The Bujold Nexus

Loud Achievements: Lois McMaster Bujold's Science Fiction
by Sylvia Kelso

First published in New York Review of Science Fiction - October 1998 (Number 122) and November 1998 (Number 123). This slightly revised version is republished by kind permission of the author.

Warning: Contains some spoilers for the series

Sylvia Kelso teaches at James Cook University of North Queensland in Australia

Lois McMaster Bujold could well qualify for the title of "Quiet Achiever in Recent SF." Between 1985 and 1997 she has produced some twelve novels, plus novellas and stories, at the rate of a publication or better a year. Yet when I started this piece as a review of her most recent novel, Komarr (1997), the NYRSF editor felt Bujold was so little known that most of the references to her oeuvre would be unintelligible. Nor, until recently, has she drawn academic attention. The second edition of the SF encyclopedia said little beyond "funny and humane" (171), and many informed readers, male or female, dismiss her along the same lines. It is quite true that she writes unabashed space opera, often classified as military SF, with little overt concern for technology, and high emphasis on characters. How, then, has she managed twelve short-listings or final nominations in Hugo, Nebula or other industry polls, and outright won two Nebulas and four Hugo awards?

Bujold swam into my ken in a manner apparently typical of her work: a specialist bookseller literally handed me The Warrior's Apprentice (1986) with a recommendation. Being long aware that a female author does not guarantee woman-friendly SF, I took one look at the cover's scantily-clad space bimbo wreathed about another iron-jawed hero, discounted the peculiar seated figure beside them, and nearly said, "No, thanks." But since I trusted Gayle's judgement and was, as usual, looking for new writers, I took a chance. Next evening, I tried the opening pages. The finale of entrance exams for a military academy, callow cadets, imposing men in uniforms. Ho, hum. A perhaps intriguing contrast with the apparent protagonist's "crooked spine," his "too-large-head" and "just-under-five-foot frame" (Bujold, Apprentice, 2), an unusual personality hinted by the way he assessed the man-in-uniform's "tricks of body language" (1).

The second page set up a very different resonance:

The obstacle course... began with a concrete wall, five meters high, topped with iron spikes. Climbing it would be no problem.... it was the coming down that worried him (2)

Suddenly the military stomp-and-tromp was twenty years and a galaxy away:

There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared; an adult could look over it, and even a child could climb it. Where it crossed the roadway it degenerated into mere geometry ... But the idea was real. (Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 9)

Even at my first encounter with serious women's SF, let alone feminist SF, it did not need a degree in literature to figure the wall as a multi-level symbol of division between sexist Urras and non-sexist Anarres, between Anarres' stagnant and progressive internal factions, between oppression and freedom on Urras, between futures of isolation and affiliation for both planets. The wall in Apprentice seemed less ubiquitous, but it was a symbol too: at first glance, it signified the manifold problems confronting that quirky protagonist en route to his military academy, problems that went beyond physical handicaps to obstacles of birth - his surname Vorkosigan evidently signalled an aristocrat, and he already faced slurs of nepotism - and social stigma. On this planet such an outré physique meant genetic mutation, which would once have been a literal kiss of death. "Miles, hey?" thought I, remembering my rudimentary Latin. "If you want to be a soldier, m'lad, you do have miles to go."

At first reading, however, I was sucked into the story by the outrageous consequences of Miles' hyperactive forward momentum, from disaster at the wall - he jumped and broke both legs - to domestic melodrama - he failed the exams, his grandpapa promptly died and he was caught in flagrante by his Da, evidently a person of enormous power and reputation, making out with the current love of his life straight after the funeral. From this contretemps he inveigled her, himself and his spectacularly ugly bodyguard into an incident at a spaceport that left him nominally owner of a decrepit freighter and her pilot, and from there into gun-running to a planetary rebellion, and from that to quondam leadership of a non-existent mercenary fleet, and from that he had to flash home to exonerate his Da from a charge of treason to the emperor...

Amid this whirlwind I gathered considerable information: the home planet Barrayar was a quasi-feudal, militaristic "empire," Miles' Da had been Imperial Regent, and Miles' physical problems sprang from a political drama before he was born. Both were aristocrats committed to democratising their society - ably assisted by his Mama, a native of aggressively egalitarian but laudably non-sexist and technologically streets-ahead Beta Colony. Miles' suddenly defunct bodyguard evidently had a long pre-history, and Miles himself was an incipient case of schizophrenia as well as chronic hyperactivity. At the close of Apprentice his alternate persona as "Admiral Naismith" was in the closet while he finagled his way into the academy, but I had no doubt Naismith would escape to cause more mayhem very soon.

Narrative impulsion is actually a constant in Bujold's work, as is her easy, almost transparent style with its occasional unexpected striking turn of phrase - "Death had a temperature and it was damned cold" (Komarr 27) - or its wickedly reshaped allusions: " The cream pie of justice flies one way" (Vor 336). The apparently effortless fluidity of both style and story may actually have militated against critical notice, in comparison to notorious stylists like William Gibson, or, again, Ursula Le Guin. But, despite Bujold's space opera plots, the flashes of humour rare either in Le Guin or in SF as a whole, and the steady pigeonholing of her work as military SF, her similarities to Le Guin go far beyond the presence of that wall.

Firstly, both are consummate character-builders. Indeed, characterization, emphasis on character, and plots that depend on character and the novums of technology are among Bujold's strongpoints. Nowhere does this emerge more clearly than if her work is taken as military SF and compared to that of writers like Jerry Pournelle or David Weber. Bujold can turn a neat paragraph on space weapons' evolution when necessary (Vor 267-68), but her first book, Shards of Honor (1986), makes it plain that she means to write about soldiers from the anti-war, 'pro-people' stances common to the peace movement and to many feminists. To Miles' mother Cordelia, young male soldiers are not heroes but "[p]oor lambs," and "animal sacrifice" (84). At the most spectacular level, Shards rewrites that cliché of SF, space battle. In Niven and Pournelle's well-aged collaboration, The Mote in God's Eye (1974), it is sanitised by distance: "lovely to see ... ships ... like smooth black eggs... drives radiating dazzling light... Scintillations in the black flanks ... lines of green and ruby" laser fire (320-21). Extrapolating from Nelson's navy, Weber offers high mortality rates, but dignified deaths. But Bujold extrapolates onward to a space burial detail, confronting the reader with the 'reality' of death by decompression: a corpse "spinning fiercely, guts split open ... and hanging out in a frozen cascade" (Shards 312) 1.

The novel also opens with a notable variation on military and indeed much SF tradition, a balance of character-development and novum-building, when a minor character is hit by a "nerve disruptor." Plenty of minor characters die in SF, with such facility that they have been nicknamed shreddies. But since Bujold's disruptor disables mentally but does not kill, rather than losing her "shreddie" in decent oblivion, she can drive home the cost of war by making Cordelia tend him through an arduous trek that ends with an uncompromising vision of his future as "an endless series of hospital days as straight and same as a tunnel to the end of his life" (86). Much later, readers must follow Miles into a hospital where his battle casualties are revived from frozen sleep - or not (Mirror 29-37). Repeatedly, Bujold's work shifts focus from the successes, exploits and glory of war to their human cost.

The differences heighten with Bujold's modification of stock characters. Miles' Da appears in Shards of Honor as an apparent clone of that military constant, the heroic space-fleet commander. Like the one from The Mote in God's Eye, he suffers military reverses but wins a woman by the novel's end. Unlike Niven and Pournelle's character, however, he turns out to be an ex-lover of the equally military villain. A long way down the saga, Cordelia herself sums him up as, "bisexual, but subconsciously more attracted to men ... Or rather to soldiers ... The first time he met me I was in uniform ... He thought it was love at first sight" (Mirror 286). But this innovation is overshadowed by the development of Miles' bodyguard, Sergeant Bothari.

In Shards of Honor this "'very complex man with a very limited range of expression, who's had some very bad experiences'" (54) enters as the villain's partly willing tool, a potentially psychopathic torturer, rapist and possibly serial killer. He actually mutates two stock figures from film and fiction, the tough, bullying sergeant of films like Platoon (1986) and Heartbreak Ridge (1986), and the uncomplicatedly evil villain, the monster, found in horror/ thrillers by writers like Dean Koontz. But where Koontz can only glance toward humanising such a figure, Bujold shapes her monster as a fellow-victim, before, in the scene where he is supposed to rape Cordelia, her own pity makes him her rescuer.

Finding the series at Apprentice, I knew little of Bothari before he let himself be shot by another torture victim, whom he still 'loved.' But if Bujold humanises, she does not idealise; when I caught up with the pre-history in Shards of Honor, the sequence of his 'marriage' with this catatonic victim managed the rare feat of evoking repulsion and sympathy at once. It is in Barrayar (1991), chronologically earlier but written later, that Bothari expands into the equally rare double of a characterisation of 'high' literary subtlety, based on formulaic elements and slotting neatly into a space opera's linear, suspenseful frame.

In Barrayar, Bothari's stock bad childhood as a whore's bastard is glanced over, without either exaggeration or sentimentality, while the adult Bothari appears in succession as a true killer, sexually aroused by the prospect of violence, then as midwife for a rescued noblewoman, then, in the climactic scene, as Cordelia's proxy executioner. By the book's close the reader can echo the summary of this "very complex man" with true understanding; yet none of this innovative and complex character-development has impeded the narrative. Among women's interventions in the SF tradition of action/suspense and technical focus, let alone the gung-ho realms of military SF, Bothari's characterisation is a tour de force that almost overshadows Bujold's long-term development of her central protagonist, Miles Vorkosigan.

Miles bestrides the Vorkosigan universe, a figure whose panache conquers readers as fast as fellow characters, and who has bent the shape of the military sub-genre along with most of the rules of SF: even as he re-writes the manual for military heroes, Miles slews Bujold's books irrevocably toward the primacy of character. Beyond that, his long-term development is a phenomenon in either mainstream or genre fiction. We are all familiar with the serial hero, from Mulder and Scully to Sherlock Holmes: but how many of them, in the course of their adventures, change and mature, let alone metamorphose? And how many burst generic conventions in the process? On the other hand, mainstream fiction and 'high' literature have traditionally focussed on the character and/or development of a protagonist; but how many such writers, from Dickens onward, have taken it beyond a single book?

It is quite easy to see Miles as the focus of Bujold's thematic concerns as a writer, and to propose that those concerns centre on the question of identity. Outside Le Guin, such concerns are uncommon in SF; but they do site Bujold in familiar recent theoretical territory, from the debates of early second-wave feminism to high-flying post-structuralist arguments on "the death of the subject" and the later, notably post-colonial concentration, on the construction of subjectivity. It is a cliché of early feminist thought that women's subjectivity has been elusive, fractured, and difficult to attain. Later feminists have used post-structuralism to retort that such an argument leans on the passé humanist premise that anyone can achieve an unfractured, unproblematic identity. Against such theoretical background, concern with Miles' self-discovery and personality integration can appear slightly dubious; nevertheless, the extended study of such a process in fiction, rather than theory, and what it does to SF and the SF hero, make Miles a rara avis well worth following.

Against Miles' trajectory, Bujold's Vorkosigan oeuvre splits easily into two phases, the earlier and later books. Early books are epitomized by The Warrior's Apprentice: unabashed space opera, clearly military space opera, with unwonted variations that I have already discussed. Even in Apprentice, Bujold's shreddies don't just shred. The death of the pilot officer, tortured for information to allow Miles' first ship capture, is a particularly excruciating case (127-30). Repeatedly, these shards of untoward reality, so to speak, puncture the light-hearted adventure envelope, just as Miles' character repeatedly contradicts what we expect of the classic young male SF protagonist.

In these books Miles appears what Joan Baez once called Bob Dylan: a "genius brat," a manic loose cannon who triumphs where superiors and enemies fail, an outlaw, a white Coyote prevailing not by gun or fist but wits. Considering his position as an democratic aristocrat, his rebellions against his rank and future status, and his stance on the outside of authority, he also looks a perfect anti-hero. But hardly anything in Jim Villani's description of SF women writers' anti-heroes fits Miles. He is "highly intelligent" but not "rendered impotent by ... nature and/or culture" (26). If "not brave in the accepted masculine sense" he is anything but "indecisive," though often "lonely" he is not solitary, and he is above all a "charismatic leader" who does inspire "blind faith" everywhere (27). And unlike Frankenstein or Le Guin's Shevek, his sexuality is definitely not "emasculated" (27-28).

In this subversion of the SF heroic model, the comedy is critical, and although some is drawn by the cultures and other characters, much centres on Miles. Most notably, Bujold makes Miles both comic and able to laugh at himself. Apart from comedies of chaos like Apprentice, she often uses his point of view subversively, as in the novella "Labyrinth" (1989), when he is propositioned by the equivalent of an eight-foot virgin female Minotaur. Warned about the downside of lovemaking, she says, "'I have a very high pain threshold'," to which an appalled Miles' aside is, "But I don't" (166).

Such bravado does come at a heavy price. In Apprentice Miles doesn't just break his legs, he gets a stomach ulcer and loses his adored Elena to somebody else. The early books highlight the after-effects of his embryonic mishap: brittle bones that break at the slightest stress, ostracism to overcome at home, and untoward interest abroad, as when he nearly ends up in a genetic black-marketer's collection on the Mafia planet of Jackson's Whole. Borders of Infinity (1989), with its award-winning stories, is strung together by Miles' stay in hospital, as he gets yet another set of arm bones replaced with plastic substitutes. And in "Infinity" itself, his undercover assignment in a prison camp includes an ignominious clothes theft that leaves him naked for a good part of the story, while the successful breakout comes at cost of a death that haunts him for years.

More central to Bujold's thematic concerns is the fragmenting of Miles' personality between the mercenary Admiral Naismith and the Barrayaran officer Lord Vorkosigan. In the early books Bujold switches with elan between the two. After slipping in and out of Naismith's persona in Apprentice, in Brothers in Arms (1989) Miles infuriates Barrayaran authority along with their mortal Cetagandan enemies, by making first one, then the other persona his alias. In The Vor Game (1990) the same double-bluff runs throughout. In Cetaganda (1996) he is limited to Lord Vorkosigan; in Brothers in Arms, Bujold ups the stakes by giving Miles a physical double, a clone, whom he acknowledges, in a maternally inherited tradition from Beta Colony, as his true brother. But as the series continues the strains of the psychic double become more and more evident. Miles invented Naismith, says Cordelia, because Barrayar gave him

'so much unbearable stress, so much pain, he created an entire other personality to escape into. He then persuaded several thousand galactic mercenaries to support his psychosis, and ... conned the Barrayaran Imperium into paying for it all' (Mirror 216)

Although his "safety valve" (217) works, Miles needs "the little Admiral" to survive.

As Naismith, Miles is rambunctious, riotous, gung-ho to the point of lunacy. "You mean" says one disbelieving victim in Apprentice, "he's like that all the time?" (100) His skills in field-command, improvisation and brilliant skulduggery are strained to the uttermost by his exploits with the Dendarii Free Mercenaries, and only by another sleight-of-hand kept in the service of Barrayar. Naismith reincarnates those notable military figures, Wellington and Napoleon. On the one hand he rivals the Iron Duke at tying a knot and going on amid calamities. On the other, at every opportunity he applies that slogan Napoleon appears to have adapted from Danton: "L'audace! Toujours l'audace!" And as Naismith, such bravado serves him well. He prevails in numerous sticky situations, he brings home the goods and he gets the girl. The problems begin when he wants to take her home as well.

Naismith has no problem with sexuality, at least with women, even if they have wolf's claws and stand eight feet tall. Miles-Naismith's sexuality is, indeed, one of his notable heroic deflections. It takes a very light and daring hand indeed to involve your young hero in a scene of sexual demand - all but harassment - with an eight-foot genetically-enhanced taloned and fanged female soldier whose entering move is to eat a rat alive. It takes a lighter hand to show Miles moved to respond by an ambition for "mountain-climbing" ("Labyrinth" 166), without outrage to the sensibilities of a card-carrying feminist like me. On the other hand, it is a charming renovation of so much heavy-handed SF sex, that when a true siren casts her eye on Miles, he is rescued by a frantic allergy to her perfume - in effect, by a strategic sneeze ( Vor, 227). Nevertheless, despite Naismith's heterosexual enterprise, and although Miles' father is quite comfortably credited with bisexuality, as Vorkosigan or Naismith Miles' nearest approach to alternate sexualities is a flirtation with a Beta Colony hermaphrodite. And in the Bujold universe, alternate female sexuality does not appear to exist. But as Lord Vorkosigan, in the early books Miles has no sexual adventures. Indeed, he limits his love interest to vain attempts at making one of his spectacular women into Lady Vorkosigan, a role that they concertedly refuse. His long-term squeeze, the beautiful mercenary Elli Quinn, remarks witheringly that far from becoming a "dirtsucker," she intends to become an Admiral herself (Mirror 25-26). By Cetaganda (1996), Lord Vorkosigan is in peril of the fate that threatens Heyer heroines: being left on the shelf.

By that stage, Miles is also in danger of ossifying as an enfant terrible, caught outside the Barrayaran command structure and condemned to rebellious insubordinacy, a brilliant but wacky freelance, a divided personality. A striking divergence, to be sure, from the military SF prototypes and the SF hero or anti-hero, but ultimately, just one more of those adolescent conquerors, from the protagonist of The Last Starfighter (1984) back to the Heinlein juveniles, whose entrapment in the light-hearted world of genre SF and space opera will make sure he never grows up. But over this intervenes Barrayar. And after it, Mirror Dance (1994); and then, Memory (1996).

Barrayar opens the later stage of Bujold's oeuvre, most obviously because of its quantum jump in power, complexity and originality, such as the handling of Bothari, and its excursions into women's territory previously untravelled in SF, but also because it initiates a kind of second, deeper pass over the landscape of the earlier books. Firstly, Barrayar re-instates a female protagonist; chronologically, it follows Shards of Honor, taking Cordelia on from marriage to pregnancy. In Miles' own trajectory it operates uncannily like a regression to the womb, since he spends most of the book in utero - or, more accurately, half in utero and half transferred to a "uterine replicator," one of Bujold's charming examples of woman-centred technology. And having begun his second life in Barrayar, Bujold jumps to his literal death in Mirror Dance.

Resurrected heroes are not unknown in the non-realist freedom of SF. Few of them, however, happen to be a series protagonist who spends half the novel either deep-frozen or having a heart re-grown in a cryogenic revival clinic, and when he does surface, is handicapped by a bad case of amnesia. In Miles' progress Mirror Dance is actually both a side-step and a necessary preliminary, because it centres on his clone-brother Mark. Originally trained to impersonate Miles and physically warped to match his physique, he was intended as a pawn in the overthrow of the Barrayaran emperor. In Mirror Dance he gets Miles killed attempting to match his brother's military prowess in a raid on the clone-factories of his birthplace, Jackson's Whole. With Miles sidelined and literally mislaid for half the novel, Mark is forced to make his own integrations - and dis-integration - firstly with Miles' parents, then into the Vorkosigan family and Barrayaran society, and then, when he returns to Jackson's Whole to find Miles, as his personality fragments under the tortures of a mutual enemy. The novel closes after some normal fast and twisty action with Miles recovered - in both senses - and Mark's personality reconciled, its dark aspects accepted along with his abnormal physique, and his own interests laid down within his individual niche on Barrayar.

Mirror Dance is then a double reach for psychic equilibrium, for Miles with his physical double, for Mark with the unstable, as yet undefined and often dark limits of his own subjectivity. If it leaves Mark as a close approximation of the monolithic humanist subject, Miles takes away more dangerous mementos than a fresh collection of scars and another beautiful but transient lover. His resurrection also leaves him with chronic, sudden, unpredictable convulsions, that threaten not only his persona as Admiral Naismith but his entire military career. It is this "death" and its associated casualties that occupy Memory.

Bujold once remarked that her plots are often predicated on "the worst possible thing you [could] do" to a character (Counihan 22). For Miles as Naismith or Vorkosigan, the worst thing that could ever happen is to be expelled from the Barrayaran military and his niche in ImpSec, the elite if invisible crème of Barrayaran security. It is not unusual for military SF heroes to be disgraced, or expelled from service, even to have the expulsion carried over a couple of books, as with David Weber's Honor Harrington. But in these cases, the disgrace is always falsely based. In Memory it is not only real but permanent: Miles is found out fudging a report to cover the effects of a convulsion during action, and after an excruciating scene with the head of ImpSec, also an old family friend and mentor, he is pitched literally and metaphorically into the street. The spy-novel plot that carries Memory exhibits Bujold's usual narrative drive and ingenuity; but in Miles' ongoing story it is only a springboard for this metaphorical death of his career, and more crucially, of his Naismith persona. Naismith can only function in the mercenary fleet, and the mercenary fleet freelances for ImpSec. But to take the fleet and become Naismith permanently would be to commit treason, and thus kill, perhaps in the most literal sense, Lord Vorkosigan. Bujold's solution also springs from the spy-plot, but it is a plotter's stroke of genius. Miles is dragged from the slough of despair to rescue the man who sacked him, after the latter suffers amnesia and derangement from a deteriorating memory chip; the only leverage adequate to the task is to overleap the ranks of Lord Vorkosigan or Naismith, or even his father: he gets himself appointed a kind of supreme troubleshooter cum Viceroy, an Imperial Auditor. At the novel's close, the appointment is made permanent.

Despite this ultimate victory, much of Memory operates as a long goodbye to Miles' previous glories. He loses all three women, Elli, Elena, and his wolf-soldier, "Sergeant Taura," who have been lovers or loved. He revisits the site of past loss and victory in "The Mountains of Mourning" (1989) and finds it empty too. He has destroyed his official military career, and in effect, chosen to excise half his personality. At the novel's close, he is alone in the empty family mansion, with nothing but a bottle and the consciousness that he has survived the worst traumas of his traumatic life, along with its worst temptation: to sell himself for reinstatement in ImpSec. In the process, he has reached a moment of almost pure humanist self-resolution, when he decides, amid the tortures of loss and un-direction, that "I elect to be ... myself" (387).

In force and intensity as well as this elegiac undertone, Memory is indeed a quantum jump ahead of The Warrior's Apprentice, although in Miles' double trajectory it fills the same position of excursion from "childhood" and foundation of a new personality. But where Mark subsumes and reconciles himself to his dark internal Others, Miles' integration is achieved by an excision - or, as Bujold put it, a "repossession" ("Letterspace", Letter 8), with all the word's overtones, theological as well as financial - and a metamorphosis at very high cost. Nor is the cost limited to the characters. Reading Memory, I myself felt very much like Wordsworth seems to have when he wrote "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality": what we had here was remarkable, spectacular, far more powerful than Apprentice and its ilk, but it was also darker, less sparkling, without that adolescent, outrageous joie d'esprit. The protestations of a past not missed fell a little hollowly on the ear. In fact, another Australian specialist bookseller remarked to me that he was a little deterred by Bujold's later work, because it was 'so serious.'

Memory does foreshadow a daring push beyond the limits of military and indeed of SF in general. The boy hero is more than growing up, he has burst a chrysalis, and Bujold is shifting him clear out of the military ambience that had underwritten his appeal to the readership. And SF readers, whether of military or other sub-genres, have made it very clear, as with Samuel Delany's later books or Patricia Anthony's remarkable Alien novels, that they know what they want, and they don't want too much character, and they don't want too much experimentation, and they're not too keen on anything but good old "adventure fiction" (McGuirk 126) plots. Yet despite this firmly living tradition, even despite Bujold's reputed obscurity, Barrayar and Mirror Dance both won their year's Hugo. Barrayar made the Nebula final nominations as well, while Memory, so much darker and even more different, was still a final nominee for both Hugo and Nebula awards.

Komarr begins to unfold the new personality Memory heralded. As a civilian, Miles experiences pangs of nostalgia, but he also appears at once more subdued and more redoubtable than ever before. Bujold grew the emperor Gregor up between the troubled adolescent of The Vor Game, and the redoubtable judge of men in Mirror Dance. Komarr offers the grown-up Miles. It also offers another first for a Vorkosigan book, a viewpoint split between Miles and a female protagonist, and for conveying the change in Miles this double viewpoint is highly effective. When Miles enters Komarr through Ekaterin Vorsoisson's eyes, it gave me a startled sense of seeing him for the first time. There have been peepholes of outer perspective throughout the series, Miles' contemplation of his scars in a mirror, or a video clip of him next to Mark. But as a long-term reader I know him as young officer, adolescent, genius brat - even embryo. To Ekaterin, however, he has never been anything but an Imperial Auditor. He thus acquires an instant new stature to match his expanded personality; not to mention, since she first gauges his height as "speaking to her cleavage" (7), another instant adult status. For the first time, Lord Vorkosigan rather than Admiral Naismith appears as a sexual being.

This jump is strengthened by another expansion: finally, Miles has met a woman whose ambitions might just include becoming Lady Vorkosigan; in fact, it appears that Miles has Met His Fate, and its winning will not be easy. Predictably, she is not a stock love object, neither a siren nor a Vor virgin nor a brilliant military officer, but an unhappily married bureaucrat's wife. The developing relationship emerges, not as the coup de foudre of sexual passion, or the giddy gavotte of teenagers' mating, but as a rapprochement between two equally scarred, equally wary people, with mutual attraction but reciprocal embarrassments and vulnerabilities. After the vintage Bujold comedy where they land in a lake together during a superfluous rescue attempt, Ekaterin sees Miles undressed, a revelation of scars as well as warped physique, and then suffering a convulsion. When he is ambushed by the villains, she has to rescue him. Meanwhile Miles rifles her computer files and overhears her second marriage proposal, sees her boorish husband put her down and witnesses the violation of privacy when ImpSec "fast-penta" and interrogate her over his death. Ekaterin emerges as a fitting match for this new Miles, more constricted by past and upbringing than his mother Cordelia, but cool, resourceful, independent, and the agent of the villains' final defeat. Moreover, in the closing scene she manages yet another first for a Vorkosigan book: she actually silences Miles.

Komarr ends rather than closes, as all the books in the second phase do, this time with Miles established in his non-military career, but in hot pursuit of marriage rather than a love affair. If you apply the classic psychoanalytic schema, he now appears a proper Freudian subject whom the series has taken from infancy to adulthood, integrating a fragmented personality, activating his super-ego, moving out of both his father's shadow - Miles carefully points out that he was never an Imperial Auditor (Memory 447) - and his mother's lightly sketched ascendancy - she guesses wrongly over his choice between Naismith and Vorkosigan (319). Finding a mate will complete the trajectory. I can think of no other SF characterisation that combines such appeal with such a sustained and complex development, far less such an expansion of generic boundaries. Miles alone makes Bujold worthy of a comparison with Le Guin.

Like the wall in Apprentice, however, Miles is more than he originally seems. When I first began analysing the Bujold books, Miles' physical fragility, his height, his inability to use physical strength and violence, quickly recalled Robin Roberts' concept of the "codedly feminine": a process where "an author ... explores a singularly feminine dilemma using a male character as stand-in, or cover"(16). I was charmed to find Bujold herself calling Miles a "female in disguise, " and "socially disadvantaged" by his physique, "just as women in patriarchal society are made to feel deformed" (Lake 8). In this light the wall in Apprentice instantly assumed an extra significance; like the wall in The Dispossessed it also symbolised gender bars. I recalled too Le Guin writing of her "private delight" in one of her most famous characters, the Getheni Estraven from The Left Hand of Darkness, "not a man, but a manwoman," ("Redux" 15) who usurped male roles. Estraven, however, is ambiguously gendered, not codedly feminine. But Miles' exploits read very easily as women's solutions to the problems of a masculinist world, including military space opera.. Repeatedly, from Apprentice on, Miles appears as physically weaker, more fragile than his opponents; and he prevails by intelligence as well as audacity, by manipulation and psychic judo as well as forward momentum. In a further judo turn, female readers accustomed to taking on male identification find themselves identifying with a man who really is one of them.

The codedly feminine in Bujold's work does not stop with Miles. I once proposed ("Letterspace", Letter 3) that Miles and Mark are Take One and Take Two of the concept: like Estraven, Miles achieves all the masculine things that women would like to do. He wins by wits and keeps charity, lacks muscles and still manages to manipulate, leads on battlefields and can salvage lost causes by charisma alone. In the early books he is manic, intellectually brilliant, yet keeps compassion and sensitivity, for example in the way he always feels for his dead. But for all his accompanying problems, Miles is the "daylight version" of the codedly feminine.

Mark is the night-time version: the codedly feminine that women do not like to face. To start with his body, he is forced into an unnatural shape, but not by accident, and he suffers that eternal women's problem of weight. In Mirror Dance he exhibits a form of the normally female eating disorder, bulimia 2, and in the throes of his refusal to play Miles, he uses it as a weapon of defence. It has been argued by many that anorexics actually control their bodies to thwart social demand. Nor does Mark ever make a success of charisma, leadership and field command. In fact, in finding himself he renounces all traffic with the military. Moreover, Mark suffers for most of Mirror Dance from self-hate, hideously low self-esteem, and masochism, all proverbial women's psychic problems.

Beyond this, Mirror Dance gives Mark a clear case of Multiple Personality Disorder, another classic women's problem, and again, it operates in his favour. It is intriguing to set this fictional construction against the incident discussed by Allucquère Rosanne Stone, where a rapist, tried for assaulting an MPD sufferer, was convicted on the grounds that in her other personality the victim was not entirely responsible. But disorders like MPD are also a form of the madness that has haunted women throughout history, holding over them the threat of wrongful commitment, if not the domestic asylum sketched in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's now classic feminist text, "The Yellow Wallpaper"(1892).

In addition, it is Mark who suffers the truly horrendous childhood, for despite Miles' physical disabilities and trials with doctors, he is not abused, and he has an amplitude of love. As a result, it is Mark who displays the hate and rancour and envy that women are culturally conditioned to suppress, from the day they read "Cinderella" in nursery school. Such negative emotions are socially unacceptable even among feminists, who have long discussed the questions of women's rage and violence. But what truly situates Mark on the night side of the codedly feminine is that, unlike Miles, Mark is not only trained as an assassin but, lacking Miles' brittle bones, he can kill: physically. Hand to hand.

Such female violence invokes enormous social pressure, as evidenced by the reaction to the killing by Russ's assassin in The Female Man (1975). In contrast, Mark's brutal hand-to-hand killing in Mirror Dance has attracted no censure. Because the victim is patently evil, or because, for a codedly feminine male, physical violence is quite all right? The implicit veto on women's violence does prevail throughout Bujold's work. Although Cordelia can rough up and tie down her infuriating psychiatrist in Shards of Honor, and Elli Quinn or Elena can break vexing men's limbs or kill in battle, it takes the purely evil Cavilo, in The Vor Game, to use a weapon in cold blood.

(When I offered this reading of Miles and Mark to Bujold, she replied, "Did I also mention that Mark is going to end up a very rich man? And women are discouraged from paying attention to money, too ..." ("Letterspace", Letter 4).

If Miles and Mark offer striking examples of a codedly feminine male character, a suppressed feminism that echoes Le Guin's "manwoman," Bujold also parallels Le Guin in writing about male protagonists because "malestuff is easier to do" (Lake, 9). Le Guin found it difficult to write about women until the mid '70s. "What I needed was ... feminism" ("Fisherwoman" 234). Only in the wake of her most famous novels, such as The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, does Le Guin produce female protagonists. In Bujold's work, however, the masculine military world of Barrayar is undercut not only by codedly feminine figures like Miles and Mark, but by clear incursions of what Bujold calls "femalestuff" (Lake 9). This is most often a novel with an outright female protagonist which deals openly with female rather than "feminine" problems. Like Le Guin, Bujold found it "requires deeper and more original thought" than "'malestuff'" (Lake 9) and again, it follows a double trajectory, opening with Shards of Honor, recurring with Barrayar, and expanding with Komarr, where the double male/female viewpoint puts male and femalestuff side by side.

As later books give the deeper, less acceptable but more powerful versions of identity problems and the codedly feminine, femalestuff through the series deepens and moves toward the "night-time side." In Shards of Honor, Cordelia encounters the dangers of war, imprisonment, torture by the enemy, misunderstanding and potential imprisonment by her own side. In all this, however, she functions as the clean and upright if remarkable version of the female hero, a figure spreading through SF in the wake of feminism. To sum up a long and complex argument, such heroes can be read as figures in tension between competing elements. On one side is the Amazon, the woman-centred warrior that Joanna Russ's Alyx freed from the sword-and-sorcery genre, who is at base "independent of men" (Lefanu 34). At its most "feminist' this element produces Marion Zimmer Bradley's Free Amazons, McKee Charnas' Riding Women in Motherlines (1978), or Nicola Grifffith's farmers and nomads in Ammonite (1993). On the other, the discourse of gender equality derived from liberal feminism, used in SF by both men and women writers, produces the rough, tough, unquestioningly heterosexual female hero, who proves herself by outfighting, out-drinking and out-bedding men. Variants fill the SF continuum, from Heinlein's Friday through Piserchia's girlish Jade in Star Rider (1974) to Ripley in the Alien movies and John Varley's more sexually flexible Cirocco Jones.

In Shards of Honor Cordelia presents a remarkable combination of the two strands. "'[A]s professional as any officer I've ever served with, without once trying be an, an imitation man'" (58). Ethically determined to protest war and preserve life, she can still command a ship, wield a stunner, spin a nifty lie, and anticipate the men in heading off a mutiny. Foreshadowing Miles's development, however, she replaces Cirocco's physical toughness with wits. Sub-sets of this female hero appear with Elli Quinn, Sergeant Taura, and Elena Bothari-Jesek, Miles' first love. Elli is probably the closest to stock: even though she appears first as a casualty with her face blasted off by laser fire, then stunningly remodelled, she remains the tough, efficient, forthrightly sexy mercenary, the woman many '60s and '70s liberal feminists would have liked to be. Taura, with her genetic abnormalities, is a more original and complicated variation: a killer who can rout men with a stare, but also Miles' rowdy long-term lover, who thinks to put on pink "claw-polish" to raid the Jackson's Whole crèche, so she won't scare the clone-children (Mirror 81). But Taura also shares the oldest male military mystique, for she is going, like Achilles himself, to die very young. Much of the pathos in Miles' final farewell to Taura is that he is losing her to death rather than parting alone.

Elena extends the military female hero furthest: Sergeant Bothari's daughter, barred from the military on sexist Barrayar, she becomes a superbly efficient galactic mercenary. Miles' first love, she marries his future fleet's engineer. In The Warrior's Apprentice she also sketches the woman's story of discovering and reconciling with an alienated mother. In Mirror Dance an equally brief sketch shows her coming to terms with her father's complex past along with Barrayar. And in Memory, another episode recapitulates the main plot, as Elena and her husband leave the mercenary fleet because Elena is finished soldiering. "'I've proved Barrayar wrong. I've been a soldier, and a damn good one." Now "I want to find out who else I can be'" (Memory 21).

With Barrayar, written eight years after Shards, "to grow in power and control before I could do justice to [its] themes" (Lake 8), Bujold moves, among the other escalations, into darker aspects of femalestuff, notably, with pregnancy. In an early draft of one scene, "I never mentioned haemorrhage anywhere... yet every female listener reported thinking about haemorrhage at exactly the point I intended them to" (Lake 7). Such biological femalestuff is rare in SF, beyond the work of Marion Zimmer Bradley. Bradley herself repeats a comment that, "'You can always tell a Bradley story - someone has a baby'" (29). But Bradley tends to elide "all the complications of pregnancy and childbirth that women think of every day during the nine months" (Lake 7). Let alone the nightmares of finding the child imperfect, learning that your father-in-law wants it aborted, and having the embryo stolen by a political enemy. "The worst thing" happens to Cordelia as a birthing mother in Barrayar, not once but several times over. But Bujold neatly dodges Bradley's problems in Darkover Landfall (1972), whose anti-abortion discourse drew heavy critiques from SF feminists. Cordelia fights against Miles's abortion, rather than facing the thornier problem of whether an abortion should be done.

Though two women do have babies in Barrayar, neither Bujold nor her women accept Bradley's Darkovan saw that "the world will go as it will, and not as you or I will have it." Cordelia saves Miles with the Betan technology of the uterine replicator, then by a rescue raid in defiance of her husband, then by having Bothari execute the usurper on her order. She also has a female support system: the noblewoman whose baby Bothari delivers has befriended her, and her female bodyguard guides the palace raid. Finally, the most powerful femalestuff of the novel is the scene where the fate of Barrayar is decided as Cordelia and the child emperor's captive mother trade the whereabouts of their sons.

Yet despite the Hugo that implies reader approval, and Bujold's intent to write more femalestuff (Lake 9), the series' structure has marginalised Cordelia, as The Warrior's Apprentice was followed by Brothers in Arms, Borders of Infinity, and The Vor Game, and Barrayar was succeeded by Mirror Dance and Memory. With Miles not merely developed but metamorphosed, any further femalestuff demanded a new female protagonist, from outside Miles' family, and optimally, to provide Miles' adult, non-transient love interest. All these options, and a new expansion of femalestuff, appear with Ekaterin Vorsoisson in Komarr.

The new expansion is a first for Bujold, but not for the genre. What is sometimes called domestic SF has flitted through the field from Gernsback's day: women's stories mostly, scorned by the cognoscenti, sometimes including feminists, rarely long in print, their tone resolutely unheroic, their focus determinedly on the nuts and bolts of not-so-everyday life. The classics include stories like Mildred Clingerman's "The Minister Without Portfolio." Connie Willis does the update: housing problems on a space station, the double-joke of aliens who appear on earth as normally nerdy human scientists ("Spice Pogrom," "And Come from Miles Around"). But this approach naturally militates against the high-gravity, save-the-universe tone of most SF; to combine them, without leaving the seams rucked awkwardly between the two, is one of the genre's hardest challenges. Komarr does it remarkably well. More remarkably, Komarr does it structurally, by splitting the viewpoint between Miles and Ekaterin.

This split domesticates SF at a level previously inacessible to Bujold's fiction, where "home life" was either the elevated milieu of Vorkosigan House, or the space-Utopia of Beta Colony. In Komarr, the woman's view provides the off-Earth equivalent of a posted US army family: school-age son, colonial bureaucrat husband, non-working wife. Except that on Komarr, middle-class mundanities like grocery shopping, putting up guests, taking the kids to school, are inexorably warped by the SF setting. On Komarr, you hire gravity beds, live in oxygen domes, buy vat-grown meat and visit the countryside in a breather mask. This exotic domesticity simultaneously defamiliarizes the on-Earth parallel, and highlights the alternating scenes of scientific investigation and thriller violence.

The real depth of the femalestuff, however, plumbs a social rather than biological woman's battlefield at a level few mainstream novels have reached. The scenes between Ekaterin and her husband illuminate a loveless marriage to its nadir: not merely the squabbles, the endemic disagreements, the bitter strains of mismanagement or failed ambition, the public putdowns and social embarrassments, but the ghastly apparatus of loveless sex. When Ekaterin has to "study Tien warily" and decide "she had better offer sex very soon" because "it was past time to defuse him" (Komarr 55), Bujold replaces the potential glamor of any sex-in-space with the excruciating truth of many "mundane" relationships; worst of all is the reader's understanding that this is normal for them.

Beyond this gritty re-vision of yet another social myth, Komarr offers the uncodedly female version of the metamorphoses in Memory and Mirror Dance. Ekaterin enters the novel as an unhappily married wife, with a son threatened by her husband's heritable genetic problem. She leaves a widow with a cured child, a firm ambition, and strong prospects for a future career in landscaping, from gardens to planets, plus the kudos of having prevented disaster to both Komarr and Barrayar. This picture of a woman struggling from a chrysalis of stagnation to begin a second life is a staple of feminist fiction, including SF like Sheri S. Tepper's Grass (1989): it is a metamorphosis as arduous as Miles', from a suffocating life into one that, however painful the transit, at least promises to be free.

The femalestuff in Komarr again recalls Le Guin, but this time the later works, which so often centre on female protagonists who take giant strides into an independent if unsafe unknown, as in "The New Atlantis"(1975) or The Eye of the Heron (1978). Such femalestuff is obviously related to second-wave feminism, but here the two writers do, ostensibly, part company. Although The Left Hand of Darkness was a landmark in feminist SF, it is only in the mid and later '70s that Le Guin openly espouses feminism, a shift clear in the two versions of her well-known essay "Is Gender Necessary?" Once "out," however, Le Guin's feminism is forthright and overt, characteristic of the '60s and '70s, when feminism was as much a political stance as a source of fictional ideas. Bujold, on the other hand, begins publishing in the '80s, when feminism in the US had been driven underground by political reverses and internal fragmentation, reverses that mark writers as well. Joan Gordon takes Connie Willis, Karen Joy Fowler and Sheri S. Tepper as examples of '80s writers who subsume rather than preach feminism, calling their work "post feminist crypsi SF" (5), a term that could cover Bujold as well.

When pushed, Bujold will defend her covert feminism on the grounds that "[n]o feminist, writing a feminist tract" can "change any man's ... fixed mind" but that "a book packaged as militarist SF" might bring in "alien ideas" unnoticed (Lake 9). But her need to stress the female aspects of her work suggests that male readers ignore these elements. In fact, they compliment her on "writing like a man" (7), a phrase that must throw her subversive claim into serious doubt. Like Willis, who disavows feminism (Gordon 5), Bujold would rather "call myself a human beingist" (Lake 9). Her published credo includes "to journey from the self to the other is an improvement ... People are more important than things ... Good and evil are only meaningful as a quality of individuals possessing free will" (11).

Against the current (feminist) theoretical field, these unremarkable statements proclaim what is called, with varying degrees of disapproval, classic liberalism: that is, the philosophic fountainhead of individualism, but also of crusades for human rights. And from the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments to the foundation of NOW, such thought has also been a constant in feminism. Indeed, in what Katie King calls "taxonomies of feminism" (124) the hegemonic divergence is between the liberal-heterosexual and radical-lesbian axes of thought and action, prefigured in the late '60s gap between NOW and the more radical organisation of WLM. It reappears in feminist SF with those two founding mothers, Le Guin and Joanna Russ. Though both are white, middle-class, tertiary-educated feminists, Le Guin's work follows a '60s liberal trajectory from race to gender issues, picking up later essentialist feminist viewpoints and contending throughout with the liberal bias to individualism. Russ, on the other hand, brilliantly anticipates historical trends with the production of radical and lesbian perspectives; yet like radical feminism proper, that explosion of thought and action in the late '60s to early '70s, she "burns out" before the '70s end.

Given this perspective, Bujold aligns immediately with Le Guin, not simply for her liberal manifesto but because all her notable expansions of femalestuff are unquestioningly and entirely heterosexually based. As I mentioned, although male bisexuals and hermaphrodites appear, the Vorkosigan universe lacks lesbians. Moreover, as Le Guin moves in the '80s toward what is now called essentialist feminism, with its monolithic oppositions of "Men" and "Women," not a few of Bujold's remarks point the same way. Beyond the unshaded dichotomy of male and femalestuff, there are remarks like "everything I've written is by definition through female eyes" (Lake 9). And if male readers miss these nuances, "I don't write like a man, you just read like one" (8). In feminist theoretical circles, even in the early '80s, such blanket statements would have drawn fast questions like "which female? White, black, middle-class, working class, Third World, First World, straight, lesbian?" The lessons against universalizing that (white straight) feminists learnt in the early '80s have long precluded such claims.

Moreover, for some feminists, liberalism and its ties to individualism, and thence, less happily, to capitalism, are actually a handicap. To Sarah Lefanu, Le Guin's earlier and most famous male protagonists are "a dead weight in the centre of the novels," because they are "caught in the stranglehold of liberal individualism" (137). And the feminist philosopher Andrea Nye considers liberalism is inherently masculinist (526); to such feminist thinking, which has produced some of the most devastating critiques of Le Guin's work, her very emphasis on character, so laudable in the SF context, is a political weakness, while crusades such as the Civil Rights campaign and the ongoing feminist initiatives that her work has engaged since the early '60s, are themselves tainted with the flavour of liberalism.

This stance is strongly influenced by radical and lesbian feminist thought, to use the commonest terminology, and it too has produced problems, most notably the hardening of universalist and ultimately dubious attempts to valorize women in terms of traditionally feminine atttributes. The limits of liberal-heterosexual thought do emerge clearly, however, from critiques of Le Guin's work for the absence of alternate sexualities, and the assumptions that undercut even such Utopian societies as Anarres, where Shevek's career-focussed mother is seen as cruel and cold, in direct contradiction of the gender-equality supposedly prevalent. Such critiques can be levelled at Bujold, if not directly for her depictions of women: while the charge of hegemonic heterosexuality may appear narrow or special pleading, its consequences do not stop with the absence of lesbians on Barrayar. "Liberal-heterosexual" has usually taken "white" as its third cluster-term; and the blindness to class and sexuality of '70s feminists produced racism that extended from black to Third World women. The same racial myopia marks the Vorkosigan universe. While there is a vestigial echo of the long-lived US/Russian opposition in the siting of Barrayar, with its Cyrillic alphabet, its harsh world, savage history and quasi-feudal society, against the glossy but flawed democracy of "galactics" like Beta Colony, on Barrayar itself there appear to be no racial tensions. Hillmen and city men may jeer at each other, districts may be backward and ethnic minorities preserved in a Greek dialect, but of ethnic enclaves, racial or even religious tensions, Barrayar appears remarkably free. One can argue they were all stamped out during the "Time of Isolation" or the ferocious Cetagandan war, but this too appears something of a special plea. Despite its savage past and sexist present, Barrayar may well be, as Bujold herself once wondered, the "white-bread suburb of the galaxy" ("Letterspace", Letter 4).

For me this liberal-based myopia surfaces notably in Komarr, with a kneejerk response to some of the imperial ideology. As the series opened, Komarr appeared a hostile equal, whose perfidy in letting the Cetagandans invade Barrayar unresisted, and whose "geographic" position astride Barrayar's one outlet to the wider galaxy "forced" its conquest. By Komarr this status has insensibly eroded into the more orthodox position of subtly inferior colony. The Komarran freedom fighters are either warped to lunacy, as in Brothers in Arms, or in Komarr, both disastrously short-sighted and mildly ludicrous. This begins to invoke the spectre of live US imperialism; and as an Australian, at once colonizer and colonized, my hackles rise at some of Miles' comments about foolish rebels who ought to know a benevolent tyranny when they see one. Miles and his emperor may Mean Well, but at my gut-level, Good Guys are not colonizers.

Such flaws invoke feminist standpoint theory, developed notably by Nancy Hartsock and Donna Haraway, which conscripted Marx's claim that only those under a system see it with clarity, to argue that only "women" could see their oppression clear. Less happily, this paved the way for more essentialist claims that only women, by virtue of their bare biological status, could perceive "the truth." It has been more usefully modified by Sandra Harding, who argued that if feminism is to make any difference, it must posit that men can learn from "women's" picture of them, just as white feminists learnt from the critiques of blacks, middle-class women from working class women, and so on. The crucial point is that to modify the "top-down" standpoint, it is necessary to re-invent that hegemonic Self as Other. And while Bujold has made remarkable innovations in the enduring masculinist traditions of SF and military SF, such self-subversion has not yet begun to emerge.

These are sins of omission rather than commission; they are balanced by Bujold's expansions and innovations in the field, just as her covert feminism is balanced by accomplished examples of feminist strategy in recuperating myths, as in her cross of Ariadne and Andromeda in "Labyrinth." Moreover, if "there are no Utopias without women" (Fitting, 107), Ethan of Athos (1986) constructs a glimpse of a gay culture/world whose sole female presence is donated ovaries, yet whose protagonist comes to modify his stereotype of women in his adventures elsewhere. This is balanced by the sketch in Shards of Honor of Beta Colony, a liberal-heterosexual Utopia where men and women share armed service, uterine replicators allow reproduction in vivo or in vitro, girls' ears and hymens are pierced at puberty, and hermaphrodites live next to licenced sexual therapists.

Moreover, despite the repeated criticism that Bujold has little interest in technology, or much use for that hoary SF shibboleth, "big ideas," one could hardly ask for bigger ideas, or more smoothly assimilated science, than the terraforming scheme that underpins the plot in Komarr. Nor, if SF's mandate is to extrapolate (scientific) ideas in their social context, could one ask a more fascinating example than the long-term impact on Barrayar of the uterine replicator, whose consequences ramify throughout the three most recent books. Young men left unmarried because their parents wanted only sons so there is a dearth of girls, class structures fraying as Vor aristocrats have to marry low-class girls, women dictating the marriage terms depending on whether the husband will sanction use of the replicator... As Cordelia remarks, "'About half a generation from now, [the Vor system is] not going to know what hit it'" (Mirror 297). This is social experiment on a truly ample scale; if it has gathered little interest, it may be because of that equally hoary prejudice against "ideas" that are neither hard science nor "men-based."

Given this plethora of innovative and formula-shaking SF, one wonders why Bujold remains obscure; especially when that list of short-lists and final nominations includes two novels that topped the Locus poll for best SF novel in the last five years. If the cognoscenti aren't voting for Bujold, then who is reading Locus? If the cognoscenti are reading Locus, then why does Bujold appear to be relatively unknown? And are none of the cognoscenti academics, or has she, like feminist SF as a whole, fallen in the crack between the canon of male writers who attract male (and female) critics, and the even smaller canon of feminist writers who attract academic criticism? I could quote Helen Merrick at length on the intersections of mainstream and SF criticism and the Black Hole at their intersection into which Marleen Barr also thinks feminist SF (or fabulation, in her terms) has fallen. Or I could point out that many feminist academics draw their knowledge of SF from lines like the Women's Press, and suggest that because her feminism is covert they consider Bujold a "man's author," while SF academics aren't always interested in feminism, and a large number of them are men, who consider Bujold a "woman's author." Whichever way it falls, this neglect seems as surprising as it is inexplicable. If all else fails, one can only hope that somewhere out there a legion of Bujold readers are now pressing books into the hands of unsuspecting others and urging, "Read this!" So that the wall of silence will be surmounted, if not in Miles' inimitable fashion, then some day very soon.

Works Cited


1. As a short story, in 1984 this section of Shards of Honor was rejected by the editor of a military SF anthology on the grounds that it was "too gruesome."

2. I am indebted to Tess Williams for first pointing out Marks' codedly feminine eating habits.

© 1999 by Sylvia Kelso
Added to The Bujold Nexus: January 20th 1999

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