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Assembling My Atheneum: Lois McMaster Bujold

January 15, 2015

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.
Lois McMaster Bujold
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.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2015 12:28 am

    What a great idea for a feature! I’ll have to read through your other articles in this series. I have not read Bujold yet. My book club even read the first Chalion book but life got in the way and I missed it. Amazing that you devoured her entire catalog in less than a year. That takes dedication. Do you find yourself tiring of an author’s style if you read two or more of their books consecutively or are you able to chains reads by one author back to back?

    • January 18, 2015 4:25 pm

      Thank! Feel free to do it at your blog too; I’m always excited to learn about others’ favourite authors. :)

      I can chain series books back to back but standalone novels I’ve found work better with a bit of breathing space in between (say, a fortnight minimum). With Bujold, I read the Sharing Knife series back to back, then a little bit later the Chalion trilogy, then a bit later The Spirit Ring, and then by July I’d begun the Vorkosigan Saga. They quickly became comfort audio reads so if I was really sick I’d read 2-3 in a row; the other times I spaced them out a bit to try to make it last longer. Honestly, I wasn’t even trying to read them all; they were just so addictive I couldn’t help myself!

  2. January 16, 2015 4:02 am

    She is an author I hadn’t heard of, so thank you for bringing her to my attention. I’ll definitely be looking out for her books.

    • January 18, 2015 4:25 pm

      I hope you like her half as much as me!

  3. January 16, 2015 8:52 am

    Yeah… I tend to buy her in mass market when I find her, but back when her e-books were free I got the entire Vorkosigan saga. So, when I find her books really hard to hold… I have other options. That being said I only read one book by her last year. I am so bad with series!

    • January 18, 2015 4:26 pm

      I’m a bit green over here at the idea of having all of the Vorkosigan ebooks for free! lol I’m mixed at series; the fact that all of them were easily accessible audiobooks helped tilt the scales in their favour, I think.

  4. January 16, 2015 9:26 am

    I started on Bujold a couple of years ago, reading Cordelia’s Honor and Barrayar first. Loved them. I then read the prequel, Falling Free, which is my favorite thus far. I love Leo and the quaddies. Last year I read Ethan of Athos and Diplomatic Immunity and enjoyed them as well. She does a great job of weaving romance into her science fiction, both romance in the sense of romantic relationships that aren’t just glossed over, and romance in that grand tradition of “planetary romance” style science fiction. I can see why she has become one of your favorites, she is quite the creator.

    • January 18, 2015 4:28 pm

      Yes to everything you said! Although I’m surprised you jumped all the way to Diplomatic Immunity; must have been the quaddie love. Fyi one of the novellas (Labyrinth) features Nicole the quaddie musician; she’s not a main character, but she’s there.

  5. January 16, 2015 9:27 am

    Oh, and feel free to post this link over on the Review Site of this year’s Sci Fi Experience. There are lots of Bujold fans out there and they might be interested in checking out your post.

    • January 18, 2015 4:29 pm

      Ok, although I feel like a definite dilettante! :)

  6. January 16, 2015 10:55 am

    I should also point out that Cordelia’s Honor is actually a two-book omnibus that includes Shards of Honor and Barrayar. Doh!

    • January 18, 2015 4:29 pm

      I knew what you meant; the 2 Cordelia books! ;) I love her & wish she had more novels devoted to her. Oh well; this way I’m always pleased when she pops in.

  7. Jenny permalink
    January 16, 2015 11:52 am

    I think I’ve partly avoided Bujold because I’m afraid I WON’T be able to resist reading her entire backlist! I’ve heard so many good things about her writing, though — I might not be able to put it off much longer.

    • January 18, 2015 4:30 pm

      lol! You don’t HAVE to mainline her like I did. ;)

  8. January 18, 2015 5:33 pm

    I’m planning sometime soon to start working on a list of sci-fi and fantasy books to read, and after your enthusiasm, I will definitely have to add Bujold to the list. I’m always a bit wary of more recent fantasy as I’ve not had great experiences finding books I’ve really liked, but you make Bujold sound promising.

  9. mervih permalink
    January 26, 2015 4:50 am

    I’m a long-time Bujold fan and I agree with everything you’ve said. She’a a great author.

  10. March 12, 2015 12:43 pm

    The Vorkosigan saga is on my wishlist although I don’t know much about it. So it’s really great to read about your love for them! I’ll need to bump them up and get to them sooner rather than later.

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