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Sunday, January 03, 2016

Book Currently In My Tote Bag: A Civil Campaign

A few years ago, at a library conference, I was chatting with Michael Pryor, the author of the steampunk Laws Of Magic series. I commented that his Aubrey Fitzwilliam reminded me quite a lot of Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan, if you can imagine him on Earth - a steampunk Earth at that! Michael admitted that there was truth in that. Someone standing nearby asked what the Vorkosigan series was and I began, "Well, it's about this guy who..."and Michael   pointed out, "With most SF you'd say, 'It's about this planet where...' or something but it says something about this series that you can say, 'It's about this guy.'" 

And he was dead right and it's one of the reasons why I love this series and read and reread it for comfort. Not that there aren't plenty of perfectly good SF elements in every one of the books - in this one it's a bunch of genetically modified bugs which are terribly ugly but produce stuff which is completely nourishing and can be made into any food you like with a bit of imagination(and the help of Miles's genius cook, Ma Kosti). I have heard the author speak about her research and she researches thoroughly. 

But the SF elements are only about how they affect the humans who are the most important element of the novels. For example, Miles, the hero of the series, comes from a planet called Barrayar, which is a bit backwards in its attitudes because for centuries it was cut off from the other Earth colonies when its wormhole entrance was blocked off. When the Time Of Isolation ended the rest of the colonies had advanced quite a long way and Barrayar has still not caught up, either in technology or in attitudes. But some things are changing. For example, fewer body births and more births by uterine replicators, which have reached the planet only in the last generation. Of course, being the old fashioned people they are, the Barrayarans have been using it as a gender selector and so, as in some countries in our own time, there are far more males than females in the current generation, with the problems that causes. But the existence of this technology has changed things quite a lot for the women who no longer have to worry about the effect of pregnancy on their lives. 

And so on. There's plenty of technology in this series, which you'll have to read to discover, including the serious problems it can cause if misused(look up Jackson's Whole!), but it's all about how it affects people, one way or another.

In some ways, that's like what Terry Pratchett did with his fiction. Sure, it was fantasy, but in the end, it was about people - ordinary people, the shopkeepers and the gossipy next door neighbours and the postmen and the lady who rents out rooms. And if the people she rents rooms to are supernatural beings, well, it's all par for the course. You fill up the vampire coffins in the basement and leave windows easy to open by the paws of a werewolf and look after the needs of the shy bogeyman. The Wizards all live at the university and eat a lot and try to avoid their students. Assassins are all rich kids who get a great education and incidentally learn how to kill. But they aren't the protagonists of any of the novels except that the hero of Pyramids, Teppic, is educated there before returning to his kingdom to become Pharaoh. 

It's no wonder that this is another author whose books I read over and over for comfort, long after the regular fantasy novels have been returned to their shelves. 


Pamela said...

I am working on reading more classic sci-fi and this sounds like a perfect place to start!

Sue Bursztynski said...

A wonderful series, but I'd start with The Warrior's Apprentice, the first book about Miles. There are two earlier ones about his parents, which set up the universe, but those can wait, as I suspect they're books you either love or hate - I love them, some others hate them and it would be a shame to be put off. But Warrior's Apprentice is a delight. Seventeen year old Miles bullshits some mercenaries into thinking he's an Admiral of a mercenary fleet(they think he's been rejuvenated by a non existent treatment)and somehow ends up improvising the fleet he invented out of people he has just met. Hard to explain, but read it. Very enjoyable!

Pamela said...

Thanks for the order advice! I never really read prequels pre-the-actual-start-book. They are like ... sequel prequels.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Actually, she wrote those two first. And they set up the universe. But the same can be said of Terry Pratchett's Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic and Terry himself recommended starting with another of the series, Mort (which I already had!). Hope you'll enjoy, anyway.