Saturday, 10 November 2001
Lois McMaster Bujold: Cetaganda (1996)
Review number: 990
The central idea of this Miles Vorkosigan novel can be summed up in a sentence from it (also quoted on the back of this edition): "Miles had always dreamed about saving the Empire. He just never expected it to be the Cetagandan Empire." Although currently at peace with his native Barrayar, Cetaganda has long been a traditional enemy, having at one time been an occupying power Miles is a member of the Barrayan delegation to the mourning ceremonies for the Dowager Empress, but the reader will not be very surprised when things go wrong right from the start, when his spaceship is attacked when it docks with a space station orbiting the capital planet of the Empire.
The main aspect of Cetaganda which differentiates it from the other Miles Vorkosigan novels is its portrayal of the bizarre imperial culture. This is clearly modelled around ideas from imperial China - aristocratic, secretive, delicately artistic and at the same time brutal; incomprehensible to outsiders, providing endless opportunities to offend against obscure protocol. Reflecting Bujold's interest in the biological sciences, the Cetagandans have spent decades enhancing the genome of their senior aristocrats, ending up seeming to be hardly human - impossibly beautiful and long lived, committed to incomprehensible goals.
As a well written, exciting and occasionally humorous science fiction thriller, Cetaganda is typical of the series, if less thought provoking than some; and the series is one of the most enjoyable in modern science fiction.