Wayward Musings

An Introduction, and the writings of Lois McMaster Bujold

by Kim Holec

Good day, and welcome to my first column. Each month I plan on writing about whatever strikes my fancy; future topics may include what I thought of The Phantom Menace, and why Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a morality play in disguise. This month's column concerns my newest obsession, the novels of Lois McMaster Bujold. But first, a little introduction to my reading habits is in order.

I majored in English in college because I planned on teaching, but found out rather quickly that I didn't like it as much as I thought I would; with the PC attitudes that destroyed freedom of speech now prevailing throughout the academic world, a person who speaks their mind would not be appreciated; nor would I care to teach in the public schools, with their lack of discipline. I have worked in libraries and bookstores, so the English degree has come in useful. And an English degree serves as a good introduction to the great literature of the past, teaching a reader to discern the truly tasteless and trashy from just fun-to-read or great literature.

But English degrees aside, I think I can speak for all the readers of our 'zine, when I say that I *love* to read! I will read anything, from the Bible to the back of a cereal box. But I do have favorite genres to read. For non-fiction, anything about animals, nature, protecting the environment, science for dummies, critical works on literature and history, history and literature, art and architecture. (I am an Anglofile and a medievalist to boot.) For fiction, romantic suspense by certain authors (Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Daphne du Maurier--I never tire of REBECCA), fantasy, children and young adult stories, folklore and fairy tales, regency romances, British mysteries (Sherlock Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, the works of Ngaio Marsh), and media tie-in novels and books (Trek, Doctor Who, etc.).

So what's missing from this list?

When most people say fantasy, they also say science fiction in the same breath. But not me. I started out reading a lot of sf as a kid, and still re-read the old classics from time to time, like Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, H. Beam Piper, Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, Andre Norton, MZB (love Darkover), Anne McCaffrey (the dragons are sf, not fantasy), just to mention a few. But somewhere in the 1980's there started to be too much sf and fantasy being published to ever keep up. Something had to give. In my case it was the sf, mostly because of the cyberpunk stuff that just took over the genre. (The writings of C. J. Cherryh during this period were a refreshing draught.) Not that cyberpunk isn't interesting; but I missed the space opera and the quietly intellectual sf that I had grown up on.

The morality plays of good vs evil in the fantasy genre were more compelling, the characters were more heroic (I'm sorry, when I read fiction I don't want to read about people like me who lead lifes of quiet desperation--I can get all that crap that I want on the evening news, which is why I don't tend to read the mostly junk on the best-sellers lists), and the storytelling and writing were all much better, especially the poetic style. I could just drown in words, but even I will admit that sometimes poetic language gets in the way of the telling of the story. Sometimes a plain style is best. Tolkien's writing was very plain at times, but when the moment called for poetry, he could express that ability beautifully. Could I ever write a tenth as good as Tolkien did, I think I would have accomplished something. Or, to be like Kipling or Fritz Leiber, and write in all styles and genres--they are two of the unsung masters of literature, precisely because they did not keep to one style or genre.

So why am I going to tell you that you must go out and read a sf novel? Let me explain (you knew that was coming, didn't you? wink).

Lois McMaster Bujold.

The Miles Vorkosigan novels.

I *can't* believe that until a few weeks ago, I had never read any of her books. Why not? Because they seemed to be military sf, and that was not of interest to me.

They are *not* military sf. These are the most anti-war books I have ever read in my life! Bujold shows the horrors of war happening to people who really don't want to be there, and none of the glories, because there aren't any. But even this is not why you should read her books. It's the characters who people her novels--they are realer than just about any other people whose stories I have read (and that judgement includes Katherine Kurtz's Deryni novels and Anne McCaffery's Dragon novels). Miles and all the people around him, his parents, his friends, his enemies, are not super heroes. They are people like you and me (but not leading life of quiet desperation), but better or worse as the case may be; they are very short, like Miles who is all of 4"9" tall--he was poisoned in the womb; they are not handsome, like his father, Admiral Aral (his wife thinks he looks like a tall dwarf but with nice eyes); they are tall for a woman, like Cordelia, Miles' mother, who once was a captain of a battle ship. These people get into situations not of their own making, but try to solve them using their wits and their morals and not resort to violence, except in defense, or when all other means fail.

There is good storytelling here. And a nice quiet style that doesn't hit you over the head. I would know these folk if I met them on the street. They are good and honorable, qualities in all too short a supply in literature or Real Life.

Start with SHARDS OF HONOR. This is how Cordelia and Aral met and fell in love in the middle of a very pointless war. BARRAYAR continues their story. All the rest of the novels center on their son, Miles, who is one of the most engaging heroes in literature. These people care; and so will you. They aren't two-dimensional cut-out cardboard caricatures, but realer than real.

There. I must stop, or I would go on forever! For those of you who have never read Bujold, I envy you. You have a wonderful universe ahead of you.

© 1999 Kim F. Holec

Kim F. Holec is too many things to count. She was born under the sign of the Twins, so you figure it out. Even while she is at work, she is a part-time writer, editor and poet. She is owned by four cats, and some say she is herself a cat in disguise. She thinks of herself as a renaissance woman, because she is interested in many things, thus the changeable nature and topics of her writings.
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