Aug 14 2011 2:45pm

Making the Case for Romance: Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s Liaden Universe

Agent of Change by Sharon Lee and Steve MillerSharon 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.

Conflict of Honors by Sharon Lee and Steve MillerIf 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.

Scout’s Progress by Sharon Lee and Steve MillerSo, 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

Ghost Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve MillerRecently 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.

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Kate Nagy
1. Kate Nagy

The thing about these books, though, is that they're like peanut M&Ms -- you can't just eat one and stop. No, you read one book, and then you MUST read another, and another, and before long you're scouring the Internet for short stories and one-offs and author interviews where the barest hint of a spoiler MIGHT be dropped. Not that I would know about that first-hand or anything...

And for the record, I'm all about Daav and Aelliana. Love those two. (That cover image you see up there is pretty much exactly how I pictured the two of them.) Oh, and Shan yos'Galan is totally my Sci-Fi Trader Boyfriend (Priscilla, sweetie, the line forms to the right). These books have something for everyone -- well, there are no vampires, so we'll say, something for almost everyone. Check 'em out!
2. MelodieM
These are the ONLY books I buy in both hardcover and as ebooks because I want to throw money at the authors so they will keep writing. I found them back in '88 and have been their gooshy fangirl ever since. That said, these books should come with warning stickers that they are completely absorbing and merely dusting them on the shelf will cause a complete series re-read that will leave you demanding jade wine from your loved ones when you resurface.
3. MelodieM
These are the ONLY books I buy in both hardcover and as ebooks because I want to throw money at the authors so they will keep writing. I found them back in '88 and have been their gooshy fangirl ever since. That said, these books should come with warning stickers that they are completely absorbing and merely dusting them on the shelf will cause a complete series re-read that will leave you demanding jade wine from your loved ones when you resurface.
Carmen Pinzon
4. bungluna
Amen and halleluja, or what Kate and MelodieM said!
Megan Frampton
5. MFrampton
Once again, something I HAVE to read, like right now. I am getting Agent of Change from my library. Thanks!
6. Barb in Maryland
Soooo wonderful! All the Liaden books are on my comfort read shelf!! And I have to agree about the 'you can't read just one' effect. I just finished Ghost Ship and had to physically restrain myself from re-reading the lot. FYI, for any newbies out there, Ghost Ship is NOT a good place to start. My favorite, is I Dare and my least favoratie is Local Custom(warning-it's a secret baby book. But there are subcurrents that are important for the unfolding of the greater plot--so it's a must read).
The authors have also e-pubbed all of the Liaden short stories, I believe. They also have a Brand New Liaden story over at their Splintered Universe site.
Happy sigh.
7. Barb in Maryland
Ooops, that's Splinter Universe for the location of the new Liaden story "Kin Ties".
8. lxz
It's too tragic to be romance. I'll never forgive them for killing off Aelliana. And for what they did to Daav after that (turning him into Jen Sar Kiladi and pairing him off with Kamele.)
9. Maura
Great article. I'd never caught the resemblance of Liaden/Duke of Avon before, but I have to say it's right on. Now I know why Lee and Miller have always, always rung a cord with dialogue and manners! I started reading Heyer and Austin in 4th grade, and return to them often. Not quite as often as to Lee and Miller, but what can I say? Resistance ... is futile.
10. Ariaflame
lxz - spoilers! And it isn't as bad as you are making it sound. Plus Theo!

These are also on my comfort shelves and romance is not really a genre I normally follow.

If people can't find agent of change then local custom isn't a bad one to come in at, or Balance of Trade which is set much earlier than most of the books but is a great introduction to the Liaden society and worldview.

Safe landing.
11. Toni Weisskopf
I love the Duke of Avon, too.
12. DebF
I guess it depends on how you define 'human'. As long as you're not restricting yourself to 'people born on Earth', then you're right, but I do think that Liad would be a very challenging place to visit in real life (the fictional version is a fabulous place to spend a rainy afternoon though).
If you haven't read these books, Baen offer a fabulous (worldwide) ebook service. You can download them in a choice of formats:
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