(Baen e-book 2010)
This is the latest in Bujold’s Vorkosigan series of sci-fi novels, coming some years after the events told in Diplomatic Immunity: Miles is married to Ekaterin, they have four children in addition to Ekaterin’s son Nikki, and Miles is still working as an Imperial Auditor for the Emperor of Barrayar, his cousin Gregor. The narrative of CryoBurn starts very abruptly, with Miles lost in seemingly endless catacombs of cryogenically frozen people on the planet of Kibou-daini. He’s escaping from somewhat inept kidnappers:
“Only five days on this benighted world, and already total strangers are trying to kill me. Sadly, it wasn’t even a record. He wished he knew who they’d been.”
Miles and his Armsman, Roic – also kidnapped, but held elsewhere – had been attending a conference on cryogenic techniques: Kibou-daini has an unusual government structure, in that the cryogenics corporations hold votes for the frozen people whom they store. Also attending is the eminent Escobaran surgeon and expert in cryogenic revival, Raven Durona, who has been kidnapped along with Roic, and with whom he escapes.
Upon Miles’ emergence from the cryocombs, he encounters a boy called Jin Sato, who helps him as he recovers from the aftereffects of the drugs he’s been given, and discovers an entirely illegal cooperative cryogenics facility run by the elderly Susan Suzuki. It also transpires that Jin’s mother, a former cryonics-activist, wasn’t frozen because she was mentally ill, as the boy thinks, but the circumstances surrounding her freezing are strange and possibly connected with Miles’s investigations.
Miles’s investigation is as well-written as ever, and the characters are entertaining and well-drawn. Although Kibou-daini evidently is based on Japanese culture (as Barrayar is of Russian origin), there’s very little of it remaining – family names tend to be Japanese, and the honorific suffix ‘san’ is used in referring to people of standing, and there’s even a remnant of the tea ceremony, but otherwise these are the few touches left. Perhaps this is realistic, in that cultures do tend to be homogenised over time and with increasing contact, but it did feel a little like packaging.
The one real quibble I had with the book was with the portrayal of female characters, which seems an odd complaint to make of one of Bujold’s books. However, in this book very few of the main characters were girls or women (Suze-san excepted), and when they did appear or were mentioned, were seldom shown by the narrative in a positive light (perhaps apart from Lisa, Jin’s mother). Ekaterin doesn’t appear at all, except in a message when she’s primarily being a mother. The lack of women in prominent roles would perhaps make sense on Barrayar where the time of Isolation has led the society to be very patriarchal: but there’s no such explanation of the sexism on Kibou-daini unless it’s a remnant of the Japanese origins of the planet’s colonisation. However, some of Miles’s own comments about women seem rather patronising, which also seems out-of-character.
The novel is told mostly from Miles’s point of view, though with other episodes from Jin’s and Roic’s – which is perhaps why it feels so androcentric – and, like most of Bujold’s later Vorkosigan novels, covers a timeline of only a few days. Perhaps if I’d read more of the earlier Vorkosigan books, including the one where Miles actually dies, is cryo-frozen and then revived, I might have found the Miles’s reactions to cryogenics and the cryo-corps in the current novel more resonant, though I don’t think it’s necessary to have read it to enjoy CryoBurn.
By the way, the ending is unexpected and sad – I don’t know whether Bujold will use it as reason not to continue the series, but I could see why she would.