The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold


Lemming of Discord
Jun 4, 2006
Book 1: Shards of Honor

Cordelia Naismith, commander of a survery ship from Beta Colony, is marooned on an uncharted planet when her vessel is attacked by Barryarans. Naismith is captured by Captain Aral Vorkosigan, the infamous Butcher of Komarr, and taken on a gruelling cross-country journey to his base camp. However, Vorkosigan himself is facing a prospective mutiny led by an ambitious junior officer and both Beta and Barrayar are about to find themselves on opposing sides of a bloody war.

The Vorkosigan Saga is one of the most famous ongoing works of science fiction in the United States. Comprising (so far) fifteen novels and numerous short stories and novellas, the series has won four Hugos (including three for Best Novel), been nominated for another six and has won an additional two Locus Awards and two Nebulas. The series has sold more than two million copies for Baen Books in the States, but is almost unknown in the UK. Repeated attempts to publish the series here have failed, usually due to low sales and indifferent reviews.

Reading Shards of Honour, I have to reluctantly adopt the traditional British stance of not seeing what all the fuss is about. The book starts off well enough, with an adventure storyline featuring two people (and a severely injured third) abandoned on a planet and having to work together to survive. These sequences, though indifferently written, are interesting enough and Bujold reveals an interesting amount of character through the actions of Cordelia and Aral. Unfortunately, what she doesn't do is provide them with any chemistry. When Cordelia realises she is attracted to Aral, and Aral reciprocates those feelings, it kind of comes out of nowhere. When (spoiler alert!) they are eventually rescued, the book descends into a montage of Cordelia being captured, released, re-captured, escaping, being almost-raped (the lazy go-to jeopardy trope for any female character in peril, naturally) and so on for a good hundred pages or so. Due to the stodgy prose, mechanical dialogue and somewhat stilted character reactions, none of this is particularly exciting.

Things perk up a little bit towards the end, with the revelations of the extent of a supporting character's psychological trauma and a subplot about a bunch of unborn babies in exowombs (the result of war rapes) having to be forcibly supported by the fathers who conceived them both being intriguing, but these are very minor elements that arrive rather late in the day.

Shards of Honour (**) has moments of interest, but overall is stodgily-written and unconvincingly-characterised. Still, it's a first novel and not one of the most well-regarded in the series, so I will press on with the (chronologically) second novel in the series and one of the most critically-acclaimed, Barrayar. Shards of Honour is available now as the past of the Cordelia's Honour omnibus (UK, USA).
Book 2: Barrayar

Cordelia Naismith of Beta Colony has married Aral Vorkosigan, the Imperial Regent, and is now living on Barrayar, the homeworld of her former enemies. Cordelia is bewildered by Barrayaran society, which is militaristic, elitist, feudal and unforgiving of physical infirmity or weakness. As she sets out to try to make a fairer life for her family and friends, they are all swept up in political intrigue and civil war when Vorkosigan's regency is challenged.

Barrayar is less the sequel to than the direction continuation of Shards of Honour, the first novel in The Vorkosigan Saga. This is understandable, as Bujold wrote them as one one long novel, but broke off before Barrayar was very far underway and ended up writing a whole bunch of other novels before getting back to this one. This sabbatical was for the good, as Barrayar is a significant improvement over the lacklustre Shards of Honour, featuring much more interesting characterisation and a more a gripping plot.

As before, the book is told from the POV of Cordelia and the book is focused heavily on her characterisation as she adjusts to life on a new world. Exploring Barrayar from the outside is a good idea, as Cordelia gets to express the reader's disbelief that such a techno-feudal society could even exist. There are some great moments as well where natives of Barrayar try to 'shock' Cordelia (such as with rumours of a gay affair between two male lords) with scandals only for her to find them bafflingly ordinary and inoffensive. It would be easy for Bujold to make Cordelia arrogant and superior about such things, but she plays fair and on one or two occasions Cordelia has to admit where her own world has gotten things wrong, and where Barrayar may have better ideas (though the reverse situation is much frequent).

In the first novel, Cordelia was stoic to the point of being emotionally inert, but in the sequel she is a much better-nuanced character who reacts more believably to events. Bujold never lets us forget that Cordelia is a trained and professional military officer, so her crisis-management skills and tendency to personally take part in dangerous missions herself are well-founded. The theme of motherhood is also explored, as Cordelia falls pregnant only for her unborn child to suffer injuries in an attempted assassination attempt. Barrayaran tradition would be to have the child aborted, but Cordelia causes a scandal by using imported Betan technology to save his life at the cost of leaving him crippled, to the fury of her father-in-law. The resulting tension may be obvious ('baby in danger' is a bit old-school for an SF trope) but it works quite well.

In the latter part of the novel, when open civil war erupts, Bujold's decision to stick with Cordelia as the POV character pays dividends. Normally in a big SF novel, the author would adopt a multi-POV approach, or stick with the characters in the thick of the action. Instead, Cordelia is cut off from the outside world and has to lie low in the countryside without a clue as to how things are progressing or where her husband is. This approach is purposefully frustrating, as we share Cordelia's annoyance at not knowing what's happening and it works quite well.

On the negative side of things, the focus on Cordelia compromises the characterisation of secondary characters. Aral Vorkosigan himself remains a fairly distant figure and Cordelia's staff get mixed treatment. Bothari is a sympathetic-but-tragic character with an edge of unpleasantness to him, making him a fairly complex and interesting character for the 'badass big arse-kicker' trope. Droushnakovi and Koudelka are likable characters but their inability to progress their relationship and their comedy of manners of constantly misunderstanding what the other person is doing briefly made me think I'd picked up one of the weaker Wheel of Time novels. Cordelia serving as counsellor and den-mother to her staff is an interesting idea, but it slows down the pacing at critical junctures. There's also the bigger problem that Barrayar is not really convincing as an SF society and is rather unpleasant. Though this gives us empathy with Cordelia, it also means that the intricacies and court politics of Barrayaran society come across as being rather flat. And probably the less said about the cliched villain, the better.

Barryar (****) is a huge improvement over its forebear, featuring a far more interesting storyline, some accomplished worldbuilding (although of an unpleasant and unlikable world) and better characterisation of the protagonist, despite some more mixed results for the secondary cast. Barrayar is available now as part of the Cordelia's Honour omnibus, along with its forebear Shards of Honour (UK, USA).
This is one of the most enjoyable series in modern SF, in my view. I am only part-way through myself, but have reviewed the first seven on my blog. I have just added the next, the novella Labyrinth, as follows:

This is the next up in this author's Vorkosigan series which I am intermittently working through, following Ethan of Athos which I reviewed in March. That one was unusual in that it did not feature Bujold's hero Miles, a junior officer in the Barrayan Imperial Security service, but he returns in Labyrinth in his role as Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet. He is making a visit to Jackson's Whole, an outlaw planet divided among several powerful criminal organisations each ruled by an hereditary lord and specialising in a particular brand of nefarious activity. Miles is supposedly buying weapons but is actually there to liberate a skilled genetic scientist from one of the organisations and deliver him to Barrayar. As always, things do not go to plan with various complications and setbacks until Miles arrives at an unexpected solution.

Labyrinth is a novella of only 80 pages but a lot of action is packed into them, with dramatic tension laced with humour in Bujold's usual style. Also very evident is her fascination with difference, both physical and sexual, which was so strongly featured in Ethan of Athos. As well as the physically handicapped Miles, we have his ship's captain, the hermaphrodite Bel Thorne; a Quaddie, engineered for a zero-gravity environment with two extra arms instead of legs; and last but far from least, a ferocious eight-foot-tall genetically engineered super-warrior who also happens to be a teenage girl. As is also usual with Bujold, she makes all of her disparate characters sympathetic (except for the bad guys who do of course receive their just desserts).

Like all of this series it's an entertaining read and it's good to return to Miles after a longish break. I have another volume of his stories awaiting my attention, but they'll have to wait – that book is just one in a dauntingly large pile of new novels which keeps growing faster than I can get through them, not to mention the old favourites I want to re-read when I can find the time!

(An extract from my SFF blog: Science Fiction & Fantasy)
Book 3: The Warrior's Apprentice

Miles Vorkosigan is the son of one of the most powerful men on Barrayar, but is also a cripple, cursed with fragile bones and occasional hubris. When his pride overrides his good sense and leaves him too injured to take part in entrance examinations to the Barrayaran academy, Miles is washed up and left without a future. Intrigued by a mystery involving his bodyguard, Bothari, Miles decides to take an offworld trip...but nothing goes to plan and before long Miles's fast-talking has earned him the command of a fleet of starships, thousands of mercenaries and involvement in a civil war which is none of his business. Miles has some explaining to do.

Whilst chronologically The Warrior's Apprentice is the third volume in The Vorkosigan Saga, for most people it's where the series really begins. This is the book where the main character of the series, Miles, debuts as an adult character and it also represents a notable tonal shift from the previous two volumes, Shards of Honour and Barrayar. Whilst those two books were fairly serious (aside from brief comedy-of-manners episodes), The Warrior's Apprentice is more rambunctious. It's a bit of a romp, actually, with Miles' fast-talking mouth and off-the-cuff inventiveness (i.e. lying his head off) getting him in and out of trouble so quickly readers may experience whiplash trying to keep up with it.

It's a novel which can be firmly filed under 'fun', although there is a tragic core to the novel involving the character of Bothrai. Bujold writes this mystery so it works from two angles: if you've read Shards of Honour and Barrayar, you know what's going on long before Miles does and Bujold milks the tension effectively as Miles investigates the matter. If you haven't read those books and are as much in the dark as Miles, it works just as well. The tragic interlude (and the finale, which involves a brief dash of political intrigue) are a bit out-of-keeping with the book's overall tone, but Bujold shows impressive mastery of pacing in allowing the narrative to organically shift to integrate them before moving back to a less serious feel.

The result is a novel that is often quite funny, but also reflects the central character very well. Miles is a ball of energy that tends to drag people along behind him into various crazy schemes they'd never normally want to be a part of, but his momentum somehow keeps everything afloat. The novel works this way as well, with the plot taking increasingly ludicrous turns but it not mattering because Bujold infuses the novel with so much energy and verve you just want to read along and find out what happens next. Bujold's skills with characterisation also help define the book's setting much more clearly, with even briefly-appearing secondary characters getting fleshed out into three-dimensional people within just a few paragraphs.

Negatives? The narrative sometimes feels a little too silly for a book that actually isn't an out-and-out comedy. The concluding section on Barrayar is also perhaps a little too neat and tidy, and there seems to be a narrative disconnect between Cordelia's treatment by her own people on Beta Colony in the first two books (where she was treated as a criminal) and her well-regarded position here. But there are fairly minor issues.

The Warrior's Apprentice (****) isn't high art or hard SF, but it is entertaining, fast-paced and well-characterised, with just enough pathos and tragedy to add some depth to it. It is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Young Miles omnibus, along with the novella The Mountains of Mourning and the novel The Vor Game.
Novella 1: The Mountains of Mourning

Miles Vorkosigan, home on leave from the Barrayar Academy, is given a job by his father: to adjudicate a case of infanticide in a farming community. Aral Vorkosigan has pioneered laws designed to protect ill and deformed young babies from being killed out of hand, as has been the custom for centuries, and wants to see the law enforced. Miles reluctantly heads for the village...only to find a seething morass of secrets and local intrigue which makes finding the real killer more difficult than he thought possible.

The Mountains of Mourning is a short (80 page or so) novella set in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosgian universe. It's a slight work but an interesting one, showing the changing face of Barrayar society due to the reforms introduced by Aral Vorkosigan after the events of Shards of Honour and Barrayar, the first two novels in the sequence.

The writing is pretty good, with Bujold pulling out some interesting twists to overcome the superior technology of Miles's investigating team (who are armed with instant truth drugs). On a character level, it shows Miles growing and taking more responsibility. It's a much more serious story than the previous (chronologically) novel in the series, The Warrior's Apprentice, and Bujold handles the change in tone quite well. Bujold also does reasonably well to avoid the worst cliches of the 'high-minded folk from the city telling the country bumpkins what to do' trope, with the villagers turning out to be smarter and less primitive than they are initially set out to be.

The Mountains of Mourning (****) is a fine novella, but it's not really worthwhile purchasing this as a separate volume. Fortunately it can be found conveniently packaged alongside The Warrior's Apprentice and the succeeding novel, The Vor Game, in the Young Miles omnibus, available now in the UK and USA.
Book 4: The Vor Game

Miles Vorkosigan graduates from the Imperial Academy on Barrayar and is immediately assigned as a weather specialist on a remote arctic base. Given that he knows nothing about weather science and was expecting a space posting, Miles is unhappy with his assignment. However, what starts off as a minor job soon has Miles travelling to distant worlds, hooking up with some old friends (and enemies) and getting embroiled in a major interstellar incident. In other words, it's business as usual.

The Vor Game is the fourth novel (by chronology) in The Vorkosigan Saga and the second to feature its signature character of Miles. The novel picks up after the events of The Warrior's Apprentice with Miles now graduated from the Academy and ready to start his life of military service. As previously, Miles's physical weaknesses (he suffers from brittle bones and is stunted due to a poison gas attack on his then-pregnant mother) both hinder his ability to get involved in the action and also act as an easy means for his enemies (and friends he's trying to avoid) to identify him. Once again, Miles has to use his wits and intelligence to overcome obstacles and emerge on top.

This time around the obstacles include a psychotic military base commander, almost dying of exposure, being captured, being enslaved, almost being shot and being pursued by a lunatic femme fatale with delusions of becoming Empress of Barrayar. As with The Warrior's Apprentice, the book starts simply enough and then snowballs, accumulating plot points, characters and complications with almost frenzied energy.

As with its forebear, the book is a highly readable, page-turning experience. Bujold knows how to pace even a complicated story (and between the bluffs and double-bluffs, this book has become fairly complex by the time it ends) well and combine it with action as well as character-building material. A key theme in this novel is that Miles has problems with subordination, which is a bit of a problem in a military hierarchy, and his way of dealing with the crisis in this novel provides an idea on how Barrayar can use him to further its goals despite his limitations.

As usual, Bujold mixes out-and-out moments of high comedy (though The Vor Game isn't as much of a comedic romp as The Warrior's Apprentice) with darker moments. Despite starting in a completely different place, it's also very much a continuation of The Warrior's Apprentice, with some character arcs continuing between the two novels. If The Vor Game has a major problem, it's that it's slightly too reminiscent of its forebear. This is very much The Further Adventures of Miles Vorkosigan and if you enjoyed the previous book, you'll like this one too. Bujold knows how to tell a ripping yarn and keep the pages flying, but this novel lacks originality and it lacks the previous novel's ability to spin on a dime between tragedy, comedy and drama. I was rather surprised to learn that The Vor Game is a Hugo Award-winning novel, both because it wasn't as good as the competition (The Fall of Hyperion was a better novel in the same year, probably Earth as well) and it's not quite as good as The Warrior's Apprentice.

Still, The Vor Game (****) is a fine, entertaining SF novel. It is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Young Miles omnibus, along with The Warrior's Apprentice and the novella The Mountains of Mourning.
Book 5: Cetaganda

Miles Vorkosigan visits Eta Ceta, the homeworld and capital of the empire that formerly ruled his own planet, as a diplomatic envoy. What starts off as a fairly routine job - representing his world at a state funeral - escalates into a clandestine battle of wits between Miles and an unknown Cetagandan enemy who is trying to frame Barrayar for a crime and reignite hostilities between their two empires. Miles has to find and defeat this foe without offending his hosts or shaming his own world.

Cetaganda is the fifth novel (by chronology) in The Vorkosigan Saga and the shortest to date, clocking in at only around 250 pages. It's a slight story, and feels more like an expanded short story than a fully-fleshed out novel.

On the successful side of things, Bujold brings her trademark wit and readability to the story. To use a lazy reviewing tactic, if you liked the previous books in this series, you'll probably like this one as well. However, Bujold is arguably unsuccessful in really making the Cetagandans (here making their first on-page appearance after many frequent mentions) an impressive, convincing society. The Cetagandan Empire is ruled under a bewildering array of rules relating to male/female relations, genetic engineering and social function, which is all fine until you realise it would be too easy to topple the whole thing if enough people decided they didn't want to play along (as indeed almost happens in this novel).

More damaging is the fact that Bujold does not complicate Miles's story enough. Every time something bad happens, Miles immediately shifts it to his advantage, and he is never on the back foot for more than a paragraph or two. With a long series based around one character you have to constantly be on the look-out for that character becoming too infallible or invulnerable, and that nearly happens to Miles here.

Still, even a sub-par Vorkosigan novel remains a fun, if lightweight, read. Cetaganda (***½) is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus.

Book 6: Ethan of Athos

Ethan Urquhart is a doctor on the all-male planet of Athos, which is reliant on important genetic cultures in order to increase their population. When the latest culture shipment is contaminated and destroyed, Ethan is dispatched by his government to the transfer point at Kline Station to investigate. Almost immediately after his arrival, Ethan is drawn into a web of intrigue and conspiracies featuring agents from the Cetagandan Empire and the unnerving (for Ethan) presence of a female intelligence agent from the Dendarii mercenaries.

Ethan of Athos is, chronologically, the sixth novel in the Vorkosigan Saga, although it was the third to be written. Even more confusingly, it is often omitted from counts of the series due to the total non-appearance of the series' main character, Miles Vorkosigan. However, Ellie Quinn, who appeared briefly in The Warrior's Apprentice and goes on to make more important appearances alongside Miles later on, plays a major role and this book establishes a fair bit of her character and backstory. So my recommendation is to accept it as part of the saga and move on.

I enjoyed Ethan of Athos a lot. It's what Bujold does best, a comedy-of-manners romp taking in scheming, intrigue, wheels-within-wheels, deceptions and double-bluffs, and a thin layering of real science (a more thorough exploration of the uterine replicator technology mentioned in previous books) and social commentary on top. There's some nice character scenes and moments of humour, and Bujold writers her typical wit.

However, the book feels like a somewhat missed opportunity. There are a few SF novels which take a look at societies where either women are put in charge or are dominant (such as David Brin's Glory Season), or where the normal genders don't exist as we know them (obviously, The Left Hand of Darkness), but surprisingly few about the idea of a planet where only men exist. The early and closing chapters set on Athos show that Bujold has put a lot of thought into this idea and how it works, and the resulting commentary it offers up on male gender roles is facinating. But as a concept it only bookends the novel, the bulk of which is a more basic - if still fun - SF thriller.

Ethan of Athos (***½) is a solid, enjoyable SF novel, but one that feels like it could have been a lot more than that if the story had remained on Athos for its duration. Otherwise, this is a reasonable addition to the Vorkosigan series. The novel is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus.
Novella 2: Labyrinth

In his disguise as commander of the Dendarii mercenary fleet, Miles Vorkosigan is dispatched by Barrayaran intelligence to rendezvous with a defector on the anarchic world of Jackson's Whole. However, it isn't long before Miles is up to his neck in political intrigue between three feuding houses, with the defector, a mutant and a werewolf to worry about...

Labyrinth is a short novella featuring Lois McMaster Bujold's signature character of Miles Vorkosigan, once again up to his neck in trouble after a simple mission goes wrong (as they usually do). It's a fun little piece, featuring lots of Miles getting captured, smart-talking his way through interrogations and then escaping whilst throwing an entire world into turmoil but retaining deniability for Barrayar.

Whilst it's good, it's slight. There's some interesting stuff about genetic engineering, not to mention the first appearance in the Miles timeline of the quaddies, people who have had their legs replaced with arms to better cope with life in zero-gee. Between the quaddie, the werewolf (actually a genetically-altered super-soldier), the dwarf (Miles) and the hermaphrodite (recurring character Bel Thorne), the novella can be said to be about people who are outcast from some societies due to unthinking prejudice. Unfortunately, the novella's short length prevents Bujold from exploring any of the issues in any real great depth, especially as the fascinating sociological stuff is put on hold for most of the story as we instead follow Miles trying to break out of a prison.

That said, Labyrinth (***) is a fun read which cracks along fairly smartly and packs a fair amount of character development and action into a short page count. It's just a shame that Bujold didn't flesh the story out into a full novel, as it feels like the characters and issues being explored could have warranted it. Without that exploration, the novella ultimately feels too slight and disposable. The novella is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus. Oddly, it is also reprinted in the Miles, Mutants and Microbes omnibus as well.
Great reviews, Werthead. I had looked at this series some time ago but not bothered with it. Since reading your earlier comments I have bought the first two omnibus editions. Only read the first one so far, but I enjoyed Shards of Honor and loved Barrayar. Looking forward to reading more :)
Novella 3: Borders of Infinity

Miles Vorkosigan, in his guise as Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries, has been captured by the Cetagandans and imprisoned on a remote moon, along with thousands of other POWs. Vorkosigan finds a camp in the grip of chaos, with different groups of prisoners fighting amongst themselves and the strong preying on the weak. He has to somehow unite the prisoners before any breakout can be attempted...which is difficult to do when you have bones that shatter easily and no incentives to use.

Borders of Infinity is another short novella featuring the character of Miles Vorkosigan, this time back with the Dendarii (after a break of several stories and books, in chronological order anyway) before being imprisoned by the Cetagandans. It's a fairly straightforward and entertaining story, basically involving Miles trying to set up a prison break but being confronted by problems with asserting his authority and making enemies who want to kill him, even if it means they never escape.

The story's slightness works against it, as does a muddled tone. Funny scenes - Miles being forced to walk around naked and working with a crazy religious nut to try to win over the soldiers - are contrasted against some of the darker and more brutal scenes that Bujold has written to date. Making such a juxtaposition work is possible, but Bujold fails to achieve it here.

There's also the problem of the story being bigger than its word count. The story could easily have been twice as long, but just as it's getting started it abruptly ends, and in a rather straightforward manner as well (although the fallout does at least get novel-length coverage, in Brothers in Arms).

Borders of Infinity (***) is readable and passes the time, but is again a fairly short and slight story that feels like it's a novel that's been truncated almost to the point of non-existence. A story that's more important for what it does (setting up Brothers in Arms) than what it is, then. It can be found in the Miles Errant omnibus (UK, USA).
Great reviews, Werthead. I had looked at this series some time ago but not bothered with it. Since reading your earlier comments I have bought the first two omnibus editions. Only read the first one so far, but I enjoyed Shards of Honor and loved Barrayar. Looking forward to reading more :)

Yeah, Barrayar was what made me sit up and take notice of Bujold. Most of Shards of Honor was just OK like mediocre sci-fi, girl meets boy on alien planet, but then things picked up with the (spoiler!)
assassination of madness.

Bujold says she was well into Barrayar before she broke them into two books.

Last edited by a moderator:
Bujold says she was well into Barrayar before she broke them into two books.

I was reading about that in her author's note in the Cordelia's Honor omnibus edition. I thought it really showed how well she had it planned when I read The Warrior's Apprentice a couple of weeks ago - it all tied together brilliantly.
Well, I've just finished Barrayar, and have now read the first three books in this series, all predating Miles' involvement. My thoughts on the first three:

1. Falling Free - This is hard SF, I guess, though not very good hard SF. The story line is okay, although I found the characterisations were a bit thin, the hero seemed a touch unlikely and the dialogue was dreadful. It was a passable plot I suppose, but I only read on in the series because I'd heard so many comments suggesting this was not her strongest book. Won the Nebula Award. 2/5

2. Shards of Honor - This was a lot better, I thought. The characterisation was more involving and the story line was much more interesting. The dialogue still carries Bujold's awkward use of 'um' and 'err' actually written in to the middle of speech, which seems amateurish and to me just doesn't work, but on the whole I felt the writing was improved and the plot was much better. 3/5

3. Barrayer - Not bad, I guess, but it didn't really tick the SF box for me. This isn't a SF novel. It's an imaginative far future romance. Which is fine, and for that sub-genre I imagine it's a successful novel, but it's not my cup of tea at all. The plot wasn't bad, although it did seem to me to be written just to fill the space between Shards of Honor and the Miles books. I found Cordelia to be a bit annoying, and Aral is rather thin as a character. It also has sporadic patches of dreadful writing that made me wince. Dialogue is still her Achilles heel, but outside of speech Bujold drops some clangers too: the use of 'shockiness' at one point for instance. This is Bujold making words up to try and get her point across. By the end, I was left wishing there had been more science or speculation in this science fiction book (the replicators are the only nod to SF really), and that the end had been even slightly believable. Hugo Award winner. 2/5

So, not hugely impressed I'm afraid. I may read a Miles book at some point, given that is what the author is most famous for, but its not now high on my TBR list.
This just gets more and more puzzling to me. People keep saying how bad Bujold's writing is, and I simply can't imagine what they're talking about.

I am a pedant, born with a red pencil in my hand, picky beyond all pickiness, and I don't recall ever having been bothered by anything in the Vorkosigan books. I read them all at least once a year, and recommend them to everyone who crosses my path.

I think you're all nuts. :D
  • Like
Reactions: Ihe
Seconded. :D apart from her annoying lack of question marks and her dodgy dialogue tags (neither of which are a criminal offence outside of having a style) I find her writing smooth and easy. I also think she's one of the best dialogue writers I've read, I lust to write it so well.

Having said that, Falling Free was the weakest of the books I think, as a standalone Ethan of Athos is a better read, and, really, the series doesn't get started until Miles, and really only comes into its own with Brothers in Arms on. I wouldn't have read past Barrayar except for recommendations here, and I'm so glad I did.
People keep saying how bad Bujold's writing is, and I simply can't imagine what they're talking about.
I wouldn't say her writing is uniformly bad - I think she has lapses in quality and idiosyncratic tics to her writing that stop me short and pull me out of the novel. Patchy and occasionally grating. When she's on song, she does write quite smoothly, I agree with that description, Springs. She's just not my cup of tea, as much as anything, I think. The SF setting strikes me as being wallpaper for what are principally romantic dramas (esp. Barrayar), rather than being the reason or a prerequisite for the plot. Its what I call 'drama in space'. There's also a lack of depth it seems to me. After reading the kind of SF that really lights my fire, I think about the implications, ideas and plot a fair bit afterwards. Bujold's books have not (to date) had that effect on me particularly. But to be fair, I did quite like Shards, I gave it 3/5.
I wouldn't say her writing is uniformly bad - I think she has lapses in quality and idiosyncratic tics to her writing that stop me short and pull me out of the novel. Patchy and occasionally grating. When she's on song, she does write quite smoothly, I agree with that description, Springs. She's just not my cup of tea, as much as anything, I think. The SF setting strikes me as being wallpaper for what are principally romantic dramas (esp. Barrayar), rather than being the reason or a prerequisite for the plot. Its what I call 'drama in space'. There's also a lack of depth it seems to me. After reading the kind of SF that really lights my fire, I think about the implications, ideas and plot a fair bit afterwards. Bujold's books have not (to date) had that effect on me particularly. But to be fair, I did quite like Shards, I gave it 3/5.

I think those are valid criticisms (and why she gets so much derision for winning the Hugo and Nebula from some of the community.) The romance in Shards, for me, was done too heavily and I rarely go back to the two Cordelia books, although it's done much more deftly in the Miles in Love compendium.

What you see as a lack of depth is, for me, what gives it the depth I miss in most conventional sci fi. I don't want to know about spacecraft and worthy considerations of social futures etc etc. I want a story whose characters I like, who grow and who I grow to feel I know. That, to me, is depth and too often in sci fi the characters are too thin for me to project on, or take anything from. Bujold explores extensively the nature of diversity, of what it is to be different (Falling free starts the quaddie story, which grows as the series goes on), and I think exploring that has value and makes it more than just a window dressing around a romantic drama.

I'd absolutely agree she's not everyone's cup of tea. But for someone who was looking everywhere for the sort of sci fi I like (and write, frankly, with my adult stuff) she was the first writer who made me feel I had a place in the genre I love.

So, it's perhaps a taste/horses for courses thing?
So, it's perhaps a taste/horses for courses thing?
Yes, absolutely, I'm expect that's right. I think readers who haven't read her work should probably give it a go and make up their own minds. My comments are meant only to provide a breadth of view that I think exists and some will agree with my take, and many will side more with your view of her I daresay. In any event, I wouldn't highlight her as a particularly bad author, just not (imho) deserving of quite all the accolades and major awards she seems to carry off by the truck load.
It took a long time before I read any of Bujold's Vorkosigan series, simply because the basic premise didn't sound appealing. Once I did, I was hooked. I accept entirely that there are very few SF ideas - it's a criticism I've made myself - but for me, what she writes is just hugely entertaining. Once I start one of her stories I find it very difficult to put the book down until I've finished. She may not be a stylist but she's a great storyteller, and often very funny.

I'd avoid her fantasy, though, judging by the one I've read: 10% fantasy, 90% romance...
I think her writing is excellent; well rounded characters, great pacing, great action scenes, some nice comic turns etc. What lets these books down is lack of consistency, Miles' infallibility, and some huge plot holes.

So Miles' infallibility; Werthead alluded to this in his reviews and I keep having problems with it. It's actually quite subtle; he makes huge major blunders (which is what typically drives the story forward) and he constantly makes small blunders (putting his foot in it style blunders) but in between those extremes he is always unbelievably perfect; he just doesn't make mistakes.

The plot holes are my biggest problems though. As a couple of examples (slight but not major SPOILERS): In Mirror Dance there is no way the cream of Jackson Hole doctors who revive Miles could possibly have missed his condition, the reasons for that condition and joined up the dots linking Miles and Admiral Naismith; utterly implausible. In Memory, no military ever past or future would have forgiven Miles for not being honest about his condition and falsifying his report; he deliberately endangered the men and women fighting for him, once exposed his mercenaries would never have worked for him again and there's no way he would have been forgiven as he eventually was. As an ex-military man I almost put the book down when I realised where she was going with it and I lost all (and I mean) all sympathy for his character. Pretty much every story has some major plot holes in them and throughout the whole series Miles' behaviour would have had him cashiered (multiple times) from any military worth it's salt.

However they are fiction and they are well (engagingly) written and I do enjoy them. But they are not the great military masterpieces that they are often presented as. They are romantic adventures and as such are fun light reads which I would rate alongside the Shepherd's Kris Longknife books; enjoyable adventure hokum.

Similar threads