Apr 5 2009 11:31am

What have you done with your baby brother? Lois McMaster Bujold’s Brothers in Arms

Brothers in Arms is the first Bujold book I read. I didn’t like it much. I can therefore confidently say that it isn’t a good place to start the series. The reason why I didn’t like it relates to my spearpoint theory. Briefly, a spearpoint is a tiny sharp point that needs a whole long spear behind to make it go in. Similarly the weight of significance of things in fiction sometimes need long buildups to make them get proper impact. This is a book that needs the weight of earlier books to have the impact it needs. A lot of what’s good about it depends on knowing things already, out of the context of this book

So it’s weird really that it’s only the second book about Miles, in publication order.

Six months after I read this, when I picked up Shards of Honor, all I remembered about it was the cat blanket, mercenaries and lots of running around after a clone. So much of what’s good about it went right over my head without context. I can’t believe Galeni made no impression on me, but he didn’t. (Galeni is one of my favourite characters in the whole series, perhaps my very favourite after Mark and Miles.)

In the thread about The Warrior’s Apprentice, JoeNotCharles talks about how much better Bujold has got at setting up implausible situations and making them believable. For me as a reader I’ve never had any problem with the implausibility of her situations except in Brothers in Arms, where the clone of Miles being controlled by Galeni’s father didn’t convince me. If I’d already known Miles as Naismith and as Vorkosigan, if I’d had the grounding in Barrayar you get by reading the other books, I’d probably have had no problem with this either. But it’s not just that. I’d have cared already. With spear-building a lot of it is ensuring that the reader cares about the right things. I came to this book without already caring, and it didn’t make me care. I liked it enough to finish it, and to pick up another book by the same author when I came across one, but it took Shards to hook me.

Having said that, when you do already care about Miles, Ivan, Barrayar and the Dendarii Free Mercenaries, there’s a lot more here. Galeni is introduced, and with him the complexities of another generation on Komarr. It’s very nifty to see how Komarr is introduced as a title for Aral, pretty much, “The Butcher of Komarr” in Shards, and of course everything we hear about it there is in the context of Aral’s career and Barrayaran politics. Then we hear about the battle from Tung in Apprentice, and here we see how things have played out. We get more Komarr again later, especially in Memory, and more Galeni too. I love the way politics and technology move and change and interact and things go on outside of the stories. This is one of Bujold’s real strengths.

Mark’s especially interesting, and so is Miles’s attitude to Mark. Miles thinks of Mark almost at once as a brother, and as something he wants, and as someone to rescue, not as an enemy. Mark is a shadow of the way we see him in Mirror Dance, but having a clone of Miles is a very interesting thing to do, and in only the second novel she’d written about Miles. Miles is already doubled and torn, Naismith and Vorkosigan, now he’s literally doubled too.

If this were a normal series, and she’d decided to write about Miles, you’d expect another book like The Warrior’s Apprentice, a caper with mercenaries, and with Miles’s loyalties being stretched. You wouldn’t expect this book about a clone, you wouldn’t expect an eight year gap, you wouldn’t expect Elli Quinn, who was a fairly minor character the last time we saw her, to be such a significant love interest. You would expect Ivan to make an appearance, which he does, but you wouldn’t expect him to be so intelligent. Ivan’s eight years older too, and he doesn’t do anything idiotic in this volume at all. (I’m fond of Ivan too.) Aral and Cordelia do not appear. Indeed, there isn’t much Barrayar at all, Barrayar is represented by the embassy, and we don’t see much of that except for Galeni, and for Galeni to work you need to Barrayar/Komarr contrast.

The other thing this book really needs is The Borders of Infinity, the novella. Now that was published in 1987, two years before the book, but it takes place immediately before, and an awful lot of the action of Brothers in Arms is a direct consequence of the events of the novella. I’m very glad it’s now bound in with it, and I think it always should have been.

One last thing—this is the only time we see Earth in the series, and I remain unimpressed by it. The other planets are much more interesting.

Madeline Ferwerda
1. MadelineF
I hadn't realized that was the order of publication! Interesting. For the book itself, I was impressed by the way it was set in London (and vaguely Brazil) instead of the kindof boring default of some big city in America; and I liked that she'd thought about what climate change would do to London. This might be the only book in the series where you get a flavor of real legal stuff (instead of huge plot-driving invented legal stuff, which is also fine, but not as specific), with the suing and countersuing about the flaming booze shop, which really amused me.

As for series themes, and perhaps themes of Bujold's writing as a whole, your mention of the Komarr battle retrospective in The Warrior's Apprentice made me remember fondly how much I loved that scene... Tung matter-of-factly pausing from breaking out of his cell with Miles respecting his chutzpah and giving him mental credit for his ingenuity; the little bits of cheese = battleships... And one of the major things I liked about it was the basic idea: no one is necessarily your enemy. One flavor of this is "everyone is potentially a resource to be used no matter what they feel about you or you about them", but I'd say that Bujold makes it more of a spiritual thing about the value of human life. Seems like in every one of her books there are people who the main characters could easily consider villains, who instead are offered shots at redemption and take them. It's a continual story about how trying to empathize with people usually works out best for both you and them, which is a damn pleasant thing to encounter.

Er, oh, and Brothers in Arms, also loved the dismayed honest fleet accountant. It's nice to see a nod to the enormous amount of background logistics work it takes to have flashy space battles.

I guess perhaps it was the second/thirdish Miles book so there was an explanation for why the Cetagandans kept quiet re: Naismith for so long? There did have to be such an explanation, and early, for the series to make sense.
2. Rivka5
Until this moment, I thought that the Vor Game came before Brothers in Arms in publication order. Huh. That *is* weird.
3. KathleenK
I got started onto Bujold's books by "The Mountains of Mourning" in the Baen Free Library. I enjoyed that so I looked further for more by this author. I am a bit anal about reading things in chronological order so I looked up that order and proceeded to read as close to in order as I could, and am now a confirmed Miles addict! However I am intrigued by the fact that she wrote these stories in the order she did. Her mind must have a secret Barrayar vault where all these ideas just hibernate until jumping out and going "Heloooo, it's my turn!.
4. Susan Loyal
This was fascinating. I came to the series in an odd order: Komarr first, then Shards of Honor, Barrayar, Warrior's Apprentice, The Vor Game, Borders of Infinity, and then Brothers in Arms. so not only was the "spear" fully constructed when I picked it up, I'd fallen completely for Lord Vorkosigan before I met Admiral Naismith. Thanks for the series of posts. I'm having great fun reading all of them.
Stephanie Leary
5. sleary
I'm also rather stunned that this came out before The Vor Game. I can't imagine coming to this book without more Komarran political context than Aral's reputation provides.

I adore the accountant, and Galeni's reaction to Miles's operating budget. Reading this book on the heels of "The Mountains of Mourning" always makes me wonder about Barrayaran economics. I'm glad Miles does something about that in A Civil Campaign, even if we don't get to see it play out.
- -
6. heresiarch
MadelineF @ 1: "It's a continual story about how trying to empathize with people usually works out best for both you and them, which is a damn pleasant thing to encounter."

You know, one of my truisms is "give people the chance to do the right thing," or, in the negative form, "don't assume people will do the wrong thing and preemptively cut them out of your life." I didn't realize until just now how much of that came from reading Vorkosigan at a formative age.
Karen L
7. changisme
It's interesting how Miles' attitude towards Ivan sort of shook him up from the naive notion of brother he had towards Mark, but he also didn't simple shuffle Mark back behind Ivan. It became a more interesting dynamic, a rather non-linear comparison.
Leigh Butler
8. leighdb
I'm with the others who are amazed this came out before The Vor Game. I read the books in chronological order (in the omnibus editions, in fact, and can I say that "Young Miles" is the worst title ever? Well, except possibly "Miles, Mystery and Mayhem"), and to me, The Vor Game is where the series really settled in, so to speak, and became itself, and everything followed from there.

So to find out this is, in fact, totally wrong... well, I'm duly impressed. Uh, impressed-er.
Kate Nepveu
9. katenepveu
This is fascinating--I've never read the series in publication order.

Is it a _Teckla_ equivalent, perhaps?
10. Lsana
I too am a little surprised that this was the second book published. I read it pretty much in chronological order and thought it worked perfectly at that point.

I have two favorite parts in this book. The first was Miles recitation of Richard III. I had never made the connection before, but it doesn't seem surprising that Miles would identify with a physically deformed but extremely intelligent guy with maniac energy and an incredible ability to manipulate people.

The other was when Miles came to the realization of exactly what Mark might be capable of. To paraphrase:

"After all, the kid is only 17. How much trouble can he get into? When I was 17, I ... oh, God, we've got to find him."
11. davebush
I came late to the series and so read them in "internal" chronolgical order.

I'd really like to read them in the order in which they were first written (not necessarily published).

Has Lois given this sequence anywhere?
12. WilliamB
davebush: My apologies that I haven't the time to list them for you., the official and yet interesting webpage, has a good front page. You can then check out the bibliography, and somewhere there's a separate list of "what order to read the books," the two common answers being publishing order and internal chronography.
13. Anne Zanoni
Lsana @10: Ohhh... that is a lovely quote.

I read this book absolutely last. I've got to quite liking BoA, though.

My first book was Cetaganda, and my second was Mirror Image. Steve said he thought I'd like this series, and he was very right. I managed to get all but one from the library and it didn't detract from my enjoyment at all. Luckily for me the later books got read in order. I adore Memory and TCC.

With Mirror Image I knew I was hooked when POV changed to Mark, yet I still couldn't put it down. I knew nothing of Mark until then.

katenepveu @9: Oh no, not like Teckla. Not Athyra either. If you had to liken anything to one of those, I'd have different candidates. I may be in the minority, but I'm used to that.


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