A Civil Campaign

Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 6, 2001

A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

Fifteen people turned up for this meeting, including one first-time attendee. All but one of us had read the book. The topic of this discussion, A Civil Campaign, is the latest in Bujold’s science fiction series about the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, a nobleman of the planet Barrayar. The previous books in the series have been military/spy adventures, but this volume tells a different type of story. The thirty-ish Miles has become smitten with a young widow named Ekaterin, and he’s trying to win her affections. His attempt at courtship takes place against a backdrop of court intrigue, a strange business venture by Miles’s not-so-evil clone, and preparations for Emperor Gregor’s wedding.

We had a lot of fun with this book. The emphasis of the story is romantic comedy, but the plot has several unquestionably SF elements including cloning and space travel. Miles gets himself into a series of increasingly strange and awkward situations, and we loved seeing him try to talk himself out of them. The comic centerpiece of the book is Miles’s intricately-planned dinner party, which fails beyond belief. Miles spends half the book trying to make reparations.

Bujold displays a wonderful skill at writing snappy dialog, and we spent a lot of time quoting favorite lines. A participant who’d read a lot of romantic comedies felt that this book was an outstanding homage to the work of Austen, Heyer, and Bronte. One person remarked that the strong feelings we expressed about the characters, combined with the recitation of dialog, reminded her of people discussing favorite TV shows like Star Trek.

Several first-time Bujold readers in the group were impressed by how well they could follow and enjoy this book despite its being several volumes into a series. A couple of participants had liked this book so much that they’d gone out and read the complete body of Bujold’s work, then reread A Civil Campaign. These people said that the book seemed much richer on a second reading.

There was only one real complaint about this book. A couple of people who’d read and enjoyed Bujold’s earlier work were disappointed that A Civil Campaign lacked the military action elements they’d come to expect from a Miles book.

Overall we felt that A Civil Campaign was a delight. We wrapped up the discussion with several people reciting favorite anecdotes about Bujold’s participation at the 1999 FACT Christmas party.

–A. T. Campbell, III