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Book Report: A Civil Campaign

Your Humble Blogger reread A Civil Campaign. It was fun.

It’s a perfect bathtub book in many ways, not least that it’s a small, cheap paperback. I found myself enjoying the goofiness of the “science” fiction this time through. There are four major science-fictiony plot points, as I think back. First, there are the butter bugs, which are genetically engineered bugs that eat “earth-derived biological matter” and regurgitate a tasty high-protein cream. Their refuse is high-quality compost, and they can be easily, quickly and cheaply gengineered to different colors, shapes and designs. No-one will invest them, however, except for our heroes.

Then there’s the plot point about the woman who goes off-planet to the great galactic medical center and returns three months later fully male, not through crude surgery but through genetic manipulation that leaves him fully capable of fathering children, etc, etc. Odd gender stuff, not least because Ms. Bujold leaves out a lot of gender stuff. Then there’s the point about the fellow whose gene scan reveals him to have one great-grandparent from off-planet. And then there’s the plan to make the garden out of native-planet plants (on an odd half-terraformed world). Oh, and scientist is working on making the butter bugs able to use the local planet’s plants.

The thing is, all that is deeply, deeply goofy. But who cares? Or, rather, Ms. Bujold makes it easy not to care, or even better, to enjoy the goofiness. They are all simple extensions of genre conventions that are goofy in themselves. Where they are extensions at all, that is.

On the other hand, I found myself unnecessarily bothered by a political plot point. The thing that drives the main plot is the necessity for the plot of the previous book to be kept absolutely secret, real slit-your-throat-before-reading high-level stuff. But why? The existence of a handful of incompetent thieves-turned-terrorists (or terrorists-turned-theives, as it’s presumably up to the Emperor to decide how to spin it) damaging the Really Expensive Space Mirror, and then caught by Imperial Security before they went on to attack ... well, whatever you want to frame them up as planning to attack. The terrorist death ray didn’t work, which was an important plot point in the previous book. So why allow the Emperor’s right-hand man to become the victim of a smear and simultaneously make a pathetic it-was-an-accident report on the sabotage, rather than invent a story making him a hero? It wasn’t portrayed in the book as a stubborn decision by a paranoid secrecy-addicted ImpSec, either. Nobody questions it. Everybody in on the real facts blithely accepts the secrecy as obviously necessary.

Maybe it’s the current domestic political climate that made it stand out. But it sure stood out.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Then there’s the point about the fellow whose gene scan reveals him to have one great-grandparent from off-planet.

Would it have been more problematic if he was revealed as having on great-grandparent from off-off-planet?

Scientifically, more problematic. But goofier, and therefore in context probably better. Also, since the off-planet great-grandparent was said to explain the musical ability or the person in question, an off-off-planet grandparent would presumably explain Coarse Acting ability, which would be even better, and better yet!


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