Lois McMaster Bujold

Highlights of a Life

Lois McMaster Bujold has always been a voracious reader. Born in Columbus, Ohio, her literary interest began with horse stories. Her father, a professor of welding engineering at The Ohio State University and graduate of Cal Tech, nurtured her love for science fiction by passing down the old magazines and paperback books he bought and read on his consulting trips. As she matured, Lois’ reading tastes broadened to include history, mysteries, romance, travel, war, and poetry.

Lois began imitating her favorite authors by writing her own stories as a young teenager. During her high school years, she collaborated with a friend, Lillian Stewart, to create extended story lines. She graduated from Upper Arlington High School in 1967 and attended Ohio State as an English major, but admits that “my heart was in the creative, not the critical end of things.” Though she left Ohio State without officially graduating, while she was still a student, Lois studied biology for six weeks in East Africa, taking close-up photographs of insects. The landscape and ecology she witnessed on this trip became the background for her first novel. “That’ one of the nicest things about writing… nothing is wasted. Even one’s failures are reclassified as raw material.”

After college Lois worked at the OSU Hospitals as a pharmacy technician, from 1972 to 1978. During this time she took advantage of the two million volumes available in the stacks at the university’s main library, books “filled with wonders and obscurities.” Also during this time, her old friend and collaborator, Lillian Stewart (now Lillian Carl), began to sell her own works. Lois figured, “if she could do it, I could do it too.”

Lois began writing seriously in her spare time, with the help of some friends, but “quickly discovered that writing was far too demanding and draining to justify as a hobby.” She gave herself over to “writing, rewriting, cutting, editorial analysis, and trying again,” completing her first novel, Shards of Honor, in 1983. The Warrior’s Apprentice followed in 1984, and Ethan of Athos was completed in 1985. Bujold’s first professional sale was to Twilight Zone Magazine, a short story published in 1984 (see https://www.ohioana-authors.org/serling). Her first three books were finally published by Baen Books in 1986.

Lois’ fourth novel, Falling Free, was serialized in Analog Magazine, winning Bujold her first Nebula award. “I was particularly pleased to be featured in Analog,” Lois says, “my late father’s favorite magazine.” The Mountains of Mourning, a novella which also appeared in Analog, won Hugo and Nebula awards in 1989, and the complete text is available at the Baen Free Library. Lois also won Hugos for best novel two years in a row, in 1991 and 1992, for The Vor Game and Barrayer.

The Spirit Ring, a fantasy novel, was Bujold’s first hardcover, published in 1992. She began working as an editor in 1995, putting together the anthology Women at War with Roland Green. Throughout her career, Bujold has acquired numerous honors including Nebula, Hugo, PEARL, and Minnesota Book Awards for science fiction and romance novels.

But Lois McMaster Bujold continues to be best known for her science fiction stories about her character Miles Vorkosigan, a brilliant military genius “stunted and deformed by an assassination attempt on his father.” Miles begins his career attempting to become a worthy successor to his father in the traditional, formal way, but due to his disabilities he has to find his own unique direction. Miles is dashing yet vulnerable, facing typical science fiction enemies as well as discrimination from his allies, in a world which values physical perfection.

Bujold’s strength as a writer lies in her character development. Mary K. Chelton observed in Voice of Youth Advocates that Bujold’s “characters are so vivid and easily beloved that they master the plot and the reader simultaneously. It is an honor to have read her work, and a debt of honor repaid to encourage others to introduce her to kids.” In Twentieth-Century Science Fiction Writers, Bujold comments that character development is one of her main considerations: “I try to write the kind of book I most like to read: character-centered adventure.” Chelton adds that Bujold’s “people wear their civilization on the inside. And can she write about it! But then, science fiction has always been about that. Bujold just does it better than almost anybody else” (Contemporary Authors Online).

High praise indeed. For anyone who hasn’t dipped into science fiction and fantasy, the place to start is with Columbus native Lois McMaster Bujold.

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