Assembling My Atheneum: Lois McMaster Bujold
If I had unlimited funds, which authors would I want to see filling my bookshelves? That question originally arose from my musings about my home library, and I decided to start a new series to answer it. In Assembling My Atheneum, I’ll discuss the authors whose entire works I’d love to possess, as well as which books of theirs I’ve read, which I already own, and which I’d recommend to those wanting to give them a try. If you’re curious, you can see everyone I’ve featured so far.
Lois McMaster Bujold is an American writer of speculative fiction, and my newest author crush. In fact, she took me back to my childhood love of binging on newly discovered favourite writers. I discovered her in April, proceeded to read all nine of her fantasy titles, and then began her sci-fi series the Vorkosigan saga, which consists of fifteen novels and four novellas. I finished up the last of those titles last week, which means in less than a year I’ve read over twenty of her books. Let’s be honest; I’ve moved past the crush phase into true love. The stomach plummeting that accompanied my realisation that I’ve caught up on her entire backlist, and thus have no new Bujold until she writes more, made that clear.
Despite these strong feelings, I don’t yet own any of her books! This is mainly because of formatting issues: my arthritic hands can’t handle mass market paperbacks or hardcovers terribly well, and those seem to be the preferred style of her publisher. I could buy ebooks of course or the audiobooks (which is how I’ve read all but five of her books), but those would be trickier to display on my lovely bookcase. ;) I’m sure I’ll think of a solution eventually: perhaps used hard covers for their looks and ebooks for the inevitable comfort rereads in my future.
I can happily recommend Bujold to anyone who enjoys tight plotting, loveable but flawed characters, fascinating settings, wonderful writing, and an author with the ability to switch from dramatic to truly funny without missing a beat. I believe that covers just about everyone. I don’t care if you’re not typically a fantasy or sci-fi reader (I’m not the latter): Bujold’s combination of intelligence and entertainment will win you over. You’re doing yourself a deep disservice if you avoid her because of genre snobbery or judge her books by their covers.
Where to start depends on what you’re most interested in of course. If you’re already into sci-fi, you might as well go for the Vorkosigan Saga; Bujold herself recommends reading them in internal chronological order (although I went in published order, a tendency I’ve developed ever since reading Narnia in the wrong order thanks to terrible publish numbering, and that went fine), which starts you with Shards of Honor if you want to hop in with the main characters or Falling Free for a book set in the same universe but two hundred years before the rest of the series. Wikipedia has helpful lists to take you from there. If you’re already into fantasy, her Chalion series feels the most typical of the genre: the first is The Curse of Chalion. If you’re not into either, go for The Sharing Knife series, which I wrote about last year, for a nineteenth century North American great lakes feel, or The Spirit Ring, an early standalone fantasy novel she did set in an alternate Renaissance northern Italy, depending on which setting appeals to you more. I’m sure once you’ve had a taste of Bujold, you’ll end up reading everything, just like I did. Note that although she writes in series, each of the books has a self-contained story with a definite beginning and ending. The Sharing Knife quartet has the books following very closely one after another, and follows the same characters through all four, but the others often switch characters or times or both. So you don’t need to worry about ridiculously unsatisfying cliffhanger endings (a readerly pet peeve of mine).
For those who enjoy audiobooks, I highly recommend the Chalion series audiobooks. I’ve also listened to all of the Vorkosigan saga, which are read by Grove Gardener. I recommend those, and I think Gardener does an excellent job voicing the different characters and adding nuance to the stories, but I have to admit his accent is not my favourite. If I didn’t love the books so much, I probably wouldn’t have wanted to spend so many hours of my life listening to him. As it is, I eventually got used to his accent, and the audiobooks have kept me company through the ups and downs of the past few months. I feel bereft knowing there aren’t any more waiting for me. (Also, for anyone whose library has a Hoopla subscription, almost all of the Vorkosigan audiobooks are available there.)
I’m not doing any retrospective posts on my 2014 reading, but if I were, Lois McMaster Bujold would obviously be one of the stars. Now that I’ve read all of her sci fi books, at least I can now read Jo Walton’s posts on them without fear of spoilers. I’ll also be exploring the authors Walton suggests in this post and remind myself that there are always potential new favourite writers just waiting for me to stumble upon them. Now please go read some Bujold already; your life will be enriched. I promise.