Komarr is a conquered world. It is also a world that is uninhabitable without technology. The entire population lives in domes. The atmosphere is not breathable and the Komarrans have spent 300 years trying to change the atmosphere. They have a few hundred more years to go. Planetary atmospheres are BIG. Millions of CUBIC MILES. Part of the process of making this change involves turning carbon dioxide into oxygen which involves plant life, but Komarr is too cold so they need to raise the temperature. So more than a century previously they had built a giant satellite with mirrors to reflect more sunlight onto the planet.
But two weeks before the opening of this story a space ship ore freighter crashed into the satellite. This damaged four of the seven mirrors and severely reduced the reflected sunlight making a trainwreck of the terraforming project. Thus Miles Vorkosigan, brand new Imperial Auditor enters the picture. No doubt this is a surprise to you all. But this is Komarr and Miles is the son of The Butcher.
Miles father, Aral Vorkosigan, was head of the military expedition that conquered Komarr. The Butcher is blamed for a massacre that occurred after the surrender. He claims it was not at his order but who really knows? Never trust a butcher. So now the son of the Butcher must investigate an accident which may not have been so accidental. The possibility of sabotage cannot be excluded. And the emperor of Barrayar, a childhood friend of Miles', is about to marry a Komarran woman so if it is sabotage the politics could get really sticky.
Since this is an engineering problem the investigation is really headed by a more senior Imperial Auditor, Professor Vorthys, an expert in engineering failure analysis. Miles chose to come along for the experience of observing a seasoned Imperial Auditor cope with the problem. It just so happens that Professor Vorthys has a niece on Komarr and her husband is an administrator in the terraforming project. But things get more complicated when it is found that a former employee of his was killed in the "accident" at the satellite. What was he doing there? The crap hits the fan quickly and flies furiously after that.
Lois McMaster Bujold somehow fleshes out minor characters better than some other writers do their major characters. One reviewer said there was no science and technology in the book but then went back and listed it and said she hadn't really noticed it because she was paying so much attention to the great characters. That is another Bujold trait, weaving the important science into the story as though it is as unimportant as breathing. Try not breathing for a while and see how unimportant it is. But how often do you think about it? The novel Komarr incorporates more science than most of her other books because the basic plot involves the development of some new physics.
Spoiler Warning: Proceed beyond this point at your own risk.
Needless to say the accident was not a normal accident but it was not deliberate either. It was an unforeseen side effect of a plot against the empire. This story is a case of physics doing what it does regardless of what people think it does or want it to do. It was as much of a surprise to the perpetrators as it was to the victims. In fact the primary perpetrator was the first victim. But how can the good guys figure out what is going on when the bad guys don't know what is going on. Never trust a criminal.
So finally they have to call in the BIG Guns, Dr. Riva and the Wonderboy to figure out the mystery physics. But she double crosses them too. Never trust a SCIENTIST! But walking torture, bad food and drugs eventually drag the truth out of her. But not until after two more kidnappings and bomb threats. But women save the day in this story, solving the physics, if reluctantly, and stopping the terrorists who had failed to solve the physics in the first place and who would just have made a big mess of a nice neat space station anyway.
Science is for Sci-fi:
So science gets presented from two perspectives in this story. The term Newtonian Physics is never used, Bujold just says classical physics instead. It is applied via computer analysis to the pieces flying off into space as a result of the original accident to analyze the details of the event. It is that analysis which shows that something peculiar was going on which did not correspond to the expected physics. But just working backwards to assemble The Weapon does not explain what the weapon does.
"New physics only comes along once in a lifetime and usually you are either too young or too old."
Apparently soldiers have that same problem with wars. How do you get experience and promotions without a GOOD WAR? LOL
This book shows something of the thinking of tech types while most SF these days just has the heroes running around using the technology to shoot evil aliens or other humans or travel to parallel universes or whatever the shallow thing writers think will induce a sense of wonder. This story gives a tech perspective from an engineering level and a scientific level. Figuring out that the "accident" was weird was engineering. Figuring out why it was weird was science.
Theodore Sturgeon, the writer of Star Trek's Amok Time episode said, "A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content."
Komarr satisfies that definition quite nicely.
But of course you should never trust a book reviewer. LOL
Here is another review of Komarr:
Bujold retains the wit, intelligence, action, and great character development that have made the Miles Vorkosigan series so superior. In Komarr she proves once again that it is possible for the latest book in a series to be as good as the first.