Labyrinth is a short Miles Vorkosigan adventure that starts as a simple covert pick-up and ends with a new recruit for Miles’ Dendarii mercenaries, not to mention some romance for one of the side characters. There’s a lot to like about this novella: it’s paced quite well for its length, and although very science-fictional, it’s definitely more special-ops thriller than anything else.
Labyrinth shows why Miles is the hero of this series. He’s capable of seeing the potential in others, and of questioning his prejudices and pre-conceptions, in a way that some others aren’t—particularly those more traditional nobles on Barrayar. When Miles meets Taura, he’s taken aback by the revelation that there is more intelligence to her than meets the eye. He was set up to expect a ravening beast of a soldier and instead meets a sensitive young woman. It’s these kinds of twists that make Bujold a force to be reckoned with in this genre. She uses science fiction so effectively to help us explore the liminal spaces of humanity, whether it’s one’s genital configuration and gender identity; one’s limbs, bone structure, etc.; or one’s overall genetic profile and destiny as a short-lived soldier science experiment. There’s very little, beyond the obvious technology, to this story that would be out of place in a contemporary thriller.
The plot is simple and straightforward despite the twists and turns that Bujold loves to serve up. Pick-up and leave turns into smash-and-grab turns into ransom-and-escape, and it’s fun watching plans fall apart, backup plans fall apart, etc. Miles is one of those protagonists always poised on the brink of being a Mary Sue, given how everything seems to go his way, but there’s always those little setbacks—usually as a result of his own hubris—that keep the game interesting. That is, we know Miles will emerge victorious eventually, but he’s probably going to be in mortal peril quite a few times before it’s all over.
Another fun, brief journey back into the Vorkosigan universe.