The Vorkosigan Companion

The Vorkosigan Companion

Nominated for a Hugo award for Best Related Book
Baen Books December 2008
ISBN: 1-4165-5603-6, $24.00

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Lois McMaster Bujold’s best-selling Vorkosigan series is a publishing phenomenon, winning record-breaking sales, critical praise, four Hugo Awards and a Nebula award. And the thousands of devotees of the series now have The Vorkosigan Companion, a goldmine of information, background details, and little-known facts about the Vorkosigan saga.

Included are an all-new interview with Bujold as well as essays by her on crafting the Vorkosigan universe, articles on the biology, technology, and sociology of the planet Barrayar, appreciations of the individual novels by experts, maps, a complete timeline of the series, and more.

Huge Reception

John Helfers and Lillian, co-editors of The
Vorkosigan Companion, at the reception before the awards ceremony: Anticipation, The 67th World SF Convention, Montreal, August 2009.
John Scalzi scooped the award.

Lois and Lillian at DenventionLois McMaster Bujold and Lillian Stewart Carl in 2008, looking at photos of themselves in high school a few [ahem] years ago.

"But The Vorkosigan Companion is more than an index.  Contained in its five parts and three appendices are two essays and a preface by Bujold, an interview by its editorlifelong friend and fellow fantasy writer Lillian Stewart Carland lots more tasty bits, including forewords to four of the Vorkosigan novels, a full set of saga summaries, An Old Earthers Guide to the Vorkosigan Universe, and a map of the wormhole nexus that serves as the galactic stage on which Bujolds literary flights play out.

Co-editor John Helfers authored the novel summaries, interviews Vorkosigan publisher Baens chief editor Toni Weisskopf, and co-wrote the voluminous concordance.  Lillian Stewart Carl also contributes a humorous reminiscence of her shared teenage years with Lois as they went from fan girls, to fan-fic writers, to prominent authors on the genre scene.  Such detailed analysis, and the very compilation of a concordance may be thought of usually as the domain of furrowed-brow works like Shakespeare or the Bible. But what always delights about Bujold is that her works are never ponderous, though they are often wise, always witty, eminently quotable and tremendously fun."
-- Carlos Aranaga, SciFi Dimensions

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Through Darkest Adolescence with Lois McMaster Bujold
Thank You, But I Already Have a Life

by Lillian Stewart Carl

It was simple clerical whim that assigned Lois and me to section 7-2 at Hastings Junior High School in Upper Arlington, Ohio—a suburb of Columbus.

Perhaps we were attracted to each other because we had both already achieved our adult heights—the breathtaking altitudes of 5'5" and 5'7" respectively—and compared to the other seventh graders felt as though we were dragging our knuckles on the linoleum floors.

At first I was in awe of Lois. She had attained little-girl apotheosis: she owned a pony. At the riding school just down the road from her home she acquired the equine knowledge that would lead in time to Fat Ninny and the other trusty steeds of Vorkosigan Surleau. The first award I saw Lois win was a blue ribbon and silver bowl in a riding competition. When the judge called her number, she sat disbelieving for a long moment, then reached around to pull the number off the back other shirt and make sure it was really hers.

The most important things we had in common, though, were a love of reading, vivid imaginations, and the compulsion to write. While I'd been reading history and mythology for years, tastes that I passed on to Lois, I'd never before encountered the strange new worlds of Lois's favorite, science fiction.

These were the years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the last spasm of the Wonder Bread fifties, when imagination was suspect. Our parents were shocked speechless by the haircuts of the Beatles, a dance called the Twist, and women wearing pantsuits. Except for The Twilight Zone, which Lois would sneak downstairs after her bedtime to watch, televised SF consisted of My Favorite Martian and Bewitched.

Fans, to us, were the girls who read movie magazines and were gaga over Doctor Kildare and Little Joe Cartwright.

Lois read, and passed on to me, Poul Anderson, A.E. Van Vogt, Zenna Henderson, James Schmitz, Cordwainer Smith, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein (we thought Stranger in a Strange Land was gigglingly racy). Conan Doyle and C.S. Forester we discovered together. And Tolkien's Lord of the Rings remains to this day one of our all time favorite books.

We went to movies, from Lilies of the Field to Battle of the Bulge, from Wild in the Streets (anyone remember that?) to Goldfinger to Lawrence of Arabia—the latter implanting the image of the brooding hero permanently in our literary vocabularies.

We wrote, bits and pieces of poetry, fractions of stories, assuring ourselves that this was “practice” for “later on”—although just what "later on" was going to be, we were never able to articulate.

Lois did contribute to the school literary magazine, narrative poems that would have done Ogden Nash proud. One included the line “curses vitriolic”, which ended up in the magazine as “curses nitriolic” because the typist couldn't read the copy and didn't know what vitriol was anyway.

I wish I could remember what Lois rhymed with “curses vitriolic.”

We had an excellent history teacher, who not only confirmed our fascination with antiquity—the future being the trajectory of the past—but accepted with quizzical grace our habit of taking notes on one piece of paper and simultaneously writing a story on another. (This skill came in years later, when we found ourselves writing novels and minding children at the same time.)

Lois and I sat in the same desk during different periods in his class, and left penciled notes to each other on the wall—usually initials of the characters of the moment, including one others named, presciently, “Riker”. I was sitting at that desk when our principal announced the assassination of President Kennedy.

We duly moved on to the rarified air of high school. Television produced The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Illya Kuryakin, an example of the sidekick being more interesting than the hero. (It's no accident that the head of Imperial Security on Barrayar is named llyan.)

A Baskin-Robbins opened halfway between our houses. Some fantasies may be fueled by alcohol, but ours depended upon butterfat.

Still we wrote, isolated in dweebliness—my gosh, we read books that weren't assigned! Our heroes weren't the cheerleaders and the captain of the football team but our English teachers. They not only critiqued whatever we wrote, in class or out, but unlike every other adult we knew never found anything suspect in our writings fantastical content.

Fans, to us, were girls screaming at a Beatles concert, or men shouting at a football game.

Then, one fall, I returned home from a vacation to find Lois enthusing over a new television program, one that linked naturally into her years of reading science fiction.

I watched Star Trek. I fell for it too. Spock made intelligence classy. He was so cool, so—unattainable. Unlike Kirk, who was incessantly Available. And there were women on the Enterprise. They wore miniskirts and said, “Hailing frequencies open,” and “Captain, I'm scared”, but they were female nonetheless.

Every Thursday evening during our senior year found us sitting in front of Lois's television (she had the color set) watching Star Trek.We suborned other friends into joining us. We rigged up Lois's father's reel-to-reel tape recorder and recorded each episode—audio only, the concept of the VCR being science fiction itself.

The tape would pick up the sound of the telephone ringing in the background, chairs scooting, popcorn crunching. And during the previews to the episode This Side of Paradise, it recorded half-a-dozen female squeals as Spock actually (be still, my teenage hormones) smiled!

I wish we still had the rape which immortalized her mother's voice saying, “You girls are going to be so embarrassed when you grow up and remember how you acted over this program.”

For a time our writing explored the Star Trek universe. Then, finding ourselves choked by working in someone else's cosmos, we moved above and beyond and into a multi-generational future history that absorbed our attention for several years. Among other things, we allied our version of the Klingons with the Federation long before Next Generation did.

Our graduation from high school took place on a Thursday night, forcing us to miss the episode Shore Leave. Strangely, our families refused to attend the ceremonies without us. The younger sister of a friend was deputized to do the taping and fill in the video portion with gestures and expressions.

The next fall I went away to college, in a town that had only two television stations, neither of which showed Star Trek. Lots transcribed the episode Amok Time, including the stage directions (“bowl of soup flies across passageway”) and sent it to me. My roommate sniffed and said I was psychologically abnormal. But another friend gave me a poster of Spock.

Meanwhile, back in Columbus, Lois had struck gold in the SF section of a bookstore: a rack of flyers advertising a science fiction fan club.

We were no longer alone.

By the time I returned for the summer, Lols was a well-established member of COSFS, the Central Ohio Science Fiction Society. The only female member, at least until I arrived. Whether our mothers ever knew this is mercifully unrecorded. We ourselves were blithely unaware of the implications. When 2001 opened the group attended en masse. Lois and I wore cotton dresses and sandals over bare legs. The other girl in the party, someone's date, came dressed primly in a party dress and heels.

Oh well, so we were still dragging our knuckles.

There were enough members interested in writing that COSFS extended a pseudopod, a writing workshop meeting at the house of member Lloyd Kropp, an English prof. at Ohio State. (Lloyd, too, went on to become a pro writer.)

One of the stories Lois wrote during this time concerned a hermaphrodite, no doubt a symbolic ancestor of Bel Thorne.

One warm, dark evening no one had anything to read, so we went for a walk around Lloyd's neighborhood. Since his only flashlight wasn't functioning, he and his wife provided us with candles. Looking like a procession of monks who'd lost their way through the cloisters, we strolled along a railroad track, tried out the equipment at a park, and at last found ourselves on a street corner waiting for the traffic light to change. A police car pulled up beside us. The eyes of the officers inside opened so wide they reflected the candle flames. Demurely we crossed the street and returned to Lloyd's house, not breaking into laughter until we were inside.

Some members of the group, heavily into intellectual pursuits such as Also Sprach Zarathustra, were dubious about our enthusiasm for Star Trek. Others took it in stride. Until the day that Lois and I, like Garland and Rooney declaring, “Let's put on a show!” announced that we were going to try our hands at one of those things called a “fanzine”. One dedicated solely to Star Trek.

The others members of COSFS informed us gently that there was no such thing as an all-fiction ‘zine. Neither was there any such thing as a media-dedicated ‘zine. So what? we replied with the zeal of the innocent. We're going to do it anyway!

Lois and I ended up writing almost the entire ‘zine ourselves. Embarrassed, we made up pseudonyms for a few pieces—including stanzas lifted from Shakespeare's “Venus and Adonis” which could be applied to Spock. (“Art thou obdurate, flinty, hard as steel, Nay more than flint, for stone at rain relenteth...”) Illustrations came mostly from Janie Bowers, the aforementioned younger sister, and from Ron Miller, now a pro artist. Intent on doing it up right, we paid to have all the illos electronically etched. More shaking of heads among the COSFS members.

We typed every word ourselves, on long sheets of waxy purplish paper, and, since neither of us were skilled typists, became intimately acquainted with correction fluid, or “corflu.”

Bribed by chocolate chip cookies, COSFS member John Ayotte agreed to run off our ‘zines on his basement mimeograph machine. Janie's cartoon cover had too many dark areas, and stuck inkily to the whirling drum, but John, bless him, donated his own thicker paper for the covers. And so StarDate was born.

There we were, seeing our words in black and white type for the first time. Daring to air our psyches before the world. We were giddy, and not only from the fumes of the corflu.

Lois and I gathered up the precious piles of StarDate and headed down to Cincinnati for Midwestcon, our first convention, squabbling all the way over how much to charge for our baby. Fifty cents? A dollar?

Midwestcon passed in a blur. Rooms full of (mostly male) people talked at the tops of their voices. A man showed old Flash Gordon movies in a subterranean chamber of the motel. There was a banquet at an all-you-can-eat restaurant just up the way. I suppose someone gave a speech, but all I can remember is the quantities of food put away by an enormous individual rumored to be a bodyguard.

The guest of honor, FritzLeiber, held court by the pool, but we weren't brave enough to approach him. It had still not sunk in to our feeble brains that we, too, even as women, could become Professional Writers.

I don't remember whether it was at Midwestcon or later that we discovered another Trek ‘zine, the delightful Spockanalia. Our impulse hadn't been an aberration after all—Trek ‘zines were appearing all over the country. Today the media ‘zine is a fundamental of fandom.

Within months of StarDate’s appearance my family moved away from Ohio. Our ‘zine was doomed to be a one-shot; the name was later picked up by someone else. Lois went to her first Worldcon, in California, without me. But she sent me a present, a chalk-on-velour portrait of Engineer Scott. The package arrived on my doorstep borne by a very amused postman—all over the wrapping paper Lois had written exhortations to Handle with Care. “Oh yes,” my mother told him with a patient sigh, “that's from my daughter's little friend.”

We survived adolescence, only to confront adulthood. But we still had science fiction. And we still wrote.

One evening, as my infant son—who was born on a Friday the thirteenth—crawled over our feet, Lois told me of a story she'd been toying with: a Klingon officer and a red-headed Federation scientist (the latest in a long line of red-headed heroines) are stranded together on a planet resembling the African plains which Lois had recently toured...

The years passed. Lois, too, gave birth to a son on a Friday the thirteenth. Then, one summer, soon after I'd made my first professional sale—proving that it was, amazingly, possible—she arrived at my house with the manuscript of her first novel. We sat until the wee hours of the morning crossing its t’s and dotting its i’s. Like a medieval alchemist she’d taken her germ of an idea, mixed in Ignarius Loyola, Winston Churchill, and Dumas’s musketeer Athos (as portrayed by Oliver Reed in the 1972 movie), and decanted Aral Vorkosigan.

He and Cordelia Naismith trudged off across that alien plain and never looked back.

All four of our children have been nourished on Star Trek, Star Wars, D&D, the occasional con, and, of course, books. Lots of books. The crawling infant is now married and the father of two, and murmuring of going back to graduate school to study Creative Writing. Lois and I each have tucked away one moldy old copy of StarDate.

And sometimes, small but distinct on the horizon, we can still glimpse Excalibur, the One Ring, or the Enterprise.

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