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04 December 2008 Blog Home : December 2008 : Permalink

The Vorkosigan Companion

Just in time for Christmas, Baen have released "the Vorkosigan Companion", a book about Lois M Bujold's SF series that mostly stars people by the name of Vorkosigan. The book is a bit of a mixed bag. It contains much useful reference material to the series as well as a number of essays on the series and its author. One of the questions I have though is who is the intended reader. I assume it is the dedicated LMB fan, of which there are many, but in which case it seems as though some of it will be quite repetitious - especially since some of it has come from elsewhere.

To start with the reference material, so as to get it out of the way. There are maps, guides to planets and people, discussions about familiy trees, summaries of plots and other useful stuff. This part of the book - essentially the second half - is in large part a multi-volume index and encyclopedia. I have not done much more than skim these bits as I'm not OCD enough to enjoy looking at lists of names and other index sorts of things but it seems complete and could well aid those who want to keep track of exactly who Vorthis or Vorthat are and so on. The one thing I do note here is that Lois seems to have managed to avoid most of the continuity pitfalls that dog any writer of a series.

Before this reference matierial lies what I consider to be the more interesting bit. It is true that, as I wrote above, some of it is recycled so people who have (for example) the NESFA editions will be a bit bored. On the other hand there is a lot that isn't and all of it is good to read, providing information about Lois and insights about her work that are appreciated. Here are short reviews of each bit (the links go to the sample chapters on the Baen site so skeptics can read them too for free and see if I'm telling the truth).

Lois McMaster Bujold
This is where Lois shares my befuddlement about the audience. But she does it in a way that makes anyone else understand why we read her books. She's a word smith par excellence!
Part 1:
Creator of the Vorkosiverse

Putting It Together:
Life, the Vorkosiverse, and Everything

Lois McMaster Bujold
This is the author explaining the way she wrote the stories. Aspiring writers can use this as a masterclass, other readers can learn the background details that explain how the Vorksosigan stories are not best-sellers by accident.
A Conversation with Lois McMaster Bujold
Lillian Stewart Carl
The curious who want to know more about Lois, in particular how the younger Lois was shaped by the environment she grew up in will love this. Ms Carl is one of Lois' oldest friends and someone she has been using as a writing buddy most of her life.
Publishing, Writing, and Authoring:
Three Different Things

Lois McMaster Bujold
This is Lois' view of the professional writer's life and the publishing trade. It originally appeared on dendarii.,com and was written 8 years ago but it is still well worth reading as if anything things have got worse. Another part of the curriculum for aspiring authors and readers interested in the machinery that delivers them their books
A Conversation with
Toni Weisskopf

John Helfers
How her editor sees Lois. Unsurprisingly Lois is not the sort of troublesome author that exasperate editors with outrageous demands or delays. What is, I find, most interesting is that Toni's and Lois's recollections (as recounted in the earlier parts) of some events and consequences differ subtly. The question of the literary agent in particular.
Part 2: Aspects of the Vorkosiverse
Romance in the Vorkosiverse
Mary Jo Putney
The only fiction I've read by Mary Jo Putney - a short in "Irresistible Forces" - irritated me which may be something to do with the clashing of expectations between F/SF readers and Romance readers. This (since it is about a topic I'm keen on?) is much better. No great insights but illuminating.
Biology in the Vorkosiverse and Today
Tora K. Smulders-Srinivasan
Tora, the question Apsara on the Bujold list, is also a bioscientist of some variety when she isn't a fan (pubmed indicates that she does genetics research) and thus she is well qualified to look at Lois' bio science. Unsurprisingly she points out that Lois employs very little handwavium and describes stuff that may well turn out to be possible in time. Lois is not particularly known as a Hard SF writer but Tora explains that the Vorkoiverse is biologically sound and scientific. Her "uterine replicators", for example, seem likely to be feasible and this essay makes the point that Lois has already looked at some of the ethics and (un)intended consequences of such a technology - something that future policy makers ought to thank her for.
"What's the Worst Thing
I Can Do to This Character?"
Technology of the Vorkosiverse
Ed Burkhead
Ed is another Bujold listee and he gives a quick run down of the non biological technology on show in the Vorkosiverse. Apart from the welding, this is rather less Hard SF than the biological side but the future gadgets and weapons she describes are neatly summarized and we learn how they just fit naturally in to the imagined world so that they become part of the background instead of dominating.
Part 3: Appreciations
Through Darkest Adolescence with Lois McMaster Bujold, or Thank You, but I Already Have a Life
Lillian Stewart Carl
This echoes the conversation above and provides even more biographical detail. Fascinating for us nosy sorts who want to metaphorically rumage through Lois' drawers and find out more about Lois the person.
Foreword to Falling Free
James A. McMaster
Lois' brother wrote this as the foreward to the NESFA(?) edition of this book. It also provides more biographical background and discusses Lois' fascinating father. I begin to understand how Lois could write so insightfully about how Miles Vorkosigan suffered from "Great man's son" syndrome. Miles once says that he'd like it if Aral were to be known principally for being Miles' father, I think it is fair to say that Doctor Robert C. McMaster is now princially know for being Lois McMaster Bujold's father.
Foreword to Shards of Honor
James Bryant
James, yet another Bujold listee (YABL), and the name behind the SFnal unit of "A Bryant of Books", writes an excellent lit crit review of Shards and makes the very excellent point that people who "don't read that sort of thing" (i.e. SF) will miss a lot if their disdain causes them to skip Lois' works.
"More Than the Sum of His Parts"
Foreword to The Warrior's Apprentice
Douglas Muir
YABL, though one that I don't think has been posting recently, provides another memorable lit crit review.
Foreword to Ethan of Athos
Marna Nightingale
Ethan of Athos is somewhat of a detour to the main Vorkosiverse tales but that doesn't detract from its importance as an SF book that makes the reader think. Marna(YABL)'s lit crit essay, as with those from James and Douglas is a real treat. All three make me want to go back and read the books again. Ethan of Athos is all about gender and Marna's essay which uses the shared roots of Genre and Gender as a starting point is one of the stronger bits of the book. I have just one minor critique - in the online version I found her ()ed 2007 inline edits to be a bit distracting and it would have been nice have them as footnotes.
Part 4: The Fans
Come for the Bujold, Stay for the Beer¹:
Science Fiction Writers
as Occasions of Fandom

Marna Nightingale
If the previous Marna article is the best in the book, then this is perhaps the weakest. Maybe it is the contrast in subject matter and tone, as well as the fact that as a Bujold listee I know most of this chapter, but I found myself skimming this and then becoming really disappointed when it turned out to be the last non "Indexy" bit of the book.
All in all I'd only recommend this book to someone already familiar with the Vorkosiverse, for whom, if they haven't already got it this would be a great Christmas present. If you haven't read the stories then this book will make you want to read them, but it is rather spolierific which may rather detract from the critical first reading...