I’ve come to
think of Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels as being grouped into
three tiers: The first tier are those so unbelievably good that
they would take up a good chunk of my imaginary All-Time
Greatest SF Novels list. The second tier is made up of some
excellent novels which, for one reason or another, don’t quite
raise themselves up to the status of All-Time classics. Then the
third tier rounds up the rest of the novels, which are
“merely” very, very good. (If Bujold has ever stooped to
writing a mediocre book, I haven’t read it.)
For me, those
tiers look something like this (in internal chronological order
within each tier):
The Vor Game
that DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY gets placed in the last tier. (In my
opinion, it’s definitely better than THE VOR GAME and only
slightly edged out by THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE.) So it’s
only “very good”, not “excellent” or “nigh to
There are three
major problems I had with DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY:
First, the theme
seems forced. In works like SHARDS OF HONOR, BARRAYAR, MEMORY,
and even THE WARRIOR’S APPRENTICE, Bujold distinguishes
herself by crafting themes which are subtle, interwoven, and
powerful. These lend a depth and resonance to her work which
truly sets them apart from the rest of the pack.
IMMUNITY, on the other hand, I feel as if the theme (parenting
and childbirth) is being used as a bludgeon. Literally everything
in this book seems to tie directly back to this heavy-handed
theme, and in at least one case Bujold has Miles go out of his
way to have this spelled out to the reader. In the final
analysis, something which is elegantly manipulated in Bujold’s
other works is clumsily manhandled here.
Second, and in a
somewhat similar vein, Bujold’s “plotting by convenience”
(or authorial fiat), as I discussed in my reaction to THE VOR
GAME a couple weeks ago, seems to crop up a tad too much here.
Although, to be fair, I may just be overly-sensitized to it
coming off THE VOR GAME.
problem, however, is that a significant chunk of the novel’s
resolution takes place off-screen and is then summed up in an
expository conversation. Admittedly, Miles is not present for
that chunk of resolution. But his wife, Ekaterin, is, and
Bujold has never shied away from multiple points of view before.
In fact, I think
it can be argued that the book as a whole could have benefited significantly
with the addition of Ekaterin’s point of view throughout. Not
only would this have highlighted the theme from a different
angle (for those who have read the book, consider the
conversations between Ekaterin, Nicol, and Garnet Five), but it
would also have allowed us to see Miles through new eyes. From a
plot perspective, it would have also given us a complete picture
of the investigation throughout, without the expository lumps
which crop up consistently. Plus, I wouldn’t mind haved minded
getting a peek at Ekaterin’s point of view just to get a peek
at Ekaterin’s point of view. I’m not one to critique a book
for not being written the way I would have done it, but I think
Bujold raises the issue herself by moving the resolution
off-screen the way that she does.
So, those are
the problems. But, like I said, this is still a very good book.
Bujold brings all of her familiar strengths to play: Memorable
and endearing characterization. Clever plotting. A fine mixture
of humor and drama. Smooth, well-executed prose.
In short, DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY is a lot of fun to read.
If it wasn’t by Bujold, there wouldn’t even be a pretext for
complaint – and so I’m not going to fall into the trap of
disliking something good, just because the author has also
created something great.