Saturday Shorts: “The Mountains of Mourning” by Lois McMaster Bujold
In addition to loving books – and you know I do – I also love me a good short story. Short stories, especially in science fiction and fantasy, seem to be where some of the most innovative, interesting stuff comes from. They’re also a great way to find out about new and upcoming authors, or to try out an author you’re not familiar with to see if you want to invest your time in their novels. Lucky for me, and for you, there are huge numbers of really excellent short stories being published for free online, and I’ve decided to run a weekly feature, Saturday Shorts, highlighting some of the short fiction I’ve found.
For my first Saturday Short, I’ll be highlighting Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Mountains of Mourning,” available from the Baen Free Library. I had a sudden desire to read some Miles last week, and since I had too many other books going to start a reread of the whole series, I turned to this novella.
If you’re not familiar with Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, and would like to see what all the fuss is about (books in the series have won four Hugo awards), “The Mountains of Mourning” is a great place to start. Although the content of the plot is not very much like the rest of the series, in many ways this story represents the emotional core of the books.
Ensign Miles Vorkosigan has just graduated – improbably – from the Imperial Military Academy. Born with severe physical deformities in a world so scarred by nuclear attack that physical perfection is idolized and “mutie” is the worst insult that can be thrown at someone, young Miles was nonetheless determined to carry on his family’s tradition of military service to the empire, and prove to his judgmental (and deceased) grandfather that he could take his place as one of the Vor military caste. (Not to mention he has to stand up somehow to his father, Count Aral Vorkosigan, one of the most powerful and respected men on the planet.)
Miles is taking his home leave with his parents at their country estate before heading back to the city for his first assignment when a woman comes down from the impoverished hill country, demanding her legal right to present her case before the Count. Her husband has murdered her baby girl, she says, because the baby was a mutie. No one in her village will listen to her, but she has a right to take her grievance before her Count. She wants justice for little Raina. Count Vorkosigan agrees – and he sends Miles to be his representative, to determine what happened to baby Raina, and to mete out justice as necessary.
This is a story about justice and family, about tradition and modernity, about truth and perception. Mostly, it’s a story about responsibility, bearing it and choosing it and refusing to ignore it. Miles is a wonderful character, and more than that, a wonderful person, and this is a great way to get to know him.