Thursday, November 04, 2010

Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Kibou-Daini is a planet where they are able to cheat death. People who are dying are taken to one of several companies who keep people in indefinite cryonic suspension. And now, the companies on Kibou-Daini are looking to expand into Barrayaran space, selling the same sort of service on Barrayar itself. Because he's unsure about how the whole thing works, Emperor Gregor sends Miles Vorkosigan as his Imperial Auditor, to investigate.\

Miles has only been on the planet five days when he's abducted. Unluckily for both Miles and his kidnappers, they try a sedative on him that he is violently allergic to and instead of going to sleep, he goes crazy, screaming and fighting. Somehow, he winds up underground and in bad shape, hallucinating violently, both visually and auditorially. His clothes are a bloody mess and no one seems to want to help him, thinking him a drunk or a druggie, but he's rescued from stumbling through the streets by a boy named Jin, who lives by himself in a hut on top of an abandoned building.

Not completely abandoned, he learns the next morning. Jin lives with a bunch of misfits who are squatting in the building, a former cryocorp, now abandoned. The people living there are former workers with nowhere left to go, and Jin, whose mother has been cryo'ed. He has a sister living with his relatives, an aunt and uncle, but his aunt wouldn't let him have pets, and Jin, who collects and keeps all sorts of animals, ran away to keep his pets. Now, he lives in the building, running errands for the other residents and trying to keep out of reach of the municipal police, who would only return him to his aunt and uncle's house.

Miles isn't sure who tried to make him disappear, or even if it was someone from the Barrayarran Embassy, so Miles lays low and tries to find out more about the CryoCorps from the building's inhabitants. And what he learns is disturbing: The people who go into the cryo-suspension deed their corporate votes to the companies while they are in cold sleep. But this has led to the companies keeping people in suspension to retain their votes. Now, the younger people who should have replaced those in power are getting restive. with their votes tied up in the companies, their society has remained locked into the system they have instead of changing with the times.

Miles isn't the only one who is missing, either. His armsman, Roic, was more successfully abducted by the same men who tried and failed to abduct Miles. He's being held in a place in the country, along with a number of other hostages, and if he wants to get free, he is going to have to do it on his own, or with the help of another hostage Raven Durona, and that he does- after being harrangued by the captors, who are doing it to protest what is happening in Kibou-daini.

Miles sends a letter to the embassy, with Jin carrying it. However, on his way back, Jin is taken by the police, the money he was carrying back for Miles discovered, and he's sent back to the house of his aunt and uncle. There, he escapes again, but this time his sister decides she doesn't want to live alone with their aunt and uncle any longer, and returns to the city with him. But in the meantime, Miles has discovered that the reason that Jin's mother was put in cryo was that she was a criminal. She was part of the movement to change the corps and appeared to have discovered something incriminating. She and her fellow co-conspirators were arrested, and while they all died in convenient "accidents" Ms. Sato was tried and put into cryosleep in perpetuity.

Miles wants to know what she knew, and arranges to steal her cryounit from the Cryocorp that is housing it, the arranges for her to be revived. However, she dies on the table, and when Jin and his sister are allowed to see the body, they are relieved to tell Miles that the woman he had attempted to revive was not Ms. Sato. The numbers on the Capsule were right, but apparently, someone pulled off the same trick- substituting her own body with that of another.

Her true body is missing, but Miles thinks he knows who might have it- a Doctor that Ms. Sato had a meeting with shortly before she was arrested, witnessed only by her daughter. Miles seeks out the Doctor, and spooks him into fleeing, thinking that Miles and his men are the tools of the Cryocorps. But even assuming he can get to the scientist and calm him down, can they revive Ms. Sato without killing her, and can Miles discover what secret was so important that they killed everyone but Ms. Sato and put her on ice forever just for knowing it? And can Miles prevent what happened to society on Kibou-daini from happening to Barrayar?

Well, unlike previous Miles books in the series, this one presents quite a significant gap in age for Miles. In the previous books, it seems like only a year or three passed for Miles in between each book. This one takes place when Miles is almost 39, and he now has four kids with his wife, Ekaterin. Narrative duties are split between Miles, his armsman Roic and Jin Sato. Once again, Miles is suspected of being a traitor during the course of the novel, when he pretends to have been bribed by one of the Cryo Corps to give them special consideration. Of course, nothing of the sort has happened, and Miles is just pretending to lead them on.

I found myself enjoying all the parts of the novel, from Jin's extended sojourn with his sister back on the way into the city, and the somewhat romance between Mrs. Sato and the chief Barrayarran diplomat (aided and abetted by Miles and the Children). This was a fairly twisty mystery story, and the book is only helped by starting in medias res. It makes you wonder what happened to Miles and who the men were who tried to abduct him. You also get to see Miles from the perspective of a child, Jin Sato, and to see how he accepts Miles, thinking he is also a child because of his size, and is more comfortable with him because of that. Jin is even a little more cautious when he realizes who Miles is in the world, although Miles as himself quickly breaks down any remaining reserve.

I found this a most enjoyable outing with Miles, although the amount of time that passed and the feeling of "POOF-instant family= just add water!" kind of took me aback a bit at first. But I can see many more interesting stories involving Miles, and I'd like to see not just other worlds in Barrayar's Empire, but other places as well, like Beta Colony from Miles' perspective. But even if the amount of offworld gallivanting might be constrained in the future because of what happened at the end of the book, I'd still enjoy reading anything more with Miles. His stories are not just stories but exist because of the kind of character he is, and he's just endlessly fascinating to read and to read about. This book, and this entire series, is Highly recommended.

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