Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Lois McMaster Bujoldís most recent Miles Vorkosigan novel, Diplomatic Immunity, demonstrates the strengths of series science fiction when done correctly. Too many series are written in a linear fashion, with each volume directly succeeding the previous volume. Bujold has never adhered to that format, setting each of her stories in her future history where they seem to fit. Diplomatic Immunity, set after all the previously published novels, also serves as a direct sequel not only to its immediate predecessor, A Civil Campaign, but also to Cetaganda and Bujoldís early Nebula Award-winning novel Falling Free.
Diplomatic Immunity opens with Miles and Ekaterin returning from their honeymoon (their wedding will, apparently, be described in a story to be published in an anthology edited by Catherine Asaro). With Milesís involvement, of course, things donít happen as planned and he receives a message from Gregor directing Miles to divert to Quaddiespace, where there has been a minor diplomatic incident that Gregor needs an Imperial Auditor to resolve. Ekaterin elects to remain with Miles with the understanding that she will be sent back to Barrayar if the circumstances warrant it.
Quaddiespace is a system settled by the quaddies, humans bioengineered to live in zero-gravity. As detailed in Falling Free, the quaddies have four arms and no legs. Two hundred years before Miles was born, the quaddies rebelled against their creators and set off into the galaxy to find their own system, which is made up of several space stations and asteroids. With Miles arrival, the situation becomes even more convoluted as he brings his own brand of investigation to bear. Although he only arrives in hostile territory with Ekaterin and his bodyguard Roic, Miles quickly finds an ally in the space stationís Portmaster, Bel Thorne, who had once served with the Dendarii Mercenaries Miles had once commanded.
Bujold has always been ready to use her Barrayar universe for a wide variety of genres from Regency romance to comedy of errors. Diplomatic Immunity falls into the mystery category. The investigation is full of red herrings which serve more of a purpose than to simply mislead Miles and the reader. The false clues Bujold provides actually hinder the investigation and put Bujoldís characters into danger which would not have existed had they not spent their time following up on the wrong path. Nevertheless, the culprit is relatively obvious, even if the details and motive remain convoluted.
Although there are no aliens, as such, in Bujoldís universe, her humans come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and their cultures are more varied than the alien cultures of many other science fiction authors. In Diplomatic Immunity, Bujold treats the readers to glimpses into the cultures of the quaddies, Barrayarans, Cetagandans, Jackson Wholers, and Betans. While Quaddiespace may not be the galactic meeting place that Babylon 5 is, it offers Bujold the opportunity to show her cultures mingling in ways that they previously had not been able to.
Diplomatic Immunity is a complex addition to the saga of Miles Vorkosigan. Although he doesnít undergo profound change, Bujold does provide an enormous amount of exposition on the political and cultural make-up of her universe. A newly cautious Miles is shown the midst of the situation and the reader can compare his behavior to the way he would have acted in his earlier adventures with the Dendarii, or even as recently as prior to his meeting of Ekaterin in Komarr.
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