Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,
Rowyn
rowyn

Lois McMaster Bujold's Cetaganda, Ethan of Athos and Borders of Infinity

I'm still working my way through Vorkosigan novels. Cetaganda is my least favorite on re-read so far. It's got Miles' characteristic inability-to-subordinate problem on even more display than usual -- typically his superiors are not around to be duped and misled anew every single day like he's doing in this novel. Also, the ridiculously beautiful haut-women got on my nerves this time. Maybe my middle-aged self is having trouble buying just how much influence beauty exerts on men. Setting that aside, there are some good clever moments and funny scenes, and I did enjoy it, but it's only getting a 6.

I'd been thinking of skipping Ethan of Athos because I remembered not much liking Ethan the first time, but it also has Elli Quinn and I decided to read it for her.

Weirdly, I ended up being quite fond of Ethan this time and disliking Quinn, whose cavalier attitude towards endangering others grated. Ethan is passive or ineffectual for the first half of the book, which is not a great thing in a viewpoint character, but he grows into his role and eventually does a good job. And his doctor's-perspective is endearing.

On an unrelated note: Athos, the planet Ethan is from, has been all-male since colonization two hundred years ago: they reproduce through ovarian cultures, in vitro fertilization, and uterine replicators. Their cultural attitude towards women is a weird mix of terror, ignorance, and condenscension. But the striking thing is that it's not really something noticeable while on Athos. It's just a planet full of people who treat each other equally and are isolationist. Ethan has a lot of absurd misconceptions and superstitions about women that are striking when he's finally exposed to them, so there's a chunk of misogyny there. And of course it seems weird viewed from the outside to exclude women from your entire planet.

And yet ... there's something queerly egalitarian about it. Because if you've only got one gender, you can't have gender-based discrimination. No gender stereotypes. No 'men aren't like that' because, well, there's just people.

Bujold's conceit is that some portion of Athos society is celibate and the rest gay; probably sensibly, she avoids assigning numbers to those proportions. It is an odd question, how many humans would be attracted to the same sex given favorable cultural norms and no opposite sex at all. Anyway, I'll give this one an 8.

Borders of Infinity collects three Vorkosigan novellas into one volume, with a frame story to tie them together. I liked all of them; "Labyrinths" struck me as silly/implausible at several points, but I enjoyed it in a guilty-pleasure way. I had been dreading the grim opening of the final titular story, but fortunately the horrible part didn't last as long as I'd remembered, and the tale rolled along well once it got going. I'll give this an 8 too.
Tags: book review, books, review
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