Lois McMaster Bujold

The SF/Fantasy Book Group gathered last night in Williamsburg for a meeting devoted to Lois McMaster Bujold. We only hold single author meetings once a year, so you know the subjects we choose for these evenings are among our favorites.

cordelias-honorIt’s hard not to like Bujold. She’s won six Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novel, a total equalled, I believe, only by Ursula K. Le Guin and surpassed by none. She writes science fiction and fantasy with equal facility. As a writer, she has the full package: an elegant turn of phrase, tight plotting, and a gift for sympathetic characters that feel like real people. Our readers gave especially heavy praise for her attention to issues of social justice and her ability to write military science fiction and political fantasies that avoid the cliches of those genres. Instead of bringing the most hardware or power to the fight, her characters triumph through ingenuity, changing the rules of the battle that they can’t win and thinking laterally to get to a good conclusion.

Two of her series, drew particular praise. The Vorkosigan Saga has to be one of the most delightful, durable space operas ever committed to paper. Start with Shards of Honor or the omnibus that contains it, Cordelia’s Honor. While the series can be read in any order, and all of the books stand independently, you’ll get the most out of it by reading in sequence. It’s the story of the Vorkosigans, a family formed from the marriage of two strong-willed people, one from a patriarchal, feudal culture and the other from a supermodern, sometimes morally questionable meritocracy. Aral Vorkosigan and Cordelia Naismith are the subject of the first two books, then the mantle of protagonist falls to their son Miles, a physically limitedcurse-of-chalion young man with a manic personality, a gift for improvisation, and brilliant tactical skills. There’s politics, romance, adventure, and pathos enough in this series to satisfy the toughest critic.

The Chalion fantasies are only loosely connected. The two best are The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. Each features a protagonist of middle years who could by all rights, settled for meek, quiet later years spent wallowing in self pity for all of the troubles that have beset them. Instead, Cazaril and Ista refuse to settle, continuing to fight for what they believe right and the lives they deserve. Both endure immense sacrifices and dangers as they find a way cryoburnthrough. It’s inspiring stuff, also notable for integrating a complex religion in a believable way. Bujold always shows and doesn’t tell; she won’t take an obvious side in a battle of religious or political beliefs, but instead lays the competing systems out intelligently and shows their effects on the events that follow.

This is a writer for every reader, not just fantasy and science fiction fans. Give her consideration for a future book group. Long time fans are excitedly waiting for the first Vorkosigan adventure in many years, Cryoburn, due out in November.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Lois McMaster Bujold"

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  1. shavers@crc.losrios.edu' Shelley says:

    When sci fi can illuminate the complexities of social justice, rather than simplifying it, then something important has been accomplished.

  2. rhuna9@gmail.com' Amanda says:

    Here, here!

    Too often fantasy and sci-fi are dismissed as less than worthy. In fact, some of the best writing, the best characterisations, explorations of social problems…indeed, the best LITERATURE in every sense of the word I have ever encountered comes from fantasy and sci-fi.

    Kudos to you for hosting Lois Bujold.

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