Memory, by Lois McMaster Bujold
This book, part of the Miles Vorkosigan series , deals with men (and women) at periods of transition. In a sort of detective story where a convalescing Miles first finds himself out of a job thanks to his medical unreliability and a momentous lapse of character, there are a lot of moving parts here, and a lot of reflection on memory and character. This is not necessarily a novel that is full of action–in fact, this is more a novel of reflection, which quite suits my own mood at the moment, but action is not missing either, even if the action is a lot more subdued than some of the other novels of this series.
The plot of this story is straightforward enough. Miles’ recovery from death is not as complete as he would hope, and his resulting seizures result in the serious injury of a rescued Barrayaran hostage. When Miles doctors the reports, he is (correctly) called on the carpet and finds himself cut adrift and feeling without purpose at the age of 30, without a job or a family (as his father and mother are off ruling a colonial planet). In the midst of dealing with his own medical problems, his erstwhile boss comes down with a disastrous condition where his memory chip appears to have malfunctioned, providing a situation where Miles’ hyperactivity and genius for solving problems serves his emperor and, eventually, his own career ambitions. While all of this is going on, several relationships develop that help to cement the bonds between Bayarrar and Komarr.
At the heart of this novel is a problem that I can relate to very well, or rather, a related set of problems that I can relate to well. For one, when we base our identity on being active and energetic as well as being highly intellectual, what do we do when our body and mind betray us? If our identity is based on our capability, then we are subject to massive problems when those fail. The same is true when our identity is based on jobs and positions and what we do in general. Romance and politics are, consistently, sources of stress and trouble in this world, but having knowledge and knowing good connections as well as a well-honed sense of integrity and intuition can help one avoid the pitfalls of life in a dangerous world.
In life, we either die young or grow old. We will find ourselves at a loss at times as to where we belong. We will carry with us the ghosts of relationships past as well as our longings for love and belonging and significance. We will make mistakes, and we will find that we will gain in some capabilities and decline in others. We may, if we are fortunate, allow ourselves to be open to love, and we may find that if we have wasted our opportunities that others will not waste theirs. If we have not cultivated our own courage and our own integrity and developed our own capabilities, we will not be ready when our moments arrive. This is a novel that helps us reflect upon the core issues of our lives and our attitudes and responses to them, and that is a worthwhile task for a work of fiction.
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