Lois McMaster Bujold
Science fiction, Vorkosigan saga
I didn't have high expectations for this one. The previous entry in the series, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, was objectively pretty bad. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the first Vorkosigan book that I deliberately chose not to buy. I anticipated that I'd have to say something like: "Well, if you're a Vorkosigan fan, this one's worth reading if you get it from the library."
I was wrong. This one isn't worth reading under any circumstances. In fact, the more of a Vorkosigan fan you are, the less you should read this one. It's a flaccid, self-indulgent mess. Here's how it breaks down.
Pages 1-122: Nothing happens.
Pages 123-125: The scene you've been plodding along anticipating since page 2.
Pages 126-197: Nothing happens.
Pages 198-200: A man gets a job offer, and he's of two minds whether to accept it.
Pages 200-327: Nothing happens.
Page 328: Man turns down job offer. Cue dramatic music.
Pages 329-340: Would be an epilogue, except that the whole damn book is one big epilogue.
Seriously: other than the job offer, there is literally not one thing that any character wants that is opposed in any way by any other character, circumstance, force of nature, social custom, monster, psychological hangup, or astrological conjunction. This book consists of characters talking to each other about non-controversial subjects. It is, in a word, the one thing that I could never have envisioned a Vorkosigan book being: BORING. Sorry, three words: MIND-NUMBINGLY BORING.
I have a theory that there are two general types of writers: the intuitive and the workmanlike. The intuitive writer is the one who says "the character was telling me that he wanted to do X." The workmanlike writer is the one who says "I needed that scene there to set up scene Y and to establish the motivations of character Z." Lois Bujold, I'm pretty sure, is an intuitive writer. She doesn't analyze. She's been quoted as saying
Which describes, to absolute perfection, what she absolutely, cosmically, totally, and horribly failed to do in GJatRQ. It would be ironic if it weren't so ghastly.The rule for finding plots for character-centered novels ... is to ask: "So what's the worst possible thing I can do to this guy?" And then do it.
I have another theory, too. Some years ago Bujold wrote a brilliant book called A Civil Campaign, modeled on a Regency romance. This book was so good, and was so successful, that it convinced Bujold that she's a terrific romance writer. She's not. She's a terrible romance writer. (For one thing, she can't write female characters.) What she did in A Civil Campaign was to throw a romantic problem around what she is terrific at, which is the caper-adventure novel. You know: the protagonist gets thrown into a developing situation, and she improvises a plan, and she's executing it when holy shit well that was a monkey wrench, gotta have a new plan, except whoa I didn't see that coming! and she's just getting that under control when, uh-oh, you know that thing that seemed like such a great idea back in Chapter 3, well, the problem is ...
Lois Bujold is a genius at that. You can see it not just in A Civil Campaign but in Ethan of Athos and Memory and all the "Dendarii" novels and Mirror Dance and ... hell, just go read them. Just don't read Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. Really, I'm serious about this. No matter whether you are a Vorkosigan loyalist or a newbie, a casual follower or an obsessional fanboy, do not read this book. Just because an author has produced some wonderful books, it doesn't follow that everything by that author is wonderful. This isn't.