A book by Lois McMaster Bujold
Ethan of Athos is a difficult book to review because the bulk of the novel is a rather average adventure story set in the universe of Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan stories. It does have some very engaging and thought provoking peripheral details, however.
Ethan is from an all male planet where women are seen as little more than demons. The planet is entirely based on homosexual relationships between males who must form contracts for permission to reproduce. Reproduction is accomplished artificially through the use of ovaries purchased from other planets. Athos is cheated out of a group of ovaries they purchased from Jackson's Whole so Ethan, being the head of one of Athos' reproduction centers, is sent as an emissary to discover what has occurred and to purchase new ovaries. Arriving on Kline Station, Ethan, who had never seen a woman before and views them as evil incarnate, is saved from being abducted by Jackson's Whole thugs by the vivacious Elli Quinn of the Denderii Mercenaries. Elli Quinn, Miles Vorkosigan fans may recall, is the attractive, aggressive, female bodyguard of Miles. Thrown into the mix is a paranoid telepath fleeing the same Jackson's Whole thugs. Each are interested in the missing ovaries for their own reasons. The tenuous teamwork of these three incompatibles sets up humorous interactions as the mystery of the missing ovaries unravels.
Despite a promising plot the novel unfolds rather tediously. The novel's most engaging characteristic is its exploration of life on an isolated space station. Within such a closed environment there is grave fear of viral and other infectious diseases. Being the number one public safety concern, quarantine of infected persons and items takes precedence over just about anything. Extensive recycling of all kinds of valuable resources and a quite unique air cleansing and oxygen generating system are also norms life aboard a space station. Bujold also explores the abuse and terrible consequences of genetic engineering. These interesting asides, along with brief glimpses of the social life on Athos and the comical, really farcical, nature of the adventure make Ethan of Athos mildly entertaining.
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