The Vorkosigan Saga is one of those classic SF series that has been a little intimidating to me because there are so many books in the series, and the suggested reading order of the series is not the publication order, so it doesn’t naturally lend itself toward easily identifying the “next” book in the series. Cordelia’s Honor is actually an omnibus edition comprised of Shards of Honor (Vorkosigan #1) and Barrayar (Vorkosigan #7)(???) Here’s a short plot description from Goodreads for both of those:
Shards of Honor – “When Cordelia Naismith and her survey crew are attacked by a renegade group from Barrayar, she is taken prisoner by Aral Vorkosigan, commander of the Barrayan ship that has been taken over by an ambitious and ruthless crew member. Aral and Cordelia survive countless mishaps while their mutual admiration and even stronger feelings emerge.”
Barrayar – “On opposing sides, Captain Cordelia Naismith and Admiral Lord Aral Vorkosigan marry and live in aristocratic splendor on his home planet Barrayar. Cordelia agrees with the dying old emperor that the Empire would be better if Aral would serve, but he knows secrets she does not.”
Anyway, this year, one of the prompts in the Popsugar Reading Challenge (rhetorical aside: I have never been a Popsugar reader, so how did I get started doing their reading challenges?) is “A book with an ugly cover”, and well, tell me I’m wrong:
The time to start reading this series, it seemed, was now. And I am so glad I did! This is really wonderful character-driven sci-fi that hits many of my favorite beats in the genre. There’s war between planets, political intrigue, our main characters on the run, and a very excellent fish out of water in Cordelia, who after her marriage to Aral, is a fountain of bemused witticisms regarding the foreign Barrayan culture.
And, though it sounds so trite to say it this way, it is so obvious in a good way that a woman wrote it. There’s no difference in the style of prose, or storytelling ability, or character development between Bujold’s writing and the male majority of SF writers, but because there were marked moments when a female character said something or reacted a certain way, and it was astonishingly authentic as a woman.
I’m doing a very poor job of explaining it, because I can’t really, but as a comparison, when for instance James S. A. Corey writes female characters, they are very good characters. They are complex and well-rounded, they have agency and unique motivations, and they are every bit as thoughtfully developed as the male characters. But — and I say this not because it’s something that bothers me in any way about the women in The Expanse, but because it becomes apparent compared to this book — the characters of The Expanse are somewhat genderless. Though racism and tribalism are key issues in that series, sexism and gender inequality seem to be largely absent. It’s refreshing in a lot of ways, and it means that the vast majority of characters could probably be gender-swapped and it would make no material difference on the story. As a woman who reads a lot of SF/F, I vastly, VASTLY prefer that approach to what was the case in many of the genre heavy-hitters, which is that women are either absent (Foundation) or comically one-dimensional (Stranger in a Strange Land). But reading a female character in Cordelia, who possesses the “traditionally male” characteristics of SF heroes (competence, bravery, pragmatism, authority, etc,) and also has recognizably “feminine” reactions to situations based on experiences that would be unique to her as a woman, is a relatively uncommon experience in the genre. It’s actually really great! These are the kind of characters that provide insight into diverse experiences and expose readers to new perspectives, because they promote the notion that men and women don’t have to be exactly alike to be equally worthy of respect.
So, I’ll definitely be reading the rest of the Vorkosigan Saga, TBR pile be damned.