Here we are, last Friday of the month, and it’s time for our inaugural review-style weekly word working assignment of the year. I picked twelve books to re-read and pontificate upon for your entertainment and my writing practice.
Next week we’ll get back to tiny story snippets, but for now…
What did you read?
Cordelia’s Honor is a published volume containing two novels previously released in 1986 and 1991 respectively, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, by Lois McMaster Bujold. It comprises one complete story, that of how Miles Vorkosigan’s parents met. Among other things.
Why highlight this particular work?
For the most part, my selections are starting points. I didn’t want to pick the middle book of a trilogy, even if it’s my favorite, and imply that the earlier book(s) in the series can or should be skipped. (Spoiler alert: I actually will do this at one point. My own rules, I can break them.) In this case, many people who are into military Sci-Fi are aware of the tales of Miles Vorkosigan, the man whose mouth is often faster than his good sense but his intellect is not to be trifled with. They’re stories of high adventure, highlighting various ideas about human society, and featuring families bound by blood relation as well as of chosen association. Also, they’re frequently hilarious.
Basically, I chose Cordelia’s Honor as a sort of mission statement for this part of the 2019 project. If you read and enjoy this, you’ll probably be primed and ready to enjoy the stories which follow upon it. We’re still firmly on the path inspired by Mikey Neumann’s ideas about finding and focusing on the joy in things.
What are this story’s strong points?
Do you like characters? Boy howdy, do we have characters here. Front and center are Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan. They’re not star-crossed teenagers, rather they’re experienced veterans in their respective planets’ service branches. Mind you, one’s primarily a scientist and the other’s a full-up soldier. Their backgrounds and home societies are radically different but they find a common connection, a mutual respect.
Around these two is arrayed a host of villains, comrades, and foils. It’s all very melodramatic, and that’s not a bad thing. For my money, this is some of the best space opera you’re going to find in print.
Bujold finds ways to tease out the humor in as many aspects of the unfolding events as possible. Sometimes it’s gallows humor, sometimes it’s two people sharing an inside joke, and usually it’s handled with a deft touch. I never feel like I’m being winked at. It’s always natural, woven into the situation. When an author can make me laugh out loud in the middle of a tense, grim, dramatic moment and it doesn’t pull me out of the story, that’s someone to watch and perhaps emulate.
How about a sampler?
Vorkosigan returned from the forward pilot’s compartment, and slid in beside her. “Are you doing all right?”
She gave him a nod. “Yes. Rather overwhelmed by all these herds of boys. I think you Barrayarans are the only ones who don’t carry mixed crews. Why is that, I wonder?”
“Partly tradition, partly to maintain an aggressive outlook. They haven’t been bothering you?”
“No, amusing me only. I wonder if they realize how they are used?”
“Not a bit. They think they are the emperors of creation.”
“That’s not how I’d describe them.”
“I was thinking of animal sacrifice.”
“Ah. That’s closer.”
Why might one want to avoid this book?
Well, there is that attempted rape in one of the early chapters, plus a few cases off-camera of both implied and outright-stated rape. That’s… kind of a big reason.
Aside from that the book features a number of scenes of bloody violence. (I kind of skim over and through those bits as best I can.)
It’s space opera, in case you have an allergy to that sort of thing. There aren’t any giant robots though!
Where does the story go from here?
From here on out most of the novels, novellas, short stories and what-have-you in this setting center on (spoilers!) Aral and Cordelia’s son, Miles Vorkosigan. Which order you choose to tackle those stories and in what format is… not really a thing I can determine for you. Various people have tackled the subject, however, so guidance is available.
Also, please don’t be put off by some of the print edition covers. They’re terrible. We know. Everybody knows.
Any final thoughts?
I didn’t realize until reading a review of the book during preparation for this project that we’re only ever in Cordelia’s head the entire time. Even more: At no point in the entire series of stories for this fictional universe are we ever in Aral Vorkosigan’s head. One can’t attach much meaning to this fact but it’s amusing to me nonetheless.