Steinbeck famously described Of Mice and Men as “a kind of playable novel, written in novel form but so scened and set that it can be played as it stands.” His words popped into my head when I recently read Shards of Honor, the first full novel in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga; this is not to say that Shards of Honor is as stage-ready as Of Mice and Men – it manifestly isn’t – but I can still imagine it being adapted for the theatre far more easily than might be expected from a space opera.
The novel opens on an alien planet where a research expedition has been attacked by a military patrol. The expedition’s leader, Commander Cordelia Naismith, is taken captive by Captain Aral Vorkosigan. But while Vorkosigan is a representative of the military force responsible for the atrocity, it turns out that he was not personally involved with the attack, and he agrees to help obtain medical aid for Cordelia’s injured ensign Dubrau.
Intelligent life has yet to be discovered, but plenty of alien fauna can be found, and the main plot of the second chapter is the characters trying to survive the planet’s dangerous wildlife. Weapons technology is also present in the early stretches of the novel, but never becomes the main point; it instead serves to shuffle the storytelling pieces into the right places – paralysing a character so that he can be moved into the background without killing him outright, for example – and it manages to do so in a naturalistic manner, never seeming forced. The focus is always on the characters, and there is little here that an inventive theatre couldn’t handle.