The Vor Game is, almost certainly, the worst of Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels.
Last week I wrote that Memory combined all of Bujold’s strengths without any of her flaws. The Vor Game is almost an inversion of this: It combines her worst flaws as an early writer with very few of her strengths. The powerful themes of her others works are missing. The plot is driven by one implausible chance encounter and improbability after another. Even the little touches and subtle nuances seem absent once you are past the first fifty pages. The one strength which may still be cited are the characters – but even they are somewhat lamed as the absurdity of the plot grows.
In many ways, this is actually a book of two parts: The first part is an effective novella (which, unfortunately, lacks an ending). The second part is a disastrous outing compared to the standard Bujold has set for herself, primarily as a result of the SOD-breaking coincidences which drive the plot.
When you read this book, try counting the number of times the plot is advanced because Miles has a chance encounter with someone. In some cases these are merely as improbable as running into someone by chance in New York City. In other cases it’s as improbable as running into someone in Beijing who you just saw two weeks ago in Los Angeles.
If it happened once, it wouldn’t be a problem. Heck, Bujold might even be able to pull it off two or even three times if she were careful.
Instead, she does it more than a dozen times. The entire plot is driven along this single-minded authorial fiat.
Okay. So there are some significant problems here. There are also good points: If you can swallow your disbelief repeatedly, the plot is a rip-roaring ride. Watching Miles at his most hyperactively desperate is as much fun as it usually is, and the supporting cast can be truly delightful.
When all is said and done, this is still a good book. It’s a frustrating and disappointing book compared to Bujold’s other works, and its utterly baffling that such a poorly-constructed novel could win the Hugo. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is still a fun little read, as long as you don’t come to it with artificially heightened expectations.
Lois McMaster Bujold
Publisher: Baen Books
Cover Price: $15.00