SA's Reviews > Ethan of Athos

Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold
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's review
Dec 12, 11

bookshelves: 2011
Read from December 07 to 12, 2011

"Not a Story About Miles." I spent approximately 1/3 of this book hating everybody, including Ethan; 1/3 of this book interested in the genetic politics of Bujold's galaxy; and 1/3 of this book in shaky relief that Bujold didn't stick the landing.

I realize this is a very early novel for Bujold, and I'm willing to forgive a lot based on the sheer enjoyment I've had with this series and her writing so far. But it was deeply unclear to me whether she was going to push the agenda of "here's the woman that converts Ethan!" or respect the repellent, but accepted, culture of Athos. That she managed that is a relief, but it kept me off-balance for so much of the novel as to not particularly enjoy the experience of reading it. Elli's unnecessary invective about Ethan's sexuality was both unpleasant and in hindsight, out of character.

It wasn't until I read the afterword that I realized the origins of Athos in the male monastic tradition, which made a great deal more sense (apart from--okay, women, sin, I get that from the Western Christian tradition, but the jump to internalizing homosexuality as a fundamental cultural starting point is a little more murky, because there is just as much invective against that as there is in woman-blaming) in the context of the story. And the socialist-communal aspect of the culture made more sense then as well, because monasteries certainly operate as culturally independent, socially interdependent worlds.

And I appreciated that, from an economic standpoint, Athos was on the edge of poverty not only because of its internal choices but because one of the ways such an isolated monastic culture survived was through gifts, and no one else in the galaxy was interested in giving them anything.

The thing that I can't budge on, though, and perhaps this is purposeful for a later plot point in the series, is that if their genome-introduction plan goes off without a hitch, in three generations some half of the planet will have the genes and/or the gene expression of telepathy (or other mental attributes), and I'm hard pressed to believe this would continue Athos' isolation from the rest of the galaxy. With that many minds flipped on, it seems only time before they'd go out to start interfacing with the other billions of minds out there, and that seems to go rather against the Athosian (god, SGA, did you steal this from Bujold?) foundational principle.

I think Terrence may have thought this all the way through, but kept it to himself. Ethan, bless him, was probably only concerned with gene expression and didn't spare a thought for the political consequences. Either way, a planet full of tele-whatevers is probably not going to stay tied to that rock for long.

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