Fools To Make War

Brothers in Arms — Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles Vorkosigan, book 4

Brothers In Arms

1989’s Brothers in Arms is the fourth book in the Miles Vorkosigan series.

Admiral Miles Naismith’s Dendarii Mercenaries have a secret advantage; they are subsidized by the planet Barrayar. Naismith is also Miles Vorkosigan, son of Barrayar’s Lord Regent.

Miles and the Dendarii put in at Earth to collect desperately needed funds. The funds should be waiting for them. They are not.

There is no way to simply beam an inquiry re the missing funds. Interstellar communications are based on starships physically transferring information. Nothing for it but to send off a courier and hope they return with the cash.

Meanwhile, Miles is forced to reconnect with his Miles Vorkosigan persona. Admiral Naismith is a man in charge. Vorkosigan is of middling military rank; he is outranked by his cousin Ivan (on Earth, serving in the Imperial Secret Service), who is in turn outranked by his superior, Duv Galeni. While he is on Earth, Vorkosigan’s service to Barrayar will take the form of charming dowagers at embassy parties.

Miles’ cunning strategy to keep people from connecting the very distinctive-looking Miles Naismith with the identical Miles Vorkosigan has relied on space being big and people who know him as Naismith never meeting him as Vorkosigan (save for the few who were in on the secret from the start).

Earth is big but it’s still small enough for the remarkable similarities between the two Miles to be noticed. Miles comes up with a second line of defense. He asserts that Naismith is an illegal clone, created (and inflicted with the same deformities as Miles) for untoward purposes by enemies of Barrayar. In a universe where clones are a reality, the glib lie is at least plausible.

And why shouldn’t it be? After all, like all successful lies, it has a kernel of truth. Unbeknownst to Miles, Barrayar’s enemies really did clone Miles. Not only that, but the clone is on Earth, just as Miles claimed.

Not that Miles has any inkling of the forces moving against him.


A: The bit re the missing funds reminded me of Star Well, whose plot was also set in motion when money failed to arrive where and when it should. I was also reminded of Star Well by certain similarities in the protagonists. Miles, like Star Well protagonist Anthony Villiers, is a glib aristocrat with a deceptive veneer and surprising capabilities.

B: At some point nefarious plotters in the Vorkosiverse are going to tire of zany schemes … but that day will likely be long after Miles has died of old age (or a zany scheme has gone terribly wrong). Until then, the main thing that foils so many of the plots against Barrayar will be an inordinate love for plans that require many complicated events to happen in the right order at the right time.

Sure, the big bad in this book thinks he has a simple plan, but his simple plan depends on creating a clone who not only looks like Miles, but has been trained to pass for Miles. This, as opposed to something more straightforward. Something involving half a brick in a sock, say.

Miles also takes the hard way out. The most expeditious method of dealing with his twin would be to simply shoot the fellow, but Miles cannot do that. It would be wrong. It would be contrary to the mercy he was shown as a baby. It would disappoint his Betan mother. It would be contrary to Betan mores, which regard clones as siblings.

So Miles comes up with a zany scheme to deal with the inconvenient clone …

C: Points to Bujold for a future Earth that isn’t a crapsack world justly abandoned by its colonies. It’s a decent place … or would be if wandering starfarers didn’t use London as the stage for their cunning gambits. Indeed, I’d be willing to say that their main problem is Miles. Keep Miles away from Earth and the plotters and schemers who follow in his wake will go elsewhere1.

Brothers in Arms is available here (Amazon).

1: I noticed that while everyone else in the region near Barrayar takes Cetaganda’s imperial ambitions very seriously, Earth lacks that paranoia. One wonders if it is because the balance of power greatly favours Earth.


  • Douglas Muir

    Or maybe Earth is just far from Cetaganda? (The GURPS Vorkosiverse book had a map of Jump routes, FWTW.) Earth does seem to be both wealthy and culturally confident, though.

    I'm almost alone in ranking this book as one of the best Vorkosiverse novels. Which is odd, because I'm not normally a "wacky romp" kind of guy. Maybe there's just enough darkness here (Ivan being locked in the pump chamber, ugh) to offset the wacky hi-jinks. Anyway, I think it delivers on multiple levels -- fun, action, character development.

    Idle thought: This book forms the second book of a trilogy, with the novella Borders of Infinity coming before and Mirror Dance coming after. Yes, there are other books in sequence, Memory comes after Mirror Dance yadda yadda. But they're tonally and thematically different. And these three follow the classic trilogy sequence: the first one tells a complete self-contained story... that leads directly to massive complications in Volume 2, which are resolved in Volume 3.

    Doug M.

    • TSM_in_Toronto

      Hi, Doug.

      You wrote: "[...] theclassictrilogy_sequence [...]", and yet when I Googlify "the classic trilogy sequence" ["the+classic+trilogy+sequence"], I get exactly one hit, which is (as you can see), is your comment above.

      And yet I have no doubt you know what you're talking about -- is this observation original with you? Or is there some other name for this thing, such that I can access other people talking about it, by instead Googlifying that $nameofthing?

      Thanks very much,


      • Danny Sichel

        I've seen "middle book disease/disorder", "second book disease", "second-book-in-a-trilogy disease"....

  • Simon Bradshaw

    I suspect that Earth is viewed by the other major Nexus powers as the proverbial 'sleeping giant' - out of the way (at least, in the wormhole topology) and disunited, but it's described as being as technically advanced as Beta Colony, so if roused could probably make quite a nuisance of itself.

    I recently re-read BIA, or rather I listened to the audiobook having read the original in the early 90s. It stands up very well, and although it's clear that Bujold's 30th(ish)-century London bears about as much resemblance to today's city as current London does to the London of several centuries ago, I still enjoyed the image of Miles and Ivan bouncing around it.

    (My one gripe with the audiobook is that the narrator, the normally very good Grover Gardner - has London characters sounding like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins. However, my inner visualisation was helped by reading that Bujold pictured Galeni as looking like Paul Darrow as he was when he played Avon in Blake's 7.)

  • Mike D

    Brothers in Arms has just been reissued in tpb

  • Jane Hotchkiss

    Nitpick: Aral isn't Lord Regent by this time, "merely" Prime Minister. The Regency ends when Gregor reaches 20, & Miles is age 15 on Beta with Grandmother Naismith.

Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

Review Categories

By Author/Editor

Reviews by Date