Lois McMaster Bujold
Writes to Russian Fans
October 17, 1997
From: Lois McMaster Bujold
Subject: Re: Your fans from Russia
Dear Ms. Bujold
I thought you would be interested to know that your books
are gaining popularity in Russia.
Yes, indeed. Thank you for your interest in my work!
Labeling your Vorkosigan Saga "sci-fi", the publishing
industry deprives many people of the pleasure of reading it.
I mean people who don't usually read science-fiction. I, for
one, would not call Shards of Honor or Barrayar
"science fiction" but only "fiction", don't you agree?)
Well, yes, but I'm prejudiced. *I* certainly think I'm
writing novels. The genre label acts as a mental barrier in
the US, too, alas. The only thing that boosts my books over
the wall of misconception seems to be word-of-mouth -- such as
they way you found them, courtesy of your friends. I am very
grateful so many people do recommend my work to each other.
Being Russian myself, I first encountered your books there,
on a short two-week visit last winter. My friends gave me
Shards of Honor (a translation, of course) when I had to
take a train to another town. Well, I almost missed my station
then! I loved it!!
I had a wonderful fan letter from a Canadian woman, who
was reading SHARDS while standing in line at the bank, and
failed to notice the armed robbery which took place in the
line ahead of her...
Since then I have read all of your books in English, and
most of them not once, but several times.
I'm always pleased to get some sense of how well my books
have been translated. That's a bit of quality control entirely
beyond my power to affect, alas. The answer in Russian seems
to be "well enough", though, if people are finding and reading
Some questions, of course, only you have answers to. Here
1. Do you know Russian or have you just been interested in
Russian culture and had some Russians to consult you? Some
think the first, but I am rather sure the second. I might be
wrong, of course, this being one of those "gut feelings" that
I could hardly analyze clearly.
I had one year of Russian back in high school, from which
I remember maybe 3 words. I have some slight acquaintance
with Russian history, and I'm generally interested in how
history affects cultural patterns. I don't, alas, have any
Russians to consult with, or there'd be a lot more correct
Russian terms floating around in my stories.
2. Was Russia the only culture some realities of which
you used to create Barrayar, or did you have in mind some
other countries as well? There is a strong opinion that you
used Japan as well.
Russia, Japan, Prussia, England, some dozen other patterns.
Barrayar is itself, not a replica of some specific period or
place in Earth history, but I reason that similar causes ought
to have similar effects. So I borrow causes from all corners
of human history.
3. How serious are your worlds, really? All of your
civilizations have some parody in them,
OUR civilization has some parody in it. I mean, look at it...!
Reality is frequently absurd. If I want my fictional worlds to
be realistic, they should contain some absurdities. And some
of every other thing the universe contains, beauty and horror,
heroism and love and families and loneliness and confusion
That said, my space-world is also, simultaneously, a
psychological landscape, and the places in it frequently have
the job of carrying some special meaning for me to comment
upon. This is a common SFnal device.
but how do you want your readers to perceive them, on the
whole? "I am meant to be not sure, that's the beauty of it." :-)
The are made in great detail and are very convincing, but there
are some things I fail to explain.
There's only so much you can pack into a 300 page book.
Things will be left out for many reasons. I do mean my worlds
to be convincing, because I want my characters' lives to be
convincing, and the world supports the characters.
For example, I can't figure out the reasons of not
including religion in Barrayaran society.
I suppose I will have to supply a back-story some day.
The outside-the-books reason is because it wasn't something
the author wanted to deal with at the time -- see the problem
of finite choices, above.
During the period of Isolation, it was an agricultural
society, and even if they did not have a religion at the
beginning, they would have developed it during those centuries.
You do describe some of their rituals, but only hint at
OK, let us say Barrayar was settled by mostly athiests,
and was on its way to developing a home-grown religion, but
the Time of Isolation ended that evolution too soon.
But I am talking not as much about beliefs as about a
developed _religion_ with the priests and their hierarchy,
and all those power games between church and state. Is that
because Russians used to be thought as atheists? :-) But if
the Political Education Department was meant to play that part
on Barrayar, it was defeated too easily for that matter. Of
course, Barrayar is NOT Russia...
Barrayar clearly does not have a State religion. People's
private beliefs have not been addressed much (or only subtly.)
Other than that, talk amongst yourselves. Have fun.
I am sure Russian translators had a fun time dealing with
the challenges your books presented them with. Starting
with the "vor-" prefix. They had to change it, of course, to
maintain a neutral perception. "Vor does mean thief" still in
Russia. :-) I screamed in delight, when I saw the phrase
"I am Vor and no thief, milady."
All translators seem to agree to substitute "for-" instead,
which is nicely similar to a familiar to a Russian ear German
word "von" [fon]. I do not agree with some other cnanges and
substitutions they've made, however. They should not have
changed "Aral" to "Eirel" or "Drushnyakovy" to "Drushikko"
(Japanese theory at working, here). And, I am sure, the
translator of Ethan of Athos had missed the hint to a
certain Greek territory, or he would not have spelled it "Eitos"
which does not mean anything. The problem is that Athos spelled
Afon or Afos in cyrillic due to an old tradition.
All fascinating to me to learn. I can't do anything about
it, of course. I'm sorry they missed the cue on "Athos"; it was
meaningfully meant. Maybe the translator was ignorant of the
original monastery-peninsula. You could write to the publisher
and point out their mistake, I suppose.
And the last question. In your letter to your fans which
is published somewhere on the Web you mentioned that you were
writing a book at the moment. Was it Memory or is there
another book coming?
The new book, which I have this summer turned in to Baen
Books, will be titled KOMARR. It's the direct sequel to MEMORY,
so I can't talk about it much without spoiling MEMORY for those
who haven't read it yet. But I can say that it chronicles an
adventure of Miles's on, where else, Komarr, and except for
Miles has an all-new cast of characters. Baen is planning
hardcover publication early next summer -- the exact pub date
hasn't been fixed yet, as they're still fooling with cover art
and some other things.
The book I've just begun writing follows from Komarr, and
is only up to Chapter 3 so far. About all I can say of it so
far is that Baen will publish it, and it's going to be a long one.
Translation rights to MEMORY have been sold to my Russian
publisher, by the way, so the book is in the pipeline over there.
Russian readers will have it soon.
I would be extremely glad to receive your answer, but of
course it is impossible to answer everyone. However, if you do
answer, I could guarantee you to publish it on some popular
Russian literary web-sites. If you would so desire, of course.
That's OK by me.
Thank you very, very much for your books! Most of all, for
Bothari, whom I judge to be one of the most powerful characters
P.S. Please, excuse my odd English.
Your English is many orders of magnitude better than my
Russian, I assure you.
Best regards, Lois.