Lois McMaster Bujold

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Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby DavidTate on Friday, 19 September 2008, 12:13 pm

I've been wondering for some time, Eric, whether the absence of Lois McMaster Bujold from these pages is a deliberate negative vote. She's not on the list of omitted authors.

Bujold is a tricky case. If you had read everything she'd ever written through about 1990, you would have found nothing of any real quality, and two Hugo awards. At that point, it would have been quite understandable for you to have dismissed Ms Bujold as a writer of popular appeal but no greatness.

But a funny thing happened at that point. The lady learned to write. Starting with Barrayar in 1991, the quality of the Vorkosigan books rose markedly, until books like Memory and (especially) Komarr were quite notable.

Then an even funnier thing happened. Ms Bujold set aside her extremely popular and profitable Vorkosigan franchise, and began a new unrelated series. A fantasy series, at that. And the results were nothing short of remarkable. I would place The Curse of Chalion in my top 5 fantasy works of all time, with Paladin of Souls not far behind it. The third book in the series is weaker, but still good.

Since then, Ms Bujold has started a third series -- these being (so far) a single long fantasy romance story arc, with some fascinating worldbuilding but much less literary merit. I wouldn't nominate her for inclusion in your site on the basis of just those recent books.

I would, though, nominate Bujold for inclusion on the basis of The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. I also think some of the mid-late Vorkosigan books are similarly good, but (unfortunately) inaccessible unless you first read the much less good earlier books. I'm not sure how that would work in the context of a site with strict quality standards for listed works.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby Jeroen on Monday, 22 September 2008, 11:36 am

Lios McMaster Bujold is a name I have often encountered on the web, but I never took the trouble to find out what she has written. The bookcovers look very YA. But now you made me curious about The Curse of Chalion. Can you tell me something more about this book? Is it really part of a series or can it be read as a stand alone? Or, more generally, can you elaborate a bit on her style?

I've been reading some comments on Amazon, and next to the enthousiastic messages, people complained that her writing was overdone or too descriptive and the book could be edited to three-fourths of its length. It could be that these reviewers simply 'didn't get it'?
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby DavidTate on Monday, 22 September 2008, 4:36 pm

The Curse of Chalion can certainly be read as a standalone. It is an adventure novel of court politics and theology, set in a mediaeval mock-Iberia in a universe in which the five gods (the Father of Winter, the Mother of Summer, the Daughter of Spring, the Son of Autumn, and the Bastard) are very real, and not infrequently intrude on human affairs in a (mostly) limited number of usual ways.

The protagonist is Lupe dy Cazaril, sometime soldier, captain, and (most recently) galley slave, whom we meet walking 'home' to where he was once a page in a nobleman's court. He has very low expectations, and not much hope. His body is nearly broken, but his wits will prove to be (mostly) intact.

It would be hard for me to say much more about the plot without egregious 'spoilers'. I love almost everything about this novel. The characterizations are masterful; the plot is just intricate enough; the dialogue (and internal monologue of Cazaril) are Bujold's strongest point, with many examples of exactly the right word or phrasing throughout the book. Cazaril is a great protagonist, with enough flaws and foibles to make him real, and enough honor and courage to make him a suitable hero for a Romance. The 'Quintarian' theology (along with a 'Quadrene' heresy) is worked seamlessly into the story, and provides an additional layer of richness to the setting. The nature of sainthood (in that world) is an important plot point, but not in the way you might expect.

I am trying to imagine how someone could consider the writing to be 'overdone' or "too descriptive", and failing. If anything, part of Bujold's genius is her ability to convey a deep sense of place, time, and culture with a few strokes of the pen. There is no "infodumping" or tedious moustache-twirling scenes in which the villains lay out their plans to each other (as in, say, David Weber), no excessive fawning over the physical landscape. The scenes of introspection or self-recrimination never reach the level of tedious dithering (as they do in, say, C.J. Cherryh). The book is exactly as long as it should be, including just the right amount of post-climactic tidying up.

I have read the book cover-to-cover 3 times in English and once in French translation, and have browsed favorite scenes innumerable times. It is one of my primary "comfort books". Make of that what you will.

This is not YA fiction, unless you feel that any novel that does not contain explicit descriptions of sex acts is "YA". For what it's worth, the second novel (Paladin of Souls) is one of the very few genre novels I've read whose protagonist is a middle-aged woman. As for the cover, I prefer the French edition: http://www.amazon.fr/gp/reader/2914370458/ref=sib_dp_pt/402-7464426-3692149#reader-link.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby owlcroft on Tuesday, 23 September 2008, 8:46 pm

Righty-ho, that is, for me, a good part of what this particular forum is for, to hear thoughts from redoubtable readers so as to augment my lists; and I have added Bujold and those two books to the site's "possibles" page.

But I am puzzled by the reference to a "list of omitted authors"; I have no such list, unless you mean the "possibles" page linked above, which is just works that I have hopes for but haven't gotten to yet.

Was that it, or is there something I am forgetting that could be seen as such a list?
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby DavidTate on Tuesday, 23 September 2008, 11:01 pm

owlcroft wrote:But I am puzzled by the reference to a "list of omitted authors"; I have no such list, unless you mean the "possibles" page linked above, which is just works that I have hopes for but haven't gotten to yet.

Was that it, or is there something I am forgetting that could be seen as such a list?

Oops, sorry about the confusing terminology -- the "possibles" page is all I meant. (Though I have thought in the past that it might be worthwhile for you to have a list of well-known authors that you are familiar with, and have ranked at less than one star. That would save you the trouble of responding to inquiries about why Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov aren't listed...)

I'm curious -- had you read some Bujold and been unimpressed, or are you merely not familiar with any of her work? How about that other Hugo-magnet, Connie Willis?
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby owlcroft on Wednesday, 24 September 2008, 8:23 pm

I have thought in the past that it might be worthwhile for you to have a list of well-known authors that you are familiar with, and have ranked at less than one star. That would save you the trouble of responding to inquiries about why Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov aren't listed...

I toyed with it in the early years, but finally decided that I would not, for several reasons. One big one is that there is no way I could recall all the authors whose books I have read and discarded, whether by donation or by throwing heartily against a wall. And if it constrain it to "famous names", I create the task of defining and listing all "famous" authors.My fundamental purpose with the site is to be a resource for civilized readers who are seeking new things to read. I don't need to steer them away from mediocrity to accomplish that mission.

Besides all of which, I don't actually enjoy panning anything, even genteely by simply listing it. From time to time, I--yea, even I--am offered a review copy of a book (usually by struggling first-time authors). I no longer accept them, because almost every one I foolishly accepted in the early years was not very good (or worse); granted, the senders knew that a no-mention was in the cards, but I still felt, and feel, immensely guilty (probably out of reasonable proportion) for accepting the book then being unable to say anything really kind about it.

I was going to include here mentions of the only two that struck me as having merit, even if not quite making the lists here, but decided they deserved at least a thread of their own, to which that link goes.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby davidf on Saturday, 08 November 2008, 6:38 pm

Great website, Eric! I can't wait to read some of the authors on your lists.

As for LMB and The Curse of Chalion, I found reading it to be a little like sticking my hands in a box of silks; it feels great, but pretty soon you start feeling around for something else. In this case, that something else was plot, and perhaps a loss of a grounded narrator when Cazaril reaches the court.

That said, I could sense Bujold working on a level that perhaps I couldn't grasp on a first read. (I am admittedly a bit thickheaded.) She obviously cares greatly about how the words meet the page, and for this reason I look forward to trying some of her other works.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby DavidTate on Sunday, 16 November 2008, 1:31 pm

owlcroft wrote: I have added Bujold and those two books to the site's "possibles" page.

I'm flattered by the mention, Eric, but I can't resist one tiny quibble.

Your Bujold note suggests that I said there was a clear jump in quality when Bujold turned her hand to fantasy. I don't think that's quite fair to Ms. Bujold. My take is that her writing had been getting steadily better for a long time, to the point where some of her later Vorkosigan novels (especially Komarr and perhaps Memory) had some real excellences(*). They certainly make a striking (or even jarring) contrast when read side-by-side with the first few Vorkosigan books. Perhaps turning to a new subcreation gave her the opportunity to display her mature skills in a showcase unconstrained by past auctorial choices, but I don't think there was a sharp discontinuous jump in skill.

(*)I typically recommend Memory as a starting place for readers with low tolerance for bad prose. It begins a new phase of Miles's life, with a fairly sharp and well-summarized break from his past, and is much better-written than the first books of the series. Komarr follows immediately, is even better, and introduces a new viewpoint character of some depth. Alas, the next two books are less easy to recommend -- A Civil Campaign surrounds an excellent main story with a couple of mediocre side plots and a truly awful attempt at slapstick. It also suffers from being a deliberate homage to Dorothy L. Sayers and Georgette Heyer, which was not a good idea. Diplomatic Immunity is a generally weak whodunit that, to me, suggests that part of the reason for the switch to fantasy was that Bujold was tired of Vorkosifying.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby ddocean on Sunday, 28 March 2010, 6:27 pm


Lois McMaster Bujold a "tricky" case and not even included on this site until the Prof brought it up? Wow!
This site needs way a more knowledgeable author and is clearly not for me - I'm out of here. Adios and you all have fun. No need to reply as I'll never see it.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby owlcroft on Sunday, 28 March 2010, 9:55 pm

Lois McMaster Bujold a "tricky" case and not even included on this site until the Prof brought it up? Wow!
This site needs way a more knowledgeable author and is clearly not for me - I'm out of here. Adios and you all have fun. No need to reply as I'll never see it.

For those who are reading this, perhaps this illuminates some of the considerations in trying to operate a site like this one. "You don't like what I like? Man, are you an asshole!"

Sigh. Why doesn't anyone ever read the front page of a site before rushing into the rest of it?
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby DavidTate on Monday, 29 March 2010, 9:20 pm

owlcroft wrote: "You don't like what I like? Man, are you an asshole!"


Without defending the speaker, I think it's not unexpected to see such comments when the author in question is a multiple Hugo winner, and thus (by definition) has a large fan base. There will always be a certain proportion of those fans who find this site, are horrified to find criticism, and leave in a huff. It's inevitable. The same would be true if you had bothered to say anything about J. K. Rowling or the "Twilight" television series, which are far less critically-acclaimed than some of these others.

Even early Bujold has some appeal -- it's not dreck. People who are tone-deaf can adore bad music with great lyrics, which is sort of how I think of early Bujold. I am not enough of an iconoclast to wish that people didn't enjoy reading Author X so much, regardless of who Author X is. I'm just relieved that they read at all.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby owlcroft on Monday, 29 March 2010, 9:26 pm

I would also imagine that he didn't ever get to the "Other Candidates" page.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby DavidTate on Monday, 29 March 2010, 9:47 pm

owlcroft wrote:I would also imagine that he didn't ever get to the "Other Candidates" page.

He probably never got to the actual website at all. I suspect he found these forums, was shocked, and left.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby DavidTate on Tuesday, 06 September 2016, 11:48 am

So, 8 years after my original post, Ms. Bujold has published quite a few more works. She has completed The Sharing Knife, a novel broken into the four volumes Beguilement, Legacy, Passage, and Horizon. This is a crossover romance/fantasy work set in a secondary world, and it has grown on me with time and re-readings. I think it would appeal greatly to fans of either genre. (And thank God no vampires or witches.) Highly recommended both as very original fantasy and as much-better-than-average romance, featuring her trademark very effective use of brief internal monologue in the midst of dialog or description.

She has also published two novellas set in her Five Gods universe (i.e. The Curse of Chalion et alia) -- "Penric's Demon" and "Penric and the Shaman". The first is a very nice addition to the canon; the second is entertaining but less substantive.

And, of course, there have been further entries in the Vorkosiverse(tm). I found Cryoburn to be quite good -- it posits a society that gets caught up in freezing the dead (or not quite dead) against the day when they can be revived and cured, and explores some of the unsavory unexpected consequences of that. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, in which Ivan gets a book (and a girl) of his own, was a pleasant read, but lacked the spark of the best Vorkosigan books. Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen is a major departure -- there's no plot to speak of, just some tying up of loose emotional ends from the other books. It felt very final to me; I would be surprised if Ms. Bujold ever writes another full-length Vorkosigan book.

I gather that Ms. Bujold is semi-retired, writing as the whim takes her, at non-commercial lengths if that's what she feels like. I will happily consume whatever she produces, though I would rather get Five Gods or (better yet) Sharing Knife stories than Vorkosigan or Quaddie stories at this point.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby DavidTate on Tuesday, 06 December 2016, 1:43 am

DavidTate wrote:She has also published two novellas set in her Five Gods universe

Make that three novellas -- "Penric's Mission" appeared in early November. It continues the story of Penric and Desdemona.
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Re: Lois McMaster Bujold

Postby DavidTate on Sunday, 22 January 2017, 3:59 pm

DavidTate wrote:I am not enough of an iconoclast to wish that people didn't enjoy reading Author X so much, regardless of who Author X is. I'm just relieved that they read at all.


I meant that when I first wrote it, but Dan Brown has changed my mind. Some authors are so bad that reading their works and enjoying them is worse than not reading at all.
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