I’ve reached Mirror Dance in my Lois McMaster Bujold rereading project, and it’s certainly grown on me. With apologies to Liz, though, I still can’t add it to my favorites. I rank it above the pure space operatics, but below the moving themes of Shards of Honor, Memory and
Christine once said “psychology robs us of our complexity.” (John Irving?) The on-and-off psychoanalysis of Mark robbed him of his complexity for me. He starts out intriguingly clueless and inchoate, but then he overhears his parents talking about him, has some sort of Road to Damascus event right there on the library floor, and loses me completely.
I’m not knocking the presence of psychobabble itself - Cordelia’s analysis of Mark was wonderful, and the little bits about Gregor both taking after Cordelia and watching the watcher were lovely, too. Only Mark’s psychological insight into himself threw me, because to me self-knowledge is at the other end
of the mental health spectrum from psychological instability. This contradiction comes to a head when Mark tries to warn Kareen about his mental problems, and settles for letting Cordelia warn her. At that point, I didn’t see what was left to warn her about. (Apparently Cordelia didn’t either.)
I know Liz isn’t buying this, so let’s compare Mark to Miles. For at least the previous two books, Miles’ identity problems (Lt. Miles vs. Lord Miles vs. Admiral Miles, with a side of Amnesiac Miles) have been a significant theme, but never has anyone reduced Miles to a syndrome or a defense mechanism. Yes, Cordelia blamed it on Barrayar, but I didn’t buy that. For one thing, that’s LMB talking about how she
meant to write about the pain of a mutant in a military anti-mutant society, while the real pain has come mainly from his grandfather and his own screw-ups. More importantly, Miles has never looked for a therapeutic purpose behind “the little Admiral.” When he thinks about it at all, Miles is just as ignorant as the reader about the psychological underpinnings of his multiple personality - and just as disinterested.
That Mark can explain Mark to himself makes him fundamentally less complex than Miles. Perhaps in real life psychology does not rob us of our individuality, but in literature explaining a character too well amounts to explaining the character away. Yes, there are more pieces of Mark than of Miles at the end of the novel, but Mark’s pieces are all labelled and pinned to a board, while Miles’ pieces run free (and run him into serious trouble in Memory, as foreshadowed by Cordelia when she says she’ll only
start worrying about Miles when the little Admiral is taken away).
For all the fascinating parallels between Mark and Miles, Mark is not a mirror image of his big brother. Mark is, if you’ll pardon the math, a projection of 3-space Miles onto a rather dark plane. It does take the whole novel to get him properly pinned down, but I don’t see room for a Mark sequel beyond his comic subplot in A Civil Campaign.
Speaking of comic subplots, I think I’m in love with Ivan Vorpatril.