I picked up Lois McMaster Bujold’s Diplomatic Immunity at the post office on Monday morning. I’d blocked out the middle of the day to read it straight through, which I did, and then plunged right back into frantic busyness.
The silver lining of being so busy is that it gives me time to digest new books.
It’s a good thing no-one ran with my joke about how this should be called Auditor’s Honeymoon, because that would give entirely the wrong impression. Busman’s Honeymoon was very much about learning to be married, but in Diplomatic Immunity, Miles and Ekaterin have been married for over a year and a half; they’ve already done a lot of that learning in the quiet, plot-less time of Miles coming up with Barrayan bio-law on committees and Ekaterin studying and whatnot. (The story of their wedding is in “Winterfair Gifts,” a forthcoming novella [details at Bujold’s official web site]; we get a few comments about it here, which started me twitching already—sending Aunt Alys off to get Taura dressed civilian-style!)
This is not Busman’s Honeymoon in another sense; as Ekaterin points out quite sensibly, “A Countess is by law and tradition something of an assistant Count. An Auditor’s wife, however, is not an assistant Auditor.” Ekaterin gets a few good moments, but the plot is mostly Miles doing his Auditorial job. This makes a lot of sense—indeed, given Miles’ tendency to suck everyone in his vicinity into his schemes, it is probably entirely healthy!—but it was a bit of a disappointment at first. (I like the interaction that we do see, such as later on that very page where Miles gets “a good-bye kiss, as he headed off to the shower, [that] eased his heart in advance. He reflected that while he might feel lucky that she’d agreed to come with him to Quaddiespace, everyone on Graf Station from Vorpatril and Greenlaw on down was much luckier.” Heh—I know how that works.)
So Diplomatic Immunity isn’t really the book I was hoping for—but I like it a lot anyway for what it is. The difference between this and A Civil Campaign is that, in ACC, I wanted to see things that the book itself promised; here, I thought this might be an entirely different book, which is my fault, not its. (Really, I should have remembered that Bujold prefers to alternate fairly dark books with lighter ones.)
What Diplomatic Immunity is, is a nifty techno-thriller with tons of forward momentum, something in the style of Cetaganda with a dash of Barrayar‘s themes. Cetaganda often gets labelled as minor Miles because it was a prequel, published between the major turning points of Mirror Dance and Memory, but I’m quite fond of it for the fascinating look we get at Cetagandan culture. DI brings us to Graf Station, out in Quaddiespace, and gives us a look at how the Quaddies (free-fall dwellers, four arms, no legs) have developed, two hundred-odd years after their escape to freedom in Falling Free (which is minor Bujold). The Quaddie ballet is just one example of the bio-inventiveness in this book (the rest are spoilers, of course), but probably my favorite; it’s a beautiful scene.
Barrayarans, with their culturally ingrained fears of mutation, don’t all react quite as well to the Quaddies. Thanks to a sequence of misunderstandings, miscommunications, mysteries, and outright screwups, a Komarran trade fleet and its Barrayan military escort have been impounded on Graf Station; Miles is dispatched to clean it up, on the way back from his belated honeymoon. He has a lot of incentive to clean it up quickly, since his and Ekaterin’s first children are about to be born, that is, released from their uterine replicators. (Miles went very old-Vor with the boy’s name, Aral Alexander. The girl’s name is Helen Natalia; Helen for Aunt Helen Vorthys, presumably, but who’s Natalia? Do we know what Ekaterin’s mother’s name is?) But his hope for a quick resolution starts to look like a long shot, as things get murkier and murkier . . .
I’ve seen a few people complain about the pacing, which I don’t quite follow, as I think it’s quite precisely paced. We spend the first part learning about the situation and getting acquainted with people (and re-acquainted with some, including Bel Thorne, who it’s great to see again). The plot rachets up a notch just about a third of the way in:
His heart began to lump. What the hell was this doing here . . . ?
“Miles,” said Bel’s voice, seeming to come from a long way off, “if you’re going to pass out, put your head down.”
“Between my knees,” choked Miles, “and kiss my ass goodbye. Bel, do you know what that [clue] is?”
And then in the last third or so, things go into serious forward momentum mode; I felt like I needed to gasp for air by the climax. Perhaps it’s that I read it in one sitting, and only read the first chapter ahead of time; whatever it is, I thought the arc of the story worked just fine. It’s true that Miles is maybe a touch slow on the uptake, but he was distracted, so I’ll forgive him.
This being Bujold, character is not neglected among the plot; there are some emotional bits that I found fairly moving, and Armsman Roic turns out to have more depths than his (admittedly funny) memorable moment in A Civil Campaign would suggest. Also, I’m very interested to see how Aral Alexander, and especially Helen Natalia, grow up. Anyway, bottom line is that I quite enjoyed it and think it’s a fine addition to the Vorkosigan series.
Up next: a re-read of Cetaganda.