situations. The Miles fan club clearly do have their own motivations and don't always agree with his crazy decisions, but they're so loyal that they just go along with his plans anyway, and always show up to rescue him when he's about to be executed.

    I guess because the books have something of the structure of spy thrillers, I want the level of paranoia you get in Le Carré or Price, and it's just not quite there. (Yes, I did mention this before, but only in conversation to you, and I'm trying to get my brilliant inspiration recorded somewhere, and break the habit of forgetting to review things because I've already chatted about them to you.)
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    cartesiandaemon: default
    From:cartesiandaemon
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 04:54 pm (UTC)
    18 hours after journal entry
    (Link)
    Can you tell me more about how you're reacting to this relationship, without spoiling me for future episodes?

    I meant, over real world time, not in universe time. So like, ten years ago, I would probably have just thought "yay, romance always happens in stories, why worry about the rules, it'll be ok". And five years ago, "since this is Miles' personal fleet, there's not as much need for setting precedent as in a larger organisation, so if you're sure it's not going to cause problems, grab love while you can". And now, more "well, there's a high chance they'll split up eventually, and neither likely to want to leave the fleet -- working together is going to be really fun then." That's not very precise time-wise, but the sort of different impressions that can happen.
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    livredor: attached
    From:livredor
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 05:12 pm (UTC)
    18 hours after journal entry, 05:12 pm (livredor's time)
    (Link)
    That makes sense. I didn't think you meant in book time, but assumed your reaction could be to the whole arc of their relationship and include information about future books you don't want to spoil me for.

    I think the big problem is not that they might split up and will then have trouble working together. I think the big problem is the thing that Miles alludes to, but doesn't seem to really care about very much, that he's too emotionally involved with Elli to actually make sensible strategic decisions. He doesn't want to send her into danger, so he over-compensates by not protecting her as much as he should. And when they are in combat or other danger together, he's distracted by being in love with her, so he hesitates at critical moments. There's also the issue that they're not just crew mates, Miles is her commanding officer; Bujold is trying to balance things by making her beautiful and him ugly, but basically he has way too much power over her life for the relationship to be safe. Even without setting precedent, a relationship between the admiral and an officer is likely to cause resentment and bad feeling among the rest of the crew, and if they think they can hide their relationship they're being excessively naive.

    I think if I had read this ten (or twenty) years ago, I would have thought it was annoying and soppy and why couldn't they just get on with having adventures rather than waste time with all this lovey-dovey stuff and icky sex. That was at the low point of my life for being miserable because I had a crush on my best friend and was convinced nobody would ever fancy me and annoyed because all my friends were coupling up so we didn't understand eachother any more. If I'd read it fifteen years ago or five, I'd have been all sentimental and generally in favour of anything involving romance, and probably been really sad when they didn't turn out to be eachother's true loves. Though maybe at the earlier time I'd have disapproved of them for doing "we can't be together, o noes, so let's have sex anyway!" Now I think it's endearing, but worrying, which is true of many RL relationships, I guess.
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    cartesiandaemon: default
    From:cartesiandaemon
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
    18 hours after journal entry
    (Link)
    I think Destang is a really interesting character, from the little glimpses we get of him.

    Yeah. I hadn't thought of it like that, but indeed. Indeed, the nasty side is not necessarily very surprising at all; anyone in that role is likely to be extremely ruthless. And the way he sees Galen didn't convince me at first, but sounds like the way British soldiers would think of the IRA.

    I suppose Miles feeling sentimentally attached to Mark does seem a plausible motivation;

    Indeed. He definitely has a white knight complex (eg. wanting to get closure for Galani on Galen). But once he's met Mark, preventing him being murdered DOES seem the only right thing to do.
    (Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
    cartesiandaemon: default
    From:cartesiandaemon
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 11:32 am (UTC)
    13 hours after journal entry
    (Link)
    A couple of minor details jumped out at me. I don't know if they jumped out at me more because they weren't subtle enough, or just because they were exceptionally good, but either way.

    Miles books aren't exactly mysteries but share a lot with them. When Miles is first assigned to the embassy, Galeni says his orders are like a carbon copy of Ivan's with the name replaced. Which didn't seem at all suspicious at the time, though later it turned out that's what they were. It seemed a brilliantly direct way of giving that information, without being unsubtle enough to print them in full.

    And Galeni changed his name for up to two reasons, to look good to ImpSec, and to distance himself from his father. But it's also a very convenient way to be able to refer to two related characters by surname in the same sentence :)
    (Reply to this comment) (Thread)
    livredor: livre d'or
    From:livredor
    Date:December 3rd, 2008 12:22 pm (UTC)
    13 hours after journal entry, 12:22 pm (livredor's time)
    (Link)
    Ooh, good point about the identical orders, I hadn't spotted that. And I like how long it takes to reveal whether Galeni is corrupt or not. I don't know whether I would have felt more satisfied (though of course devastated) if he had been killed in the confrontation with Galen; as it is I suspect he's going to turn out to be yet another of those fanatically loyal to Miles types. And it's not as if characters we care about never die, so I can forgive one implausible survival of someone other than Miles himself.
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