Thursday, 16 August 2001

Lois McMaster Bujold: Borders of Infinity (1989)

Edition: Pan, 1992 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 908

Though this book is described as a novel, it is a collection of three previously published novellas with linking passages which amount to the thinnest of narratives and which can only total about ten pages. The three stories are of a far higher standard, particularly Borders of Infinity itself.

The first story, The Mountains of Mourning, set early in Miles' career, is a murder investigation, complicated by the backwoods Barrayan attitude to mutations - a baby has been killed because it has a hare lip. This is not just a whodunit, but a story which highlights some of Bujold's interests, including genetics and politics. Oddly enough, it was this story which won the 1990 Hugo award for best novella.

Genetics also plays a part in the second story, Labyrinth, which, like several other Miles Vorkosigan adventures, is set at the amoral biological laboratories of Jackson's Hole, but politics alone dominate Borders of Infinity.

The reason that the title story impresses so much is because of its setting. This is a futuristic prisonor of war camp, basically a forcefield dome containing the minimum requirements for the survival of its inhabitants - a totally featureless place. Miles manages to get himself interred there, as part of a mission to help a high ranking officer escape to lead a resistance movement; with nothing, he has to improvise an uprising of the demoralised, anarchic prisoners. Bujold makes what seems to be a minimalist background fascinating.

In the end, though, the three stories leave the reader with the feeling that her true talent is for the novel. Not reflecting the best of Bujold, and certainly improved by acquaintance with the series in general, Borders of Infinity remains inventive and enjoyable.

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