Lois McMaster Bujold

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Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold (born 2 November 1949, Columbus, Ohio) is an American author of science fiction and fantasy works.


  • "It's a bizarre but wonderful feeling, to arrive dead center of a target you didn't even know you were aiming for."
    • Cordelia's Honor "Author's Afterword," 1996
  • All great human deeds both consume and transform their doers. Consider an athlete, or a scientist, or an artist, or an independent business creator. In the service of their goals they lay down time and energy and many other choices and pleasures; in return, they become most truly themselves. A false destiny may be spotted by the fact that it consumes without transforming, without giving back the enlarged self. Becoming a parent is one of these basic human transformational deeds. By this act, we change our fundamental relationship with the universe--if nothing else, we lose our place as the pinnacle and end-point of evolution, and become a mere link. The demands of motherhood especially consume the old self, and replace it with something new, often better and wiser, sometimes wearier or disillusioned, or tense and terrified, certainly more self-knowing, but never the same again."
    • Cordelia's Honor "Author's Afterword", 1996
  • "I've described my usual writing process as scrambling from peak to peak on inspiration through foggy valleys of despised logic. Inspiration is better--when you can get it."
    • Young Miles "Author's Afterword", 1997

Barrayar (1991)

  • Any community's arm of force - military, police, security - needs people in it who can do necessary evil, and yet not be made evil by it. To do only the necessary and no more. To constantly question the assumptions, to stop the slide into atrocity.
  • With all this manure around, there's got to be a pony someplace.
  • Check your assumptions. In fact, check your assumptions at the door.
  • You can't choose between evil and evil, in the dark, by logic. You can only cling to some safety line of principle.
  • I have no right to risk. No, that's not quite correct. I have no right to failure. And I don't trust myself anymore. I don't know what's happened to my edge. Lost it in a strange land.
  • But pain... seems to me an insufficient reason not to embrace life. Being dead is quite painless. Pain, like time, is going to come on regardless. Question is, what glorious moments can you win from life in addition to the pain?
  • Children might or might not be a blessing, but to create them and then fail them was surely damnation.
  • Experience suggests it doesn't matter so much how you got here, as what you do after you arrive.
  • Good soldiers never pass up a chance to eat or sleep. They never know how much they'll be called on to do before the next chance.
  • My home is not a place, it is people.
  • It's... a transcendental act. Making life. I thought about that when I was carrying Miles. 'By this act, I bring one death into the world.' One birth, one death, and all the pain and acts of will between.
  • You can say a lot in a little time, if you stick to words of one syllable.
  • Live, and so confound our enemies.
  • Our children change us…whether they live or not.
  • Suicidal glory is the luxury of the irresponsible. We're not giving up. We're waiting for a better opportunity to win.
  • She didn't feel anything, no grief or remorse, though her heart was racing and her breath came in gasps. A shocky combat-high, that immortal rush that made men charge machine guns. So this was what the war-addicts came for.
  • One step at a time, I can walk around the world. Watch me.
  • Welcome to Barrayar, son. Here you go: have a world of wealth and poverty, wrenching change and rooted history. Have a birth; have two. Have a name. Miles means "soldier," but don't let the power of suggestion overwhelm you. Have a twisted form in a society that loathes and fears the mutations that have been its deepest agony. Have a title, wealth, power, and all the hatred and envy they will draw. Have your body ripped apart and re-arranged. Inherit an array of friends and enemies you never made. Have a grandfather from hell. Endure pain, find joy, and make your own meaning, because the universe certainly isn't going to supply it. Always be a moving target. Live. Live. Live.
  • 'I would fight the world for you, but I'm damned if I can figure out how to save you from yourself.'

The Borders of Infinity (1989)

  • How could I have died and gone to hell without noticing the transition?
  • Why did so many antique myths agree that hell was a circular place?
  • "All right," Miles pulled Suegar to his feet, "let's go preach to the unconverted."

Suegar laughed suddenly. "I had a top kick once who used to say, 'Let's go kick some ass,' in just that tone of voice."

  • Now there's this about cynicism. It's the universe's most supine moral position. Real comfortable. If nothing can be done, then you're not some kind of shit for not doing it, and you can lie there and stink to yourself in perfect peace.
  • Let he who is without sin cast the first lure.
  • I can't quit, once I've started. I've been told I'm pathologically persistent. I can't quit.
  • Biology is Destiny.
  • The wounded want power, nothing else; they think it will keep them from being hurt again.
  • Power is a live thing, by which you reach out to grasp the future. Revenge is a dead thing, reaching out from the past to grasp you.
  • Men may move mountains, but ideas move men.
  • There is a subtle difference between being a prisoner and being a slave. I don't mistake either for being free.
  • The loonies who sought a glorious death in battle found it very early on. This rapidly cleared the chain of command of the accumulated fools. The survivors were those who learned to fight dirty, and live, and fight another day, and win, and win, and win, and for whom nothing, not comfort, or security, not family or friends or their immortal souls, was more important than winning. Dead men are losers by definition. Survival and victory. They weren't supermen, or immune to pain. They sweated in confusion and darkness. And ... they won.

Brothers in Arms (1989)

  • There are a number of people in the universe I'd be willing to double-cross, but my own wounded aren't among 'em.
  • Total strangers trying to kill me make me feel right at home.
  • It just happens to be very important to me to win with the hand I was dealt.
  • Three cheers for literacy... I feel sick.
  • I'm just dazzled by the glittering tinsel of neo-fascism.
  • The will to be stupid is a very powerful force.
  • There is no safety. Only varying states of risk. And failure.
  • You are what you do.
  • The man who assumes everything is a lie is at least as mistaken as the one who assumes everything is true.
  • No, no, never send interim reports. Only final ones. Interim reports tend to elicit orders. Which you must either then obey, or spend valuable time and energy evading, which you could be using to solve the problem.
  • And what goes on in the head of a walking dead man? What personal failure could he possibly fear more than death itself?
  • 'It didn't work, so let's do it some more'? In my line of work, they call that military stupidity. I don't know what they call it in civilian life.
  • "You must kill if you expect to survive."

"No you don't," Miles put in. "Most people go through their whole lives without killing anybody. False argument."

  • When you can't get what you want, you take what you can get.

Cetaganda (1996)

  • Hi, I'm a hero, but I can't tell you why. It's classified.
  • Hands are integral with brains, almost another lobe for intelligence. What one does not know through one's hands, one does not truly know.
  • No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy. Not when the enemy is me.
  • Vorreedi stated dangerously, "I am not a mushroom, Lieutenant Vorkosigan."

To be kept in the dark and fed on horseshit, right. Miles sighed inwardly.

  • In my experience, milady, we can never get back to exactly where we started, no matter how hard we try.
  • You can't give power away and keep it simultaneously. Except posthumously.
  • Behavior that is rewarded is repeated. And the reverse.
  • The best strategies run on rails. Live or die, you make your goal.
  • Egalitarians adjust to aristocracies just fine, as long as they get to be the aristocrats.
  • "Do you know what this is, Lord Vorkosigan?" Giaja asked.

Miles eyed the medallion of the Order of Merit on its colored ribbon, glittering on a bed of velvet. "Yes, sir. It is a lead weight, suitable for sinking small enemies. Are you going to sew me into a silk sack with it, before you throw me overboard?"

  • Luck is something you make for yourself, if you want it.

A Civil Campaign (1999)

  • Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.
  • Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it will. And outlive the bastards.
  • A hundred objective measurements didn't sum the worth of a garden; only the delight of its users did that. Only the use made it mean something.
  • A tactical retreat is not a bad response to a surprise assault, you know. First you survive. Then you choose your own ground. Then you counterattack.
  • Adulthood isn't an award they'll give you for being a good child. You can waste... years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just... take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I'm sorry you feel like that and walk away. But that's hard.
  • Adversity does teach who your real friends are.
  • Honesty is the only way with anyone, when you'll be so close as to be living inside each other's skins.
  • If power was an illusion, wasn't weakness necessarily one also?
  • Never... ever suggest they don't have to pay you. What they pay for, they'll value. What they get for free, they'll take for granted, and then demand as a right. Hold them up for all the market will bear.
  • When you give each other everything, it becomes an even trade. Each wins all.
  • You couldn't be that good and not know it, somewhere in your secret heart, however much you'd been abused into affecting public humility.
  • You don't pay back your parents. You can't. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It's a sort of entailment. Or if you don't have children of the body, it's left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.
  • You have to be careful who you let define your good.
  • Marta blinked at him with manufactured innocence. "Kareen had it from Mark. I had it from Ivan. Mama had it from Gregor. And Da had it from Pym. If you're trying to keep it a secret, Miles, why are you going around telling everyone"?
  • Was this the trick of it? Secrets so dire as to be unspeakable, thoughts so frightening as to make clear young voices mute, kicked out into the open with blunt ironic humor. And suddenly the dire didn't loom so darkly any more, and fear shrank, and anyone could say anything. And the unbearable seemed a little easier to lift.
  • It is always easier to get forgiveness than permission.
  • "So much for that line of reasoning, Lord Richars," Ekaterin finished. She sat back with a hand-dusting gesture, and added, by no means under her breath, "Twit'.'"
  • Miles started to track the vote, but by the time the roll came around to him, had taken to jotting repeated iterations of Lady Ekaterin Nile Vorkosigan intertwined with Lord Miles Naismith Vorkosigan in his fanciest handwriting down the margins of his flimsy.

The Curse of Chalion (2000)

  • “Mercy from the Father and the Mother, mercy from the Sister and the Brother, Mercy from the Bastard, five times mercy, High Ones, we beseech you.”... Mercy, High Ones. Not justice, please, not justice. We would all be fools to pray for justice.

Diplomatic Immunity (2002)

  • If the truth doesn't save us, what does that say about us?
  • If you make it plain you like people, it's hard for them to resist liking you back.
  • The dead cannot cry out for justice; it is a duty of the living to do so for them.

Ethan of Athos (1986)

  • A good friend of my son's is a son to me.
  • I take it as a man's duty to restrain himself.
  • Some men just aren't cut out for paternity. Better they should realize it before and not after they become responsible for a son.
  • There are always survivors at a massacre. Among the victors, if nowhere else.

Falling Free (1988)

  • There is a very ancient rule of thumb that states, people tend to get promoted to the level of their incompetence.
  • Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. And those who can't teach, go into administration.
  • God's not here. Somebody's got to fill in.
  • Just because we're adults doesn't automatically mean we can save you...
  • If you ever have to make a choice between learning and inspiration, choose learning. It works more of the time.
  • It's an ancient and honorable term for the final step in any engineering project. Turn it on, see if it smokes.

Memory (1996)

  • His mother had often said, "When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action." She had emphasized the corollary of this axiom even more vehemently: when you desired a consequence you had damned well better take the action that would create it.
  • How could you be a Great Man if history brought you no Great Events, or brought you to them at the wrong time, too young, too old?
  • I am who I choose to be. I always have been what I chose…though not always what I pleased.
  • His heart still seemed to ache, the way an overstrained muscle twinged when one put weight on it. Like muscle strain, it would pass with a little rest, he suspected.
  • If you can't do what you want, do what you can.
  • It was never what I wanted to buy that held my heart's hope. It was what I wanted to be.
  • Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart.
  • You try to give away what you want yourself.
  • "Most men", he quoted, "are of naught more use in their lives but as machines for turning food into shit." Ivan cocked an eyebrow at him. "Who said that? Your grandfather?" "Leonardo da Vinci," Miles returned primly. But was compelled to add, "Grandfather quoted it to me, though."

Mirror Dance (1994)

  • I don't confuse greatness with perfection. To be great anyhow is…the higher achievement.
  • Like integrity, love of life was not a subject to be studied, it was a contagion to be caught. And you had to catch it from someone who had it.
  • It's important that someone celebrate our existence... People are the only mirror we have to see ourselves in. The domain of all meaning. All virtue, all evil, are contained only in people. There is none in the universe at large. Solitary confinement is a punishment in every human culture.

The Mountains of Mourning (1989)

  • Yeah, so I'm short. But wait'll you see me dance.
  • If you want to catch something, running after it isn't always the best way.
  • Aren't family squabbles jolly fun? Bleeding ulcers run in my family, we give them to each other.

Shards of Honor (1986)

  • Leadership is mostly a power over imagination, and never more so than in combat. The bravest man alone can only be an armed lunatic. The real strength lies in the ability to get others to do your work.
  • If it ever came down to exerting power by force, it would mean I'd already lost it.
  • I suppose my determination to be a soldier stems from that date. I mean the real thing, not the parades and the uniforms and the glamour, but the logistics, the offensive advantage, the speed and surprise--the power. A better-prepared, stronger, toughter, faster, meaner son-of-a-bitch than any who came through that door.
  • Seems to me the only difference between your friends and your enemies is how long they stand around chatting before they shoot you.
  • I could take over the universe with this army if I could ever get all their weapons pointed in the same direction.
  • I have an aversion to closed doors anyway. You never know what's on the other side.
  • He said that permitting private judgments to turn my duty in the smallest matter would be just like getting a little bit pregnant--that the consequences would very soon get beyond me.
  • East is west, up is down, and being falsely arrested for getting your C.O.'s throat cut is a simplification. I must be on Barrayar.
  • The really unforgivable acts are committed by calm men in beautiful green silk rooms, who deal death wholesale, by the shipload, without lust, or anger, or desire, or any redeeming emotion to excuse them but cold fear of some pretended future. But the crimes they hope to prevent in that future are imaginary. The ones they commit in the present--they are real.
  • I'm sorry. I can love you. I can grieve for you, or with you. I can share your pain. But I cannot judge you.
  • A price is something you get. A cost is something you lose.
  • Why shouldn't a madman dream of being sane?
  • Tests are a gift. And great tests are a great gift. To fail the test is a misfortune. But to refuse the test is to refuse the gift, and something worse, more irrevocable, than misfortune.
  • An honor is not diminished for being shared.
  • Don't be afraid. The dead cannot hurt you. They give you no pain, except that of seeing your own death in their faces. And one can face that, I find.
  • The good face pain. But the great--they embrace it.
  • Exile, for no other motive than ease, would be the last defeat, with no seed of future victory in it.

The Vor Game (1990)

  • We don't just march on the future, we charge it.
  • A weapon is a device for making your enemy change his mind.
  • Pain hurts, sir. I don't court it.
  • When a normal ensign looked at his commander, he ought to see a godlike being, not a, a... future subordinate. New ensigns were supposed to be a subhuman species anyway.
  • If we shouldn't do it, we shouldn't be able to do it.
  • Those who do not know their history are doomed to keep stepping in it.
  • Your 'accidents,' I once noticed, have ways of entangling your enemies that are the green envy of mature and careful strategists. Far too consistent for chance, I concluded it had to be unconscious will.
  • War is not its own end, except in some catastrophic slide into absolute damnation. It's peace that's wanted. Some better peace than the one you started with.
  • I may be small, but I screw up big because I'm standing on the shoulders of GIANTS.
  • Rule 1: Only overrule the tactical computer if you know something it doesn't. Rule 2: The tac comp always knows more than you do.
  • Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
  • The cream pie of justice flies one way.

The Warrior's Apprentice (1986)

  • If you're trying to take a roomful of people by surprise, it's a lot easier to hit your targets if you don't yell going through the door.
  • What you are is a question only you can answer.
  • It's never too late while you're breathing.
  • I guess it just doesn't look very heroic to sneak up behind somebody and shoot them in the back. I can't help thinking it would be more efficient, though.
  • The deadly weapon seemed unnaturally light and easy in his hand. Something that lethal should have more heft, like a broadsword. Wrong, for murder to be so potentially effortless--one ought to at least have to grunt for it.
  • Organization seemed to be the key. To get huge masses of properly matched men and materials to the right place at the right time in the right order with the swiftness required to even grasp survival--to wrestle an infinitely complex and confusing reality into the abstract shape of victory--organization, it seemed, might even outrank courage as a soldierly virtue.
  • Heroes. They sprang up around him like weeds. A carrier, he was seemingly unable to catch the disease he spread.
  • How can I give you up? You're the mountains and the lake, the memories--you have them all. When you're with me, I'm at home, wherever I am.
  • Acting or reacting, we carry him in us. You can't walk away from him any more than I can. Whether you travel toward or away, he'll be the compass. He'll be the glass, full of subtle colors and astigmatisms, through which all new things will be viewed. I too have a father who haunts me, and I know.
  • When the time came to leap in faith, whether you had your eyes open or closed or screamed all the way down or not made no practical difference.
  • Hunting hawks do not belong in cages, no matter how much a man covets their grace, no matter how golden the bars. They are far more beautiful soaring free. Heartbreakingly beautiful.

Paladin of Souls (2003)

  • I have denied my eyes, both inner and outer. I am not a child, or virgin, or modest wife, fearing to offend. No one owns my eyes now but me. If I have not the stomach by now to look upon any sight in the world, good or evil, beautiful or vile, when shall I? It is far too late for innocence. My only hope is the much more painful consolation of wisdom. Which can grow out of knowledge alone. Give me my true eyes. I want to see. I have to know.
  • So I pray the gods may hear even me, and let my whispered yes tower above my shouted no and mount all the way to their fivefold realm. As I would be heard, so I hear you.
  • How fortunate for Us that We thirst for glorious souls rather than faultless ones, or We should be parched indeed, and most lonely in Our perfect righteousness.


  • "I have this thing for generating character-oriented plots, where you look at a character and say 'What's the worst thing I could do to this guy?' I've found that extremely fruitful." Unverified quote; similar to "I have a catch-phrase to describe my plot-generation technique -- 'What's the worst possible thing I can do to these people?'" which is found in the FAQ of Bujold's official Web site.
  • "'Write what you know' is a tautology. You have no choice -- you have to write what you know, and in order to write something new, you have to learn something new." Similar to a quote from the 1996 Boskone convention when Bujold was Guest of Honor.


  • Read, or you will be missing something extraordinary.
    • Roland Green of the Chicago Sun-Times
  • The apparently effortless fluidity of both style and story may actually have mitigated against critical notice, in comparison to notorious stylists like William Gibson, or, again, Ursula Le Guin. But, despite Bujold's space opera plots, the flashes of humour rare either in Le Guin or in SF as a whole, and the steady pigeonholing of her work as military SF, her similarities to Le Guin go far beyond the presence of that wall.

Firstly, both are consummate character-builders. Indeed, characterization, emphasis on character, and plots that depend on character and the novums of technology are among Bujold's strongpoints. Nowhere does this emerge more clearly than if her work is taken as military SF and compared to that of writers like Jerry Pournelle or David Weber.

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