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4.1 out of 5 stars
Cryoburn (Vorkosigan Saga)
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104 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I first read Ms. Bujold's Vorkosigan series when I was in high school in the 1990's. I have reread those books and was eagerly awaiting this next saga. I was not disappointed. This is a book about death, how we deal with it and growing old.

Once again we are again pulled along Miles' wake as he first tries to figure out what is so fishy about the cryonics deal Kommar has with New Hope II otherwise known as Kibou-daini. Kibou is a planet obsessed with death and with trying to beat it and old age. Miles, in the course of resolving his assignment from Gregor and helping 11 year old Jin (two birds one stone kind of thing) must think of his own views on death and aging. In the end these things are easily skimmed over the first time you read this novel. Easily skimmed that is, until the end when Bujold hit you with a train you didn't even see coming. Now those issues Miles and the reader skimmed over are even more profound and I felt a compulsive need to reread the book.

I know this sound like a cryptic review, but you can read a plot summary above before you purchase and any spoilers will truly spoil the book. I can tell you we see a different side Miles who can seem cold even unattached in this book due to the perspective of new characters, who truly have no clue who Miles is. Readers are reassured that the Miles we have come to know is still the same (older & wiser) when the story switches to his perspective. We also see how Miles has grown into his job as Imperial Auditor and Bujold's prose is as witty as ever. I can only give you my best recommendation for a story; it was engrossing, it made me laugh, think and cry. All the things a great story is supposed to do.
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109 of 117 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I've waited for this book for eight years, and just finished reading it, and... For readers of the entire series, it feels like the lightest book of the Vorkosigan universe. Funny, enjoyable, lots of chicanery and a heap of trouble with a squiggly-minded little man on top. But then you hit the end, and you realize that reading it lightly was a serious mistake. It was never light. Not once, though it may seem that way. Jin does not get his fairytale, though he is is given his life anew. And Miles isn't given his fairytale. Just his life, anew. I'm not sure whether to start reading this book over, or start reading the entire series over. It's one or the other, though, because one reading was not enough. I took it too lightly the first round.
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131 of 144 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 20, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is the umpteenth Vorkosigan Saga novel, long salivated after by all right and proper fans (whose ranks do include me, as fair warning), and like all books in the series it functions as a stand-alone and even would serve as a decent introduction to the series. It's not the best introduction, but anyone who comes to the series through this novel will have no trouble keeping up with the plot here and will also not be spoiled on any major events from earlier on, except for Mirror Dance (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures) -- but to be fair, just knowing that the series continues is a spoiler for Mirror Dance.

What makes the Vorkosigan Saga unique in my experience (and if there are any other series that share this quality, please, let me know!) is that it is a very long-running series where each book does stand-alone yet which carries the same set of characters throughout (with the occasional addition or subtraction) and in which the characters undergo fundamental change throughout, significant, life-altering experiences that can't be brushed off or reset in the next volume. The best volumes in the series are, in fact, those that deal with those life-altering experiences.

Cryoburn does not fall into that category. Instead, it falls into the slightly-less-satisfying but still exceptional category of Vorkosigan Saga novels that use the science fiction setting to explore the effect of technological innovation on human society. Unlike many science fiction writers, Bujold has little interest in the physics of her universe; she hand-waved some wormhole-aided space travel technology and then never gave it another thought. The technology Bujold is interested in exploring is the technology of life and death. Many of her novels explore what strange subcultures we might create given a workable uterine replicator (Falling Free (Miles Vorkosigan Adventures),Ethan of Athos, and Cetaganda (Vorkosigan Adventure) leap to mind, and the technology is important in nearly all of the others); this novel explores in depth what strange distortions the cryochamber (a technology that allows freezing and reliable reviving of humans near -- or recently -- dead) might work through society.

I don't think Bujold gets enough credit for how science fiction -y her novels are. Not hard SF -- we get no lovingly technical infodumps of any of these technologies -- but true soft SF of the sort Ursula LeGuin writes, extrapolating futures frightening for how very human they are. I believe, in every Bujold novel, in the way her societies have been distorted. But unlike much thoughtful soft SF, Bujold always bears in mind that she is writing an entertaining story first. I suspect this is why it's easy for people to brush her off. There is nothing didactic about her writing, and the social extrapolation is always either essential to the plot (in which case you can look at it as purely plot-related) or done in small little asides that, if you are racing to get to the end, are very easy to overlook. She also takes time to make the reader laugh, often -- something I wish far more science fiction authors would do.

So Cryoburn works in both those ways. Like many a Miles novel before it, it's a fast-paced adventure wherein Miles happens to people, and their lives (and worlds) are skewed in his wake. Like recent Miles novels, Cryoburn very much benefits from having two POV characters besides Miles; these POVs let us see more of the human cost of his manic forward momentum. One of the alternate POVs, a young boy named Jin, is very well-done and makes this the first Vorkosigan novel since The Warrior's Apprentice that is fundamentally YA-friendly. (The other POV is Armsman Roic, who though wonderful in the novella "Winterfair Gifts [With Earbuds] (Playaway Adult Fiction)" is used mainly for plot-advancement here.) And like all Vorkosigan Saga novels, everything comes together in a hectic (but never confusing) climax with Miles the victor.

But after that satisfying (though not world-shattering) climax comes the denouement, which was telegraphed from page one (and which Bujold has repeatedly told readers was next for the series) and which I had been dreading from the moment I heard this book was going to be published. And it feels. . . strange. It left me off-balance, and while I'm sure it was supposed to leave me off-balance I can't help but wonder if Bujold just chickened out. The Aftermaths section (a perfectly pitched call-back to the first Vorkosigan novel, Shards of Honor) was delicate, and so very right (it's a set of five drabbles), but. . . it will likely leave any new readers confused and cold, and to longtime fans it feels like the only "To be continued" of the series, because it screams for elaboration.

On the other hand, it does work, intellectually, as a cap for a series that has produced three Hugo-winning novels, one Nebula-winning novel, and a number of Hugo- and Nebula-winning short stories and novellas. So it is entirely possible that I am left unsatisfied simply because it's over. Again.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Lois Bujold's strengths are, as usual, on display with this book. Her strong characterization is on prominent display, with the two characters we know a bit older and more mature, but still the comfortable characters fans of the series have grown to love. The new characters, primarily Jin, are well fleshed out and believable, and we quickly come to care for him. The returning minor character(Raven Durona) gets a good fleshing out.

Ms. Bujold's fascination with medical/life technology and it's effect on society is once again on display, and once again she creates an interesting society based on those changes. How would easy, convenient cryogenics affect society? This is something that could happen before long, and it could have a large impact on society. While the scenario she paints in this book is far fetched, it does a good job of illustrating the kinds of things society will face at some point.

The story is fun, the action exciting, the humor laugh out loud. Pacing is perfect. So why does it fall short? Well, to be honest it really doesn't, except in comparison to her own earlier work in the series. The first thing to note is that except for Miles and Roic, the rest of the large cast of characters we love to read about simply are not there, or only there briefly. No Cordelia, no Aral, no Ivan, no Simon, no Alys, no Gregor, no Ekatrin, no Pym. Mark and Kareen show up, but briefly. This is very frustrating to longtime fans, as [art of the pleasure of the Vorkosigan books is seeing how all those characters grow and interrelate.

More importantly, while the story is fine, it's not up to the standards of most of Bujold's books. The plot feels disjointed at times, and it felt as if she had a great idea's on the themes to tackle, but just was going through the motions on the story itself. It's not a bad story, but I expected better as she has shown herself quite capable of writing much better stories. And I think that is the biggest problem with this book, that Ms. Bujold has spoiled us, and we almost expect too much.

I sincerely hope that she does revisit the Vorkosigan universe again, and in much less time that it took her to do this book. I just hope that we see some of the old characters(especially Ivan, who does deserve his own book), and she returns to the form she is capable of. I do recommend this book to her fans, and to those who have not yet discovered the joys of the Vorkosigan books. It's not bad, it just could be better.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Like most Lois McMaster Bujold fans, I've been waiting for years for a new Miles Vorkosigan book. While her Chalion books are sublime and the Sharing Knife series is interesting, let's be honest: Miles is who got most of us hooked on her, and it's Miles we want to see more of.

First a caveat: I don't want to ruin the reading experience for anyone who hasn't gotten the book yet, so let me be clear: there are mild spoilers ahead. If you don't want to know anything about the book, stop right now and move on to the bold text that says 'pick back up here'.

MILD SPOILERS!

As most readers of the Vorkosigan universe might have expected, the major themes of the book are the relationship between parent and child and how children deal with the death of a parent. And in typical Bujold fashion we look at the issues from all sides, even those we might not have anticipated.

The plot centers around an Auditorial investigation on Kibou, where the sick, the old and the dying are cryogenically frozen instead of buried. The catch is, since they're not really dead, they still have a vote in the planetary democracy, which they sign over to the cryogenics corporation as a proxy representative in the interim. As there are 1.5-2 million frozen "dead" on Kibou, the result is a large amount of voting power concentrated in relatively few hands. As you would expect, Miles runs afoul of these powers in the most dramatic of ways, and it takes him a couple hundred pages to resolve matters to his satisfaction.

However, that's just the plot. Like Diplomatic Immunity, which this book closely resembles, the plot is really only a secondary device for Bujold to explore her themes of choice. In this instance, the duality of the child becoming a parent while at the same time dealing with the passing of their own parents. For Bujold, the treatment of these themes is almost heavy-handed. There is a young boy, Jin, who serves as a proxy for Miles' own 4 children (who remain off-screen for all but one brief scene). There are numerous instances where the Miles/Jin relationship shows us Miles' own growing familiarity and comfort with parenthood as well as the subsequent maturing effects of said familiarity on Miles himself. He is calmer. He's more patient. He thinks twice about some risks. In short, he is living for someone other than himself, and it shows.

Unfortunately, this entirely logical and necessary character development is also the book's downfall. We don't want a sane, rational patient Miles. We get lots of sane, rational and patient in our own lives. We want to live vicariously through the little git, dammit! But of course, he can't be that way anymore. He has a wife, and kids and responsibilities. Miles isn't running fly-by-night mercenary operations anymore, he's heading subcommittees on reproductive law. Which is nice for him, but makes for a less dynamic book for us.

MAJOR SPOILERS! STOP IF YOU DON'T WANT THE ENDING GIVEN AWAY!

And then, predictably, comes the death of Miles' father. It is foreshadowed throughout the book (and, in a nice touch, the series), but it is still shocking and saddening for all of that. In the last 500 words of the book, Bujold gives us a raw, real look into the utter destruction of Miles' childhood that is poignant, honest and clearly infused with lingering emotions from the passing of her own father some years ago.

What's most devastating about Aral's passing, however, isn't the death of a beloved father-figure. Rather, it's the simultaneous passing of Miles' freedom of movement, action and thought. He's not Lord Vorkosigan anymore, he's Count Vorkosigan, which means he has to spend most of his time on Barrayar being a Count, a father and a husband. Maybe Bujold will treat us to a reprise of A Civil Campaign's Barrayar-centric politics, social mores and intrigues, but I doubt it. Unless she summons up the energy to plunge Barrayar and Miles into a major war or catastrophe, this will almost certainly be the last Vorkosigan book, and we can see that. And it hurts.

PICK BACK UP HERE

All in all, the book is a pleasant read. It's not the best of the series, but it's not the worst either. We don't see much of many beloved characters including Ivan, Cordelia, Gregor, or Ekaterine, but we do learn a bit about most of them through various passing remarks. If, as I suspect, this will be the last book in the series (at least chronologically), it is a suitable farewell if not an entirely satisfactory one.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I've been reading Lois McMaster Bujold practically since she began, when a trusted friend shoved a copy of The Warrior's Apprentice in my hands. I spent a good chunk of the 1990s eagerly awaiting the next installment, and in the months leading up to publication of A Civil Campaign, practically haunted the Baen website on an hourly basis hoping that just one more sample chapter had been posted when I wasn't looking. Any new tale in the Vorkosigan universe is a big deal to me, especially since its now been eight years since the last.

So what's the verdict?

I wouldn't say Cryoburn was "worth the wait" of the last eight years, but it is a fun read. Its rather light and strangely devoid of action, certainly the least intricately-plotted of the Vorkosigan novels to date. But it is also full of the kind of wonderful character moments and societal extrapolation that Bujold loves, and for her fans I suppose that more than makes up for it. It probably will not satisfy those who are not already fans of this series, and I don't think its the kind of book to hand to someone unfamiliar with the characters and universe, but for those of us who are fans of Bujold it will at least be a welcome new addition.

The story basically has Miles investigating what appears to be a slightly fishy business deal by a cryogenics corporation on the planet Kibou-daini, and then stumbling over a much larger conspiracy involving possibly defective cryogrenic procedures, kidnapping, murder, and even a slight side of political intrigue. Miles handles it all with his usual aplomb, and the joy of the story is in simply watching him not only unravel the mystery but the steps he takes in order to get there. Still, there is a theme to this book, namely the idea and concept of natural death as a necessary function of society -- a concept which is brought unexpectedly home at the books very end, in a poignant scene that will bring any long time reader of this series to pause and maybe even shed a tear.

I sincerely hope that Bujold plans on following up Cryoburn in the near future. This book has certainly wet the appetite of her fans who have been waiting for years, and while I don't think its a perfect new addition to the series, I do think it succeeds in reminding us how much we love these characters and are always wishing for more. Miles new status-quo at novel's end begs to be explored, and it would be a shame if we had to wait another eight years before Bujold decides to follow up on it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Speaking as someone who loves, loves, loves (and re-reads) all the Miles books --(I was sooo excited to recieve this book) I am sorry to say how dissapointed I was. I just finished it *sigh* - I found more drama in the last few pages than the rest of the book.
My attention kept drifting...I wasn't dazzled by the kids, or Roic, or the plot (which for me just limped along) I was just a bit bored by it all..
But, even after saying that - I was so happy to return to "Miles' world" and I'd love it if Bujold wrote another one..I'd buy it again - even if it was called "Miles goes to Walmart" or "Miles picks belly-button lint" or...
So for anyone new to this series, start at the beggining - you'll fall in love with them
and eventually you'll buy Cryoburn, too
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a shiny new book, and that in itself makes me happy. PLUS: Yes, it is true. The hardcover edition comes with a CD that contains ALL Vorkosigan books up to and including this one, except for my favorite: Memory. On the CD are versions to read in html, epub, mobi, etc... Also speeches, interviews, cover art... this is amazing.

Premise: Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan and Armsman Roic are on Kibou-daini to investigate a sketchy business venture that one of the cryofreezing corporations based there has planned for Komarr. Complications ensue, as usual.

I liked this book, and was slightly sad that I did not love it. I do want to emphasize that I did enjoy it very much, and had it not been for sky-high hopes, I would probably have loved it without reservation. This is the double edge of having authors that you trust to be great: you can be disappointed if they're not amazing.

Many of the Vorkosigan books are About something, with a capital "A", but not in that annoying way that I remember from grade school. Memory is about life changes, and unexpected paths. A Civil Campaign is about love and romance, Barrayar is about motherhood. Cryoburn is about life and death; children and old age.

The planet Kibou-daini is obsessed with cryofreezing, and they put almost all of their populace in cold storage before they die in the hopes of future cures or longevity treatments. This, combined with some unorthodox voting policies, creates some interesting political problems and a nasty series of monopolies running most everything. It's a really neat setting.

Where this book shines brightest is in the character interactions. It's been 7 years in-world since the last book, and Miles is almost 40. You can feel him, not slowing down, but changing, settling a bit, with age. His interactions with other recurring characters speak to their shared history, almost to the extent of repeating old jokes. It doesn't always make for scintillating dialogue, but it feels real; people gently reference their past adventures with each other, and give into a bit of nostalgia now and then.

This runs the risk of feeling like old hat to those of us fans who are familiar with the entire series, but mostly I think Bujold rides the line well. The only place I think she goes too far is in the tangent about Taura, and I know she had to leave that scene for those same fans.

The other two main characters are (20-something) Armsman Roic, last explored in Winterfair Gifts, and a young orphan named Jin who befriends Miles, giving a spectrum of ages in the viewpoints. Miles' children (4 total, plus step-son Nikki!) are almost entirely off-screen, so to speak, but a presence nonetheless.

I absolutely loved the beginning chapters, but felt that the plot wandered a bit through the middle. I look forward to reading it again, now that I'm not racing ahead to find out what happens, just to enjoy the writing. It probably won't be one I re-read and re-read, though. In the scale of this series, I'd put it in the lower middle: above Ethan of Athos, Falling Free, The Vor Game and Brothers in Arms, right below the level of Cetaganda and Mirror Dance, maybe?
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Well it's not Mirror Dance.

Cryoburn feels like it was written with the head, not the heart. All that careful idea selecting and deselecting gets you...a plot that was generally interesting, coherent, and connected back to earlier novels, but without real tension. As to the kids and critters...Remember the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi? Like, why are we suddenly all cute and fuzzy here? It's not as though you're worried about scaring your audience, after Empire. I had the Ewok-reaction of "I just don't get this" towards the new (diminutive) supporting cast in Cryoburn. We see a lot of the story from a child's uncomplicated point of view, which is amusing and relaxing but dilutes the force of the plot. After a couple of chapters I predicted that no one important would die or even get hurt and I was (almost) right.

This was also a tell-not-show novel with almost no internal dialog beyond the typical Miles-mania. I never got a good visual image of the new planet. Roic was reduced to basic-overworked-flunky status with standard grumblings, whereas he shone in the much shorter novella about The Wedding (forget the title).

Finally, I have always admired Ms. Bujold's remarkable ability to turn an evocative and memorable phrase. One- or two-liners that resonate as Just Great Writing. Not only were these absent in Cryoburn but there were a number (grant you not many) of sentences here and there that were simply clunky.

The best writing in the book was in the Epilogue - limiting yourself to precisely 100 words will really sharpen you up (I have had similar experiences limited to 500 words for scientific publishing). Here the story regained the crystalline prose and emotional density of Ms. Bujold's best work.

I hope that Cryoburn is intended as a mid-weight transition novel and that the author has more and better work in progress. Ms. Bujold has maintained an almost unprecedented originality and quality in her writing as evidenced by the continuing rain of Hugo and Nebula awards over decades. I suppose every author poops out at some point. I just hope she can produce the grand whopper Vorkosigan finale before then. And please oh please no "little Vorkosigan kidnapping" standard plot schtick...if I may be so bold as to make this request.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As a Bujold novel, however, this was a disappointment to me. Like most other fans of her writing, I was impatiently waiting for Cryoburn to show up in my mail box. I admit that I read it "in one sitting" (well, two, actually), but I didn't get another Vorkosigan treat that I was hoping for.
The plot did not grip me as it usually does in Ms. Bujold's books. The characters were not as well written as they usually are. Like other reviewers have said, the usual brilliant, witty Bujold language, a huge part of her appeal, is mostly absent in Cryoburn.
An enjoyable Roic of previous books is now well on its way to degenerating into a Vorkosiverse Jar Jar Binks: A clumsy comic relief with almost no redeeming value. Moreover, the new way he talks to Miles is so un-Barrayar, so artificial, so un-Roic even, that it snapped me right out of the narrative, which doesn't help.

However, I realized after having read the book, that the major problem with Cryoburn and, prior to it, DI, has nothing to do with lazy writing, being hurried or even being tired of the whole Vorkosigan series, all of which I suspect are true to some extent. That problem cannot be solved even if Ms. Bujold suddenly decides to give Miles her full attention and turns her sparkling writing back on. The problem, unfortunately, is with Miles himself.
Simply stated, he has nothing left to prove. And always having to prove himself to Aral, Cordelia, Gregor, Ivan... everyone, friends and enemies alike, had been the driving force behind Miles from before his birth. It was what made Miles into Miles. He had to drive himself and everyone around him crazy and overcome hurdle after hurdle to prove himself. Not having this subtext makes Cryoburn a reasonable sci-fi yarn, but that alone does not make it a Miles Vorkosigan book, philosophical musings about the meaning of death notwithstanding.

I don't know if Ms. Bujold is too tired to write another Miles book. I hope she isn't. I keep re-reading the old ones every once in a while, and I would love to read another quality addition to the series. I also hope she would place it earlier in his time line, when Miles still had something to prove and work for.

P.S. The fourth star is for the CD. That alone makes this book worth buying. Way to go Baen!
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