A Civil Campaign is almost certainly the 10th volume in the Miles Vorkosigan series, unless you’re one of those people who think that the Cordelia Naismith books are part of the series, in which case this book is the 12th. As far as I am concerned it’s the 10th. It’s reasonable to consider Cordelia’s adventures as prequel, right? Like Ethan of Athos, related but independent?
I don’t know why I get requests at work not to overthink things.
The affair of the Komarran mirror successfully concluded, Imperial Auditor Miles Vorkosigan is back on Barrayar. With no immediate Imperial business demanding his attention, Miles is free to invest all of his intellect and energy on one goal: winning the heart of the recently widowed Ekaterin Vorsoisson.
He has a cunning plan.
Aware it is far too soon to press his suit, he hides his feelings from Ekaterin. This attempt at dissimulation does not prevent Miles from revealing his infatuation with Ekaterin to everyone else he meets. As long as Ekaterin never speaks to anyone and no one ever spills the beans, his secret is perfectly safe.
Ekaterin’s deceased husband left her nothing but debts. She is living with her uncle and aunt in Vorbarr Sultana while she takes courses at university. Her goal: a career as a landscape architect and financial independence. Miiles’ cunning plan is to hire her to design a garden next to the Vorkosigan mansion. He will have a good excuse to see her often; he will have the satisfaction of jump-starting her career. He knows she’s a damn good designer. All she needs is a demo project.
Imported biotech results in unanticipated consequences.
One count sets out to mass-produce daughters, who will marry and bring husbands to his stagnant domain. He expects this to work because imported sex-determination therapies have resulted in mass over-production of Vor sons and a shortage of Vor-class women to be their brides.
Then there’s the question of whether a person whose sex is reassigned from female to male counts as male for the purpose of inheriting a title.
Oh, and the introduction of genetically engineered bugs that can process native Barrayaran plants (indigestible to humans) into edible bug butter. Too bad that the bugs are ugly and that the notion of eating bug vomit repels prospective customers. And that the protocols to keep them contained are … buggy.
To her surprise, Ekaterin finds herself fending off persistent suitors. Her reluctance to jump from one disastrous marriage into a new coupling baffles her rural relatives (but not her aunt and uncle) and enrages some of her would-be suitors. The suitors, aware that Miles is a rival. spread rumours that Miles arranged Ekaterin’s late husband’s death so that she would be free to marry him. The nasty rumours figure into some nasty Vor politicking.
Having laid the foundations for his amatory campaign, Miles plans a dinner party that will introduce Ekaterin to his social circle. Yet another step in his battle plan.
To quote nineteenth-century Prussian military commander Helmuth van Moltke, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” In this case, Miles’ greatest enemy is Miles Vorkosigan.…
Ivan has an interior life! Who knew?
The subplot featuring the off-world scientist Enrique Borgos (responsible for the butter bugs) underlines a key feature of Barrayaran culture: as long as you have a powerful aristocrat in your corner, you can get away with murder. Or if not murder, then serious financial shenanigans. This feature is in no way limited to A Civil Campaign; it runs through the whole series. IMHO, this is not a great way to run a state or sidle into democracy. There are many real world examples of the failings of nepotism and aristocracy. In the novels, it works because author Bujold has the good aristocrats (Miles, his family, and their allies) win and the bad aristocrats lose. It’s a fairy tale, but a beguiling one.
This book is the Bujold I recommend as a gateway drug to more Bujold. The usual Bujoldian strengths are front and centre. Witty banter, comedic set-pieces, fluent narrative, and an emphasis on the social effects of biotech (a field SF often overlooks). This is hard SF, but I do not recall that that it is pigeonholed as such.
I think this is the funniest book Bujold has written to date. Miles’ complex machinations are entertaining; it is even more entertaining when they explode in their creator’s face (like Acme devices that incinerate the coyote rather than the roadrunner). We know from previous novels in the series that Miles’ plans rarely run smooth, but his gifts for rapid improvisation and glib patter usually save the day1. Too bad that lies and manipulation are the wrong tools for winning hearts.
Too bad for Miles. Wonderful for the reader.
A Civil Campaign is available here (Amazon). This edition is not available from Chapters-Indigo.