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Non-spoilerish, other than "something happens in Cryoburn," but this question is probably best answered by readers of that book. Please keep your answers non-spoilerish as well.

There are (more or less) 14 novels in the Miles Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, the latest of which is Cryoburn, a 2010 Hugo nominee. Since we're voters, Cryoburn must be read. I've previously read all the novels. My spouse Dori has read none. There's an event at the end of Cryoburn that emotionally affects the reader, and will certainly impact future stories in the timeline.

I'm thinking that the whole series need not be read to get the full impact of the event. So thinking of it in terms of the following characters, which minimum subset of books in the series would you suggest?

I think that any books that cover the above should also adequately deal with Ivan Vorpatril and Kareen Koudelka. I was planning to include A Civil Campaign just because it's such a fun farce and shows off several of the minor characters, like Ivan and Lady Alys.

Your thoughts? I do not think that either "all of them" or "just Cryoburn" are acceptable answers.

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    I love that this question is in relation to the Hugo voting. It adds a very interesting spin on things. How would I react to reading Cryoburn as a standalone novel? Probably not as powerfully as I did with all of the backstory and history of the other 14 novels. – Travelling Steve Jun 1 '11 at 21:29
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    @Travelling Steve - My opinion is that Cryoburn is not the best of the series; kind of a standard Miles story. I agree that its impact would not be as powerful if it had been the first of the series I'd read. Hence my question. – Negrino Jun 1 '11 at 23:37
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    Agreed -- the event at the end of Cryoburn wouldn't have been as emotionally affecting if I hadn't had a good connection with the characters. Although I think I would still have admired the last of the drabbles. – Martha F. Jun 2 '11 at 14:53
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    @martha - the last of the drabbles was amazing. 100 words, so much impact. – Negrino Jun 3 '11 at 2:03
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Shards of Honor sets up the relationship between Cordelia and Aral. However, the isn't much that you need to know about said relationship to enjoy the rest of the series. I would regard it as (interesting) back story.

Barrayar fills in the political background to Miles' home planet quite nicely, and from what I remember is more from Aral's perspective where the first book is more from Cordelia's.

The Warrior's Apprentice is an important book in that it sets up Miles and his character. This is probably the best place to start if you don't want to commit to reading the whole lot. I believe this also covers Koudelka and Ivan to some extent, although you'll want to pick up Cetaganda if you're particularly a fan of Ivan, as he has a fairly large part to play in that.

The Vor Game probably offers the best psychological insight into Emperor Gregor and what makes him tick, but he is by and large a secondary character.

Brothers in Arms is the key book establishing Mark's character. It's difficult to say more without spoiling the plot for some sense, but it serves as our introduction to Mark and goes into his psyche in some detail.

Mirror Dance covers another key event in Miles life, which colours his outlook in later books (particularly Cryoburn), and also sets up the context for the ongoing relationship between Miles and his twin, so probably deserves inclusion.

Memory is a pivotal book from Miles' point of view, as events change him quite significantly here, and to my mind marks the end of Miles' adolescent phase. (Again explaining would be spoilery. Don't read the cover blurb to this one.)

Komarr introduces us to Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who is the one important character not mentioned on your list.

So the absolute essentials (in order) would be:

The Warrior's Apprentice
Memory
Komarr

To get a good grounding:

Shards of Honour
Barrayar
The Warrior's Apprentice
The Vor Game
Brothers in Arms
Mirror Dance
Memory
Komarr

There's not a single one of the books that's not worth reading though, although the later ones tail off in quality a bit to my mind (butter bugs leave me cold, I'm afraid).

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    Wow, I was trying to come up with a good answer and kept ending up with 9 or 10 books. Well done. I'd argue though that in the context of Cryoburn, that Mirror Dance is important for the psychological impact of cryo, Mark and the Durona group. – Travelling Steve Jun 1 '11 at 22:04
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    @Christi - I didn't mention Ekaterin only because she's so pivotal to "A Civil Campaign." And that one's going on the list because I know that Dori will love it; while rereading it the other night, I was giggling like a fool. I can certainly see the benefit of adding "Komarr," as I think it's a pretty terrific book and says a lot about Miles, and his sense of duty and guilt when he can't prevent bad things. I like your lists a lot. – Negrino Jun 1 '11 at 23:52
  • @Travelling Steve - yes, Mirror Dance should probably be on the list as well, because it is another significant turning point in Miles life as well as for the reasons you mention. – Christi Jun 2 '11 at 10:30
  • Have now added Mirror Dance to the original answer. – Christi Jun 2 '11 at 21:13
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    Actually, Barrayar is also from Cordelia's POV, same as Shards. In fact, IIRC Aral is never a POV character in any of the books. – Martha Sep 4 '12 at 13:48
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In Chronological order, the series is: (title/omnibus/omnibus)
• Falling Free/Miles, Mutants and Microbes
(200 year gap)
• Shards of Honor/Cordelia's Honor
• Barrayar/Cordelia's Honor
(15 year gap)
• Warrior's Apprentice/Young Miles
• Mountains of Mourning/Young Miles/Borders of Infinity (Collection)
• The Vor Game/Young Miles
• Cetaganda/Miles, Mystery and Mayhem
• Ethan of Athos/Miles, Mystery and Mayhem
• Labyrinth/Miles, Mutants and Microbes/Miles, Mystery and Mayhem/Borders of Infinity (Collection)
• Borders of Infinity (Novella)/Miles Errant/Borders of Infinity (Collection)
• Brothers in Arms/Miles Errant
• Mirror DanceMiles Errant
• Memory
• Komarr/Miles in Love
• A Civil Campaign/Miles in Love
• Winterfair Gifts/Miles in Love
• Diplomatic Immunity/Miles, Mutants and Microbes
• Cryoburn

Of this rather impressive list, To truly understand Miles really requires every one except Falling Free. But to appreciate Miles' reaction, one needs only read Warrior's Apprentice, Memory, Komarr, and A Civil Campaign.

Mark's list is somewhat different; Brothers in Arms, Mirror Dance, Memory, and A Civil Campaign. Really, tho', the recaps in Memory and A Civil Campaign should suffice.

Aral is present in all but Falling Free and Ethan of Athos. Understanding him enough to understand the impact is redundant to the other two lists. A Civil Campaign and Warriors apprentice are the two that most define him from Miles' view, and the Cordelia's Honor omnibus is Gravy.

Cordelia is almost always involved when Aral is. Same stories throughout.

Gregor is tricky; He is seen best as "Gregor the man" in The Vor Game and in A Civil Campaign. He's "Emperor Gregor" in most of them from Warrior's Apprentice on. In many ways the whole saga from Warrior's Apprentice on is as much Gregor's story as Miles', albeit told from a Miles-centered view.

Ekaterin Vorsoisson Vorkosigan is in Komar, A Civil Campaign, and Diplomatic Immunity. Her relationship with Miles, Aral, and Cordelia is powerful, and sets up the understanding of some of Miles chatter in Cryoburn, and introduces the kids.

So, this leads to the following reading list:

Warrior's Apprentice
Brothers in Arms
Mirror Dance
Memory
Komar
A Civil Campaign
Diplomatic Immunity (optional but recommended).
Cordelia's Honor (Optional, read somewhere after Warrior's Apprentice and before A Civil Campaign)

There are compelling reasons to read the whole list before Cryoburn.

On the other hand, Cryoburn contains enough that, aside from that event at the end, it can stand alone, but will gain depth from having read the others.

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    I think that Diplomatic Immunity is only useful in terms of Ekaterin in that it shows how she's settled into her relationship with Miles. But other than that, she's useful to the story/plot mainly by not losing her head under fire (she is Vor, after all) and saying "Unpack!" While I liked the book, and it was certainly nice to take a trip back to Quaddiespace, I'd agree with you that it's clearly in the "optional" category. – Negrino Jun 9 '11 at 5:43
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    DI shows also the changes in Miles as he comes to grips with his disorder, finally, and how he relates to family versus friends. The first couple chapters, especially... And that disorder is treated as well integrated into his behavior in Cryoburn, but not even by the end of ACC, hence why it's on the list. – aramis Jun 9 '11 at 5:53
  • That's certainly true. Being partially physically disabled myself, one of the reasons I've always related to Miles had been that we shared the same coping mechanism: "Screw it, burn on through." But like him, as I've aged, I've had to come to terms with my very real limitations. – Negrino Jun 9 '11 at 6:04
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The first Vorkosigan Saga book I read was Komarr and it did a great job of establishing Miles as the focus of the series and relating enough of his background to -- um -- ground me. Loved the book and was hooked so I went to the beginning and tore through all of them. So if I had to name one book that a reader should try that would be it.

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Author’s Note:

The Vorkosigan Saga Reading Order Debate: The Chef Recommends

Many pixels have been expended debating the ‘best’ order in which to read what have come to be known as the Vorkosigan Books, the Vorkosiverse, the Miles books, and other names, since I neglected to supply the series with a label myself. The debate now wrestles with some fourteen or so volumes and counting, and mainly revolves around publication order versus internal-chronological order. I favor internal chronological, with a few caveats.

I have always resisted numbering my volumes; partly because, in the early days, I thought the books were distinct enough; latterly because if I ever decided to drop in a prequel somewhere (which in fact I did most lately with Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance) it would upwhack the numbering system. Nevertheless, the books and stories do have a chronological order, if not a strict one.

It was always my intention to write each book as a stand-alone so that the reader could theoretically jump in anywhere, yes, with that book that’s in your hand right now, don’t put it back on the shelf! While still somewhat true, as the series developed it acquired a number of sub-arcs, closely related tales that were richer for each other. I will list the sub-arcs, and then the books, and then the caveats.

Shards of Honor and Barrayar. The first two books in the series proper, they detail the adventures of Cordelia Naismith of Beta Colony and Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar. Shards was my very first novel ever; Barrayar was actually my eighth, but continues the tale the next day after the end of Shards. For readers who want to be sure of beginning at the beginning, or who are very spoiler-sensitive, start with these two.

The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game (with, perhaps, the novella “The Mountains of Mourning” tucked in between.) The Warrior’s Apprentice introduces the character who became the series’ linchpin, Miles Vorkosigan; the first book tells how he created a space mercenary fleet by accident; the second how he fixed his mistakes from the first round. Space opera and military-esque adventure (and a number of other things one can best discover for oneself), The Warrior’s Apprentice makes another good place to jump into the series for readers who prefer a young male protagonist.

After that: Brothers in Arms should be read before Mirror Dance, and both, ideally, before Memory.

Komarr makes another good alternate entry point for the series, picking up Miles’s second career at its start. It should be read before A Civil Campaign.

Borders of Infinity, a collection of three of the five currently extant novellas, makes a good Miles Vorkosigan early-adventure sampler platter, I always thought, for readers who don’t want to commit themselves to length. (But it may make more sense if read after The Warrior’s Apprentice.) Take care not to confuse the collection-as-a-whole with its title story, “The Borders of Infinity”.

Falling Free takes place 200 years earlier in the timeline and does not share settings or characters with the main body of the series. Most readers recommend picking up this story later. It should likely be read before Diplomatic Immunity, however, which revisits the “quaddies”, a bioengineered race of free fall dwellers, in Miles’s time.

The novels in the internal-chronological list below appear in italics; the novellas (officially defined as a story between 17,500 words and 40,000 words, though mine usually run 20k - 30k words) in quote marks.

  • Falling Free
  • Shards of Honor*
  • Barrayar
  • The Warrior’s Apprentice
  • “The Mountains of Mourning”
  • “Weatherman”
  • The Vor Game
  • Cetaganda
  • Ethan of Athos
  • Borders of Infinity
  • “Labyrinth”
  • “The Borders of Infinity”
  • Brothers in Arms
  • Mirror Dance
  • Memory
  • Komarr
  • A Civil Campaign
  • “Winterfair Gifts”
  • Diplomatic Immunity
  • Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance
  • CryoBurn

Caveats:

  • The novella “Weatherman” is an out-take from the beginning of the novel The Vor Game. If you already have The Vor Game, you likely don’t need this.

  • The original ‘novel’ Borders of Infinity was a fix-up collection containing the three novellas “The Mountains of Mourning”, “Labyrinth”, and “The Borders of Infinity”, together with a frame story to tie the pieces together. Again, beware duplication. The frame story does not stand alone, and mainly is of interest to completists.

  • All good and well, but this doesn't really answer the question, which is more focused than “summarize the Vorkosigan saga”. – user56 May 18 '14 at 21:51

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