Normally I try to write up the individual stories separately, but 1. because I was out and about with the book, I started reading Ethan of Athos immediately after finishing Cetaganda and 2. those stories are so thematically related that I decided it made more sense to talk about them all together. I kind of wish that Falling Free had been included in this volume as well, because it ties in so well with the theme of the others: what are the social implications of genetic engineering combined with a technology that allows a fetus to gestate outside a human body? This idea provides an opportunity for some awesome worldbuilding, one of Bujold's strengths, so I really enjoyed seeing all her riffs on this.
Cetaganda: This was my favorite of the bunch. All the layers of Cetagandan society, the twists of the plotting, the conflicts of the haut-women versus the haut-men versus the ghem lords. It makes for an interesting society, with its parallel tracks, and the conflict between control of the genome versus the necessary of genetic variety for the society to thrive. At one point, Miles speculates that the haupt are evolving themselves into an entirely new species, and it really does seem that way. It was also fun to see Miles working with Rian and Ivan, and his attempts to convince/not convince Vorreedi that he is/is not an agent of Simon Illyan were entertaining. Miles lives a triple life -- Vor lordling with a cushy military job, undercover agent, admiral of a mercenary fleet -- and it gives him all kinds of interesting conflicting loyalties, as we especially see in Labyrinth. How does he remember which face he is wearing? How does he decide which to present?
The best thing, though, was the relationship between Miles and Ivan. I find their dynamic hugely entertaining: the way they snipe at each other with genuine affection and exasperation is both touching and hilarious. I cherished every tidbit Ivan dropped about all the trouble Miles got them into while they were growing up. Please tell me that, somewhere out there, I can find the epic adventures of Miles, Ivan, Elena, and Gregor.
Ethan of Athos: As I mentioned above, I found this book riveting. The society of Athos seems exactly like what you would have if an all-male colony were founded by fundamentalist Christians, and I cringed at Ethan's conditioning toward women even as I understood where it all came from. I confess that I kept hoping for Ethan to have an epiphany that would help him break the patriarchy of Athos, but it wouldn't have been realistic, either for the character or his society, although I have hope that his influence can bring gradual change in the future. I wonder a lot of things about that ending: will Ethan and Terrance become partners, how will Terrance adjust to a society of men, will he be disappointed that there will never be another Janine, how will throwing telepathy into that mix change the future of the world? I have to admit, the ending made me think a lot of The Knife of Never Letting Go.
Another thing that picked at me a little bit was the depths of homophobia on Klein Station. It always gives me a little pang when we see a far future society that hasn't evolved past that.
On the other hand, I liked the character of Ethan a lot. And it's hard to describe just how excited I was to see Elli Quinn again. She is really excellent.
"Labyrinth": I don't have as much to say about this one. Probably the best part was Miles confronting the doctor towards the end, when the doctor goes on his thoughtless rant about how it's better to be dead than a mutant. Also Miles and Bel, who also make a great team. It seems to be one of Miles's talents: attracting great teammates.
Taking a break now to read books 2 and 3 in the Soulless series, which I borrowed from S some time ago and would like to clear off the decks. But I picked up Miles Errant and Miles in Love at my local Borders clearance sale (sigh), so my omnibus collection is now complete!
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