If the real nature of a person only comes out under stress, is it not the duty of an author to put her characters in those stressful situations? Does it not increase the tension and impact of the book?
Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the authors, like Dorothy Dunnett, who believes in character torture -- for their own good, of course. Her characters never get to take the easy way out; their innermost fears and weaknesses are her grist for stories. And yet one never feels that Bujold is being cruel; what happens to her characters is necessary in terms of her plots and the growth of the characters.
In Memory, the sacrifice is Miles Vorkosigan, the main character of most of Bujold's science fiction adventures. Miles, who by sheer force of will pushed himself from physical disability to military command, is suddenly faced with a mutiny from the source he least expects: his brain. For the previous 30 years, he had always been able to rely on thinking himself out of situations; now it may not be possible.
In a previous novel, Mirror Dance, Miles was killed but later cryo-revived and brought back to health. But not quite full health: he is still suffering from seizures at unpredictable intervals. And one those seizures occurs as he is commanding a rescue mission of a Barrayar courier.
As Miles' troops look on with horror, the plasma arc on Miles' space armour locks on and cuts off the legs of the courier. Miles blacks out, and has to be rescued along with the courier (and his legs).
When he returns to Barrayar, Miles must explain how the incident happened. But, if he admits his illness, he'll be grounded, and not allowed to command troops in combat any more. And the thrill of combat and danger is what he lives for; he would be nothing with his alter-ego as Admiral Naismith.
Miles is tempted beyond his control. He can't stand to admit the truth, and fakes his report to Simon Illyan, the head of Barrayaran Imperial Security. But Simon quickly finds out the truth, and, in one of the most wrenching scenes in the book, cashiers Miles from ImpSec and orders him to stay on-planet.
What can Miles do now? Is he left with only his memories? Luckily -- for Miles, not Simon -- Simon Illyan needs Miles' help shortly afterwards. The eidetic memory chip implanted in Simon's brain, which he has used for decades to store all the secrets of Imperial Security, suddenly begins to malfunction and spray memories across his consciousness. He can't distinguish between the present and the past, and is effectively immobilized.
Miles must discover which forces -- on- or off-planet -- are responsible for Simon's illness. That he does in an old-fashioned Sherlock Holmes-style detection, whose solution was reasonably well hidden.
Memory was a very satisfying book, particularly in how it advances Miles' career. But I especially liked the side scenes in this book, such as Gregor's lunch with his guest, and Ivan's method of getting Miles out of his funk. These were scenes to enjoy and savour over and over.
As I wrote this review, I realized how real Bujold had made her characters appear to me. I felt as though I was writing about people I knew, not just characters. Her books have made the jump from stories to addictions, and I am looking forward to many more.
© 1997 by Alayne McGregor email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Added to The Bujold Nexus: February 15th 1997
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