Space opera

Apr. 4th, 2008 07:37 pm
white_hart: (Mediaeval)
[personal profile] white_hart
Mainly for [livejournal.com profile] girlyswot, who wanted to know what I made of Bujold...

My FL is full of fans of Lois McMaster Bujold. Some of them even write fic set in her universe; very good fic, as far as I can tell, although bits of it didn't make much sense to someone who'd never read any of the original books.

A few months ago I found a copy of Shards of Honour in the Oxfam bookshop. Fortuitously, this turned out to be the first of the Vorkosigan series, and having seriously overdosed on 1930s literature in recent months I decided that a spot of sf wouldn't be a bad antidote.

I wanted to like this book, really I did. And I didn't dislike it. I just felt a bit meh about it.

Unlike [livejournal.com profile] girlyswot, I am not a stranger to science fiction, although it hasn't been a majority of my reading since I was about 15. However, I still read a couple of sf books every year. I like good sf for its ability to hold up a mirror to contemporary society, to turn things round and show them from a different angle; for the way it can play with ideas that wouldn't work in a 'realistic' setting. What if the last relic of humanity was eking out a bleak subsistence on a hostile planet, dependent on technology it had no means of replicating or repairing? What if a repressive neo-feudalist culture clashed with an anarchic hedonist AI? What if a repressive theocracy decided that falling birthrates were such a problem that fertile women could no longer be allowed to exercise control or choice over their own reproductive systems? (The sferati can play 'Name That SF Novel here, if they choose.) Anyway, you get the picture.

Unfortunately, Shards of Honour just didn't do that for me. Maybe it's just because it's 22 years old. Maybe if I knew more about Reagan's America it would have had more to say to me. As it was, all I really got was bog-standard space opera. When I started the book, I kept being reminded of Star Trek; later on, as the romance plot progressed, I was reminded more of Anne McCaffery (although seemingly without the batshit opinions on homosexuality). I would have adored this when I was 14. At 34 I found the writing capable but lacking poetry, the gender politics just the right side of disturbing, and the plot little more than fluff.

I am sorry about this. And I do realise that this is a very early novel, so if any of the Bujold fans reading this want to tell me that the series improves I could quite easily be persuaded to give her another try.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-04 07:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dyddgu.livejournal.com
Not a Sferatu, but either The Handmaiden's Tale or Children of Men. My first thought was the former, though.

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Date: 2008-04-04 07:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dyddgu.livejournal.com
*nods* thought so. Though, strangely, I have never read it, so I have no idea how I knew that...

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-04 07:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] madcatwoman.livejournal.com
The Vorkosigan saga really does improve, I think, once you get Miles in the picture. Think pre-revolutionary Russia for Barrayar. I found some of the books genuinely entertaining.
http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/b/lois-mcmaster-bujold/
gives a good bibliography, and I reckon going for the Miles books is a better bet.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-04 07:21 pm (UTC)
ext_6283: Brush the wandering hedgehog by the fire (Default)
From: [identity profile] oursin.livejournal.com
I believe that SofH began as Star Trek fanfic involving a Federation officer and a Klingon, but I may be wrong. I enjoyed it, but I read it when it first came out and it was new and fresh, and okay, not particularly deep and serious, but extremely readable and not pompous and portentous. I will take fluffy yet enjoyable over pompous and portentous any day. I also have a weakness for not too p&p space opera.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-05 12:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ankaret.livejournal.com
Sometimes things other people recommend wildly don't grab me, either, and I always feel kind of deflated - people kept on recommending Nora Roberts, and from what I've seen of her participating in discussion on various blog sites she seems like a great person, but I tried one of her books and my reaction was 'meh, whatever'.

The writing was certainly competent and there were flashes of interest, but I gave up half way through because I didn't care enough about any of the characters and I wanted to read something else.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-04 07:40 pm (UTC)
tree_and_leaf: Isolated tree in leaf, against blue sky. (Default)
From: [personal profile] tree_and_leaf
That makes an awful lot of sense (even down to the title), especially given that the Klingons used to be a lot more analogous to the Soviets than they became after TNG and DS9.

Quite agree with you about the rest; I loathe books that turn into sermons, even when I agree with the message that's being preached.

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Date: 2008-04-04 09:00 pm (UTC)
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)
From: [personal profile] cofax7
driving by via Coalescent's flist...

Shards is very much a first novel, and a romance dressed up in political/space opera clothing, to boot. I liked it, but it is a bit creaky. The sequel, Barrayar, is much better. But if you find Aral and Cordelia not entirely compelling, I'd suggest skipping forward. Try either The Warrior's Apprentice, which is the first of the Miles novels and gives a pretty good sense of the character (although he and everyone else is complexified later), or The Borders of Infinity, which contains a number of shorts & I think two novellas. If none of those work for you, I don't think Bujold will do it for you.

In her defense, she manages to blend mil-SF with cultural speculation, character-based drama, and a fair amount of humor in a way that nobody else I've read has. Which is why she's so popular. Even when they're deeply stupid, the characters are likeable, and the stories move.

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Date: 2008-04-04 09:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] altariel.livejournal.com
I did a post a while back on how to start reading Bujold. I don't personally think Shards of Honor is the best way in, although it's the kind of book you go back to once you know and love the characters, and want to read everything about them.

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Date: 2008-04-04 09:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lil-shepherd.livejournal.com
Yes, Shards is ship fanfic with the numbers filed off. It isn't the last time she does that, either.(The Vor Game and Brothers in Arms have very recognisable Blake's Seven characters with the numbers removed.) I read it as a rather nice little romance dressed up as SF.

I enjoy Lois's books, because they beautifully paced, the characters are interesting, and they are often funny. However, I wouldn't say she was a particularly original or a particularly 'deep' writer. I actually prefer Cordelia and Aral to Miles, oddly enough...

The problem is that the very best of her stories is probably A Civil Campaign which is an hilarious sexual comedy of manners - but you won't appreciated it unless you know the characters and the set-up.

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Date: 2008-04-04 09:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sillymouse.livejournal.com
I started with Shards of Honor because I'm a bit like that about reading in sequence, but the series definitely picks up when Miles appears, culminating in A Civil Campaign (and feel free to ignore the existence of Diplomatic Immunity, I wish I had). I am on record elsewhere as saying I had to read The Warrior's Apprentice "with my eyes shut". I actually meant with my hands over my eyes, trying not to look, shrieking "he's done what?"

This particular Anglican can't stand Narnia (and I spotted the allegory as an 8 year old agnostic on her first reading of TLTWATW). It's the lack of internal coherence to the world that does it for me - what is a beaver who doesn't wear clothes doing with a sewing machine in a blatantly pre-industrial society? I also loved Pullman (although need to re-read), mostly because I think the version of God peddled by most churches needs killing. The God I believe in is richer and stranger by far (and not nearly so interested in what one does with one's genitalia).

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Date: 2008-04-05 09:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] itchyfidget.livejournal.com
I read one or two of the Miles novels a few years ago, and although I can't remember which ones, I enjoyed them in a "guilty pleasure" sort of a way. In fact, I have another one sitting on the shelf, in the Spanish translation, for when I get a bit better at reading Spanish.

I admired the political complexity of whichever books it was that I read, but at the heart of it, it did just seem to be masochistic slash. Which is great, if that's what you're in the mood for.

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Date: 2008-04-05 03:23 pm (UTC)
owl: Stylized barn owl (Default)
From: [personal profile] owl
Which one was that?

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Date: 2008-04-05 03:16 pm (UTC)
owl: Miles Vorkosigan: We have advanced to new and surpising levels of bafflement (milesbaffled)
From: [personal profile] owl
Yeah, I'd go with [livejournal.com profile] altariel's route in. Early Miles is hilarious, when you're not holding your breath going he-just-did-what?, and the politics get much more solid once you actually get to Barrayar. Definitely give it another go; I almost gave up after my second Bujold novel too.

(no subject)

Date: 2008-04-07 12:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sam-t.livejournal.com
I like Shards of Honor in an undemanding sort of way. If it hadn't been packaged with Barrayar in the edition I read, I might not have bothered finding the rest - I think Barrayar adds more complexity. I'm not a fan of The Warrior's Apprentice but I think they get better from there, and I suspect you might like the sequence of Memory, Komarr and A Civil Campaign. ACC is good, although I do have a couple of problems with it.

Basically, I'd advise trying more, but don't expect perfection - I like them, but not as much as a lot of other people do. I don't think I read them in order, so you might not need to, but I do have a fairly high tolerance for reading out of sequence and they definitely have more emotional weight if you read them chronologically.

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Date: 2008-04-07 01:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nineveh-uk.livejournal.com
I discovered Bujold about 2 years ago. I read SofH first, and I confess found it thoroughly enjoyable stuff, if not Deep and Meaningful. Barryar was more complex. The Warrior’s Apprentice was patchy – quite a bit of it bored me, and I don’t find A Civil Campaign anything like as compelling as its reputation, but I think that Komarr is absolutely terrific. I’d go straight to Komarr as a lead in to ACC, which so many people love that it must be worth a go (and I liked it and thought it had some really good bits, but it just wasn’t quite what I wanted, and suffers thereby).

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