I recently locked myself out of my apartment. I was stuck sitting around for a couple of hours until someone with a spare set of keys could come by. Fortunately, I had a stack of books available to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the book I’m currently reading (Midnight Sun by Karl Edward Wagner). So, rather than start something new, I picked up Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold: I’d read it before, so I figured I could dip into it and then drop it again to go back to my Wagner.
Six hundred pages and a sleepless night later I’d finished re-reading not only Komarr, but A Civil Campaign as well.
I’ve talked before about all the things which make Bujold, arguably, the best SF writer working today, but they bear repeating:
(1) The smooth, perfectly natural use of her science fiction. After finishing A Civil Campaign I actually thought to myself, “There was scarcely any science fiction in this novel at all.” And then, after another moment, “Except the functional sex change. And the bioengineered bugs. And the uterine replicators.” All of which the plot is directly dependent upon. Not to mention the clones, gene therapy, hover cars, automatic traffic systems, stunners, wormholes, terraforming, contraceptive implants, and force fields which you’ll find laying around.
Whoops. Guess there’s quite a bit of science fiction in there after all.
The reason people say this type of thing about Bujold – and why even my subconscious will occasionally spew up such thoughts – is that Bujold is simply masterful in her ability to create a world utterly of the future yet, at the same time, utterly believable in its organic detail. You literally don’t think about the uterine replicators, clones, and terraforming as being particularly remarkable because Bujold makes them seen perfectly natural.
And, of course, that’s pretty dang remarkable.
(2) The detailed, believable, and moving portrayals of her characters. Bujold is one of those authors seemingly incapable of producing cardboard characters. Even the bit parts who show up for no more than a page or so are given a unique identity, personality, and presence. And her main characters are drawn with a depth and humanity which make them either beloved or hated without ever hitting a false note.
(3) The compelling and well-paced plots. Bujold’s books are, quite simply, page-turners. The compulsion to find out what happens next simply never lets you go, even when the book comes to an end. Plus, Bujold never drags her feet or rushes her tale – she tells the story in precisely the amount of space it needs to be told in, neither more nor less.
(4) The clean, expressive prose. Reading a Bujold novel is like looking through a clear window. The characters and their actions simply present themselves before the mind’s eye, without obstruction or distraction.
(5) The accessibility. Bujold’s Vorkosigan novels are the only series in which a new reader can pick up any single volume and enjoy it fully and completely. No matter which book you’re reading, Bujold somehow manages to accomplish the impossible – neither boring long-time readers with constant recaps nor expecting new readers to be familiar with her previous works. (The trick seems to be that, in any given book, the previous continuity is seamlessly handled like background information would be in any other novel.)
And, when all is said and done, the sum of all these strengths is stunningly greater than its notable parts.
Bujold’s one intermittent flaw as a writer, in my experience, is her peculiar variation upon the deus ex machina. I call it her “random meeting in a space station” plot point. In short, she will occasionally hinge an entire plot upon – literally – a random meeting in a space station. This particular flaw crops up significantly in Komarr, which results in my grade for that novel being knocked down from an A+ to a mere A.
A Civil Campaign, on the other hand, is without flaw. It is a masterful mixture of romance and high politics played out in a rip-roaring comedy of manners. Several scenes – including Miles’ infamous dinner – easily earn the work its place among such classics as Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The result is startling unique and utterly captivating.
As with everything Bujold writes, these come highly recommended.
A CIVIL CAMPAIGN: A+
Lois McMaster Bujold
Published: 1999 / 2000
Publisher: Baen Books
Cover Price: $7.99
ISBNs: 0-67-157808-1 / 0-67-157885-5