Miles, Mystery & Mayhem contains three stories in the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold: the novel Cetaganda, the novel Ethan of Athos, and the novella Labyrinth (originally published in Borders of Infinity). It also has a 4 page afterward written by Bujold. Chronologically, this omnibus comes after the Young Miles collection in this space opera series, although it can be read as a stand alone book. All three stories share the common themes of genetic technology and reproduction and tie together with events in Cetaganda, even though that was the last published of the three.
In Cetaganda, Miles and his cousin Ivan have been sent to the planet Cetaganda for the funeral of the Dowager Empress. When they dock on the planet, a man barges in to their ship and leaves behind a strange object after a brief fight. Miles coerces Ivan into keeping the encounter a secret and soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery involving the genomes kept by the haut women of Cetaganda and the murder of the person who came into their ship.
Ethan of Athos is not actually about Miles Vorkosigan, although he is mentioned on occasion since Elli Quinn of the Dendarii Fleet plays a major role in the novel. Ethan is a doctor with the important job of creating life on the all-male planet of Athos. The development of the uterine replicator and genetic technology has made it possible to have children without the presence of women; however, many of the fetuses are no longer surviving. To solve the problem, Athos orders some new ovarian cultures but when the package arrives it is full of useless parts. Ethan is sent to Jackson’s Whole to inspect potential cultures to ensure this does not happen again. What he does not expect is to find himself entangled in a plot involving the mysterious shipment Athos never received – and protected by Elli Quinn, one of those evil female creatures he has been warned against his entire life.
Labyrinth features Miles as his persona Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Fleet. Miles is on a mission to retrieve the great bio engineer Dr. Canaba for Barrayar. While Dr. Canaba has accepted Barrayar’s offer to work for them, the house he works for will not let him go willingly. The plan becomes complicated when Dr. Canaba contacts Miles to say he will not leave with him unless Miles will obtain some samples for him. Canaba hid some genetic materials in the leg of one of the creatures he engineered to be a species perfect for war. Unfortunately, that morning his employer sold the werewolf-like girl, not knowing about the great value of the hidden sample. Now it’s up to Miles to somehow recover the important specimen and secure Dr. Canaba’s services for Barrayar.
Cetaganda and Labyrinth both sucked me in right away, but Ethan of Athos was a bit harder to get into initially. The highlight of the books in this series is the character of Miles, a brilliant disfigured dwarf who has a knack for getting himself (and his friends) into a lot of trouble. He is inquisitive, somewhat reckless, very energetic, and his character leaps off the pages. The lack of Miles as a main character is very noticeable in Ethan of Athos since it does not have the vibrance he brings to Cetaganda, which comes right before this story. This may partially be due to the fact that Cetaganda was written about 10 years after Ethan of Athos, which was only Bujold’s third novel. However, The Warrior’s Apprentice was her second novel and Miles definitely gave that one the personality that Ethan of Athos was lacking.
Ethan of Athos was also the least humorous of the three stories, again likely because Miles was missing. Cetaganda and Labyrinth were both engaging and entertaining reads with which I had a lot of fun. While Miles often got into funny situations and introduced a lot of sarcastic humor, the two stories also dealt with more thought-provoking serious topics like eugenics and social structures.
Although Ethan of Athos was the weakest of the three stories, I thought it did have the most interesting social structure – the planet of Athos. Athos was basically a monastery with men only but set on a planet instead of a building so women really were a mystery to these men. It gave an interesting portrait of what a world of men only would be like, what survival would be like for them if they did have the technology for creating life by themselves, and what meeting a woman for the first time would be like.
Miles, Mystery & Mayhem was an immensely entertaining read despite the relative weakness of the second novel, which was still not bad by any means. I am not tired of Miles, even after four novels and two novellas, and certainly want to keep reading more about this snarky dwarf admiral nobleman intelligence man.
Reviews of other books in the series: