Perhaps most pertinently, though, it's so very, very entertaining. Shards of Honour is propelled with a real sense of infectious energy, and it's such a readable book; Bujold is an absolute master of pulling together multiple plot lines that dart this way and that, conjuring a tangle of possibilities that you, as a reader, are wilfully ensnared in. It's no wonder people so happily submit themselves to the procession of novels – they're tied together by a narrative thread that forcefully pulls you along.
Bujold's characters – imposing on the memory yet delicately drawn so as to frequently obscure the line between good and evil – are an absolute delight, too. Shards of Honour gives us Cordelia Naismith, quick-witted, resourceful and generally awesome, and Aral Vorkosigan, a puzzle of a man we spend much of the novel trying to solve. There are moments of high tension and searing drama, yet beneath all that delectable entertainment you sense something else ticking along: a pointed observation about how war warps realities, and people, in Vorkosigan, or an empowered female hero in Cordelia exposed to horrendous brutality by the military of Barrayar.
And it's just the beginning, of course. I'm not sure I've got the appetite to go the full distance, with some 20 books in the series and another new entry on the cusp of release, but when I'd turned the final page I'll admit I took a wander to our bookshelves to see if I could find the next instalment. In our house you're never too far from a Bujold, and I've now begun to see why.
In what may turn out to be a rather naive and fool-hardy venture, we at Holdfast have decided to attempt to spread the love of Speculative fiction by trying to convert some self-proclaimed 'Unbelievers.' We have a brand new Unbeliever this issue – Lucy's boyfriend, Martin Robinson! Although he's a videogames journalist and spends a lot of time immersed in worlds inspired by SFF, Martin doesn't enjoy reading SFF. What a wally. In order to convince him to read Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold, the first book in Lucy's favourite SF series, The Vorkosigan Saga, Lucy had to agree to make him a ginger cake AND to watch a film by his favourite director, Terrence Malick. The things the Holdfast editors go through to bring you content. WAS IT WORTH IT. Spoiler: Yes, but only just. Watching Colin Farrell arse around in fields of wheat is probably something only Bujold can make up for.
Unbeliever 0, Holdfast editors 1
Shards of Honour features nail-biting battles, awe-inspiring military tactics, post traumatic stress syndrome, gender politics and romance. It stars the altogether brilliant Cordelia Naismith, a highly intelligent, liberal, ship captain who gets stranded and taken prisoner by her bisexual love interest, the older, gruff, and stocky Aral Vorkosigan, whom she knows only by reputation as the Butcher of Komarr. Getting to know each other, they bond, with him falling in love with her practicality and quick wits at first sight. Their romance leads to the events of the later novels, which mostly feature their son, Miles.
I love the books for their intricate and clever plots, the hilarious dialogue, the way Bujold draws the characters’ personalities so well, and for the way SF is used – for example on Cordelia’s planet Beta Colony, sexual politics are rather developed, with sex therapists available to teach technique, a ceremony involving the painless snipping of women’s hymens so sex is enjoyable from the first time onwards, genetically engineered hermaphrodites and reproduction by artificial wombs, again, to save women from pain. In contrast, Aral’s planet of Barrayar is militaristic, patriarchal and further behind in developing technology, mostly because its wormhole was cut off from the rest of the system for hundreds of years. Future imaginary technology that examines things women have had to battle over the years - high mortality rates, post-natal depression - is somewhat missing in most of the SF that I’ve read, but Bujold uses the comparison between Beta Colony’s attitudes to Barrayar fantastically, to focus a lens on the issues that our society faces.
I’m so pleased that Martin enjoyed Shards of Honour, and selfishly, even more pleased that he’ll read the second instalment, Barrayar, without me having to agree to watch another bloody Malick film.
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I knew so much about the Vorkosigan Saga long before I ever got to read any of them. Living with Lucy Smee, it's become impossible to ignore them; over the course of a couple of years the books would seemingly multiply in our house, a new one appearing in her hands every fortnight until it was quickly devoured, tossed aside before another was hungrily reached for. I half assumed there's some industrious warehouse somewhere, a thousand whirring robot arms furiously laying down type as they churned out these seemingly endless fantasies.
There's a pulpiness to these books, I've found out now I've finally read the opening chapter of the Vorkosigan Saga, Shards of Honour, but there's plenty more besides. This is pulp with an edge, a space opera that sings with the sense of adventure of classic Star Wars and carries with it the gently progressive tilt of JJ Abrams' recent revival. It's snappy, sexy and sharp; sci-fi with a real sense of purpose.
It took me a while to even hear about Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, for which I hold a grudge against the world. But after being nudged a couple of times towards it within a short space of time, I grabbed the first book in the saga and dipped in, only to resurface a year later, having read every book in the series twice over. They’re now enormously important to me, and I in turn have been pushing them on my friends, with one, a new mum, devouring them during her sleepless nights. I even got to interview Lois for Holdfast a few months ago, probably one of the greatest moments of my life. Martin resisted my rave reviews for a long time though, convinced that they were nothing more than a mishmash of "chick lit" and SF. It took a cultural exchange - he would read Shards of Honour, and I would watch Terrence Malick’s Pocahontas film The New World (a director I greatly dislike but whom Martin adores) - for him to pick it up. Somewhere, Martin’s writing a Malick Unbelievers column with the score now Martin 0, Lucy 4.
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