Hugo: Barrayar (1992)

Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
Read January 15, 2011 – January 19, 2011

Premise: Aral Vorkosigan, Imperial Regent of the planet of Barrayar, is set upon by various hostile mutinous forces as he tries to keep control of the planet and not allow it to slip off into a wasteland of conservative politics. His unbelievably amazing wife Cordelia (who is from the highly liberal planet called Beta Colony) pretty much rules the universe by wanting to be left alone. No, really.

Verdict: There is a lot of stuff in these books that sort of bothers me. On the other hand, there is so much awesome that I ignore the stuff that bothers me. As the first “official” entry into the Vorkosigan Saga for this project I suppose I should explain a bit about it. There are many many novels in this series and they were written utterly out of chronological order. I’ve started by reading them in in-universe chronological order which is possibly akin to watching all six Star Wars films in in-universe chronological order—one gets the sense that one is perhaps missing something important. However, I pretty much fell in love with all the characters from this novel by reading Shards of Honor which was set before it. The series focuses entirely on a character named Miles Vorkosigan. Shards of Honor was about how his parents met. Barrayar is about how Miles comes to be born with a strange affliction. The planet Barrayar (which I necessarily pronounce with an exotic accent) is basically a stand-in for every patriarchal conservative custom that Bujold could think of to enslave and ensnare its citizens—most of which are currently actively practiced on our own world. Women are patronized and trivialized into child-bearing housewives. People with disabilities and injuries are ostracized and killed. There is a very strict class system in place with discrimination in all directions. Then, enter Cordelia the futuristic-Utopian Betan who is exceedingly liberal by default when it comes to human rights issues (excepting abortion which apparently makes you akin to rapists and torturers. Oh, wait, rapists are ok as long as all of the children conceived by their actions are saved and cared for. No, really. Shards of Honor.) AT ANY RATE, Cordelia is a former space captain who married Vorkosigan because… well… Shards of Honor. She finds Barrayar restricting, and thus you have the entire crux of what I presume will continue down through the series. How does one with liberal sensibilities deal with originating from and living in a conservative world? I’m excited to see how Miles turns out. I hear good things about him. Cordelia, by the by, is pretty much amazing. Except when she bothers me. Which is often. Somehow, the argument for having children that’s presented in these books doesn’t sway me. “I want babies because… I want babies!” Real rational, there, future citizen of the universe. But whatever. I shall not complain. No crazy Cordelia, no Miles, no series.

As far as I can tell these books are like crack. Very addictive and quick to read. If I could just get whoever has it to return the next one to the library I would be a happy camper.

Pseudo-Hugo: Shards of Honor

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold, published 1986
(In-universe #1 chronologically in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga)

This is just a sort of informal write-up. Three books in this series have won Hugo awards so I decided it was necessary to read the entire series. I’m in for a long haul with it and I’d been avoiding it as I was laboring under the misapprehension that it was a huge fantasy series. It is not—it is resolutely science fiction. There are far-flung planets, wormholes, space battles, weird alien lifeforms, etc. Yes, it’s science fiction, albeit a bit off somehow.

To begin with, this book starts off on a raging torrent of awesome that runs off the charts of awesomeness. There’s a fairly moody legendary military butcher and a fairly moody initially awesome and ultimately wishy-washy redhead (held up as a paragon, naturally) who are mashed together out of necessity when left behind after a botched joint-assassination+ambush attempt. Please don’t ask. It makes sense in context. At any rate, it’s this redhead Cordelia’s apparent wobblyness and the sudden violent inthrusting of pro-life, rape-is-ok mentality that makes me a little reluctant to like this book (rape is apparently ok if people take care of the babies later). The rating swung from a resolute five stars to a two and a half mark within about two chapters. However, it took a mild upswing when psychologists were portrayed as emotional criminals who harass their victims into taking drastic action. That maybe ups it back to three hypothetical stars. This was enjoyable, and I don’t expect a book’s views to jive with mine, but I’m tetchy about things like rape and overpopulation (meaning people having far too many children). So hopefully the rest of the five million novels I have to read in this series to get to the Hugos won’t veer off into moral preaching land like some of the other Hugos I’ve read. And then I will be able to ignore the improper logic and misplaced humanitarianism and enjoy the sci-fi.

Something I was thinking about, however, while reading was the fact that fantasy novels tend to be set in medieval European worlds with distinct species in place of races where there is justifiable racism and odd treatment of women by modern Western standards. So far, the existence of a patriarchal politically volatile militaristic planet like Barrayar is just that same sort of excuse to have women be the strong sturdy (silent) backbone for men. We shall see. I am probably very wrong in this assumption, but it’s what was at the forefront of my mind at some points.

At any rate, don’t get me wrong. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. This will simply serve as a reminder to myself should things begin to rub me the wrong way.