The Return of Sci Fi Monday — THE VORKOSIGAN SAGA
During Me-Made-May, thanks to Amazon’s used book connection, I became the proud owner of this:
As I was preparing this post, I looked back through my Sci Fi archives and was shocked to find that I’d never reviewed the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. I said to myself, “WTF, self? How could you have missed possibly the MOST IMPORTANT space opera ever written? Not to mention one of your own all-time favorite series? Especially because I’m pretty sure you read Cryoburn within the last year. I mean, REALLY….” Because I lecture myself like that.
The Vorkosigan Saga came to my notice because of the book A Civil Campaign, which is often listed by commenters at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books as one of their favorite romance novels. I like science fiction and love space operas [quick aside: if you don’t know what a space opera is, it’s basically a look at humans and human nature but from the viewpoint of our possible interstellar existence. A good space opera has elements of mystery, romance, technology, violence, humor, lots of politics, interspecies relationships, and everything you would expect in a dramatic opera — but in space. Star Trek is a space opera, as are Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, et al. Star Wars, however, does not qualify because its view of good and evil is much more black and white. Everybody got that? Ok, moving along…] so I checked out A Civil Campaign but realized two chapters in that I was completely lost. I didn’t know any of the characters and couldn’t figure out what was going on. So! I went back to the very beginning of the Vorkosigan saga and checked out Cordelia’s Honor…and was immediately hooked. As in reading all night and all day, in imminent danger of neglecting my family, HOOKED.
There is a very good timeline of the books in the Vorkosigan Saga at the Wikipedia page here. I won’t repeat the information, except to say that I have missed most of the shorter stories/novellas (other than “Winterfair Gifts”) and also missed Ethan of Athos, but I was still able to keep up with the most important aspects of the Saga storyline. Many of the books have been published in omnibus editions that include the novellas and shorter form stories so it’s worth seeking those publications out if you can — but don’t be dissuaded if you can’t find every story.
I find it hard to describe what the story of Miles Vorkosigan means to me. This series profoundly changed how I view the world — both how I view disabled people, and how I think of relationships. Miles is born with terrifying handicaps, thanks to his mother’s exposure to a nerve toxin while he was in the womb. His story takes a very realistic approach to disability — Miles is in pain sometimes, he’s humiliated sometimes, he constantly has to overcome the limitations of both his body and his mind. He is, frankly, an unlikely hero…five feet tall with stunted limbs, disproportionate, an overlarge head and an intense stare. He is born into an aristocratic family on a planet with zero tolerance for mutations (his own grandfather tries to kill him), and so he spends much of his young life in a desperate attempt to prove that he deserves to exist. He becomes, almost by accident, a pirate — then a soldier and a spy — then a diplomat. It is gradually obvious that Miles’ survival is entirely due to the strength of his personality. He has a knack for winning people (including readers) to his side. By the time you are halfway through the series, Miles’ ability to make everyone fall in love with him seems as natural as breathing and every bit as much of an evolved survival skill.
Cordelia’s Honor is the story of Miles’ parents — how they meet, and the circumstances surrounding Miles’ birth. I strongly recommend starting there, as the series is very interconnected and incidents in every book are referenced in later parts of the story. Miles in Love (the omnibus I own) contains Komarr, A Civil Campaign and “Winterfair Gifts.” A Civil Campaign is actually Bujold’s tribute to the Regency romance (she very much references Georgette Heyer) and is on my list of all time favorite romances. One of the factors I love in this series is that all of the women are considered to have the right to autonomy and self-agency. This isn’t a romance like, “I want to sweep you off your feet and marry you,” it’s more of an “I want you by my side, but to enhance rather than consume you.” Twilight can’t hold a candle to this. It’s not just Miles’ courtship that you end up rooting for, it’s the parallel story of his brother Mark, and by extension the wedding of his friend Gregor. I should mention that there is a subplot of heartstopping political intrigue, as well as several hilarious side plots (don’t ask about the butter bugs). The end of the book makes me catch my breath and grin from ear to ear, and want to cheer for all the couples.
What are you waiting for? THE VORKOSIGAN SAGA, people. Read it. You will not be disappointed.