A leap into science fiction analysis

Ideas are the great warriors of the world, and a war that has no idea behind it, is simply a brutality”. — James A. Garfield

Order, chaos, imperfection, perfection. What is the limit to just how much the human mind is capable of? The art of science fiction is simply fascinating- it is a creative outlet of representing the universe through the lens of a vastly different dimension. When ideas of war, brutality, and its destructive power may not be understood through law and even the bear witness of bloodshed, science fiction becomes a powerful voice through which speculation of a differential word yields the naked realities of man’s flaws. Science fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold brilliantly embodies this message in the novel, Cordelia’s Honor. Through the development of the characters of two vastly different planets- Barrayar, in which brutality and demoralization intertwine into the norms, and Beta Colony in which justice prevails as the core value of the system- and the portrayal of the effects of each on humankind, Bujold delineates two separate worlds which result in opposing sets of norms, values, wellbeing, and characters. The question of which is right and wrong- the question of morality versus evil, justice versus injustice, order versus chaos- bears no reason to refute, for the novel speaks for itself.

The author first suggests the aftermaths of war and its deteriorating effects through the use of imagery. When Cordelia Naismith, the commander of the Betan Astronomical Survey catches sight of a Barrayaran magazine, she finds “Its narration was as banal as the title had promised, but the pictures were utterly fascinating. It seemed a green, delicious, sunlit world to her Betan eyes…The climate and terrain were immensely varied, and it had real oceans, with moon- raised tides, in contrast to the flat saline puddles that passed for lakes at home” (69). Barrayar, where there are “…chances of betrayal, false charges, assassination, maybe exile, poverty, death” and a place where “evil compromises with bad men for a little good result…”(71), is a land which, in nature’s hands, was created with fascinating beauty. The author juxtaposes this image of the physical form with the nature of man: this was a land steeped with the necessities for humankind to thrive and create a society built upon sharing of the flourished land, yet there was an aching need for these people to engage in barbaric behavior and become consumed with killing and conquering with no limits. It is striking how the force behind all life is challenged by the very hands of its own creation. Barrayar represents a world where the darkness of man overshadows the fertile land, bright sky, and green lush land without the awareness of the extent to which this life is turning into death’s hands. In Beta,though the land is dry, desert like, and bare with no beauty, the people are followers and believers of an egalitarian- liberal society where justice and concern for the wellbeing of others prevails. What can be seen as a utopian world on the outside, may not be so at its true form. Likewise, what can be seen from the outside as dull and lifeless, may be full of vigor and passion for life. However, when the dark side of human nature takes control over the very core of human reason and purpose, humans are blinded and become victims of their own creation.

As noted by philosophers and writers such Immanuel Kant, if justice perishes then human life has lost its meaning. Imperfection within the universe is inevitable; however, if the morals behind the creation of a world where justice and freedom must prevail are deprived, then such a place is nothing more than a land to strip human beings of very core of existence. When Aral Vorkosigan, a Barrayaran commander turns to Cordelia amidst war, the Betan commander who he has fallen for, he admits, “No. But I understand why there have been so many madmen in Barrayaran history. They are but it’s cause, they are its effect…Oh Cordelia. You have no idea just how much I need a sane clean person near me. You are water in the desert” (115). Bujold molds through the mysteriously mature romance between a Betan woman and Barrayaran man the power and attraction of purity. A man from a planet where individuals are senselessly drawn into continuous acts of violence, manipulation, cruelty, and murder sees through Cordelia a vision of a fulfilling world where he could live by his true purpose. The reality of bloodshed is that there is only so much it will provide. How much what is there really to conquer? Such pursuits are ephemeral- what is left behind is nothing but ruins. What is limitless is the relentless pursuit of knowledge of science, knowledge of texts, love, constitutionality, and precious memories; and that is what Beta represents. This is a land where the foundations of society, regardless of the odd intricacies of its order, are established such that the human mind is capable of profound scientific inquiry, knowledge, and creation of an egalitarian society.

Land, people, and authoritarian positions can all be conquered. What cannot be conquered is pursuit of infinite knowledge. With every conquer comes a loss. Is it worth losing peace and love? Is it is worth going against the very force that drives life? Just what is it that drives man to digress into brutality and destruction of life? The very nature of war makes it so morality, the stronghold of a just world, is far less of a concern. In this society, men who are hesitant to kill or could not cope with killing are an aberrant to their in-group people (Jones, 2006). As described in the philosophical Just War Theory, the continued brutality of war in the face of conventions and courts of international law lead some to maintain that the application of morality to war is a nonstarter: state interest or military exigency would nearly always overwhelm moral concerns. However, there are those of a more skeptical persuasion who do not contend that morality could or should exist in war: its very nature precludes ethical concerns. But as there are several ethical points of view, there are also many common reasons laid against the necessity or the possibility of morality in war. (Moseley, 2006). Intellect is not war’s language; conformity is. War’s lasting impact is the deprivation of the mind’s true capabilities.

When Cordelia lay traumatized by the ways of the Barrayarans, “She was as unsettled as if all her star maps had been randomized, leaving her lost; but at least knowing she was lost. A step backwards toward truth, she supposed, better than mistaken certainties. She felt a forlorn hunger for certainties, even as they receded beyond reach” (77). The author begins to reveal the effects of the environment on Cordelia- how she is straying away from her sense of “certainty” and into the depths of an empty void. The condition she falls into is not by her choice; it is “randomized, leaving her lost”. The use of the word randomized indicates the lack of structure so essential to her self- identity; yet she as an outsider to this barbaric land is aware of her regression. It is the disorder and chaos that consumes her to a state where she later states, “ this war nonsense was a great psychological education…surely it had been a year and not an hour” (94). Her condition further deteriorates when she faces Barrayaran assault. In the hands of the blind and brooding Vordarian of Barrayar, “…there was fear in her face now, no doubt, and tears, running down from the corners of her eyes in iridescent trails to wet the tendrils of hair around her ears, but he was scarcely interested…she had…fallen into the deepest depths of fear…”(105). She begins to face psychological torture to the point where everything she lived for up until now meant nothing. Suddenly, her pain perception overbears the pain signaling (Korb, 2013). What consumes her is making sense of what is happening: .“…maybe he’s only a rapist. It might be possible to handle a simple rapist. Such direct, childlike souls, hardly offensive at all. Even vileness has a relative range” (100). In this condition where she lie in a room stripped of her being, the question of the morality of acts is brought to light. When the man’s state of mind falls into the hands of its own destruction, then the first target is his own true self. Outward acts of brutality, as described by Vorkosigan, are its effects. When this effect begins to affect one after the other until the entire macro social level, the evolution of mankind to reach its highest potential is severely impaired.

When ideas, the most powerful warriors, are overpowered by the quest to conquer and demoralize, there no longer lies the foundations to create a just society where human creativity and intellectual pursuits are the highest set of goals. In context of the modern world, this is a conflict faced within daily interactions between society or government, war or peace, education or crime, integrity or corruption. Though there may be no clear cut definition of right and wrong, this novel brings to light realizations about the cause and repercussions of the dark side of man.


Bujold, Lois McMaster. Cordelia’s Honor. Riverdale, NY: Baen, 2010. Print.

George H. Smith. “Immanuel Kant’s Theory of Justice.” Libertarianism.org. N.p., n.d.Web. 18 May 2017.

Jones, E. “The Psychology of Killing: The Combat Experience of British Soldiers during the First World War.” Journal of Contemporary History 41.2 (2006): 229–46. Web.

Korb, Alex. “Embracing Pain.” Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 26 Feb. 2013.Web. 26 May 2017

Moseley, Alexander. “Just War Theory.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., 2006. Web. 26 May 2017.

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