Revisiting old favorites: The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Some time ago I embarked on a re-read of this series, one of my all-time favorites, and discovered that the intervening years have only  enhanced my enjoyment of the story, of Ms. Bujold’s writing style and of her approach to important social issues.

It might be somewhat difficult to characterize this series: some have labeled it as “space opera”, others as “military sci-fi”, and so on, but the truth is that there is a bit of every sub-genre one can think about in Bujold’s work, combined into a well-structured, compelling story that grows and expands with each successive book, gaining in power and depth as it entertains its readers.

The hero – or better, anti-hero – of the saga is  Miles Vorkosigan, born with serious physical impediments on a world that makes strength and military prowess the pillars of society. Far from being crushed by his disabilities, Miles fights against them all his life, driven by the need to prove himself, sometimes beyond the limits of human endurance. He does indeed manage, through sheer force of will and great intelligence, to emerge and carve a place for himself, all the while regaling us with fun, exciting and wonderful adventures.

What I love most about Ms. Bujold’s writing is that it flows along simple lines while at the same time managing to convey deep meanings and touch on significant themes: the mark of her ability is in the down-to-earth approach that needs no preaching to drive her meaning through.

Above all, Bujold’s work is… well, “trans-generational” is the best way I can describe it: Miles’ adventures can be quite satisfying both to young adults (to whom they can teach a great deal without ever being pedantic) as well as to older people. The style of writing is such that it can be enjoyed no matter your age or your preferences.

One of the reasons this character grows so quickly on his audience is that we look at the world through his eyes, experience his outer troubles and inner turmoil in a direct way. Far from self-commiserating on his shortcomings (even though they cut deeply), Miles faces them with wry, sarcastic humor that’s often more mature than his years. What’s more important, he’s not one those stereotyped “boy geniuses” that we often encounter in books and tv, the ones that breeze through obstacles as if they weren’t there, the ones, let’s admit it, that we love to hate.  Miles is fallible, he constantly doubts himself and he makes mistakes, sometimes fatal ones. His path is one of constant strife, against his shortcomings and against himself, and his victories are more often than not tainted by painful losses. This must indeed be one of the reasons Bujold’s readers learn to care so much about him.

Once I encountered a sentence that sums up quite effectively this character: he happens on people – usually unsuspecting ones – and he changes their lives forever, whether they want it or not. This is true both for the fictional people in the stories and for the readers, especially those – like me – who rediscover his old stories or greet new ones with the same enthusiasm reserved for a dear friend.

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