Something Else Like…

Something Else Like… Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga

Lois McMaster Bujold has been nominated for the Hugo Awards eleven times and won five times. Ten of those nominations and four of the wins were for items in the Vorkosigan saga. From Shards of Honor in 1986 to Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, out this week, the series is still going strong. It’s a wide-ranging series, set in the Wormholm Nexus in the twenty-sixth century, exploring issues of genetics, loyalty, family and love.

When I wrote about it here I said:

It’s a series of standalone volumes that you can start almost anywhere, a series where very few of the books are like each other, where the volumes build on other volumes so that you want to read them all but you don’t need to for it to make sense. It’s science fiction, specifically space opera set in societies where the introduction of new technologies is changing everything. Some volumes are military science fiction, some are mysteries, one is a romance (arguably two), some are political and deal with the fates of empires, others are up-close character studies with nothing more (or less) at stake than one person’s integrity. It’s a series with at least three beginnings, and with at least two possible ends, although it is ongoing. Lots of people love it, but others despise it, saying that technologies of birth and death are not technological enough. As a series, it’s constantly surprising, never predictable, almost never what you might expect—which may well be what has kept it fresh and improving for so long.

If you love it and want to fill in the time between volumes, how do you find something else like that?

Well, the obvious thing is Bujold’s other books. She has written three things not in this universe, the Chalion books (posts), the Sharing Knife series (post), and the standalone The Spirit Ring. All of them are fantasy. They all have the solid worldbuilding of her Vorkosigan books and I like them a lot—but they don’t scratch the same itch. I want to read them when I’m in quite a different mood.

I don’t think anyone is writing anything self-proclaimed as influenced by Bujold—it’s too soon, I think, and Bujold is still active. I also don’t see much that does seem to be influenced by the Vorkosigan saga—if you can, please let me know.

If what you like about the Vorkosigan books is the worldbuilding, the way the technology changes over time, the complexity of history, the impact of the uterine replicators, the way all the books are different from each other and you can start anywhere, then I suggest C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance/Union novels (post). Cherryh also has the same kind of feminist angle on the future, with women soldiers (post) and thoughts about what cloning means (post). There’s a lot of thematic similarity, but I should warn you that Cherryh is grim. Some awful things happen in Bujold, but the overall effect of the Vorkosigan books is uplifting. Cherryh can be more like the middle part of Memory going on relentlessly. I love Cherryh, but she’ll never be comfort reading.

Another writer who writes planets and spaceships and very solid futures, and who has the same kind of areas of concern is Melissa Scott—The Kindly Ones (post) has just been released as an e-book.

If you like empires and spaceships and divided loyalties, try Helen Wright’s A Matter of Oaths (post). This was written too early to be influenced by Bujold, or I’d swear it was—and the influence can’t have gone the other way either, as it’s the same year as Shards.

Cherryh and Scott and Wright all have space stations with their own smell, in the same way Bujold does. They’re also good at having people actually work and thinking about the kind of details like Docks and Locks and bod pods that would need to be thought about. There’s also Walter Jon Williams’s Angel Station (post). And similar, though in many ways completely different, are the early SF novels of Samuel R. Delany, particularly Nova (post) and Babel 17 (post). If you like this multi-dimensionality, you’ll like Delany.

If you like the way Bujold writes SF romance, I can only think of Doris Egan’s Ivory series. If you’ll settle for snappy dialogue and plots like the romance parts of Shards, Komarr, and A Civil Campaign, then try Georgette Heyer. (Currently being re-read by Mari Ness here on Start with Cotillion (post), though the very best one is A Civil Contract (post). They are Regency romances, written in the first half of the twentieth century. Warning: many of them have occasional appalling moments of anti-Semitism and classism. I started reading them because people kept saying that Shards was like a romance novel, and I asked what romance novels were like it. They’re not like Shards. But they are a bit like ACC, and they have the same kind of humour arising from character. You might also like Jennifer Crusie—Maybe This Time (post) is a ghost story, but the one most like Bujold is Faking It about an artist and a con artist. They’re set in modern Ohio. (Everything in this paragraph could do with new editions with covers that imply “Men read this too.” This is an unforeseen advantage of e-readers.)

If you like the way Cetaganda and Komarr are SF mysteries, there’s Adam-Troy Castro’s Andrea Cort series, and Charles Stross’s Halting State. In fantasy mysteries there’s Melissa Scott’s A Point of Hopes. The mystery series that Bujold acknowledges as an influence, and which has clearly been an influence in all kinds of ways are Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey books (post). You might also try Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder books.

If you like the adventures of Admiral Naismith and the Dendarii Free Mercenaries, then you might like MilSF: the work of David Weber, David Drake, Elizabeth Moon (post), and Walter Jon Williams Praxis books (post) and Baen books, who tend to specialise in that kind of books. You might also enjoy R.M. Meluch’s Merrimack books (post).

If you like the fast paced adventure with the feeling that there’s something more there behind that, then James Corey’s Leviathan Wakes (post) and series might work for you, as might M.J. Locke’s Up Against It.

If you’re looking for other SF with a disabled protagonist then I have very little to offer. There’s Bob Shaw’s Night Walk, about a blind man who can see through the eyes of other people or animals. There’s Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark (post), about a high functioning man with autism. This really is an area where Bujold is doing something really unusual.

If you like the glitter of neo-feudalism, the way an oath is breath and how there’s inheritance and mobility and loyalty and obligation running both ways, again this isn’t done well very often. Apart from Tolkien, obviously, try Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books (post) contrast a feudal society with a galactic one.

If you like characters you can really get to know and really care about as they grow and change, try Daniel Abraham’s Long Price books (post, fantasy), Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy (post, historical novel) and Cherryh’s Atevi series (post, SF, not as grim). There are also Brust’s Dragaera books (post). They’re fantasy, well, maybe, and they have a really great world that’s slowly revealed over the course of the series, which has been written out of order, just like the Miles books… meaning you can have similar arguments about publication vs chronology, if you enjoy those. You might also like the Patrick O’Brian books, which are historical novels set in the Napoleonic Wars, but which have a number of surprising similarities to Bujold.

What have I missed? Other books like the Vorkosigan series? Other ways you like Bujold?

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published two poetry collections and nine novels, most recently the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.


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