Fri
Jan 2 2009 2:38pm

Western Fantasy: Lois McMaster Bujold's Sharing Knife books

A lot of the things I’ve read about Bujold’s Sharing Knife series (including Bujold herself) have talked about how the books are Romance, but what seems much more interesting to me is the way in which they are Westerns. I’ve just re-read the first two (Beguilement and Legacy) and read the third (Passage). The fourth (Horizon) will be out soon.

The books are set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world that does not resemble Diana Wynne Jones Fantasyland in any particular. Long ago there were powerful magic-using wizards and they created a dark evil and instead of defeating it broke it into a zillion pieces (malices, or blight bogles) which lurk underground ready to emerge and grow powerful. The descendants of the wizards, the Lakewalkers, live in camps and dedicate their lives to patrolling the world checking for malices. They are Rangers, but they are Rangers with something of the spirit of cowboys. The ordinary people, the farmers, are slowly settling the world again. And they’re not settling it like European peasants—or rather they are. They’re settling it exactly the way European peasants settled America. This is a fantasy America! It has emerging industry and plenty of room and opportunity, and plenty of natural and supernatural dangers. The feel and language of the books is that of the Western. There’s the sense of the wide open spaces and the rapidly expanding settlements and the more settled older areas and trade and the frontier.

Fantasy, standardly, is so much generic Western Europe with serfs touching their forelocks that Bujold’s Spanish background in the Chalion books looked unusual, and books based on feudal China or Japan seem exotic. I have often wondered why there isn’t more fantasy America, and when I’ve talked about this often all people usually suggest is Card’s Alvin Maker series. So I’m thrilled with this aspect of these books.

I’m also pleased to see they’re small scale stories—there’s a romance and a personal focus, and there’s also the interesting story of the interaction between the Lakewalkers and the farmers. It’s not a typical fantasy situation. They’re not lords or wizards. But they have magic and the farmers don’t, and they expect the farmers to support them while they keep the world safe. The Lakewalkers see the farmers as their supply system, but the farmers are busy having lives and improving their technology. The Lakewalkers have to defeat unpleasant (and fairly unusual) evil frequently, routinely. The two cultures come into focus in the marriage between the two main characters.

In Beguilement the farmer girl Fawn Bluefield is fleeing her home because she has become pregnant out of wedlock. She encounters a malice and a Lakewalker, Dag Redwing, and together they defeat the malice. Later they fall in love and against all custom (all of both sets of customs of both of their people) marry. In Legacy Dag takes Fawn home to his people where she isn’t accepted, and there’s a major malice war. At the end of the book they leave.

Passage is the best of them so far. There are no malices present, but there’s the constant lurking threat of them. Dag and Fawn take a trip on a riverboat down a river a lot like the Mississippi, and interesting things happen on the way. Having established the world and the two societies in the earlier books, Bujold is free here to do what she does best, show societies and the products of those societies in action and consequence of action. The details of the world are fascinating and fit together beautifully. I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like about this volume apart from Dag being just a little too perfect at times.

I mentioned that they’re written in the language and dialect of the Western. The words like “blight bogle,” the placenames “West Blue,” “Glassforge,” “Lumpton Market” and the way the characters speak, especially Fawn, all contribute to this. This is the world of Davy Crockett if Davy Crockett had lived in a post-apocalyptic fantasy landscape.

50 comments
Karen Lofstrom
1. DPZora
I've only got a few pages of the third in the series left to go. I bought all three books as ebooks and read them in huge gulps over the last three days.

(Charging $17 for an ebook just coz it's new is a ripoff and I *hate* HarperCollins for doing that. $7 for the older volumes is reasonable.)

Online reviews often said, "Romance, ewww!" I like sf and romances, so I don't mind at all.

There's one big thing missing from the books: government. Politics, power struggles, schisms, wars. The Lakewalkers cooperate and never have inter-camp quarrels. The farmers don't seem to have anything besides town governments, and those are represented in the book by a guy who registers marriages.

It's a great insight that these books are American fantasy, based on the American frontier. The farmers are pioneers, moving out into the wilderness, recreating the 19th century Midwest. However, the pioneers simply would not have functioned the way they did without a government behind them ... even if it was Back East.

Perhaps there will be government in the later books.

At the moment, I don't mind if the series goes on forever. (Sharing Knife Volume Nineteen?) After all, I don't mind that Patrick O'Brian wrote at great length.
Chris Byler
2. cbyler
I wondered about the same thing as DPZora. Particularly in the trial scene in _Passage_ - you can tell that they have no institutions for doing this sort of thing, which doesn't really make sense when you think about it.

The Lakewalker camps all have the same overriding agenda, so between that and groundsense I'm not *that* surprised they get along uncannily well, but there doesn't seem to be anything preventing someone from trying to become king of the farmers.

Since, in real life, one of the main functions of governments is to prevent the formation or intrusion of other governments, and proto-governments spring up spontaneously almost immediately when governments collapse, this is odd.

In any case, _Horizon_ is currently the top of my list of books I'm looking forward to; depending on how it turns out, continuing the series may or may not make sense (or be something Bujold wants to do - we can't exactly make her).
Lois Bujold
3. Lois Bujold
cbyler wrote: "I wondered about the same thing as DPZora. Particularly in the trial scene in _Passage_ - you can tell that they have no institutions for doing this sort of thing, which doesn't really make sense when you think about it."

Heh. Presuming you're talking about the fate of Crane and his crew, apart from the debate over the moral ambiguities introduced by ground persuasion, this is *exactly* how it was done on the Western Waters pre-steam and population density. The real raid it was based on involved collecting about 90 angry volunteer rivermen upstream from, iirc, Stack Island, and attacking the river pirate camp by night... next day, two dead rivermen, no pirates.

My farmers do, in fact, have local institutions/customs for dealing with their own crime, viz Ford Chicory's tale of his brief stint as a bounty hunter, but nothing much established for the confusions induced by culturally mixed crime, the Lakewalkers also usually taking care of their own. In real life -- look up "Cave-In-Rock", and how Harpe's Head Road, still extant, got its name -- justice on the early frontier was very much a do-it-yourself project for some decades.

Ta, L.
Lois Bujold
4. IsabellaGolightly
Somewhere along the lines I think you both missed the whole thing about the Camp Council being the mechanism for settling Lakewalker disputes - that is their form of government.

The same applies to the farmers, where the person responsible for marriages and the keeping of records also records the resolution of disputes, and maybe there's a mayor somewhere, in some form or other, for other ceremonies as required. Bigger towns than West Blue would probably have both.

I think it's a very interesting and ameri-centric assumption that unless there's a huge bureauracracy, there's nobody in charge. The governments here are very much in the form of feudal Europe, where communities sorted out their own problems - simple lives don't need complex bureaucracy, and three cheers to Bujold for ensuring it's in keeping with the lives they lead!
Lois Bujold
5. Lois Bujold
Oh.

And it's the Ohio River, not the Mississippi. All 981 miles of it, from Tripoint to Confluence Camp. (Though actually, Dag's party picked it up around Pomeroy.)

From my reviews, you'd think the Mississippi was the only river in America, and Mr. Clemens its sole voice. But there's so *much* more...

Ta, L.

(PS -- There is in fact something occupying the apparent power vacuum between farmer settlements: Lakewalker patrols. This has an effect I did not have time to explore, only imply. But think Wide Green World Highway Patrol...)
Lois Bujold
6. randwolf
Nit: strictly speaking, in modern usage the "Western" happens west of the Missisippi and east of the western coastal mountains, in a much drier and harder land. Think John Ford Clymer to the North and Emma Bull's Territory to the South.

On other matters: the demography of the books is perhaps closer to the post-plagues depopulated post-contact Amerind North America than the slightly later settlement times of the USA. The children of survivors are expanding their numbers along and around the rivers, rather than arriving in large numbers from the East. My other impression of the books is that they deal with some of the same thematic material that Marion Zimmer Bradley dealt with (heritable magic, sacrifices made for it, the ethics of those sacrifices, and cultural conflicts between magicians and non-) in the Darkover books.
Lois Bujold
7. Mary Frances
Since the Ohio River joins the Mississippi well before reaching the ocean, I'm not certain I entirely blame the reviewers for missing that bit! I almost did, too, but then I figured out that there had to be more than one river involved . . . unless the Mississippi had a fork in it that I didn't know about. Actually, what's sort of amazing to me is how quickly I became aware that we were traveling down an American river, in what is, after all, an "other world" fantasy novel. There's something about the imagery that speaks to an American sensibility, I suspect, which is interesting to consider. Maybe that has something to do with why so many reviewers keep invoking the shade of Samuel Clemens?

Put me down as another reader who is looking forward to Horizon. I'm fascinated by how the landscape interacts with both the characters and the culture(s), among other things.

Oh, and one final comment about the lack of a centralized government in the books--I didn't miss it, personally, but now that it's been brought up something occurs to me: we'd need two governments, wouldn't we? And how would that have developed? Especially since this is also a post-apocalypse culture.
Jo Walton
8. bluejo
Lois: I think the Mississippi is America's mythological river, the one that is a strong brown god, the one to which all others are emotionally and magically only tributaries.
Casey Hunt
9. Casey
Anybody else having fun figuring out the references?

So far, for places I've gotten: Lumpton = Columbus, OH (TSK:B even says it was sited on an old Lake Lord city); Hickory Lake is Indian Lake, OH; Cavern Tavern is Cave-in-Rock (as mentioned above); Ogachi Strand = Chicago (obvious, but my brain took a while to figure out that Ogachi is a sort-of-anagram of Chicago); Grace River = Ohio River; Grey River = Mississippi (ok, obvious enough); Beargrass River = Wabash River (I even lived along that one once); maybe the upper tributary to the Wabash that Greenspring is along might be the Tippecanoe River; and finally Tripoint Trace = Natchez Trace. I fooled around with Google maps to see if I could identify some others, but that's all that appears clear to me. The fact that they appear to be going to go right over Mammoth Caves in the travels up Natchez Trace seems interesting, though I'm betting the real action will occur when they get to the area around Clearcreek.

For people: Big and Little Drum = Big and Little Harpe; Boss Wain = Mike Fink (even down to the sheep stealing/tricking episode, with a few tweaks, like black murrain = Greymouth murrain, and with no guns). I haven't matched other bandits with certainty from stories out of the various flatboat/keeler tales or from stories of Natchez Trace, but there might be possibilities for Brewer -- I'm not quite sure.

Anybody have any others?

Casey
Jo Walton
10. bluejo
That's interesting. I had no idea. So if the geography is the same, is it supposed to be our future, or a different world with the same geography?
Casey Hunt
11. Casey
I've been guessing a bit of both.... We don't have ground/groundsense, so we're definitely in something of a different world! All the same, it does have a real flavor of being some sort of twisted future.

I've also been building up some guesses about contents in book 4, along with some theories about how some things work. For example, I'd bet that malices are inverted ground reinforcements at heart, and I bet that eye color -- gold, silver, bronze, mixes -- indicated rank back in the days of the Lake Lords. (Gold for royal blood, silver for the next ranking, then bronze, and then finally everything else. Although bronze eyes must be a startling sight, considering how red that would look.)
Lois Bujold
12. CarlosSkullsplitter
I've been trying to match Berry. There were a number of women masters and captains on the river in the steamboat era, but I'm probably missing someone obvious.

The Harpe (Drum) brothers are sometimes known as "America's first serial killers", but I'm thinking that this connection is not one most of the books' audience would get.

The Old Northwest has not been well served in any genre of fiction, but Card's books have (in my opinion) sat on its use as a setting in historical fantasy. This is frustrating, because his view of the area's history is very much the Persian version.
Lois Bujold
13. randwolf
"So if the geography is the same, is it supposed to be our future, or a different world with the same geography?"

We may never know. The geography of LoTR is vaguely European, but not so specifically. IIRC, Michigan has been drowned in TSK, or perhaps I'm remembering the map wrongly. So maybe it's like our world, but not our world.
Casey Hunt
14. Casey
Both Michigan and Wisconsin are drowned. Since my Mother's family is *very* Wisconsin, it's a bit disconcerting to see it gone.... (lots in mid/southern, and a fair number in far northern Wisconsin where I used to visit my grandparents every summer -- not far from Lake Superior, actually).

On a slightly different topic, I figure that if I were to attempt to categorize myself in terms of Lakewalker/Farmer, I'd be 5/8ths Lakewalker: My father's family is clearly Lakewalker, and his career in Search and Air Rescue in the Air Force screams patroller (he had plenty of tales of not-very-grateful rescuees as well as those of people who made being rescued harder through various stupidities); My Mother's background is a bit more complex -- she was raised farmer, but did college by doing Army ROTC as a dietician; her mother is clearly farmer, but her father is equally clearly a half-blood whose Lakewalker anscestor didn't feel a need to hang around for the kid he produced in a dalliance.... Grandfather had some interesting lakewalker-and-farmer-ish history on his own -- mostly farming and surveying around Wisconsin, but he also surveyed the portion of the Alaska-Canada highway that goes through the Yukon Territory. If that can't out-Luthlia Luthlia, nothing can! (We drove the Alcan when I was a child in the 70s; if travel by car counts, I did a bunch more of it than Dag ever did before I was even 18 -- the journey to Alaska started in Florida, and it was only one of many cross-continent trips I went on.)
Lois Bujold
15. Coalboy
How about Luthlia = Duluth? I'm rereading in anticipation of Horizon, & on the previous reads felt that Luthlia reminded me of somewhere & couldn't place it.
Karen Lofstrom
16. DPZora
I've been proofing, for Distributed Proofreaders, a series of novels set on the Ohio River, on the western frontier of the US back in the early 1800s. The series is called The Young Trailers, by Joseph Altsheler. Most of them should be available as free ebooks now. (Try manybooks.net.) Altsheler was born in 1862 and was writing the series in the early 1900s, so he was writing about things that he might have heard from his elders back when he was a boy.

(I'd recommend the Altsheler books to anyone who likes a good adventure novel; he's darn good at setting up suspenseful situations, keeping you going from page to page wondering, "How are they going to get out of THAT?")

He is describing a frontier in which there is no "law and order" such as exist east of the Alleghenies, but it is clear from his books that his settlers felt themselves to be Americans and lived according to American law and custom as much as possible. Also, there were scattered military forts that served as places of refuge in times of disaster and as signals of American sovereignty over the region.

Removing those beliefs and those forts from the situation would, I think, have made the situation much less stable. There would have been people attempting to set up their own little kingdoms.

After writing my first post, re the lack of government, I realized that there's another, perhaps even deeper, lacuna in Bujold's latest series: no religion. Yes, the gods are gone. But surely something would have taken their place? Yes, it's plausible that you could have a society in which many people are agnostics and resolutely secular; we live in one here in the US. But there is also a sizable clump of people who ARE religious.

I should think that, in a post-catastrophe world, rejection of the old gods would be followed by the rise of a new religion of some sort. Probably many new religions, which would attempt to explain the catastrophe and promise a new beginning.

BUT -- I hasten to add that neither of these points (lack of government and religion) affected my enjoyment of the series at all, *as long as I was reading*. My SOD (suspension of disbelief) was complete. So one of the prime reasons for creating a believable world, to keep the reader immersed, simply doesn't apply here. If Lois wants to write the rest of the series without government and religion, I'll buy it.

The lack of religion does lead into one area that might affect SOD: Dag's increasingly unearthly goodness. I read comments re this in several online reviews. Until he meets Fawn, he devotes his life to a self-sacrificing quest to kill malices; after he meets her, he expands his mission to heal the breach between Lakewalkers and Farmers so as to fight malices more effectively. He is trying to fix the whole world by healing and preaching. Isn't he a Christ figure?

So perhaps religion has snuck (note Americanism here :)) into the series by the back door. Fighting malices is the Lakewalker religion, prompting an amazing amount of dedication and self-sacrifice, and Dag is simply taking this religion to a higher level.

He reminds me more than a little of Cazaril, in The Curse of Chalion, who is also willing to give of himself for the sake of others. As a religious person (Buddhist) I had a strong response to that. I loaned the book to some of the people in my sangha (congregation), who also liked it a great deal and bought copies for their friends. Not just Buddhists -- several other online friends, of various religions, spoke of their love for the book, of their appreciation for the fact that religion is presented sympathetically rather than as a superstition to be stamped out.

Hmmm. In a way, groundsense is like pantheism turned into a perceptible reality. Lakewalkers are like mystics constantly aware of the interconnectedness of all beings. From the Buddhist POV, once you become aware of this you are moved to compassion; any suffering is YOUR suffering. How is it that Dar and Cumbia can be so nasty? Hmmm.
Lois Bujold
17. Jenett
For further "westward expansion" settings, Pat Wrede has a new book coming out in April called Thirteenth Child which is another one. (And which, from the description I've heard, sounds fabulous. Personally, I was sold at the mention of mammoths, but I'm like that.)

I've had the chance to read an ARC of Horizons, and found it very satisfying - I'm one of those people who sometimes has trouble with being mid-series, and the Sharing Knife books didn't totally hook me in all those deep places until I had the entire arc in my brain. (Now, however, I do.)

My brain sometimes translates sets of things into musical structures: the Miles books are theme and variations, the Chalion world books are a set of three intricate Renaissance dances, more or less, and the Sharing Knife books are far more like a symphony: structurally connected pieces that take the underlying basics in rather different directions.
Lois Bujold
18. Mary Frances
DPZora: Interesting points. Is it possible to read the Lakewalker camps as the "scattered military forts," given that what the farmers need to be defended against is an external, non-human threat? I think Bujold @ 5 (above) implied that the Lakewalker patrols might be filling a similar niche for farmer settlements, at least, even if it isn't obvious in the series so far.

As for the absence of a shared national identity, represented by a central (if distant) government--I'm not an eighteenth- or nineteenth-century historian, but I think that the series parallels American history a bit earlier than the post-Civil-War frontier. The post-Civil-War U.S. had a very different sense of self than the early-nineteenth-century American west, I believe. Think settlement before or just after the Louisiana Purchase, maybe? Or something like that?

Though any historical parallel can be misleading, I suppose. For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the world that Bujold has created is that this is both a pioneer world and a post-apocalyptic world--and the culture is deeply flawed, perhaps even dying. Unless something changes in the near future, both the Lakewalkers and Farmers seem to be Doomed; the Farmer culture is viable, growing and changing, but the Farmers can't fight malices on their own--and the Lakewalkers' refusal to change demonstrates their inability to grow, I think. So the absence of a central goverment/shared identity seems to me to be a sign that these people are In Serious Trouble, and don't even realize it . . . perhaps.
Lois Bujold
19. Mary Frances
Jenett @ 17: Wrede has a new one coming out? Oboy.
Lois Bujold
20. Lois Bujold
Randwolf wrote: "Nit: strictly speaking, in modern usage the "Western" happens west of the Missisippi and east of the western coastal mountains, in a much drier and harder land."

LMB: That's the West of ~1850 onward. My Wide Green World riffs on the frontier of 1795 - 1830 or so, when the West began in Pittsburgh, or perhaps Albany, NY, and the body of water bounding the northwest limit was Lake Erie, not Puget Sound.

"The Western Waters" was the term-of-art in the period for the whole of the Mississippi river system. Someday, I've *got* to do something with the amazing Captain Shreve...

It's a much-neglected place and period, especially pre-steam, which was part of its attraction for me, as well as being my home turf and full of fabulous forgotten tales.

And to clarify -- yet again -- the WGW is not, and has never been, our world, past or future. "Inspired by" only, which is writer-speak for "strip-mined for the cool bits". The map of that era has been thoroughly reformatted to fit my screen...

One other demographic point that seems worth making before people get too carried away with hunt-the-parallels is that my frontier does not have the pressure of cross-oceanic immigration behind it; the pace is therefore much slower and entirely internal.

Apparently, the two most dire kiss-of-sales-death themes/tropes for our genre's presumed tastes are romances and Westerns, so naturally I produced an epic that combined both... The HC sales folks explicitly wouldn't let us show Conestoga-style wagons in the background cavalcade on the cover of _Horizon_, even though they are in the book, for this very reason, I was told.

Ta, L.

PS -- I've read _The Thirteenth Child_ in manuscript. It is, indeed, delightful. It is to be a YA trilogy, tho' Pat's progress has been currently derailed by Unavoidable Family Stuff. It will get here eventually. The Matter of America may finally be in the creative air these days, though.
Jo Walton
21. bluejo
I've thought of another recent "Matter of America" novel, Emma Bull's Territory.

I'm also looking forward to the Wrede.
Lois Bujold
22. randwolf
bluejo, #21: I hope you thought of it; I just reminded you of it! But have you read Ward Moore's Bring the Jubilee or Edgar Pangborn's Davy? Sturgeon also covers some of this ground in More than Human, but probably you've read that--it's still well-remembered. But Moore and Pangborn--especially Pangborn--were excellent authors. They are nearly forgotten and I think they are still very much worth reading.
Jo Walton
23. bluejo
Randwolf: I have read Bring the Jubilee and Davy and More Than Human and they are all SF, not fantasy. There's no lack of American-centered SF!
Casey Hunt
24. Casey
I might want to look at some of those other American-centered books myself. I've been looking forward to when 13th child comes out, myself....

I understand the concern about people going overboard with historical references, but it's also pretty clear that there was quite a bit of research/work that went into creating these TSK books. I certainly don't expect every character or every event to have a historical backing -- malices, for example, seem somehow to be missing in American folklore.... On the other hand, I love the look-and-feel of them -- for me, the Alvin Maker books really didn't capture the feel of life in the Midwest the way these do (yes, he did research, too, and yes there's something there, but the magic was too strong and too strange a part of the story for it to really work for me).

In my background reading to find references, I've had a lot of fun discovering a lot of history that I'd never paid proper attention to (hadn't known that Lincoln, for example, did some flat boating and fought off bandits himself one time, nor had I really had a clear picture in my mind of exactly how this time period filled the span from the War of 1812 until the last few decades before the Civil War). I read a biography of David Crockett and learned that he really had been a US senator and that he fought hard to defeat the Indian Removal Act -- not that he appears to have been a particularly effective US senator; maybe he should have stopped at the Tennessee State level.

Reading these books has also reminded me of the times in Wisconsin visiting my grandparents and reading Foxfire books (I bet the hoop-snakes-as-cart-wheels tall tale is from them) -- makes me want to go back and reread them to see what else I've forgotten. Sort of like the water lilies memories that Dag had -- just hadn't properly revisited some very good times in my teen years, with swimming in the nearby lake where I learned to dive from a high dive on a floating dock, and with walking in the deep woods picking berries and looking for wildlife (and fleeing a skunk), and with reading the Foxfire books....
Lois Bujold
25. Lois Bujold
CarlosSkullsplitter writes: "I've been trying to match Berry. There were a number of women masters and captains on the river in the steamboat era, but I'm probably missing someone obvious."

LMB: Are you the Carlos who is friends with Doug and Claudia, by chance...? The grip on obscure historical detail would suggest it...

Anyway, Berry: yes, there are some fascinating historical river women, but in this case, you need to look to one of my other springs of inspiration for the tale; a fair river daughter in the European mold familiar to many. What, I wondered, would the American version look like? Lots more calluses on her hands, for one thing.

Ta, L. (Tussling with Tolkien -- aren't we all.)
Lois Bujold
26. randwolf
Bluejo: I concede the point. I do think, though, that those books pastoralism make them closer to American fantasies than to most SF. (I am noticing that "American" as we are using it stops north of Mesoamerica--roughly, say, somewhere between Zacatecas and the Texas border. It is like the mind-block east of Estcarp. Even though I'm aware of the error the spell still takes hold.)

Lois Bujold: thanks very much. Considering that one can make a case for much of Heinlein as based in Westerns, and a great deal of 1950s sf in romances. I think the marketing view of genre readers tastes may be, oh, just a wee bit oversimplified. I loved the cover of Passage, BTW.
J Dalziel
27. BunnyM
Re: DPZora @ #16:

Aiieee! My free time!

Seriously though, many, many thanks for the link to manybooks.net. I'm certain that I'll get an awful lot of happy reading hours out of it.

Re: LMB @various:

It's good to hear an author's thoughts on their work, thank you for sharing these.
Lois Bujold
28. CarlosSkullsplitter
LMB wrote: "Are you the Carlos who is friends with Doug and Claudia, by chance...?"

That's me! looking forward to Horizon.
Casey Hunt
29. Casey
A few more possible identifications:

Going with Duluth as the source of the name for Luthlia says to look in northern Minnesota for possible places of interest (besides just Western Ontario as I'd been doing). There's a Leech Lake, MN that looks good for the Leech Lake of Luthlia; it's northwest of Duluth. The Great North Road appears to be the Lincoln Highway, though if someone has a better idea, I'll certainly listen. I also wonder if Sitting Bull may have contributed some of the strands that weave together into creating Dag....
Lois Bujold
30. EmmetAOBrien
If we're talking about examples of fantasy dealing with the Matter of America and thinking of Western as a mode for such, would King's Dark Tower books strike anyone else as an example ? Althought they're kind of centrally about story and addiction in a personal-to-King sort of way, there's interesting stuff in there tangentially about the gunslinger's place in society.
Mary Kay Kare
31. MaryKay
I've just bought an ARC of the 4th SK in a charity auction. I can't wait to get my hands on it. I really really love the small scale of these books -- the domestic feel to them. And the characters of course. I get happier and happier with Bujold's books every year.

The US Westerness of them seemed so very obvious to me that I hadn't thought to discuss it. But I grew up reading Westerns right along with my sf and mysteries.

MKK--slavering Bujold fan girl
Lois Bujold
32. JadeFurn
You're killing me Lois! I'v been a huge fan since the beginning so I hate to be negative, but the explicit sexuality of TSK books have put you off my "buy anything she writes" list. I slogged through the first book hoping things would settle down, but couldn't get past the second chapter of the second book. Finally had to just throw it away. That was one of the great things in your other books, the characters were adults and lived adult lives and had adult desires, but there was still some mystery to it all and plenty of discretion. I love your books for the beauty and originality of the prose and for the honor and humanity of the characters, not because I can get my kicks with a cheap paperback. Go back, please, go back.
Lois Bujold
33. Lois Bujold
Re: JadeFurn @ #32...

I think I'm going to have to let the other posters take this one on. Agree or disagree? Why?

But it's a conversation I've had ere now... this essay

http://www.dendarii.com/sex.html

was a partial response to some early reviews that showed much this bifurcation of reader response.

I would hope to write in future exactly as I have tried to write in the past -- including especially TSK -- in a way that is true to the integrity of the tale I am telling.

Although it's too bad JadeFurn won't get to Fawn's little conversation in _Passage_ about "don't go wishing your life away"; its point is apropos.

*Man* am I going to be glad when the 4th volume is out, and those with the eyes for it can finally see the thing whole, though.

Ta, L.
Bruce Cohen
34. SpeakerToManagers
Re sex:
I may not be in a good position to argue this, having only read the first 2 books*, but I think the frank description of sex works well for 2 reasons:

1. It's in keeping with the culture of the Lakewalkers that Dag comes from, and that Fawn needs to learn in order to live with Dag. They're the viewpoint characters; not talking about something that would be important to them and would be part of their own discussions about their relationship** would leave out important parts of their characters and the way they relate.

2. Sex is important to Fawn's and Dag's relationship. Fawn's initial bonding to Dag comes in part from the way he treats her sexually, in very favorable comparison to her first "lover".

I usually object to detailed descriptions of sex in a book because it's just not germane to the plot or the character development; just writing "they had sex" is usually information enough. In this case I think there are very good reasons to include the descriptions, and I think besides that they were well done.

* Not having read Passage is not because I don't really, really want to; I thoroughly enjoyed Beguilement and Legacy. Mostly it's for lack of time to read much of anything in the last few months, and also because I think I prefer to wait for Horizon to come out, then go back and read all 4 in one swell foop. That way I'll remember what's been going on previous to book 4.

** What discussions there would be; if they were both of the same culture there'd be far fewer, I think, but as they are from different cultures, and have, by somewhere in Legacy, both figured that out and understood the consequences to them, they need to talk about things more than most members of their own cultures.
Lois Bujold
35. Mary Frances
For what it's worth, I really didn't notice that that there was more explicit sex in the Sharing Knife books than in the Miles books as a whole--at least, not first time through . . . and really not until other people pointed it out, for that matter. Which I suspect means that, for me, "those" scenes were part of the action/advanced the plot.

More than in the Chalion books--maybe. I honestly can't remember if I made the comparison. There are some pretty graphic, sexually-charged scenes in Paladin of Souls and Hallowed Hunt, though no one is actually having intercourse in them.

I suspect that the sex in the Sharing Knife books just felt like a natural part of the sequence of events, to me. The plot initially turns on two essentially isolated people falling in love and getting married Against All Odds, after all. Maybe if Dag and Fawn hadn't been alone so much of the time, things would have been different--but they were, and so the sex seemed quite appropriate and not particularly graphic.
Lois Bujold
36. Lois Bujold
Re: Bluejo @ #8

... so, is that like saying Wales is the same as England, because it's a tributary, and to people at a distance it all looks like one island anyway...?

From ground (or water) level, there are profound physical, historical, and cultural differences amongst the Ohio, the Tennessee, the Missouri, the Upper Mississippi, and the Mississippi, not to mention lesser tributaries such as the Wabash or the Red. The Mississippi just got the best propagandist, rather like Shakespeare for England.

Then the railroads came, and inevitably rendered the nuances all moot; rails don't freeze impassibly in winter...

:-), L.
Lynn Calvin
37. romsfuulynn
I *knew* it was "Cave in the Rock"

I've been there a couple of times - we own property in Kentucky that has been in my husband's family since the 1790s and drive down from Chicago several times a year, and do some sightseeing sometimes.

http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/history/harpe_brothers/7.html

has a history of the Harpes and pictures and stuff.
Lois Bujold
38. Mary Frances
Lois Bujold @ 36: I think it's a bit more complicated than just that "all American rivers are tributaries of the Father of Waters," myself. To me, it seems to have something to do with the shift in American identity that we were talking about, er, upstream, so to speak. When you used the phrase "Western Waters," something clicked into place for me--around the middle of the century, the Mississippi became the dividing line, the center of the country in people's imaginations. West of the river was the "West." Even when it wasn't, really, as with invincibly midwestern states like Iowa. (Though if someone actually from Iowa rather than a neighboring state would care to speak about how Iowans see themselves, I'd be interested.) The rivers are different, but the Mississippi retains a mythological significance, in several ways, even after the nuances start to disappear and other rivers become less well-known. Perhaps? It is pretty much the only river we absolutely have to cross, to get from one side of the country to the other--even by rail. (At least, I think it is.)

Actually, as I think I said earlier, I'd placed the shift in identity at the Civil War, but I'm really not sure about that. I do think it was at least solidified by the Civil War, though. I seem to remember reading somewhere--Garry Wills, maybe?--that prior to the Civil War, it was common for people to write of the United States in the plural (as in "the United States are . . ." whatever), while after, we only see the singular ("the United States is").
Jo Walton
39. bluejo
Lois: I think I mean the opposite. Wales is politically and legally pretty much part of England -- less so since it got a National Assembly, but anyway. Mythically, it really isn't. And those rivers are really and physically distinct, especially when you see them close up, but mythically, they're all the Mississippi system. At least I think they are to the people writing the reviews and calling it that and that's why they're doing it.

When the California Zephyr crossed the Mississippi (this summer, when I was on the way to Denver) it was a noticeable Event.
Lois Bujold
40. Mary Frances
Yeah. What Jo Walton said @ 39. Think of the fuss people make about being able to "step across the Mississippi River," up in northern Minnesota . . . and maybe the fact that the whole river system is currently known as the Mississippi River Basin?
Lois Bujold
41. EllenL
I've read everything else Lois has written, and I did find the sex more explicit, and a bit more than I wanted. I suspect it's the way books have been divided - explicitness often gratuitous and a sign of something not well written. Yet of course, TSK is well written and compelling, and I'm still reading and will read anything else Lois writes.

One thing Horizon is promising that I really wanted is more detail and explanation on malices, ground and groundwork. I had so many questions after each of the first three books, and was hoping for answers in number four, or for explanations on Dendarii.com for us curious types.
Lois Bujold
42. Patrick (G)
For all the bemoaning the explicit sex in Beguilement...

Explicit it most certainly isn't! The bedroom scenes have all of the explicitness of a Meatloaf song: if you can do this, and I can do that, oh my, doesn't it all feel wonderful?

If you haven't a clue about the mechanics of sex, Beguilement isn't going to fill in the gaps for you.
Steven Torres-Roman
43. torresroman
Jo Walton wrote:

A lot of the things I’ve read about Bujold’s Sharing Knife series (including Bujold herself) have talked about how the books are Romance, but what seems much more interesting to me is the way in which they are Westerns.


I've found that a lot of early Westerns read a lot like Romance novels. Riders of the Purple Sage, anyone?
Lois Bujold
44. Mary Frances
Or Owen Wister's The Virginian?
brightening glance
45. brightglance
Many years ago a friend and I interviewed David Gemmell for an Irish fan magazine and we spent quite a bit of time talking about Westerns. He'd always liked them and he said they were one of the forms of fiction he could still read for pleasure - if he read fantasy he was too busy noticing what the author was doing but with a Western he could still "fall between the lines" (of print) and become absorbed. I mentioned Louis L'Amour and as I recall he was fond of his books. We also talked about the decline of the Western among novel readers (especially of course outside America) and how fantasy in some ways might have replaced it - good guys and bad guys, quests and so forth. It occurs to me that Gemmell's own fiction probably contains a few Western tropes but I haven't read them recently enough to expound.
Lois Bujold
46. Mike Garrison
Wow,it never occured to me that the sex scenes in these books might be offputting to some people. They are so joyous, loving, non-explicit, and in harmony with the plot and characterization. The viewpoint characters are newlyweds! Of course they are going to be enthusiastic about their love live. It's also necessary to highlight the differences between Farmer and Lakewalker culture.

I've now read all four books, and I believe the four-volume story is Lois's best yet. I can't wait to see what is the next story she decides to tell.

Lois, if you are still reading these comments, I do wonder if you are going to finish off the five gods from Chalion, or whether the Mother and Father just haven't suggested the right stories for themselves, yet.
Lois Bujold
47. ProneToLaughter


Commenting three months late to note that in the quest for parallels, no one mentioned the truly obvious Native American inspiration behind the Lakewalkers. Cowboys or Rangers? Really? When they are clearly established as genetically different from farmers?

I guess that's why they call Native Americans an invisible minority. How can people talk about The West or The Frontier without Indians? I wasn't particularly looking for historical parallels (although I am a historian), and never tried to line up the map with ours, but the careful handling of the cultural clash between nomadic and settler peoples, a woman married to a visibly brown-skinned man ("copper", I believe), the repeated concern over how Dag and Fawn's children will fit into this world, the constantly lurking threat of mob violence against Dag (and its reality in Beguilement), the loss of Fawn and Whit's naivété about these issues, the problem of the Lakewalkers at the river camp in Passage wondering whether to move further away---all that evokes something as or more important to US history and to the American frontier as the river system. The characters are driven just as much by the fear of difference and by learning to understand strangers (with a capital S), as the plot is driven by the presence of malices. (I thought this made the first two books more compelling, if not more enjoyable, than Passage.)

Race helps puts bones and flesh and blood in this story. But it seems no one here thought it worth mentioning---or noticing?---that the heart of the series is an interracial romance....
Donna Camp
48. Vidalia
two thoughts: one- the city referred to in the advice "go west, young man" was Buffalo, New York. what divided the country back then was the Allegheny Mountains. two- if the Lakewalkers are Amerinds, comparing the camps to military forts is a little reality shifting.
Lois Bujold
50. Puzzled
Just read these, and have read the Chalion novels, but not yet any of the Miles.

And they're superbly written, with lots going on, and its lovely contemplating structure and detail.

But what I found utterly striking about all of these novels was the extraordinary age difference between the male leads and their loves. As difficult as imagining the 40/20 was for me (I'm a 45 year old man,and I'll concede that it disturbing me might just count as my own quite different preferences), the age difference in TSK is just squicky.

(And the characters also bring attention to it, notably in TSK as a signal of some kind of worldly bigotry, but also in the Chalion novels where the narrators question their desirability).

If it was just once I'd ignore it; if the author was a man I'd explain it away as revealing too much of his fantasies; but three times (and) a woman, and I'm puzzled.

Why?

What have I missed?
Beth Mitcham
51. bethmitcham
You know, I had almost forgotten that Caz finishes up with a love interest in Curse of Chalion, but I guess he is about 15 years older. That part is very much integrated into the culture, though; it's very different from the unabashedly May/December thing Fawn and Dag have, which is the central relationship of their books. I have no idea what couples you are worried about in Paladin of Souls or The Hallowed Hunt, which again aren't primarily love stories. The main character of the first is a widow and almost a grandmother, so do you not see her as old enough for love?

So it's not a recurring thing with this author, if that's your squick. I remember reading Tamara Pierce's Daine quartet as a youth, and I had pegged Numair as about 35, and when he ended up linked romantically with his STUDENT who started at 15 I was very freaked out. Rereading reminded me that Numair was closer to 24, so now I'm slightly calmer about it. I still find it troubling, though. Robin McKinley also has a habit of pairing her main characters (women) with men 15 or more years older than them, but at least, like Fawn, the women are clearly grown-ups from the start.

I think that you missed that Fawn functions as an adult in her society and in her emotional and mental balance. So the age difference then is one of the things both parties bring to the relationship, not a creepy Lolita thing. It's definitely more common to have the guy as the older one -- what SF or fantasy books have the man fifteen or more years younger than the woman? I think Miles Vorkosigan is slightly younger than his wife, but that's very different.

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