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The Cause of Miles Vorkosigan lives and wins

The next continuation to an epic of Lois M. Bujold has appeared in the bookstores

M. Galina

The Article was published in the "Literaturnaya gazeta" ("Literary Gazette") newspaper of 27.05.1998

© Translated by Alexander Balabchenkov


Alas, average our (i.e. postsoviet) reader mostly does not care of mysterious Russian Soul, which so attracts intellectuals from the West. He/she can consider "War and Piece" as much a great book as he/she likes, but our favorite national heroine is not Natasha Rostova at all. The favorite heroine for us is Scarlette O'Hara.

And it concerns the science-fiction literature. People start to use the moments of favorite native plots, phrases, and popular words willingly, but the situation is worse with the heroes. And in the current "stressganic" (as it is fashionable to express) situation for a confused engineer or technician, who always was the major consumer of science-fiction, the hero is required precisely. As a reference point, a sample for imitation.

And Lois McMaster Bujold appears on the stage and at once becomes more popular, than our own science-fiction writers, and among the most experienced connoisseurs. At the first look the reason of such a popularity is not clear: there are no any stylistic exquisiteness, no any actually science-fiction innovations. An intrigue? Heinlein could give her a hundred points. And nevertheless Heinlein with all his free-thinking and shine is neglected by intellectuals. Militarism, they say, the white man's burden.

People are absorbed in Bujold's reading.

Wait a minute, is Bujold a militarist, or not? Just look on the titles of her novels: "Warrior's Apprentice", "the Brothers in Arms"... And they are constructed on the principles of war games, where it is required to pass from point A to point B with the least losses and to transcend the opponent. There are some advanced and underdeveloped planets in the Bujold's Universe, which struggle for spheres of their influence. The main hero of the series is an agent of special services, representative of military aristocracy of the remote world Barrayar and also the admiral (self-appointed, actually) of the space mercenary fleet in addition. Sometimes he with shine carries out some special mission; sometimes he gets mixed up himself in adventures under his own initiative. Well, what is so special about it, ha?

Here it goes. Bujold differs from same Heinlein by appealing to universal ethical criteria. There is not any "white man's burden", nor any Mission, nor any Messiah. Yes, There are feudal Barrayar in Bujold's Universe, which is torn apart by political intrigues, technocracy liberal Beta Colony, sophisticated and simultaneously aggressive Cetaganda... Empires, democracy worlds, technocracy planets... even Mafia clans. But duty, calling, self-sacrifice are not empty words on each of these planets. These words helped future parents of the famous hero belonging to different camps in interplanetary war to find common language. "You can't choose between evil and evil, in the dark, by logic. You can only cling to some safety line of principle", speaks Bujold's heroine. And not just speaks. There, where it is necessary to choose between action and inactivity, she invariable prefers action. Because in inactivity, as she said, "there is no seed of future victory". Actually, all Bujold's novels are a set of the unique recipes of behavior in critical situations. Especially in situations, where acceptance of the optimum decision requires from the man skill to realize himself as the person first of all. And it automatically leads to a recognition of value of each person and to the right to choose. That's why the reader forgives Bujold both pathetic and edification. We, who are deficient and milled by troubled times, have seized Miles Vorkosigan's story, who is Admiral Naismith too. We have seized the story of a cripple with abnormally fragile bones, a dwarf and a clever man, who became a victim of the next political revolution on a planet Barrayar being still in his mother's womb. We watch on the changes of his military career because it is necessary for him to start from the very beginning every time, as well as for us. He has to prove his solvency constantly. He has achieved the purpose not directly, but by detour.Unfortunate small freak Miles was refused by Barrayar hating physical inferiority and he failed his exams to the military academy. Is longingly wanted a career in the military, dreamed of by every noble son of Barrayar, closed for him? That means it is necessary to change the rules of the game, if existing ones do not allow you to win. If the structure rejects you, it is necessary to alter the structure. And Miles "playing to his own strengths, and getting others to play to his weaknesses", with shine wins in the next conflict, gets his own fleet and becomes admiral Naismith, leader adored by mixed soldier's riff-raff. The man without complexes? But Miles is a tangle of complexes. And it cannot be in other way. He has to create anew and recreate himself, has to look for his place, and has to comprehend himself as the person. In the latest book of an epic ("Memory") he, it seems, loses all - he is deprived of the right to command the fleet of the mercenaries, created by him, he is expelled from a military service (neither more nor less as for a fake of the official report). But he extricated himself again. And he gets more, than he has lost - the feeling of integrity. Sensation of his place in the world. It is familiar to us; crisis times require known psychological flexibility. We would not believe the superman, but we trust cripple and monster. Because he can be wounded as well as we. The Bujold's novels are guides to survival for us.

Why should we order a cure "behind from the ocean"? Why is there nothing similar among the flows of our present science-fiction? Most likely, I believe, because, if suddenly our science-fiction authors will plunge into pathetic, preaching highest values, the reader, this eternal Stanislavsky, will exclaim "I do not believe!" than. Words "duty", "honor" are valuable in abstract, certainly, but post-soviet literature simply is not capable to use it seriously - it is broken down either into a parody, or into falseness, because these worlds, alas, have depreciated with official Soviet propagation at first, then by national-patriots and democratic press. But the melancholic reaction to highest values has remained. In what I can see a hope that in the muddled life of ours everything can come back to normal somehow.