Cetaganda is a standard mixed-genre story Review by S.K. Slevinski

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In Print
In Cetaganda, Lois McMaster Bujold creates an interplanetary world of court intrigues where empires rise and fall on genetic codes. I just wish she'd picked a different story to accompany it.

Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin, Ivan, arrive in Cetaganda as part of a delegation from their home world for the occasion of the Cetagandan Empress's funeral. Shortly after arrival, however, they have a peculiar armed encounter with a local Ba servant, and find themselves in possession of a peculiar device. The Vorkosigans decide to tread carefully in revealing the details of their encounter, especially when they see what all is involved in navigating the particulars of Cetagandan society—an elaborate cultural system of rules, customs and taboo. Miles's initial instinct for caution turns out to be well-guided, for as he digs into the background of the mysterious object, he discovers a political war raging "behind the scenes" of Cetagandan society, a battle over the rights to the genetic codes of the royal family.

Book Cover

On Audio
Bujold creates a world with a nice mix of science fiction and fantasy. The elaborate Cetagandan court life, reminiscent of any good political fantasy, lends itself particularly well to the concept of procreation by genetic code, and especially of genetic code as political and cultural commodity. However, instead of staging an intricate drama of character conflicts, dilemmas, desires and longings, Bujold tells a rather ordinary mystery story with Miles as sleuth in the whodunnit of how the web of Cetagandan politics threatens to put the blame onto his homeland. In a milieu so ripe for character emotion, why not take advantage? In my opinion, Bujold comes nowhere near to using her well-drawn speculative world to its full advantage.

This novel is certainly readable, and I imagine many science fiction and fantasy fans will be intrigued by the interplanetary courtiers reminiscent of Dune. However, I saw little more than unfulfilled potential.

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S.K. Slevinski is senior editor for ARWZ Literary Magazine and a long time reader of alternative reality fiction. She is currently a graduate student, specializing in folklore.