Blog posts tagged "bujold"

How to Recomend Bujold

July 5th, 2007

The hardest part about recommending Bujold to folks (beyond my tendency to over sell) is figuring out where to tell folks to start. Clearly with the Vorkosigan universe, but where? And whence? This occupied us much on the way home Saturday night, without resolution. And came up again this evening, so I thought I’d externalize the debate.

Shard’s of Honor/Cordelia’s Honor is a good place to start. It really is the beginning of the Miles story arc. It features Cordelia, one of my all time favorite literary characters, and Barrayar (aka the 2nd half of Cordelia’s Honor) floats well above its pulpy genre roots, and truly, distinctively sings.

Of course Warrior’s Apprentice is the easiest entry point, the first book in the series published (presumably because of its obvious and wider appeal), and is the first Miles book. In addition it was written after the first half of Cordelia’s Honor, but before the 2nd half, and it shows. (at least if you’ve read and read and read the text)

Some people would say start with Floating Free, which after all is the first choronologically in the universe. And frankly it loses something when set in a familiar universe, rather then a strange one. (after all if you already know what quaddies are, why spend 100 pages describing them?)

I tend to want to settle the issue by telling people

“the first time through the series, start with Warrior’s Apprentice, and the second time through start with Shard’s of Honor“.

At which point people’s eye glaze over. So I risk it, and hand them Cord’s Honor, and hope for the best.

And the problems continue!

After all, do you skip The Vor Game, which is the weakest book in the series, but also contians much of the key foundation for the rest of the Miles books. How about Cetaganda which chronologically comes after The Vor Game, but is written much later? (okay, that is an easy one, clearly Borders of Infinity should be read after Vor Game, followed either by Brothers in Arms (soso) on the first reading, or Cetaganda and Ethan of Athos on the 2nd reading.)

And do you power though the inevitable mid-series lag to get to the power houses of Mirror Dance, and Memory, shading into her master works, Komarr, and Civil Campaign. (consider not reading Civil Campaign until you’ve read most of the series more then once, or you’ll miss half of it)

(Of course I’ve been informed that some folks hate Memory, and loved Diplomatic Immunity which I’d tell you to pass on, and under no condition read without first reading Cetaganda.)

And where does Dreamweaver’s Dilemma fit in? (um, after you’ve read the series 5 times or so).

Useful to also be caught up on your Georgette Heyer, Dorothy Sayers, Jane Austin, Patrick O’Brian, William Shakespeare, Robert Heinlein, and Judith Butler. (not that you have to like all of them)

Anyone else ever sweated this one?

Bujold @ Booksmith

June 29th, 2007

Bujold is reading at Booksmith on Haight tomorrow night at 7pm.

“Who?”, [name redacted] asked.


Whose Vorkosigan books are the best long form speculation on the role and future of reproductive technology disguised as military space sci-fi headed by a coded-female male solider protagonist (with incarnated other) over 9 volumes, with apologies to Austen, ever written.

And even Larry Wall likes her.


December 12th, 2004

If you liked Cloud Atlas, pick up ghostwritten. And give it until page 38.

Shades of Murakami and Borges (both of whom briefly grace the pages) and Hornby (who doesn’t), a warm up for the pyrotechnic doppleganger genre switching of CA. But mostly its David Mitchell all over again (or really for the first time if you still believe in linear time, a clear sign of having read too little Mitchell). Not as archly triumphant as CA and with one or two sour notes (I’d recommend fast forwarding through “Petersburg” skipping any pages without Jermone), but still brilliant. And something of a sequel/prequel to Cloud Atlas, though it would puncture my favorite reading of CA (that Cavendish is the only “real” person, the rest fiction) if I considered Mitchell a reliable narrator, which I don’t.

Just 50 pages left to go, but I might have to circle around again to “Okinawa” for a wrap. (especially as I feel “Night Train” might be a weak ending, however that is more then balanced by the excellent “Clear Island” which I imagine has nearly universal appeal, but felt decidedly Bujoldian to me)

Perhaps the most frustrating piece of Mitchell is the plotting is so good you don’t have time to stop and really get down the literary pearls strewn so carelessly around.

Now is there anywhere in JP to pick up a copy of number9dream or do I need to head over to the Brookline Booksmith I wonder?

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Read Recently

March 31st, 2004

Dru and Josh have a nasty habit of making me feel unread, whie Lattice (who conveniently doesn’t have a blog) questions my taste in books. Still Dru has a nice list of his recent readings, and presumably Rabble is going to post one one of these days, and I said I was going to do that 50 book thing, so here are my recent reads. Probably missed a few (beyond my perennial re-reads), that I’ll think of later. (nudge me, if you remember me mentioning something I forgot to list)

Midnight RobberNalo Hopkinson Brown Girl in the Ring was awesome: compelling, genre smashing, enjoyable, good storytelling. Midnight Robber borrows the Caribbean sensibility of Brown Girl, and mixes it with a not so compelling 70s scifi retread. Still I’m excited about Salt Road

SaltMark Kurlansky – for Kurlansky the history of the world is the history of salt (before that it was salted cod, and before that it was the salted cod fishermen, the Basque). I’ve got a soft spot for popularized history that take in the whole sweeping scope of human history (see Jared Diamond), the subject matter is intriguing (oil mining rigs were invented for mining salt; Imperial England’s “War on Drugs” was a war on salt, and Gandhi’s great march to the sea was to collect salt in the traditional manner; those pink ponds near SFO are salt ponds, and consequently are pink for the same reason flamingos are, brine shrimp), and the writing is solid. However Mark clearly read a lot of old cookbooks, and the flow can get bogged down by his need to share this or that Roman culinary tip.

My Year of MeatsRuth Ozeki – recommended by a friend, I read the first 20 pages at the bookstore, and decided it was coming home with me based on a phone sex scene that was authentic, and funny, and so endearingly unromantic, that it was romantic again. However I had a hard time to engaging with the central themes of meat, pregnancy, and Walmart; as a vegetarian, with little to no exposure to Walmart, and as a man with no intentions of starting a family soon. I also found some of the characters problematic, but we decided that we’re seeing the world through the tinted glasses of our narrating television producer in which everything is larger, and louder, like stage makeup. The writing is tight but breezy, and our narrator engaging.

Pattern RecognitionWilliam Gibson – Gibson is back. A master stylist needs a steady hand, a hand which has been missing for his last few books. The language is Pattern Recognition sings, each sentence has the a hand crafted quality, not a folksy crafts quality, put a piece of machinery, so expertly built the seams disappear, and then detailed and polished to perfection. More interesting still is how Gibson uses the tools of science fiction to invert its standard role. The key to crafting a scifi world is to normalize it to the point that a drama can play out against this future fantastic landscape. Good writers do this through the description of daily life, letting the big picture coded into the spin its puts on each small detail. However in Gibson’s hands even something as banal as a PHP message board installed on a $10 shared hosting setup can turn strange and alien, forcing you to re-examine it all. I loved this book, I immersed myself in it, happily ignoring the surrounding world.

In the end however I had a number of problems with the novel. Primarily Cayce Pollard. Cayce is a brilliant and powerful woman, she is in the know, she is a player, she is a paid consultant for the man behind the curtain, they get together for drinks. She is also a world traveller with some of the most cutting and insightful commentary on travel I’ve ever read. I find it disappointing that her inner turmoil, with its subtle hints of anger and self-loathing (see Evan Hatch) is expressed/suppressed through clothes, shopping, and helplessness.

Also the brand saturation which gives the works its authentically now-ness is going to age very poorly I imagine, so read it soon.

AppleseedJohn Clute – Clute’s reviews are the stuff of legend, once Bloom shuffles off, maybe they can hire Clute to update Western Canon into something slightly less moribund. But ick, he is not a novelist. Its amazing to see someone put so much effort into being bad, this book doesn’t suck by accident, but by the determined effort of years of craft. There are some interesting concepts but they are utterly blotted out by a tone which swerves from sophomoric to puerile and back. This level of transgression is old, Roth and Updike, whom are both badly dated btw, covered this territory, well, a long time ago. Still if you want the supremely odd experience of reading American Pie level humor in a vocabulary that will stump anything short of the OED, this is your book.

Midnight’s ChildrenSalman Rushdie – been on the “to be read” list for forever, I have a bad habit of dissing his novels (though I love his essays) without having reading his classic work. And it was on the bargain table today, so I picked it up. Didn’t get very far into it before switching back to Kapla Imperial.

Dubliners James Joyce – its trite to love Joyce, but I love Joyce. (exception of Finnegans Wake, which despite repeated attempts alludes my interest) I started with “The Dead” (Richard Nelson came up recently), and am working my way through backwards. Aidan and Kate brought me my copy of Ulysses which I’ll be re-reading in honor of the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday. Dubliners is a warm up stretch.

Fountain at the Center of the WorldRobert Newman – I’ve already written one semi-coherent account of it, I’m not sure I need to write another except to say it is fun, and fascinating, and passionate with characters who you can care deeply about, and lovely passages you want to read aloud

“The river remembers what it did last year, sent north to work in the gardens, kitchens, and semi-conductor plants of the rich. The following spring Nahualhuas finds the river too fucked up to hide its junk-food addiction, its substance abuse, its sinister hoarding of trophy tampons and women’s shoes as it crawls along the ground like an old wasp, a groggy ditch mubling to itself greeding jejen mosquitoes.”

Angels in America (Part I and II)Tony Kushner – I missed the recent Seattle production of Homebody/Kabul (a fact about which I am supremely disappointed), and I didn’t catch HBO’s Angels due to a lack of a TV. Still I think Angels is getting to an interesting age, slightly over a decade old and now firmly ensconced in the fabric of great American plays it’s time for directors to start taking some risks with the direction. Which is why I’m back reading the text. Kushner’s exerts authorial control somewhere between Stoppard, and “exit, chased by a bear”. And during his recent visit to Seattle he was everything a playwright should be, plus a wonderfully optimistic radical. But really I’m just ramping up in an anticipation for Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy, his unfinished play starring Laura Bush and Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquistior.

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleMurakami Haruki – I’ve been trying for a month to think of what to say about this book, without much luck. It is brilliant in ways I can’t put my finger on, and funny though at times it shouldn’t be, and seems deeply insightful, though in the end I’m not sure what actually insight I received. The flips between comedy and forboding, the everyday surrealism and nuanced depictions is what I imagine Delilo would be like if I could ever bring myself to care about his characters. Highly recommended. I’m reading A Wild Sheep Chase next.

Age of Extremes – Eric Hobsbawm – “A History of the World, 1914-1991”. Excellent, clear, convincing attempt to understand the “short 20th century” (WWI to the fall of the USSR), and collapse of 19th century civil society and liberalism. I’m in the “inter war” period right now.

Assasian’s and Fool’sRobin Hobb – Hobb makes a virtue out of high fantasy, simple sentences, and melodrama. It shouldn’t work but it does. Especially as a bed time snack. The last of FitzChivalry novels is out, so I read/re-read the whole 6 book sequence. Interestingly Hobb was also in town to do a reading, I recommend not attending. The style doesn’t work at the pace of the spoken word, you’ve got to read it in large, multi paragraph swathes, overloading the intellect buffers, and hitting the emotional core. Nor does it really bear being discussed afterwards, it goes flat quickly.

Irresistible Forces – Various – Just to confirm, I don’t like romance novels, even by some of my favorite authors, even when its “high concept” (SF by romance novelists, romance by SF authors). Blah.

New Media: 1740-1915 – Various – Opened strong with the work on zograscopes (would you believe my spell checker doesn’t know that word?); examining both their relationship with the media of the their day, and their role in perpetuating the sort of isolating, and cleansed virtual reality the Net is accused of today. And the work on gleaning is excellent, but some of the middle chapters are kind of mushy and slow going.

Eastern Standard TribeCory’s latest offering, which I’ve written about before. I hear they’ve patched the GMT-6 bug in the online version.

The State of the ArtIain M. Banks – short stories, plus a Culture novella. I prefer him at novel length.

Station of the TideMichael Swanwick – worth it for lines like, “Startled, a clutch of acorn-mimetic octopi dropped from a low branch, brown circles of water fleeting as they jetted into the silt”. And the “Puzzle Palace”. Creative and unexpected, beautiful world building in quick sketches and broad strokes.

My book was closed;
    I read no more,


Irresistible Forces Is Out!

February 8th, 2004

Some people have described the new anthology edited by Catherine Asaro (not my favorite author) as a romance/scifi crossover. To me that misses the point, to me Irresistible Forces is a vehicle for the “Winterfair Gifts” the missing and much delayed chapter in the Vorkosigan saga.

The story has a bit of a saga of its own. Bujold wrote the story specifically for Irresistible at least two years ago as part of IF’s originally planned publication date of Feb, 2003. Publication, for reasons unknown, has been delayed for over a year. In the meantime however Bujold sold translation rights to a number of countries, including to a publisher in the Czech Republic (where apparently she is very popular). Up until last week this meant that the only way to read “Winterfair Gifts” in english was to read a covertly circulated version that had been back translated from Czech to English. (an undertaking which Bujold seemed to very amused by when I saw her speak)

update: I thought WF was merely OK. Without my historic affections for the principles I’m not sure it would even have been that. Nothing else in the collection caught my eye. (but then half the writers aren’t from one of my genres, and I went through my Roberson phase 12-13 years ago and see no reason to revisit it)

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Mark Your Calendar

November 8th, 2003

The UW Bookstore has an awesome author series (I still have to write up the night Bujold was in town!), but this next week special.

The fun starts tomorrow Nov 8th, Sat. 4pm, see David Rees. Some days Get Your War On is the thin thread that reminds me its them not me who is losing it.

Then Ivan Doig is in town Nov 12, Wed. 7pm, Prairie Nocture is getting panned, but for those of us who have done our time wandering in the purple sage of the literary West, well Doig is an important part of the landscape.

And then Joseph Stiglitz is in town Nov 13, Thur. 7pm, Town Hall! Get tickets early ($15)!

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Baen Free Library

April 22nd, 2003

The Baen Free Library is one of the coolest ideas around. It’s an expirement in disapproving the “fact” that the internet is damaging artists, and that the solution is to clamp tighter and tighter regulations on all content. And that is exactly what it’s proved, writers who include their work in the library seem increased sales, particular of their older works which had by and large stopped selling. (see Janis Ian’s famous article on the subject) And they are so classy about it! Rather then the usual bondage and discipline one has come to expect they bend over backwards to make their books accessible; you want it with frames? without? download and read it later? Sure here is a zip file. In fact they bring that same approach to their for pay service Webscription as well. Lets see Oreilly provide zip files on Safari, hmmm?

The Catch

One small problem. Baen publishes pulp! More then any other SciFi publisher I can think of Baen is famous for garish covers, and formulaic genre writing. Still in the late hours of the night, when you can’t sleep, you can read On Basilisk Station to see if the Honor Harrington books are as bad as you always thought. (not quite) Or can discover, Louis McMaster Bujold, Baen’s rare exception who gets mixed up by seeming to be genre writing, while actually dicing and chopping the tropes of military scifi into a feminist inspection of the future, and multi-genre romp, as her wonderful short novella, Mountains of Mourning available. (doesn’t do me much good, I just recite it from memory, but you could read it.) I think if insomnia persists I might have to finally read Lackey’s The Lark and the Wren.

Honor Harrington

The real problem with the Honor books (besides all the other problems) is I just can’t get past Weber’s politics which are as shallow as they are blatant. He does however think Earth First! will be around for another 1000 years or so, admittedly as misguided fools, but the vote of confidence is nice none the less.

More on Harrington

So I blew through Queen’s Honor last night, and now having read 2 Honor books I can say I think Weber is not someone whom I would like to meet. His idea of a happy ending is gross. Both books end with thousands of people dead, and very little subsantially changed with the universe. However we know they are happy endings because our main characters is heavily rewarded with money, land, and titles. The sort of ending that makes you pine for “and they lived happily ever after.” (and I’ll confess, while I read fast, I was partially able to read these books so fast, by kicking over to autopilot on the indepth descriptions of space combats, which, while by all signs are insightful and well thought out do not, in my book, constitute story telling, to paraphrase Olivier, “Try writing, dear boy.”)

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More Quotes

December 2nd, 2002


“Sometimes I like to close my eyes and pretend that people who say things like that are kidding.
Don’t we all – wish and pretend.

larry wall:

Note how we still periodically hear the phrase “serious literature”. This is literature that is supposedly about Real Life. Let me tell you something. The most serious literature I’ve ever read is by Lois McMaster Bujold. Any of you read her? It’s also the funniest literature I’ve ever read. It’s also space opera.
Couldn’t agree more.

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