Monday, February 06, 2012

Falling Free and Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

When I signed up for the Sci-fi Experience for this year, the plan was to read at least a couple of the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold, and I am pleased to say that I did so having finished both Falling Free and Shards of Honor. One thing that I find interesting about these books is that although these are the first two books of the series chronologically, they weren't published in that same order.

The first book in the series, chronologically speaking is Falling Free, but it was published a couple of years after the initial trilogy.

Leo Graf was just your average highly efficient engineer: mind your own business, fix what's wrong and move on to the next job. Everything neat and according to spec, just the way her liked it. But that all changed on his assignment to the Cay Habitat. Could you just stand there and allow the exploitation of hundreds of helpless children merely to enhance the bottom line of a heartless mega-corporation?

Leo Graf adopted 1000 quaddies - now all he had to do was teach them to be free.
When Leo Graf is deployed to the Cay Habitat, he is ill prepared for what he will find. The Habitat has, in effect, been used for a breeding experiment, where the desired outcome is a quaddie - instead of a human with two arms and two legs, the children have been bred with four arms which makes them perfectly adapted for the space environment that they live in. The experiment has been going long enough that there are now young adults who are having their own children, but everything is carefully controlled, even down to who they will procreate with.

However, time for the Habitat is running out, and there doesn't seem to be many viable options for the future of the quaddies. Leo finds himself in a position of leading them, trying to work out where the ship full of quaddies can go, without having to kill off all the human staff.

I have previously read the Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold, so it wasn't my introduction to her writing, but it was my first exposure to her science fiction, and I wasn't disappointed. I enjoyed the interactions, the premise and the action that definitely got the blood pumping a little bit.

Having now read the second book in the series, what I can't quite figure out is where this story about the quaddies fits into the Vorkosigan world. I suspect it will become clearer in due course, but for the moment, it isn't all that clear. It was however a good introduction to the series in terms of the types of worlds we will see!

Rating 4/5

It was the wrong war....

In the wrong place, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. She even wore the wrong uniform; Cordelia Naismith,  Betan Expeditionary Force, had been hurried into battle still wearing her old tan Astronomical Survey fatigues.

Now, captain of a throwaway ship on a mission of deception, she convoys a weapon of wicked subtlety to entrap and destroy an enemy armada.

But Cordelia will discover deception within deception, treachery within treachery, until finally she is forced into a separate peace with her chief opponent, Lord Vorkosigan. It is a peace that earns her only ignominy - even though it foreshadows a new beginning, for herself, her lover, and both their peoples.

While I really liked Falling Free, it was at the end of this book that I closed the book and I get it! I get why this series has loads of fans and continues to be very popular more than 20 years after it was originally published.

Cordelia Naismith is a member of the Betan Expeditionary Force sent to a new planet as the leader of a scientific mission. Things go badly, and she is left behind by her crew on her instructions, but soon she is taken prisoner by Aral Vorkosigan, Barrayan commander, who has a fearsome reputation as evidenced by his nickname of The Butcher of Komarr. Vorkosigan is, however, not completely in control of their surroundings either. Not only must they deal with the strange (and scary) creatures that populate the planet, but he is also dealing with a situation with his crew - some of whom may or may not be loyal to him.

By necessity, Cordelia, one of her injured crew members, and Aral must hike to a supply point which is some miles away and along the way they come to each other better, not only as individuals, but also in terms of the differences between their two societies which are very distrustful of each other, for good reason.

The Barrayan society is very masculine, very formal with many rules regarding who can rule, who cannot, with the leaders willing to sacrifice their people for a good enough cause. Arranged marriages are very common in the ruling classes. In comparison, the Betan society seems to be much more relaxed and much more equal when it comes to the relationship between men and women - something that is a little strange to the Barrayan.

Quote from page 58
"I..." he began and trailed off. "You're not what I expected a female officer to be."

"Oh? Well, you're not what I expected a Barrayan officer to be, either, so I guess that makes two of us." She added curiously, "What did you expect?"

"I'm - not sure. You're as professional as any officer I've ever served with, without once trying to be an, an imitation man. It's extraordinary."

"There's nothing extraordinary about me," she denied.

"Beta Colony must be a very unusual place, then."

"It's home. Nothing special. Lousy climate."

What they do find is that they actually do have some common ground - both have a very strong sense of personal honor and integrity, even if others might not always see their actions in that light. There is also a strong attraction between them.

This is only the beginning of the adventures that Cordelia and Aral have together, as they try to fathom how they can maintain their loyalties to their respective countries without losing the relationship that they are building. Cordelia proves time and time again that she is smart, capable and resourceful, but that doesn't mean that she can't break.

Given that most of the future books in the series focus on Miles Vorkosigan, this book is in effect a prelude - how his parents met and fell in love and also sets up the next book in the series where Aral takes on a very public, high profile role which I suspect will influence Miles in future books.

As a science fiction novel it totally worked, but it also worked as a story with strong romantic elements.

I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the series! I now own all of them except for one as ebooks. Now I just need to make sure that I fit the next book into the reading schedule somewhere!

Rating 4.5/5


  1. Yay - I'm really glad you're reading (and liking) the Vorkosigan books. One of my all-time favourite series.


    1. I am really looking forward to reading more. Just have to fit them in the reading schedule.

  2. It is really weird about Memory not being in any of the omnibuses... I really need to get around to the next book in this series.

    1. It was meant to be. But there was a goof somewhere and it got missed out. It's one of the best books in the series, so make sure to read it, even though you have to buy it on its own.

    2. I am a completist when it comes to series and owning them all except one will drive me nuts when I get to it so I will buy it then!

  3. I'm so glad you're enjoying them, Marg. I'm one of those long time and vocal fans of the series and it's always great to see a new convert.

    I got to meet Lois at a con here a few years ago and she is such a delightful lady.

    Now, like all the other Vorkosigan fans, I'm having out for "Ivan's book". I has an actual title, but we've been dreams of "Ivan's book" for so long, it may always be thought of that way.

  4. P.S. This is one of those series where I buy the hardcover and the ebook, both at the same time, so I have it both for my collection and for easy reading as well.

    1. Oh! Hard core fan then! lol

      I look forward to getting further in the series to meet Ivan!

  5. This is still my favorite science fiction series, hands down. Not even anything else close.

    1. That's a great recommendation for the series Mamajulie!

  6. The library do have the sci-fi books by Bujold, and after this I am curious. Cos I did read book 1 in the fantasy series

  7. I am listening to Falling Free right now. I hadn't even read the blurb so the whole Quaddies thing kind of blew me away. I have listened to Shards of Honour and Barrayar and have the next 2 or 3 lined up but wanted to read in series order (mostly), hence FF. I'm only in the early stages of it but the corporate manipulation is just awful. I've read the blurb now so I feel a lot better about where the book is heading :)