The novels The Vor Game, Barrayar, and Mirror Dance each won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, while Falling Free, Memory, and A Civil Campaign were nominated but did not win.
The stories are listed in order of chronology, rather than publication date. Shards of Honor and Barrayar concern Miles' parents, while Dreamweaver's Dilemma and Falling Free and Ethan of Athos are set in the same universe as the other books but do not involve Miles or any of his family.
Lois Bujold wrote two books (Shards of Honor and The Warrior's Apprentice) and was working on a third (Ethan of Athos) before The Warrior's Apprentice was accepted (after four rejections). On the strength of The Warrior's Apprentice, Baen Books agreed to a three-book deal to include the two other novels. It was the second novel written in the series, after Shards of Honor.
Life in the Nexus is tremendously varied. Some people live in space habitats with artificial gravity and never set foot on a planet. Aside from space industry, habitats are positioned near wormhole jump-points to manage interstellar traffic. The jump-points are also guarded by military stations, which also serve as customs enforcers.
It is possible to invade a system through a wormhole, though there are also ways to temporarily block access by sending a ship to destroy itself in transit on a suicide mission. Wormhole jump pilots are hard to replace, so this kind of tactic is rarely used even by cultures which, like Barrayar's, hold life relatively cheap. As Miles Vorkosigan notes at one point, the best way to capture a wormhole is from both sides simultaneously. This creates room for plots involving trickery and skulduggery.
The inhabitable planets of the Nexus are home to all kinds of sub-groups of humanity, from the all-male culture on Athos to the liberal, technologically advanced Beta Colony, to the hegemonistic Cetagandan Empire, from the cut-throat, capitalistic Jackson's Whole, to the moderate and scientific Escobar, with plenty of industrial, agricultural and even pirate planets in between.
Some aspects of the Nexus are quite terrifying. Apart from the usual kinds of death by impact, explosion, fire etc., there are weapons which target the nervous system, such as the nerve disruptor pistol, which can kill or merely cripple for life with a single blast. The drug fast-penta, which removes all inhibitions in talking, renders lying to interrogators effectively impossible. Cetagandan agents employ chemical and biological agents when necessary, such as the one which reduces its victims to biological goo in the novel Diplomatic Immunity. Gangsters on the criminal planet Jackson's Whole will make genetic monstrosities for cash, provide any form of perversion for entertainment, and even raise clones of rich clients who then have their physical brains transplanted into a younger version of themselves, as an expensive and risky form of immortality. Beta Colony, in contrast, offers ethical genetic treatments and psychotherapy, but even their medical experts may wrongly think they have the right to intervene if they believe someone to have been subjected to mind-altering treatments. Beta also has draconian population control, requiring contraceptive implants for all, even as their sexual mores are among the most tolerant in the Nexus.
Most of the aspects of the Nexus are there for plot points only, like most other interstellar sagas. The author has mostly avoided the need to work out the ramifications of very powerful ships, access to extreme biotechnology etc.
Barrayar was colonized by humans principally of Russian, English-speaking, French, and Greek ancestry about three hundred years prior to most of the novels set on the planet. Shortly after colonization, the 50,000 settlers were isolated by a failure of the wormhole which connected Barrayar to civilized planets. During the following two centuries, the planet evolved an imperial form of government reminiscent to 19th century European aristocracy, in which the Emperor was supported by sixty regional counts and other minor aristocrats, identified by adding the prefix Vor- to their names.
Barrayar was eventually rediscovered by a different wormhole route connecting to the rich merchant planet Komarr. The Komarrans took advantage of this discovery by allowing the neighboring expansionist Cetagandan empire to invade Barrayar in return for commercial rights. Despite a significant technological advantage, the Cetagandan invasion was finally driven back at a cost of over 20 million Barrayar dead, and in large part due to the actions of General Count Piotr Vorkosigan.
After the interregnum of the Mad Emperor Yuri Vorbarra, who was deposed by Vorkosigan and their mutual cousin Ezar Vorbarra, the principal surviving heirs to the throne, and the subsequent maturing of Vorkosigan's surviving son Aral Vorkosigan as the youngest admiral in Barrayaran history, the decision was made to invade Komarr, both for Barrayar's protection and as payback for the Komarran collaboration in the Cetagandan invasion. An unsavory incident in which 200 Komarran leaders were executed during a truce, without Admiral Vorkosigan's knowledge or consent, earned him the nickname the "Butcher of Komarr" and caused significant problems administering the captured planet -- and for Barrayar's reputation.
Legally, the Quaddies are not classed as human but as "post-fetal experimental tissue cultures". The company treats them as slaves. Their access to information is tightly controlled. Even their children's stories are about working in space. They can be ordered to have babies, or to have a pregnancy terminated. They are the subject of breeding programs, the company compelling the females to mate with a designated male even when they have formed couples. When a new artificial gravity technology renders them both obsolete and a potential political embarrassment to the executives, there are discussions about killing them or sterilizing them. Engineer Leo Graf, who is assigned to help train them, helps them break free. They eventually settle in an initially out-of-the-way system which gradually becomes a major part of the Nexus.
Diplomatic Immunity, last book in the series as of 2007, further explores the Quaddies society after some 240 years. It takes place on Graf Station, named for Leo Graf, who is hero and father-figure to the Quaddies.
Bujold has stated in the notes of her reprints that Falling Free was the first half of the intended story. The unwritten, second story was to tell how the Quaddies settled into what would be known as "Quaddiespace".
It turns out that the secret base was a staging point for an invasion of Beta Colony's ally Escobar, to be led by Crown Prince Serg, the demented son and heir of Emperor Ezar. Cordelia goes to Escobar in command of a decoy ship and successfully distracts the Barrayaran ships on picket duty at the wormhole exit so the transport ships following her can deliver a devastating new Betan weapon to the Escobaran defenders.
She is captured, briefly tortured by the sadistic Admiral Vorrutyer, then unexpectedly rescued by Vorrutyer's henchman, Sergeant Bothari, who kills his master. Afterwards, Commodore Vorkosigan hides the pair in his cabin. The new weapons give the Escobarans an overwhelming advantage and the Barrayaran invasion is driven back with heavy losses, including Crown Prince Serg, his flagship, and all hands aboard. As Vorkosigan takes charge and organizes his fleet's retreat, Cordelia overhears one critical fact and deduces, step by step, a political secret that would plunge Barrayar into a generation of civil war if it ever got out. When Vorkosigan can no longer hide her in his cabin, she is placed in the ship's brig. The ship is attacked and loses power, including internal gravity; Cordelia braces herself in a corner of her cell, but when lights and gravity are restored she discovers that it is a ceiling corner, falls and breaks her arm. She endures a considerable wait while medics treat the more seriously injured, as the ship escapes from Escobar space and returns to the secret base.
On her way back to Beta Colony after a prisoner exchange, she is assigned a cabin mate who turns out to be a Betan psychiatrist convinced that her injuries are evidence that she was tortured by Vorkosigan, and the fact that she denies being tortured means that her memories have been suppressed. Desperate to keep her terrible secret, Cordelia refuses to let herself sleep, developing insomnia, stuttering, and a nervous tic, which further leads the psychiatrist and doctors to conclude that she has also been brainwashed and is being sent back to Beta Colony as a spy. At home on Beta, the authorities are determined to "cure" her, forcing her to flee.
She manages to reach Barrayar, where she marries Aral Vorkosigan. The dying Emperor Ezar Vorbarra appoints Aral as Regent-Elect for his grandson and heir, the four-year-old Prince Gregor. Aral, who is next in line of succession after the Prince, at first refuses, but Cordelia convinces him to take the job.
While Cordelia and Aral are recuperating at the Vorkosigan country estate, Count Vidal Vordarian attempts a coup. Gregor is rescued by his loyal security chief Captain Negri and reunited with the Vorkosigans. Cordelia, Gregor, and various retainers escape into the hills on horseback and hide amongst the rural peasant population while Aral and his father organize the resistance.
After Cordelia rejoins Aral at a military base, they learn that the replicator containing Miles has been captured. Without proper maintenance, the fetus will succumb within two weeks, but Aral cannot bring himself to mount a rescue when there are greater concerns. However, Cordelia convinces her bodyguard and one of Aral's officers to help her rescue Miles and Gregor's mother, Princess Kareen. Once in the palace, Cordelia and her party are caught. They overpower their captors, execute Vordarian after his bodyguards accidentally kill Princess Kareen, and escape with the replicator. Returning to the military base, Cordelia barges in on her husband Aral and father-in-law Piotr as they are bargaining with a couple of Vordarian's senior officers about the latter switching sides, and interrupts these delicate negotiations by dumping Vordarian's severed head onto the conference table. The coup falls apart without its leader and peace returns to the planet. The enlightened Betan Cordelia is given charge of Prince Gregor's early education, with far-reaching consequences for Barrayar.
Because of his exposure to the antidote, Miles Naismith Vorkosigan is born with extremely fragile bones that tend to break under any stress, and his growth is stunted. On Barrayar, babies with birth defects are common, due to poisoning from native Barrayarian plant life and to lingering radiation from the earlier war between Barrayar and Cetaganda. Such babies were traditionally subject to infanticide, though this practice is illegal by the time of Miles' birth. So-called "muties" are still reviled and shunned, and Miles, though genetically healthy, must deal with prejudice throughout his life, starting with his grandfather Piotr.
The unexpected arrival of Miles’ cousin Ivan Vorpatril brings the realization that a political faction in the Council of Counts is attacking his father back on Barrayar by charging Miles with maintaining a private army—an act of capital treason. He returns home posthaste, uncovers the real plot behind the charges, and escapes trial by gaining the Emperor's approval to recast the Dendarii as (secretly) Imperial forces. He is rewarded with admission to the Academy, which all in the know agree might help keep him out of trouble for a while.
Young Emperor Gregor has disappeared while on a diplomatic mission to Komarr. Miles, traveling to the Hegen Hub on an unrelated mission for ImpSec, is framed for murder and arrested. While in custody, he is startled to find Gregor, who tells him that he had run away from the embassy on Komarr and then was shanghaied for work as a tech by an unscrupulous ship owner. Miles muddies the waters in an attempt to extricate Gregor, and is soon up to his neck in a mysterious plot involving an amoral femme fatale, his murderous former Kyril Island commanding officer, and Hub power politics. Miles encounters his mercenary friends and, after some problems with the former leaders who have regained power, resumes his Admiral Naismith persona. He is able to rescue Gregor, stop the fiendish plot, and as a bonus, unify the Hub systems to repel a Cetagandan invasion, with a little help from a Barrayaran fleet co-commanded by his father and Emperor Gregor.
Gregor and ImpSec decide to put the Dendarii on permanent retainer for covert missions, with Miles officially enthroned as liaison and admiral. Thus begins the portion of Miles' career that ends with his temporary disgrace in Memory.
The first several chapters of The Vor Game (Chapter 1 through part of Chapter 6) were originally published in a slightly different form as a novella entitled "The Weatherman" in the February 1990 issue of Analog magazine. The story covers Miles's assignment to Kyril Island through his arrest and the beginning of his detention at ImpSec.
Miles forms an unusual alliance with Rian Degtiar, the "Hand-Maiden of the Star Creche", who is charged with the duties of Empress until the new one is chosen. Miles solves the complex mystery, derails a planned war with Barrayar, and prevents the Cetagandan Empire from fragmenting into nine dangerously expansion-minded parts. Miles himself, much to his chagrin, is publicly awarded the Cetagandan "Order of Merit", the highest Cetagandan award, personally presented by the Emperor. He also picks up clues to a Cetagandan genetic experiment, which becomes the object of much skulduggery in Ethan of Athos.
Miles breaks into Ryoval's laboratory, but is caught and imprisoned in a utility sublevel where they are also keeping Canaba's dangerous specimen, "Nine". This turns out to be an eight-foot-tall werewolf complete with fangs, claws, superhuman strength and speed, and a ravenous appetite. Miles is shocked to find that the creature is female, and, despite her fearsome appearance, she is an intelligent and emotionally vulnerable young woman. She challenges him to prove that he believes she is human - by making love to her. Miles gets to indulge his weakness for tall strong women... He offers her a new life with the Dendarii, and a name: Taura. They spend several hours trying to escape and commit one supreme act of sabotage and revenge before Dendarii Captain Bel Thorne manages to negotiate a ransom.
Miles finds several aspects of the Deal unacceptable and the exchange turns into a minor battle with Ryoval's security. Despite her lack of combat training, Taura demonstrates spectacular raw ability and contributes mightily to her own rescue. They escape and are pursued, but manage to reach the Ariel and depart the Jackson system. Miles creates confusion and avoids pursuit by telling different lies (and a couple of vital truths) to Ryoval and his rival half-brother, weapons dealer Baron Fell.
As a result, the Cetagandans put a price on Naismith's head. At this point, they (along with nearly everyone else) are unaware that Naismith and Vorkosigan are one and the same.
The assassination plot is foiled, but instead of disposing of the clone or handing him over to the Barrayarans, Miles sets him free. He declares that, by Betan law, the clone is his brother, and furthermore by Barrayaran tradition, his brother would have the name Mark Pierre Vorkosigan. In exchange for "Mark" helping Miles to fool the Cetagandans, who are beginning to suspect that Naismith and Vorkosigan are the same person, Mark is let go with a considerable sum of money, and the invitation to claim his Barrayaran heritage, if he wants to - or dares.
The Dendarii take Mark to Miles' parents on Barrayar. Cordelia accepts him as another son and has him acknowledged as a legitimate family member. After a while, Mark concludes that Miles is still on Jackson's Whole, and decides to go there himself to look for him, since ImpSec does not believe him. Cordelia helps him by buying him a ship.
Meanwhile, Miles has been resuscitated by the Duronas, a research group cloned from a medical genius, employees of a planetary overlord, Baron Fell. His memory takes some time to return, and the doctors treating him do not know whether he is Mark, Admiral Naismith or Miles Vorkosigan (they are unaware of Miles' dual identity). Mark finds Miles, but is captured by Miles' old nemesis, Baron Ryoval, held prisoner and tortured for five days. The stress and trauma cause his personality to fragment into four sub-personalities: Gorge the glutton, Grunt the sexual pervert, Howl the masochist, and Killer the assassin. Together, the first three protect the fragile Mark persona, while Killer bides his time. When Ryoval's assistant informs him that Mark has gone round the bend and is actually enjoying the torture, a frustrated Ryoval decides to study his victim alone. Killer takes the opportunity to emerge and kill Ryoval, allowing Mark to resurface and escape.
He sells Ryoval's secrets, accessible only through a code-ring to Baron Fell for two million Betan dollars on condition that the Durona Group be permitted to leave Jackson's Whole and go where they will. Between them, the two brothers manage to upset the balance of power on Jackson's Whole.
However, the side effects of Miles' death and revivification have serious repercussions. Mark has his own problems, thanks to his original vicious programming, complicated by the torture. He goes to his mother with one request: "Help me!" She decides to send him to Beta Colony for psychiatric treatment and therapy.
By necessity, this novel was told from two viewpoints, those of Miles and Mark. This was the first novel in the Vorkosigan series to be written this way, though not the first time Bujold wrote such a novel, the first being Falling Free.
Meanwhile, Emperor Gregor, after years of refusing to marry any of the eligible Barrayaran ladies paraded in front of him by Alys Vorpatril, Ivan's mother, unexpectedly falls in love with a Komarran, Laisa Toscane, a wealthy heiress and member of a Komarran economic delegation. Unfortunately, she was already in the sights of Duv Galeni, now an ImpSec commander and friend of Miles. Being from Komarr brings Galeni under suspicion during later events.
After Illyan suffers sudden major mental impairment, Miles suspects that a plot to destroy Illyan's career and subvert ImpSec is in the making. His attempts to investigate are blocked by ImpSec's acting chief, so he asks Emperor Gregor Vorbarra to assign an Imperial Auditor (a special high-level troubleshooter with the authority to requisition anything, serving as the Voice of the Emperor; one of the more bizarre outgrowths of the Time of Isolation) to the case to clear the way for him. Gregor instead decides to make Miles himself a temporary Auditor. After Miles unravels the devious crime in remarkably quick time, his appointment is made permanent. Duv Galeni is cleared, becoming ImpSec's new Head of Komarran Affairs, and discovers love in the form of Delia Koudelka.
The apparent accident and Ekaterin's late husband's acceptance of bribes prove to be related. A group of Komarrans working in the same terraforming facility as Ekaterin's husband have developed a revolutionary weapon with potentially devastating consequences for Barrayar. A test of the weapon led to the original accident. Miles and Ekaterin are both caught up in the machinations, but she proves to be just as effective as Miles in derailing their enemies' plans, much to his rapidly growing admiration. Once the Komarrans are defeated, the plot and the new weapon are classified at the highest levels possible -- including any information about Ekaterin's husband's death which might exonerate Miles in a subsequent inquiry.
Ekaterin decides to return to Barrayar to stay with her aunt and uncle (Auditor Vorthys) and hopes to complete her education.
This novel was notable for switching viewpoints between its two protagonists as part of the structure of a given scene. For instance, the scene of Ekaterin's questioning with fast-penta begins from her viewpoint, but as the drug takes hold (and the novel begins a new chapter) it continues from Miles's viewpoint. This technique expanded in the next novel where multiple viewpoints were used.
Miles tackles the task of wooing Ekaterin in typical (for Miles) fashion: he doesn't actually tell her of his intentions. He is fearful that her previous experience has put her off marriage for life. His brother Mark also has relationship problems: he is in love with the warm, empathetic Kareen Koudelka, but her parents disapprove of him, and while this did not seem to bother her on Beta Colony, the sexual mores of Barrayar are much stricter, and she feels that she has to keep their relationship a secret from her family. An important subplot involves Mark's profit-inspired theft from a laboratory on Escobar of an engineered insect called the "butter bug," capable of converting any biological material into sanitary, nutritious, and edible... vomit.
Everything goes horribly wrong when Miles hosts a dinner party. Butter bugs and "bug butter" plague both aesthetics and digestion. A still recovering Simon Illyan inadvertently blurts out Miles' secret courting of Ekaterin. She walks out after he panics and asks her to marry him. Meanwhile, Kareen's parents forbid her to have anything to do with Mark after they find out that he took her to the Orb of Unearthly Delights, a notorious pleasure palace on Beta Colony.
The debacle has wider consequences. Two seats in the Council of Counts are up for grabs, one because the incumbent died, the other because the current Count Vorbretten has been found to be part-Cetagandan, dating back to the days of the occupation. The seat (and Countship) of the late Pierre Vorrutyer is being contested by a distant cousin, Richars, and the previous Count's sister Donna, who has undergone gender reassignment on Beta Colony. She becomes a fully functional (and fertile) man, Lord Dono, in order to qualify as a potential Count. As his father's Deputy, Miles's vote is courted and the suspicion cast on him relating to Ekaterin's late husband is used by Richars in an attempt to blackmail him. For security reasons, Miles is unable to defend himself with regard to the Komarran incident. Lord Dono, who as Donna taught Ivan Vorpatril "everything he knew", uses Ivan to recruit his own support among the counts, gaining Miles's vote after Richars's blunder.
When Ekaterin finds out about the rumors, she is forced to confront Miles. Miles offers to take the blame, to spare Ekaterin and her son, but she refuses to let him. Somewhat reconciled, they set out to solve their problems, defeat their enemies and determine her true feelings.
Mark's and Kareen's problems are solved after Cordelia talks to Kareen's parents and persuades them that the relationship is good for Kareen, even though it does not follow traditional Barrayaran rules. Cordelia plays dirty - for the conference she makes the parents sit on the very couch where they had first made love before their marriage.
Miles's troubles culminate in a tumultuous Council session where dirty tricks, innuendo, and a bizarre exchange between Ekaterin, sitting in the gallery, and the upstart Richars Vorrutyer on the Council floor, result in defeat for the enemy and the very public betrothal of Miles and Ekaterin.
Finally, at the Imperial wedding reception, Miles and Ekaterin meet the Cetagandan delegation, including ghem-General Dag Benin. Benin passes along a message from the Cetagandan Emperor, offering condolences on the death of Miles "close friend" Admiral Naismith and the hope that he will stay dead this time. Miles reads the real message loud and clear, and responds that he hopes that the Admiral's resurrection will not prove necessary.
Like its predecessor, this novel tells its story from the viewpoints of both Miles and Ekaterin, on occasion smoothly switching from one to the other during a given scene. There are also the viewpoints of Mark, Kareen Koudelka, and even Ivan Vorpatril, whose interior life has not been described at all before this. We learn that, much as Ivan fears involvement (and blame) from what happens around him, he still feels that "the hyperactive little git" (Miles) still needs him to "pull his nuts out of the fire".
The story relates the wedding of Miles and Ekaterin from the viewpoint of Miles' armsman, Roic, including Taura's first visit to Barrayar and the attempted murder of Ekaterin as an indirect attack on Miles.
While there, he uncovers a plot by a highly placed Cetagandan to steal a cargo of extreme importance to the Cetagandans and hide its tracks by putting the blame squarely on Barrayar. By the time Miles figures out what is going on, he and Bel have been infected by a highly lethal Cetagandan bioweapon. Miles almost dies (again) and barely averts an interstellar war between Cetaganda and Barrayar.
On July 20, 2006, Baen Books announced on its website that it will publish a new Vorkosigan book within the next few years. This has been confirmed by Lois McMaster Bujold. No details are known about the content of the forthcoming book; however, Bujold has stated in interviews quoted on her web site that the logical next step in Miles Vorkosigan's development would be the death of his father and the return of his mother to Beta Colony.
This new Vorkosigan book is presently (Mid-2008) being written. It is as yet unnamed, and is scheduled for publication in 2010. Bujold read the first two chapters at Denvention 3 in August 2008. It starts with Miles and Roic having been kidnapped and, separately, imprisoned on a planet that Miles has visited for a conference. Miles escapes and is aided by a small boy living alone (with chickens and other livestock) in a disused building.