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Lois McMaster Bujold Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: Lois McMaster in Columbus, Ohio, 1949. Education: Attended Ohio State University, 1968-72. Career: Pharmacy technician, Ohio State University Hospitals, 1972-78. Awards: Nebula Award (Science Fiction Writers of America), best novel, 1988, best novella, 1989, best novel, 1995; Hugo Award (World Science Fiction Society), best novella, 1989, best novel, 1990, 1991, 1995; Locus Award (Locus magazine), 1991. Agent: Eleanor Wood, Spectrum Literary Agency, 111 Eighth Avenue, Suite 1501, New York, New York 10011, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Shards of Honor. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1986; republished as Cordelia's Honor. New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Ethan of Athos. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1986.

The Warrior's Apprentice. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1986.

Falling Free. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1988.

Brothers in Arms. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1989.

Borders of Infinity. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1989.

The Vor Game. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1990.

Vorkosigan's Game (contains Borders of Infinity and The Vor Game).Science Fiction Book Club, 1990.

Barrayar. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1991.

The Spirit Ring. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1992.

Mirror Dance. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1993.

Cetaganda: A Vorkosigan Adventure. Riverdale, New York, BaenBooks, 1996.

Memory. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1996.

Young Miles. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1997.

Komarr: A Miles Vorkosigan Adventure. Riverdale, New York, BaenBooks, 1998.

A Civil Campaign: A Comedy of Biology and Manners. Riverdale, New York, Baen Books, 1999.

Short Stories

Dreamweaver's Dilemma: Stories and Essays, edited by SufordLewis. Framingham, Massachusetts, NESFA Press, 1995.

Other

Editor, with Roland J. Green, Women at War. New York, Tor, 1995.

* * *

In 1986 Lois McMaster Bujold hit the science fiction reading world with the first installment of a remarkable space adventure series. What Bujold calls her "serial novels" center around the life of Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, a stunted, energetic, and charismatic character. Writing and publishing her saga, Bujold came to appreciate what she calls in her afterword to Cordelia's Honor the "each-book-independent-format" structure of serial novels: they have an almost hypertext-like freedom, as they are read in random order and can be written out of chronology as well. Her awareness of the form as well as her powerfully character-driven writing, have won Bujold Hugo and Nebula awards, as well as a devoted following of readers.

Although Bujold didn't begin writing science fiction until 1982, she traces that interest back to her early childhood and her father's influence on her. He was a professor of welding engineering who read science fiction on his travels as a consultant. Bujold's fourth novel, Falling Free, which she dedicated to her father and which won her her first Nebula award, has been praised for its depiction of the life of an engineer. One sequence in Falling Free involves the efforts of its central character to repair a broken mirror, a task that involves smelting and working molten materials. A similar focus on the material conditions of work also appears in The Spirit Ring, a novel not part of the Vorkosigan series, in which several characters cast a statue that comes to life and saves the day. Through such parallels as this, Bujold's 1992 departure from the Vorkosigan formula that has proved so popular offers an interesting insight into her central concerns.

The Spirit Ring shares with the Vorkosigan tales an interest in history and its implications, as well as an interest in marginalized people. It is a fantasy novel centering on a young woman who possesses magical powers. Despite its reliance on magic and supernatural creatures, the novel is grounded in historical research: it is set in Italy around the time of the Guelphs and Ghibellines, and much of the tension in the novel echoes historical events. Bujold details her sources in an authorial note, and outlines the connections several characters have to people from contemporaneous records. The lively heroine who must survive many pitfalls and find her true love is Bujold's invention.

To her many fans' delight, however, Bujold's desertion of the Vorkosigan universe was only temporary, and she continues to focus on detailing the many aspects of the multifaceted universe in which Miles lives. This fictional cosmos is made up of planets loosely linked by hubs of wormholes. Such a large and flexible structure allows Bujold to develop a range of cultures as well as a variety of interactions between them. For example, threats to different regions or to their access to a jump point, can cause shifting alliances. Bujold exploits these to vary the stresses and experiences of her characters. Although each novel in the series contains a time line indicating the chronology position of each work, Bujold does not limit herself to rehearsing the same plot—or even the same characters—in each novel or novella.

What does remain constant is that all Bujold's protagonists are in some way outsiders: a young woman with magical powers who must hide that skill or risk death (The Spirit Ring); a man with status in his home world who is reviled for his cultural practices and crippled by his beliefs when he must venture out of that safety (Ethan of Athos); a consulting engineer who must give up his identity as a downsider (planet dweller) and throw his lot in with genetically engineered people who can only live in freefall (Falling Free); Miles's own clone, who has been grown and deformed to subvert Barrayar (Mirror Dance).

Miles Naismith Vorkosigan also illustrates outsider status, even though he is the firstborn son of aristocratic parents in a militaristic, hierarchical culture on the planet Barrayar. Bujold has written that she first conceived of Miles as physically handicapped in a culture that valued physical strength and military might. Crippled by a chemical attack on his mother when he was in utero, Miles as a young man must struggle to find a role for himself other than pitied carbuncle.

This interest in underdogs may explain why Bujold is sometimes called a feminist writer. Certainly no overt ideological position arises in the Vorkosigan novels, unlike novels such as those by Sheri Tepper, who explicitly investigates environmentalist and feminist concerns. Bujold's novels are more swashbuckling space opera, usually centering on a male protagonist who outwits his superiors in brawn or authority. Some women feature as powerful assistants or, occasionally, a nemesis; but only Cordelia's Honor—the two-volume compilation of Shards of Honor and Barrayar—centers on a female protagonist.

Shards of Honor depicts the meeting of Miles's parents, Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan. Both are persons of some position in their home cultures, but the two meet on territory alien to them both. Cordelia's team escapes, but she is captured, and therefore alone and friendless and facing alien values. Aral, who has captured her, is, ironically, equally on his own: his men have mutinied, and had the coup worked, he would be dead. In Shards of Honor, then, captor and captive must work together to save both their lives. This illustration of the power of cooperative action runs through many of the novels.

The follow-up novel, Barrayar—winner of a Hugo award—shows Bujold's strategy, as she has described it, of thinking of the worst thing to throw at her characters, and then watching them cope. Aral has become regent to the emperor; he and Cordelia are happily married and eagerly anticipating an offspring, when there is an attempted coup against the regency. Cordelia's outsider status is emphasized by the patriarchal structure of Aral's Barrayaran culture. When the fetal (yes, fetal—you have to read the book!) Miles is kidnapped, she mounts a rescue attempt that not only opposes her to the coup leaders, but to her own husband.

Bujold has written that she based Miles in part of T.E. Lawrence. At first a stronger parallel seems to be to Dick Francis's heroes, who can suffer torture without ever uttering a word or losing their machismo: Miles's bones snap at the least provocation, and the various dastardly forces he encounters don't hesitate to engage in brutality with their little victim (or with hapless females) when they can. Indeed, the early novels revel in evil, and too often place a dazed hero or heroine looking at the boots of some would be tormentor or rescuer.

The more properly Lawrentian quality becomes visible in the way Miles inspires near-fanatical loyalty and exertion in his followers. This effect leads to the almost accidental creation of the Dendarii mercenaries, the group that provides Miles with an identity outside Barrayar. The alienation of Admiral Naismith and Lord Vorkosigan—both Miles—gives Bujold a rich matrix in which to explore questions of personal and public identity.

But Bujold's interest in outsiders means that Miles cannot remain an accepted and powerful actor in the Dendarii fleet. As he approaches 30, Miles is killed and reconstituted with a flaw that prevents him from functioning properly under battle conditions. Shamed by hurting one of his crew, in Memory Miles returns home in disgrace. And once more Bujold studies the woes of an outsider. But likeable, self-deprecating, very wily Miles always turns defeat into victory. In the latest installments of his life, he has been appointed the youngest-ever imperial auditor. As in Komarr and A Civil Campaign, this structure promises a string of on-going adventures for Miles as he balances his aristocratic responsibilities with the challenges and excitement of exploring mysteries as an auditor exempt from the laws of each community he explores.

If not as philosophically inspiring as Octavia Butler's tales, Bujold's work is wholly—perhaps even wholesomely—enjoyable. From the earliest novels, which merged elements of romance and young adult fiction with sci fi, Bujold has shown an ability to weave elements of many genres together in her addictively engaging stories. As her main character matures, adventure gives way to detection, thus opening a wider scope for Bujold's ongoing interest in what her fictional universe reveals about the human condition.

—Victoria Carchidi

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