Saturday, 29 July 2017

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold continues by rereading of the Vorkosigan books in internal chronological order. The effect of privileging chronology over publication order is particularly interesting in this case since Ethan of Athos was published in the same year as Shards of Honour and The Warrior's Apprentice but is set after Cetaganda. It was a little weird to read about Cetagandan bad guys and genetics on a so much shallower level than what we got in Cetaganda. But, that said, I had forgotten a lot about Ethan of Athos since my first read of it sixish years ago. The first time around I think I dismissed it as "OK, but insufficient Miles". This second time around I enjoyed it more than I expected to.

The familiar old SF "planet of women" chestnut is reversed in the planet of Athos — an all-male planet made possible by the invention of the uterine replicator. Ethan, drawn out of his beloved Athos by a quest, finds himself an alien in more mainstream human society, and cannot help but find women disturbing aliens as well, especially the ultra-competent, ultra-beautiful Elli.

Ethan of Athos is Lois McMaster Bujold's third novel. It departs from the concerns of the Vorkosigan family to explore the ramifications of advanced biotechnology, turning many a cliché on its head along the way.

The basic premise, and the part I remembered most clearly, of Ethan of Athos is that Athos is a planet with only men living on it, who reproduce using science and uterine replicators. Their ovarian cultures, which they need to keep making more babies, are failing and the new shipment they ordered turns out to be rubbish so Ethan has to go procure a new one. I also remembered Ellie Quinn being around (who first appeared in Warrior's Apprentice) but had completely forgotten what she was up to until I read it again.

Overall this was a more enjoyable read than I remembered and I found the book more interesting than I expected. That said, this was still a book written in the 80s and a lot of the general society people who I would expect to be more progressive than modern society (because they're presumably modern society taken into the future), weren't. There was a general negative perception towards queer people (queer men specifically) among non-Athosians, which I was a bit disappointed by. Given the big deal made about how socially backwards Barrayar is compared with Galactics, I had higher expectations. (To be fair, a lot of the comparisons were specifically with Beta Colony, which seems to be especially progressive, but still.) So there were a few cringe-worthy moments but not too many.

I think this is an oft-overlooked entry in the Vorkosigan Saga but worth reading despite the lack of an actual Vorkosigan walking onto the page. Also, Ellie Quinn is great and I like that we get to know her better in this book than we did when we first met her in The Warrior's Apprentice. I recommend Ethan of Athos to fans of Bujold's other books but also to people who haven't read any other Vorkosigan books. Although a small number of amusing references will be lost, this is a pretty feasible place to start reading the series. I mean, it's not my top recommended starting place for the series, but it's a book that stands alone well and gives a bit of an introduction to the story universe. The only disappointment is that there is no sequel or follow up, so we are left to fill in the post-ending   story ourselves.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 1986, Baen
Series: Vorkosigan Saga, book 3 in publication order, book 7 in internal chronological order (more or less)
Format read: ePub as part of the Miles, Mystery & Mayhem omnibus
Source: Purchased several years ago direct from Baen

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