on re-reading Mirror Dance
March 14, 2012
I’m pretty vocal that Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga is just about my favorite series of books of all time. It’s the series that’s taught me the most about how to write a series. Over the last couple of months, I’ve found myself re-reading the later books in the series (re-reading again, I should say. I’ve read some of these a lot). I’ve been finding it useful, looking at how Bujold handles things like tone and backstory, when dealing with these characters who’ve been around for a dozen books, who are very familiar but moving into new territory. Now that I’m working on the twelfth Kitty novel and facing these issues myself.
There’s one Vorkosigan book I haven’t re-read at all since the first time I read it, maybe 15 years ago now, and that’s Mirror Dance. Mirror Dance was the first book in the series I read (I picked it up because it had just won the Hugo), which was probably not the best plan since it’s not just the middle of the series, it’s the second book in a three-book story arc. I really was right in the middle of things with no clue who these people were or what the background was. Didn’t matter, because it’s a fantastic read. Gripping, heart-stopping, with an amazing cast of characters. I immediately rushed out and read all the other books, and have been reading them as they’ve come out since.
But I’ve never gone back to re-read Mirror Dance. Part of this was because I gave away my copy. The other part — I’m terrified of it. I’m actually glad I read it before I knew who these people were, because how much more devastating would it have been if I’d already fallen in love with them, then had to watch them go through what they go through? Because Mirror Dance is brutal. Miles dies. (He gets better…) Mark is…oh my gosh. Nobody escapes the brutal, spiky ringer in this one. Not even Ivan.
I’ve re-read all the books around Mirror Dance two or three times. I avoided this one. I knew terrible things happened to characters I loved, and I didn’t want to go there. Then, last month, I decided I needed to read it. I just had to do it, to get it out of my system. I started with Brothers in Arms, the book immediately preceding, which is a typical Vorkosigan romp with Ivan and Quinn and everybody along for the ride. I finished it. Got to Mirror Dance. Had a really hard time opening that first page on my e-reader. Seriously hard time. My reaction intrigued me — how amazing, that a fictional book, a made-up story, has almost physically paralyzed me? That’s a neat trick that I’d like to learn.
Eventually, I turned that page and read. It’s one of those books that once you start you can’t stop, especially because I knew what was going to happen and just kind of wanted to get it over with. It’s nice to have the story more firmly in mind, now. As always, I’ve learned lots about how to deal with familiar characters, pushing them further along their arcs so that they don’t stagnate, and how to elegantly handle all that backstory. But. . .I’ll re-read all the other Vorkosigan books before tackling this one again. It’s a brilliant book, don’t get me wrong. But it exhausts me.