on November 15, 2002
I put off writing this review for two years because Mirror Dance is just that caliber of excellence that I was afraid to even try to do it justice. I wish I could get away with simply gushing and raving. This masterpiece, however, deserves much more than a "This book rocks! Run, don't walk!" and the other usual cliche's.
Once again, instead of a play-by-play plot synopsis I will direct the reader's attention to the true merits of Mirror Dance (not that the plot is lacking in any way, trust me!). First, this is a poignant look into the minds and souls of two men who happen to be genetically identitical, but whose lives have taken jarringly disparate paths. Many have wondered before if Bujold has a degree in Psychology or some other such head-shrinking, she does such a superb and realistic job of getting inside characters' heads. But far from a tour of Psych and Neuroses 101, Mirror Dance participates; we are speared with their hopes and heartaches, dragged into their whirlwind view of the action around them. The moment of truth came for me when I realized that I could actually empathize with a man who was raised by terrorists to become a sociopath, and his painful struggle to rise above his upbringing to be psychologically reborn as a human.
Next, Bujold accomplishes here a rare coup: this is a carefully thought out universe, with laws, advanced technologies, cultures, wars, and moral dilemmas aplenty -- but without overwhelming attention to the logistics and alienness of this future. We can exist with the characters here on their comfortable level of existence and marvel and puzzle just as reaslistically as they without distraction from things that would not appear out of ordinary to them; after all, do we spend time describing mundane things in our minds such as the microwave (which for instance would have seemed fantastic in a novel written 100 years ago, about us here and now)? As Bujold put it in a commentary somewhere else, the technology is always present, just not intrusive.
But best of all, this is space opera at it's pinnacle. Good v. Evil, action, moral dilemmas, all that and Bujold's signature intelligence and wit. Here come the cliche's I just couldn't avoid: roller coaster ride of emotions, makes you laugh and cry, new paradigm for excellence, something for everyone, etc.
What can I say, my words really are inadequate!
. . . and I've read 'em all. :)
"Mirror Dance" is a great book. It's intensely psychological, a fast moving space opera drama that gets everything right -- everything.
The story is as follows. Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, galactic mercenery and reluctant Vor lord, had tried in "Brothers in Arms" to give his clone brother Mark a start in life. But Mark couldn't get free of Miles, no matter how he tried; this was because of psychological damage and because of intense psychosocial programming by renegade terrorists (who had ordered Mark cloned to make him substitute for Miles). Before Miles showed up, Mark had no identity -- his whole purpose was to take over Miles' life. But Miles changed that. Somewhat.
The start of "Mirror Dance" has Mark back; he has found out about some clones about to be killed in clone brain transplants. He's extremely sensitive to this, and wants to stop it. However, because of his damage, he doesn't believe that anyone will help him -- not Miles, not his family (who he doesn't realize would care), not anyone.
So, he steals one of Miles' mercenary ships, and goes hunting. He frees most of the clones, but ends up killing Miles (who goes down to rescue Mark -- again).
The first time I read this (all in the first hundred pages, so this isn't a spoiler), I threw the book across the room. I didn't care for Mark, and I wanted Miles to live.
However, in the next three hundred pages, I came to care desperately for Mark. He meets Cordelia, his mother -- a formidable ex-ship's captain. And he meets Aral, his father -- a formidable Prime Minister, ex-ship's captain, and Admiral of Barrayar.
His father has a health crisis, while everyone tries to find Miles. Death is not irrevocable in the far future; Miles might be able to be brought back. And Mark feels extremely responsible for Miles' death; if Miles hadn't gone after him, he'd be alive (even if Mark himself would be dead).
I don't want to go into the rest, but trust me, you'll want to read it. Because Mark's journey of identity is compelling, believable, honest, heart-wrenching, and sad. Tremendously sad.
After all is said and done, Mark not only became likable -- he became my favorite Bujold character. That's because he's so complex, and he wants to do the right thing -- even though he doesn't always know what it is, nor how to achieve it.
There's a bit of Mark in all of us.
In addition, Mark's struggles with his weight and with depression hit close to home as well. Despite crushing despair and a nearly overwhelming amount of self-hatred, Mark perseveres.
And eventually, Mark wins. He even gets the girl.
This is my favorite Bujold book for many reasons; the language is crisp, the characterizations are right on the money, the science is believable, the logic and the plot make sense, and the psychology of it all is understandable.
This book should give hope to anyone who's gifted but in a bad situation; in my opinion, it also should be required reading for people struggling with depression, multiple personalities, and schizophrenia, because Bujold did her homework and got the issues _right_.
This is one of my all time favorite books, and I believe it is destined to go down as a classic of the s/f genre.
Five stars plus, highly recommended.
I knew this was a great book when I got to the end and found myself turning back to the front of the book to reread it immediately.
It's hard to talk about specific things I liked without giving the plot away, but the general, I loved the quality of the writing. It was fluent, graceful and filled with moments of aching beauty. The characters are all well-drawn and completely believable. (For example, in a community of clones, the author manages to make individual stand out without letting the reader forget that this is a community of clones -- and without being obtrusive about either point.)
And then there is the plot. In many ways, this is the critical book in Miles' story, as it sets him up for the struggles and epiphanies of _Memory_. Here, Mark moves from being a foil for Miles, and becomes a character in his own right. In writing from Mark's point of view through much of the book, Bujold humanizes him. As his horrific experiences alter his way of being in the world, he becomes steadily more sympathetic. While all this is going on, the action never lets up: battles and mysteries and escapes; amnesia and botched missions and mothers reuniting with sons they didn't know they had. The action is exceedingly well-paced, and is never heavy-handed. Bujold foreshadows beautifully, and all the surprises work on two levels: they surprise and yet once they occur, you know that it could not have been any other way.
I can't say whether the book would have had as great an effect on me had I not read the previous books in the Vorkosigan saga. Reading when I did, I was fascinated by Mark, by Miles, by the actual, painful changes that they each went through.
In sum: beautiful writing, deep characterizatons, astonishing mental interiors, and an action-filled plot. This is not mind candy: this is literature.
on April 28, 2003
Never having been a fan of Sci-Fi novels, I was persuaded to read the first novels in the Vorkosigan Series, by someone who claimed they are not hard-core Sci-Fi, but Space Opera novels.
Bujold writes about her characters first and foremost and plotline a close second. Mirror Dance had me reading non-stop from the very beginning. Usually, I am not one for sitting down to read all day, but I just had to with this novel, for the character development and plot arcs were just amazing and so unbelievably intriguing.
This was the first book I've read, which caught me re-reading the end of a chapter, over and over and over again, for fear of going on to the next page. Why was I afraid? I didn't want those soul-shattering, heart-breaking words to be true...the plot turns in this novel are so crucial to the series and so amazingly unexpected, I am left feeling dazed and have nowhere else to go, but to read on.
Fantastic work on Bujold's part here. No other author compares, especially given the intricate plot and all the wonderfully crafted characters' development throughout this novel and the whole series. If you want to read a story filled with action, space combat missions, honor, human error, the fiercest type of love there is, AND be taken on a self-discovery journey with the characters, it doesn't get any better than this.
on May 4, 2000
This is one of my favorite books of the Mile Vorkosigan series -- although it's just as much a Mark Vorkosigan book.
Lois McMaster Bujold has a reputation for writing "fun and fluffy" SF adventure. This book proves that she can go beyond that. She has always gone beyond "fun and fluffy," but not everybody was taking notice.
The gloves are off with this book. There are plenty of dark moments. Characters we care about our hurt, both physically and mentally. Miles and Mark are both put through the wringer -- but they come out better men because of it.
If your idea of an SF novel is something with an exciting plot and identifiable characters... come on in! On the other hand, if you're into wacky novels about Elvis clones worshipping computers in the near future, you already know this isn't your cup of tea.
So when does Ivan get his book?...
Anne M. Marble Reviewer, All About Romance
on June 24, 2002
"Mirror Dance" is a novel that works well on its on merits, can be seen as the second half of a story first started in "Brothers in Arms", or as the first half of yet another story, to be concluded in "Memory".
But however you slice it, "Mirror Dance" is a terrific read. "Brothers in Arms" first introduced us to Miles Vorkosigan's clone brother, Mark. But it is "Mirror Dance" which finally has Mark come into his own as a character and as a member of the Vorkosigan universe.
For the uninitiated, Lois McMaster Bujold has created the Vorkosigan Saga, one of the best written science fiction series yet created. It is more space opera than hardcore science fiction, but Ms. Bujold has a keen awareness of any number of ethical questions which will no doubt face humanity in the coming centuries. Besides, she's one hell of a writer, a true master of wordcraftsmanship.
The Vorkosigan Saga follows the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, starting with the early stories of how Miles' mother and father met. Miles is only 4'9" tall, and was born with brittle bones, the reult of a poison gas attack on his parents while his mother was pregnant with him. Miles is the heir to one of the 60 Counts on his home planet of Barrayar, a planet which places great pride on military (and therefore physical) skill. Circumstances resulted in a 17 year-old Miles creating a mercenary unit, the Dendarii Mercenaries, of which Miles assumed command, in the persona of Admiral Naismith.
In the world of Barrayar, Miles is Lieutenant Vorkosigan, heir to Count Vorkosigan, future ruler of one of 60 Districts on Barrayar, foster brother to the Emperor himself; but also a mere galactic courier for Imperial Security (ImpSec). Out in the galaxy, Miles has the persona of Admiral Naismith, commander of over 5,000 people and a fleet of warships.
Mark, introduced in "Brothers in Arms" is a clone, who doesn't quite know who he is, save for a burning hatred of the clone breeders on Jackson's Whole, a planet where everything has its price. Mark had been created by terrorists to replace Miles and assassinate Miles' father, the Prime Minister of Barrayar. Now Mark is stuck with trying to find his way in a universe where his purpose for existence no longer exists. Clones are breed to be replacements for the aging wealthy; when the clone is "ripe", just undergo the risks of a brain transfer, and a rich and powerful person starts over in a young, perfect body. Too bad if you're the clone though, as your brain gets tossed out with the trash.
Mark undertakes a daring scheme to rescue some of these victims, and disaster strikes. Recovering from a sudden loss, Mark is faced with finding out who he truly is, and finding his own way in life, not merely as a duplicate of Miles.
This book is highly reccomended. Ms. Bujold is a terrific writer and she is at the top of her game in this novel.
on January 29, 2002
...This book takes the previous books' quality, and blows them all away. It's a bit longer then the other ones, and uses that space for some deep psychological studies of two characters who are a lot alike, but different in so many ways. Other reviews have summarized the book, so I won't bother here.
First, I loved the double meaning of the title. Not only does it have the obvious meaning (both Miles and his identical clone are featured), but it also has some meaning to each character individually. Both of them have their past held up to them, and they have to figure out how to change with the times. There is enormous character growth for both of them in this book.
For the first time in the series, you get another character's point of view besides Miles. Mark makes for a very interesting character, and the book is more about him then it is about Miles (though Miles still plays a very prominent part and makes the most out of his time). The last we saw of Mark, he had gone off on his own, freed by Miles, but forever resenting Miles for what his keepers did to him to make him more like Miles.
Once Miles is removed from the picture after the aborted raid, the story takes Mark to Barrayar, where he meets his mother and father and learns how he will have to become immersed in Barrayaran politics if Miles is actually gone for good. He grows a lot on Barrayar, mainly from his mother's influence. Bujold really digs deep into Mark's character, making him do anything possible to avoid having to be Miles. He just wants to be accepted for himself.
Later in the book, Mark is put through the ringer, with scenes of torture that, while they aren't necessarily described in graphic detail, really can leave the reader feeling uncomfortable. It's not gratuitous, as the torture is very important for Mark's character arc, but it is unpleasant. This is one of the things that marks this book as more mature than just a general military space novel might be.
The other thing that marks this maturity is the depth of the character study. Mark's character arc is very thorough, but even Miles goes through hell at times. In his trials, he learns a lot about himself and about Mark. He goes over his feelings for Mark, showing his depth of feeling for him. He never blames Mark for what he has done, knowing it's his conditioning that caused most of it. He analyzes his life as it's happened so far, his loves and his personality.
This book is a lot slower going then the previous novels have been. However, that's not because it becomes a book to slog through, but because it is so deep that you have to take the time to absorb what is happening. It's the best book in the series so far by a long shot, and well worth the time it takes to read it.
on January 22, 2000
This is not hyperbole --- I'm a pretty jaded reader when it comes to SF, but this is in a class by itself. I *had* read the other installments in the series so I knew the background, yet the book stands on its own. Exquisite attention to plot detail, elegant prose, very "alive" characters. If you want to start with the series next, I'd suggest to buy "Cordelia's honor" (which is the two first novels, "Shards of honor" and "Barrayar" in one volume) next. After that you'll probably buy the entire series.
on September 9, 2012
If you have reached this book in the series, I have no need to say more because it means you are already hooked. If you are just thinking about it, start with the first book "Shards of Honor." I was never much of a sci-fi fan until I started reading Bujold by accident. I was hooked after the first Vorkosigan book. This series is action-packed with a nicely convoluted plot, often splashed with a wry humor and a comedic flair. However, occasionally it can be so tragic you are moved to tears. And it just HAPPENED to be staged as a space opera! Can one ask for more? I was ecstatic when I found out there were so many books in this series. For all of you out there who enjoy series, you know what I mean. Anticipate untold hours of quiet joy to come. This book is one of my favorite in the series, although not THE FAVORITE (that's "Memory").
on June 14, 1997
Mirror Dance is a touching, gripping, and hair-raising book on several levels. A major character is killed and then goes missing and the hunt is up. But the strengths of this book are in the relationships among the characters and how both the relationships and the characters themselves change. I was in such a sweat to know whther he lives or dies that I actually read the end about halfway through. Bujold makes you care for her characters as if they were your friends.
I bought 2 of Bujold's books because they were Hugo winners. I have since read and reread everything she has written. If you have not read any of her work, I envy you, as you get to experience Miles' universe for the first time.