In this Author Spotlight series, I’m talking about other SF&F writers. The aim is to showcase authors who may not be the most famous, and to give you enough information to decide whether you might enjoy their work.
Today’s featured author is Lois McMaster Bujold. She’s a multi-award-winning American writer best known for her science fiction, namely the long-running Vorkosigan series, and she has also written some very thoughtful off-world (secondary-world) fantasy…
The Chalion series
I said that Bujold was best known for her science fiction, but my first exposure to her was through her fantasy novels, specifically the three books set in and around the kingdom of Chalion: The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt. At first glance, it’s a standard medieval fantasy world, and the plots, as expected, revolve around gods and quests and so forth. But it’s also much more than that.
I’m not a big reader of epic fantasy these days, with a few exceptions (such as George R.R. Martin, whom I’ve blogged about before). But Bujold doesn’t follow the expected routes. For one thing, her characters are often older and wiser (and sometimes more jaded or weary), a nice change. For another thing, she delves into realism — not in the sense of eliminating heroes and villains, like Martin, but in the sense of rigorous worldbuilding, or setting out the rules that govern her world.
For example, her gods are bound by strict rules as to how they are allowed to interfere in human lives. She’s interested in what being a chosen one of the gods actually means, given these rules, and how the gods work within the rules to get what they want…and what consequences that has for the chosen one.
Her female characters are limited by propriety, so any adventures they have are bound by social rules…but that doesn’t really slow them down. The second book in the series (and my hands-down favourite), Paladin of Souls, features a noblewoman who feels called to go on a quest…but because noblewomen can’t just do that, she makes it a pilgrimage with a retinue of acceptable size. Which, of course, doesn’t stop her from getting into huge trouble.
(Bujold has also written another fantasy series, The Sharing Knife, which I haven’t read yet.)
The Vorkosigan Saga
Bujold has been writing these books for a long time, so there are a lot of them — somewhere around 20 in the series, including a couple of novellas. Luckily, they’re all stand-alones — they build on each other, but each book has a proper ending.
I was — wisely — advised to start with The Warrior’s Apprentice, even though it’s not the first in the series, because it introduces the character of Miles Vorkosigan. Born into privilege in a militaristic society, Miles is hampered by severe physical limitations, a fact that shapes both his future prospects and his sardonic, self-deprecating wit. His stubbornness and tendency to get into trouble, though, are all his own.
If this description reminds you of Martin’s Tyrion Lannister, you wouldn’t be far off base…except that Tyrion never dreamed of the kind of misadventures Miles gets into. The Warrior’s Apprentice starts with Miles spectacularly failing his physical entrance test for the military academy, continues with him talking down a suicidal spaceship pilot and ending up more-or-less the owner of the spaceship, and gets rapidly wilder from there. Genre-wise, it’s drama peppered with adventure and Miles’s trademark wit. I will admit to having a literary crush on him, as I do on Tyrion.
In subsequent books, Bujold explores other genres within the setting of the science fictional universe she’s created. The novella “The Mountains of Mourning” and the novel The Vor Game are both mysteries. I haven’t read past these yet, but I look forward to spending more time in the Vorkosigan universe.
(I said Bujold has been writing a long time, but the older ones are not hard to find. Many have been reissued in omnibus paperback editions, and they’re also available as DRM-free ebooks from the Baen ebookstore. The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” are both available free of charge from the Baen Free Library as “gateway drugs” to Bujold’s universe.)
Have you read Bujold? If you enjoyed her writing, which book or character is your favourite? If not, who would you recommend instead?