Lois McMaster Bujold (1949-) has won six Hugo and two Nebula Awards for the long-running Vorkosigan Saga. She deserves them all.
At this writing, the series consists of sixteen novels, four novellas, and two short stories. They explore the lives of Lord Miles Vorkosigan and his family over the span of decades, thousands of years in the future. When the saga truly opens in the series’ second novel, we meet Miles in his privileged childhood as the son of the Regent of the Barrayaran Empire. Subsequent books follow him through his undercover career as a mercenary for Imperial Security to an exalted position as an Imperial Auditor for his childhood friend, Emperor Gregor. This wildly popular series has reawakened the thrill that space opera brought to science fiction fans in the Golden Age of the 1930s and 40s.
Labyrinth (Vorkosigan Saga #7.1) by Lois McMaster Bujold (2011) 95 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Filling in the gaps in the long-running Vorkosigan Saga
One of the challenges of reading the Vorkosigan Saga is that Bujold didn’t write the stories in chronological order. And they don’t consist of just a series of novels. She has also written novellas and short stories, often set some time after previously published novels. So, I’m playing catch-up, belatedly reading the shorter pieces after having finished all sixteen novels. Labyrinth, a novella set when Miles is twenty-three years of age, falls in chronological order just after book seven (Ethan of Athos) and before book eight (Brothers in Arms). Though it may well be an afterthought, the novella is a worthy addition to the series.
Miles is on an undercover assignment for Imperial Security
In Labyrinth, we rendezvous with Miles in his guise as Admiral Miles Naismith of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet. He’s on assignment for Imperial Security, charged with retrieving a geneticist who wants to escape from the planet Jackson’s Whole, an independent society that harbors a number of powerful criminal enterprises. Of course, no sooner has the scientist shown his face than everything begins to go wrong. And only with the help of an eight-foot-tall genetically engineered super-soldier named Taura will Miles have any hope of escaping the clutches of the criminals who have imprisoned them both.
What makes this series so popular?
Lois McMaster Bujold is a brilliant writer
What is it that makes the Vorkosigan Saga so enjoyable and so popular? Naturally, Bujold’s skill at the craft of writing—suspenseful plotting, credible characterization, engaging dialogue, all infused with good humor—has a lot to do with the series’s success. But surely, too, the inimitable character she has created in Miles Vorkosigan himself helps to explain that success.
Miles Vorkosigan is an endlessly fascinating character
Crippled in utero, Miles is a dwarf, afflicted with brittle bones that limit his freedom of movement. But he is gifted with a brilliant mind and is undoubtedly a military genius. In action—and there is a great deal of action in the Vorkosigan Saga—Miles is typically far quicker to assess the nature of any situation than almost anyone around him. He has his quirks, of course, beginning with a taste for attractive females who are much, much taller than him. (Including that eight-foot-tall super-soldier he meets on Jackson’s Whole.)
The Vorkosigan Saga is about people
There’s another factor at play as well. The Vorkosigan Saga is about people. There are no bug-eyed monsters or inscrutable aliens in the cast of characters. The human race has long since left Earth behind and moved to the stars, populating what appears to be at most a dozen planets scattered across the galaxy. The Barrayaran Empire (eventually) comprises three such planets. Another, older and more powerful empire is somewhat larger. Yet other human settlements are independent of either empire, but we encounter only a handful of them. In other words, though spread across vast reaches of space, the scene is simple and comprehensible. Like the best drama, the series is bounded in time and space. This surely helps explain why the Vorkosigan Saga is such a success and so long-running.
For further reading
I’ve reviewed all the books in this series at The pleasures of reading the complete Vorkosigan Saga.
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