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A Civil Campaign
Lois McMaster Bujold
Narrated by Grover Gardner, unabridged
Blackstone Audio, 17.9 hours

A Civil Campaign
Lois McMaster Bujold
Lois McMaster Bujold was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1949. She attended Ohio State and later worked as a pharmacy technician at the Ohio State University Hospitals. She has two children and now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her first novel, Shards of Honor, was completed in 1983 and published in 1986. Her first professional sale was a story in 1984 to Twilight Zone Magazine. Falling Free was her first Nebula Award. Since then she has won another Nebula, and a number of Hugo Awards.

Lois McMaster Bujold Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Komarr
SF Site Review: Memory
SF Site Review: Mirror Dance
SF Site Review: Cetaganda
SF Site Review: Borders of Infinity
SF Site Review: The Vor Game
SF Site Review: Cryoburn
SF Site Review: Brothers in Arms
SF Site Review: Ethan of Athos
SF Site Review: Falling Free
SF Site Review: The Warrior's Apprentice
SF Site Review: Barrayar
SF Site Review: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement and The Sharing Knife: Legacy
SF Site Review: The Miles Vorkosigan Saga
SF Site Review: Paladin of Souls
SF Site Review: The Curse of Chalion
SF Site Review: The Spirit Ring

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nicki Gerlach

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While a lot of, if not most, science fiction has to do with the interplay between culture and technology, A Civil Campaign uses that interplay in service of a romance -- or, as the subtitle puts it, "a comedy of biology and manners." In this case, the manners come in the form of Barrayaran society, which is still clinging to the feudal government and rigid sex roles that it developed during the Time of Isolation. The biology comes primarily in the form of galactic uterine replicators, which, when they were first introduced to Barrayar, were primarily used by the Vor class to produce sons and heirs.

However, now that this generation of sons has grown up, they're suddenly feeling the dearth of marriageable women rather sharply. Miles Vorkosigan has never lacked for partners, but the galactic women he'd previously favored all found Barrayar to be backwards and repressive. Miles thinks he has found the answer in the Vor widow Ekatarin Vorsoissin, but she comes with a host of complications: Miles was present at her abusive husband's suspicious death -- the details of which are strictly classified -- and Ekatarin herself has no desire to remarry, ever. However, fearful of losing such an intelligent, beautiful, and eligible woman to other suitors, Miles sets out to woo her in secret -- or, at least, secret from her.

Miles isn't the only one that's having relationship trouble: his cousin Ivan has also never lacked for female attention, but now that he's starting to give up his playboy ways and think about settling down, he's run up against the same lack of eligible women. He's got his sights set on a older woman -- and former lover -- but when they re-connect, her recent brush with galactic technology puts a serious crimp in Ivan's plans.

Finally, Miles's clone brother Mark has spent the past year of schooling and therapy on Beta Colony falling hopelessly in love with Kareen Kudelka, the youngest daughter of his parents' friends and former armsmen. Mark and Karene have returned to Barrayar with the eccentric Dr. Enrique Borgos in tow, complete with a plan to use biological agents (the truly revolting "butter bugs") to revolutionize Barrayar food production -- and make Mark rich in the process. However, being back at home has put a damper on their relationship, as their freewheeling Betan sexual experience is thrown into direct conflict with the stricter Barrayaran cultural mores.

Dealing with interpersonal romantic relationships is not exactly a strong point of Ivan's, Mark's, or Miles's, especially when they're up against some deeply-rooted societal norms, but for the sake of their future happiness, they'll have to learn to think on their feet... and they'll have to do it all while preparing for Emperor Gregor's Imperial wedding.

Things that will surprise absolutely no one: I loved this book. I mean, really, what other reaction would you expect when you put an audiobook subtitled "a comedy of biology and manners" into the hands of a period-romance-loving scientist? And, true to its dedication ("For Jane, Charlotte, Georgette and Dorothy -- long may they rule."), A Civil Campaign absolutely reads like a Regency romance... just a Regency romance that happens to be set on another planet. The inheritance disputes and marriage proposals may be complicated by technological advances, but the story remains remarkably true to its roots, with a complicated dance of suitors and titles and courtship and heirs and country manor houses and a disastrous dinner party, not to mention one of the best love letters I've seen this side of Persuasion. This is a book that really highlights how broad the genre of sci-fi can be, and how broad of an audience to which it can appeal.

The reason A Civil Campaign is so widely appealing is that while it certainly has all of the trappings of conventional sci-fi -- foreign planets, genetic engineering, uterine replicators, wormholes -- its focus is always on the people, not the technology. A real pleasure of this series is in watching its protagonist(s) grow and change over time, and in this volume, we get not only Miles, but also Mark and Ivan, all of whom by this point feel like family. This book is just packed full of absolutely wonderful character moments for everybody, not just the romantic leads. Aral and Cordelia are both in fine form, especially when dispensing romantic advice; Emperor Gregor continues to be quietly, solidly awesome; even Nicky, Ekaterin's nine-year-old son, gets in a few great scenes. Lois McMaster Bujold's talent for clever, dryly witty dialogue extends to farce as well: during the aforementioned dinner party, as things just kept going so spectacularly wrong, I was nearly choking from laughter, even as my heart was breaking for Miles.

Some of the subplots involve a fair amount of Barrayar politics, which were certainly interesting in their own right, but occasionally they seemed to distract from rather than complement the main romance storylines. That's about the only negative I can come up with in this entire book, however. It was enormous fun and a satisfying listening experience, and Grover Gardner reads it so wonderfully that I can't imagine anyone else as the voice of Miles.

While part of me wants to run the street recommending this book to everyone and anyone, particularly romance readers who wouldn't normally touch a sci-fi novel, the truth is that it's really best read in order -- so much of the joy of these books comes from the established investment in the characters. But I still secretly think that any reader who gave this series a chance would fall in love with Bujold's characters just as much as I have.

Copyright © 2011 Nicki Gerlach

Nicki Gerlach is a mad scientist by day and an avid reader the rest of the time.  More of her book reviews can be found at her blog, fyreflybooks.wordpress.com/.


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