Monday, February 18, 2008

Review - Barrayar

by Lois McMaster Bujold
1992 Hugo Winner for Best Novel

You could copy and paste my The Vor Game for pretty much every one of these novels that Bujold won for. The same strengths and weaknesses apply: mainly it's really good space opera adventure with a great cast of characters but not really that much deeper than that. Entertaining reading but not genre defining, mind-blowing science fiction. So that's the review. Go home.

What, you want more? Fine.

Barrayar is a direct sequel to Bujold's first novel Shards of Honor and it's plot ties together a lot of elements from her other books. Barrayar is about a civil war on the planet of Barrayar that the heroine from the original book is deeply involved in. The story isn't deep but it holds together much better than The Vor Game. It also doesn't suffer from the division problem of The Vor Game where that book read like two novellas stuck together.

The best thing about this book is that rather than being focused on the big battle sequences Bujold does make it a bit more personal by focusing on a narrow cast and how the war personally impacts them. There's a reoccurring theme of parents and children throughout the book as many infants and mothers are swept up in the war. But it's not adventure space opera unless there are dramatic escapes and daring missions behind enemy lines and there's plenty of that too.

Her theme of generational conflict also returns. The civil war is in part a reaction to the changes that had been occurring on Barrayar with the villains being the conservatives who want to preserve their culture and the heroes being the reformers. On the preserving primitive cultures versus bringing them up to date Bujold comes down firmly on the side of reformers. I can't help but notice that science fiction authors who are for preserving cultures always present those cultures as pastoral utopias which makes me wonder if they'd come down on the side of preserving a repressive feudal culture, but that's a question for another day.

Bujold continues to be a fine writer with a cast of interesting, well-defined characters. Or at least the heroes are all interesting characters. Her villains in this case are distant, impersonal forces. I didn't mind it here since the protagonists are so conflicted.

So in conclusion, a fine space opera adventure that is entertaining to read but not a deep or complex book. The novel is more refined than Bujold's earlier efforts and anyone who enjoys her novels would not be disappointed by it. Still because of its heavy dependence on events that occurred in earlier books I would have to say that someone should read those previous books before picking up Barrayar.