Proto Zoa by Lois McMaster Bujold fantasy book reviewsProto Zoa by Lois McMaster Bujold

Proto Zoa, whose title literally means “first animal,” collects five of Lois McMaster Bujold’s earliest short stories:

“Barter” — (Originally published in 1985 in The Twilight Zone Magazine) Mary Alice has a lazy husband, three young bratty children, and a couple of clumsy cats. She’s having her usual rough morning when a strange little man shows up on the doorstep asking for a bottle of ammonia. Mary Alice decides to make a deal with him. This cute story will especially be appreciated by harried mothers.

“Garage Sale” — (1987, American Fantasy) Harold Kreeger is constantly fighting with the widow next door. She doesn’t like the way he takes care of his property, and she hates it when his cat poops in her yard. Finally, Harold hatches a plan to get revenge. This story is slightly dark and fairly amusing.

“The Hole Truth” — (1986, The Twilight Zone Magazine) Set in the same neighborhood as “Garage Sale,” this is a lighter story about Harold Kreeger’s neighbors. The folks in this Ohio suburb have discovered that the chuck hole on their street seems to be bottomless. Both of these suburban fantasy stories highlight Bujold’s penchant for irony. I love that about her.

“Dreamweaver’s Dilemma” — (1995, stand-alone novella set in the VORKOSIGAN universe) A woman who works as a dreamweaver is behind on the deadline to submit a sequel to the popular romantic dream she’s famous for. When a mysterious client shows up and wants to commission a freelance horror dream, she’s intrigued by the challenge and thinks it may help her get over her dreamweaver’s block. This novelette, set in the same universe as Bujold’s much-loved VORKOSIGAN saga, is imaginative and entertaining.

“Aftermaths” — (1986, Far Frontiers, Vol. V) A spaceship pilot and a med tech are on clean-up duty after a war. The med tech’s gruesome job is to retrieve frozen corpses from space, thaw them out, identify them, and prepare them for burial. The young pilot is grossed out by this, but the patient technician helps him to see things in a new light. I’ve read this story before — it’s the coda to Shards of Honor, a VORKOSIGAN novel — and was happy to read it again here. It’s beautiful and horrible, and so moving.

An author’s note rounds out this collection. It includes publishing histories and a little bit of context for each story. Since I’m a big fan of Bujold, I enjoyed this section.

These stories are certainly not Bujold’s best work — that would be the VORKOSIGAN saga — but they are still great stories that showcase the author’s fertile imagination, lean style, and dark dry humor. Proto Zoa would be a nice place to start with her work. The audio version of Proto Zoa has just been released by Blackstone Audio. It’s 3.5 hours long and read by Grover Gardner who also reads the VORKOSIGAN books. He always does a great job with Bujold’s work.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.