Lois McMaster Bujold is a Hugo and Nebula award-winning science fiction and fantasy author. Most of her books are set in the Wormhole Nexus, a multi-planetary civilisation with faster-than-light travel achieved through 'wormhole jumps'. There are no aliens in this universe, but there are many cases of extensively genetically-modified humans, such as the 'quaddies' who have four arms and were created to live out their lives in space. Bujold has said that this was a deliberate choice of hers - rather than having lots of aliens, she plans for humans to modify themselves so that eventually the aliens will be us.
One thing that distinguishes Bujold's books from average space opera is that they have vivid characters who grow and change over time. For example, her main protagonist Miles Vorkosigan goes through a radical career-change in her 1996 novel, Memory. A major theme of her books is the search for identity, which often continues long after her characters are legal adults.
Bujold's books resemble Orson Scott Card's in that her protagonists generally tend to be good people who are trying to do what they think is right and are very loyal to their family and friends. Her clear, readable prose and the way she shows how new technology permeates her worlds, without lecturing the reader about it, are reminiscent of early Robert Heinlein.
The Bujold Nexus has more information on Bujold and her books, including the archives of a mailing list for Bujold discussion.
Bujold was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1949. She has two brothers, eight years and six years older than she is. She has been a voracious reader all her life, beginning with stories about horses (she had her own pony as a child), and discovering adult science fiction at the age of nine. She tried several majors in college, including English, which she drifted away from because she preferred creative writing to literary criticism, and biology - while studying biology she went on a six-week field trip of East Africa which later supplied some of the landscape and wildlife for her first novel, Shards of Honor.
After leaving college she had a job as a pharmacy technician, and then left to start her family. She was inspired to start writing professionally when she heard that her best friend, Lillian Stewart Carl, had sold some stories. She was unemployed with two small children at the time, so at first she had to write while the children were taking naps, or go to the library to work.
The Worlds of the Nexus
We see several planets in the course of the 'Vorkosigan series' (named after the main character) - two of the most important are Barrayar and Beta Colony. Barrayar is a backward planet with a feudal society; it was recently cut off from the rest of civilisation (the 'Time of Isolation'), lost its technology, and still has areas where the people don't even have electricity, although the aristocrats have more access to modern technology. The main character of the series is a Lord on this world and will become a Count when his father dies. He is also a close friend of the emperor, and one theory of descent puts him in line for the throne.
Beta Colony is a very technologically advanced and liberal planet which has been described as a 'Southern Californian society.' They appear to have eliminated poverty and homelessness, and they eat vat-protein instead of meat - they are revolted by the thought of eating dead animals. Betans pride themselves on not having the sexual hang-ups people have on other planets. When a teenager reaches puberty, they are fitted with a contraceptive implant and start wearing earrings to show whether or not they are available. This means that unwanted pregnancies are virtually unheard of, but also that you have to have a government permit to have a child.
Two other distinctive planets which the series visits are Jackson's Whole (a thoroughly anarchic and evil world where human clones are raised and then killed when their progenitor wants a new body) and Athos, a men-only planet founded by a religious order where no women are allowed. Reproduction takes place with the aid of ovarian cultures (they have the technology for cloning, but it is considered to be vanity and therefore sinful).
The Vorkosigan Series
Most of Bujold's books concern Miles Vorkosigan, who is very short and deformed because, in an attempt to assassinate his father, his mother was hit by poison gas while she was pregnant with him. As a result, many people on Barrayar are prejudiced against him because they think he's a mutant. This is actually not true - Miles says in several books that 'the damage was teratogenic, not genetic'. Even so, his grandfather put pressure on his mother to have him aborted and tried to kill him twice when he was a child.
He is very keen to enter the military (like his father and grandfather), but fails the physical exam. However, while on a trip to Beta Colony he improvises a private army called the 'Dendarii Free Mercenaries' into existence, and most of the earlier books cover his missions with the Dendarii. For these missions he uses the alias 'Admiral Naismith' (Naismith is his mother's maiden name). Later in the series we see him trying to reconcile his two identities as Lord Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith.
Chronology of the Series
The Vorkosigan series consists of the following books, arranged in internal chronological order, and not in order of publication. For a brief description of each book, see Miles Vorkosigan/Naismith: His Life And Times.
- Falling Free (peripheral) - Nebula award, 1988
- Shards of Honor
- Barrayar - Hugo award, 1992
- The Warrior's Apprentice
- 'The Mountains of Mourning' (novella in Borders of Infinity) - Hugo and Nebula awards, 1989
- The Vor Game - Hugo award, 1991
- Ethan of Athos (peripheral)
- Labyrinth (novella in Borders of Infinity)
- The Borders of Infinity (novella in Borders of Infinity)
- Brothers in Arms
- Borders of Infinity
- Mirror Dance - Hugo award, 1995
- A Civil Campaign
- Diplomatic Immunity
The book Borders of Infinity is a collection of three novellas, held together by a framing story in which Miles recounts some of his past missions while in hospital. Shards of Honor and Barrayar concern Miles's parents, while Falling Free and Ethan of Athos are set in the same universe as the other books but do not involve Miles or any of his family.
The question of where to start reading the Vorkosigan series is a tricky one; the problem is that the later books tend to be better written, but they also depend on earlier books for their full effect (although Bujold has done a good job of making the books comprehensible without reference to earlier books). The collection Borders of Infinity works well as a starting point, since it gives a good sampling of Miles's adventures, and if you don't like any of the stories in it, you probably won't like the series. Also, the first story in it, 'The Mountains of Mourning', is available online at the Baen Free Library. Other frequently suggested starting points are:
- Shards of Honor - the first Vorkosigan book, telling the story of how Miles's parents met. Unfortunately it was Bujold's first novel and may seem a little too much like formula romance. Barrayar, the other book about his parents, is much better, but needs to be read after Shards of Honor.
- The Warrior's Apprentice - the first book featuring Miles as a main character. It is full of life and energy (introducing the reader to Miles's famous 'forward momentum'), but has a plot that is rather too founded on coincidence.
- Komarr - although this book comes quite late in the series, it shows Miles at the beginning of his second career, and part of the book is from the viewpoint of someone who has never met him before.
Bujold's Fantasy Works
As well as the Vorkosigan series, Bujold has written three fantasy novels: The Spirit Ring, The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls (a sequel to The Curse of Chalion). The Spirit Ring is a stand-alone fantasy book about Fiametta, the teenage daughter of a master mage and metalworker, who yearns to be trained to use her own magical powers. The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls are set in a fantasy world based on Renaissance Spain. Religion is very important in these books - the gods are real but are limited in how much they can directly intervene in the world. They can influence animals, but cannot control people directly and so are very reliant on those who freely give their will over to a god.