Written by award winning author Lois McMaster Bujold, Miles Vorkosigan is one of the best characters in space opera, and the universe she created for him to inhabit is a real treat to visit. The background starts with a planet cut off from the rest of the human inhabited planets due to a disastrous nuclear war, then reunited within the lifetime of the protagonist’s grandfather. After hundreds of years of isolation, it is difficult for most of the population to understand the changes this means for society. Starting with the fact that contact with outside worlds brings with it major medical advances to a population who has spent dozens of generations practicing infanticide as their only way to avoid major mutation and extinction. Miles earliest memory is being lifted from his crib as his grandfather tries to murder him as a mutant (he isn’t, but the old man does not comprehend what made him as he is; he only knows anything different must be killed if humanity on his planet is to survive). The gun his parent held to the back of his grandfather’s head was the only reason he made it to his first birthday, let alone beyond.
There is some debate about the correct order to read the books, but I vote for going for the author listed chronological order, rather than the published order. The Vorkosiverse will make a lot more sense that way, starting at the point his parents met (and more than most universes, you NEED to understand how we got to this point if you are going to understand where we go from here, and why). This is quite a complex collection of societies covering a major percentage of the galaxy, and like Asimov before her, Bujold does not clutter up her universe with non-human intelligent species. There is only us people driving all these situations, each group fighting for their own interests and desires.
And as with any excellent series of stories, the protagonist throws a monkey wrench into the proceedings that no one in that world sees coming, and changes everything in ways no one ever expected. My own personal connection into this universe is the fact that Miles is a frail, breakable, and damaged physical specimen who can never win a battle by strength of arms. So his only option is to use wit, intelligence, heart, and desire to force his enemy to defeat themselves. There are already a goodly number of novels and a double handful of short stories embedded in this universe; I can’t wait to get more!
BTW, did I mention the author won some awards? She has won six Hugo Awards and two Nebula Awards. In fact, only Robert A. Heinlein has won as many Hugo Awards for Best Novel, although a few other authors have won 5.
If you don’t already know about it, there is a wonderful site dedicated to how the past saw the future called Paleofuture. The original site is at the first link, and started off being a project for a class that Matt Novak was taking back in 2007, which he figured would be taken down when the class ended a few months later. What he didn’t expect was that he would become addicted to learning about all the different stuff folks in the past thought about how the future would be. He continued to add new entries to the site until he finally graduated in 2011.
Then Matt got his first real job at the Smithsonian in September of 2011, which was also happy to host the Paleofuture new and improved site. It looks to me like he learned a lot from some of the Smithsonian team about how to both research his topic and present the results of that research. His entries went from being the isn’t this neat kind of postings he did in school to detailed analysis of not only what folks in the past were thinking about what the future would be like, but how and why they came to those conclusions. It was during this period that his site grew into the ideas powerhouse it is today, rich in understanding of the various previous eras and how they each perceived the times to come.
The site moved again this week, following Matt this past Thursday to his new job at Gizmodo to become Paleofuture in its 3rd incarnation. Mind, each of the previous sites still exist in archived form, they just aren’t having new articles added. Matt has a lot of good info and ideas to share, if you haven’t run across him before now I recommend you take some time to explore his sites.
If you are a fan of Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, you will enjoy this interview. If you are not, you should immediately hop over to the Archives and start at the beginning and read your way up to the present installment. And if you missed them, did you also miss Girl Genius? Shame on you, go back and read them both from the beginning!
On Sunday I mentioned John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There because the latest iteration of the story, in movie format, is being released on disc today. But I thought I should also mention that you can read his stories online, or a number of the ones in the public domain at least. He also did a radio program of science fiction stories called Exploring Tomorrow that you can listen to or download for your favorite portable media player. Campbell was best known as an editor, although a lot of folks now know him as the guy the awards were named after. But he wrote some pretty interesting stuff, and you might enjoy checking it out.
It is time for the SFX 2011 Blog Awards, where the world class Sci-Fi magazine staff have narrowed each category down to four or so nominations. They have six categories, but they have still left us some impossible decisions. Under Best Podcast, as an example, they have both Escape Pod and Doctor Who Podshock, both of which are insanely good, so how do you decide? The Fan Community choice is even harder; Gateworld or Whedonesque gets compounded with Gallifrey Base or The Trek BBS, and I want to vote for all of them! But you only get one vote per category, and trust me when I say the others are just as difficult to choose between.
I have half a dozen awards I consider worth the effort to be involved with, and one of them is the Nebula Awards. The members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. nominate and vote on the various entries into that competition and select the winners. Along with the Hugo Awards it is one of the best places to learn about new authors and the best new stories. The video equivalent for these two would be the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes; one chosen by the pros, one chosen by the fans. Each award system has something of value to contribute, so you want to pay attention to both.
The nominations just opened for this years Nebula’s, so if you are a member of the SFWA now is the time to push your candidates to the front of the stage. When I say just, I mean it opened yesterday, the 15th of November 2010, and will run until February 15th of 2011. It really doesn’t matter if anything nominated wins or not from a Fan perspective. If it was good enough or important enough to be nominated, it is worth your time to read it at least once, even if your conclusion is you do not feel it is worth recommending to anyone. From these beginnings cult classics are born.