This is another of my “Why I think you should read this author” posts. I don’t know about any of you, but I’m always looking for new stuff to read. I often ask for other people’s recommendations as a way of (hopefully) filtering out the dreck.
Lois McMaster Bujold is another consistently good author and one of my favourites. She’s a Hugo and Nebula award winner, and she’s also won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature, which I’d never heard of before. It’s given by (surprise) the Mythopoeic Society which is “a non-profit organization promoting the study, discussion, and enjoyment of fantastic and mythic literature through books and periodicals, annual conferences, discussion groups, awards, and more.” Cool enough.
She’s perhaps best known for her Miles Vorkosigan series. An epic series with over 20 books - if you include the ones where she made peripheral characters the stars. I like Miles. He’s brilliant, annoying, over-compensating and, as his cousin Ivan says, “A hyperactive little git.” I definitely wanted to slap him a couple times. These are Science Fiction, by the way, in case you have strong prejudices one way or the other.
Miles was deformed in utero when terrorists used chemical weapons to try to kill his parents. The antitoxin saved their lives but left him with bones so brittle that just tripping and falling could break something. Denied the chance of following in his father and grandfather’s (and even, in some ways his mother’s) footsteps of military glory because he breaks both his legs during the tryout for the academy, he embarks on a completely different life as a secret operative for Barrayar’s Imperial Intelligence Service.
Her books are filled with action, brains, wit and just plain fun. To give you an idea of her sly humour, the salute for the secret service is the one used in Patrick MaGoohan’s classic spy show “The Prisoner.” A circled thumb and forefinger raised to the brow. All that was missing was the tag line “Be seeing you” to make the reference complete.
The nice thing about this series is that Miles grows up. He can’t change his basic nature – competitive and controlling and always has to have the last word, but he does mature. He grows out of being the ‘super agent’ both physically and mentally. Not many authors with a successful series seem to do that, they just keep writing and writing and writing….
My personal favourites in this series are: Cordelia’s Honor (Miles’ mother), The Vor Game (where his cousin, the Emperor runs away from home), Memory (where his life changes drastically and he deals with it very badly), A Civil Campaign (his cousin, Emperor Gregor is getting married and Miles would like to, except there’s that incident with the Butter Bugs…), and finally there are the short stories featuring Miles. Most of them are highly recommendable. They are crisp but flowing; action filled but character driven, and very often, quite original.
Her next set of books isn’t so much a series as a connected set of novels. In The Curse of Chalion, Caz is a beaten down, empty, old man grateful for the gift of the soiled clothes of a dead man. He asks for nothing and expects less. He’s survived war, siege, imprisonment, enslavement, torture, near-drowning and eventual rescue. He is not young at heart, he wants nothing to do with heroics or great deeds, and I love him.
All he wants is to sit in the sun, have regular meals, and not have anything asked of him. Yet, in a sequence of perfectly logical, and usually out of his control, steps he ends up being the chief confidante and personal envoy of the Roya, or ‘queen’ of Chalion as she seeks to circumvent an attempt to take over her throne. Oh, he also thinks he’s going to die, which he does, but there’s a good reason for it. He is the avatar of one of the God’s and he’s been chosen to remove the ‘curse’ that’s on the royal family, and really, it’s quite peaceful being dead.
The second book set in this world is Paladin of Souls. I can’t recommend this book enough. The heroine, Ista, is the mother of the Roya from the first book. When the curse is lifted, a fog is removed from her and she looks around her, at her life, and says ‘That’s it? Shouldn’t there be something more?’ Under the guise of a religious pilgrimage (think 'A Cantebury Tale') she encounters an enemy invasion, demon infested bears, horses and humans, dead heroes and love without reason. She also becomes the avatar of a … well, he’s not quite a God. He’s the Bastard, and he is the patron for anything that doesn’t fit elsewhere society… which includes his sense of humour. There is so much win in this story; the relationships that develop between the members of her entourage, the depth of back story and the uniqueness of the tale, all explain why this won Ms. Bujold a another Hugo.
The last book in the series is the Hallowed Hunt. I know some people hated this book, probably because they expected/wanted more Ista, but I didn’t mind it. I can’t say it’s as good as the first two but there were parts that were brilliant. The unravelling of the villain at the end was… horrifying, wonderful, dreadful, and fantastic all at once. No, it’s not as good as the other two but it’s not a dog either. This one didn’t have as much humour, it’s politics is completely different so perhaps those are factors.
She’s almost finished another 4-book series, The Sharing Knife, but I’m going to write about those in a different post as this one’s already really long.
You can visit her homepage by clicking on the link below:
For a complete list of her published work, sorted by series and date published (including pretty pictures), click here:
For more information on the Mythopoeic Society, visit their website at: