Finally, a Space Opera that lives up to the title! Ages ago, when I first heard of the sub-genre, I was intrigued by the idea of mixing SF with soap operatic convention. Okay, while I wasn’t exactly expecting Love’s Laser’s Lost, I was looking forward to reading science fiction that focused on real people dealing with real problems against the backdrop of a potentially surreal environment. Presumably, in the far distant future, amidst the space battles, alien invasions, and recreational virtual reality generators run amok, such quaint  concepts as love, marriage, and relationships would still prove of some significance. I certainly assumed as much, but the authors of most of the Space Opera I read felt otherwise. My initial enthusiasm for the sub-genre was immediately deflated by works that were heavy on the hard SF and light on plot and character. “What the hell were you expecting?”a fellow scifi buff once asked me. “Dallas in space?” Well…no. Not exactly. Although, in truth, I’d sooner read about J.R. 3000’s intergalactic machinations than re-read some of the technically accomplished but emotionally devoid novels I’d experienced to date.

The two books that make up Cordelia’s Honor, however, turned out to be a much more satisfying representation of what I’d imagined Space Opera could be. Grand, yes. Futuristic, of course. But at its heart, it‘s the personal interrelations of the various characters that drive the narrative. The SF is there (wormhole nexus, neural disruptors, uterine replicators) to serve the plot but doesn’t overwhelm. Bujold elects to focus on social and political aspects instead of excruciatingly detailed accounts of technological marvels, appealing to a reader’s sense of the familiar over fathomless narrative minutiae. In so doing, she fashions a future world that is as engaging and believable as the characters who people it.

Shards of Honor introduces us to Captain Cordelia Naismith, the seasoned commander of a survey team for the Betan Expeditionary Force who ends up stranded on planet with Captain Aral Vorkosigan, the legendary “Butcher of Komarr” (who, for some reason, I pictured as a young Robert Davi). Despite their differences, the two come together in order to survive a treacherous alien environment. As mutual suspicions thaw, the two former enemies develop a grudging respect for one another that, in turn, evolves into much, much more. The progression from distrust to love struck me as all too quick at first but, upon further reflection, I realized that I knew plenty of people who had “fallen in love” within weeks, hell, even days, of meeting their significant others. Also, I suppose being beholden to someone for saving your life would certainly go a long way toward cementing those affections. 

From events on the planet, we head shipboard where Cordelia helps Vorkosigan head off a mutiny before escaping back to Beta Colony where she receives is welcomed back with a certain amount of suspicion. The story hits the ground running, delivering a thoroughly engaging narrative that never slackens its pace through its 250+ page run.

The second book, Barrayar, finds Cordelia on Vorkosigan’s home planet, married and expecting her first child. Whereas the first book centers on our protagonist as she is swept up in a galactic war, the second book shifts focus to the political machinations within the Barrayaran court. Crosses and double-crosses are the order of the day and, despite her pregnancy and struggles to adjust to her new life, Cordelia continues to display the spirit of fierce independence that made her such a fascinating character in her early adventures. The rules may have changed, but she proves that she can play the game with the best of them, leading a rescue op to head off a political coup.

While I enjoyed both books, I found the first structurally diffuse, hopping from events on the planet to the mutiny aboard the Barrayaran ship and back to Beta Colony before returning to Barrayaran clutches. It wasn’t so much the change in locations as the sense that the different scenarios were separate pieces brought together to create a greater whole. Barrayar, on the other hand, proved a more unified narrative and more satisfying in the intricacy of its plotting and the depth of its characterization particularly among the secondary players like Koudelka, Drou, Piotr Vorgasigan and, my favorite, Bothari. 

Well, those are my initial thoughts to get the discussion started. I’d be interested to hear what others have to say, especially if they found the time to read both books.

Also, if you have any questions or comments for author Lois McMaster Bujold, now would be the time to post them.

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Patricia Lee
Patricia Lee

Good on you Joe for totally ignoring the disgruntled Keller Hater’s!!!

Great Review of the Books from Lois McMaster Bujold.

Thanks

ytimynona
ytimynona

My question for Lois McMaster Bujold:

How much planning do you do before you begin writing your novels? Do you know how it’s going to end before you begin writing, or does the story kind of take off on its own?

anneteldy
anneteldy

Ms Bujold,

I apologize in advance for being so long winded. I’ve never mastered ‘short and to the point’.

Thank you for taking the time to field our questions. I had not had the pleasure of reading any of your books before — my “to be read” list has 1100+ titles on it and is still growing! — and am very glad Mr. M chose Cordelia’s Honor for this month’s discussion. I very much enjoyed it, especially Barrayar. You answered most of my questions in the Afterword but I still have a few.

1. We regulars here at Mr. M’s blog often complain about the network giving away surprises and twists in their previews for upcoming episodes. I’ve noticed the same sort of thing on book jackets and covers. Have you ever had a disagreement with your publishers about this? Do authors in general have any say about what’s written on the back covers and flyleaves of their books or is this something only “big name” writers can control?

2. As I understand it from the Afterword, you’ve been writing the Vorkosigan Saga out of storyline order. Was there a particular reason you chose to write out of timeline sequence? I would think writing the timeline randomly would make it harder on you because of the continuity issues. Did you start with a general timeline of events and randomly decide which part of Miles’s life to write about when or was there a method to your madness? Or did you maybe just fall in love with a hint of backstory you wrote into Book A and decided to elaborate it in Book B? Keeping straight all those little things fans would pounce on if you got them wrong — when ‘X’ died or when ‘Y’ got his scar — would drive me insane. Have you made those kinds of errors?

3. Why did you choose to make your protagonist physically handicapped? Was it simply the inherent story potential of Miles living in a militaristic society or was there some other deciding factor? Did you speak to people with similar disabilities to help you portray Miles’s personal struggles and private thoughts about them?

4. I’m way too OCD for the random reading of a series. If I decide to read one, I research it and create a reading list in storyline order so I don’t make a mistake. Do you really read a series out of order? Doesn’t it lessen your enjoyment by taking the suspense out when you know before you start reading Book #3 that ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’ will live through Dangerous Situation Beta because they were in Book #4 which you’ve already read?

Thanks again for giving us your time and thank you, Mr. M, for inviting her.

Anne Teldy
P.S. Thanks to skgraff for once again providing me the BotMC selections.

anneteldy
anneteldy

When oh when will WordPress get a preview function?

Anne Teldy

Enzo Aquarius
Enzo Aquarius

To anneteldy: When WordPress follows a ‘wiki’ style. razz Man, that preview button is amazing.

Wow Joe, I don’t know how you can read all these books, between working on Atlantis, keeping an eye on your dogs, keeping well when ill, and eating strange, but edible foods. You do it some how, and for that, I tip my hat to you. wink

Will be heading to the library in a week or so, will see if they have any of the BOTMC books available.

Thanks as always!

– Enzo Aquarius

crazymom1

Das, thanks for the chocolate recs! I’ll definitely be making a stop by the store tomorrow! I’m actually thinking about getting up a little early to see if I can get by the store on my way to work.

You’ve heard the expression “terrible twos”? Imagine a stubborn, headstrong 2-year-old who’s going through narcotics withdrawal–Emma is terrorizing the stem cell unit! She’s yelling at the nurses, stomping her foot and telling the doctor to stay out, demanding pizza…sometimes I’m glad I’m 250 miles away! I send her stickers and fingerpaint through the mail, and she thinks I’m great. They are talking about sending her home in about 10 days. That’s weeks ahead of schedule! Go, Emma!

cat4444
cat4444

Comment for Ms. Bujold: I just want to say that I read the two books that make up Cordelia’s Honor separately waaaaayy back when (we won’t go into just how far back when) and thoroughly enjoyed them.

I do wonder, though, why the focus was shifted from Aral and Cordelia to Miles in subsequent books, with them on the periphery if they were there at all. Did you feel that their story had been told with these two books and it was time to move on to another protagonist or did you just run out of ideas for them after they began to “live happily ever after” or as much as they could, anyway, in a militaristic society?

For Joe: Have you read any of C.J. Cherryh’s books or Jack L. Chalker’s Well World or Quintaro Marathon books?

Montrealer
Montrealer

@Anne Teldy

Strangely, I remember wandering on to a WordPress blog with editing function sometime back. Wonder if Mr. M didn’t forget to select something when he set this blog.

Also people should check if their Adobe flash player needs updating. In case Mr. M’s video freeze on you. Click on link below to check if you have outdated version of Flash.

http://www.macromedia.com/software/flash/about/

Laryn
Laryn

I read somewhere that you enjoyed writing the Vorkosigan novels almost as much as I enjoyed reading them, because you didn’t know what the characters were going to do next even while writing the stories. Having read all of the Vorkosigan novels, I have to applaud the creativity they show especially, as Mr. Malozzi states, they focus more on the characters and less on the technical details.

My question, as an very-amateur writer and editor, is to ask how much of your rough drafts make it into the final storylines? And since I’m sure that not everything makes it to the final story, which aspects of the story or character do you review (primarily) in the editing stages?

Also, out of curiousity and without any pressure (I tried not to ask but my willpower failed me), can we expect to see additional novels in the Vorkosigan universe someday?

Laryn

Thornyrose
Thornyrose

I’ve had the pleasure of reading the Vorkosikan series over the last several years, and Ms. Bujold is one of about a half dozen authors whose books I will purchase automatically, so confident I am of their quality. A few comments on Cordelia’s Honor before asking some questions. It was a pleasure to reread these two novels. Strong women characters are more common now than when I first started reading sci fi, but its still rare to find such a well rounded character as Cordelia. She is not superhumanly fast, or strong. While certainly above average in intellegence, she doesn’t have the genius her son would go on to display. I enjoy that her greatest strengths are that of character. From her loyalty to her injured crewman, to her self-honesty in recognising that Aral is not the monster created by propoganda, all the way to her drastic means of ending the civil war on Barrayar, she is a character that conquers because of her beliefs. While I found the relationship between Aral and Cordelia to be somewhat hasty, it didn’t deter me from the plot. Cordelia’s escape, then return to Barrayaran hands flowed smoothly by. Light reading, but pleasant. My favorite part of Shards was Cordelia’s struggle back home to simply go about her life. Watching her recognise that her old life was lost, that people would not, could not accept her feelings for Aral as anything but brain washing, brought home an emotional attachment to the character for me. I found her flight to Barrayar to be somewhat anti-climatic, but after the intensity of the encounters with Vorruttur and Bothari, a “simple” escape seemed to work well. I think in Barrayar Cordelia’s true strengths came out. In a hostile, alien envirement, where all the normal rules of conduct seem turned around, she successfully manages to adapt. Not only adapt, but works to protect her child, her husband, and ultimately Bothari and the others bound to her service. Her interactions with Piotr in particular stand out to me, especially once he’s made his attempt to kill the unborn Miles. I believe in this second volume that the balance of characterization and action is achieved. Cordelia’s unintentional solution to the threat to her family and adopted planet was in particular satisfying. She may not be as strong physically as a Barrayarn man, but she proved conclusively she could be as ruthless. Even having read the book before, I ended up losing sleep in order to finish it off again. My only regret in having re-read these is that I’m now going to have to find the time to go through the rest of the Vorkosigan novels. I see a couple of my questions have already been asked by others. So my own list will be unusually short. First, does any of the cover art to your Vorkosigan books capture what you picture the characters to be, in your mind’s eye? I noticed Mr. M. says Aral reminds him of a young… Read more »

AlaskaMom

Joe M – Thanks for choosing Cordelia’s Honor for the BOTM club. I enjoyed it and am excited to have a new series to explore.

Ms. Bujold – Thank you for taking our questions! I was surprised to find out that you have a Midwest background, considering the choice of names in CH. The names (Piotr, Aral, Kareen, Gregor…) have an Eastern European or Russian feel to them. Was this intentional? From where do you get your people and place names?

I also wanted to comment on how realistic Alys’ birth scene was. I appreciated the little details. Much better than the over-dramatic, exaggerated births with crazy, hysterical, out of control women that are too often found in books or on TV.

CH was a pleasure to read. The characters are honest and believable. I was impressed with how effortlessly you convey so much action in just a few pages without sacrificing dialogue or detail. Thank you!

=Dan
=Dan

LMB,

Your presence on Joe’s blog has encouraged me to stop lurking and post a comment. Thank you for coming!

1) I really enjoy your Vorkosigan books and was wondering, since that storyline has slowed down, whether you would consider starting a more action-oriented space opera/sci-fi series?

2) Is there a novel/short story you have written that you are particularly happy with in terms of narrative and execution?

3) And the reverse of that. Do you have a published novel/short story that you kept fiddling with and then submitted without feeling satisfied with the structure?

=Dan

Alli Snow

I read all the Vor books a couple of years ago and dug up ‘Cordelia’s Honor’ when I saw it was going to be a BotM. Obviously Miles becomes the star of the show later on, but this is a very solid ‘origin’ story and yes, I can very easily see Robert Davi playing an older Aral. grin

I don’t really have a question pertaining to this book. However, I wanted to mention that I am currently reading The Sharing Knife: Legacy (I love the magic system — it feels very unique) but that my favorite will probably always be Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. I always reach for those when I need some ‘comfort’ reading and they always make me smile when I reach the end smile

Sel
Sel

I had “Cordelia’s Honor” recommended to me by a friend who shares a common taste with me for “capable female heroines” (only one of the reasons for my love for Teyla, although I’m still waiting a Season Five episode where she unequivocally saves the day, kicks ass, and doesn’t have to apologise for anything), and was thoroughly pleased by it.

I agree that the first book is structurally diffuse – a lot of setup, a lot of character development, and a lot of background politics that don’t become really obvious until the second book; it really reads better as the first half of the overall duology.

One thing that impressed me was that both Cordelia and Aral made their feelings and affection and respect for each other arrantly clear without having to get soppy or romantic. I’m more impressed by writers who can make me believe that, yes, eminently practical – even emotionally repressed – characters can fall in love and don’t have to suddenly become people out of the pages of a tawdry romance novel.

And, yes, I love that while Aral is the man of honour, and Cordelia is careful and respectful of his honour, in return, he also recognises her honour and her worth and is careful and respectful of that.

Okay, and I love that Cordelia gets to play the heroine twice – destroying the rebellion on Aral’s ship in ‘Shards of Honor’, saving her son and killing the bad guy in ‘Barrayar’.

Possibly the most amazing ’emotional fight’ scene I’ve ever read is the one between Aral and Cordelia when she talks to him about going after Miles’ uterine replicator: she more or less implies that if he’s not going to make the move on the capital, she’ll go in herself. He says something to the effect of, “you’re killing me.” And she replies more or less the same. It’s a beautiful moment: one in which both characters recognise the inexorability of the others’ decision – that they each have to do what’s right according to their own personal sense of honour. And that nobody’s wrong. NOBODY’S WRONG. That is incredibly rare, and huge kudos to LMB for getting that situation across.

I haven’t read the series on Miles yet – the friend who loaned me the books is packing to move. I think she might have given me ‘Chalion’s Curse’, though, so that should probably be next on my ‘to read’ list!

No questions I’m afraid, Ms. Bujold. Just a lot of love and awe and admiration for your story! (Mitigated by the fact that I, as an Australian, must always hesitate over whether I’m going to spell it ‘honour’ or ‘honor’.) Thank you!

Sel.

Ganymede
Ganymede

@Tam_myst

Not to worry about public transit in Atlanta – it’s quite good actually. The Metro line will take you straight from the airport baggage area to right downtown under the hotels where the Con is at. There’s a big food court between the hotels – seriously, you can spend the whole weekend without ever being exposed to the outside world! Just be prepared for trying to walk through the over crowded mass of Humanity! Oh, and being poked in the eyes by fairy wings… Way too many people ‘dress’ up for this thing and considering the pressing crowds at times, it can be a tad dangerous! It’s also very hot and humid, so always carry water, munchies and watch your wallet!

Sel
Sel

And while I’m at it – for those who like the ‘Space Opera’ genre – I rather enjoyed Elizabeth Moon’s “Serrano Legacy”

The first three stories ‘Hunting Party’, ‘Sporting Chance’, an ‘Winning Colours’ are…okay. A little dry in some parts, perhaps, but good solid writing with a neat little engineering bent that my programmer’s mind enjoyed. Heris Serrano is also a kickass female character – and a mature one to boot: in her forties at least, at the time of ‘Hunting Party’.

However, I think that Ms. Moon found her stride in the last four books – when she introduces us to Esmay Suiza, a once-mentioned character in ‘Winning Colours’ and starts taking us through her story.

I really like Esmay: farmgirl goes into the space navy, discovers that what she believed about herself isn’t the whole of who she can be, and falls in love with (and is fallen for by) the scion of a space navy family with high social and military connections. Now that I think about it, that sounds quite a bit like Teyla.

‘Once A Hero’ is the first Esmay book and it and the sequels start looking not only at the military but at a broader sociopolitical structure and the consequences of it.

I don’t know if JoeM’s already tried the Serrano Legacy, but I wholeheartedly recommend it.)

Sel.

Charlie's Angel
Charlie's Angel

Joe, thank you for choosing Cordelia’s Honor as a BOTM selection. I enjoyed it so much that I’ve read the rest of the series. Bothari is one of my favorite characters. I also loved Taura, especially in the “Winterfair Gifts” story. I won’t ask any spoilerish questions for those that haven’t read the complete series, but just say thank you to Lois McMaster Bujold for creating such a great cast of characters in a believable universe. More, please! smile

Charlie's Angel
Charlie's Angel

Sel, I agree with you on the Serrano books. I recently read the series and really liked it. Another set of believable characters and universes, including fleshed out bad guys. The New Texas God-Fearing Militia was exceptionally creepy.

Another recommended space opera series is the Honor Harrington books by David Weber.

General Yogi Bear

I have some good operas for you.

Heres a star wars opera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ2BlzMSlcc&feature=related

And an opera about Nixon in China:

pg15

Alas, once again I am devoid of words for your wordy endeavors. Hope the rest of the gang here have a good time with the book!

Meanwhile, after reading Carl Binder’s newest Gateworld interview, and his elaboration on his “The Red Shirt Diaries”, I gotta say, I thought it was a great idea! If handled correctly, it could be a damn dramatic episode with some great comedic moments. Is there a chance that it can show up in Season 6, or is it DOA like Hexed?

Also, I agree with Carl and Martin that that feeling in the first season when we were all cut off was great, and though you’ve said that that’s hard to recreate due to the ZPM and the ships, I think there are ways around that. It’s a story; I’m sure you can create a way to isolate Atlantis without destroying the ships, or making it a space station instead of a grounded city.

Like, say…a massive shield around the Pegasus galaxy powered by the supermassive blackhole at its center that blocks both normal space and subspace travel. No hyperdrives or wormholes can penetrate it. Isolation achieved through UberTech. It’s just one of many methods to recreate that feeling of desperation that made Season 1 unique.

Shelley D

I only was able to read Barrayar as I couldn’t find my copy of Shards of Honor. It was nice to return to an old favourite that hadn’t made it to the top of the re-reading rotation in awhile.

I’ve always enjoyed the strength of Bujold’s characters, especially the women. It’s great to read about capable, intelligent women who also struggle with uncertainties, and overcome those struggles through their own efforts. I also find her characters easy to connect to….. even Bothari, who was also my favourite.

Looking forward to re-reading the rest of the series again… thanks for reminding me of it.

fsmn36

Your reasons for liking these two books is very similar to mine, Joe. I love the space opera theme. To date, I haven’t read any in the genre that have disappointed. Obviously I haven’t read all possible, but in general, I love the genre because it does focus typically on the people, character realtionships, and sociopolitical aspects–simply mixing in sci-fi aspects. I find such stories seem more realistic and flow better. It’s never quite as hard of a leap to imagine it being possible, either. When the subject matter focuses on things we’ve seen throughout all history, it doesn’t jar to read about ray guns and the like. Bujold’s writing was gripping, not overly detailed or descriptive, and fast-paced. I love sci-fi that focuses on politics or military strategy; this book had both. It was a fascinating mix of societies: one like America (democracy, free choice, lots of red tape), another very similar to feudal England (honor, military, an emperor you swear fealty to). There was a brilliant juxtaposition of swords and daggers and plasma beams. I found the two main characters to be brilliant, sympathetic, despite past grievances. The relationship that develops between the two key characters is easy (as in you believe it, it’s smooth) and unique. And it doesn’t follow the strict us vs them or Romeo and Juliet formulas. While the two are from the competing societies, they love each other, and yet, neither gives up their morals or obligations to their own worlds for the other person. They don’t join together to fight evil in the universe, but rather go about it separately. Cordelia is not a weak damsel, but neither is she Wonder Woman. Vorkosignan is not power hungry, but nor is he entirely humble. He’s done some bad things and he owns up to them. He disagrees with some things he’s told to do, but he follows orders, though not blindly. A truly great read. I didn’t have the chance to read the second book in the series, but I have read the third and enjoyed it just as much. I think LMB is a brilliant writer who focuses on the characters, plot, and the sci-fi aspects equally and fairly. Questions for Lois: 1). What is your favorite part of writing? Is it the characters? Planning the plot? Or something different? The fans, accolades..;) 2). What started you writing? A teacher in high school, the need to tell stories you imagined, etc. Was it always a career you had in mind? 3). You write both fantasy and sci-fi. Which was your first? Do you have a preference? Which is easier to write? How do you keep the two from blending together (or do you let them? I admit, I haven’t had a chance to read your fantasy novels.)? 4). What kind of advice would you give someone keen on writing/publishing fantasy and sci-fi works? 5). What drew you to the space opera genre? Is it your own personal reading preference, something you just… Read more »

Nicole Gustas
Nicole Gustas

Bothari: your favorite character, my favorite character, EVERYONE’s favorite character.

My question to Ms. Bujold: if YOU were to cast these books, who would you like to see in the roles? (Way back when I first read them, I saw Glenn Close as Cordelia. Robert Davi is not who I saw as Aral, but I think he’s a good choice.)

Joe, if you liked these, and want to read something that has a similar vibe but cranks the comedy to 11, find Walter Jon Williams “Crown Jewels” trilogy. If P.G. Wodehouse had written a space opera, that would have been it – down to the long-suffering manservant. They’re quick reads, and well worth your time.

LibKat
LibKat

Joe —

Thanks for choosing the wonderful Shards of Honor/Barrayar compendium Cordelia’s Honor for the BOTM. SoH has been one of my favorite books since I first read it back in the 80’s when it was first published. And when LMB continued the story of Cordelia and Aral in Barrayar, it was an immediate must have.

It’s hard for me to talk about these books because I love them both so dearly. LMB etches her characters on both the brain and the heart of the reader. These two books are so clearly Codelia’s story, but Aral is so vital and alive on the page, I’ve never felt that he got shorter shrift.

It is the depth of emotion found so quickly between the two emotionally damaged people that makes SoH so intense for me. The spareness of the writing and the occasional choppyness of the plotting, I find, increases this effect rather than diminishing it. Almost as though the author was so swept up in delivering these two people to me, that she couldn’t stop from carrying it through to the end. LMB has written more accomplished books than SoH, but never one that has affected me more deeply. It’s one of those books I reread cover to cover every couple of years.

anais33

Coucou Joseph =)

Sa va ??

C’est livres ont l’air cool =)
Moi je ne lis plus vraiment depuis que j’ai internet, de plus mes parent de voyent pas l’utilité d’acheter un livre…peut être pour caler un meuble ??

Mais sinon mon livre préféré c’est chronique de san francisco, vous connaissez?

Aller! Gros bisou!! je vous adore♥