Discussion Post: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Through 2017 and 2018 Tsana and Katharine are reading The Vorkosigan Saga (in more or less chronological order), starting with Shards of Honor all the way through to Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, including novellas. Tsana is re-reading, and Katharine is brand new to the series and together they’ll be discussing themes, characters, worldbuilding, and anything else that sparks their interest.

You can read our reviews here:

Tsana: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

Katharine: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

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Katharine: So I have to confess, I have read one other thing by Bujold and that was “Dreamweaver’s Dilemma”… back when I was serious about reading everything and then got overwhelmed by it all.

Tsana: I read that one too, but not close to when I read most of the other books. I felt a bit meh about it, from memory. I originally read all the books that existed at the time in 2011, starting from Warrior’s Apprentice and ending with the Cordelia books we decided to start with. Let me tell you, reading Shards of Honour first instead of second last was a very different (and superior) experience. Starting from Shards of Honour (and yes, I’m going to keep writing it with a u) gave me a better appreciation for both Cordelia and Aral as characters, unlike the first time around when I couldn’t get out of the mindset of seeing them primarily as Miles’s parents and through his eyes. It was easier to relate to them this way and I’m interested to see how that will effect my re-reading of the later books.

Katharine: I want to write it with a ‘u’! American spelling looks so mispronounced. I’m glad I’m getting the superior experience – usually I’m a hard and fast ‘publication’ order reader, but Alex had some strong feelings on the subject. Coming the series brand new, I’m loving starting off with main characters who aren’t spring chickens – Aral and Cordelia are excellent at what they do, and it’s believable because of their rank and experience.

Tsana:  So we’ve discussed the characters a little bit. Before we get into some of the meatier topics, let’s chat about the setting. What did you think of Sergyar? Apparently I didn’t take it in at all the first time I read it. Gentleman Jole is set on the same planet and I noticed a lot more setting when I was reading that one. Coming back to Shards of Honour and discovering that actually the weird wildlife had been there from the start was a bit of a surprise.

Katharine: I haven’t taken in much, somehow, other than to picture a type of FernGully style planet – I liked that it seemed rough and wild, desperate and dangerous. So keep this time mind for the end of the series as the ferociousness will play a part later on?

Tsana: Something like that. I don’t want to spoil anything. ;-p

Katharine: Excellent :p I did really like the differences they showed between the ships – the idea of courier ships, and the technology they all had even though this isn’t exactly a new series. I especially liked Cordelia’s marking of time based on how many rations she’s consumed upon delivery – imagine not having a natural light source to have any clue of what’s going on.

Tsana: The only thing that amused me about the technology — and this is a product of having been written in the 80s — was how static and monolithic the computers were. I gather no one really saw iPhones coming from that far away, but more modernly conceived science fiction tends to have, er, more modern views of the future. Which is maybe obvious. But I didn’t really notice that the Vorkosigan universe was a little dated until I was really paying close attention, so that’s a point in its favour.

Katharine: I did like how they had tablets and laser stylus’ though – that actually seemed like a good attempt for the time, but then I guess I’m not sure what was really available back then anyway in certain circles. Like how email was ‘available’ in the 70s but wasn’t really used (here, at least) until, what… very late 90s?

Tsana: I had email from the mid-90s at school, and I think my mum did too at work from around then or earlier. The first personal computers like we think of them now (except bigger, slower, and uglier) are from the mid-80s. But veering back from that side track, let’s move on to another topic: rape. Although I noticed Bujold didn’t use the word very much at first, she certainly didn’t shy away from discussing the topic, mostly in the context of some Barrayaran soldiers being very steeped in rape culture and setting Aral up as opposed to that culture.

Katharine: It was certainly very present. I think I would have liked to see other characters struggling with it… At times it seemed as though only Aral was morally against it, and that was mainly to show how he’s really not The Butcher as everyone assumes.

Tsana: The whole chunk of story where Cordelia is being held prisoner and then interacting with other prisoners paints a very different picture to her experiences with Aral. Most of the other prisoners assume that all Barrayarans are rapists and don’t believe that Cordelia could’ve met a few that aren’t. But Cordelia’s been shielded by Aral a lot of the time, and by other honourable people (hey, maybe that’s where the title comes from, there are only a few shards/people with honour among the Barrayarans) that are basically Aral’s friends like Koudelka and Illyan. I felt like the story was partly making a point that soldiers are pretty rapey but then had Aral and friends there to say “well, not ALL soldiers”. But I’m partly saying that because I always felt like the Barrayaran army is the most analogous to present Earth armies (especially US, I suppose?) compared with some of the other planet-countries like Beta which is supposed to be more enlightened.

Katharine: This is probably true – those with Aral do seem pretty relieved when he puts things to rights across the war in general. What do we think of the Emperor then? And his son.

Spoilers follow – please only click on if you’ve read Shards of Honor

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