Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Posted by Simcha 4:39 AM, under | 8 comments

Dr. Ethan Urquhart is an obstetrician on the isolated, all-male planet of Athos where women are forbidden and infants are conceived in uterine replicators. Since the establishment of the planet, two hundred years ago, the same ovarian culture has been used for the reproduction of infants, but now those cultures have begun breaking and must quickly be replaced in order to keep the population from dying out. New ovarian tissue is ordered by mail but when it arrives the box contains trash instead of the cultures that were purchased. Athos has been swindled! Out of desperation, the leaders of Athos decide that a delegate must be sent off-planet to personally purchase some quality culture tissue, and Ethan is unanimously appointed for the job.

Ethan has never been off of Athos and is terrified that he might be forced to deal with one of those creatures of sin that he has heard of but never seen, a real-life woman. Unfortunately when he arrives in Kline Station the first person that Ethan encounters is Commander Eli Quinn, and she appears to be the only one willing to help him navigate the bewildering space station. But meeting Eli is only the first in a series of disastrous events that involve kidnapping, torture and space newts. Despite his better judgment Ethan finds himself teaming up with Eli in order to stay ahead of the thugs who are after him and unravel a plot that may put the future of Athos in danger.

Ethan of Athos is a fun and humorous, fast paced adventure that was very different from the three other books in the Vorkosigan series that I’ve read so far. While the other books revolved around military battles and Vorkosign politics this story was more of a lighthearted spy thriller, involving characters that are not regulars of the series, other than Eli Quinn, who we meet briefly in The Warrior’s Apprentice. Ethan of Athos can therefore be read as a stand-alone by those who have not read any of the other Vorkosign books, though reading The Warrior’s Apprentice does hep you make sense of the small details and references to characters not in the book.

Regular reader of the Vorkosigan books may be disappointed that Miles Vorkosigan doesn’t make an appearance here, though we do get to hear about him a bit from Eli, who clearly holds him in awe. I did enjoy getting to know Eli better and was glad to see that she had completely recovered from the battle in which her face had been blown off.

I also enjoyed learning about the all-male planet of Athos and the different ways in which they they have developed a society that functions completely without women, though I would have liked to have found out more about how it came to be and the source for their prejudices against women. I was a bit disappointed that Ethan doesn’t really question any of it when he finally does encounter cultures different from his own, though he does at least manage to lose his fear of women by the time he goes home. I’m curious to see if Athos will turn up again in any of the other Vorkosigan books. I hope it does.

Ethan himself was a pleasant enough character but he didn’t make as much of an impression on me as some of Bujold’s other protagonists. I found him a little bland and not particularity interesting, though he does gain some substance as the story goes on. I would have really liked it if Ethan had responded more strongly to his new environment as well as to the prejudice that he frequently encounters when people find out where he is from, but instead Ethan remain strangely untouched by it all.

While I would have been happy if some of the interesting issues in Ethan of Athos had been explored in a bit more depth it was still a very entertaining and fun read and I really hope to encounter Athos again in one of other books in the series.


Great review! Have you read 'Cetaganda' yet? There's a little link to that one. I enjoyed 'Ethan of Athos', though I think missing out one of Bujold's best protagonists - Miles - leaves it slightly below some of the later books in drive.

I have seen that the library have some of her scifi books so I should take a look. though first up are those fantasy ones

Jacob: Thank you ;) I actually just read Cetaganda and The Vor Game and can't wait to read the rest of the series as well.

Blodeuedd: That's what I did. I had first read all of Bujold's fantasy before taking on her scifi books. I think you would enjoy The Sharing Knife, which is also a very nice romance.

This does sound humorous! Oh I could use one of those right now. It also looks like I should look up her other books as well. Now I'm interested in this author. Thanks!

A planet devoid of women, those strange, alien creatures. No wonder Ethan’s a bit bland. Incidentally – how would that work? How do they keep the population going?

Stephanie: Well that's what the uterine replicators and ovarian cultures are for, and where all the trouble begins. I think you might like this book.

Melissa: Bujold is a big Scifi author though I enjoy her fantasy as well. Though what I like best about her books is the way she creates heroes out of unlikely characters, such as Miles who is physically deformed.

Yep, Miles is a great character, and always fun to watch as he just keeps going until he is in far over his head (which is, y'know, basically the plot for The Warrior's Apprentice) :P Bujold's fantasy is also very good - I absolutely love The Curse of Chalion: the mechanics of the fantasy pantheon there work very originally.

Oh this sounds like so much fun! I'm going to have to think on getting this series. Thank you! And seeing that you enjoyed it so, well that speaks miles for me. :)

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