Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Brothers in Arms, Chapters 7 and 8

Up until this point, Miles thought he was the mastermind of his own conspiracy. That made sense—he’s the guy with a secret identity that’s running around Earth at the same time as his alter ego. He controls 5000 troops who can do almost anything and who don’t ask questions. He’s got a lover, and she’s the inestimable Quinn. Miles has had some recent problems—limited personal time, financial issues—but he’s been riding pretty high. This far away from Barrayar, he hasn’t worried about being a pawn in anyone else’s conspiracy. His calculations were incomplete. In chapters three and four, I noted Bujold’s comedic genius. This week, we’re looking at chapters seven and eight, which offer another form of genius. There are payoffs here for things that didn’t appear to be major investments, and the tight and crafty dialogue deftly complements the conspiracies that surround Miles at this point.

This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

SUMMARY

Galeni disappears. Miles and Ivan read his records. The Dendarii are hired to kidnap Lord Miles Vorkosigan.

COMMENTARY

Miles has been expecting Galeni to disappear—he thinks Galeni has stolen the Dendarii’s eighteen million marks and the logical sequel would be to scarper. But a look at Galeni’s banking records suggests nothing out of the ordinary. That’s not conclusive; If Galeni stole the Dendarii’s money, he probably wouldn’t have deposited it in his personal bank account. Galeni’s personal service record is more exceptional; Galeni earned a PhD in history and then left academia to attend the Imperial Military Academy at age 26. Finding nothing that might explain Galeni’s abrupt disappearance, Miles persuades the ambassador to open the sealed portions of Galeni’s record, which answer Miles’s unspoken question from their first meeting—“Whose son are you?”

Duv Galeni started life on Komarr as one of Komarr’s extremely wealthy Galen family. His aunt, Rebecca, was one of the victims of the Solstice Massacre. Galeni’s father played a major role in the Komarran revolt that took place when Miles was six, and is believed to have died. The Galen fortune disappeared into the Komarran resistance, and seems, to Miles, to have been spent on conventional resources. Having just committed some financial fraud himself, and then investigated Galeni’s bank account for signs of fraud, Miles should maybe consider the possibility that these financial statements are not as they seem. He does not. The Dendarii should consider hiring a forensic accountant. The file also contains Aral’s correspondence with Illyan over “Galeni’s” application to the Imperial Military Academy. This summarizes Aral’s hopes for cooperation between Komarr and Barrayar, and for Galeni as a symbol of it. Miles doesn’t see himself as being on a mission from his father, but this note breathes some life into the theme of fathers and sons.

Ivan is present for this conversation, so we also learn that Ivan was Galeni’s second in command, and has taken over as military attache for the embassy. This is more competence than Ivan has been given credit for in publication order so far. In other news, we learn that Ivan bought a lace nightgown for someone, and that Ivan knows his own lingerie size. He’s quite the grown-up. Miles also calls on Ivan to comment on Galeni’s likely sexual preferences. This is an odd and uncomfortable moment; I’ve been reading this series and seeing a lot of diversity in gender and sexual orientation, and it’s easy to forget that Miles’s experience in the very universe I’m reading about has not been a reflection of authorial attitudes. Miles hasn’t been to Athos. He doesn’t know about his father’s lovers. He’s a little uncomfortable with Bel. In Miles’s defense, gay officers in the Barrayaran military would seem to be susceptible to blackmail. It’s a reasonable concern to have. It’s also a reminder of the things Miles doesn’t know. For example, he doesn’t know why the Komarrans are still upset about the Solstice Massacre and no one seems equally upset about the destruction of Vorkosigan Vashnoi. In fact, Barrayarans are still so upset about the Cetagandan invasion that led to Vorkosigan Vashnoi’s destruction that they built a military industrial complex and invaded Komarr to prevent it from ever happening again. LOOK AT THIS FISH NOT NOTICING THE WATER.

Galeni’s absence—specifically, the lack of his restraining influence—also plays a role in Miles’s next decision. Despite initial reservations, Miles accepts the contract for his own kidnapping. He hopes that it will lead to some clues about who is trying to kill him, and what happened to Galeni. It does! These outcomes are a side order to the main course, which is an effortless blend of Unintended Consequences and Things You Should Have Noticed. Some toughs with scanner shields stun Miles and then Miles’s clone shows up to take Miles’s personal effects, Miles’s lover, and Miles’s cousin off the scene while Miles is shoved in a cell. With Duv Galeni.

Duv looks very much like a condemned man. He knows too much to live, and a fair amount of it is information Miles can’t live without. The scene in the cell is a three way conversation between Miles, Duv, and the monitoring device in the ceiling light. How do you blog a brilliant conversation between two men and a ceiling light? I’m not going to quote the whole thing—you should go read it! Now! Twice! This is, without doubt, the bar by which all other literary conversations involving a ceiling light should be judged. It’s a more menacing presence than the monitoring devices in 1984. Big Brother’s malevolence is impersonal and bureaucratic. Bujold’s ceiling light is more vicious and unpredictable—this is custom-made, artisanal malevolence. Baen has chosen to include Borders of Infinity in the Hugo readers packet, and I understand why, but they really should have found a way to include THIS CONVERSATION WITH THE CEILING LIGHT THAT IS ALSO DUV’S DAD. WHO ISN’T DEAD.

What goes unsaid in this dialogue is just as important as what is said. I just told you to read it (GO READ IT!) so I’m not going to hash over that which is said. Instead, I want to point out a crucial aspect of what Duv does not say about his father. Duv believed his father was killed—and completely obliterated—by a bomb when Duv was eleven. Duv’s older brother was killed in the same blast, and the condition of his brother’s remains made the suggestion that there was nothing left of his father believable. Galen’s father didn’t just fake his own death—he killed his older son to do it.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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