Miles, Mutants & Microbes, by Lois McMaster Bujold
All of the works in this collection have been reviewed separately , yet there is something to be said for seeing these two novels and a short story that was itself part of a connected series of novellas that have been combined together for genre readers. Specifically these stories all deal with the problems of genetic engineering and its fallout, and specifically deal with the fate of the quaddies, those beings genetically engineered for freefall before the invention of artificial gravity. Given this overall context, it would be worthwhile to discuss the shared context of these stories as well as some specific genre concerns about these novels being put together as part of a single volume. In some ways this particular collection is a bit ironic, since Miles does not appear at all in the first volume, although it sets part of the context for the Vorkosiverse by looking back a couple hundred years at a love story between a principled engineer and a very flirtatious young woman with four arms.
Looking at the two novels (and novella) together, we see a clear unity, even if Miles is only personally involved in the last two works. The hero of the first work is an engineer, Leo Graf, who is far less charismatic than Miles but a man of principle and honor, who helps the quaddies survive an extermination order after artificial gravity made them obsolete. Escaping for their freedom, the quaddies found a remote area of space to establish their own nation in deep space, far from the wormholes that attract so much conflict in the Vorkosigan saga. That said, they are unable to escape difficulties altogether. “Labyrinth” is the novella that serves to introduce Miles to the quaddies, when a mission to Jackson’s Whole, an anarchic libertarian paradise/hell goes awry and Miles has some humanitarian concerns with a mutant soldier and a quaddie who both are looking for freedom. This particular story serves to introduce us to a teenage soldier who later plays an important parts in Mirror Dance and “Winterfair Gifts” (review forthcoming) as well. It is in Diplomatic Immunity, the second novel, set after the honeymoon of Miles and his beloved wife Ekaterina (their love story appears in the collection Miles In Love (review forthcoming), which is set immediately before Diplomatic Immunity), and it involves a disastrous plot involving rogue elements from Cetaganda that Miles ends up stopping at extreme risk to himself. The action of this novel, of course, takes place mostly on Graf Station, which is the node between the Quaddie state and the outside world, and here we see that Miles’ humanitarian behavior towards the Quaddies bears fruit when he interacts with their government.
All of these works share the broad genre of science fiction, and within them there are strong elements of both adventure as well as political drama. For readers who are already familiar with the three works separately, the main addition would be a preface where Ms. Bujold defends the division of the series as is, along with the duplication of “Labyrinth” in two different collections (about which I will comment when I review the collection Miles, Mystery, And Mayhem (review forthcoming)). The inclusion of “Labyrinth” really makes the collection a coherent whole, since it gives the motivation for Miles to be involved with the Quaddies in the first place. A collection like this may be compared to the classical music genre of the concerto grossi, where different elements are combined together to create a larger whole, in which the disparate elements take on a different context as a result of being connected in close proximity. Given that Diplomatic Immunity was already closely connected with the main body of the Vorkosigan saga, this repackaging mainly serves to bring Falling Free into a much closer relationship with the rest of the series, which makes the Nebula Award-winning novel a more essential part of the saga, despite the absence of Miles from its pages. All in all, this is an inexpensive collection of books that has a coherent identity as its own that makes it a handy volume for fans of Lois McMaster who want to update their collection.
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