All three of these stories, attractively repackaged in a single volume, deal with issues of gender and identity. Recent advances in cloning technology make this a timely curtain call. Bujoldís note at the end of the book is worth reading first for the insight it provides into her creative process and the evolution of her ideas on reproduction and gender, dilemmas that provide the foundation of her best books.
In Cetaganda we meet a young Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin Ivan, sent from Barrayar as diplomatic representatives to the funeral of the Dowager Empress of Cetaganda. As in so many of Milesí missions, things go wrong from the beginning. They tangle violently with the first Cetagandan they meet and end up in possession of his weapon and a mysterious artifact. Against Ivanís better judgment, Miles conceals the incident -- and the artifact -- from his superiors, and the two young men are subsequently drawn into an increasingly dangerous concoction of subterfuge, interstellar intrigue and murder. In this early book of the Vorkosigan saga, Miles is still an all-purpose action hero, giddy with his recent success in the persona of Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries, and eager for new challenges. The Cetagandans, a class society that manipulates their own genome in an attempt at self-directed evolution, provide an excellent foil for him as he struggles to overcome crippling defects and prove his worth in militaristic Barrayaran terms.
The second of the stories, Ethan of Atos, was written a decade before Cetaganda but falls into the Vorkosigan chronology after Milesí adventures on Cetaganda. Miles himself does not make an appearance onstage in this novel, but his agent, Commander Elli Quinn, ably represents the Dendarii. While playing a deadly game of cloak-and-dagger on Kline Station, Elli crosses path s with Ethan of Athos. A dedicated surgeon whose goal in life is to accumulate enough social duty credits to earn paternal rights to sons of his own, Ethan is as unlikely a paladin as ever set out on a quest. His mission is to replenish the stock of ovarian cultures for the Reproductive Centers on which the continuity of the Athos depends, for there are no women on Athos. Cultures collide with predictably unpredictable results and wild confusion ensues, compounded by a bad case of mistaken identites and cross-purposes. Sticking to Ethanís point of view allows Bujold the opportunity for social commentary on gender issues, which she handles with deft humor. The twisty plot has a satisfying quotient of fights, captures and escapades; never a dull moment. Ethan goes home resolutely prepared to re-engineer his world in ways no one on Athos ever imagined.
Labyrinth begins with another mission gone awry which lands Miles, once again in his guise as Admiral Naismith, in hot water on Jacksonís Whole. His attempt to rescue a renegade genetic engineer, along with samples of his work, escalates into an elaborate scheme of cross-and-double-cross typical of Milesí breakneck strategizing. When the tangled web he has woven unravels, Miles finds himself trapped with the lab rats. And a large and hungry carnivore. On Jacksonís Whole, a world where literally anything--or any one--can be bought for the right price, life itself has become a commodity. Miles sets out to prove on his own body that humanity is a birthright that cannot be stolen.
ďItís not how we get here that counts; itís what we do after we arrive,Ē Bujold writes in her authorís note. That is a good capstone quote for these three recycled stories that may tide her fans over until the publication of Diplomatic Immunity, forthcoming in May from Baen Books. (You can preview the first few chapters of DI at Baen's site: )
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu