Jump to content
Werthead

The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Recommended Posts

1 hour ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Chronological.

I've read Shards of Honor, Barrayar, The Warriors Apprentice, Brothers in Arms, and Cetaganda.

Weirdly, I'm going to say the most frustrating part of the books for me is the fact there's a certain blind spot for the Smallfolk (so to speak) in the books the same way there is in A Song of Ice and Fire. Centaganda seems like it was made to humanize them and make them less repellent but it actually makes me think they need to be wiped from the face of the Earth because they're engineering slave castes without free will. Miles utterly ignores this, though, because he is only seeing the upper class as people. Which is, of course, perfectly fine and in character for him as a Vor.

I also amusingly like comparing Miles to Tyrion, both in terms of flaws and attitude.

Cordelia, of course, remains my favorite character.

You didn't read Vor Game? 

I skipped Barrayar.

Regarding your point about the smallfolk, I suggest you read the novella - At the Mountains of Mourning, which was included in the novel Borders of Infinity. It is about this particular aspect. 

For me the best book of the series was Mirror Dance, and the funniest was A Civil Campaign. 

When reading Miles,I don't mind admitting that I often suspend critical thought and disbelief for a bit as following Miles into one of his peculiarly vertiginous capers has an euphoric feeling. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Andorion said:

I skipped Barrayar.

Regarding your point about the smallfolk, I suggest you read the novella - At the Mountains of Mourning, which was included in the novel Borders of Infinity. It is about this particular aspect.

I was just about to make the same suggestion about At The Mountains of Mourning, it's a really good story and offers a perspective that's not often seen in the series.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh yes, I enjoyed it a great deal.

Cavilo was a great villain and I loved how Gregor really does threaten the whole of the Barrayan Empire by his attempt just to get some space in a typical fantasy/scifi way.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Book 15: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Three years have passed since the death of the legendary Aral Vorkosigan. His widow, Cordelia, continues to live and work on Sergyar, third world of the Barrayaran Empire, as vicerine. Aged 76, but expecting to live at least to 120, Cordelia has almost fully half her life ahead of her and is unsure of what to do with it. Complicating matters is Admiral Jole of the Sergyar Fleet, a respected officer and a close friend of Cordelia and her late husband's. With Sergyar in political uproar as a controversial decision to move the planetary capital is made, Cordelia has some important decisions to make.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is the latest (so far) novel in the Vorkosigan Saga and one of the most wrong-footing. Each of the sixteen novels in the series has been different, but at least incorporated some elements of action-adventure, political intrigue, war or undercover criminal activity, which the protagonist (usually Miles Vorkosigan but occasionally other characters) has to deal with. This novel doesn't have that. There are no villains, there are no explosions (well, one, but not quite what you'd expect) and no exchanges of energy weapon fire. The political intrigue is very slight, at best, and the novel is unfolds without much fear of mayhem, death or destruction taking place (unless you count a rather remote threat from a volcano).

Instead, this is a novel about relationships, the changing nature of life as people grow older, and the philosophical acceptance that we are not here for very long and people have to make decisions for their happiness and that of those around them, sometimes unorthodox or complicated ones. The tensest moments in Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen come in conversations, as Cordelia is forced to reveal that she's been leading a rather more interesting life on Sergyar then her son Miles believed and grapples with the baffling decision of just how you start a new live over when you've already done all the usual stuff - had children, gotten married and beheaded your most lethal political opponent in battle?

In this sense Gentleman Jole continues the themes from Cryoburn, musing on the passing of the generations, but the book again rejects this as a maudlin idea. Instead it also celebrates the commodities of life and time, delights in the arrival of new life and new children (and grandchildren) and spins out, in a good-old fashioned manner, an everything-but-old-fashioned romance between two people at a more mature time of their lives.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (****) is not a rousing space action-adventure novel. It is a life-affirming, warm romance that returns to some some of Bujold's central SF ideas (most notably the science of uterine replicators), introduces some new ones (Cordelia's utter disbelief at people refusing to believe a destabilising volcano may erupt and destroy their town) and unfolds with a stately, mature pace. Is it slightly self-indulgent? Maybe, but then after thirty years of putting the Vorkosigan clan through the wringer, both the author and her characters deserve a break, especially when it's as thought-provoking and enjoyable as this one. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And five years after I started reading the series, I'm done. That took way longer than expected.

Falling Free

Engineer Leo Graf is assigned to an engineering project on a zero-g space habitat. To his surprise, he finds the Cay Habitat is also home to "quaddies", a genetically-engineered human subspecies which has replaced its lower two legs with arms, giving them unmatched versatility in zero gravity, as well as increased resistance to degenerative disorders: they are humans tailor-made to exist in space. When Beta Colony develops a practical artificial gravity technology, it makes the quaddies obsolete overnight...but Graf is not prepared to see them cast onto the scrapheap of history and hatches a daring plan to save them.

Falling Free is a novel set in the universe of The Vorkosigan Saga but is not part of the core series, instead being set about 200 years earlier and exploring the origin of the quaddies. As is typical for a Bujold SF novel, it is deeply concerned with both hard SF concepts - genetic engineering, Newtonian physics - and how these play out through ethical and character-based dilemmas.

In this regard Falling Free is successful: Bujold is an effective writer and, although this is relatively a minor novel for her, she still tells an interesting story quite well. The SF elements are intriguing, but the ethical dilemma feels clumsy. The legal status of genetically-engineered lifeforms is something you think that the interstellar diaspora would have sorted out by this time, and the over-arcing theme that indentured slavery is a bad thing is hard to argue with. It's also not helped by the fact that the primary antagonist, Bruce Van Atta, is a boo-hiss, moustache-twirling bad guy almost entirely lacking in nuance. Of course we're going to side with plucky engineer Leo Graf and the quaddies.

The story builds up quite well but the narrative is slight: the quaddies are in danger and Leo has to help them escape. And that's really it. The reason for the truncated storyline is revealed in the author's notes. Originally this was going to be the start of a trilogy exploring how the quaddies built up an entire interplanetary civilisation - the Union of Free Habitats - from scratch, but Bujold was side-tracked by the success of the core Vorkosigan books and never got round to writing the other two books. The novel Diplomatic Immunity, in which Miles Vorkosigan himself visits Quaddiespace, revealed the ultimate fate of the quaddie species and eliminated the need to write the other two books. So that's fine, but it does leave Falling Free as a relatively minor entry in the wider Vorkosigan 

Falling Free (***½) is a fun, readable part of The Vorkosigan Saga and has some curiosity value, but it also feels very slight. It is, however, quite short so passes the time very nicely. It is available now as part of the Miles, Mutants and Microbes omnibus, alongside the other quaddie novel, Diplomatic Immunity (UK, USA).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
18 hours ago, Werthead said:

And five years after I started reading the series, I'm done. That took way longer than expected.

Thank you for these reviews, and for posting them here.  I very much enjoyed your retrospective reviews of each book.

As a contemporary reader of these books as they were published, either in Analog or other publications in part, and then as the novels themselves, I want to mention again how much they stood out in the 80s and 90s from other SciFi books of the time.  LMB's worldview, one that included women as having agency, one that portrayed a science-fictional world as ethnically different from "future California", and one that considered the relationship challenges of future technology like uterine replicators, was SO very different from other books on the shelves.

The book covers, though, were very, very much a product of their times:  http://www.goodshowsir.co.uk/?tag=lois-mcmaster-bujold

Thank you again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bujold has announced there will be a new Vorkosigan Saga novella (focusing on Ekaterin) called "The Flowers of Vashnoi" published in May. I'd prefer a new novel, but it's nice that there's still new Vorkosigan material being published.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh wonderful. That’s news I’m delighted to hear. Thank you William

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 5/1/2018 at 10:22 PM, Deedles said:

Oh wonderful. That’s news I’m delighted to hear. Thank you William

Apparently the e-book has just been released.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It has! It was just the thing to pick up when under a cluster feeding newborn, though it resulted in tears. 

Echoes of the Mountains of Mourning. Not essential but a very pleasant read.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hmm, I get the feeling Bujold's building up to killing off Miles and an Ekaterin story would be a good way to do that. That'd be fairly depressing.

Oh well, I'm going to read it anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oooh, potentially you could see some future dead Miles foreshadowings in Flowers. Good shout on that tack. 

47 minutes ago, ljkeane said:

Hmm, I get the feeling Bujold's building up to killing off Miles and an Ekaterin story would be a good way to do that. That'd be fairly depressing.

Oh well, I'm going to read it anyway.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

I really love these books but I think they have some serious issues in their portrayal that boils down to acceptance of the class differences in the setting. Part of that probably comes from Miles but I wish we had more Cordelia shaking the pear tree about the problems involved. For example, Barrayar treats the people of Komarr better than they treat their own peasants which is shown as a justification of why it's okay for Komarr to be subjects.

Except, why the hell is it a good thing?

I feel like the peasants of Komarr get the short end of the stick in this.

I also felt like Lois Bujold was a little softer on the Cetagandans more than she should have been. She had a lot of interest in transhumanism but the system of them is that they're creating permanent slave casts of genetically engineered subhumans. That's not a new idea, it's a very old idea and I think by humanizing them--she actually made them worse.

Mind you, I absolutely loved Ethan of Athos which dealt with a similar twisted topic.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I actually liked that aspect of the books. Pretty much every human culture (including ourselves) posits certain values and modes of behavior as better than anything that came before and therefore many people from every culture assume that the future will be more of the same -- completely ignoring both the fact that this assumption has never worked out before and that there are contemporary cultures with radically different values and behaviors who strongly disagree with them. Bujold does not try to pick a certain set of values and instead presents a variety of coexisting cultures each of which has people who will argue that, on the whole, theirs is the way to go with an occasional minority which disagrees.

I don't necessarily think that this is what will happen. In particular, if there do arise transhumans (even at the relatively tame level of the Cetagandans), I suspect that they'll take over sooner rather than later. However, the assumption that all of these extensions of existing cultures can coexist does result in a world that is rather like our own and this is one of the series's strengths.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My headcanon until proven otherwise is the existence of the Athosians will result in a lot more understanding and peace than if the Cetas had gotten psychic powers.

The ultimate diplomats.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×