I would like to clone Lois McMaster Bujold...
February 14, 2011 10:49 AM   Subscribe

I would like to clone Lois McMaster Bujold...

but that's impossible and probably immoral and anyways her genetic twin would be a different person and have different interests and talents, as she herself has pointed out. So failing that, I was hoping that someone could recommend some Bujold-esque books for me.

Over the past year or more, I've become a huge fan of Lois McMaster Bujold (author of the Chalion, Vorkosigan, and Sharing Knife series). However, I've now exhausted her published corpus, and re-read most of it as well, and yet my Bujold cravings go on. (Because misery loves company, I'm also happily addicting the rest of my family and friends). I was hoping that I might tap into the very well-read hive mind for some rather specific book recommendations to help wean me.

What I have been specifically enjoying in Bujold's books have a) compelling and complex characters who aren't Shining Heros or Complete Monsters but who have problems and change and grow in response to the world, but also b) the overall stories are relatively easy to read, and have a happy ending or at least leave me feeling like there is hope for the world. Within her corpus, my favorite books are those which are more character and relationship driven, rather than plot driven (Cetaganda is my least favorite, bc it is a mystery novel without much emotional development for the characters, Dimplomatic Immunity was only okay, and Cryoburn was helped a lot by the character of Jin to bring in that personal connection) - and this is something that holds for my overall tastes.

On the light side of fantasy/SF, I've read lots of Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey, and enjoyed most of it. But their works can suffer from the disease I think of as the black&white-people syndrome: all non-evil people must be therefore good, and therefore get on just fine and are friends and there is no interpersonal conflict and I die of saccrine poisoning and boredom. I feel like I've exhausted their books which don't suffer from these problems, or at least don't suffer from it that badly. I like crabby characters, and flawed people, and heroes with low self-esteem who have character growth over the course of the story, and still aren't perfect at the end. (Indeed, in the Vorkosigan series, I'm as interested in the very troubled Mark as much as the the charismatic Miles, and I think the best stories about Miles are when he's at his most vulnerable, such as in Memory or a Civil Campaign, as opposed to the Vor Game or Cetaganda). The better historical romance novelists can have very good characters, and definitely have happy endings because they are required by the genre. But the restrictions on the genre and the rapidity of production by most authors leads to a great deal of repetition -- I know I've read too much Mary Balogh when I see her completely re-using characters and plot elements.

On the complex character side, I've just started reading Octavia Butler, who brings the complexity of character that I like. But at the same time, her work can be quite (realistically) dark - I just finished Kindred, which is very good, but it did leave me feeling very down. I'm planning to continue reading her books, but I would like to leaven my reading with some other books as well - I really like when there is a happy ending (not completely happy - that would be saccrine. But the world goes on and is mostly okay and/or getting better type of ending). I also started C.J. Cherryh's Downbelow Station and it began well (I have enjoyed her books in the past), but it seemed just a bit more idea-driven than my current craving (I put it aside for later).

I've been looking at Library Thing to get more ideas, but that seems to recommend by genre, whereas I'm currently more interested in similarities of style/characterisation (for right now). I'm not interested in other space-opera unless like Bujold's it's more about character than ships (I tend to glaze over all of the few action scenes Bujold does include), and I'm similarly not very interested in epic fantasy unless it is character driven -- for example, I enjoyed Kate Elliott's Jaran Series more than her Crown of Stars, because of the deeper focus on fewer characters, though her Crown of Stars is much more popular. I do tend to stay in the SF/Fantasy side of the pond, with dips out to historical fiction. I don't really know why - I just tend to find alien/foreign settings more interesting than contemporary ones, though I also have liked some urban fantasy.

Books I've read recently that have fit this specific craving: Jane Yolen, L.M. Montgomery, Melanie Rawn, Kate Elliott's Jaran series, Robin McKinley, Joan D. Vinge, and (of course) Bujold.
posted by jb to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
Steven Brust has quite a different style than Bujold, but he has the same sort of shades-of-gray character driven plots with good humor that you're describing, particularly in the Vlad Taltos series, which has a lot of long term developments and life changes. I'm not sure if he's what you're looking for, but in my experience, people who place Bujold near the top of their list also place Brust there.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:59 AM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Hmm... Midshipman's Hope definitely has space opera elements, but it is character driven and the hero is not black or white good (something which he feels intensely.)
posted by Jahaza at 11:01 AM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: You might enjoy the works of Connie Willis; I'm thinking specifically of her Oxford Time Travel books (Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout, All Clear), but all of her work has a very similar vibe. The series, as the name suggests, is about time-traveling "historians" in the near future. They are more plot-driven than LMB, and three of them are considerably darker (though not, I would say, with downer endings), but To Say Nothing of the Dog is everyone's favorite because it is character-based and completely light and full oh whimsy.
posted by sineala at 11:04 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree strongly with Brust and Willis as recommendations for a Bujold lover (like myself!), and I wanted to add the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. The stories are straightforward (good) mysteries, but it's all very character and relationship driven (particularly after Harriet Vane shows up, so give it a few books before you write it off). Plus, the characters are complicated and interesting, and they change and grow over the course of the series. I was obsessively re-reading Sayers at about the same time I was obsessively re-reading Bujold, Brust, and Willis (no kidding).
posted by hought20 at 11:07 AM on February 14, 2011

I would like to clone LMB as well. Here are some other authors I enjoy: Guy Gavriel Kay, George RR Martin, Gillian Bradshaw, Rosemary Sutcliff, Laurie R. King (you'd probably like her stand-alone books, such as "A Darker Place" and "Folly"), and Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus books (more YA).
posted by mogget at 11:13 AM on February 14, 2011

James Alan Gardner has written some good stuff with complex characters.
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:17 AM on February 14, 2011

Response by poster: I have read Doomsday Book - I didn't realise To Say Nothing of the Dog was in that series, or that there were more. It's probably what I should read to bring myself back up emotionally from Kindred : ) (I recently got it, but set it aside because at that moment I felt like emotionally meatier stuff - but it sounds like a good dessert book).

Brust sounds very interesting, though I admit to being intimidated by a series of over a dozen books all with alien names. I'll look for his stand-alone, Broken-down Palace, which sounds very interesting.
posted by jb at 11:19 AM on February 14, 2011

I love Bujold's fantasy-meh on her Vorkosigan books, after the first two. I think you'd really like Robin Hobb's Assassin series-flawed character, very well written, humor and darkness. Love em.
posted by purenitrous at 11:23 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

jb, Brokedown Palace nominally stands alone but it's also set in a weirdly parallel universe to the main world Brust writes in, Dragaera, and it's rife with Grateful Dead puns and inside jokes. I wouldn't recommend starting there for him; I'd suggest jumping right into the Vlad Taltos books with Jhereg. They read fast fast fast like wow fast and by the third book you're deep into the sense of depth the world affords, which grows richer book by book.
posted by cgc373 at 11:36 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Elizabeth Bear: She's done a lot of great stuff, but I'm particularly enjoying her current Dust, Chill series. Here's one of her better shorts, Shoggoths in Bloom.

Anything by Emma Bull will work for you too. War for the Oaks is what everyone knows of her, but I prefer her later works. Bone Dance is exactly what you're looking for.

Jon Water Williams is, in my view, the male version of Bujold. His masterworks are Metropolitan and City On Fire, but I grab anything with his name on it as soon as I see it. His Praxis/Dread Empire series is probably closest to Bujold's Vorkosigan books, lots of ambiguous characters, anti-heros and almost romances.
posted by bonehead at 11:42 AM on February 14, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry - I should probably have included Robin Hobb in the list of authors I have read recently. I do like Hobb's Assasin series, as well as the other trilogies set in that world. The Soldier Son started very well, but I found myself bogged down in the third and didn't end up finishing it. (I should go back). My favorite of hers actually is Cloven Hooves, which was published under the name Megan Lindholm, and is sadly out of print (as far as I can tell). That said, I wouldn't say that her books are light reading, not like most of Bujold - more like the Chalion books, especially The Hallowed Hunt.
posted by jb at 11:44 AM on February 14, 2011

Yes, please, please do not start Brust by reading Brokedown Palace. Start with Jhereg.
posted by hought20 at 11:47 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Denise Lopes Heald -- Mistwalker
Robin McKinley -- Sunshine
posted by anaelith at 12:09 PM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: I have been stuck in Bujold-land for a while, too. I end up on the YA side a lot for this kind of reading - evidently Harry Potter and Twilight have resulted in a lot of character oriented fantasy being marketed to the teen market. I also have kept towards the light side of things since having babies, as it seems like I can't really handle dark stuff these days. I read Hobb's Assassin trilogy recently, and couldn't quite finish it (after loving the first) because it just kept getting darker and I couldn't take it.

How about Megan Whalen Turner's Queen's Thief series, starting with The Thief. I really liked these.

Have you read Sharon Shinn? I don't have a specific recommendation, as I pretty much enjoy everything she writes. She has several different world settings/series, with relationship-oriented plots. Kind of similar to Robin McKinley in some ways, I think. Both sci-fi and fantasy.

Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore are also lighter and enjoyable YA fantasy/romance.
posted by pekala at 12:24 PM on February 14, 2011

Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile and Galactic Milieu Series. You could read the two series in either order, though personally I'd go with the order they were published in (Pliocene, then Milieu).
posted by roosterboy at 12:36 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might want to consider Joe Abercrombie's thick trilogy, The First Law, starting with The Blade Itself. It's fantasy, and a good deal grittier than the Vorkosigan books, which are the only Bujold I know. I'd put it more into fantasy-noir that Vorkosigan's (mostly) light, sweeping adventure, but it's not gloomy, and it does have (for me anyway, everyone's mileage will vary) a similar way of taking its characters seriously as complex individuals with strengths and flaws.
posted by Naberius at 1:34 PM on February 14, 2011

Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette's A Companion to Wolves is alas only one book - but the next one's due in August - and is the perfect antidote to the saccharine side of McCaffrey and Lackey (don't get me wrong, I own a lot of Valdemar books and haven't got rid of all the McCaffreys either, but sometimes it does get a bit much). (Yes, the names in ACtW get confusing. Don't worry about it, you only really need to pay attention to Isolfr and Viradechtis). Sarah Monette on her own has the characters you're looking for but is not necessarily easy to read, but on the other hand, you will keep finding more new things on every reread.

I have just reread ACtW, before that it was a pile of Barbara Hambly's Darwath novels (soon to be released as ebooks, apparently), next it's going to be a Vorkosiganor two and maybe getting back into GRR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.
posted by Lebannen at 3:26 PM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: Many, many recommendations in this thread do not fit my idea of Bujold-esque or character-driven or hopeful in tone or headed toward a happy ending. Indeed, on the latter two points, quite a few just aren't that at all. Here's a pretty close fit: Steve Miller and Sharon Lee's Liaden books.

It's space opera, but as requested, it's little to do with the spaceships and stuff. They are action-oriented manners romances full of uplifting humor and wisdom.

They keep being reissued in omnibuses that re-order them. I recommend reading them in publication order, per Wikipedia, and you can skip the ones set in the ancient past. What you want are what Wikipedia lists as the Agent of Change books (out in three mmpb omnibuses right now), plus Fledgling and Saltation.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:13 PM on February 14, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for your suggestions - I've made notes on them.

I was thinking today and trying to figure out what I like about Bujold and in other books, and I think it is the combination of romance (not necessarily couple-ish, but that's good), angst and humor.
posted by jb at 8:33 PM on February 14, 2011

how about Elizabeth Moon? especially Heris Serrano, but Vatta's War is pretty good too. They both have Vorkosigan-esque aristocratic families and lots of character growth.
posted by ansate at 8:49 PM on February 14, 2011

I think it is the combination of romance ... , angst and humor.

The Brust and the Williams then, I think are your best choices. The Vlad books are the way to read Brust, but if you can find the Aristoi books by Williams, I think you'll really enjoy them.

And if you haven't yet encountered Roger Zelazny yet, well, I envy you. With Zelazny, I'd start with Lord of Light and the first five books of the Amber sequence. A Night in a Lonesome October is my personal favourite and would also suit you well.
posted by bonehead at 9:23 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just because it hasn't be said enough, do not start with Brokedown Palace. It's really very inaccessible.
posted by yeolcoatl at 12:03 AM on February 15, 2011

You really cannot read Brokedown Palace until you've read at least three or four of the Vlad Taltos books, full stop. If you want a standalone non-Taltos, go with one of my favorites, Agyar, or another, The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. The one is an extended meditation on love and sacrifice and elegant but unnamed monsters, the other about the nature and rigors of a life dedicated to art. Endings may be ambiguous, not necessarily happy, not necessarily sad. Sort of like Memory, not Civil Campaign.

Romance, huh? Like Georgette Heyer's romances? Zelazny's definitely seconded, and Dave Duncan reminds me of the writers mentioned here.

Lee and Miller, also seconded, but the central characters may be a bit two-dee for your tastes?

Diana Wynne Jones, perhaps?
posted by gentilknight at 6:51 PM on February 15, 2011

I also like Bujold and, when I read your question, spent some time thinking about what other writers I like for the same reasons. I came up with Trollope. He also has complex characters (particularly in the Palliser series) and can usually be relied upon not to be too dark. He doesn't have Bujold's humour though.

You mention historical novels - have you read Heyer? A Civil Campaign is a bit Heyer-like in its farce.

Also, you might enjoy Robertson Davies, though he can be a bit dark. There's a great party scene in Leaven of Malice wch reminds me a bit of the dinner-party in ACC.
posted by paduasoy at 8:05 AM on February 16, 2011

Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton: Trollope with Dragons (and a sparkle in the eye).
posted by bonehead at 8:13 AM on February 16, 2011

My Re-read shelves hold Bujold's Vorkosigan series --- including Cetaganda. I've developed a big interest in Ivan & appreciate him for the competent promotable army officer he is -- not just the personna he projects to keep from being used to figure-head a drive for his cousin's empire. My first favorite was Cordelia, strong female character in powerful employment, who falls in love with a man from another world, one where she has no sympathy/empathy -- & grows to emperor's teacher & later manages a planet.

I'm liking Pierce's series -- starts as juveniles, heroine age 10 (Alanna) & grows -- with many women of power, from warriors (Protector of the Small series) to healers, shape changers, to teachers, to mages to detectives/police & even political spies.

A good jump in for adults who don't like juveniles -- Trickster's Choice, followed by Trickster's Queen. Me -- I like all 19+

the 3rd in the police series is due out this year (Terrier, Bloodhound).
posted by Earthwoman at 8:26 PM on February 18, 2011

Best answer: Ethics be damned - clone her! Post back here when the first results come flooding in. I presume you have a growth accelerant so we don't need to wait 20+ years?
posted by shimmerbug at 12:57 PM on February 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

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