Monday, January 17, 2011


One of the few books I've bought new in hardcover is Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold. I love Miles Vorkosigan, and I've been waiting a long time for the next in the series.

As an author, I've been thinking about what I can learn from her. Certainly Miles has plenty of weaknesses, meaning both vulnerabilities and character flaws. One of the reasons I always pull for him is because sometimes his stunts don't work, although his adventures usually come out well in the end. I love Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin too, but they've gotten away with so much I sometimes hope to see them fall off the tightrope.

Miles Vorkosigan doesn't just have random flaws to make him human either. All his flaws are related to his strong points. His brilliance and creativity can lead to mistakes a conformist would not have made. His confidence and independence can lead him to break rules which actually have good reasons behind them, and suffer the consequences. And his personal courage creates headaches for his associates. But he always takes responsibility for his mistakes, and busts his behind fixing them.

Bujold is a big name in science fiction now, which also gives her high expectations to meet. I've been thinking about how she satisfies both those of us looking forward to seeing Miles again, and new readers encountering him for the first time. Since he's garnered responsibility and power as a result of previous adventures, a new reader might not empathize with him if she began at the wrong point. But we meet him after he's just barely escaped some kidnappers, desperately wandering through a huge maze full of people in cryogenic suspension, hallucinating from drugs the kidnappers gave him, hungry and thirsty. His acutity is on display in his quirky thoughts about his hallucinations, and there are hints of his importance elsewhere, but neither can help him now, as he seeks escape while his thirst gets ever worse.

Before my latest rewrite, several people told me the same thing about my novel. They had trouble bonding with the main character. I knew how awesome he was, but it didn't come out in the first pages. I had a similar problem in reverse with a short story. The reader was supposed to be waiting for the protagonist to take a fall, but the editor of the magazine I submitted to didn't feel emotional involvement with him.

I guess I know what to check for first in my future novels and stories.

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