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:

I love this book so much, I want to tongue kiss it and have its babies.

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.

Posted on June 4, 2012, in Sci-Fi Sunday. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Bujold is a brilliant, brilliant writer, and this may be my most favorite series ever. Thank you! I adore her Chalion books, too, and the Sharing Knife books are growing on me with rereading.
    Good choice!

  2. You have convinced me. I will start haunting used book stores looking for this, even though I prefer Sci Fi on the screen. Seriously, I love the entire Star Trek franchise, Star Wars, Babylon 5 etc etc etc, but I don’t enjoy reading Sci Fi. This time I will make an exception.

    • I think some folks don’t like reading sci fi because of the tendency towards hard science and technology, but a lot of science fiction is about relationships and people. The best books tend to combine the two, although I do feel that some worthwhile authors (Neal Stephenson and William Gibson come to mind) write books about ideas rather than books about people. I find those hard to read, even as I acknowledge their necessary place in the canon.

      Bujold doesn’t overwhelm you with technology; she uses her science as a jumping off point to discuss larger ideas like sexism (what would childbearing look like if women were freed from the necessity of incubation?) and classism (how much will wealth have to do with disability in the future?). Reading her books is almost like an accidental education.

  3. I’ll have to keep an eye out too, I’m convinced.

  4. Love this series! I was so excited when her new Miles came out after a long dry spell last year. Ms. Bujold is very nice in person. Although I had read her books long before meeting her, I’ve been lucky enough to meet her a couple of times as her brother lives near my parents.

    • That’s great! I do like to hear that my favorite writers (or actors, or whatever) are delightful in person as well.

      I was lucky enough to read the Vorkosigan books a little later, so it didn’t seem like such a long wait til Cryoburn, but I still devoured it like it was going out of style. The ending was such a heart render!

  5. I discovered Bujold only through her recent stuff—Challion etc—and fell absolutely in love. I haven’t been able to overcome my distaste for Sci Fi and read her older stuff, though. Obviously I should…:)

  6. I can’t help but think that if you and Harv got into a discussion about science fiction, it would go on and on and on and on and then it would be one of those situations where I would quietly sneak out of the room and go grab lunch and maybe a latte and come back and y’all would still be chatting.

  7. I have been a fan of hers for more years than I like to count. A Civil Campaign had me laughing out loud, yes butter bugs and all and the proposal wasn’t too shabby either! I see I need to check and see what the latest ones are as I am pretty sure I have everything else. I have 2 walls in the living room crammed with sci fi floor to ceiling from the last 30 years and I read them over and over. They are like old friends and I know who to turn to depending on my mood and needs at the time.

  8. Best sci-fi ever. And this comes from a proud geek.

  1. Pingback: Sci Fi Sunday — Babylon 5 « lazysubculturalgirl

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