My plan is to slowly make myself through the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Ethan of Athos was a purchase at a used bookstore when I realized that it was a standalone indirectly related to Miles Vorkosigan which could be read out of chronological or published order. Yay, sort-of-standalones! I try to read things chronologically because I’m OCD like that, although I did read that most of the Miles Vorkosigan saga was written so that they could be read at any point.
The Premise: Athos is a men-only planet. The first settlers wanted to be completely independent of females, and reproduction is done through fertilization in Rep Centers which eligible fathers can have done after they’ve accrued enough points in a system based on their contributions to society. Dr. Ethan Urquhart is a obstetrician in Athos, so he is one of the first to be aware that his planet’s stock of viable female ovarian tissue has begun to deteriorate and they need a fresh supply. The problem is that the tissue they were promised from a supplier is a bunch of trash, and someone needs to leave Athos and straighten things out or there will be a huge population problem. Ethan is “volunteered” to be sent to Kline Station and retrace the path of the shipment of ovarian tissue to find out where things went wrong, and fix it.
My Thoughts: Ah, mono-gendered planets. This is an interesting take on that trope. I think the author could have easily made Ethan someone who has a prejudice against women because of his upbringing but instead he has a rather endearing innocence. Ethan was raised in a world where their religion equates women to demons and men are either gay or celibate, so when he leaves the rest of the galaxy is a huge culture shock. It’s sort of funny to read how he has problems recognizing what a woman looks like, shirks away when he figures it out, and is completely clueless when a woman flirts with him. He’s also baffled when he can’t find any men who’d like to get away from women and immigrate to Athos. Yet at the same time he treats the women he encounters like people, albeit alien-like ones. I liked his character but I couldn’t help comparing him to Cordelia Naismith in the Cordelia’s Honor omnibus I just finished. In comparison he’s a nice guy but so naive. He survives and does well yet you can’t help suspecting he’d be dead if it wasn’t for the people he encounters on Kiline Station who help him out.
Elli Quinn is the first person Ethan meets. Elli is a beauty with a rather swash-bucking devil-may-care persona, and many friends, but she’s also a mercenary with ties to Admiral Naismith and she has a hidden agenda. She pulls Ethan out of a couple of jams, and I imagine that’s her on the cover of the book with Ethan in the background. When I first bought this book they looked like they were working together, now I think that additionally Ethan is hiding behind her! (Also: he is Lee Majors’ twin). Ethan gets captured by Cetagandians who think he knows some information that they want about someone who is somehow linked to the missing Athos ovarian cultures. Elli wants to find out what the Cetagandians are up to. Each group thinks that the other knows more about what’s going on, and Elli and Ethan just have to stay alive long enough to get to the bottom of things. The story is sort of an action mystery set on a space station, with a little bit of humor thrown in. I began to suspect that the intent was to have Ethan and Elli fall in love, but despite a blurb that suggests that (describing Elli as an “utterly gorgeous mercenary intelligence officer” that Ethan allies with), Ethan is homosexual and there is no chemistry between them other than as friends. This actually works better for the book I think, and it leaves us with an ending that has much better possibilities (I would love to know what happens to Athos as a result of this ending), and an implied HEA for Ethan at least.
Overall: Not bad. This felt like a straightforward science fiction romp. I didn’t connect with this protagonist as much as I did with the last Bujold I read, but I did enjoy the ideas about gender, population, and genetics in this one. In terms of the Miles Vorkosigan saga, this is indirectly related – Elli Quinn, a character in this book, mentions him, but that is all.
Fantasy Cafe – reviewed as part of Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus which was generally a positive review