Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance
Lois McMaster Bujold

Don’t read this book for the SF. This book is set in the Victorian British empire, the Victorian British empire in the 1970s, the Victorian British empire in space. Wonder things are sprinkled in to kick the plot along, but the technology’s not thought through. One moment, a starship is cruising between planets, the next moment the admiral’s minion makes coffee in a pot & takes it to the admiral. No 21st century coffee machines, just 1970s coffee machines. One moment biological super toys are making whoosh whizzo tunnels, the next everyone’s in a workman’s hut in a concrete car–park, moving benches & traffic cones. This is set in the 1970s, but it’s really 1870s society, with whizzo magic toys pretending to be science fiction.

So don’t read it as SF. It’s a romance. It’s the girl who’s a princess who meets her prince. Everyone turns out to be an aristocrat, a minion, or a criminal. The society is very very backward, it’s 1870s British Empire with aristocrats calling lesser people plebs and proles.

So don’t read it as SF. It’s a romance. But it’s about people, and how they interact. It has the wonderful benefit of not being full of hero types who boast about their achievements, who are insufferably perfect. It is not about a world where everything goes achievers’ ways; miscalculation is nicely balanced element to the plot. Most of all, it is about people who are calculating and dissembling. These are not simple conversations on a simple level, these are political conversations with nothing said and everything said in consequence. It’s about Victorian high society in spaceships. It’s not steam punk, it’s not steam anything, it’s 1870s British Empire with science fiction toys.

It’s a romance, a princess meets her prince. If you read it as that, if you read it as people, but not stupid people, people who can do what they’re supposed to do, people with different motivations and different characters and different faults, it’s fun. It’s a princess swept by events, it’s a prince sweeping events, imperfect people, people with faults, imperfect people, who are good and worthwhile because they chose the right parents. If you like reading about people who know how to fool other people by having them fool themselves, a sophisticated interaction, not gun toting flesh and blood robots but imperfect devious people, you’ll enjoy it. Only the proles with names are really nasty. They get sent to prison for being proles.

It’s not science–fiction, it’s a 19th century romance in science–fiction skirts. It’s a princess who meets her prince. Read it like that and it’s worth your time.