Posts Tagged military SF with romance

Romance Saturday Extravaganza: Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance”

Lois McMaster Bujold is back in the saddle again.

In CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE, the fifteenth volume of Bujold’s saga about the family and friends of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, we get a chance to spend a goodly amount of time with Miles’s cousin Ivan — the titular Captain Vorpatril — and the unusual galactic woman he marries, Akuti Tejaswini Jyoti ghem Estif Arqua (called “Tej” for short).  This isn’t your ordinary Vorkosigan novel, especially as Ivan is known mostly for his conflict avoidance and for his lack of brilliance compared to his genius biological cousin Miles and his genius cloned cousin Mark.

Anyway, Ivan is a competent soldier and commander who’s achieved the rank of Captain and works for Admiral Desplains in Galactic Operations (or Ops).  And while Ivan’s very, very good at his job (he views it akin to snake handling), the fact of the matter is that Ivan is a paper pusher — or as military types would be more likely to call it, a REMF.  (Don’t try to translate that at home.)

Ivan meets up with Tej on the domed planet of Komarr, one of the Barrayaran Imperium’s three planets, after his disreputable relation Byerly Vorrutyer points Ivan in Tej’s direction.  By, you see, is known to Ivan as an operative of Imperial Security — otherwise known as a spy to you and me — and By’s come calling in his professional capacity.  By believes that Ivan is Tej’s only hope; even though By doesn’t know Tej’s real name and doesn’t know Tej’s real circumstances, either, By actually is proven right with this snap judgment.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Ivan meets up with Tej, who he believes is called “Nanja” and is supposedly a Komarran citizen, at the place where she works — a rather small, dingy ceramics shop.  He buys an ugly vase for his cousin Miles, attempts to make small talk, then tries to pick her up . . . and can’t do it.

But since By told Ivan that “Nanja” needs help, Ivan is bound and determined to give her that help.  He ends up outside her apartment complex, which of course scares her no end; she invites him upstairs, and he thinks, “Wow!  I’ll finally be able to figure out who this Nanja is, and why By wants me to protect her!”

But that’s not what happens at all.

Instead, Tej and her “odd sister,” the blue-skinned, rather exotic Rish, end up stunning Ivan and dragging him up to their small apartment.  This, of course, is a mighty come-down for Ivan as he’s known for his remarkable prowess at womanizing.  Then he gets tied to a chair and left; they go away, presumably to sleep and deal with the problem of Ivan in the morning.

However, some thugs try to break into Tej’s apartment.  Ivan, who’s no fool even when tied to a chair, talks loudly enough to wake the women.  They stun the men, untie Ivan, and go back to Ivan’s apartment as it’s the safest place any of them can think of to be . . . then Ivan goes to work as he doesn’t want to admit any of the last several hours’ worth of events have happened.

All of this, thus far, is farcical and is played that way on purpose.

But things take a darker turn soon enough, as Tej admits to Ivan what’s been going on; her family’s been eliminated in a Jacksonian shakeup, and she and Rish are on the run.  Ivan hides Tej and Rish, then By comes calling again, this time only a bare handful of minutes before the Komarran police show up (as they believe Ivan has kidnapped or perhaps even murdered “Nanja,” whom they know as a Komarran national due to Tej’s excellent false identification).

So what is Ivan’s solution?  He quickly marries Tej in the Barrayaran form, which allows for a minimum of two witnesses (which he has: By and Rish) and must be performed in a circle of groats (which, not so coincidentally, he has, as it’s a Barrayaran staple breakfast food).  Then, as the police break down the door, he yells out, “Unhand Lady Vorpatril!”

None of this is a spoiler as it all comes from the sample chapters Baen Books put up at their own Web site.

How are Ivan and Tej to get untangled after this knotty start?  Well, a lot has to do with the nature of Ivan’s job as aide-de-camp to Admiral Desplains; that Ivan has finally married, much less to such an interesting galactic woman, has intrigued the Admiral, who does his best to facilitate a happy outcome (at least for the time he’s involved in the book).  Next, Ivan’s mother, the formidable Lady Alys Vorpatril, and his quasi-stepfather, the even more formidable Simon Illyan (the former head of ImpSec), do their best to point out that Ivan and Tej are perfect for one another; both are quietly intelligent, capable people who’ve been overshadowed by most of their relatives for most of their lives, but see the value in each other and start to gradually build a life together.

However, then a major plot wrinkle shows up — which I refuse to spoil — and this throws a monkey wrench into Ivan’s marriage.

So will these two end up together?  Or won’t they?  And how does the sinking of the Imperial Security Headquarters building play into it all?

All of these questions will be answered, and more besides, in a book that’s thoroughly satisfying for Bujold lovers yet easy enough to get into if you haven’t read the previous fourteen books in the series.  (A neat trick, that.)

Bottom line: this is a good and involving romance with many farcical turns and a few, surprisingly revealing emotional episodes involving Ivan, his mother Alys, and his new wife, Tej.  Ivan’s a solid character, and Tej’s insights into Barrayar (coming to it as a galactic citizen, as did Miles’s mother Cordelia Naismith before her) are interesting, too.

No, it’s not as good as MIRROR DANCE, CORDELIA’S HONOR (the omnibus of SHARDS OF HONOR and BARRAYAR) or A CIVIL CAMPAIGN, but it’s still a good, involving book that will give you hours of reading pleasure and many, many things to ponder.  (And it’s funny, too!)

Grade: A-minus.

— reviewed by Barb

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Linnea Sinclair’s “An Accidental Goddess” — A Fun, Fast, Deeply Romantic SF Read

Linnea Sinclair’s AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS is a science fiction romance (with some fantasy elements) about two appealing characters, Rahieran Captain Gillaine (“Gillie”) Davré and Khalaran Admiral Rynan (“Mack” or “Make it Right”) Makarian.  Gillie is a highly accomplished woman in her mid-thirties, who was originally sent to the Khalaran Empire by the Raheira as a technical advisor three hundred years prior to the start of this novel.  However, a wormhole opened during a deep space battle with the Fav’lhir, a nasty bunch of psychics who believe “might makes right” and takes for granted anyone without psychic ability; races like the Khalarans are called “Impure,” thus are cattle for the slaughter.  These nasty aliens attacked the Khalarans, but the Khalarans had no defense besides Gillie due to her own strong psychic abilities; that, and her crystal ship, destroyed many of the Fav’lhir, but she ended up getting thrown three hundred years into the future due to the battle.

To Gillie’s horror, when she wakes up in the sickbay of space station Cirrus One, her sentient nanoessence Simon — think “advanced computer AI” and you’re not far wrong, except Simon is not necessarily incorporeal and enjoys cracking wise at Gillie’s expense — tells her that during the intervening three hundred years, the Khalarans have made her a Goddess.  This is because the Khalarans didn’t understand what happened during that space battle; how could they?  And because they thought Gillie had defended them to the death, they’ve called what happened “(her) Day of Sacred Sacrifice.”

This, of course, is a major breach of protocol at absolute best.  Yet the Rahiera have done nothing in the intervening three hundred years to correct this error.  This means Gillie must either let this mistake stand, or possibly find a way to correct it herself.  (And yes, she figures all of this out as she’s waking up in sickbay, which I found a particularly nice touch.)

Then, as she continues to wake up, she meets Admiral Makarian, a dark-haired, dark-eyed man in his early forties.  Mack has all sorts of command ability, as he’s risen to become the youngest Fleet Admiral in the Khalaran Empire’s history.  And along with his command ability, Mack has charisma, drive, focus, and smarts — all of which he needs, as he’s been relegated to Cirrus One because of his reputation of being able to turn sows’ ears into silk purses (thus his “Make it Right” nickname).  Cirrus One is your basic backwater space station at the start of this book, but Mack knows that he somehow must get the station up to spec sooner rather than later.  And, of course, he doesn’t think much of Gillie when he meets her either, aside from noticing that she’s blonde, like Lady Kiasidira, and has unusual eyes (green with flecks of lavender).  But there are many blonde women in the universe, which is why despite some passing resemblance to Lady Kiasidira, it goes unremarked.

Gillie, of course, doesn’t admit she’s Lady Kiasidira when she talks with Admiral Mack.  Instead, she calls herself a freighter captain; since Simon runs her ship (in many ways, he is the ship), he’s able to project an extremely realistic illusion.  After she throws Mack off the track, she starts figuring out whether or not Simon can be repaired (as Simon is a Raptor-class crystal ship, if Simon hadn’t quickly cloaked the ship in an illusion, the game would’ve been up right away; also, even though the Khalarans have obviously progressed, technologically, in the intervening three hundred years, there is absolutely no way they could fix a crystal ship).  This, along with the feelings Mack can’t help but engender in her (as she admires competence, and has much in common with him), keeps her busy for the first one-third of this novel.

The next complication is Magefather Rigo, who believes himself to be the Lady Kiasidira’s Divine Consort (all in capital letters, even).  Of course, the fact that Kiasidira is a title — it means, more or less, High Priestess — has gone completely by the boards in three hundred years.  And three hundred years ago, there certainly were no Magefathers, either.  

Because of some rather strange things Rigo does, Gillie starts to wonder why Rigo is even on Cirrus One.  She’s right to wonder, as it turns out Rigo may well be allied with the Fav’lhir (who, of course, are still around).  And while Mack believes her when she says something’s wrong, because she can’t admit who and what she is, she doesn’t have enough evidence to prove that Rigo is up to no good.

See, Cirrus One is a crisis point; because it’s not fully up to spec, and the Fav’lhir know it, they want to take advantage.  The Fav’lhir don’t believe in diplomacy, especially when it comes to the “Impure” Khalarans, who mostly lack psychic ability — and even if they did, the Fav’lhir are still mad about what happened three hundred years ago, so they’d not pursue it anyway.

This is when the usual complications of a military science fiction nature start to creep in.  As we all know, the Fav’lhir must be driven off, yet there are political considerations with regards to the various Khalaran Empire higher-ups  that need to be taken into consideration.  That the higher-ups have completely forgotten just how nasty the Fav’lhir can be, partly because they believe that Gillie killed their “mageline” — that is, all their psychics — three hundred years ago, definitely doesn’t help the situation.  And under all this strain, Gillie and Mack are still getting to know each other, which isn’t at all as small of a plot point as it might seem as their mutual knowledge of each other might end up being the very thing that saves the Khalaran Empire from oblivion.

During all that happens, Gillie realizes that she’s eventually going to have to come clean regarding who and what she is.  But will this wreck their relationship?  (Especially considering how often Mack, himself, prays to Lady Kiasidira?)  What will happen to the Khalarans, who don’t seem to understand exactly how nasty the Fav’lhir still are, and keep giving Mack the wrong orders?  And finally, what will Simon the nanoessence think of it all?  (Especially as he has all the best lines in the book?)

This is a fast, fun, and deeply romantic read about two highly intelligent, spirited, and capable people that gets everything right.  There’s humor, high drama, romance, pathos, military intrigue and suspense, and more romance, so yes, the plot has a lot to it.  But it’s so skillfully written that most readers won’t notice how densely-packed this plot is until the last page has been turned; it’s also such a great read that many people will do exactly what I did the first time I read AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS and immediately turn back to page one to read it all over again.

Really, if you want an excellent read of military science fiction with romance and some fantasy elements, you should look no further than Linnea Sinclair’s AN ACCIDENTAL GODDESS.  So if you haven’t read it already, what’s stopping you?  (Especially as it’s available in paperback.)

Grade: A-plus.

— reviewed by Barb

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