17 January 2013


Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
1992 Hugo Award Winner
Got it from: Friend/Family
275 Pages

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.


Universe 3/5
Social/Political Climate 5/5
Dialogue 5/5
Scientific Wonders 3/5
Characters 4/5

Overall 20/25


  1. sold. great review. I know many a fan of Bujold and feel she is a SF must and now I think I know where I would like to begin (correct me if you think there is a better place to start with her.)


    1. Thanks! As far as where to start, I have only read three of her many books so I can't give you the complete picture, but of those three (The Vor Game, Barrayar, Mirror Dance), Barrayar is definitely the way to go. If you don't like Cordelia, I will be shocked.

  2. I was worried you were not going to like the Vorkosigan saga when I saw your reading order! I've been reading them in in-universe chronological order, and I've only gotten up through "Ethan of Athos" so far. My personal recommendation is currently "Shards of Honor/Barrayar" as a starting place -- both books cover Cordelia's story. I think "Barrayar" is a stronger book than "Shards of Honor", but the latter is at least interesting if you want to see how Aral and Cordelia initially met.

    1. Ugh...add that to the list of poor choices I've made :) I'd love to see how they met. Once I decide to go further, I'll be going through in the same way.

  3. I just skimmed over the review as I have yet to read this one. I have read Shards of Honor (last October) as my first foray into this world and I liked it very much. It is heavy on the romance side which is a complaint I've read but not one that I share. I'll be reading this one sometime this year.

    The Vorkosigan saga is easily the most loved series in the science fiction book club I belong to. I went from knowing no one who had read the books to several who all suddenly were raving out these books and others who took that as a hint and started devouring them. I look forward to seeing if my passion for the series grows as I continue on.

    1. I look forward to hearing your opinion of Barrayar. I've enjoyed what I've read of the saga so far but I still feel a bit disconnected from the apparently fervent enthusiasm that so many other SF fans seem to share. I wonder if maybe I just haven't read enough of them yet which is fine since I've liked these enough to continue the series :)

    2. I'm the same way. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed Shards of Honor and can see the potential in the series but it didn't make me want to drop everything and keep reading. Maybe it is the Miles books that come after these two that kick things up a notch?


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