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Archive for the ‘Lois McMaster Bujold’ Category

Having enjoyed her fantasy novels, I thought I would venture onto her sci-fi books. Excellent also–she writes well, her characters are well made and believable. These books were such fun to read! Yes, a space opera, with all the space ships and stunners and high beam accelerators and what have you—but also, real people and a fascinating series of plots that kept me engaged for as long as it took to read them all. Bujold created a believable world—well, a bunch of worlds, actually, various planets all connected by trade and diplomacy—and I enjoyed living there and regret leaving it.

 #1 Falling Free

This book is only at the head of the line of books because it takes place in the universe Bujold invented, decades before the characters we love were born. I wouldn’t start with this one, actually, whatever the anxious author says. It is interesting enough—she really cannot write an uninteresting book—but, the real story begins with the next one.

#2 Shards of Honor

Very good and very enjoyable story of 2 people who come from different worlds–literally!– meeting and falling in love. Aral comes from a planet where ancient warrior traditions rule, and Cordelia from a planet of enlightened scientific research and a very controlling political system. Their worlds are at war, but thanks to various devious betrayals they aral&cordeliaare both suddenly marooned on a planet (subsequently named Sergyar) which has a strategically important position, and a fascinating flora and fauna. Mostly poisonous to humans. Their love story continues in subsequent books.
Mentioned also in the course of the story are futuristic machines, death rays, spaceships, etc.

#3 Barrayar

I am finding these stories VERY addictive. Perhaps it is just that this sci-fi stuff is written by a woman, and so there is more character interraction and less blood and brains exploding all over the place.Not that there isn’t blood and brains spattering about, but just not in huge quantities. This is the story in which a heinous assassination attempt fails to kill Aral and Cordelia, but almost kills their child, still in the womb. Miles is eventually born, but crippled. Some amusing business of how horrified Cordelia is at the barbaric Barrayan ways–babies left to grow in unsafe human wombs! Instead of inside the much safer and more dependable uterine replicators, as on her world.

 #4 The Warrior’s Apprentice

Miles

By Gemmonia, at DeviantArt

Miles doesn’t make the grade at military academy, due to his size and brittle bones. But on travels to see granny, he accidentally establishes an army–the Dendarii Free Mercenaries! Things happen, and he is so smart and there you are. He made me laugh, with his internal dialogue–getting ready to deal with the ominous rock hard mercenaries–why should they work for him, imagining himself a warrior chief of old–and they amaze him by…asking about their medical insurance and other perks. “He had been prepared for defiance, disbelief, a concerted unarmed rush. . . . He had a sudden maniac vision of Vorthalia the Bold demanding a whole-life policy from his emperor at sword’s point.”

#5 The Vor Game

Miles made it through military academy, finally! And is sent off to total hell hole. Managed by a LUNATIC. And, as it happens, Gregor the emporer is ALSO there, incognito. I think? Memory failing a little here. But Miles saves the day. Almost freezing to death first. But first all sorts of things happen, and it turns out that Miles cannot pursue military career—his dream!—but will do very well in the imperial security forces.

 #6 Cetaganda

Miles and Ivan are off to Cetaganda, a world of amazing sophistication and artifice. Their customs for reproduction are particularly elaborate. No actual sex is involved. A FINE story, a real page turner. LOVE these books!

haut_rian_by_gemmiona-d33pq39

Haut Rian by Gemmionia, at DeviantArt

gemmiona

#7-Ethan of Athos

ethan-athos01In this one, there is a civilization on a particular planet that consists of only men–they grow their much treasured sons in artificial wombs–and though they have heard of ‘women’ they dread and fear any contact with them. It happens that their tissue cultures are beginning to degrade, so a doctor–a good and decent man–must travel off planet to acquire fresh supplies. In so doing he comes across WOMEN and has other experiences also, adventures, danger, excitement. At some point he is trying to understand this odd fascination men in other worlds seem to have with women–there is a ‘fiction holovid titled Love’s Savage Star, that he had stumbled onto and been too stunned to switch off. Life with women did not just induce strange behavior, it appeared; it induced very strange behavior. How long before the emanations or whatever it was from Commander Quinn would make him start acting like that? Would ripping open her jacket to expose her mammary hypertrophy really cause her to fixate upon him like a newly hatched chick on its mother hen?”
I LOVED that mammary hypertrophy business!

 #8-Brothers in Arms

Miles is trying hard to manage the 2 sides of himself–Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Mercenaries, and Lord Vorkosigan of Barrayar. And then the assassination attempts begin–in which we meet his CLONE! Bred to destroy him, but Miles not only is not destroyed, he saves the clone–he tells him, they are brothers–and unmasks a ghastly plot. Really well made story.

 #9-Mirror Dance

The clone–Mark, his name is Mark, his brother tells him, which is automatically the name for the second son in the Vorkosigan family–attempts to liberate a bunch of clones on the terrible world where he was made. They are to become the host bodies for the brains of wealthy old people, who choose this way to become immortal. Disgusting, rather. Mark’s mission ends in disaster, but Miles saves the day. And then is KILLED! But thrust into a cryo chamber–which GOES MISSING in the turmoil! WHOA, this is some story. It ends OK, and Mark meets the father he had been bred to kill. But, doesn’t kill him. Cordelia helps him come to a peaceful acceptance of his life. Again, fascinating story!

 #10 Memory

This concerns Miles’ recovery from being dead, and his desperate but unsuccessful schemes to stay in the military–but he has a spectacular accident and is retired from the service. HOWEVER. His help is needed in finding out who has attacked Simon, head of Imperial Security. He is no longer in the military, but is appointed an Imperial Auditor–a job which, as it turns out, exactly suits his talents. Also, Gregory steals someone else’s girlfriend and an IMPERIAL WEDDING is being planned. Miles is to be best man.

#11 Komarr

Komarr is a planet of great importance to the Barrayans, being at the entrance of a significant wormhole. Miles, now Imperial Auditor, has come to deal with a terrible accident to the solar mirror which is one of an array that is gradually transforming the planet into a more livable place. The accident, it appears was NOT an accident, but part of a terrible plot to DESTROY not just the planet but the wormholes that allow travel between planets. The exciting conclusion is something of a nail-biter. Interesting people are introduced, among them Ekaterina, the wife of a minor official–the man is an idiot, but the wife is smart and completely lovable. The official is eventually killed by his own idiotic negligence. Leaving his wife and son free to return to Barrayar–hotly pursued by Miles, who has fallen in love with Ekatarina.

 #12 A Civil Campaign (and Winterfair Gifts)

Ekaterin by Gemmiona at DeveiantArt

Ekaterin by Gemmiona at DeveiantArt

Finally Miles has finally found a lady who will marry him! Though he almost loses her through acting like an idiot. Some very amusing scenes, like the Worst Dinner Party Ever, and the Arrival Home to find Naked Guard Smeared in Butter. HAHAH! He finds out that a mad scientist is one of his rivals: “Good God, Enrique was writing poetry to her? Yes, and why hadn’t he thought of poetry? Besides the obvious reason of his absence of talent in that direction. He wondered if she’d like to read a really clever combat-drop mission plan, instead.” NOT as such, no. But what she does want to read is the abject apology he writes her after the disastrous dinner party. Abject, and irresistible. Because, love.
The entertaining story of Donna Vorrutyer who becomes Dono Vorrutyer is one of the many delightful divertissments in this book.
This book ends with weddings–Gregor’s and Miles’. Lovely, both of them.

#13 Diplomatic Immunity

Miles and Ekatarina are off on their honeymoon, watching vids of their SOON TO BE BORN babies who await them at home in their handy dandy uterine replicators. But a diplomatic emergency intervenes and they must hasten off to a planet where a Barrayaran ship has caused a ghastly incident. There is evil afoot! Danger abounds, murder has been done once and may be done again. Miles is on the case! He almost dies (again!) but in the end he triumps, with the help of his lovely wife, and they get back home for the emergence of their two babies, Aral Alexander and Helen Natalia. And it turns out, even when the birth consists of opening a machine, it is still a deeply moving event.

#14 Cryoburn

Miles is investigating something odd in the frozen bodies awaiting resurrection on the planet Kibou-daini. But he is kidnapped, and exciting plot things happen! Including a bio-engineered Sphinx, made as part of a branding promotion for a particular business. It can speak a few words, ‘Fud’, ‘Aout’–and its new owner has to clean up something of a mess in the house when he doesn’t pay attention as it is stalking around muttering ‘POO, PEE”. Silly, and has nothing to do with the plot, but it made me smile. As I said, sci-fi for women.

#15 Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

Vorkosigan-IvanFinally Ivan has his own story! In which he meets the beauteous lady Tej who will eventually, after much mystery and disaster–become his wife. He is led to her by Byerly Vorrutyer, who also meets his own eventual mate, Rish, Tej’s companion.

And at the end, I encountered such unexpected grief, Aral the good man suddenly dead. Well not really unexpected, he is an old man now, but we have been living with him, his triumphs and failures, through many adventures, many books. His son is the hero of the series now. But I was shocked, taken unawares, when his death was announced, at the end of the book. Tears in my eyes, really.

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I have just reread Lois McMaster Bujold ‘s fantasy series, 3 books set in a well-designed fantasy world (irresistibly bringing to mind the cynical book agent’s definition of fantasy worlds in Mal Peet’s excellent book, The Murdstone Trilogy:  “The world–‘Realm’ is the proper term–of High Fantasy is sort of medieval.  Well, pre-industrial, anyway. .  . the Realm has fallen under the power of a Dark Lord”)
Bulold’s Realm pretty much follows that definition.

CastleI liked the books when I first read them, some years ago and they continue to charm. She is known for her sci-fi books, which are all very well, but these fantasy books are so well made, and her world is very convincing– with the amusing conceit of a religion that worships 5 very real and engaged gods. There are also demons, and magic of a sort, but all carefully overseen by the gods. These gods can do nothing without the intervention of a human–not so much as lift a leaf, as one of the characters says. They try to answer the prayers of their worshippers, but can only do so through people, who have to allow the gods into their hearts. Which sounds fairly benign except that the gods are so huge, their vision so enormous, that it is overwhelming for those so afflicted. They are called Saints, the god-touched.

ChalionRavenThe first story involves warring princes and a ghastly inherited curse–a powerful and malign curse, that is destroying the royal family of Chalion. The man who saves Chalion–his country–from the curse is a modest good man, but with a sense of humor, and a sharp wit. A soldier, who had been shamefully used by his superior–which ghastly superior, by the way, has Dark Lord tendencies but does not actually qualify as such, lacking that kind of total power. But, my, he is very evil, and as for his horrible brother, les bras m’en tombe. Anyway, Cazeril (yes, painfully close to the word denoting a useful kitchen container) returns from the SLAVE GALLEYS (!) and eventually saves the world. I shall not tell you how.

In the NEXT book, god-touched Ista–the sad and lovely ex-queen, on whom the curse had been particularly heavy–is redeemed, and manages to forgive herself for a heinous failure involving an attempt to lift the curse of the previous book. And in the engaging and delightfully designed story, she escapes the fiendish plots of a Very Wicked Sorceress (ALMOST a Dark Lord, do you see–well, Dark Lady. Doesn’t have the same ring though, does it?). In the midst of the battle, Ista has a dreadful vision of the roiling spirit chains which bind the enslaved captains of her army to the Sorceress–snaking purple ropes winding from her heart to each of her captains, keeping them attached to her like puppets on a string. It is Ista’s god-enhanced second sight that allows her to see such visions, hidden to most people.

Anyway, it is a fine story, filled with astonishing visions—such as the beautiful dead man who yet seems to live, his seeming life preserved by his sleeping brother, whose spirit magically streams into him. And a bear inhabited by a demon! And a priest who dreams his own death!

What stayed with me was the powerful moment when Ista confronts the vicious sorceress. She had first to pass through a terrible ordeal, during which her god appeared to have deserted her, so that she despairs—my god, my god, why have you forsaken me? But just as the sorceress seems to triumph, the god looms up, a giant of joyful power–and easily defeats the dark lady. He had had hidden himself so deep that the sorceress couldn’t perceive him, and thus Ista was allowed to approach the dark throne. God-sleight!

This sudden welling up of a god so reminded me of Pound’s lines about Bacchus finding himself kidnapped by some (astonishingly foolish) pirates,  and furiously letting loose his power, magically binding the boat in strong vines of ivy and grape, and–a little lagniappe–turning the pirates into dolphins:

“God-sleight then, god-sleight:
Ship stock fast in sea-swirl,
Ivy upon the oars, King Pentheus,
grapes with no seed but sea-foam. . .”

Bacco_e_AceteThe third book in the series is called the Hallowed Hunt, and involves spirit animals inhabiting people according to some Ancient Magical Rite. Blood is shed, and dark magics invoked. This too is a very engaging book, set in an earlier version of that same very well-conceived world, 5 gods and all.

All three books are, as they say, page turners. Or, in the case of the iPod, a time eater. I was sorry to say goodbye to that world—but I suppose 3 books are plenty, and a good place for Ms. Bujold to stop.
And me!

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