Bujold’s Shards of Honor: Art Imitating Life


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.

  • Thanks so much for stop­ping by and com­ment­ing.
    Also thanks for the cor­rec­tions. I’ll make the spelling changes to my post as well.
    I’m new to Bujold and always look­ing to find dif­fer­ent authors, new and old to give a try. I love the writ­ten word, it’s abil­i­ty to trans­port, so new stuff is always wel­come.
    Ah…Nathan Low­ell. Yes, I’ve lis­tened to sev­er­al of his sto­ries on my iPod. I’m try­ing to think of a word that would describe his writ­ing, hmmm…I can’t. His work is clean, no fuss, love­ly, warm, smart, and easy. I want­ed to say slow too, but was afraid that would sound bad. I feel like he is tak­ing his time with the tale, giv­ing us time to savor, but not enough to let us get bored. His read­ing is ter­rif­ic.
    I will def­i­nite­ly check out your blog. Stop by again!

  • Just dis­cov­ered your blog (through a twit­ter RT by Rayne Hall). And I must say that I love almost every one of Bujold’s books? Glad some new read­er (lis­ten­er ?) has found her too.

    First, “Bar­ryar” is writ­ten Bar­ra­yar , and Bar­ryans would be Bar­ra­yarans, but that’s clear­ly sec­ondary WRT your enjoy­ment with the book.

    I haven’t on he oth­er time had the occa­sion to lis­ten to them, but I’ve seen good reviews of the records and the “voice” who did them.

    Last, since you lis­ten to SF, I hope you won’t object to my men­tion­ing 1 author who I real­ly like, and does his own record­ing. His books are free (but you can donate if you like) at podi­o­books : http://www.podiobooks.com/podiobooks/search.php?keyword=golden+age+of+the+solar+clipper .
    You can find my review of it on my blog : http://readingandraytracing.blogspot.com/2012/03/lecture-anglaise-golden-age-of-solar.html