Snow Crash, Diplomatic Immunity

Well, no one’s going to listen to me if I criticize Snow Crash, which was, I admit, a funny book. The dystopic future was spot-on; I especially appreciated Uncle Enzo. The characters didn’t rise to the same level of development - no surprise for sci-fi.

There was one twist of non-characterization that’s really beginning to annoy me, though - I call it lover ex machina. The last time I spotted it was in The Eyre Affair, in which the heroine’s ex-boyfriend is alluded to ad nauseum until the author finally produces him at the end. In Snow Crash, the hero’s ex-girlfriend makes a few cryptic remarks before disappearing for most of the novel. In the end, if you’ll pardon the spoiler, the known lead character is united with the unknown ex for happily ever after.

I object. If you’re going to write a romance, you should write it - with both characters on-stage for a significant amount of time. If you don’t want to write a romance, then don’t try to cash in on the happily-ever-after by pulling the ex out of a bag and awarding them to the hero as a literary bonus prize. It’s sheer laziness, and it’s jarring to the reader who has been rooting for the best supporting character of the opposite gender - not for some off-stage no-good ex who left Our Hero for an inadequately explained reason long before the novel began.

I would have thought that one was obvious.

I made a killing at the library last week: I snagged a copy of Diplomatic Immunity, Lois McMaster Bujold’s latest Vorkosigan novel. I have to admit, I was disappointed. I noticed about halfway through that the novel wasn’t going anywhere in particular - it really was just another case for Miles’ unique blend of detective work and one-man space operatics. At that point I thought the pacing was off; I had to finish the whole thing before I realized I was looking for something that wasn’t there. My other pacing problem came near the end, when Miles spends what could have been a significant portion of the novel semi-conscious. Instead of following Ekaterin’s actions, LMB just let the whole section drop. I wonder if she intended to all along, or if that was an unfortunate cut.

I think Diplomatic Immunity is a triumph of the series over the novel - there is nothing new here, either in plot or characterization. Instead, everything from the sidekicks to uterine replicators to lovable misfits from Jackson’s Whole to Cetagandans is taken, in whole or in spirit, from earlier in the series, and the setting is from Falling Free. A Civil Campaign was also heavy on series background, but at least it featured some character development.

The novel, people who write how-to-write books say, is the hero’s evolution under outside pressure. Miles does not evolve here, and neither do the secondary characters. That doesn’t make Diplomatic Immunity any less entertaining as space opera, but LMB herself might admit it’s not a real book:

[Barrayar] turned into the book it always should have been, a real book, where plot, character, and theme all worked together to make whole greater than the sum of its parts. It turned out to be about something, beyond itself. –Lois McMaster Bujold

If anyone (and it would probably have to be Liz) can tell me what Diplomatic Immunity was about, I’d love to hear it.

3 Responses to “Snow Crash, Diplomatic Immunity”

  1. Liz Says:

    Sorry, I can’t tell you either. I enjoyed it enormously, but I can’t bring myself to wholeheartedly recommend it.

    It was a good read, but not necessarily a good novel. I think you summed it up when you said it was a series book rather than a standalone. It suffered for lack of Ekaterin.

    What it reminded me of more than anything else was early Miles — Warrior’s Apprentice Miles, and Vor Game Miles. The lone crackpot.

    How different would those books have been if, say, we’d have had Elena’s POV?

    And yeah, pacing problems. ::Liz smacks the editor::

    A quick question, since you probably still have the book around: was anything said about Gregor and Laisa starting a family? I have this fic idea, y’see…

  2. Jemima Says:

    I don’t recall anything about Gregor/Laisa. The only Laisa throw-away line was that she owned one of the Komarran ships.

  3. liz Says:


    ::does best Montgomery Burns imitation::