The Vorkosigan Series

Lois McMaster Bujold just released, Diplomatic Immunity, the latest in the Vorkosigan Series. I first started reading this wonderful science fiction series after Larry Wall, the creator of the Perl programming language, mentioned it in his speech Perl, the first postmodern computer language.

Reductionists often feel like they’re being objective. But the problem with reductionism is that, once you’ve split your universe into enough pieces, you can’t keep track of them any more. Psychologists tell us that the human mind can only keep track of about about seven objects, plus or minus two. That’s for short-term memory. It gets both worse and better for long-term memory, but the principle still stands. If you lose track of something, it’s because you thought it was less important, and didn’t think about it often enough to remind yourself. This is what happened to Modernists in literature. They’ve forgotten what’s important about literature.

Note how we still periodically hear the phrase “serious literature”. This is literature that is supposedly about Real Life. Let me tell you something. The most serious literature I’ve ever read is by Lois McMaster Bujold. Any of you read her? It’s also the funniest literature I’ve ever read. It’s also space opera. “Genre fiction,” sneers the Modernist. Meaning it follows certain conventions. So what? Nobody in the world can mix gravity and levity the way Bujold does in her Vorkosigan books. It’s oh so definitely about real life. So what if it follows space opera conventions. Sonnets follow certain conventions too, but I don’t see them getting sneered at much these days. Certainly they were always called “serious”.

How long till Bujold becomes required reading in high school? Far too long, in my opinion. Horrors. We wouldn’t want our students actually enjoying what they read. It’s not–it’s not Real Life.

After reading this recommendation from the brilliant and entertaining inventor of my favorite programming language (who also happens to share my sensibilities regarding modernism, post-modernism, and relativism), I decided to pick up the first book in the series, Shards of Honor. I was hooked. I quickly read the entire series from beginning to end. Once I was caught up, I watched for new releases with eager anticipation. The series is space opera at its best with a lovable, believable hero at its center. It may not be “serious literature”, but it is well-written, thoughtful, and entertaining. I will, of course, be getting this latest book right away. It’s been too long since the last book in the series.

And speaking of Larry Wall, he has written many fine speeches and essays regarding programming languages, linguistics, philosophy, and culture. The aforementioned Perl, the first postmodern computer language offers Larry’s insightful take on modernism, post-modernism, cultural relativism, creation, cults, and a number of other weighty subjects. Give it a read.

I would like to say one thing here about objectivity, however. While I despise the Modern Cult of Objectivity, I also despise the quasi-postmodern Cult of Subjectivity. I call it absolute cultural relativism. It’s the notion that everything is as good as everything else, because goodness is only a matter of opinion. It’s like claiming that the only thing you can know absolutely is that you can’t know anything absolutely. I think this is really just another form of Modernism, a kind of existentialism really, though unfortunately it’s come to be associated with postmodernism. But I think it sucks.