Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
1992 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Friend/Family
Cordelia Vorkosigan has just married Count Aral Vorkosigan, her true love (and they’re such a great pair to watch). She’s left her home world, Beta. She gets pregnant. To put it mildly…she’s having a hard time adjusting.
Some serious oddities
This was my second foray into the Vorkosigan Saga and what an improved experience it was!
I thought The Vor Game was a rough introduction to the series (my fault) and questioned whether it won the 1991 Hugo on its own or on the strength of the series as a whole (unfair question). But I also recognized that Miles was a fun character -- in the same vein as Harry Harrison’s James Bolivar DiGriz (my favorite). So while I was a little apprehensive about Barrayar, there was some excitement on my part about the chance to dig into Miles’ roots.
Bujold has commented on the way in which the benefits of technological advancements are often realized unequally and one of this book's most endearing elements is just that dynamic.
From a male perspective -- the overriding perspective that introduces this story -- Barryar (the planet) is not all that strange a place. There are some serious oddities and the cultural milieu is undeniably foreign, but in terms of power dynamics and day-to-day goings on, it didn’t seem terribly far removed from Earth. It is only once we’re introduced to Cordelia that we begin to see how troubling Barrayar’s culture and governance can be.
She experiences considerable aggression over opinions and rights of females that were common place on her home planet, Beta. Her struggles with perceptions of sexual practices and to demonstrate the importance of positions of leadership and reproductive medicine for women range from the hilarious to the deadly serious.
Bujold has a Scalzi-esque approachability and delivery that allows this book to achieve some amount of intellectual stimulation while also being enjoyable on more basic levels…it’s just damn fun! I could have spent weeks cheering on Cordelia as she summarily dismisses the most self-assured, well-connected, and power-hungry denizens the Vor Class has to offer with style, physical prowess, intellect, or all three (actually for some reason this book did take me two weeks -- I don’t know why).
This book felt like a better introduction to the Vorkosigan Saga and now that I’ve read The Vor Game, Barrayar, and Mirror Dance (review forthcoming) I still think so. Maybe there are even better examples, but I don’t think this would be a horrible place to start. I liked it better than The Vor Game, but now I’m feeling I would have a totally different appreciation for it if I read it again. Barrayar is great fun. It feels simple but also tackles some unpleasant social issues with a cool, strong, sensitive female lead. It’s not done too often among the Hugo winners but Bujold does it fantastically.
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Scientific Wonders 3/5