I finished listening to Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold this weekend. I’d never heard of Bujold before Shards of Honor and I was excited to come upon such a prolific award winning female sci-fi author. I wasn’t disappointed.
In brief, SOH follows the character of Captain Cordelia Naismith. She, along with her crew, is on a survey expedition on an uncharted planet. The camp is attacked Barrayarans and one man is killed. Cordelia and one other crew member are left behind as the crew escapes. Cordelia is taken captive by a Barrayaran named Vorkosigan who is also somehow left behind. The story that stretches out from here includes political intrigue, mutiny, vendettas, weird blood-sucking vampire balloon creatures, galactic war, big brother type government control and paranoia, and even a subtle romance. That’s a lot, but not too much.
The Vorkosigan Saga, of which SOH is only one of the books, is similar to the Foundations series by Asimov, in that an entire culture seems to have grown up around the explorations, colonization and settlement of people from Earth on other planets. SOH is different from Foundations however, as it is less concerned with the foundations of these societies/civilizations including the hard science, and more concerned with the people within them. This makes for a friendlier story for those people who find hard science fiction…hard.
I like the language Bujold uses in this book. It is clean, direct, and is descriptive without choking up the forward motion of the story. The dialogue is necessary and often witty. I came to quickly care about these characters but even more significant, I came to understand them, and as such was able to anticipate what they would desire, or feel, or how they would act/react.
There were a few nuances that I looked for in this story that seemed missing, not the least of which were explanations of matters pertaining to race. I’m not necessarily talking about race in human terms, but race in any term. I may have misunderstood, but I initially thought Vorkosigan was non-human, until there was an obvious attraction between he and Cordelia and he asked her to marry him. But then, there were subtle hints that while they might both be human, they might possibly be from different races, because when Cordelia’s crew comes to rescue her from a Barrayar ship, she tells one of her crewmen that based on his appearance, he could not pass for a Barrayaran.
All of this aside, I am always curious in stories such as these, about the status of race in the future. Specifically, if we can overcome them, and if there is any hope. The same sentiment holds true for how I feel about matters of faith. As we often look to our science fiction as a guide for scientific advancement, life imitating art, I often look to science fiction and fantasy as a hope-filled window into what our futures might be.
I did appreciate Bujold’s handling of cultural differences. Vorkosigan comes from a clearly defined patriarchal heritage which depends on strict adherence to matters of class and station. The Barrayar people are also warriors, sort of watered down Klingons. Cordelia comes from a less formal culture, much like ours. In fits of anger, she gives Vorkosigan an earful about what she thinks of his barbaric culture. Cordelia later comes to understand and sympathize with some of the Barrayaran eccentricities and in the end leaves her home world of Beta to live on Barrayar, becoming fully entrenched in their way of life.
All in all, I thought that SOH was a fantastic read, one I think is worth listening to a second time so that I can pick up on the plot points I feel certain I missed. I give this story a 4/5.