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Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan Series
By John Buell
January 7, 2003

Book cover: The Vor GameLike many of you, I had such good intentions this winter break to get something useful done. I took three weeks off from work starting the day I turned in my last project, intending to get started on my portfolio, but fate smacked me a cruel blow in the guise of a nasty, mean rhinovirus. Instead of going into the gross details of this particular cold, however, I thought I would gush about my latest science fiction obsession, the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold.

I was turned onto this series by friend and mutual purveyor (read addict) of science fiction after I finished reading Ashes of Victory, the ninth book of the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. "If you like that, you should try Cordelia's Honor," she said, and I filed it away… no non-fiction until classes are finished! When the winter quarter break rolled around I thought I might have a chance to read the book, but what in fact happened is that I damn near read the whole series. You see, I was sick and felt too horrible to work on my portfolio… yeah…

Lois McMaster Bujold began her writing career late, writing her first novel, Shards of Honor, in 1983. Until then she had been a voracious reader of science fiction, pharmacy technician and mother of two in Marion, Ohio. She was encouraged to write by friends and authors Lillian Stewart Carl and Patricia C. Wrede, writing three novels and several short stories. Despite submitting the novels to numerous publishers, it was her short stories that garnered the first paycheck, a publication in Twilight Zone magazine in 1984. In 1985, Baen Books bought all three of Bujold's first novels and published them in 1986. Analog magazine published a serialized version of her fourth novel, Falling Free, in 1987, which won Bujold her first Nebula Science Fiction Award.

Starting with her first novel, Shards of Honor, Bujold began one of the more recently celebrated sagas of science fiction, the Miles Vorkosigan Series. The first two novels, now published in the omnibus edition entitled Cordelia's Honor, tell the story of Miles' mom and dad, Captain Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Astronomical Survey and Lord Admiral Aral Vorkosigan of the Barrayaran Empire. Two novels later, Miles is born, deformed by an attack against his parents when Miles was still in the womb. Barrayar is a world with a harsh militaristic society, and Miles faces numerous threats to his survival by Barrayarans obsessed by congenital defects and appearance. In the next dozen or so novels, Miles grows up and fights against the odds, creates the alternate identity of Admiral Miles Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries, survives a series of astounding and nearly fatal adventures, gets killed and resurrected by advanced technology, and is appointed Imperial Auditor by Barrayaran Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, himself rescued by Miles' dad in a plot against the throne when he was six.

The stories are exquisitely rich in character and swashbuckling plot, byzantine in twists and turns, and are simply among the most entertaining reads in the genre from recent authors (barring David Weber, but we'll hear about that in another issue). Lois McMaster Bujold skillfully paints a great depth of color and passion in her characters, drawing from her own experiences and the people around her including her accomplished physicist father, who is responsible for getting Lois hooked on science fiction:

Miles's "great man's son syndrome," the fountain of so much of his drive and therefore my plots, owes much to my relationship with my own father. It is a curios comment on our culture that this particular psychological profiles, which to my observation appears in both genders, is never called a 'great man's daughter's syndrome…

There are 13 novels in the series, although the stories were not published chronologically according to the life of Miles. Baen Books has recently published omnibus editions combining several of the books, so the whole series can be enjoyed by reading Cordelia's Honor, Young Miles, Miles, Mystery and Mayhem, Miles Errant, Memory, A Civil Campaign, Komarr, and Diplomatic Immunity, which was published last May.

This series is well worth the read in my opinion and well worth the $100 I spent because I couldn't wait for the Seattle Public Library to send the scattered novels from the various branch libraries. I am a junkie, but at least I admit it. Asking for gift certificates to Amazon for Christmas also helps. One of the shorter novellas, The Mountains of Mourning (published as part of the Young Miles omnibus), is available for free on the Baen Free Library. Caution is advised, however; you might get hooked.

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