Sunday, January 15, 2012

LGBTQ Characters From Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of those rare, wonderful authors whose books I return to frequently. Like any good devotee, I feel compelled to share her with new readers... sadly she doesn't write 'lesbian' books. She is however very LGBT friendly - how much so, I'm only starting to realise on recent rereads. My first encounters were in my early teens, before I was more than vaguely aware of the queer political and activist identity spectrum.

She writes amazing, clever, interesting characters - her main leads tend to be heterosexual, and she has a penchant for pairing them off towards the end (there's a marked shift over time from frenetic gunfights to matchmaking and political intrigue that tracks with Miles' life and character growth). But a number of significant, if background, characters are definitely not entirely heternormative.

Most of the books are set on Barrayar. Barrayar is completely backwards - it was cut off from the wider galaxy by an invasion and survived under siege, and is only just recovering and reeling somewhat from the introduction of technology and offworld attitudes. Essentially, it is a rigidly militaristic, patriarchal, mediaeval world.

Beta Colony is as far as you can get in the other direction - a planet of highly civilised, open minded peoples dedicated to equality, who have a very sexually... not an open society, exactly, more organised in every direction to allow every option. Generally sensible and accepting, most of the best technology comes from there (while Cetagandan tech may be more advanced, they don't like to share), and it is the destination of choice for sexual escapades, sex changes, and hymen piercings. All very matter of fact, and organised, of course. On the flipside, reproduction is rigidly controlled. Democracy and equality is pursued and idealised - with the hermaphrodites being one experiment in pure sexual equality. Very little of the plot action every occurs on Beta, but the planet is ever present, constantly influencing, or being compared to, events, as well as powerfully shaping the personalities and outlooks of several of the principle characters.

Two prequel books now published together as Cordelia's Honor follow the early encounters and romance (and adventures) of Mile's parents, Count Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar and Cordelia Naismith of Beta. Miles' father, is bisexual - it's even been hinted that his wife captured his heart partly for her 'masculine' (by Barrayar standards) appearance and attitudes. While this is never shown onscreen, so to speak, there's plenty of history that pops up occasionally (most wonderfully at a point when someone tries to shock his new wife by mentioning that he was bisexual. "He was bisexual" she corrected absentmindedly. "Now he's monogamous", leaving the would-be saboteur spluttering.

Most of his homosexual exploits date back to the time when he was dragged into the destructive sphere of an insane ruler, whose worst insanities was generally considered a State Secret after his downfall, which also includes Aral's bad taste in ever going near him. Anyway, this leaves Count Aral to take over as Regent (and he's a very good one) until the young Emperor grows up, and Aral & Cordelia's son takes over the main character burden of the story.

We see Aral Vorkosigan again (he's actually in almost every book), but his bisexuality practically never comes up as he's very happily married.

Bel Thorne, a recurring character from the very beginning of the Dendarii Mercenaries (first met in The Vor Game), popping up again after Miles parts ways with the group, and playing a central role in Diplomatic Immunityis a genuine hermaphrodite, something it thoroughly enjoys discommoding people with. Bel is infatuated with Miles (quietly and professionally) throughout the series, but finds a happy partner in a female quaddie (gengineered space people) near the end, and starts leaning towards 'male'. Bel was always one of my favourite characters - smart, quiet, competent, with a nasty sense of humour.

Ethan of Athos is a spin-off story that features an appearance from the Dendarii Mercenaries (most notably in the form of Quinn, a marvelously formidable woman) and it makes a lot more sense if you understand who her commander is (i.e. Miles). But it actually follows Ethan, a reproductive scientist from the entirely male colony of Athos. Set up by early settlers seeking an escape from 'the taint of women', they are actually a very civilised and reasonable society that values children, childcare and community service (a cynical person would start pointing out that this is what happens if it can't just be labelled 'women's work'). But anyway, this very insular... and inevitably homosexual (though all kinds of 'parenting' arrangements are possible) society depends on ova from real women to make babies with. And inevitably, the stock degrades, and their new delivery gets caught in the crossfire of a galactic bit of intrigue involving spies, genetic modification and refugees. But all that they know on Athos is that they really need replacements, and they don't want everyone knowing about it, so poor Ethan is picked to go out and secure replacements. He makes it to the nearest space station and ends up buffeted in all directions by culture shock, intrigue, meeting women (ugh, help!) and  kidnapping. All he wants is to go home and settle down with a nice male partner and have kids...

And finally, in A Civil Campaign a major plot thread involved a minor character who nipped off-planet for the first known sex change since Barrayar was opened up to the wider galaxy again. As the point was to contest an inheritance (backwards Barrayar still following the line of male inheritance), this led to ... drama. Mostly political drama, and plenty of doubletakes. One nasty moment from a rival attempting to literally unman them - but again, for political reasons, not pure bigotry, though it still counts as a trigger warning moment. Lord Dono even ends up happily betrothed by the end of the book.

Anyway, Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favourite authors. She writes amazing characters, with flaws and strengths all their own, incredibly quotable dialogue, fascinating analyses and reflections of society - and no obvious lesbians. Sadly. But she does include other LGBTQ characters, who are as much people as the people around them.

Vorkosigan Books Featuring LGBTQ Characters in Order
Most of the books have now been republished in compilations. They are recommended!

You can buy all her books on Amazon, but if you want the Kindle versions you have to look them up separately (this is quite aggravating and a problem with a lot of books that are made available as ebooks long after being published as paperbacks).

Lois McMaster Bujold has also written some fantasy books, but they have no notable LGBTQ content (though they are very good).

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