The tenth book for the shelf-sitter reading challenge is Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold, part of the Miles Vorkosigan series. If you're a fan of Science Fiction at all-- if you even suspect you might be, given the right circumstances-- then you must read the Miles Vorkosigan books. I suppose they're most properly described as Space Opera, but while there's plenty of space ships and swashbuckling and blasters and exotic planets (no aliens, though), it's just so much more intelligent than I think of Space Opera being-- perhaps because the central character is up there with Sherlock Holmes as one of fiction's most believable geniuses.
Lord Miles Vorkosigan (a.k.a. Admiral Miles Naismith) is born into an extremely powerful, aristocratic family on a planet ruled by the military caste. Due to an assassination attempt on his parents while he is still in utero, Miles is born a brittle-boned, hunchbacked dwarf. This is an enormous problem in his culture, which harbors a Spartan-like horror of disability. Fortunately, Miles is also extremely bright, and by the age of 17 has conned his way into leading a mercenary army in space. Action, adventure, romance, mystery, and hilarity ensue.
I compared Miles to Sherlock Holmes, but there's an important difference between them: people skills. Miles is a whiz at strategy and scheming, but his true genius lies in commanding others. Miles' crew is filled with people who are absolutely loyal to him, and you see how he builds those relationships-- partly through mostly benign manipulation, and partly because he himself is incredibly and demonstrably loyal to those he feels responsible for. In one of my favorite Miles stories, Borders of Infinity, Miles is dumped stark naked into a dome-covered POW camp where he knows absolutely no one. 48 hours later, he's running the place-- and you completely believe it.
I started Brothers in Arms over a year ago, but got sidetracked early on. I realized it was an evil-clone, mistaken-identity type story, and that is one of my least favorite tropes. It just sounded annoying, like sitcom-level conflict. But I worried needlessly; Bujold can do no wrong. The story arc I expected took like three chapters, and then the story moved on in interesting directions. And like all Miles stories, it was thought-provoking and witty and just fun.
Have I gushed enough? I am a Bujold fangirl, it's true.