Bujold describes her worlds

  • Updated: April 25, 2008 - 11:14 AM

In more than 20 books, Lois McMaster Bujold has imagined whole universes apart from Earth in both space and time. We asked her to describe them.

Loath to summarize and simplify, sci-fi and fantasy author Lois McMaster Bujold nevertheless kindly agreed to supply these descriptions of the three worlds she has built in her three major series:

THE VORKOSIGAN SERIES, FEATURING MILES NAISMITH VORKOSIGAN (19 BOOKS)

My science fiction series is set putatively about 1,000 years in our own future, where colonization of the stars from Earth has been in progress for six or seven centuries via "wormhole jumps," natural shortcuts through folds in space. Most of the tales center around the planet of Barrayar, its neighbors, enemies and allies, and one leading family there, the Vorkosigans. Barrayar was a lost colony that regressed technologically but was rediscovered about 80 years before my tales start, and, like Meiji Japan, has had to play catchup with the rest of humanity. In its century of wrenching social change, invasion and upheaval, Barrayar becomes a metaphor for our own 20th century. And the series' main character, Miles Vorkosigan, stands at the nexus of that change. Through his adventures, I principally examine biotechnology and what it might do to the future of human genetic and cultural evolution, what it means to be human, and how people may best become themselves among the new opportunities and hazards of this future.

THE CHALION SERIES (3 BOOKS)

The world of Chalion is a made-up fantasy universe that has no direct relationship to ours, except as metaphor, although it is strongly flavored by European medieval history. Chalion features five demonstrably real gods, representing and addressing different aspects of life, and the stories set in it seriously examine issues of theology, including the hazards of dualism, error and redemption, the deep emotions of mysticism, and the social functions of religious organizations. In the three novels so far, their protagonists, Cazaril, Ista and Ingrey, each must deal with different burdens and challenges in their relationships both with their rather demanding gods and with their political milieus, a balance that is sometimes problematic as their gods (like me) are a lot more interested in souls than in politics. How people may best become themselves comes up as a theme once more, in different garb.

THE SHARING KNIFE SERIES (3 BOOKS)

The Sharing Knife series once again features a made-up fantasy world with no direct connection to our own except as metaphor, but with much different concerns than those of Chalion. Rather than a faux-medieval setting common to the fantasy genre, the landscapes and ecology of early frontier America inform this wide green world, likewise what I may dub its political ecology: no kings or lords, no gods, no empires or state religions, a bottom-up rather than top-down social organization. Dag and Fawn, my protagonists, are from the two different cultures that must learn to work together or both be destroyed by a shared supernatural menace. The problem set before them is more demographic than magical: not a facile task of defeating an enemy once, but a much harder one of building a community every day for the rest of their lives. Their tale includes themes of integration: of male and female, of youth and age, of knowledge and technology, of two very different but interdependent races and cultures, and of how not only people but societies may best become themselves.

Author's caveat: The above descriptions have everything backwards. I do not start with an agenda and then make up a universe to demonstrate it; I start with the people, set them in motion, let their worlds come into existence along the paths of their stories, look back over it all, and then discover what I think. Every book is as much a learning experience for me as it is for my characters.

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