Review of Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold


It’s always a bit tricky when an author revisits a really successful and popular world years after establishing it… Do you, as an avid fan, rush out to get the new book and run the risk of being significantly disappointed? Indeed, if the latest offering is dire enough, it can even smirch your previous enjoyment of this wonderful world.

Well, if Miles Vorkosigan novels used to tick all your boxes, then don’t worry. Cryoburn still has plenty of the old magic. I’ve always enjoyed Bujold’s writing, so have read both her Chalion and The Sharing Knife series with huge enjoyment, appreciating her deft characterisation, intriguing worlds and the Bujold ability to evolve realistic human difficulties and tensions out of the surrounding cryoburncircumstances. Nobody does it better…

However, something magical happens to her writing when Miles leaps into the fray. Bujold’s prose sizzles with extra three-dimensional depth and agility as she plunges her hero into yet another adventure – and I use the word plunge advisedly. The start is full-on, with Miles staggering around in absolute darkness, hallucinating and helpless.

Kibou-daini is a planet obsessed with cheating death. Barrayran Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan can hardly disapprove – he’s been cheating death his whole life, on the theory that turnabout is fair play. But when a Kibou-daini crycorp – an immortal company whose job it is to shepherd its all-too-mortal frozen patrons into an unknown future – attempts to expand its franchise into the Barrayaran empire, Emperor Gregor dispatches his top troubleshooter Miles to check it out.

On Kibou-daini, Miles discovers generational conflict over money and resources is heating up, even as refugees displaced in time skew the meaning of generation past repair. Here he finds a young boy with a passion for pets and a dangerous secret, a Snow White trapped in an icy coffin who burns to re-write her own tale, and a mysterious crone who is the very embodiment of the warning Don’t mess with the secretary. Bribery, corruption, conspiracy, kidnapping – something is rotten on Kibou-daini, and it isn’t due to power outages in the Cryocombs. And Miles is in the middle – of trouble!

As you may have already gathered from the synopsis, Bujold is still using her space opera adventures to lift the lid on some gnarly problems about to smack modern humankind in the face. She thoroughly explores the issue of freezing people, who are waiting for rejuvenation and/or cures for terminal illnesses to be invented – and the even more relevant problem of powerful mega-corporations who seem to believe that national rules and regulations apply to the other sucker… However, what you don’t get, are earnest, hold- up-the-action discussions as Bujold pushes her beliefs at her readers – the lady has the lightest touch.

Another potentially book-blighting trap that Bujold apparently effortlessly negotiates, is the issue of how to fit this latest Miles episode into the former canon. Which means that any unwitting reader who innocently plucks Cryoburn off the shelves doesn’t need to be aware that it is Volume 19 in order to enjoy the mayhem. It simply isn’t an issue. Could a string of other multi-volume authors please read and take note? This is how it’s done…

There is also a significant bonus for all Miles’ fans. At the back of the book is a CD with downloadable versions of the complete Vorkosigan canon, including short stories and some essays she’s written on the nature of science fiction. This is an extremely generous extra – and one I shall certainly be adding to my computer.

I’m aware I’ve come across all gushing and fan-like over the book. Are there any niggles about it? Er… nope. It was a blast of pure enjoyment that started on page one and continued for the next three and a half hours until I’d finished the book. I have rules about reading during the day… I generally don’t, or I’d never get anything done. But I broke them all for Cryoburn – and I don’t care. I LOVE space opera – it’s my favourite genre by a long light year – and only rarely do I get to enjoy a book so well written and so entertaining.

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