I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
A Civil Campaign (1999), maybe the ninth space opera novel by Lois McMaster Bujold about Miles Vorkosigan, begins a short while after the events of the previous novel, Komarr (1998), during which Miles fell in love with Ekaterin Vorsoisson, an unhappily married woman, witnessed her become a widow in traumatic fashion, and solved his first case as Imperial Auditor. Now Miles and Ekaterin are back on their home world Barrayar, in its capitol Vorbarr Sultana. Having suffered through ten years of psychological spousal abuse, the widow has no interest in remarrying, so Miles initiates a campaign of covert courting: hire her to design a new public garden by his estate, appealing to her landscaping interests, helping her start a new career, and spending a lot of time with her. What could go wrong?
Into that plot, Bujold interweaves many other civil campaigns. Miles' clone-brother Mark and Kareen Koudelka, for instance, have just returned to hidebound, patriarchal Barrayar after a year as lovers on the advanced, anything goes Beta Colony. Will Kareen's family accept Mark as her potential husband? After all, he is a clone who was created and trained as a weapon to destroy Miles, and who is now the unstable manager of four, torture-created sub-personalities, Grunt, Gorge, Killer, and Howler. Will Kareen be able to find a way to be with Mark and to be herself on Barrayar? Still more. To Barrayar Mark has brought (bought?) Dr. Enrique Borgos, a nutty bio-chemist professor who breeds genetically modified butter bugs to eat any flora and regurgitate it as highly nutritious curd. Will Mark be able to turn this into a successful business? And Captain Ivan Vorpatril, Miles' unambitious cousin, is trying to avoid any difficult work while dreaming of reuniting with a former lover. Meanwhile, the progressive and conservative Barrayaran Counts are jockeying for power, as it has recently come to light that Count Rene Vorbretten is half Cetagandan (Cetaganda being a bitter enemy of Barrayar), while Lady Donna Voruttyer has been trying to find a way to succeed her recently deceased brother as Count when "The prick's always been the most important qualification for a Countship." All of these sub-plots occur in the context of the impending politically-charged marriage between Emperor Gregor of Barrayar and Dr. Laisa Toscane of Kommar.
The sub-title of the novel, "a Comedy of Biology and Manners," then, is quite apt. In addition to comical and moving romance on Barrayar, biology plays an amusing role, from the genetic engineering of the butter bugs to the changing cultural and social milieu on Barrayar (uterine replicators, sex changes, clones, and the like). Here be no epic battles involving fleets of star ships belonging to various alien and human civilizations. There is a suspenseful fracas in a parking area involving stun guns, a kick to the groin, a vibra-knife, and a bottle of liquid bandage, as well as a zany melee involving multiple tubs of butter bug curd, two foreign policemen, two spunky Koudelka daughters, one hunky undressed House Vorkosigan Armsman, and one gormless scientist.
As usual, Miles is fun to watch, being brilliant, energetic, charismatic, and, because of his dwarfish stature, overly driven and prone to finding himself in sticky situations from which he tries to extricate himself by "forward momentum," escalating impromptu bold moves and BS, though his talents may not work so well in his first courtship. Ekaterin is a good match for Miles: intelligent, creative, dignified, and excited to find her soul since the death of her husband.
As usual, Bujold writes many great lines:
--"The Countess was to obstacles as a laser canon was to flies."
--"So, hope staggered upright again, like a newly revived cryo-corpse, dizzied and squinting in the light."
--"Yes, if anyone was going to crawl around on the floor hunting bugs alongside Ekaterin, it would be him, dammit!"
--"Well, it could have been worse. I'm glad you didn't have him watch Hamlet."
--"Intimacy of the flesh seemed easy, after the far more terrifying intimacy of the mind."
As usual, Grover Gardner gives an engaging, no frills, spot on reading of a Miles Vorkosigan novel; I can't imagine any other reader doing it.
For all those good things, some things in A Civil Campaign are less good. The Barrayar aristocratic imperial system and Miles' use therein of his connections (like his war-hero parents Aral and Cordelia, Emperor friend Gregor, and former ImpSec boss Simon Ilyan) are a bit disconcerting. (A code card giving immediate comm link access to the Emperor is sure handy!) Although the book affectingly exposes the negative aspects of male dominated societies (where being female is "a legal disease"), I also wish it had more serious investigation of the motivations, implications, and ramifications of things like gender change and genetically engineered invader insect species. As much as I like watching Miles on his homeworld as it becomes less insular, feudal, and patriarchal and more "galactic," I miss his former mercenary entrepreneur life as Admiral Naismith away from Barrayar. And the climax of the novel relies too much on the too unsubtle behavior of a too obvious villain.
Finally, A Civil Campaign IS entertaining, witty, and character and culture driven space opera, one great, amusing scene after another (until, perhaps, the climax). Readers who would want to read Jane Austen doing romantic and political sf comedies would like this book.
I've read all of the Miles Vorkorsigan story from the Vor game and recommend to anyone to start from there and read the books in succession. I loved the humorous side stories with Mark and the Bug Butter..
This is currently the book by which I compare all other books to past or present.
Everything. Wonderful performance by Grover Gardner but stellar character development by LMB. I haven't laughed so hard while reading a book as I did with this one.
He is wonderful, characters have believable and understandable voices and his enunciation is perfect. I listen to these books while riding my motorcycle down the highway with no issues.
I spend my work days just wanting to go home so I could listen to this book. I considered the ramifications of staying home sick.
I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Originally posted at FanLit.
I was afraid I wasn’t going to like A Civil Campaign as well as the previous VORKOSIGAN novels because, according to the description, the plot takes place all on the planet Barrayar and it deals mostly with relationship issues for several of the characters. Most of the various editions of the book sport covers with couples dancing or getting married. So, yeah, I thought it was a romance novel.
Well, A Civil Campaign is a romance novel, but because it involves the romances of Miles Vorkosigan, his clone brother Mark, and his tomcatting cousin Ivan Vorpatril, it is, thankfully, a lot more than that. Along with the romance, Bujold weaves in a few funny subplots that both entertain and advance the plot of the VORKOSIGAN series on the non-romantic fronts, too.
Miles’ goal in this book is to convince the widow Ekaterin Vorsoisson to marry him. (We met her in Komarr.) Ekaterin’s first marriage was painful and she is not inclined to repeat the experience. That’s just one problem. The other is that Ekaterin is beautiful and a Vor. Since beautiful single Vor women are rare on patriarchal Barrayar (the previous generation genetically selected for boys), they are in high demand. Miles has to court Ekaterin without scaring her away while he attempts to fend off all other suitors and while he tries to maintain his dignity as an Imperial Auditor. Other romances are going on, too. Gregor’s wedding is being planned by Ivan’s mother. Mark is courting one of the Koudelka girls (her father is not pleased!) and Ivan has suddenly realized that while he has been happily carousing for years, all the best girls were getting snatched up.
Meanwhile, since Aral Vorkosigan is off planet, Miles is left with his father’s political duties and the counsel has to deal with a couple of inheritance disputes. One of them involves the problem of patriarchy and the other involves racism. Lois McMaster Bujold has a way of commenting on these issues using humor instead of a hammer — it’s both effective and entertaining.
Along with the all the romance and politics, Bujold serves up a hilarious storyline in which Mark, who now considers himself an entrepreneur, teams up with a brilliant but socially inept scientist to genetically engineer insects that vomit up a cheap and nutritious creamy substance that they hope to market to the universe. They set up a lab in Vorkosigan house and get the lovely Koudelka girls to be their lab assistants. This slapstick storyline is a little over the top, but I thought it worked well as a contrast to the politics and romance. Bujold weaves all of these plots together for a synergistic effect that’s quite pleasing.
There are some niggling little problems with A Civil Campaign, at least for me. One was that I couldn’t muster up the attraction for Ekaterin that Miles seems to feel. I am not sure why he loves her — she’s kind of dull. Also, her reaction to the discovery that Miles was trying to sneakily court her was unreasonable, and his reaction to her reaction was even more unreasonable. This has to do with my second complaint which is that Miles and Mark are both in their thirties but act like they’re eighteen. Miles is an Imperial Auditor, in fact — a very distinguished position in the empire. I forgave their immaturity in previous novels because it seemed like the messes they got themselves into weren’t really their faults. In this novel, though, they don’t have such a good excuse… On the other hand, this juvenile behavior, which culminates in this case in a disastrous dinner party, is exactly what makes the plot so entertaining, isn’t it?
I’m listening to Grover Gardner narrate the audio version of the VORKOSIGAN saga. He’s awesome.
I'm an avid science fiction and fantasy reader. I study Chemical Engineering at the UofU and do photography on the side.
It ranks very well.
Miles of course.
When the Kudelka girls were attacking the Escobaran men attempting to extradite their scientist.
Made me laugh, yes.
This book isn't full of physical danger like the others, however it is still one of his best.
This book, along with the whole series, is well worth a listen. Lois McMaster Bujold's writing style is fantastic. The way he writes Miles with his subtle sarcasm and self deprecating style is always entertaining. In this book he finally finds a love that he can keep, but of course nothing goes as planned and Miles always finds a unique solution to his, and everybody else’s, problems.
Of course Miles who is best described by a paraphrased quote from a previous book "Do you know the old myths where a father gave his daughter's unexceptable suitor an impossible task to prove his worthiness. Don't ever do that with Miles it can be disasterous for everyone"
Not yet but his performance in this series is great
Miles always makes me laugh, out loud sometimes, which tends to get me strange looks on an airplane.
I would reccomend you start from the beginning of the series and work through it. If you're anything like me you won't be disappointed.
I've enjoyed all of the books by Ms Bujold. The Vorkosigan saga is particularly enjoyable.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
Really pleasant characters in a fleshed out universe. One of the best, highly prolific sci-fi writers I have found. These books are about people (human and otherwise) and science-fiction is only a scaffolding for the issues and actions of the characters. So far these have been quite consistently good. I really should give this 4 stars not 5 but I just can't stop myself...
Lots of intermingling plots that include all the main characters in this story. Plus a moral lesson on how to treat people. A must read before Winterfair!