Sharon Lee and Steve Miller would probably not thank me for labeling the books in their outrageously addictive Liaden Universe ® “romance.” Indeed, when asked about the designation “Futuristic Romance,” as applied to their early books, in a GeekSpeak Magazine interview with the pair last year, Miller replied dryly: “I suspect ‘Futuristic Romance’ was coined by PR hack or a desperate editor. We write Space Opera, or Science Fiction.”
Much as I hate to disagree with one of my very favorite authors of all time, I have to say, “Futuristic Romance” isn’t all that far off the mark. Oh, there’s a lot more going on here as well, most notably the aforementioned Space Opera, a major subgenre of SF. (It’s hard to quantify what it is, exactly, but if you’re a sci-fi fan, you know it when you see it. Battlestar Galactica, for example, is Space Opera.)
True, these tales of Liaden awesomeness should in no way be pigeonholed solely as Romance (let’s not scare off the guys!), but there can be no denying that at the very heart of almost every one of these entrancing, enchanting, compulsively readable tales lie courtships full of adventure, sacrifice, cultural divide, spirited debate and studied, elegant gallantry. They are love stories for the ages, and often ones that involve a soul-deep lifebond, as well.
If that doesn’t make these books Romances of some sort, then I don’t know what does.
In this series we are thrust into a far-flung future galaxy in which humanity has spread among the stars, has settled quite thousands of planets and has, naturally enough, evolved many unique cultures. Oh, there are aliens—the giant and wise turtles of the Clutch come immediately to mind—but for the most part it is humans with which Lee and Miller treat, although they are pulled from a startling variety of backgrounds.
So important among these humans are the Liadens that the very series is named for them, and there is a very good reason for that. Liadens are so freaking cool. A subject upon which I have waxed lyrical on so many occasions that I now find myself having to quote… er… myself:
“Their society is out of a bygone era, with an honor code straight out of Camelot… with their formal manner of speech and their complex social mores, their ideas of “Balance” and absolute familial duty, [they] hearken back to legends of Knights and Samurai and hell, even Jedi.
“But it may be that formal manner of speech that is the real clincher. Their sentences unravel like something from Jane Austen by way of The Tale of the Heike, with just a hint of Teal’c thrown in; a complex mélange of exacting grammar, effusive courtesy and a refusal to say anything the easy way.”
Lee and Miller are both avowed adherents of Georgette Heyer, and that shows through keenly in many of the Liadens’ interactions. They’re very Duke of Avon-y.
I love the Duke of Avon.
While the series itself skips all over the place, chronologically, and there also exist a wealth of short stories that likewise take place at a large variety of points among the space-time continuum, for mine, the best way to approach this universe is to read the books in publication order.
So, to begin: Agent of Change, starring the suave Scout Pilot Val Con yos’Phelium, heir to the illustrious Clan Korval (if the Liadens are cool, then Korval are the coolest of the cool) and one Miri Robertson, diminutive and flame-haired former mercenary. Proceed to Conflict of Honors, featuring (my personal faves), Master Trader Shan yos’Galan and the insecure but irresistible Terran spacer, Priscilla Mendoza. And then we go back in time to witness the romance of Er Thom and linguist Anne Davis, Shan’s parents, in Local Custom; then we immerse ourselves in the unwittingly heartbreaking love of Daav and Aelliana, Val Con’s parents, in Scout’s Progress. And then we jump back and forward through time over no less than ten additional titles, always meeting with new and wondrous characters and their destined lifemates, unraveling as we do so an increasingly intricate galaxy-spanning conspiracy, reveling in the elaborately drawn and meticulously maintained playground in which Lee and Miller romp so joyously, and… oh, my! It is such a very, very good time.
But don’t just take my word for it! Along with a panoply of SF-types, acclaimed romance authors also have much praise for all things Liaden:
"I was mesmerized, awed, and totally entertained. Only rarely do I read a book that I literally can’t put down, that draws me so completely into the world of the authors that I feel a part of it and don’t want to let it go” – Mary Balogh.
“These stories have it all. Adventure, intrigue, romance. Loyal friendships and hidden treachery… Ultimately, this is a story about extraordinary people (both human and alien) who find in friendship, loyalty and love the strength to face overwhelming challenges. You will want to buy two copies, one to keep and one to share with your friends.” – Patricia Bray
Recently reprinted by Baen Books, the entire Liaden back catalogue is available in omnibus editions for your reading pleasure, even as we are presented with continuing adventures, including the just-released Ghost Ship. I really cannot think of a single reason why any reader of either sci-fi or romance would not have devoured all the novels set in the Liaden Universe® already, but if you’ve yet to take the plunge, then I heartily recommend you do so at once.
Or, as a Liaden of Clan Korval might say: I invite you to avail yourself of a most singular opportunity that will gift you with both profit and pleasure.
Good lift, Pilot.
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.