Guest Post by Ryk Spoor

Ribbon Dance is part of something extraordinary.

That “something”, of course, is the Liaden universe, creation of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. I, myself, didn’t encounter the Liaden books until long after the publication of the first book, Agent of Change, in 1988. This was unfortunate in one sense – that I was so long unaware of such a wonderful series – but fortunate in another, because then I was able to step into that universe in its full, living complexity and dive deep and long, meeting not one or two but many of the members of Clan Korval and those touched by their magnificent and sometimes damnable Luck.

What makes the Liaden series extraordinary is that it has maintained an unwavering and amazing level of quality for the last twenty-five years, despite now encompassing nearly thirty novels and a large number of short stories. I cannot think of any series I have read that has managed that feat before. There are always stumbles, losses of direction, the moment when the shark is jumped.


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And many opportunities have existed for the Liaden series to do just that, to crash and burn – or, perhaps worse, to simply dwindle by small steps into something pedestrian and lesser. Instead, Lee and Miller have constructed a universe that continues to grow and change, populating it with slowly but ever-increasing cast of quirky, distinct, and amusing characters who range from the whimsical to the heroic to the frightening, and all in a universe that is unique and with few that I can even think of as comparable in their essence.

The Liaden universe encompasses grand-scale space opera, with awful and mighty forces that could literally crystallize universes pitted against the wiles and will of far lesser beings… people who nonetheless turn out to be equal to the challenges they face. At the same time, readers of Liad will find small tales of a young man who becomes a baker, comedies and adventures of manners that frequently read as though Jane Austen had decided to try her hand at science fiction. Still others show us a world of wonders and intrigue and danger, sometimes small-scale and threatening a few individuals, others encompassing the future of worlds.

This is a universe where high technology exists alongside powers that might be psionics… or perhaps are magic itself. There are trained super-spies with implanted capabilities to calculate probabilities and actions on the fly, and “dramliza” who can weave the fabric of reality into weapons or shields or transport themselves a thousand light-years on a thought; there are adorable roly-poly empathic creatures who support and heal the wounded and weary, and master-traders who ply routes between the stars to buy and sell – and often find themselves changing the worlds they visit. There are broken children of grim and oppressive clans who nonetheless dare open their eyes and hope to fly… and those who will show them how to use the wings they were born with. And there are Trees that sense and see and somehow speak to those around them, and the great turtle-like Clutch with their slow-burning anger and ancient wisdom and preternatural powers to literally sing a change into the world about them.

Of all the authors whose works I’ve read, very few echo what I have found in the universe of Liad. Perhaps the closest is the work of James Schmitz, especially his unique novel The Witches of Karres; it is not at all a long stretch to imaging Karres itself existing in, or very near, Liad, and certainly Captain Pausert would be a fine addition to Clan Korval. In another sense, the works of Lois McMaster Bujold have more than a passing similarity, for both Bujold and Lee and Miller infuse their works with a deep understanding of classic “comedies of manners” and grand yet intimate romances, while not losing sight of the scale of adventure and danger that underlies a starfaring universe.

But Liad is far grander and broader than either of these; Schmitz did not have the time or inclination – or, perhaps, quite the toolset – to build so far-flung and brilliant a universe and expand it to so magnificently ramshackle yet coherent reality. Bujold’s universe is, by comparison, almost cozy, not spanning a huge, wild, and only half-understood galaxy filled with uncounted worlds ranging from ordered centers of civilization to unexplored wilderness. There is more than a touch of the old space-operatic masters like Doc Smith and Jack Williamson, the mannered comedies of Heyer and Austen, and seasoning from half a dozen other authors and genres that at first blush shouldn’t work together at all… but do, here.

Ribbon Dance itself is an excellent return to the Liaden universe, including some of our oldest friends Shan and Priscilla as well as their energetic and oft-impulsive daughter Padi, on a mission to open new trading opportunities at a world but lately cut off from the greater galaxy by a drift of interstellar dust that interfered with the Jump-travel from outer systems.

But Colomeno has its own secrets, unknown powers in its “ambient”, and their politics are complex and dangerous; even though Shan, Priscilla, and Padi have long since learned the lessons of “local custom” and how it endangers one’s assumptions, they will find this new world a test of their skills; at the same time, Colomeno is not quite ready for the results of finding themselves the hosts of Tree-And-Dragon!

— Ryk Spoor, author of Choosing the Players, and Demons of the Past

One comment to Guest Post by Ryk Spoor

  • Marti Panikkar  says:

    Ryk’s precis of the wonderful, wondrous Liaden Universe and the absolute glory of Sharon and Steve’s writing talents is, I think, the best I have ever seen anywhere! It was pure joy to read. I agree with everything Ryk posted and wish I could have written it myself!

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