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Part 1:
Creator of the Vorkosiverse

Putting It Together:
Life, the Vorkosiverse, and Everything

Lois McMaster Bujold

Fans have dubbed my science fiction universe "the Vorkosiverse," after its most memorable and central (but far from only) character and his family. Science fiction and fantasy are the only genres I know where a series is defined by what universe it is set in (making mainstream fiction, looked at with the right squint, the world's largest shared-universe series).

The series is a family saga, as it has grown to center around one family where all the stresses of their changing worlds intersect. The tale begins in Shards of Honor (which I have also described as "a gothic romance in SF drag") where Cordelia Naismith, a survey scientist from the advanced planet of Beta Colony, first meets Aral Vorkosigan, soldier from war-torn Barrayar. Barrayar, settled early by humanity, had been cut off from the rest of the worlds by an astrographic accident, and regressed culturally and technologically in what they call their "Time of Isolation," until rediscovered in Aral's father's time. It has been scrambling to catch up ever since, an effort sabotaged by both external invasion and internal civil conflict. And so I can have my swords 'n' spaceships in a way that makes both historical and economic sense.

In that early work, when I was still feeling my way into such basics as how to write a novel at all, I used elements ready in my head. One such was the setting for what later came to be named the planet Sergyar, which was based on the landscapes and ecology I'd seen on a biology study tour of East Africa back in my college days. I never became a biologist, but it was nice to think the experience wasn't wasted; one of the best things about writing is how it redeems, not to mention recycles, all of one's prior experiences, including—or perhaps especially—the failures.

But, now that I'd hit my early thirties and had two small children in tow, failure was no longer an option. With a rather large amount of help from my friends, including the present editor of this volume, I clawed my way through the learning experience of writing that first book. These were pre-word-processor days, so it was all produced, first, with pencil and paper, then on a typewriter with carbon copies. The book went through a lot of revisions, including the title—its original working title was Mirrors, both a name and a theme that I revisited later.

Miles Vorkosigan grew out of the world and situation created in Shards of Honor. He came as real people do—from his parents. I have a catchphrase to describe my plot-generation technique—"What's the worst possible thing I can do to these people?" (Others have pointed out that this should have an addendum, "that they can survive and learn from.") Miles was already a gleam in my eye even when I was still writing Shards of Honor. For his parents, Aral and Cordelia, living in a militaristic, patriarchal culture that prizes physical perfection and has a historically driven horror of mutation, having a handicapped son and heir was a major life challenge, a test worthy of a tale.

Miles has a number of real-life roots—models from history such as T. E. Lawrence and young Winston Churchill, a physical template in a handicapped hospital pharmacist I'd worked with, most of all his bad case of "great man's son syndrome," which owes something to my relationship with my father. But with his first book, The Warrior's Apprentice, he quickly took on a life of his own; his charisma and drive, his virtues and his failings—and he has both—are now all his.

My initial ideas for The Warrior's Apprentice actually centered on Miles's complex quasi-filial relationship with his bodyguard Sergeant Bothari; Bothari's death was the first scene I envisioned, and the rest of the book was written, more or less, to get to that point and explain it satisfactorily to myself. Other characters and events happened along the way and rather hijacked the tale, as sometimes occurs, often to a book's benefit.

I had heard of brittle bone disease before inflicting it on my hero Miles, of course. However, I took care to give it another etiology, in his case a prenatal exposure to a fictional poison gas called soltoxin; this allowed me to authorially adjust his disease to the needs of my plot. His bones have a slightly suspicious tendency to break only when I need them to. Their realism is more psychological.

One of the things about being disabled is that you are disabled every damned day, and have to deal with it. Again. So this aspect of Miles's character has necessarily followed him into all his stories. And yet, the theme isn't just Miles; we have Taura, the genetically engineered super-soldier-monster, Elli Quinn of the reconstructed face, Bel Thorne the hermaphrodite, Miles's clone-brother Mark, the list goes on. While it's possible all these people were got up as plot-mirrors for Miles, the quaddies appear independently of him. So disability, and difference, have become ongoing subjects, directly or obliquely.

I've sometimes wondered if this theme is a personal metaphor. I grew up in a family with a remarkable father, strong older brothers, a close grandfather who'd been widowed in 1916 and never remarried, no sisters, and a mother whose attempts to feminize me I fought from age two onward. I had no extended family nearby to provide alternate models for women's lives, nor did the culture of the Fifties and Sixties offer much relief. In the lexicon of (some) feminist critique, disabled Miles becomes "codedly feminine": he's smaller than those around him, can't win a physical fight, is in a "wrong"-shaped body—has lots of medical problems—and has to beat the bastards using only brains, wit, and charm. The sense of being "wrong" is deeply inculcated in females in our society; I recall a pretty woman of my early acquaintance who wouldn't go out without her makeup on. "I have to put on my face," she explained. Sad, and scary. But regardless of gender, almost everybody harbors some cripplement, emotional if not physical. You can't judge anybody—you never know what backbreaking secret burdens they may be carrying. There is scarcely a more universal appeal to the reader.

The most important feedback I've gotten from handicapped (and non-handicapped!) readers is the sense that my fiction is energizing for them. Somehow, watching Miles operate gives them the emotional edge they need to tackle, as I described it above, just one more damned day. I think it's a variant of the Dumbo-and-the-magic-feather effect. When I reflect how much Miles's world is stacked in his favor, and how much their world is not stacked in theirs, the idea of anyone trying to use Miles's life as a blueprint gives me cold chills. Yet it seems to work. Miles models success.

I also note in passing that the definition of a handicap goes by majority rule. The fact that I cannot flap my arms and fly is not considered a handicap in Minnesota, because nobody else here can, either. On another world, in some avian evolution such as constructed by several wonderful SF stories, this disability would severely limit my social opportunities.

But, of course, since Miles lives in the future, one must allow that future medical technology will be better and cleverer than our own. In general I see technology as an annihilator of handicaps. I am increasingly convinced that technological culture is the entire root of women's liberation. But technology, outside of science fiction, is as awkward as any other bit of reality. It arrives sideways, it never works right at first, the interface problem is always a bitch, and for every problem it solves, several more are created. Still, I adore technology, medical and most other kinds.

Prior to the time his books open, Miles has already undergone many invasive repairs. I had a curious conversation with a fan once, comparing and contrasting the childhoods of Miles and his clone-brother Mark, one of the contrasts being the degree to which Mark was abused and Miles was not (it's a long story, spread through two novels). "But what about all that medical treatment Miles had to endure?" my bright fan inquired. "Oh," I said. I hadn't thought of it like that, but she had a point. There's a scene somewhere in The Warrior's Apprentice where Miles remembers how his father extracted cooperation from him when no one else could: "You must not frighten your liege-people with this show of uncontrol, Lord Miles," his father earnestly addresses the hysterical child-Miles. A consummate politician, that man.

Over the course of the next decade of his life, and several books, Miles gradually acquires more and more repairs; by age twenty-eight, almost all of his original bones have been replaced with synthetics. He's still short, but can scarcely be described anymore as handicapped. This invited new challenges.

Miles's inferiority complex and bad case of Great Man's Son syndrome give him an enormous amount of drive, which is both attractive and gets him into a hell of a lot of trouble, particularly when he drives first and looks later. (He simultaneously has what is popularly called a superiority complex. I figure you can't be that smart and not know it.) As his author, I find his drive an enormously valuable characteristic for kicking my plots into motion, but I'm pretty sure any people who have to live with him in book-world (his cousin Ivan, for instance) find him pretty obnoxious at times. Miles has a dangerous tendency to try to turn the people around him into his annexes, a trait most spectacularly resisted by his clone-brother Mark. It's the main reason feminist scholars trying to construct Miles as codedly feminine get about halfway through the analysis and go, "Um, but . . ."

I didn't write the volumes about Miles Vorkosigan in strict chronological order. Shards of Honor and The Warrior's Apprentice are the first two novels I ever wrote. Nevertheless, the proper direct sequel to Shards of Honor is actually Barrayar, written six years later—they are literally two halves of one story—and the proper sequel of The Warrior's Apprentice is The Vor Game, also written years later.

The series grew organically as I scrambled from book to book; neither I nor my readers—nor Miles—have known what would be next. Quite like real life, that way. I admit, by the time I'd finished The Warrior's Apprentice, the structural model of C. S. Forester's Hornblower books had entered my mind. In this series about a British navy captain in the Napoleonic Wars, Forester began in the middle of Hornblower's life and career, then jumped forward and back as the spirit moved him. Each book stood alone as a complete and independent novel, yet when you put them altogether, they turned into something larger than the sum of their parts, the character's overarching biography—stories within a mega-story. That structure gives a great deal of creative freedom, on a book by book basis. I've also found it allows each book to comment thematically and in other ways upon all the others, via a sort of literary hyperspace; an extra reward for the series reader's faithful dedication.

However, I have found by experiment that prequels suffer from certain constraints. The ending of the tale told has to not disrupt or contradict events that come later, and a character cannot grow beyond the bounds the writer has already shown. And there needs to be some explanation of why events are not causal in the intervening books, why an episode important enough to write a novel about is never subsequently-in-book-time thought about by the point of view character. Tricky. Lately, I've been sticking more to chronological order for these reasons.

My advice to new readers is: Begin reading the series where you are, and go on as you can. Which is not bad advice for life generally, come to think of it.

The next novel to be written wasn't about Miles, except very indirectly. It was Ethan of Athos, about an obstetrician from the planet forbidden to women. Charming fellow. Thereby hangs a tale that could only be science fiction. . . . 

Ethan of Athos had two main springs: consideration of what extra-uterine gestation might do to human society, and reaction to earlier SF works from the Fifties and Sixties, when I grew up and imprinted on the genre, that dealt with gender relations in the future, particularly the "Amazon planet" meme, which I now take (with half a century of hindsight) as that era's attempt to grapple with the impending issues of women's lib. Ethan was my contribution to the SF gender argument. The future universe in which all my SF plays out is not culturally uniform, and so I can explore more than one take on all these intertwined issues. Settings in the future also allow one to detach the underlying issues from current events and their emotional baggage, a standard useful SF hat trick.

At the time I wrote Ethan of Athos, I had not yet sold any novels, though two completed works were making the rounds of New York publishers. I had, however, made my first short story sale, and on the boost to my morale so provided, I embarked on this third novel. I was groping around for the magic trick by which I might break in, and among the advice I collected was "Try something short. The editors are less daunted by thinner manuscripts on their slush piles, and maybe they'll read it sooner!" So I was determined to keep the length under strict control. I still wasn't sure I would be able to sell the books as a series, although I quite liked the universe I had begun to develop, so I also wanted the next thing to be series-optional, not dependent on the two prior books but connectable to them if some editor did see the light. But more importantly—in the course of Shards of Honor I had tossed off as a mere sidebar the idea of the uterine replicator. Upon consideration, this appeared to me more and more a piece of technology that really did have the potential to change the world, and I wanted to explore some of those possible changes.

Extra-uterine gestation is not a new idea in SF. Aldous Huxley first used it way back in the early Thirties in Brave New World, but being who and where he was, used it mainly as part of a metaphoric exploration of specifically British class issues. I was a child of another country and time, with a very different worldview, and other issues interested me a lot more. Primary among my beliefs was that, given humanity as I knew it, there wasn't going to be just one way any new tech would be applied—and that the results were going to be even more chaotic than the causes.

One obvious consequence of the uterine replicator was the possibility of a society where women's historical monopoly on reproduction would be broken. All-male societies exist in our world—armies, prisons, and monasteries to name three—but all must resupply their populations from the larger communities in which they are embedded. This technology could break that dependence. I discarded armies and prisons as containing skewed or abnormally violent populations, and instead considered monasteries as a possible model for an all-male society both benign and, provably, viable over generations.

About this time—the winter of 1984/85—I went to a New Year's Eve party given by a nurse friend, and fell into a conversation about some of these nascent ideas with two men. One was an unmarried and notably macho surgeon, the other a hospital administrator with two children of his own. The two men took, interestingly, opposite sides of the argument of whether such an all-male colony could ever be workable. The macho surgeon rejected the notion out of hand; the man who'd actually had something to do with raising his own children was intrigued, and not so inclined to sell his gender short. (The surgeon, note, did not perceive that he was slandering his gender; in bragging about what he could not possibly do in the way of menial women's work, he was positioning himself and his fellows as ineluctably on the high-status end of human endeavor.) It was clear, in any case, that the topic was a hot one, of enormous intrinsic interest to a wide range of people.

My reader reaction has been pretty positive—or they wouldn't be my readers, QED. A somewhat circular proposition, there. Ethan of Athos has not been my top seller, and I do get echoes of negative response from unreconstructed homophobes now and then, who bounce off the very idea of the book. (A quick scan of the reviews on can give a self-selected slice of response from the general public.) But in general, if a straight person is open-minded and bright enough to read SF in the first place, they don't have a problem taking that book in stride. My gay readers like it that earnest physician Ethan was a fairly early positive portrayal (the book was first published in 1986), and that he's a fully-rounded person, not just an agenda with legs.

Falling Free came to be written as a result of a phone conversation with Jim Baen. I had written my first three science fiction novels "on spec," that is, without a prior contract or even contact with a publisher, which is pretty much the norm for first-time novelists. They'd sold on one memorable day in October 1985, in my very first phone conversation with Jim, when, after reading The Warrior's Apprentice, he called me up and offered for all three books. I was then faced, for the first time, with writing a novel with a known publishing destination, and intimidating expectations.

I had been thinking of following up a minor character from The Warrior's Apprentice named Arde Mayhew, a jump pilot afflicted with obsolete neural implant technology who would be on a quest for a ship that would fit him. I pictured him finding his prize among a group of people dwelling in an asteroid belt whose ancestors were bioengineered to live in free fall, and who were eking out a living, among other ways, as interstellar junk dealers. Jim was not much taken with Arde, but he seemed to perk up when I came to describe my proto-quaddies, and opined that a tale about them might be more interesting and science-fictional.

The quaddies' reason for being, or rather, being made, would be knocked asunder when a practical artificial gravity was developed. As I researched what was then known about free-fall physiology, it seemed to me that most of the obvious changes wouldn't necessarily leave people unable to return to a gravity environment. I came up with the notion of a second set of hands to replace legs after conversing with a NASA doctor about the dual problems the astronauts faced of leg atrophy, and their hands growing excessively tired as they took over the task while working of bracing oneself in place that on Earth is done by gravity. Having reasoned my way backward to their two-hundred-years-prior genesis, I decided to begin the quaddies' tale at the beginning, came up with the main characters, and from there, just followed their actions to their logical conclusions.

I decided to make my protagonist a welding engineer because I knew the type—my father was a professor in the subject, and one of my brothers had taken his degree in the specialty. This also seemed to handily solve my technical research problems; wrangling preschool children at the time, I knew I wasn't going to be able to get very far from home to do research, or much of anything else. This would have been early 1986.

I was about five chapters into the tale when my father died of a long-standing heart condition, in July of that year. At the timely invitation of then senior Baen editor Betsy Mitchell, I took a needed break to write my first novella—also the first work I'd ever sold before I wrote it, a scary step into a larger world for me as a writer. "The Borders of Infinity" had its start in about four pages of notes I'd scratched out for a potential Miles tale that drew on my early reading about WWII military prison camp breaks, an interest I shared with this volume's editor—Lillian lent me Escape from Colditz and other works on World War II way back in high school, not to mention the copy of Bridge Over the River Kwai that surfaced in my house. My notions didn't support a novel, but turned out to be perfect for the shorter length. Updating the technology of confinement—but not its psychology—provided the rest of the plot.

It found its place in Betsy's novella collection series in Free Lancers, along with tales by Orson Scott Card and David Drake, which may well have served as the first introduction of this new writer Bujold to some of their readers. After a few months, I was able to return to work on Falling Free and, my confidence boosted, send it to contract.

I then turned for technical research answers to my brother, and through him, to an engineer friend of his named Wally Voreck, who sent me the fascinating material on ice die formation, which is a real industrial process. With such a cool (literally) gimmick, I reasoned my way backward to a plot development that would use it as a solution. (Writers cheat with time, you know. We can run it both ways.)

But I did manage to sell the novel to Analog magazine as a four-part serial, which ran from December 1987 through February 1988. This brought my work to the attention of a whole pool of new readers who might not necessarily have picked the paperback (which came out in April of 1988) off the bookstore shelves. This was the first of several happy sales to Analog, one of my dad's favorites back in the Fifties and Sixties, and one of the first SF magazines I'd read when I was discovering the genre in my early teens. Since Falling Free was very much a tribute (if slyly updated) to the science fiction of that era, it felt much like coming full circle. The serial also was splendidly illustrated by Vincent di Fate; I still have five of the scratchboard originals, my first real art purchase. (He kindly adjusted his rates to my budget.)

Back in Warrior's Apprentice, Miles was forced to split himself into two personas, the constrained Lord Vorkosigan and the active Admiral Naismith. (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out how this relates to Mrs. Lois Bujold, housewife, and Lois McMaster Bujold, successful science fiction writer.) When in Brothers in Arms it became apparent to outsiders that there was going to be more than one of these books, I had a conversation with Jim Baen over what to dub the series in the little red banner on the front cover. He was voting for "A Miles Naismith Adventure," correctly identifying the admiral as by far the more charismatic of the pair. I held out for "A Miles Vorkosigan Adventure," and then wrote the novella "The Mountains of Mourning" to demonstrate to him why. I heard no complaints about the choice thereafter.

That novella was also a chance to explore mystery elements with an SF setting, in which Miles, a new-minted ensign, is sent up to his own District's backcountry to investigate a case of infanticide for mutation. This brings him face-to-face with those uglier aspects of Barrayar that he would most like to avoid, and foreshadows his future need to reintegrate himself, and through himself, Barrayar's past and future.

Inherent in Miles's split into his two sub-personas—something that was vital for his growth at the time (and most useful for my adventure series)—was the necessity for his ultimate reunion into an integrated maturity. In Brothers in Arms, which may otherwise appear a mere adventure series sequel, I began my first halting exploration of these ideas, where Miles, trapped on Earth, meets the clone who was made to replace him in a political plot aimed against his father. Miles's clone-brother Mark represented yet another mirror-split, of the dark and light aspects of a fully rounded person, as is traditional for doppelgänger suspense tales, but those were precisely the traditions I wanted to explode. In one of the many triumphs of the personal over the political in my books, Miles instead frees him.

"Labyrinth" was the last-written of the Miles-adventure novellas collected in Borders of Infinity. With two rather dark tales already in the bag, I decided to make this one something of a comedy, for balance.

The novella allowed me to ring changes through still another social milieu: in this case, Jackson's Whole, and what it might do with the new biological options. On this planet, laissez-faire capitalism has gone completely over the top, as the rule of law enforced by governments with guns is replaced by the rule of guys with enough money to hire guns. Here, the only limits of biotechnology are "whatever money can buy." For chaotic results, this serves up a smorgasbord to make an adventure author's mouth water. Since Miles is the master of chaos, this was a character and a setting made to bring out the most in each other, and indeed they did.

In every society, no matter its response to technology, the test of humanity comes out the same, and it has nothing to do with genetics. No one can be guilty of their own birth, no matter what form it takes. We need not fear our technology if we do not mistake the real springs of our humanity. It's not how we get here that counts; it's what we do after we arrive.

The character of the quaddie Nicol in "Labyrinth," though a rather minor player, got me thinking again about the quaddies and my lost promise to complete their saga, and how their exodus might have come out. But other stories were crowding for my attention, and the impulse slipped away yet again.

Usually, I can't reliably trace where my story ideas arise from, but in one case I can. The first element to trigger the "Weatherman" sequence that opened The Vor Game was a memoir. T. E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia), after his WWI adventures left him with what we would nowadays call a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder, attempted to change his identity and life by enlisting in the British air corps as a grunt under a pseudonym ("Aircraftman Shaw"). He wrote a memoir about going through enlisted basic training, titled The Mint, which pretty much summed up the dismal horrors of army basic upon a nervy, intelligent man. I read this, heavens, sometime back in the early Seventies; it went into the bag of authorial data and lay there pretty much dormant.

The second element was a story from Roman times. A Roman legion was deployed in, I believe, Dacia, somewhere off the Black Sea that had horrible cold winters. The high command was going through flip-flops over whether Christianity was to be an allowed religion among the troops. They decided it wasn't, and the order came down that everyone who had become Christian must recant. Forty men refused. To punish them, they were sent to go stand on the ice of a frozen lake naked until they changed their minds. One man broke, and decided to come back in. The other thirty-nine stood out on the ice, and one of the watching Roman officers was so impressed with their fortitude that he went out to join them, to make up their numbers. They all died together, and so became the early Christian martyr story known as "The Forty Martyrs of Sebastiani."

The third element goes back, again, to my father. He had a moonlighting job as a television weatherman in Columbus, Ohio, when I was growing up. And he was very good at this. His weather reports—analyses and predictions—were better than the military weather reports that the Strategic Air Command pilots at the local Air Force base were getting, as he discovered when they began to call him for forecasts. In addition, one of the things I had from my father was a picture, which hung on his home office wall for years, of an arctic weather station. It was a stylized watercolor print of a man in a parka who has come out into the snow and is checking his instruments. (I still have this.)

I was doing the dishes and listening to music, a tape by the Irish singer Enya, and on the tape was a song she sang in Latin. Now, I don't understand Latin, and I really have no idea what the song is really about, but somehow the sort of military-ecclesiastical rhythms made all the ideas cross-connect in my mind for the first time. And so I thought, "Ah, I know! I will send Miles to a miserable arctic army base as his first assignment, where he'll be assigned to be a weatherman and get in all kinds of trouble and replay 'The Forty Martyrs of Sebastiani' and he'll be the fortieth man." That would be the opening of the story and how he gets into trouble and gets reassigned back to ImpSec, all this in aid of eventually reconnecting him with the Dendarii Mercenaries.

The novella was actually an outtake from the larger The Vor Game, rather than the novel being a later extension or continuation; but the rest of the tale involved such large shifts in tone and setting, I've often wondered since if they really ought to have been two separate books. Too late now.

In the case of Barrayar, a direct sequel to Shards of Honor, the first part of the tale was already written. I'd cut off the last six or eight chapters of Shards because at the time I didn't quite know how to end a book and had rather overshot the ending, and had to back up to find a good stopping place. I set this fragment aside in my attic for several years. So about the first third of the book was already written when I was moved to go back and explore those themes and characters. I think it was a stronger, better book for the wait and the extra writing experience I'd accumulated in between—and certainly with a somewhat different plot—than if I had gone on to write it directly instead of turning my attention to The Warrior's Apprentice instead.

Barrayar explores what happens after the "happily ever after," which in real life is usually where the unglamorous long-haul work starts. Since Aral's work is a rather deadly brand of politics, the failure of which devolves into civil war, the action plot was obvious. (Well, by then it was. It hadn't been when I'd set it aside back in '83.) But in this early example of my many explorations of the personal versus the political, the biological versus the social, which are still ongoing in my work, the real subject of the tale is reproduction through adversity, political and otherwise—and, of course, through technology, compared-and-contrasted through several parallel couples and their different choices and chances.

Mirror Dance is most truly Mark's book, in which I came around again to complete what I'd merely attempted when he was introduced back in Brothers in Arms. But in that first pass on the problem, I realized in retrospect, I undercut myself by not including Mark's point of view, so that was the very first thing I corrected in the next try. In order to give Mark his chance to grow onstage it was also necessary to ruthlessly suppress Miles, which proved not without its satisfactions, and fruitful consequences. But here Mark finally obtained the viewpoint, the voice, and the story he needed to step out of his progenitor-brother's shadow.

Cetaganda was a prequel that had been kicking around for a while in the idea-form of "Miles and Ivan go to the Cetagandan state funeral, and . . ." with no idea of what happened next. When I finally came to write the tale, it just seemed to call for younger and more naïve characters, so I set the way-back machine to their early twenties. The story might have fallen elsewhere in their timeline, but would have been a rather different tale.

In Cetaganda, I explored disparate consequences of the Vorkosiverse's reproductive technologies in a very different social milieu. The Cetagandan haut use replicators and associated genetic engineering to construct their race's entire genome as a community property under strict central control. Although spread among many individuals, the genome becomes conceptualized as a work of art being consciously sculpted by its haut-women guardians. Where this is finally going, even the haut women do not have the hubris to guess—one of their few saving graces.

In addition, Cetaganda allowed me to do something a writer can pull off especially nicely in a series—critique or comment upon the assumptions of earlier books. I had originally tossed off the Cetagandans as mostly-offstage and rather all-purpose bad guys to stir up some plot action for my heroes. But the Barrayarans had started out as bad guys too, from a certain point of view. The closer I came to them, the more complicated their picture grew. No one is a villain in their own eyes; when I brought the story closer to the Cetagandans, they, too, became more complex and ambiguous. I was very pleased with the effect.

Memory was pretty much a direct result of Mirror Dance. I didn't think a person should undergo so profound an experience as death and a return to life with no consequences or without learning anything, although I downplayed these at the end of the prior book so as not to alarm my publisher.

In Mirror Dance, Miles gets killed—and cryonically frozen, and eventually revived and repaired. But the cryo-freeze does him subtler damage than brittle bones, resulting in an idiosyncratic (i.e., literarily convenient) form of epilepsy. The reward for a job well done is another job. After watching Miles overcome every physical setback in his passionate pursuit of his military career, in Memory I set him a problem that really would throw him out of the military, one inside his own brain, one he couldn't get around—and then sat back to see what would happen. What happened was, that he grew up, in some extremely interesting ways. The epilepsy is surely a metaphor for something, in Miles's life; that his handicap has mutated from something external to something internal as he matures surely has significance, and if I ever figure out what it is, I'll let you know.

I had my eye on the reintegration aspect of Memory, in its essences if not in its accidents, since at least Brothers in Arms; in fact, it was inherent from the moment Miles popped out his desperate creation of Admiral Naismith back in Chapter Seven of The Warrior's Apprentice. I knew that Miles's eventual destiny was to reassemble himself whole, sometime before age forty. How this was to come about was much less apparent.

Somewhere I have a penciled outline of about seven chapters of a book involving Miles dealing with Simon Illyan's memory chip going glitchy. It was the oblique result of encounters with my sister-in-law's aging mother, who was undergoing a protracted Alzheimer's-like debilitation. While visiting, I stayed with her one afternoon while my brother and his wife ran errands. I found it was possible to carry on an oddly satisfactory conversation with her, if I didn't care where the conversation went. She still had interesting things to say, in a fragmentary sort of way; they just weren't in any order, and I had to take them as they came up, and maybe string them together later.

To me, whose identity is so bound up with intellectual achievement and value, Trudie Senior's situation seemed boundlessly horrific, and Trudie Junior's unfailing day-by-day care of her rather more heroic than anything I'd ever put one of my fictional characters through. And so the idea came to me in techno-metaphor of Simon Illyan's eidetic memory chip failing, and Miles somehow coming to his rescue. One of the deep appeals of fiction is the ability, as my friend Lillian here once put it, "To heal with the stroke of a pen."

I had a choice between starting that book, or doing the one where Miles reencountered his clone-brother Mark. Patricia Wrede, after listening perhaps once too often to my set speech about prequel determinism versus sequel free will, talked me into doing the Mark book first, rather than writing it as a prequel later, even though I was rather excited about the memory-chip idea. I am exceedingly grateful to Pat for that. Because the book that resulted changed Miles and his world.

It had been plain to me, if not to my chief protagonist, that for a long time Miles had been getting along by living a lie, and at some point in his life, this ought to turn around and bite him. Miles was living his adolescent dream, which once had given him vital growth, but now was proving increasingly sterile; it was time for him to grow up and move into a more fully adult, fully rounded life. But he was also getting an enormous amount of validation out of his Naismith persona; it was equally clear that he would not willingly give that up, even if another part of him was, almost literally, dying to move on.

Mirror Dance supplied the missing pieces for both plot and theme in Memory, in the form of Miles's own cryo-revival damage and subsequent seizure disorder, and it finally achieved critical mass.

In Memory, Illyan's loss of his military career is closely contrasted with Miles's loss of his. (Parallels, spirals, and reflections are some of my favorite literary patterns.) Illyan gets to dump, after thirty grueling years, a job that had eaten his life. He was mortally tired, and ready for the change, however high the ransom he had to pay for himself.

When Illyan gives up being Chief of Imperial Security, it's as if he has a thousand-pound weight lifted from his shoulders. Punch-drunk, he is. No wonder he warbles a bit. Illyan's losses are great—removal of the chip returns him to normal temporal perception, but too dangerously absentminded to continue as an officer—yet there are surprising compensations. His emotional side that his job required him to suppress for years finally gets a chance to flower. And it's contagious; relationships that had been frozen in place for years thaw and change when he changes.

And there's another variant on the book's theme; even after such profound change, as another character remarks, what you get back is ". . . your life again. What else?" Illyan was ready to be finished with that earlier part of his life, and move on. Miles both was and wasn't; part of him had to drag the rest of him, kicking and bitching the whole way, onto higher ground. Watching Illyan adjust, Miles and his maniacal drive for achievement get a valuable nonverbal but very sharp critique from the man who was his most revered mentor. Trust me, it's very good for him.

Memory was published a couple of months before Trudie Senior's long, long death came to an end. I sent a copy to the dedicatees. Trudie Junior said: "I showed it to her . . . You do what you can."

I really, really wanted to write a lighter book after Memory. I didn't think I could, or should, attempt two thematically "big," emotionally draining books in a row. It's like spacing pregnancies too close together; it leaches the minerals out of your bones. But Komarr lay across my path to everything else; it had to be done first.

Komarr is the romantic drama; A Civil Campaign the romantic comedy. After all, Miles had two births, and will have two deaths, why shouldn't he have two romances? On a practical level, the split of the emotional plot of story into two halves was to solve a problem of tone. I could not have combined the material I dealt with in Komarr with a comedy of the goofiness I desired in the same book. It would have been too schizophrenic even for me.

Again, with military plots knocked out of the menu, mystery and suspense—and romance—took up the load. Miles is sent to Komarr, a planet his father helped conquer a generation before, in the unenviable position of a hated occupier, to investigate the possible sabotage of a solar mirror designed to help terraform the planet, a very long-range project. There he meets Ekaterin, his female opposite in most ways, whose life has been as restricted as his has been adventurous. Each, it turns out, has value to offer the other, this time across boundaries of culturally mandated gender splits. The backdrop of a cold world requiring decades of dedication to bring to fruitfulness is not accidental.

Meanwhile, I'd been itching to write a Barrayaran Regency romance ever since I realized I'd given Barrayar a regency period. I dedicated it to four inspiring female writers. I'd read Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre fairly early on, but I only came to Georgette Heyer and Dorothy L. Sayers in my twenties, when my reading branched out, and I've only picked up Jane Austen fairly recently. Heyer remains my favorite comfort reading—A Civil Campaign is very much a tribute to her—though there was a period when her inherent class-ism got up my nose. Sayers's work, even more than that of C. S. Forester and Arthur Conan Doyle, is a model for the kind of wonderful character development that can only be done over a long series.

The tale offered many delicious levels of play, not least that of dissecting a lot of romance tropes under a true SF knife. What happens to the old dance between men, women, and DNA when new technologies explode old definitions of, well, everything? What happens to a tradition-bound society whose channels of property and power assume gender divisions and functions that new science throws into a cocked hat? Just what rude things do those butter bugs symbolize? What happens to two supposedly immiscible genres when you put them both in a bottle and give it a good shake? What can each say about the other? Chamomile tea and blasters: give me both!

The butter bugs in A Civil Campaign have several sources. First, I was a biology major back in my college days, and my faculty advisor was an insect toxicologist. He raised various strains of cockroaches in his lab to test poisons and resistances. (For some reason, the animal rights people never hassled him. . . . ) His most interesting strain was one which, when he sprinkled roach powder in their plastic boxes, would stand up on their hind two legs with their front four legs on the sides, a behavioral adaptation. I also did a great deal of insect photography during that period.

Second were some wonderful old Robert Sheckley tales read in my youth about a pair of down-on-their-luck spacers and their misadventures with live cargo. Thirdly was the movie Joe's Apartment, and fourthly, at about the same time, was a trip to the Minnesota State Fair where I saw, among other things, a large apiary exhibit. I was scratching around for an idea for a short story when the notion of entrepreneur Mark's adventure in bioengineering with Doctor Borgos and his yogurt-barfing bugs first began to take shape. It quickly became apparent both that the idea could not be crammed into the length, and that it was much too good to waste on a mere short story, and so the Vorkosigan House butter bug scheme was born. Or hatched.

The butter bugs have proved very popular with the readers, generating butter bug hand puppets, at least two fan-written songs, and a great deal of speculation as to their future. (Fans have written well over a hundred songs about my stories, to date. And then there are the limericks . . .)

Life went on, for me and my characters. The opening situation of the book that became Diplomatic Immunity called for Miles, in his brand-new hat as a Barrayaran Imperial Auditor (a kind of high-level troubleshooter), to become involved in straightening out an imbroglio with a Barrayaran fleet at a deep-space station. I had an entire wormhole nexus to choose from for this setting, and it occurred to me that this gave me the long-awaited chance to visit Quaddiespace and finally see how Falling Free had come out. Because I rather wanted to know. It was unfinished business that still niggled, though the time and impulse for anything like a direct sequel was past and long past.

A subplot featured the free-fall quaddie ballet. It's my favorite part of the book. I am pleased to note it, too, has inspired a filk song, and a good one; it seems a just reward that a chapter which is in effect an essay on the nature of art as an expression of cultural identity should garner a critique which is itself a worthy piece of art. That these most wonderful of dancers have neither legs nor feet, and after a short time neither their audience nor my readers notice, was another plus.

Over and beyond the quaddie Nicol, several of the novel's other precursors are found in "Labyrinth." Most especially, of course, the tale of Bel Thorne, the Betan hermaphrodite, although some of the unfinished business with Bel stems most directly from the end of Mirror Dance. But I found a certain pleasing roundness to connecting the first tale in this universe to, if not the last, the latest.

I'd also known I wanted to do something with the possibilities presented by the Cetagandan child-ships ever since I came up with the idea for them back when I was writing Cetaganda. And I've long wanted to play a bit with yet more varieties of bioengineering on humans in Miles's universe, so this tale also gave me a chance to introduce Guppy, the somewhat hapless prototype of an amphibian human species.

So Diplomatic Immunity drew mainly on information I had in hand, or in brain, rolled with the usual themes: biology, bioengineering, we have met the aliens and they is us, plans not surviving contact with the enemy—or with one's friends, for that matter—and, above all, the transactional nature of parenthood.

I'm asked frequently where I'm planning to go next with the Vorkosiverse. Have I written myself into a corner with Miles?

Well, one of the things I like to do is take nonstandard heroes and run them through the wringer and see what happens. So coming up with a plot of the right weight for Miles in his current situation is an interesting challenge.

Given powerful characters, there are still a lot of ways that the writer can play with them. The protagonist can be given a more powerful adversary, but then one gets into kind of a hero-villain arms race that ends up with the Superman–Lex Luthor scenario. A more interesting plan of attack is to look for the hero's uncorrected flaws, and focus on them. The hero may have all these new strengths, but he or she still has other weaknesses. One can separate a powerful character from his matrix of support, isolate and drop him back into a less-powerful position. Since Miles is a character sent out on galactic missions, that approach has a lot of scope for him.

The possibilities just have to become more ingenious. The kind of simple physical plots that test younger characters are now not appropriate for Miles—not that he has ever dealt with anything but curve balls. The story has to find a different realm or level of challenge. For example, moral problems are not going to be particularly amenable to a character's having more power, because that's not the kind of thing that solves them.

The wormhole structure of my universe gives the advantage to the defense. It requires and rewards interplanetary cooperation. But it also means that any planet has a limited number of immediate neighbors to conveniently have conflicts with, and Barrayar's neighborhood is pretty quiet at the moment. So if I want to stir up trouble for Miles I may have to stir it up someplace else than near his homeworld.

The Vorkosiverse has eons of future history—a thousand before Miles, plus after. What's his world going to look like ten thousand years down his timeline, when this human speciation has exploded? I envision all these different aliens that were once us.

I've thought about setting a story in another era, but these are ideas without characters and if it doesn't have a character it's not a story that picks up and runs. The Miles universe is presently snagged on Miles. He's such a pivotal character, such a world-changer, that I don't know where the universe goes after him—unless I jump so far ahead it becomes a matter of indifference whether he lived or died. Which is a rather sad notion.

More people ask about whether Ivan is going to get married than how human evolution is going to go ten thousand years down the timeline (although, when you think about it, the two questions are profoundly related). We see Ivan a lot through Miles's eyes, and Miles is . . . opinionated, let's say, but beneath Ivan Vorpatril's lazy facade is a real lazy man. When we finally saw Ivan through his own mind, as a viewpoint character in A Civil Campaign, some people were disappointed because there wasn't more there. They had constructed Ivan as this man of mystery.

But the Ivan that you see is pretty much the Ivan that you get. He could be challenged, and he would rise to the occasion. Without the challenge, he would just lie there. Nothing is more life-disrupting for a hapless character than to accidentally stumble into one of my books. When I was writing A Civil Campaign and it was time for one of Ivan's scenes, I always had the feeling that he was hiding out from me much the way he hid out from his mother when she had unpleasant chores for him. He whined pitifully whenever I dragged him back onstage. Clearly, I'll have to think about something special for Ivan. He'll hate it, but he doesn't get a vote.

Addressing some of the more common general questions about the Vorkosiverse's roots: Miles's world, Barrayar, is steeped in Russian culture, while their rivals the Betans are more Californian. It was likely my Cold War milieu that inspired me to create a world peopled by the descendants of Russians—plus, it must be admitted, the lingering influence of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.'s most personable hero, Illya Kuryakin. When I started the work in late 1982, it looked like the Cold War would go on forever. But in a moment of canny something-or-another—I know it wasn't foresight—I did not make my future Russians necessarily descended from the Soviet Union. I was more strategically vague than that, which put me ahead of the curve when the Soviet Union fell in 1989.

Vor society is not based on Soviet society. Its Time-of-Isolation social structure had devolved to a species of neo-feudalism, for the same reasons of poor communications that the original feudalism evolved to address. I've selected bits and pieces of social inspiration from sources as diverse as Meiji Japan, Imperial Russia and Germany, and whatever other historical sources came my way, building up my own mental picture about how the real world, and therefore fictional worlds, work.

I don't know whether the planet Barrayar is called in honor of the ruling family VorBarra or vice versa. I make up my backgrounds as needed for the tale I'm writing, and I don't fix the details until they are needed (they might, after all, need to be something else). So we won't find out until I set a tale in an earlier period, which doesn't look likely to happen any time soon.

Whether the Galaxy common language is English or not depends on the region. In Miles's neck of the woods, it appears to be English. Some English-descended dialect may be the interstellar lingua franca the way English is the language of international air traffic, for the same practical reasons (it got there first, everybody needs to be able to communicate with everyone else for safety reasons, whatever). I haven't explored the probable effects of really good automatic/computerized real-time translations that we may presume would be developed by then, except in passing at that dinner scene in Brothers in Arms where the earbugs were late arriving.

There is the usual rainbow of human races in the Vorkosiverse, too, beyond Barrayar and Beta Colony. The homogeneity of those rather suburban planetary settings is simply a result of their colonization histories. Both were, in quite different ways, "lost" colonies. The original colonizing groups were likely up to eighty percent Caucasian, and the minority racial phenotypes present among the founders were subsumed over time. The mixed genes are still in there, which is why the most common coloration on Barrayar is black hair, brown eyes, and olive skin. "Race" is an arguable concept anyway in a universe where anyone can alter any genetic trait at will in their offspring, and, with rather more medical difficulty, even in themselves. Even "species" turns out to have fuzzy borders.

I tried to use as many ethnic names as possible to reflect Barrayar's colonization history. French, Russian, Greek, and British names thus should appear a lot, with an odd smattering of names of totally unrelated ethnic origins depending on who chanced to be among the fifty thousand Firsters.

I'm occasionally asked whether Miles's mother Cordelia could be a secret agent of Beta Colony. I think while she is certainly not an agent of the Betan government, she is a vector of Betan culture. She feels that her homeworld has many strengths that Barrayar can learn from, not least a great deal of practice at living with what advanced technologies and biotechnologies can do to a society. So, she is an agent of change and for progressive thinking. Although that's plenty enough to work up a great conspiracy theory with, and I'm sure those Barrayarans who resent and resist change have.

As to how Cordelia, a soldier of an enemy planet, could not only get access to Barrayar but thrive there, several factors contributed. First of all, Aral wanted her, and he has a certain amount of power in this situation. Aral was also expected to marry and have a son, since Barrayar is one of those cultures where it is part of one's social duty as a member of the aristocracy to create the next generation. His father Piotr certainly wanted Aral to get on with the job, and Piotr is also a man with a great deal of clout in this situation.

Cordelia also created her own status by being an enemy soldier, and a successful one. She became admired, rather the way some American military history buffs admire General Rommel ("The Desert Fox" of WWII fame in North Africa), who although he was the enemy was good at what he did and had some interesting positive qualities. It is quite possible to admire an honorable enemy, especially if one is a militarist and attached to the military virtues oneself. And most critically, Emperor Ezar wanted Aral married so that he would not be trying to stage a coup by marrying Kareen, the dowager crown princess. Cordelia might not have been Ezar's first pick, but she was the woman on the spot.

As for villains in the Vorkosiverse—I have some realistic ones and a few extraordinary ones, and I have to admit, the more over-the-top sorts are very handy to have around. Though I've always wondered, looking at the high-end villains in James Bond movies for example—if they have all the resources they display in the course of the plot, why haven't they just invested them all in mutual funds and retired? They clearly don't need to be villains in order to meet any rational need they could have. Few real people just go out and say "I'm going to be villainous today!," barring the sort of resentful unbalanced loser who has become wound up in his own personal status emergency, which he has decided to share with everyone around him. There is a natural preference for the high-end villains in adventure fiction, however, because the satisfaction of defeating them is unimpaired by messy ambiguities. Waxing the bad guy fixes the problem simply and cathartically, and now the reader can close the book, turn out the lights, and go to bed.

But for the majority of ordinary people not in books who find themselves doing evil things, it's because they've fallen into a situation that they don't understand, didn't predict, didn't anticipate. Sometimes they get drawn into evil just because they don't realize that they can say "No!" Or the cost of saying "no" means that they will be shot. That sort of situation is especially ambiguous and difficult. There are hundreds of ways people can be psychologically manipulated into acts they would never have thought they could or would do, both good and bad—it happens all the time, in wars, in political or economic crises, in domestic violence. Army basic training is an example; so are propaganda and atrocity stories and news spins and religious indoctrination, and on and on. Human beings are immensely malleable. But these realistic sorts of resultant evil are more usually in the background than the foreground in my action-oriented tales, being much harder to bring to closure.

The very last Miles story I wrote before breaking off, or out, of the SF milieu to try my hand again at fantasy was the novella "Winterfair Gifts," set against the backdrop of Miles and Ekaterin's wedding. I came to it after completing Diplomatic Immunity, violating my rule against prequels, but not by much. Like "The Borders of Infinity" novella, it had its seeds in some ideas and images I'd been kicking around earlier that did not seem to support the weight of a whole novel. And like the prior work, their right-sized container found them when I was approached by an editor, in this case Catherine Asaro. She wanted to try some crossover blending between the usually immiscible genres of F&SF and Romance, a project that appealed to me on many levels. (Reintegration across boundaries, again.) The tale gave me a chance to follow up on Sergeant Taura, and explore the character of Roic, whose development had intrigued me in Diplomatic Immunity. A wedding seemed a fitting, if not end, resting place for the series, symbolic as it is of the triumph of the comic, the domestic, and the personal. And the universal.


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