Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Books (Science Fiction): Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance [Spoilers]

I'm falling 'way behind -- I'm now on my fourth book since the last one I posted about. So I'm going to try again to catch up, this time by doing two at once.

Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance are two more in the Miles Vorkosigan series that I've been re-plowing through. They go together well for a double-post because they both center around a new character in the Miles universe: Miles's heretofore unknown "evil" clone, Mark.

Of course, evil twins/evil clones are a bit of a cliche (well, a lot of a cliche) in science fiction, but Bujold does some interesting things with Mark.

In Brothers in Arms, Miles is forced to take the Dendarii fleet to Earth for repairs after the Dagoola IV incident recounted in Borders of Infinity. While there he's assigned -- as lieutenant Vorkosigan of Barrayar -- to the Barrayaran Embassy on Earth, but he also finds himself having to deal with -- as Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries -- with problems with his fleet. As a result, for the first time, he ends up having to deal with someone who has met both of his personas. With his rather distinctive appearance, he has to come up with some sort of story to explain the two characters. He whips up a story that Naismith is a renegade clone created by the Cetagandans as part of a plot against Barrayar -- all unaware that the leftover Komarran resistance (Komarr being a world conquered by Barrayar many years before) had had a clone created on Jackson's Whole as part of a similar plot.

The clone, fortunately, is not just an evil puppet type plot device. He had been created in Jackson's Whole by the same House that creates clones for brain transplant -- only, while those clones are treated delicately and groomed to physical perfection, Miles's clone was put through horrible medical ordeals to duplicate Miles's deformities. Every time Miles broke a bone or had one replaced, the clone would have to go through surgery to do the same thing to him. Naturally, this has left him less than well adjusted!

The official plot using the clone was that he would take Miles's place on Barrayar. Miles is third in line for the Emperor's throne after his father, so a few assassinations would make the clone Emperor.

In actual fact, there's no chance for this to succeed. The Komarrans running the plot don't really care -- they just want to sow chaos on Barrayar so they can stage a revolt on Komarr. The clone has realized that he's expendable, though he has enough of Miles's "I'll show them what I can do" personality that he's convinced himself that he can really pull the plot off.

When Miles finally encounters the clone, he immediately considers him to be his younger brother -- as he would be under the laws of Miles's mother's homeworld of Beta Colony. And, under the the Vor aristocrat traditions of Barrayar, the clone, as a second son, would be named for the second names of his grandparents, making him Mark Pierre Vorkosigan.

The clone, of course, is rather paranoid at this point, and doesn't believe Miles's assurances that he could actually be accepted as a Vorkosigan in his own right. Miles does eventually manage to rescue himself and the clone (and sundry others) from the clutches of the Komarrans, but Mark is unwilling to trust him to the end, and heads off on his own path at the end of the book.

Mirror Dance picks things up a couple of years later, when Mark returns, posing as Admiral Naismith, and manages to make off with a ship and some commandos from the Dendarii Mercenaries to stage a rescue of the current batch of clones on Jackson's Whole.

Much of the book is told from Mark's point of view. Miles himself doesn't show up until a few chapters in, and soon he's off to Jackson's Whole to rescue Mark, who has discovered that book study doesn't make up for field experience.

In the course of rescuing Marc, though, Miles is killed by a grenade. Fortunately, it's long been established in this SF universe that quick freezing of a body can permit revival (though with a less-than-ideal success rate), and Miles is quickly stuffed in a cryo-chamber -- which is promptly lost in the confusion of battle.

The middle section of the book deals with Mark's being taken to Barrayar, to meet Miles's parents -- his parents, too, though he has trouble coming to terms with that concept -- and provides a good chance to see Cordellia and Aral Vorkosigan, as well as Barrayar, from a new perspective.

In the end, of course, Miles is recovered, though not without complications, naturally! Some of the complications set things up for the next book, Memory, in which an even bigger spanner than Mark is thrown into the works.

As I said before, the evil clone has been a cliche for ages, but Bujold turns him into an interesting (if even more neurotic than Miles) character in his own right. Fortunately, she doesn't insist on dragging Mark through everything from this point on, though -- he's around, but in the background, in the subsequent books, though the after-effects of his ill-conceived trip to Jackson's Whole reverberate through the rest of the series.

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