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A Civil Campaign

A Civil Campaign: A comedy of biology and manners
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Published by Baen Books, 1999
Amazon.com: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.ca: hardcover, paperback
Amazon.co.uk: hardcover, paperback
Highly recommended by: Greg Slade
[A Civil Campaign]

Book Rating
Rated 3 (Highly Recommended) by: 3 people
Rated 2 (Recommended) by: 6 people
Rated 1 (Suggested) by: 1 person
Rated 0 (Reviewed) by: nobody
Total Votes: 10 people
Average Rating: 2.20 (Recommended)
Score: 2.20 (Recommended)

A Civil Campaign is a direct follow up to Komarr. It continues the adventures of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, whom we first met in Young Miles.

I cannot pretend to be objective about Bujold's works. She is one of the few authors whose works I will buy – in hardcover – on sight. In fact, I think I frightened the clerk at White Dwarf Books in Vancouver. I got home from work one day to find a message on my machine telling me it was in, so I rushed right over. She saw me coming in the door, with that fanatical "gotta have it" look in my eyes, and said, "it's not even out of the box yet!"

Of course, I stayed up all night reading it, and although I cursed myself for my foolishness the next day, I can't really bring myself to regret it. Bujold has this gift for making her characters come alive, and you want to know what happens next. (Those fiends at Baen knew exactly where to break off the preview chapters on their web site. Miles is left with all his hopes and plans in utter ruins. Sort of like all of my romances, actually. Very true to life that way...)

I think I should also tell you that Bujold has also had something of a history of truly awful covers being foisted upon her books. Personally, I consider the cover of this edition a contender for the all-time title. (Trust me, it's much worse on the actual book than it looks in this little scan.) The point seems to have been to try to reach out to a wider readership, since romance readers who have been able to get past the "science fiction" label have also greatly enjoyed Bujold's work. The overall goal, as I understand it, was to have a blend of science fiction and romance elements, along with enough hints that things in this book will not turn out quite as you might expect. (All of which is true, insofar as it goes. Miles goes a-courting, and the complications of life in the 30th century keep intruding.) The metallic effect is also supposed to be a clue that the publisher considers this book to be Important. However, patchy execution (combined with the traditional artistic disregard for the actual contents of the book and description of the characters) make for a cover begging to be redone for the paperback release.

What happens? That would be telling. The subtitle should be enough of a warning. I will give you one little snippet, though. It shouldn't reveal anything of the plot, and doesn't really reveal anything new about the characters concerned, but is typical of the way Bujold reveals character, as it were, by accident:

Commodore Koudelka's eye fell on the returnees as the rolling altercation piled up in the hallway. "Ha – Aral!" he snarled. "Do you realize what your son has been up to?"
The Count blinked. "Which one?" he asked mildly.
The chance of the light caught Mark's face, as he heard this offhand affirmation of his identity. Even in the chaos of his hopes pinwheeling to destruction, Miles was glad to have seen the brief awed look that passed over those fat-distorted features. Oh, brother. Yeah. This is why men follow this man.

It's hard to tell, when reading a book which has so much past history to it, whether it can stand on its own. There are many references and allusions to events in the other books (and, maddeningly, to events Her Ladyship has not yet chosen to describe for us, and which she may never describe.) For instance, you would need to have read Cordelia's Honor to understand exactly why the sight of a certain elderly, shabby couch would inspire such dismay in two characters. Oh, you catch on to the gist, all right, but there are levels within levels of the twists and turns in the plotting, and those twists stretch through the whole series. It's only when you turn and look back that you notice that this or that surprising event was actually foreshadowed three or four books back. (September, 1999)

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Other Comments:

Miles Vorkosigan gets married. But of course Bujold has to make him suffer a little before he makes it to the wedding circle. All your favorite chracters return, and we get some fascinating new ones as well. My favorite parts: the banquet scene – a classic in its own right – and the moment when Ivan Vorpatril, Miles' perennial donkey and straight man, gets a chance to show himself a hero. Sort of.

I saved a quote from this novel: "When you give each other everything, it becomes an even trade. Each wins all." – Cordelia Vorkosigan. – Trevor Persaud (November, 2004)

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