Article: Lois McMaster Bujold
(written for Firsts Magazine 2008)
There is a tradition at SciFi / Fantasy conventions wherein attendees who are nominated for awards receive a tie-clip which they are supposed to wear during the convention to point them out in the crowd. The more nominations one receives year after year, the more tie-clips one is supposed to add to their tie. For men this can make a great, dragging, heavy shiny thing to hang around their necks (assuming multiple award nominations), but for women, it poses a sartorial dilemma. Generally women award nominees don’t wear ties so they put the tie-clips on their name badges. A few years ago, Lois McMaster Bujold realized that she had so many tie-clips from nominations that they wouldn’t all fit on her attendance badges any more. Without a second thought she had the bunch of them made into a necklace to wear to the conventions instead. Not only does this point to the ingenuity of this fascinating author, but it proves, in a round-about way, what a powerful and compelling writer she is. Now more than twenty years into her career Bujold has earned more than 13 award nominations and has equaled Robert Heinlein’s number of Hugo awards for best novel (4 awards). Better yet, she is still going strong. So who is Lois McMaster Bujold? And what is it about her writing that produces all the raves she has received?
Lois McMaster was born in the solidly mid-western town of Columbus, Ohio in 1949. Her upbringing was completely normal for that period of time. Lois herself remembers that her first introduction to Science Fiction / Fantasy was when, as a mid-elementary school girl, she picked up the discarded books and magazines that her father had read while traveling – her home was in the country around Columbus and it was not easy for her to get to the library or even a corner store where some of those type of books would be on offer (and she had little money to spend on such items). She did get to the library when the chance arose, however, and found that the books with the pictures of the rocket ships on the spine (you know those old identifiers for subject matter slapped on the spine of the books) were as interesting as the books about horses.
As a pre- teen she, along with one or two female friends found themselves interested in the completely non-girly realm of Star Trek and fantasy / science fiction conventions. The girls even went so far as to work on their own fan-fiction (one of which actually made it into print). Bujold continued to read and absorb Scifi material through college. College life at Ohio State Universitylasted from 1968 to 1972; she tried several majors including biology and English and although both of them had a profound effect on her writing (more about the biology and her fascination with bugs later) they didn’t interest her sufficiently to become careers. Round about her last year of college, she met and married John Bujold. At that point, regular life took over and Bujold spent most of the next ten years working as a pharmacy tech at the University hospital and / or raising two children. Writing took a backseat to the perils of child rearing and so did chance to read much science fiction. Luckily, Bujold kept in touch with her writing friend from high school Lillian Stewart (now Lillian Stewart Carl) – Lillian had taken time off to have children just as Lois had done but something inside her pushed her to start writing again. Lillian had some success with both fan fiction and then, after a time, with short stories that were published in professional magazines – stories that actually made some money. Lillian convinced Lois that she should pick up her unrealized yen for writing again as well. By this time, Bujold’s children were old enough that she could spare a bit of time and brain power to start writing again, and so, with lots of encouragement from her friend, she put pen to paper once again. The year was 1982.
Bujold finished one “experimental” short story that year & sent it off to Carl for review. Carl reviewed it and then promptly sent it off again to a new connection she had made at the 1982 Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention) – Patricia Wrede. It turned out to be a very good thing to do because Patricia Wrede not only took Bujold’s work seriously, but handed back a “fourteen page letter of critique” (Women Who Rock the World: Lois McMaster Bujold interview at www.agirlsworld.com). That critique in some way opened a flood-gate for Bujold. It gave her the drive to continue writing. She continued to write short stories and also expanded her scope to the longer novel format. Her first short story was published in 1985 in Twilight Zone magazine (“Barter”) and from there, for many fans, it seemed like a hop, skip & jump into a multi-book publishing contract.
While it seems to readers as if Bujold erupted onto the Scifi scene fully-blown and already destined for great things, it wasn’t quite that easy. Between the years 1982 when Bujold started sending out feelers to publishers and her first published novel in 1986, there were numerous rejections, questions & scratched head style responses to her submissions. There were several big problems to Bujold’s work that kept getting in her way of signing a contract. First off, she was writing what in the 1940’s and 1950’s was called Space Opera. But Space Opera was OUT during the 1980’s and most publishers weren’t interested in bucking trends, especially for an unproven author. Second, the protagonist of one of the two books she was sending out was 17 years old – did the book belong in the young adult section or the adult section? Publishers couldn’t decide. Their answer was to send the book right back to Bujold and forget the matter altogether. Worse yet, one of the books was not only Space Opera, but it involved a more than glancingly romantic plotline. Horrors!
Shards of Honor (Baen Books, 1986), her first published book, was not the book that actually sold her work to publishers. It was her second book, The Warrior’s Apprentice(Baen Books, 1986) which featured a very unique character named Miles Vorkosigan which made it to the top of the slush pile & then onto an editor’s desk. Bujold’s friend Lillian Stewart Carl made a suggestion that Bujold should send the book to Baen Books -- in one of those quirks of fate Carl had heard of Baen (which was a brand new company at this point in time) because she had stood in line with Betsy Mitchell who was a senior editor there (from www.baen.com Interview with Lois McMaster Bujold, Aug 2007). Carl figured that if nothing else, Bujold would get more than just a form letter response. She might even get a detailed note back from Baen with her next rejection. So Bujold packed up The Warrior’s Apprentice and with a mention that she had two other completed novels as well, sent it out to yet another slush pile. Bujold did not receive a form letter response from Baen Books. In fact, she didn’t even receive a detailed rejection letter from Betsy Mitchell or anyone else at Baen – she received a telephone call from publisher Jim Baen accepting The Warrior’s Apprentice AND the two other books. (This is the reason why her first three novels all appeared in one chunk during the second half of 1986 – a highly unusual occurrence for any author).
The first book actually published was Shards of Honor (PB, Baen, 1986) which was followed in the same year by the two other titles: The Warrior’s Apprentice (PB, Baen 1986), and Ethan of Athos (PB, Baen, 1986). Shards of Honor is the story of Commander Cordelia Naismith of the Betan Expeditionary Forces, and Captain Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar. It’s a romance tinged, Space-Opera story of adventure and ethics. It is not, however the old 1950’s style of Space Opera which dealt with space battles, adventurous plots and Buck Rogers / Erroll Flynn style characters who had little depth and mostly showed off their newest gizmos & gadgets. This new, Bujold style Space Opera gives the reader more than just adventure in space and cool MacGyver characters – she includes thought-provoking, controversial ethical, technological and moral dilemmas in her plots. In the case of Shards of Honor, the reader follows along as Aral and Cordelia work through honor, duty to country, what happens when military personnel follow ambiguous or outright evil orders, sadism and more. That’s a lot packed into one 300 page book. While this book does have spots where Bujold’s newness to the business shows a bit -- the story contains a fully thought-out universe, characters who can be visualized completely (her characterization is always superb) and a very strong, page-turning storyline.
The second book published in the year 1986, Warrior’s Apprentice (PB, Baen Books, 1986), is the book that not only got Bujold published, but was also the book that hit the SF ground running and truly started the Vorkosigan series. I do have to mention here that the cover art for this second book is so completely self-conscious in its 1980’s styling and so completely OFF from what’s actually inside that it’s amazing that anyone bothered to pick the darned book up off the shelf. (Bujold herself has never really been happy with the cover art of any of the Vorkosigan books, but then, Miles Vorkosigan is undeniably unique and a bit hard to completely visualize.) The cover art of the Baen first edition of the book show a leggy brunette being clutched in the manly arms of a mostly bare-chested hunk; while a toad-like man in black military garb sits gloweringly next to them. The toad-like man who looks like he’s forty, if not older, is actually supposed to represent our hero, Miles Vorkosigan, a seventeen-year-old wash-out from the military academy. Here’s an early description of Miles: “He stood to his full height, such as it was, and stretched, as if to pull his crooked spine out straight by force of will. He gave a little upward jerk of his chin, as if balancing his too-large head, a head meant for a man over six feet, on his just-under-five-foot frame…(Warrior’s Apprentice, page 2). In Warrior’s Apprentice, Miles tries out for the Barrayaran Imperial Military Academy – which he has already had to fudge his way into because of the height requirement – but fails the physical test on the very first obstacle (he breaks both of his legs). In order to work out what he’s going to do with the rest of his life, Miles visits Beta Colony to stay with his maternal grandmother. In less than an hour after entering Beta Colony, Miles becomes the proud owner of a ship that was bound for the scrap heap and become liege lord to the ship’s pilot who can’t upgrade his implants (making him virtually unemployable)… all gotten with credit from a bank that doesn’t know that the land Miles had pledged as collateral is actually a bio-hazardous wasteland due to it’s being ground-zero during a nuclear attack in the Cetagandan invasion. And that’s only sixty pages into the story. By the end of the story, Miles has his own contingent of retainers, has invented a fleet of mercenaries (which in double-quick time turns into a reality), assumes an alternate personality, and has given himself a promotion from academy drop-out to Admiral.
One of the techniques Bujold uses throughout her writing is a form of “what’s the worse possible thing that could happen in a given situation”. She mulls over an idea and then starts coming up with all the worst possibilities for what might come next. In fact, she and her friends Lillian Stewart Carl and Patricia Wrede will sometimes play round-robin style games of who can come up with the absolute worst or funniest thing that could happen and out of that brain-storming, something will stick out like a sore thumb for a plot. Bujold admits that the world building aspects of her SciFi stories is a bit on the generic side and that her books are more character driven than interested in furthering the technological aspects of the genre – and that’s not a bad thing. With a character like Miles who has a penchant for not only being in the right place at the right time but also for taking advantage of any opening, there isn’t a huge need to include the newest, latest zap-gun to the mix.
Ethan of Athos(PB, Baen Books, 1986) was the third and final book published in that momentous year for Bujold. This story is set in the same universe as the Miles Vorkosigan titles and there is a connection to Miles in a round-about way, but this story is NOT a Miles story. This story features Ethan Urquhart, an obstetrician on the closed, male only planet of Athos. Under the guise of a fast-moving adventure / mystery storyline, Bujold confronts a host of issues from homo-sexuality & gender issues, genetic modification, a quick foray into slavery and even the uses and possible misuses of mental telepathy.
I mentioned earlier that Bujold tended to use rather generic world building skills; this is an off-the-cuff remark that she has mentioned several times in interviews & her own writing about her work, but I think she’s being a bit self-critical and overly pessimistic regarding her work in comparison to other authors she admires. No, she’s not as completely fanatic about world-building as some other authors, but all of her works show an enormous sense of cohesion and well-thought out reasoning behind what’s where & why. She doesn’t just throw out odd sounding names willy-nilly (like adding apostrophes with wild abandon, or coming up with strange sounding grunts and clucks that are not workable on human tongues or ears), nor do her worlds appear out of a puff of smoke or a stray thought. There is a background and a history to everything in the Miles Universe which might not always be apparent at first glance, but does most definitely exist.
Speaking of cohesion, the next book is, again, not a Miles Vorkosigan book, but it is in the Miles Universe, set some three hundred years before Miles was born. Falling Free(Analog Magazine, serialized Dec 1987 – Feb 1988 and PB, Baen Books, Apr 1988) was the first award winner for Bujold (and right quick, too, considering). It garnered a Nebula Award along with nominations for Hugo and Prometheus awards. Falling Free is set on an orbital habitat named Cay Station and features a human engineer named Leo Graf and one thousand humanoid beings called quaddies who have four working arms instead of a pair of arms & legs. When the quaddies program is nixed, Leo has to make an ethical & moral decision whether to let them be euthanized as per corporate orders, or take matters into his own hands.
Miles Vorkosigan reappears in book form (I’m not including the novellas / short stories which find their first publication in magazine format in this article due to space constraints – and also because a number of them turn up a bit later on in an anthology…)
In Brothers In Arms(PB, Baen Books, 1989), seven years have passed since Miles acquired his mercenary army and he’s just finished a large mission and is in the process of regrouping and having repairs done at a stop-over on Earth. It’s a schizophrenic life trying to play both Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Miles Naismith-- keeping the two identities from colliding is a big job & one that is just about to get even more difficult. Remember when I first introduced Miles – he’s not a person that can blend into a crowd and disappear easily. He’s short. He’s got physical problems. He has a very distinctive look; so how in the world can he play two different people (who have the same physical size & shape) and expect that no one will make the connection? Not easily. There’s a huge amount of nimble-footed obfuscation that’s gone on in the past seven years, but now it’s catching up to Miles in a big, BIG way. In this fast moving story Miles ends up meeting a clone of himself; he has to puzzle through a plot that was designed to kill him and have the clone take his place (and in true Barrayaran tradition, the clone is brainwashed to attempt a coup to overthrow Emperor Gregor); and, rescue his clone / brother (because by Betan Law the clone would legally be his brother) from the group of radical, crazy Komarrans who masterminded the plot in the first place.
When asked where she gets her inspiration for Miles Vorkosigan, Bujold has a ready answer – She says that the characters of Miles parents arrived in her brain fully fledged and that there would be an offspring: “I knew, even back when I was working on Shards of Honor – before I’d really thought about Miles’s story at all – that Aral and Cordelia would have a son who was physically handicapped. That went with their situation. What’s the worst possible thing you could do to these people? That was it. Give them an heir who does not fit the Barrayaran norms and then see what happens.” (Dreamweaver’s Dilemma, page 216). But the quirks that make Miles so uniquely Miles came a bit later and were an amalgamation of several people who had made impressions on Bujold: three of the biggest inspirations were T. H. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia – who happened to be quite short, though he had a tremendously large personality), a man she used to work with at the university who had similar physical disabilities, (even down to the jerking chin tick) and her own “great man’s son syndrome” (Lois is the daughter of Robert Charles McMaster who was the editor ofNondestructive Testing Handbook which in engineering shorthand has been modified to McMaster on Materials. He was also one of the very early on-camera weathermen in the United States). Rolled together, and with a large dose of her own imagination, Miles Vorkosigan was born.
By the time her fifth paperback book arrives, Lois’s children are both attending elementary school, which makes it somewhat easier for her to write for longer batches of time, though she is still writing in longhand using spiral bound note books where she laboriously outlines projects. In her own words: “I find that my creativity works in stages. I’ve learned to use the outline as part of it. I will make a handwritten-in-pencil-in-a-notebook outline of a particular scene or group of scenes that I’m working on. I will outline and I will re-outline, in layers. I will start with a broad outline: this is the sequence of events for the next three chapters. Then these three scenes ought to make up the first chapter or thereabouts…” She has said many times that some of the best stuff she writes comes from her “back brain”. Others would call it the subconscious. Either way, there’s that ineffable bit, that “ah-ha!” moment that puts the whole section or chapter or plot together and makes a workable, engrossing story.
Borders of Infinity(Easton Press, Leather-bound limited edition, 1989, and PB, Baen Books 1989) is an anthology of short story / novellas comprising of three works that had been published first in magazine format. Included are “The Borders of Infinity”, “The Mountains of Mourning” (which was a Nebula and Hugo award winner in the novella category), and Labyrinth. The fact that the Easton Press picked Bujold to have a book in their SF collection The Signed First Editions of Science Fiction series meant that she had become something of a hit in the genre. Considered to be the First Hardcover Edition, the Easton Press title can be found priced between $125.00 and $300.00. All three of the novellas included in this book show points in Miles Vorkosigan’s life where major changes are made in the way he thinks and deals with other people. In the Hugo and Nebula winning novella “The Mountains of Mouring”, Miles, at 20 years old and an ensign at the academy, is given the task of solving the murder of an infant in the back country of Barrayar – the twist is that the infant was murdered because it had a deformity – a hare-lip – which could easily have been fixed at a city hospital, but the parents lived out in the boonies where mutations were considered evil and dealt with quite permanently. Miles’s father appoints his physically visibly deformed son to be the judge, jury and final arbiter of the case. The irony is not lost on Miles. The other two novellas in this collection are just as tautly written, just as emotionally fraught for Miles, but it is “The Mountains of Mourning” that take Miles from being just another Vor-ling son (the Vor are the Ruling class of Barayar – it’s a hereditary system made up of the Emperor and a series of counts…all of whom have Vor as the prequel to their names – Vorkosigan, Vorhalas, Vorutyer) who follows the straight and narrow path, and turns him into something much more worthwhile as a person.
The next novel up was one that started out as a novella / short story which was published in Analog Magazine (Feb, 1990) called “The Weatherman”. There is a bit of disinformation out on the internet right now stating that the book came first & the short story later, but the dates will rule – the short story dates from February while the Baen first paperback edition of the book (The Vor Game, Easton Press Limited, Signed, First edition, 1990, and Baen PB, 1990) is listed with a September date. This was the second book of Bujold’s to win the Hugo award (and, for awards fanatics, the original short story was on the short list for the Hugo but was withdrawn in favor of the book.) The Vor Game jumps back a bit in Miles Vorkosigan’s life to when he has just graduated from the academy and is now being assigned to his first post. The post – lovingly calledCamp Permafrost: “I’m assigned as Chief Meteorology Office, Lazkowski Base. Where the hell is Laskowski Base? I’ve never even heard of it!” The sergeant at the desk looked up with a sudden evil grin. “I have, sir,” he offered. “It’s on a place called Kyril Island, up near the arctic circle. Winter training base for infantry. The grubs call it Camp Permafrost.” (The Vor Game, page 4) At which point, Miles realizes that getting through the academy itself isn’t the end of Miles’s trials – now he has to prove that he can hack it as an officer and still be able to take an order. Miles has a little problem taking orders. He is NOT the subordinate type and he has already shown a predilection for overruling his superiors (not intentionally of course, but because he knows that his strategy / problem solving skills are more correct). When told by his commanding officer that this assignment was to help teach him a little humility, Miles’s answer is: “I can’t be ordinary and survive, sir!” Miles takes on Camp Permafrostwith a vengeance. What starts out as a supposedly boring, rather low-browed job turns out to be not so easy & certainly fraught with danger. Only Miles could end up nearly court-martialed on his very first mission. He ends up in administrative custody with every appearance of being stuck there for life when an urgent need to re-materialize Admiral Miles Naismith pops up & Miles dives into character. As always, wherever Miles goes, there goes intrigue and this time it’s in the form of a missing Emperor of Barrayar, a game of chicken against the Cetagandans that no one anticipated, and, an extreme case of not following a superior’s directives in order to save the day.
By this time in her career, Bujold has settled down into a pattern of writing one book a year on average. The year 1991 was the year of Barrayar(Easton Press Signed Limited First Edition , and PB BAEN books, Oct. 1991). This book garnered Bujold her third Hugo (along with yet another Nebula Nominee). Barrayar takes a look farther back in the timeline of the series to the time just after Cordelia & Aral Vorkosigan marry but before Miles’s is born. In fact, this is the story that tells how Miles acquires his deformities during an uprising. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan is the central character & it is her daring, her wits and her absolute determination to do what needs to be done that are played out on the Barrayaran home stage. This story is particularly filled with daring-do and swashbuckling adventure – it is almost the apex of the space opera-ness of her stories and well worthy of the Hugo award.
One of the fascinating things about Bujold’s writing is how very clearly she seems to understand the military psyche – which is, interestingly enough, mostly imagined (with copious amounts of research, I’m sure) -- as Bujold has no background in the military at all. C. S. Forester’s Hornblower series sat around in her back brain, as did the works of T. H. Lawrence, and the time in high school when she became enamored of World War II and read up on the subject, but other than a six week stink in the Civil Air Patrol (Dreamweaver’s Dilemma, page 209), there was nothing much in the way of military in her life which could be easily adapted into her stories. Military purists might disagree with this assessment, but for most readers, the spit and polish is all there. Speaking of authors who inspired her, Bujold often mentions Dorothy Sayers, A. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and, Georgette Heyer. Bits and pieces all these authors pepper Bujold’s writing, some quite noticeably, others by inspiration alone.
The Spirit Ring(HB, Baen Books, 1992) was Bujold’s first trade hardcover publication. It is also completely different from any of the work she had previously done. This novel is an outright fantasy and it has for a heroine a young woman who is just coming to grips with her own magical ability. Set in a fictional Renaissance Italy, the story is based on the folktale of The Grateful Dead – no, not the band – but the folk story that has a young man who is just off to find his place in the world paying for the burial of a man who died penniless whereupon the dead man’s ghost helps him make his fortune. Heavy use is made of Bujold’s research of De Re Metallica by Agricola and the writings of Benvenuto Cellini. While there was some good press for the book overall, it turned out to be a rather non-starter, and unfortunately, not much of a big seller. As far as fantasy reading was concerned, it was a perfectly average, good quality read, but it didn’t seem, to many readers, to be a GREAT book – also, unfortunately, Miles Vorkosigan was such a huge character for Bujold’s readers, that they really weren’t ready for something else. Sort of a Captain Kirk vs William Shatner thing – Kirk was the MAN while Shatner was just some guy who played Kirk.
Bujold took a hefty break between The Spirit Ring and her next book. Mirror Dance (Easton Press, Limited, Signed, leather bound edition, 1994, and Baen Books, Trade HB, 1994) comes nearly a year & a half later. It is finally round about this time in her career that Bujold is able to support herself strictly by her writing. At some point during the late 1980’s to mid 1990’s Bujold and her husband divorced. Bujold doesn’t mention the subject in her non-fiction work except to say that it happened. Both of her children are now in, or close to, high school (Anne was born in 1979 and Paul in 1980) which gives Bujold a somewhat better writing schedule and more freedom. She moves to Minneapolis, MN in 1995 where there is an SF writer’s colony and friends who are doing the same thing she is. Mirror Dance wins another Hugo award, making her fourth (3 for novels, 1 for novella). Mirror Dance is a heavily character driven story which deals with Miles’s clone Mark (first introduced in Brothers in Arms) and the hellish existence he has suffered in order to make him an exact duplicate of his clone brother. Mark goes through an identity crisis of massive proportions and in the process, nearly turns Miles into a pile of mush.
In 1995 Bujold is offered the chance to co-edit an anthology of SF war material called Women At War (co-authored with Roland Green, HB, Tor Books, 1995), and other than that, her only publication that year is a four part serialization of a book that will be published in 1996 called Cetaganda (PB, Analog Magazine, four parts in Dec 1995, also, HB, Baen Books, 1996) Note, there is an Easton Press edition of Cetaganda which apparently came out later during the year, making the trade edition the official first edition. Also in 1996 appears the tribute work Dreamweaver’s Dilemma: A Collection of Short Stories and Essays by NESFA Press (edited by Suford Lewis, HB slip-cased, signed, limited edition, 10 lettered copies, also, HB trade edition with no slip-case). NESFA Press is the New England Science Fiction Association. NESFA Press honors the guest of Honor speaker at its annual convention (Boskone) and also reprints classic works of SF. Dreamweaver’s Dilemma includes some of the earliest novellas & short stories that had never seen hardback printing, a couple of new short works that had never seen the light of day, and also some really wonderful essays by and about Bujold, covering her life, her writing and her characters.
1997 saw Memory(HB, Baen Books, 1997) which follows directly from the previous book (IE: not skipping around in the timeline). Previously, Miles had been dead but preserved cryogenically then thawed out and given new parts (most of his mid-section in particular). In Memory we see that cryogenic revival isn’t always simple, easy, or without problems. It turns out that the revival process has left Miles with a seizure disorder – a build-up of stresses will trigger an epileptic-like seizure, during which, Miles is NOT in control of his body. The first time it happens, Miles is in a shoot-out with the Dendarii fleet holding a plasma gun. He accidentally slices off the legs of one of his own men. Oops. This story in particular pays homage to Bujold’s fondness for Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle. There is very little in the way of shoot-em-up dramatics and plenty of gum-shoe sleuthing going on.
1998’s Komarr(Easton Press Limited signed leather-bound edition, also HB Baen Books, 1998) continues in the mystery vein. Miles, unable to continue his career in Covert Ops because of his newest disability, is still able to wear a gaudy Barrayaran military style uniform, but now it’s in the guise of one of Emperor Gregor’s nine auditors. An Imperial Auditor has nearly limitless power and speaks with the Emperor’s voice. He is assigned by the Emperor alone, to follow up on anything the Emperor wants looked at and his term is for life. This appointment gives Miles the all the freedom he needs and at the same time gives his cousin Gregor a new bull-dog to unleash on any unusual problem he needs dealt with.
Bujold’s fondness for romance is evident throughout the history of her writing, sometimes more apparent, sometimes less, but in A Civil Campaign (Easton Press, signed, leather bound limited edition, also HB Baen Books, 1999), Bujold channels Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters, and Dorothy Sayers with a passion. In fact she dedicates this book to these four women. This book won 1st place in the Sapphire Awards for the year’s best blend of SF and romance and also the PEARL(Paranormal Excellence Award in Romantic Literature) along with nominations for the Nebula & Hugo awards. At 30 years old, with a new job which is on temporary hiatus, Miles is having a mid-life crisis. He has no further military career, he’s still living in one bedroom in his parent’s official home residence, and he is not allowed to fly an air car on his own due to the randomness of his seizures. He has also, crazily-enough, finally fallen in love. Unfortunately, the woman he’s fallen for just happens to be the widow of the man he was investigating in his last adventure; the man who died under mysterious circumstances, with Miles being the chief suspect. Miles, in his own bull-headed fashion, decides that his courtship will take on a military operation aspect with objectives to overcome, hapless alternative suitors to fling out of his path, and a complete disregard for the sensibilities of his intended. Nothing matters to Miles accept that the object of his affection break down and fall into his arms – but very few people (especially women who have brains and opinions of their own) want to be captured like a fortified castle. This is one of the most comedic of Bujold’s novels, along with being nearly an outright romance novel, but there is one dinner party scene which is the epitome of British drawing-room farce where all of Miles so carefully laid plans blow up like bombs in a minefield. Bam, Bam. Bam. And all the while, the reader can’t help but laugh and wince at the same time.
Once again, Bujold takes a breather for over a year, but when she’s back, she’s back big-time. Needing a break from the constraints of the Miles Universe and finally ready to try something completely different, she tackles down-right fantasy once again. This time, it’s a complete success. Set in a fictional Spanish inspired land approximating the time of Isabella and Ferdinand, Bujold brings to life an older hero who has been battered and tossed around, who has lived hard, and who is more than a bit world-weary. (He’s all of thirty-five but looks and acts older). Lupe de Cazaril is nothing like Miles Vorkosigan. He’s not smug, quick with the quips or able to sweep large crowds of people into his cult of personality. He islike Miles in that he’s very quick witted. The Curse of Chalion (HB, EOS, 2001) was inspired by a college level class that Bujold had taken a few years back, just for fun. She had just passed her fiftieth birthday; she needed to take a break from the headlong rush of Miles’s personality, so she decided to play around on paper with some new thoughts – just for the heck of it. She says: “I took a course in Spanish Medieval History about three years ago, and thought “Why aren’t more writers stealing the Spanish Middle Ages? Considering how many people have ripped off Arthur or the War of the Roses – Spainis just as rich.” (Locus Magazine, Feb, 2001 Vol. 46 No 2) and a bit later on in the same article: “So there was this character who had no story, and this setting that had no character. In the shower one February morning after having finished A Civil Campaign, the two ideas just came together.” In The Curse of Chalion, Bujold doles out fantasy seemingly as easily as she does Space Opera. The scenery is different -- set in a dusty, dry-ish land of fortresses & and soldiers – not space ships & techno-gadgets; there are Gods – five of them – each playing a cohesive part in keeping the world in order; and there is magic – but it’s not the type of magic where you can wave a wand and things just happen. Bujold very carefully deals with language choices to make the work sound much more in keeping with the era. Though it seems effortless to the reader, when going through interviews & articles about Bujold, it becomes very apparent that much thought goes into each sentence, each word choice; each utterance has to be in keeping with that particular setting with no intrusions from other times or places. The Curse of Chalion was a nominee for a Hugo and this time for a World Fantasy Award for Best Novel.
During the process of selling The Curse of Chalion to Eos, Bujold ended up with a contract for two fantasies and also, without quite knowing how it happened, another Miles Vorkosigan story. Luckily, there was a thought waiting in the wings to fulfill the contract. Diplomatic Immunity (Easton Press, Limited, signed, Leather bound edition 2002, and, HB, Baen Books, 2002) takes Miles and his bride (yes, they made it through the fiasco of his courtship) on another Imperial Auditorial adventure, this time to the land of the Quaddies, which neatly ties back into one of Bujold’s early titles. Diplomatic Immunity earned Bujold yet another Nebula award nomination.
In 2003 the second book in the Chalion universe was published. While not a strict sequel, PALADIN OF SOULS (HB, Eos Signed First edition, also, HB, Eos trade 1stedition, 2003) picks up one of the characters mentioned in The Curse of Chalion and follows her Gods touched journey. This character, Royina Ista, is middle aged, (truly, this time) somewhere between 40-55, she’s had a privileged, though definitely not easy life and now that she’s officially the Dowager Royina, everyone has started to treat her as if she is old, frail and worn-out. She’s definitely not any of these things. As in The Curse of Chalion, the five Gods nudge Ista and her band of traveling companions (in order to escape the slow death of boredom, the Royina has taken one of the few options to a woman of her status and gone on a pilgrimage) in a direction where human intervention can help repair a tear in the natural balance of the world. While most definitely a fantasy novel, there is an outright romantic plot involved (though not in the least mushy). This story garnered Bujold her fifth Hugo and third Nebula Awards.
One more story in the Chalion universe appeared in 2005 (The Hallowed Hunt, HB, Eos, 2005, followed later in the year by HB, Hill House Publishers Signed, limited edition, 2005) before Bujold once again switched gears and pulled a second fantasy universe out of the ether. This series, called The Sharing Knife Series, is very close to her heart and is set in a place which is extremely reminiscent of the area in Ohiowhere she grew up. In fact, Bujold openly admits that much of her inspiration for the physical description of the fantasy world is from her remembered childhood. She even has used linguistic idioms that hark back to this area. The setting, the characters and the problems involved in the story are, yet again, completely different from Bujold’s other universes; what is the same is the intensity of the characterizations and the depth, and humanity of each person described. The Sharing Knife, Vol. 1: Beguilement (HB, Eos, 2006) was quickly followed by The Sharing Knife, Vol. 2: Legacy (HB, Eos, 2007) which was a big switch from her longer between writing schedule for the simple fact that these two books originally had been one LARGE book. Unlike many of her previous works, this story came quickly and easily and it had to be beaten down and nearly forced into two books (mostly because of length and for publishing reasons). Here’s Bujold’s quick take on the first book: “This time I wanted to write a fantasy / adventure / romance where the romance stayed central and didn’t get shoved off the stage. “It’s kind of tricky because you have this hierarchy –of-values problem where if everybody is running for their lives, stopping to smooch looks really stupid. Keeping the romance intelligent under conditions of stress is always a problem.”” (Locus Magazine July 2005, Issue 534, Vol. 55, No.1). Two more books in this series are currently in process, with The Sharing Knife Vol. 3: Passage will be available April 2008, while The Sharing Knife Vol. 4: Horizon is scheduled for 2009.
When she first burst into the Sci/Fi scene back in 1986, Lois McMaster Bujold had no idea how her writing would be viewed or how far she might go in her career. She knew that writing was something she wanted to do.(though she deprecatingly mentions that it was cheaper to stay home with the kids & write than to get a job at the local burger joint when she and her family were going through tough economic times) That, in fact, writing was something she had to do. More than twenty books later, she is still doing what she needs to do with her life. In the process, she has thrilled faithful readers with stories that are exciting, adventurous, laugh-producing and filled with emotion. She has taken the old adventure-plot-driven style of Space Opera and turned it into a modern, character driven mechanism for peering at biological and ethical dilemmas. She is the recipient of eight major SF/Fantasy awards, more than 13 major nominations and a host of minor awards or nominations--and best yet, she’s not through. There’s definitely more to come. So it’s a good thing that when Lois McMaster Bujold asked her jeweler friend to make a necklace for her for her nomination tie-clips, she had the foresight to ask for extra room.