Review: Cryoburn

Posted: January 4, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Lois McMaster Bujold, Science Fiction

Miles Vorkosigan is reliable. Reliably clever. Reliably entertaining. Reliable at finding trouble. But does reliability equal excellence? For Miles it does because he’s reliably awesome, but for Lois McMaster Bujold, who can and has written better, CRYOBURN (Amazon) is merely better-than-average entertainment.

Something’s rotten on the planet Kibou-diani, and Miles is trying to sniff out the secret. Known for their use of cryonics to preserve the ill or aged until medicine advances enough for a cure, the crybobanks pretty much run the planet and are looking to expand and provide services for a new population on another planet. But there’s more to it than a business making money, and Miles is determined to get to the bottom of it–even if it means breaking a few rules and stretching beyond his own diplomatic immunity.

The story opens with our rascally Miles lost in underground cryobanks after a botched kidnapping. He eventually escapes and is taken in by the young Jin, a homeless boy, who has a problem that Miles is just itching to solve.

And thus sets off the usual mayhem that surrounds Miles’ long career as a mercenary and now as problem-solving auditor for Barrayar’s Emperor Gregor.

Bujold is one of the best speculative fiction writers out there, she can do it all: prose, plot, characterization, dialogue, science, setting. And yet. After reading this I just didn’t get the buzz I usually do when I read her stuff. Sure it’s a fun story, with subplots and subtlety, interesting science, fascinating characters….hmm, I don’t make it sound very bad, do I? Perhaps she’s spoiled me too much in the past with her brilliant CORDELIA’S HONOR (Amazon), THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE (Amazon), and etc. But she probably should have let her fans continue to clamor for more Miles Vorkosigan books and just let the series end its already long and glorious run, especially if it meant dragging it out with a random side-story like this.

And yet. It’s still a good book by any standard. What’s nice about the series is that even though we follow many of the same characters throughout, we watch them grow and change; events alter the characters and we see those consequences. In CRYOBURN that doesn’t happen, which is one reason why it falls short of the excellence of previous novels in the series. Perhaps Bujold was just looking for some good, cathartic fun, in which case she succeeds here.

For Bujold, the science in the Vorkosigan series is about the morality of life and death (no technical over-my-head showing off for the sake of it), and these dilemmas often drive the story. In CRYOBURN it’s about the problems inherent in a society that relies on being frozen indefinitely until there’s a cure for death. It’s this speculation and focused view of these dilemmas that give her science a human aspect with more immediacy.

CRYBOBURN is fast-paced, because that’s the only pace Miles knows. In this novel, however, the PoV is not exclusively Miles: we experience things from armsman Roic and then also young Jin. We get to see Miles from outside eyes, and understand how much Miles affects the people he comes in contact with. The ending gets a little bogged down with explanations and wrapping up the various characters’ stories. But it’s satisfying to see everything explode and then watch the pieces fall into place as they land.

CRYOBURN opens with our rascally Miles lost in underground cryobanks after a botched kidnapping. The usual Miles-caused mayhem follows.

Once it’s ended, we get a ‘second’ ending with a mind-blowing revelation that begs for sequels. This second ending feels tacked on, so long-time Vorkosigan readers may be frustrated that the subject is given so little storyline, and new readers won’t feel the full impact.

Certainly you can read this book and enjoy it without having read the previous ones. But, really, you should read CORDELIA’S HONOR and THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE to begin to understand this big universe Bujold has crafted.

  • Recommended Age: 12+
  • Language: A handful of instances
  • Violence: Mild to moderate; but the medical procedures are more graphic than any violence. It's a YA friendly book, and having a 12-year-old PoV character may give it appeal to a wider audience.
  • Sex: None`

Enjoy some of her books (or parts of) for free online at her website and the first ten chapters of THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE at Baen where we meet Miles for the first time.


  • Caleb says:

    I agree that the story seemed basically like a side-light, a standalone adventure that doesn't change much. I also agree that the ending felt tacked on, and could have been better integrated.

    And yet, the ending does fit the book. The entire book dealt with death (or near-death) and how things are changed if people don't completely die. The ending just brings it to a more personal level for a certain main character. I thought it was well-written, and the vignettes were interesting, but I did end up wanting more. I hope there is another sequel planned for the aftermath, although I could understand if Bujold says that this is the end of the line for the series.

  • medieval.woman says:

    I bought this book hardback (which shows how much I love Bujold), and finished depressed about the money I'd lost. The first chapter is brilliant, and the last chapter is searingly real, but the in-between didn't move much. Bujold has the tools to have made this a great book–a society ruled by the votes of the dead, with teenage terrorists trying to uproot a system they have no place in–but the plot just didn't flow. Instead the questions Miles was sent to solve remained vague, as did the plots of the nefarious company, and the teenage terrorists dropped out of the story. If I need a boost of Bujold, I'll have to read her older novels instead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *