So a bit of re-reading was rquired here before I could write this one up. I am a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga. Huge. And I am not the only one here. So as someone who is a big fan, I’m usually pretty eager to reccomend the series to other people.
And this is where I sort of run into a problem. Because the Vorkosigan Saga sort of has the same issue as the Discworld series. This is a long running series that, while many of the books could be tackled independantly, there is along story arc that follows through most of the book. And like Discworld, the earlier books are not as well polished as the later ones, as the author was at a much earlier stage of their carrier.
There is a risk that a chronological read might lose some people.
So as much as some people don’t like it, I tend to steer away from reccomending either Shards of Honor or The Warrior’s Apprentice as starting points of the series. I think the writing is weaker in both of these installments, and it’s only mad worse by the fact that 1) Barrayer is the one book wedged between them, and the quality of it’s writing is much, much higher; and 2) The characteriseation in these two books is much weaker than the rest of the series. It’s not so bad for Shards of Honor, but I really think our main protagomist, Miles, does not come across well in The Warrior’s Apprentice. And he is the main character we follow across the whole series. If I had started there, I may have ended up only a fairweather fan.
So my reccomendation is often the novella The Mountains of Mourning (Which I have mentioned previously) which can be found either alone or in the compilation Borders of Infinity. It might be less ‘outer space’ focused than many of the other stories of the series, but the thing that makes The Mountains of Mourning great is that it does draw a really great picture of some of the internalised strife that seperates Barrayeren culture from our own, and how that causes conflict for some of it’s inhabitants—which includes Miles. Directly. It also helps showcase the fact that while is still a young man and perhaps a little immature, Miles is capable of growth, and well on his way to forming his own sense of justice.
Even though a culture is not a human protagonist, I think it’s true to say Barrayer itself, along with Miles, shows the most development thoughout the series. And after last week’s re-read, my opinions on The Mountains of Mourning being the best choice as a gateway to this series have only been cemented. Besides, this one won both the Nebula and Hugo awards for best Novella for a reason! You want to argue with that?
If it helps to wrap your head around mentally, you can treat all the prior books as prequal installments, if you like. Remember, the books were not originally written in chronological order, so even the readers who followed the series from the start didn’t get that experience.
So for bingo, and obvious Gateway. And a less obvious bingo line.
Also, if you have not, this is my plea for you to try Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga