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Not, granted, the sort of Dragons you're probably thinking of—scaled treasure-hoarders of legend, or leather-winged devourers of Thread.

Not exactly, anyway.

Our Dragons are human. Oh, they fly—they're pilots, mostly—and they hoard treasure in the form of spaceships. They're charismatic and dangerous; good friends and bad, bad enemies.

The Dragons we're talking about are the members of Clan Korval, and "here" is the planet Liad.

Why Dragons? you ask.

Good question.

In Liaden culture, each clan has a sigil—a hallmark, if you will—which is part and parcel of the clan's identity. Each delm—head of clan—wears a ring bearing the Clan's mark, and is formally addressed by the clan's name. Korval's clan mark is an image of a dragon, wings half-furled, hovering protectively over a well-leafed tree. To Liadens, applying liberal social wit, members of Clan Korval become Dragons; its delm, Korval Him-or-Herself.

Liad . . .

Liaden society, you understand, is very formal, and is generally codified in a multi-volume work known as the Liaden Code of Proper Conduct. Being Dragons, Korval has . . . limited use for such stringent social confines. They are not dishonorable, generally, nor are their manners anything but nice.

But they do tend to consider the Code more on the order of guidelines, rather than law.

So, Dragons.

This omnibus is titled The Dragon Variation. A "variation" in chess is a new angle built on an established and well-studied line of attack. Variations are often the purview of a Romantic—the sort of chess player who sacrifices order for elegance; and plays from their heart. Such a line of play is not for the timid, since it depends upon flying in the face of custom—and on risking one's heart.

We need to stop here and explain ourselves a little.

One of the great joys that the Liaden Universe® holds for us, its authors, is its very size. Make no doubt about it, the universe is big.

How big, you might ask.

Big enough for love, to paraphrase Mr. Heinlein. Big enough for war, and for reconciliation. Big enough for multiple entrances and storylines that range from thrillers, to battle tales, to quiet love stories. Big enough for all of that—and big enough for fun.

We've mentioned fun before, in the prologue to another book. We're mentioning it again, now, because, to us, fun is serious.

When we were just getting started in the collaboration biz, we made a promise to each other. We promised that we would keep on writing as long as it was fun. That was in 1984, so you can see that we're easily amused. We also believe that readers have more fun with stories that are written by authors who are enjoying themselves. And, yes, we do think you're are smart enough to tell. And big-hearted enough to care.

Regarding world-building choices, we agreed straight off that—while the Liaden Universe® would be exciting and strange, with wars to fight, aliens to decipher, and wrongs to right—people would fall in love. That doesn't sound like so much of an artistic decision nowadays, but back in the early-to-mid 80s, it was something of a radical notion in science fiction.

Mind you, the idea of mixing romance into a genre plot wasn't original with us. Dorothy Sayers used romance to excellent effect in the exemplary Peter Wimsey mysteries, to which Sharon introduced Steve. Steve returned the favor by introducing Sharon to Georgette Heyer. Romance, after all, is part of being human—of being people.

And so it is with the Liaden Universe®; because the other thing we agreed on is that stories are about people.

That said, the three novels in this omnibus are, yes, romances. Local Custom and Scout's Progress are essentially Regency Romances set on an alien world—Space Regencies, if you will, and our bow to Georgette Heyer, acknowledging all that she taught us, as writers and as readers.

Conflict of Honors is our tribute to Peter Wimsey, who did what duty demanded, and was never afraid to cry.

The Dragon Variation also lays the groundwork of Liaden culture and the larger trading universe of which it is a part. Taken together, these three novels are an on-ramp to the Liaden Universe®, taking you in slowly, before . . . just before . . . the trouble begins.


Over the next several months, Baen will be releasing three more Liaden Universe® reprint omnibi: The Agent Gambit (including Agent of Change and Carpe Diem); Korval's Game (including Plan B and I Dare) and The Crystal Variation (including Crystal Soldier, Crystal Dragon, and Balance of Trade). The novels run the gamut from Space Regencies to Space Opera. All are character-driven; all were fun to write and, we hope, fun to read.

In addition to the reprints, Baen has-or-will-be publishing three more Liaden Universe® novels: Fledgling, and Saltation, the story of Theo Waitley; and Mouse and Dragon, the sequel to Scout's Progress, which appears in this omnibus.

If this is your first encounter with a Liaden Universe® book—welcome. If you're an old friend, stopping by for a revisit—we're very glad to see you.

Thank you.


Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Waterville, Maine

November 2009



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