Winner of three Nebula Awards and a mind-boggling five Hugos, Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the most prominent and beloved science fiction and fantasy authors working today. She’s perhaps best known for her long-running Vorkosigan saga, which began with the 1986 novel The Warrior's Apprentice and follows the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan, a man who lives an extraordinary life despite having been born with an array of physical problems on a planet where physical disability is feared and abhorred.
The last full-length Vorkosigan novel, Diplomatic Immunity, was published in 2002 (a novella, “Winterfair Gifts,” appeared in 2004). In the intervening years, Ms. Bujold has kept busy with a number of other projects, notably The Sharing Knife tetralogy and several books set in the fictional kingdom of Chalion (one of which, Paladin of Souls, won the Hugo Award in 2004). It was with surprise and delight that we learned earlier this year that a new Vorkosigan book, CryoBurn, was on the horizon…and now it’s here.
Recently, Ms. Bujold graciously answered Geek Speak’s questions about CryoBurn, what inspires her…and what might be coming next.
GS: Diplomatic Immunity ended so happily -- so joyfully, even, as Miles and Ekaterin, surrounded by family, celebrated the arrival of their twins. For many authors, this would have been it -- a natural ending; and for almost a decade it seemed like it would be, as you explored other stories and other worlds and seemed to be moving away from Barrayar. But all of a sudden, Miles is back, his family is light-years away, he's surrounded by corpses, and the book ends on a decidedly downbeat note. So I suppose my question is...Why this? Why now?
I would have been content to leave the series on the high note of A Civil Campaign, but in the course of the amicable negotiations involved in taking The Curse of Chalion elsewhere, I ended up with an option-filling contract with Baen Books, hence Diplomatic Immunity. For a time, I wasn’t sure if I would alternate books between the two publishers or not, but I got on rather a roll with the fantasies for Eos. Happily, I was able to come up with a second upbeat organic closure for the series with Diplomatic Immunity, after which I turned to Paladin of Souls. (For a while, I had the two Chapter Ones on my plate at the same time, which basically resulted in nine months of writer’s block, at which point I decided to just do Diplomatic Immunity first. Some fortunate, prolific writers seem to be able, efficiently, to keep several projects going at once; it appears I am not one of them.)
Then, in the summer of 2006, soon-to-be Baen Publisher Toni Weisskopf, in the process of pulling the company together in the wake of Jim Baen’s death, called and asked me to give her a contract for another Miles book. It wasn’t an offer I could refuse, under the circumstances, and Toni was willing to wait till I finished the work I had in hand (the last volume of The Sharing Knife tetralogy). My agent was not the only person to cheer this decision, and in due course, I found myself face-to-face with this blank contract.
The notion of exploring the wider social implications of cryonics, a well-established technology in the series, had been kicking around in my head for at least fifteen years. And the vision of an opening scene where a drug-allergy-addled Miles has a hallucinatory meeting with a street kid, no further story or setting attached, had also been lurking for a long time. (On some level, I think this unanchored scene was a really twisted re-visioning of the opening of Heinlein’s classic Citizen of the Galaxy.) I put the two together, and suddenly hit critical mass. Thematic implications followed.
It all looks inevitable in retrospect; not at all in prospect.
GS: Other authors have dealt with the social and political consequences of extreme longevity -- for example, in Elizabeth Moon's Familias Regnant novels, the widespread use of life extension technology leads, eventually, to galactic war. You touch on some of these issues in CryoBurn (for example, the gated communities for people who want to live like they did back in the day). How did you prepare to write about these issues? Were you influenced by any authors or particular schools of thought?
Certainly, cryonics has been well-explored in the genre for many decades before me, but my take on it stemmed from some conversations with a reader of mine who is involved with one of the companies attempting to freeze people in the here-and-now, who pitched me his materials. When not hand-waved in an SF story, this stuff is really legally, financially, and especially emotionally complex. I wanted to put some of that real-life (or real-death, I suppose) complexity into my story.
I set up several characters to represent different “takes” on the subject, generational and otherwise, put them into motion, and waited to see what would happen. (Miles, being a veteran of cryofreezing himself, was perfect for the man in the middle, the outside/inside observer, able to process many angles.) In general, I don’t write stories to tell readers what to think, or even tell them what I think; I write stories to show me what I think. Writing is always a journey of discovery that way, as suspenseful for me as I hope it will be for the audience.
GS: It seems as though to agree to cryopreservation, one would need to be very, very trusting -- of the company, of the government, of one's descendants, etc. We see in the book that this trust can be misplaced. If the technology existed on Earth today, would you agree to cryopreservation?
This technology does exist today on Earth, but I haven’t signed up.
Which is to say, the freezing half exists; but it is entirely unclear if the present methods of preservation will be the ones that can lead to successful revivals, even if some method of freezing and thawing mammals is ever developed. In CryoBurn, I make clear that successful revival is sensitively dependent on the techniques and quality of the freezing process, with which much can still go wrong. (That being my long experience of the practice of medicine.)
The question I keep coming back to is, yes, lots of us SF-types like the idea of traveling to the Future (although, having now done so once myself -- the hard way -- I’m less sure), but why do we imagine the Future would want us? Oh, a few 21st-century Icemen, perhaps, as historical curiosities, but in our hundreds of millions? It would be like the greatest wave of immigration ever, but from the past into other people’s Now. It might seem to them like sacrificing resources needed for their children to their great-great-great-grandparents. Counter-evolutionary, among other things.
For now, I still plan to check out the old-fashioned way -- my organ-donor card is signed and in my wallet, though by the time I’m done with them, my parts may not be good for much.
GS: Kibou-daini is a world with an overtly ethnic flavor that we haven't really seen in Miles' universe to date. (Though I know that Barrayar is kind of "Russian" -- kind of...) How did you come to this particular choice? And more broadly -- how do you go about building your various worlds? Do you write detailed histories and lineages? Draw maps? Where do you find inspiration?
Ethnic diversity has always been out there; all the colony worlds in Miles’s universe (i.e., everyplace but Earth) are much shaped by their founder populations. We’ve only seen a handful, out of a supposed sixty to one hundred settled worlds/stations/systems; I just haven’t worked around to all the possibilities. (Readers keep wanting me to go back to Vorbarr Sultana, where all their friends are. It’s as frustrating as trying to take a teenager on vacation.)
I’ve been interested in Japanese history since my early 20’s, back when I was playing judo in college, have been in correspondence with the Japanese translator of my works for their market for two decades (Tokyo Sogensha publishes my books in Japan), and have in the past few years (since Netflix) explored anime and a bit of Japanese cinema. Fascinating stuff, plus I was able to run the first draft past Ms. Ogiso for corrections -- she saved me from many embarrassing gaffes. So, propinquity.
After some initial rough stage-building (usually running to about 50 pages of penciled jottings), I make up -- or discover -- the details of my settings as I go, as the story needs them. I don’t write histories or lineages, except as notes to myself to keep things straight -- I once worked out all the intricacies of the Vorrutyer cousinages, for example, when they became relevant to a plot. But not before. I’ve lost that piece of paper now, alas, but I remember the important bits.
Inspiration comes from everything. It all goes into the memory-bag, sometimes to sit apparently-uselessly for decades, only to suddenly pop out and be just the thing I need next.
GS: Switching gears a bit -- I've found it interesting to follow the different points of view we get to see in the various Vorkosigan books. Miles usually; Ekaterin sometimes; Mark sometimes; Ivan occasionally; Gregor never. In CryoBurn, we get half of the story from the POV of Jin Sato, a child whom we have never met before and have no reason to expect ever to meet again (unless Vorlynkin-san moves the entire family back to Barrayar, of course). How do you decide whose eyes to view the story through (so to speak)?
In CryoBurn, Jin -- aside from being the seed crystal from which the whole shebang began -- was the local person with the most at stake. He also represented his generation in the struggle. Miles was Miles, of course, and I just like Roic; he was handy to give me, and the reader, an eye in places where Miles was not present.
Of all my initial decisions about how to write a given book, viewpoint selection has the most impact on the shape of the story. My viewpoint characters all have this intense plot-gravity, warping events around their concerns.
I could add, I am rather pleased with the readers who are starting the series with CryoBurn, despite the series-spoilers inherent in that order, because they can’t stampede past the book I’ve given them in a rush to get to some imagined other story, but rather, will pay attention to what’s actually in front of them. For them, the elements of the book will have more level weights.
GS: Where do you go from here; is there more planned? Is there anyone in Miles' world whose story you're just itching to tell?
I am working on a project with the file title Ivan: His Booke at present. It takes place a year or so after Diplomatic Immunity, when Ivan is about 35, and so will be a prequel to CryoBurn. No contract, no deadline, and, at the moment, no last half. It is far enough along that it demands its own completion, regardless of, well, anything. We’ll see how that goes. If there becomes anything to announce, I’ll announce it in my blog on MySpace.
I try to keep the publishing and PR news up to date, there.
GS: More frivolously: The little sphinx in CryoBurn stole the show! ("Foe! Foe!") Where can I get one?
Jackson’s Whole. If that’s beyond your budget, I understand GalacTech Designer Genes on Earth has a pets-to-order department, right next to the Cultured Furs. You can get unicorns there, as well.
Cetagandan pet makers, excuse me, companion couturiers are usually pricier, and that’s without adding shipping. Exquisite workmanship, though…
GS: And ending on an entirely frivolous note: are there plans afoot to bring any of your novels to the screen?
Nope, nothing going on in media rights at present. I’m in no hurry. I would rather wait for a production company that actually wants to bring the book to life, rather than one who just wants to raid it for a few ideas and a plausible screen against frivolous lawsuits, then throw the rest away.
GS: In a perfect world, given unlimited resources and boatloads of free money, which book would you like to see filmed, and who would star?
I think Falling Free would make a good anime or animated feature. It has the right structure, and less would be lost in translation. The Miles books are deceptively hard to convert to visual media, as so much of the humor is all happening inside of Miles’s head, and in the “voice” of the narrative. Granted, films have a style, the visual equivalent of voice, as well, but it would take an extraordinary director to make an accurate representation of my books’ inner themes.
THE FINAL 5 WITH LOIS MCMASTER BUJOLD
Trek or Wars? Star Trek: TOS, for my 16-year-old self. Or LotR, for my 61-year-old self.
Marvel or DC? Neither.
Vampires or werewolves? Neither.
Dragons or unicorns? Neither.
Time travel: pro or con? Con.
-- Kate Nagy