by Lois McMaster Bujold
a colleague asked me a series of questions while we were out drinking the other night, questions like So what's next for you? and Is this all you are planning on doing with your career? and Is your current job how you want to be defined and does that actually give you satisfaction? I found myself annoyed then defensive then offended. what gave her the right to question me, I've accomplished a lot in my job and in my life, yes I am content with my career and why the hell shouldn't I be, blah blah blah. in the end I realized that I shouldn't have been offended because I think she was asking me those questions because she was asking herself the same. and so I calmed down and we continued to get drunk while philosophizing on the choices we've made and the nature of our existence blah blah blah.
I think some people like to live in boxes. I am such a person. I love my box, it's a safe and comfortable one and I've spent a lifetime constructing it. my box is one that gives me genuine satisfaction and the feeling that I am doing only what I want to be doing with my life. but I think other people resent and reject the idea of a box; they prefer to live in what can be called a "liminal space" - that space between, that place of ambiguity and movement and looking towards what comes next. you can look at your goals in life and try to come up with a plan or timeline to achieve those goals. or you can look at your goals and see them as constantly in flux, in movement depending on where you are, liminal. or you can look at yourself and realize that you are actually not a goal-oriented person. I think all of those are different kinds of boxes. I think my colleague may disagree.
so this book, Memory, is about those sorts of things. despite opening with a character getting his legs shot off and ending with a high-stakes trap for a devious villain, this is far from an action novel. it is a thoughtful story about who we are, why we are, the boxes we construct, the identities we create for ourselves and the separate boxes those identities live in, how our identity/identities can become dominos or houses of cards falling if something or someone takes those boxes away. Miles Vorkosigan's dual identities of mercenary fleet commander and aristocratic peer of the realm have always been bubbling in the background throughout his stories; in this novel they finally come to a head. Bujold does a superb and moving job in delineating who Miles is, and was, and can be; she gives the mundane, all-too-common situations of making errors & trying to cover up your tracks, losing a job & so losing a part of your identity, a palpably emotional resonance. she does all of that and then she doubles down and gives us another ongoing character, Simon Illyan, going through a similar thing but in an entirely different manner. Miles is the sort of character who assertively rejects the idea of a box and who insists he lives in a liminal space - but who has actually been constructing two boxes to live in, and has actively not been living in the space between, in that liminal space. Simon is the sort of character who has constructed his own perfect box - one that makes his career equal his actual self - only to find that box dismantled and his sureness of purpose and self destroyed as he moves into a purely liminal space. it is fascinating comparing the two journeys.
in sum, this is a wonderful novel about figuring out that who you are does not equal your job or your birth name or any specific, singular role or title; rather, it is the sum of all such things, and your experiences, and your internal workings, your actions and your potential, your ability to change or not change, and so much else. you = not easily summed up in one word.
I love that this space opera is all about these 'mysteries' that every human experiences. I know when I pick up a Vorkosigan Saga novel that I will be enjoying some action and some intrigue and some political maneuvering and maybe even some romance. standard space opera pleasures. but I also know that I will be enjoying a human tale about actual human beings and the things that happen in life, to everyone. it is that last sentence, that particular quality, that makes this series so special.