This is the
fourth time I’ve read Bujold’s MEMORY. Needless to say, this
is one of my personal favorites. It is, in fact, the work I
consider to be Bujold’s finest: Containing every one of her
myriad strengths, unmarred by the slightest flaw.
Both the heart
and the plot of the book is revealed in the simplicity of its
title: This is the story of a mid-life crisis – a
transformative retrospective of memory and experience. Or, as
Bujold pithily describes it in the series chronology at the back
of the book, “Miles hits thirty. Thirty hits back.”
You would think
that a narrative based on reminiscence would be a boring affair,
but quite the opposite is true: Even while Miles' journey is
largely an introspective one, it remains -- above all -- a journey.
There is a purpose to it, and Bujold crafts an internal action
which is every bit as entertaining and well-paced as an external
And, in truth, Bujold spends only the
balance of her time charting a course through the mind of Miles:
MEMORY also quickly develops into an adventure of high intrigue
and political espionage. (Once which, also, reflects the title
– but in a way which could only be described by way of a
Of course, these two separate lines of
action are carefully woven against each other: Action meets
action. Developments in one predicate developments in the other.
And so forth. Neither plot could exist without the other, and so
-- of course -- both plots are, in fact, the same plot.
It is a further testament to Bujold's mastery that
MEMORY doesn't stop there: Depending on how you count, there are
at least four more sub-plots carefully developed. The method of
counting matters because each of these sub-plots is juxtaposed
and integrated into the greater narrative: Actions which may, at
first glance, simply seem like random page-filling, weave
themselves seamlessly into the primary plot itself.
Perhaps this is the secret which allows Bujold to make
an introspective novel work so well: The nature of such a work
would tempt a lesser author to include scenes devoid of purpose
in the false belief that they "develop" or “flesh
out” the character. Bujold simply refuses to let a scene pass
without meaning. The plot is never allowed a moment’s rest,
even when Miles is mired deep in memory. There is a clearly
defined path here: Miles does not simply waffle from one
caricature to another. Rather, he begins in one place and ends
in another (with obstacles and struggles along the way, of
course). There is real, meaningful growth -- and it is
fascinating to watch.
What else can be said here?
Of course, there is Bujold’s unique gift at crafting
classic and memorable scenes. Some are brilliant touches of
character. Others are chillingly horrific. Still others are
simply shockingly imaginative.
The other thing which impresses me about Bujold is the
subtlety with which the science fiction is woven into her
narrative. I’ve often heard it said that Bujold’s work is
character-heavy, but science-lite. I don’t find that to be
true at all: Bujold just does an extraordinary job of
integrating the science and technology into a cohesive world. In
MEMORY, for example, you will encounter biotech, cybertech,
personal flyers, advanced medical techniques, massive
spaceships, domed cities, and a variety of terraforming
techniques. But they aren’t highlighted and lit up with bright
neon lights: They’re simply part of the world in which the
Bujold is also an author who does not believe in
killing off her characters: That, after all, would be letting
them off easily. A reader might get a moment of emotional
catharsis by seeing a character die, but keeping them alive in
the midst o an impossible situation provides a lot more
entertainment in the long run. It’s the Oedipus Theory of
dramatic convention: Oedipus committing suicide is nice. Oedipus
jabbing his eyes out to blot out the horror of his life is
There’s a lot of eye-jabbing in MEMORY.
Also, watch out for
the elephant. It’s pervasive.
for a note to new Bujold readers.