Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

Ethan of Athos
Lois McMaster Bujold

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.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe – reviewed as part of Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus which was generally a positive review

8 thoughts on “Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

  1. I try to read things chronologically because I’m OCD like that,

    I’m like that as well! That’s why I haven’t read any of the other Miles Vorkosigan books that I have because I was waiting to complete the series. I think I now have all of the books so I should bump it up my TBR. Thanks for your review on this one! I might put this on hold and read the better ones (like Cordelia’s books) first.

    • Heh. Yeah, I like not getting confused/spoiled which happens when I read the wrong book first!

      Yes, I don’t know if I’d recommend this as a book to start the series with. Either Cordelia or the Young Miles books I think is a better place to begin.

  2. I am a massive fan of the Vorkosigan books, but I do think Ethan of Athos is one of the weaker ones. I *think* it was one of the earlier books, and this shows somewhat.

    I started with Cordelia’s Honor (the 2-in-1), liked it well enough, but only really got into the books when I read The Warrior’s Apprentice – promptly glommed the rest within a very short period of time! I think I actually read EoA last, treating it as a standalone.

    • Oo, I think The Warrior’s Apprentice comes next for me! Or something like that. I need to double check the list of what the series is chronologically. 😉

  3. I’ve read most of Bujold’s fantasy books ( though I never finished the Sharing Knife series) and I’ve been intending to read her scifi as well for a while now though I have yet managed to get a hold of any of them. I’m actually scheduled to interview Bujold soon so I really need to get moving on reading those books.

    • There is quite a lot to read isn’t there? Which I think it good in a way – lots to look forward to. I bought a couple of her fantasy books but haven’t read them yet. Plan to soon.

  4. Pingback: Lois McMaster Bujold – Ethan of Athos « Fyrefly's Book Blog

  5. Pingback: Ethan of Athos – Lois McMaster Bujold « Bibliophage's Buffet

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