I was introduced to the Liaden Universe by some kind soul on the AOL Bookworms folder who read of my predelection for science fiction and fantasy with strong characters and meaningful plots that move along. I read "Local Custom" 3 years ago and I was hooked. I've since read everything in the Liaden Universe that is available, and enjoyed them tremendously. Here are characters who inhabit a universe in which one's manners are deeply important, and one's "face" is even more so. Clan Korval, as we soon learn, are the rarest of the rare, a clan full of noble and fascinating souls who have the intestinal fortitude, wit and charm to change their world. I heartily recommend these works. The following is from Wikipedia, and is a nice run down of the books and some of the important concepts/characters. I am a big fan of Shan and Pricilla, personally, but I also hold deep fondness for Anthora and Nova, and the tree, of course!
All books and stories are available in electronic form from Embiid Publishing (http://www.embiid.net/). The novels have been published by Meisha Merlin (http://www.meishamerlin.com/), who have also anthologised the earlier novels, and re-issued by Ace Publishing (http://us.penguingroup.com/).
The "Agent of Change" sequence (sorted by internal chronology, not publication date):
Local Custom (2002, ISBN 0-441-00911-5)
Scout's Progress (2002, ISBN 0-441-00927-1)
Conflict of Honors (1988, ISBN 0-441-00964-6)
Agent of Change (1988, ISBN 0-441-00991-3)
Carpe Diem (1989, ISBN 0-441-01022-9)
Plan B (1999, ISBN 0-441-01053-9)
I Dare (2002, ISBN 0-441-01085-7)
Balance of Trade (2004, ISBN 1-59222-020-7)
The Great Migration Duology
Crystal Soldier (February 2005, ISBN 1-59222-083-5)
Crystal Dragon (scheduled for 2006)
Partners in Necessity (2000, ISBN 1-892065-01-0 trade paperback)
Contains Conflict of Honors, Agent of Change, and Carpe Diem
Pilots Choice (2001, ISBN 1-892065-02-9 trade paperback)
Contains Local Custom and Scout's Progress
These also include stories about Lute and Moonhawk, the earlier incarnations of two major characters in the books.
To Cut An Edge - Val Con meets Edger
A Day at the Races - Shan and Val Con outrage Aunt Kareen
A Matter of Dreams
Moonphase - the 55th tale of Lute and Moonhawk
Where the Goddess Sends - the first tale of Lute and Moonhawk
A Spell for the Lost - the second tale of Lute and Moonhawk
Balance of Trade (expanded for the novel)
A Choice of Weapons - Daav has a bad time at a party
Pilot of Korval - Daav and Er Thom must take up their responsibilities
Breath's Duty - Daav must take up a painful task
Naratha's Shadow - a Scout must control an ancient artefact
Changeling - How Ren Zel became a pilot and what befell him thereafter
The Wine of Memory - Lute and Moonhawk must save one of his oldest friends
Certain Symmetry - Pat Rin must execute a friend's will — at considerable risk to himself
Veil of the Dancer
Heirloom - Pat Rin must play a perfect game — without rules
The King of the Cats (non-canon, cross-over with other stories by Steve Miller)
These are available from SRM, Publisher (http://www.korval.com/) in chapbooks. Most are also available from Embiid. The Liaden chapbooks are:
Two Tales of Korval: To Cut An Edge, A Day at the Races
Fellow Travellers: Moonphase, Where the Goddess Sends, A Spell for the Lost
Duty Bound: Pilot of Korval, Breath's Duty
Certain Symmetry: Certain Symmetry, The Wine of Memory
Trading in Futures: Balance of Trade (the short story), A Choice of Weapons
Loose Cannon: A Matter of Dreams, Phoenix
Shadows and Shades: Heirloom, Naratha's Shadow
Quiet Knives: Veil of the Dancer, Quiet Knives
As mentioned above, there are three main divisions of the human race which appear in the stories. There are some notable non-humans also.
Home planet "Liad". Liaden (singular and plural are the same) are usually shorter than the Terran norm, often with golden skin. They are deeply concerned with their melant'i which roughly corresponds to the concern with "face" for which Japanese Samurai are famous. Some are almost rabidly isolationist; it is not uncommon for Liaden to refer to those of other races as "it" likening them to animals. Several characters are part- or even half-Terran: this does not endear them to the isolationists.
Liaden society is clan-based, each Clan being made up of one or more families ("lines"). The Head of a Clan is the "Delm", the head of a line is the "Thodelm"; either might be male or female as circumstances dictate.
Some Liaden are trained as explorers: the Scouts. They are regarded with distaste by the more isolationist within Liaden society.
Most of the stories thus far centre around members of Clan Korval, made up of the yos'Phelium and yos'Galan lines. Scouts also appear often.
Val Con yos'Phelium - ex-Scout
Miri Robertson - ex-mercenary, wife to Val Con
Shan yos'Galan - Master Trader, foster-brother to Val Con (current incarnation of Lute)
Priscilla Delacroix y Mendoza - wife to Shan (current incarnation of Moonhawk)
Daav yos'Phelium - Scout, father to Val Con
Aelliana Caylon - wife to Daav, mother to Val Con
Er Thom yos'Galan - Master Trader, father to Shan
Anne Davis - wife to Er Thom, mother to Shan
Pat Rin yos'Phelium - cousin to Val Con
Kareen yos'Phelium - sister to Daav, mother to Pat Rin, expert on "proper conduct"
Anthora yos'Galan - sister to Shan, with preternatural abilities
Ren Zel dea'Judan - husband to Anthora
Nova yos'Galan - sister to Anthora and Val Con
Home planet known as "Terra". However as remarked above, there is a brief reference to the possibility that this planet is not our planet Earth but possibly the fourth of that name, previous planets having been abandoned. There appears to be some resentment that the "younger" races (usually Liaden) hold more power in the realm of shipping and commerce than Terra; there is reference to at least one political party involved in less-than-legal operations.
Home planet unknown at this time. Usually much larger than the Terran norm, they are a war-like people who live for conquest. They are almost universally prone to thinking of the other human races as animals. It is not known whether they can interbreed with Liaden or Terrans: the likely lifespan of such offspring is short, not for merely biological reasons.
Nelirikk - ex-Explorer (equivalent to Scout), subsequently sworn to Line yos'Phelium, becomes Miri's bodyguard; aka "Beautiful"
These non-humans are even larger than Yxtrang and very long-lived; they appear much like turtles walking upright, hence the name. Their names are correspondingly long: Edger's full name apparently takes some hours to recite. They are usually slow to act but are very dangerous when angered.
Those encountered in the story thus far make up a "market research" team on behalf of their clan, who manufacture knives of a very particular sort.
There are many cats which appear in the stories, usually by name, often taking an active part in the proceedings.
An unusual participant in proceedings is Jelaza Kazone (possible translation "Jela's Promise") and the seedlings thereof (of which only one has thus far appeared in narrative). This very large tree of unknown species lives in the grounds of Clan Korval's primary residence and is in the habit of communicating its likes and dislikes to senior members of that clan; it has particularly been noted to have an interest in the likely parents of future children of the Clan.