Miles Errant is an omnibus containing the novella “The Borders of Infinity” and the novels Brothers in Arms and Mirror Dance in the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold. Mirror Dance won the Hugo Award in 1995.
There are currently 13 novels in this space opera series (including the ones that are loosely related since one takes place 200 years before, two are prequels about Miles’s parents, and one does not feature Miles but a member of his crew instead) and 4 novellas with a new novel (Cryoburn) scheduled to come out later this year. Miles Errant is fourth in the omnibus edition order (after Cordelia’s Honor, Young Miles and Miles, Mystery and Mayhem). It is followed by one novel not in an omnibus (Memory) and two more collections, Miles in Love and Miles, Mutants and Microbes.
Even though the books were not all published in chronological order, I’d recommend starting with either the first prequel about Miles’s mother (Shards of Honor which can also be found in the omnibus Cordelia’s Honor) or the first book about Miles (The Warrior’s Apprentice which can be found in the omnibus Young Miles). The two books in Cordelia’s Honor are not really necessary to understanding the rest of the series, but I’m glad I started with them because I really enjoyed them. However, I would recommend those who are more interested in space opera adventure begin with The Warrior’s Apprentice since Shards of Honor is largely a love story.
The novella “Borders of Infinity” starts off this collection. Miles is dropped off in the Cetagandan prison camp Dagoola IV, where he is immediately beaten and stripped of his few belongings (including the clothes on his back) by some of the other prisoners. Soon he is approached by another naked man who would like to know if Miles is the One – or rather, the other One since the scripture he’s been carrying around says there are two Ones. Miles thinks perhaps he can use this religious fanaticism to his advantage in his mission – rescuing the heroic Colonel Tremont from the prison camp.
Brothers in Arms picks up after the events of “The Borders of Infinity.” In this novel Miles and his fleet end up on Earth shortly after the end of the previous story. While waiting for the funds necessary to repair one of the ships, Miles works at the Barrayaran embassy – to the great dismay of Captain Galeni, who has to deal with him and his Dendarii Fleet. However, after his requests for funding are ignored, Miles begins to wonder if there is some sort of conspiracy at play – and inadvertently discovers a plot against his home planet involving the clone he never knew he had.
Mirror Dance takes place about two years after the previous story but is very closely related since it is mostly about Mark, Miles’s clone. Mark pretends to be Admiral Naismith in order to free the clone children on Jackson’s Whole, who will eventually be replacement bodies for their progenitors. While he largely succeeds due to the intervention of Miles, who figured out what happened, the plan goes awry and has some rather dire consequences. Afterward, Mark ends up on Barrayar where he meets his family and must come to terms with who he is.
The series focuses of course on the title character, Miles Vorkosigan, a dwarf with very brittle bones due to a toxin his mother was exposed to before he was born. Growing up in a very military society, Miles has had to overcome the obstacles of both prejudice and his own physical limitations. Fortunately for Miles, what he lacks is more than made up for by the fact that he is brilliant. He’s hyper, has issues with obeying authority and is overall a very vibrant character – and is very entertaining to read about. It’s a fun series to read, and I do think there is some great character development and insight, particularly in Mirror Dance (which was not only my favorite in this collection but also my favorite in the series so far).
The three stories in this particular collection all tied together very well. “The Borders of Infinity” was a very light, fast-paced and fun story – at least until close to the end where it’s not as light. The way it ended was great, though, and it’s very rare that I really think a story has a strong conclusion. Brothers in Arms followed a similar pattern of going from light and fun to less so, but it didn’t take long for Mirror Dance to be on the darker side. Even when it’s not going well for the characters, the narrative contains enough humor to keep it from feeling as grim as it could, though.
For instance, right at the beginning of “The Borders of Infinity,” Miles is stripped naked and pretty thoroughly beaten by some other prisoners. Instead of focusing too much on the depressing circumstances, it is immediately followed up with Miles being approached by a fellow naked prisoner offering him a drink of water:
The man squatted in studied politeness until Miles finished drinking, then leaned forward on his knuckles in restrained urgency. “Are you the One?”
Miles blinked. “Am I the what?”
“The One. The other One, I should say. The scripture says there has to be two.”
“Uh,” Miles hesitated cautiously. “What exactly does the scripture say?”
The man’s right hand wrapped over his knobby left wrist, around which was tied a rag screwed into a sort of rope. He closed his eyes; his lips moved a moment, and then he recited aloud, “…but the pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them by the arms; also they had left their garments behind them, for though they went in with them, they came out without them.” His eyes popped back open to stare hopefully at Miles.
So, now we begin to see why this guy seems to be all by himself…. “Are you, perchance, the other One?” Miles shot at a venture.
The man nodded shyly.
“I see. Um…” How was it that he always attracted the nut cases? He licked the last drops of water from his lips. The fellow might have some screws loose, but he was certainly an improvement over the last lot, always presuming he didn’t have another personality or two of the homicidal loonie variety tucked away in his head. No, in that case, he’d be introducing himself as the Chosen Two, and not be looking for outside assistance. (pp. 5 – 6)
Even though Mirror Dance is more about Mark than Miles, it is still a very good story and also contains some good scenes with Miles. In spite of being his clone and sharing many of his traits, Mark is very different from Miles. This is definitely his book and he undergoes a lot of growth in it. It goes very well as a follow-up to Brothers in Arms, in which we first meet Mark but only see him from Miles’s perspective.
While I wouldn’t recommend starting with Miles Errant, I’d definitely recommend it to fans of the series who haven’t read it yet. For those who haven’t read the series, I’d recommend it to those who like adventures, strong characters and some well-written humorous narrative.
My Rating: 8/10
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.
Reviews of other books in this series: