~Post by Tommy
Over the years there has been a lot of talk and complaint that Science Fiction is very much a boy’s club. One only has to look at the ABCs of Sci Fi to see that: Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke. Look at some of the other “classic greats” of the genre and you’ll see further evidence of gender bias: Heinlein, Herbert, Dick et al. But did you know that one of the most decorated authors in the genre is a woman? Not the wonderful Ursula LeGuin, not the ever popular Anne McCaffrey, but the lesser known (but just as good) Lois McMaster Bujold.
Many authors have one area in which they excel. Tolkien was a world builder, but many of his characters were very archetypical. Heinlein was a master of characterization but oft times his settings would feel a little flat. Bujold excels in both areas giving us wonderfully rich characters like Miles Vorkosigan and deep, interesting worlds like the labyrinthine Barrayar. Since her debut in 1986 Bujold has hit us again and again with some of the best high adventure space opera and has also crossed genre and written not one but two amazing fantasy series as well.
In 1986 Sci Fi readers were first introduced to the manic Miles Vorkosigan in The Warrior’s Apprentice, in which an unfortunately physically deformed nobleman from a planet that only respects physical strength fails his entrance exams to military academy and goes on to found his own mercenary fleet and become one of the top agents of Barrayar’s military intelligence division. From this exciting debut Bujold has given us twenty five years of crazy adventures with Miles and Co. that include foiling an assassination plot while recovering from bone replacement surgery and staging a mutiny at an arctic military base. From its beginning as a space opera series, the Vorkosigan saga evolved around the time of Cetaganda in 1995 and Komarr in 1998 into an intricately told space faring spy thriller and mystery series that lost absolutely nothing in its tone shift. The newest adventures Cryoburn (2010) and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (2012) have revolved less around Miles, and more around the antics of his extensive family. The Vorkosigan Saga draws readers in with the high adventure and brilliant space combat of The Warrior’s Apprentice and keeps it’s readers enthralled by peeling back layer upon layer of some of the most interesting characters in all of Science Fiction. It’s most certainly my favorite military space opera series, and it should be yours, too.
In 2001 Bujold broke away from the Vorkosigan Saga to pen her first fantasy series The Chalion Trilogy. With the Vorkosigan novels, Bujold explored the ideas of family, expectations, and grand intergalactic politics. With the Chalion Trilogy she was free to explore deep philosophical concepts such as the ideas of fate and free will. Each novel in the trilogy tells a different story from the point of view of a different character. In the end all three are bound together not only by the common world they share, but also by the theological ideas that they explore and the high fantasy adventure she uses to frame these explorations.
With the end of the Chalion Trilogy, Bujold was not yet ready to return to the universe of Miles Vorkosigan so instead she turned to a new fantasy world. Set in an alternate universe version of the Great Lakes area, The Sharing Knife series chronicles the lives of Dag, a heroic figure known as a Lakewalker who protects people from evil spirits known as malices, and Fawn, a young Farmer girl who is rescued by Dag and who also later saves his life. Along the rocky road that leads to the marriage of the two characters, the series also looks at the ideas of caste and cultural exclusion as Dag and Fawn attempt to heal rifts that have grown between the supposedly noble Lakewalkers and the simple society of the Farmers. Bujold’s fantasy is told with the same exquisite attention to both character and setting that the Vorkosigan Saga is and shows off her capability as an extremely versatile writer. Both series are more than worthy of a spot in your to-be-read pile.
Bujold is not just a fan favorite , she is also a favorite of the critics and award committees. Not counting the retroactive Hugo award, Lois Bujold is tied with Robert Heinlein as the recipient of the most Hugo Awards for Best Novel with four wins and nine nominations. Her Vorkosigan saga has won five Hugo awards and two Nebulas and has sold more than two million copies worldwide. Her other Hugo and Nebula wins, one each, were for the middle volume of the Chalion Trilogy, Paladin of Souls. Those wins make her one of the very few authors to win best novel for both Science Fiction and Fantasy.
In short, Lois Bujold is not just one of the greatest science fiction writers alive today, she is one of the greats of all time. I believe that her name deserves to stand up with Heinlein, Herbert, and the rest. In her twenty seven years as an author she has captivated audiences with outstanding stories, beautiful worlds, and vastly entertaining characters. Here’s hoping that there will be twenty seven more years to follow.
Sci Friday is a weekly post focusing on all things Sci Fi. Booksellers Tommy and Marie are you intrepid leaders on this journey through awesome new books; the best and worst of what’s come before; Sci Fi film adaptations and more. Check back next Friday for more!