Wed
Apr 15 2009 6:40pm
Just my job: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Diplomatic Immunity

Diplomatic Immunity is one of the most exciting books in the universe ever. The first time I read it, it gave me an asthma attack —those Cetagandan bioviruses are so effective they incapacitated me through the eyes, in ascii! It almost did the same this time, it was only remembering that it did last time and breathing carefully that got me through the incredibly tense bit.

I don’t think there’s anything else I can safely say about it without spoilers, not for it but for the rest of the series. It would be a perfectly reasonable standalone book, or place to start, I think, it probably helps if you’ve read Cetaganda and Falling Free, and a fair sprinkling of the others, and it would certainly contain spoilers for them, but it wouldn’t be a problem for enjoying what’s going on and having fun.

Miles and Ekaterin, married for a year, go off for a galactic honeymoon while twin babies are being cooked up in uterine replicators. On their way home they’re diverted to Quaddiespace where mysterious things have detained a Komarran trade fleet and its Barrayaran escort. Miles is designated to deal with the problem. He meets Bel Thorne, now living with Nicol from “Labyrinth,” investigates the problems and finds out they’re being caused by a Cetagandan Ba, disguised as a Betan herm under the common Betan name Dubauer (very clever bit of misdirection there, because I instantly started thinking he must be related to poor Ensign Dubauer from Shards of Honor) who is trying to steal a load of Cetagandan haut babies and start his own empire, while starting a war between Cetaganda and Barrayar as misdirection. Miles and Ekaterin manage to stop the war, but not without much tense excitement and bioweapons, and Miles being infected by being too clever for his own good. There’s some excellent broadening of the scope of the problem.

This is only the second time I’ve read Diplomatic Immunity, the first time since it came out in 2002 and we all read it in relays. Most of these books I know backwards and forwards, but I’d forgotten the details of Diplomatic Immunity until they came back to me while I was reading.

This is another surprising departure for the series. It’s a mystery, which isn’t surprising, but it’s galactic, which is, and there’s almost a war. We thought Miles had put away the Little Admiral for good, but here we have him signing off “Nai—Vorkosigan out!” in a top speed full steam ahead crisis. Naismith is still there for Miles to draw on when he needs to be him. It’s not a Dendarii Free Mercenaries adventure, but it’s much closer to The Vor Game than it is to Komarr. After all these books centred on Barrayar and Barrayaran problems and politics and interactions with Komarr, we’re suddenly back in space, and the problems turn out to be Cetagandan.

What’s wrong with it is the end. The book is going along at a zillion miles an hour, and I am hyperventilating (or, this time, deliberately stopping for chocolate to avoid hyperventilating) and everything is going along fine and then... it pulls back. It’s like the end of Mansfield Park. The text withdraws into tell-mode. Miles succumbs to the sickness, and Ekaterin deals with the crisis, but we don’t see it, we hear about it later. We get caught up with the plot, we do not get to see it at first hand, which, after the extremely close tension up to that point, is just weird. The epilogue is fine, and the rewards and medals from the Cetagandans are fine as well, I suppose, but there’s a big hole in between Miles passing out on the ship and there.

This could very easily have been plugged by giving us some Ekaterin point of view, and Bujold has not been stingy with Ekaterin POV in the last two books. Indeed, the whole of Diplomatic Immunity could have been enhanced with some Ekaterin alternating chapters, like Komarr—How is marriage to Miles settling down from Ekaterin’s POV? Ekaterin goes shopping with Bel and they talk about Miles. Ekaterin looks at quaddie hydroponics. Ekaterin deals with Admiral Vorpatril and the Cetagandan Empire. It could have been so cool! It would have made such a great intercut with Miles trying to solve the problems and then it getting all so exciting. Unfortunately, thinking about this Ekaterin-shaped shadow makes the book feel to me as if it has an Ekaterin-POV shaped hole in it, and that’s why I hadn’t re-read it, despite having re-read several other bits of the series on different occasions since then.

The book ends with Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia being decanted. Would this make a good series end? Well, it has been the de facto series end for the last seven years, and it certainly isn’t leaving anything trailing, but it definitely doesn’t feel like a good conclusion—both Memory and A Civil Campaign come with better places to stop.

Though this is the last book in the series at present, I’m going to do one more post about the series as a whole.

31 comments
Sean Fagan
1. sef
I truly did not care for this book. It's been so long since I read it, but it just did not click, and I found myself not really caring about the events.
Tony Zbaraschuk
2. Tony Zbaraschuk
First read was wonderfully exciting, full panic-thriller-mode attack.

It doesn't hold up as well on re-reading, mostly because of the Ekaterin-shaped holes we only hear about indirectly, but there are still many incredibly good moments.

The quaddie ballet. (And "Performance art, Miles realized, was fundamentally limited by the capacity of the human body, in this case the bladder.")

Bel and Nicole's baby pictures.

Miles finagling through quaddie bureaucracy. (And Bel commenting to Miles on the nature of quaddie adjectives of praise after Miles get shot at.)

Proof by counterexample that John W. Campbell was wrong when he said you couldn't write SF mysteries. The clues are all there for us, and make sense in the light of Miles' century's biotech.

"I'm an Imperial Auditor. I don't ask for search warrants. I issue them."

The fast-penta interrogation without fast-penta scene.
Tony Zbaraschuk
3. Anne Zanoni
I always thought this lacked the zing which characterizes most of the series. Miles hasn't anyone serving as counterpoint, unlike other books. Bel has never been able to be a foil for Miles.

Ekaterin doesn't spark here, which was... weird. I would have thought she was still adjusting to Miles, and he to her.

But a POV shadow, hmmm.

After what LB said in previous comments, perhaps the writing minerals were leached out and she needed to rest. Considering how we all react to _Memory_ and _ACC_, surely they'd take a lot out of her!

Anne*---
nat ward
4. smonkey
These books are fake right?

I mean...a series about a guy called "Vorkosigan",

By an author named bujold whose wiki page reads like it was made to make fun of sci-fi authors?

Really, I'm not joking, its amazing how my brain refuses to accept that its not some giant conspiracy to make up an author/series. Plant dozens of fake books on amazon and flood the internet with fake reviews. They just all read so close to satire.

Maybe I should stop drinking so much coffee.
Ursula L
5. Ursula
Yet another cover that disappoints, this one more than most. It' a book with Quaddies. And the cover gives us Barrayans.

I'd love to see a really good artist, one skilled in anatomy, draw Quaddies. (Someone who could get the hip joints and lower elbows to work well.) The way they move, the way they interact, in their own environment. The absence of gravity, and the absence of a cultural preference for arranging things up-down to pretend that there is gravity.
Tony Zbaraschuk
7. Mike G.
bluejo@6, that's just evil. Sneaking the poor Smonkey a dose of free Bujold crack like that.

"Try it, you'll like it! It's not addictive at all, "

:)

That Free Library kicks butt
Tony Zbaraschuk
8. mgan
I agree that it would have been nice to have Ekaterine's POV.

What we do have is another example of Miles being the only person with the experiences and knowledge required to solve this mystery and saved his world (except for those of us who have had the pleasure of reading along of course.) Who else could have sent that message to Benin and had any impact at all on events? I think that's part of the experience for readers of this series. We are insiders being taken along for this great ride with Miles. We don't need to have Ekaterine there to prompt Miles to "unpack" for us. We know this man and how he thinks and because of the great skill of this author we know this universe warts and all. Thanks for the ride Lois!
Tony Zbaraschuk
9. sylvia_rachel
OMG yes yes yes, that's exactly the trouble with this book: it has an Ekaterin-POV-shaped hole in it. Mansfield Park. Yes.

Which is not to say that it's not a good book, at all. I really like a lot of things about it. But it doesn't call out to me for infinite re-readings the way most of the series does.
- -
10. heresiarch
smonkey @ 4: Coises! We've been made, people! Run!

The hardest part was winning the Nebulas. Hugos, no problem: fans are up for anything. Those pros, though, they sure take things seriously! I mean, come on--it's just science fiction, right?
Ursula L
11. Ursula
Despite the Ekatrin-hole, I quite like Diplomatic Immunity. In many ways, it combines the best of the Naismith stories with the best of the Vorkosigan stories. It's deep space, it's exotic, it's high adventure. In that, it's Admiral Naismith running amok with the Dendarii again.

But, happily, Admiral Naismith is grown up into Lord Auditor Vorkosigan. The mistakes he makes are a result of lack of information, and the pressures of the moment, not immaturity. He's cultured, and someone who's enjoyable to spend time with.

I suspect this could be a good book to introduce someone to the series with. It has elements of both halves of the series, the Naismith line and the Vorkosigan line. It re-introduces enough old characters to make one want to go back an learn where they came from.

The Vorkosigan series is one I re-read frequently. I used to go to the early Naismith books when I wanted an adrenaline rush. These days, I go to Diplomatic Immunity for that rush. It just seems to work better without having a teenage boy get in the way.
Tony Zbaraschuk
12. Lois Bujold
smonkey @ 4

Curious, I checked my Wiki page to be sure no one was playing with it; rather incomplete, but except for the sadly out-of-date photo, there doesn't seem to be anything actually counter-factual. From what are you drawing your inferences?

The link to my dad seems to be to a Wiki entry with no data. If anyone knows how to put in a link to this:

http://www.dendarii.com/tribute.html

it might help a bit.

Ta, L.
Joseph Blaidd
13. SteelBlaidd
Looks like there is a link to the tribute in the references section but yes some one needs to start a page on your Dad I may give it a shot here in a bit.

I really enjoy DI and re-read it at least as often as any of the other late Miles and I never noticed the Ekatarin POV hole. I wonder if its a male/female thing.

I think I first read it around the birth of my first child so Miles reaction to having kids was much more interesting than Ekaterin's as she had done it once already :P

"We can't have a war there are children almost present" has got to be one of the most inspired shout outs to Dr Strangelove Ever
Tony Zbaraschuk
14. Don Sample
Ursula @ 5

If I remember correctly, the cover for the Analog issue in which Labyrinth was first published was a Frank Kelly Freas painting of Nicol playing her hammer dulcimer.

Unfortunately my Analogs from that long ago are currently buried under a lot of other junk in a closet.
Ursula L
15. Ursula
Dan @ 14

I don't remember that cover, but I do remember an Analog cover for Falling Free that had a quaddie (Silver?) holding some sort of weapon in her lower arms.

But quaddies are something I'd just like more art of. They, and their culture, are visually fascinating. I don't normally visualize what I read (I don't even get "voices" for different characters, I just absorb text), but when reading about quaddies, I find myself trying to visualize things.

The way their lower arms are jointed. The movement of the dance in Diplomatic Immunity, or the children's hand-to-hand game in Falling Free. The layout of a space in free fall that doesn't try to arrange things up/down. A children's playground - what would the jungle-gym be? A quaddie flower garden - hydroponic, but arranged around the inside of a tube, so that you're surrounded by flowers.

There are probably enough facinating visual things to support an art book - "Quaddie Life." (Or a tor.com contest... hint, hint...)
C C
16. Hatgirl
I was happy with the ending. I like the idea of other people telling Miles their perceptions of how everything got sorted out, as we end up finding out what other people think of Ekaterin.

As for the best book to start someone on, I started with "Cordelia's Honor" ("Shards of Honor"/"Barrayer") and read them in Timeline order with a sideline to Falling Free as soon as I got my hands on it. But when I wanted to tricked, um... persuade my mother to read the series, I knew she wouldn't like the idea of reading a huge series unless she was hooked. So I gave her "Falling Free" first as it is a standalone story. She adored it. Then I told her she wouldn't be able to undestand the next Quaddie book unless she read the rest of the series in order first. Now she is a firm convert and has me giving her updates on when the next Miles book is due!
Tony Zbaraschuk
17. Lois Bujold
I'm familiar with Jo's "mode", but for me, the initial choice that most shapes the book to follow is viewpoint(s). Everything bends around it, the way the gravity of a star bends light.

Regarding Ekaterin's "missing" viewpoint in DI, I think I rather agree. Several things were going on here.

First, as I began the book, I considered making it dual viewpoint, but she simply didn't have enough interesting to *do* in that part to balance Miles's role. And I wasn't looking forward to the readerly complaining about it. By the time I reached the end, and saw that in fact the viewpoints might have been made to balance, but end-to-end instead of side-by-side (which would have been structurally rather interesting), the book was already months overdue. Since in general I hates re-writing rather more than Gollum hates Bagginses (tho' I will do it at need, whining the whole way) the idea of spending another *year* tearing apart a perfectly good, tight book and doing something Different with it was pretty appalling. There was, indeed, also the fact that while parenthood was a new theme to Miles, profoundly transformative, it wasn't to Ekaterin. From her side, it would have just been more Cetagandans at that point, which we'd already seen in _Cetaganda_.

Also, I think, at that time I was on some weird level saving the female empowerment themes for Ista. I'd written _The Curse of Chalion_ on spec, and a delightful experience that was, but as a result of the book auction for it I found myself with two premature book contracts in my lap simultaneously, for the first time with two different publishers. One was a blank for an option-fulfillment with Baen, and the other (equally blank) was for the second half of the two-book contract with Eos (they'd wanted to make it for three.) At first I thought I might work on both at once. Instead, for nine months, I had two Chapter Ones sitting there, unable to focus on either due to the distractions of the other. (As a writer, I do not multi-task well.) I finally put DI first, because I wanted to write Ista with the least possible distraction, and this was _standing in my way_.

Yeah, the cover. I despair of Baen covers. Having made a deliberately non-military book, what do they put on the cover? BFGs. In eye-searing Easter-egg colors, with shiny foil. Sigh.

Ta, L.
Tony Zbaraschuk
18. kilthmal
Awww.. I was hoping you would cover Winterfair Gifts as well. Maybe a short post for a short story? *big puppy dog e-eyes*
Jo Walton
19. bluejo
Kilthmai: I don't actually have a copy of it. I thought I had an electronic copy, but it doesn't seem to be on any current machines. I'm not prepared to buy a yuppieback of Miles in Love just to get it, especially not when I just bought a new ACC. Sorry.
Tony Zbaraschuk
20. mgan
Ista was well worth the sacrifice to Ekaterine.

I began reading Bujold with The Curse of Chalion, I have personnaly given away at least 15 copies of that book. Paladin of Souls is one of my most frequent rereads. Despite my love for the Chalion universe I had to be talked into the Vorkosigan series by a friend, because, sorry to say, the covers, especially Cordelia's Honor, put me off... Covers again seems to be a theme. I actually bought the hardcover Shards of Honor and a used paperback of Barryar to get my son to read the first two books. He loves the Miles books but thought Cordelia's Honor looked suspiciously like one of the "smarmy romances" he is constantly ragging on me for reading.

Speaking of romances I'm not surprised you skipped Winterfair Gifts but it is a nice litte transition piece and it was fun to hear Roic's voice and visit however briefly with our old Dendarii friends. And the hug between Gregor and Miles tugs at the heart.
Tony Zbaraschuk
21. cbyler
@19: I had the same problem, and solved it by buying _Irresistible Forces_ instead (which I bought used online, making it much cheaper than a TPB brick I already owned 90% of). Then I enjoyed some of the other stories too, which was a nice bonus.
Tony Zbaraschuk
22. stargazer
@20: I had to be talked into the Vorkosigan series by a friend, because, sorry to say, the covers, especially Cordelia's Honor, put me off...


Isn't there some saying about making judgements like that? ;-)

Glad you overcame the barrier in the end!
Ursula L
23. Ursula
Does anyone know if TPTB at Baen read here? It might be useful for them to know that they're missing readers due to their choice of covers.

Of course, for those on this thread, there isn't a strict requirement for great covers. As long as it has a particular element (the letters B-u-j-o-l-d) it's going to be bought.

***

Mgan @ 20 wrote: Ista was well worth the sacrifice to Ekaterine.

I'll second this.

Except that I'm greedy and want both!
Tony Zbaraschuk
24. ajdecon
It's probably a bit late to mention it, but Winterfair Gifts can be found as an eBook at Fictionwise for about $2.50. Much more convenient than buying Miles in Love if you already have the series.

Fictionwise is actually how I got started on reading the Vorkosigan stories: a good chunk of the series is there in multiformat, non-DRM files for ebook-reasonable prices.
Tony Zbaraschuk
25. Tatterbots
I love Guppy. I especially love his voice. And I found comparing the original prologue in his viewpoint to the final version of his tale quite enlightening - no wonder he tells the story so well, when it had already been written this way. It would have been a mistake to reveal so much so soon though (speaking as someone else who's discarded a much-loved prologue because it gave too much away).

I just want to add that although we never find out the ba's real name, in my mind it's Stard.
Tony Zbaraschuk
26. Tatterbots
Eek, forgot to read the preview!

Try again: the original prologue in his viewpoint
Jo Walton
27. bluejo
OK, everyone, Lois has kindly sent me a copy of "Winterfair Gifts" and I have re-read it and written a piece on it, which will no doubt be posted soon.
Soon Lee
28. SoonLee
I really liked Roic's development. In ACC, he was the bug-butter covered half-naked buffoon.

In both DI & "Winterfair Gifts" (in which he is the PoV character) he is revealed to be much more. He may be unsophisticated in galactic affairs, but he is not dumb.

I also like the way that with Roic, we are seeing another aspect of the transition of Miles the soldier to Miles the policeman. It is telling that all the other Vorkosigan Armsmen mentioned to date have extensive military experience. Not Roic; he came from the Hassadar Municipal Guard.
Soon Lee
29. SoonLee
It's just occurred to me that the end of DI withdrawing as it does into tell-mode, the zooming out, was a big hint (whether the writer intended it or not) that the end of the series was nigh.
Bruce Cohen
30. SpeakerToManagers
Don Sample & Ursula: I have a print of the Analog cover for Labyrinth framed on my hallway wall, along with several other Freas prints I really like. It's done with his typical great technical ability, wonderful dynamic composition, and care for the details of the story. Also, the Quaddie female figure is somewhat zaftig; not your normal anorexic supermodel figure. The only problem I have with it is that Freas cheated a little by hiding the Quaddie-specific anatomical features like the hip joints with streamers from her costume floating in zero-g.
C C
31. Hatgirl
@25 Ah, Guppy! I can't believe I forgot to mention Guppy! He is such a sweetheart.

Huh... the character first becomes know to us when he nearly kills Miles, and by the end of the book I view him as adorable. What a fine book.

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