Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold [Library of Babel]

I don’t believe the actual book is out yet, but you can get an electronic Advance Reading copy of the Nth Miles Vorkosigan book, Cryoburn already. Kate picked up a copy, and while she hasn’t gotten around to it yet, I read it this week while putting SteelyKid to bed.

The book is another “Lord Auditor Vorkosigan” story, with Miles on a mission to Kibou-Dani, a half-terraformed planet with a positive fetish for cryopreservation. A quirk in local laws gives the “cryocorps” that preserve millions of frozen citizens the right to proxy vote for their clients, and control of their property, so they have amassed tremendous wealth and political power, which has a massive distorting effect on their society.

This opens very promisingly, with Miles lost and hallucinating due to a drug reaction, stumbling through miles of underground cryostorage corridors on the run from unknown assailants. He eventually makes it to the surface, where he is taken in by a young boy who collects stray animals, and lives in a sort of cryofacility for squatters. This engages Miles’s tendency toward “expensive knight-errantry,” and he gets entangled in all sorts of local politics.

This was a pretty “Meh” book, really. I’ll keep the big spoilers below the fold, but once the initial escape scene is finished, there’s never any real danger to be faced. The local intrigue is okay, but not all that great, and everything is wrapped up with very little cost to any of the principals. In places, it feels padded, with a lot of passages of Miles waxing philosophical, and there’s some family stuff kind of shoehorned in in a way that felt forced.

For calibration purposes, I am less impressed with this series in general than many SF fans. There are a lot of people who feel they have a level of psychological depth that I just don’t see– for me, they really don’t rise above the level of light entertainment. This was light, but kind of short on entertainment. People who are more impressed with the series in general might feel differently, but I’m looking for a little more plot than this offered.

I will keep the rest of this as vague as possible, but SPOILERS follow, and can be assumed to be present in the comments should there be any comments.


A big part of my problem with the series is that her Big Plot Twists generally feel telegraphed to me, and there were points in this where that was the case. I got the “That’s not our mommy!” thing several pages before it happened, for example, which undercut the impact of the scenes with the stolen corpse.

There were two elements that I didn’t see coming in this, though neither was a good thing. I didn’t really expect Mark to show up in this one, but when he did, it turned out to be disappointing. He wasn’t anything more than a chubby deus ex machina to make some of the legal issues go away.

The second surprise, the big ending, I actually sort of guessed from the really ham-handed foreshadowing in conversations between Miles and Mark, but decided that she couldn’t possibly do that in the last ten pages of the book. And yet, she did. Which was even more disappointing– the event in question deserved a whole lot better than a cliffhanger ending and a handful of drabbles. It felt like it was stuck in at the end to make up for the fact that the rest of the book was so insubstantial, which is even more of a cheat than not doing it at all.

So, as I said, pretty “Meh” in my opinion. It’s a fast read, and has most of what you would expect in terms of prose style and snappy dialogue, but the end result is pretty minor.

7 thoughts on “Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold [Library of Babel]

  1. Your comment about “her Big Plot Twists generally feel telegraphed to me, and there were points in this where that was the case” is interesting though. I would agree that there have been several places in the first reading of several of the ‘Vorkosiverse’ books where I felt pretty darn sure ‘what was going to happen next’, but my recollection of those experiences were that they were a result of good clear universe-building, character development, and an understanding of the applicability of the phrase “what is the worst thing that could happen?”.

    Thus my reaction to your ‘telegraphed’ complaint is that you are complaining that you don’t experience as much surprise when walking with your eyes open as you do when you walks around with your eyes closed A lot of the appeal of the ‘Vorkosiverse’ books for me is that the details of the story matter to the overall story. That attention to how the details in the story affect the story makes it comparatively easy to anticipate what happens next – but watching a flower bloom is still worth doing no matter how thorough your knowledge of the end product is.

  2. I’m talking more about things like the way the job of “Imperial Auditor” turns up for the very first time only at the beginning of Memory. It’s so obviously the perfect job for Miles that I said immediately “By the end of this book, Miles will be made an Auditor permanently.” which robbed the book of a lot of its tension– Miles’s crisis at being run out of ImpSec lost a lot of its punch because he was very obviously going to land on his feet in a job that was designed for him. It changes the story from “How will Miles deal with the worst possible thing that could happen to him?” to “What chain of events will lead to this situation being turned to Miles’s advantage?” Which is a very different sort of thing, and the best example of why I don’t see these as having as much depth as many others do.

  3. And just to expand on that a little more (since SteelyKid is evidently going to give me a little more time before demanding to see old Sesame Street songs on this computer), I usually contrast the Vorkosigan series to Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books. In both cases, the early books have a light sort of tone in which it’s obvious throughout that the main character will win in the end– that he will leave the book advanced in his career in some way.

    The big difference between the series is the existence of Teckla and Phoenix, in which Vlad scores nominal victories, but ends up losing everything that really matters to him in the process. And he doesn’t end up in a better place– he spends the next few books as a hunted fugitive.

    That makes reading a new Vlad book very different, for me, than reading a new Miles book. there’s a level of suspense in Brust’s universe (unless it’s a flashback book) that just isn’t present in Bujold’s, because I know that Brust has thoroughly wrecked things for Vlad in the past, and might do so again. Bujold has yet to do that in any meaningful way– the very end of this book is too cheap and abbreviated to count, yet.

  4. Bujold’s books are competently written, but curiously bland -a common fault with many SF authors.
    I may be over-generalising, but the craftmanship of writing (dialogue, believable characters) usually suffers while the authors focus most attention on action, or technological marvels. Brian Aldiss would say this is a heritage of the pulp fiction bakground of American SF -unfortunately, genre fiction has trouble breaking free of tradition.

    Well-written SF has the potential to be Big Literature, adressing Big Questions. Most of the time I get disappointed.
    BTW: for good space opera, try Neal Asher or Iain Banks.


    Have been seeking out reviews; most liked this book a lot better than I did.

    I’m a Miles fan from way back, though I don’t like every book. (I adored Memory, so clearly I’m coming from a different place than you are.)

    This one–I was about 98% sure, from comments Lois has made over the years and from a passage in one of the novels, that the last three words of the main text would be exactly what they are. It felt right. The drabbles were wonderful. People who aren’t serious fans of the books won’t get much out of that part, but I thought it was great.

    The rest? Meh is a good word. It limped. A lot of the characters never came to life–Jin’s fellow squatters seem less of interest to him than his animals. I have no interest in cryonics; freezing for space hibernation at least has *some* reason for being, but this? Nah.

    Anywho, Jin was okay, liked a couple of other new characters, Roic has grown nicely, Kareen was unrecognizable and not in a good way… Meh.

    Thanks for giving me a place to grump!

  6. P.S. The end actually isn’t intended to be a cliffhanger, though if not for the drabbles I’d have thought it was. She’s said for years the next book had to have that in it; and so it did. I wandered through Baen’s Bar and Lois doesn’t appear to consider it a cliffhanger. She added the drabbles because her test readers weren’t seeing closure either.

  7. Just read Cryoburn, I know I’m a little late to chime in, but I had to add to the “Meh”.

    I’ve always been a fan of the Vorkosigan series, even though I’ve never plumbed the psychological depths of the books. I just liked them as entertainment.

    But there’s so little happening here in Cryoburn. I didn’t see any blazing action, either in the external world or in Mile’s head. Just kind of puttered along.

    Perhaps it’s better that this is the last one.

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