Lois McMaster Bujold has never been shy about bringing sexuality into her stories. In her novels about Miles Vorkosigan and the futuristic galaxy in which she sets his adventures, Bujold has told of a planet inhabited entirely by male homosexuals, a race of hermaphrodites, and sexual affairs with genetically altered beings.
In her latest novel - "Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen" - she reveals that Miles's father - the late Aral Vorkosigan - was bisexual. In their younger days, both Aral and his wife Cordelia had an affair with Ensign Oliver Jole. This was hinted at in earlier novels but confirmed here. Aral and Cordelia were each aware of and supportive of their partner's extramarital needs and their marriage remained strong after the affairs.
It is now three years after Aral's death. Oliver is an Admiral and Cordelia is a high-ranking government official and the two have rekindled their friendship and their romantic involvement. This new phase of their relationship begins when Cordelia announces that she plans to become a mother using frozen gametes provided by Aral before his death. She offers some of these to Oliver, so he can father a child with Aral's DNA. The sci-fi child-bearing technology can be confusing, but it all seems plausible in Bujold's universe. This book continues a common theme of the series: ethical questions that arise from new technologies.
This series has always focused on the growth of Miles as he moves through the phases of his life. Although he is a minor character in this one, we still see that growth. A middle-aged Miles is wrestling with the responsibilities of his fatherhood and struggling to understand the needs of his mother.
Cordelia has always been an important character in the series. She has influenced the character of both Aral and Miles, but she has mostly done so in the background. Miles and (to a lesser extent Aral) drove the stories. But she takes charge in this book, governing a planet, defining her relationship with Oliver, and helping a middle-aged Miles understand her relationship and her need to move forward with her life following the death of her husband.
Like most Vorkosigan novels, this is an adventure story and a character study. But it is also a love story and a story about starting over and moving on after losing a loved one. Its theme of sex and romance among older people resonated with me, as I am a single man in (probably) the final third of my life.
I do not know if this is Bujold's final Vorkosigan story; but, if it is, she has concluded on a strong note.