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Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Cetaganda, Chapters 13-16

This week in the Vorkosigan reread, we reach the dramatic climax of Cetaganda. Ivan gets kidnapped, Rian gets the key, Benin gets a promotion, Miles gets a medal, and then we all go home.

Surprising no one, the man behind the curtain of this entire plan was… Ilsum Kety. Just like Yenaro said. Bujold didn’t even try to distract us with a red herring. For his valuable contribution to smoking out the traitors (ie, for knowing a guy’s name) Yenaro gets a job as, like, fifth under-assistant to the 17th imperial perfumer. It’s a low-ranking job, but it’s a real one. My congratulations to Yenaro for turning a situation in which he was nearly killed by an exploding carpet into an opportunity for meaningful and remunerative employment in the arts. As Miles will point out when he delivers his own account of himself to the Emperor Giaja, the best strategies achieve their goals regardless of your survival. Yenaro has suffered a great deal, but in the long game of his own life, this is a remarkable success. Miles owes that maxim about strategy to Captain Cavillo, late of Randall’s Rangers. I am glad to see that she is still in Miles’s thoughts, though grateful that her perfume is no longer afflicting his sinuses.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Cetaganda, Chapters 11-12

When Miles and Ivan return from the science fair (sans unicorn), Vorreedi invites Miles for a friendly chat in his office. What do we learn about Vorreedi? He collects Cetagandan art. What do we learn about Miles? His chain of command is very short, and he can use it to argue BOTH that his post is a sinecure provided by his high-ranking connections, AND that he is the very most special of special agents. Miles is everything. He is Lord Peter Wimsey. He is Bertie Wooster. He is Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings. He is both Phineas and Ferb.

What is he going to do today?

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Cetaganda, Chapter 10

In chapter 10 of Cetaganda, Miles and Ivan go to the Ghem ladies’ science fair. The Haut ladies have their own separate affair, privately in the Celestial Garden, and all of their projects are humans. Cetaganda is a really creepy place in this chapter. The plot details: Protocol Officer Voreedi accompanies Miles and Ivan; Yenaro tries to kill them with a carpet and an Orange Julius—he fails; Miles fails to meet up with Rian (almost being killed by Yenaro slowed him up). DOWN TO BUSINESS.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Cetaganda, Chapters 4-9

As I leave behind chapters 2-3, it has become screamingly obvious that Cetaganda is all about invitations. Getting invitations, accepting invitations, sending invitations, being entertaining, being entertained. The Cetagandan social whirl is astounding.

I am not of the opinion that this novel benefits from further in-depth analysis. There are plenty of opportunities here to examine the broader significance of a variety of aspects of Cetagandan culture, society and politics but since the Cetagandans are mostly in the background of the rest of the series it is difficult to test any conclusions that one might draw in this way. I’m wanting to get back to the action. In my opinion, the action reappears in chapter ten. The easiest way to summarize the intervening section is through the invitations.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Klingons Drug Everyone: David Dvorkin’s Timetrap

I found David Dvorkin’s Timetrap, first published in 1988, in the bottom of a moving box last week. Its cover features a particularly young and dewy-looking Kirk standing next to a woman with an incredibly impressive eyebrow in front of a fleet of Klingon Birds of Prey. The story is a subtle blend of problems: it deals with what is true and what seems to be true, with how we see the dangers around us, with the relationship between the Klingons and the Federation, and with the way the world changes over time. And my sister describes the plot as “completely bananapants.”

The basic premise of Timetrap is that Kirk is kidnapped by Klingons who try to convince him that he has travelled in time to 100 years in the future, and must return to his present with them to play a crucial role in brokering the Great Peace which will bring the Klingons and the Federation together. This, they helpfully remind him, will be the beginning of the alliance the Organians predicted back in “Errand of Mercy.” Kirk and Kor were both skeptical about it then, because they hated each other’s guts and were dedicated to depriving each other of control of Organia. As that episode reminds us, things are not always as they seem. The Klingons would like to remind Kirk of this, because their master plan—which is world-spanningly epic—is contingent upon things seeming to be other than they are. The Empire has invested a great deal of time in cultivating illusions—for example, the illusion of time travel. They didn’t go anywhen. How did they convince Kirk they did? Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs.

[Kai the Klingon Pharmaceutical Industry!]

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Cetaganda, Chapters 2-3 (Redux)

Chapters 2 and 3 of Cetaganda posed a reading dilemma—are they best read as intergalactic space opera mystery adventure, or is it fair to scrutinize them as though they were the reading material for an advanced seminar in intergalactic race, class, and gender issues? I don’t think these readings are mutually exclusive, but on this occasion, they didn’t fit into a single blog post either. So here we are at Cetaganda, chapters 2-3, the encore presentation!

Later in his life, Miles Vorkosigan will periodically point out that fish don’t notice the water. His comments on this aquatic situation are usually intended to point out something about heightened levels of security and/or political power, but they are equally true of race, class, and gender issues, which are often invisible to those whose position in these hierarchies is relatively privileged. Miles, for example, is a Vor male. While his fragile bones deprive him of some of the status associated with his class and gender, Miles is unquestionably a member of the Barrayaran elite, and consequently has access to economic resources, medical care, political advocacy, and opportunities for meaningful work that are not widely available to most of the Barrayaran population.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Cetaganda, Chapters 2-3

Last week, Ivan got in a fight, and Miles picked up some dropped artifacts. This was all very exciting, and very foreign to my personal experience as a person who has never been in either space or a fight. This week, Miles is going to engage in an activity with which I am much more familiar—he’s going to a party and looking at art. There will also be an elaborate funereal ceremony for the Cetagandan Dowager Empress, which I suppose might not be considered a party in the traditional sense. I am counting it as one because it involves both a large group of people and lunch.

The Vorkosigan series has more parties than it does space battles, and Bujold uses them really well. Miles exposes a lot of his personal insecurities about his life, his future, and comparisons between himself and his cousin at the first one. He starts unpacking Cetagandan politics and culture at the second.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Cetaganda, Chapter 1

Last week, I made the briefest and most casual possible passing mention of the plot of Cetaganda, which involves Miles and Ivan attending a state funeral on Cetaganda. Like tiny little Barrayaran Vice Presidents. (In space!)

This week, I’m actually getting into the plot of the book, which is part mystery, part extended encounter between Miles and that portion of his brain that functions like the protagonist in Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

The Pigeon wants his captain’s tabs really, really badly.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Cetaganda

This week, the re-read heads to Cetaganda, in Cetaganda! The exclamation point in this case is my addition, and not part of the title like in Oklahoma! This book was first published in 1996, appearing on the shelves between Mirror Dance and Memory, but it’s the sixth book in current reading order. At the beginning of the story, Miles and his cousin Ivan are dispatched to represent the Barrayaran Empire at the funeral of the Cetagandan Emperor’s mother. In some senses, the boys are on their Grand Tour, putting the final touches on a galactic education and getting some practice in doing the things the High Vor do. It’s also a neat little mystery—sort of “Sherlock Vorkosigan.”

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Fanzines, Cover Art, and the Best Vorkosigan Planet: An Interview with Lois McMaster Bujold

When I first started discussing the Vorkosigan reread with Tor.com editor Bridget McGovern, I suggested that I could interview author Lois McMaster Bujold. I was pretty sure that was not going to fly. I thought it would be fun and interesting, and also terrifying, and that there was no way that real adults would endorse that plan, or that Lois would make time for it. She has books to write about Penric and stuff!

I had really not been paying attention, because, as I would shortly discover, Lois spends a lot of time with fans. She reads the reread! I only spent one afternoon hyperventilating into a paper bag over that (it was the afternoon she commented on “Aftermaths”). She has been incredibly generous with her time and thoughts in the comments. Because she is so generous with her time, Lois has been interviewed a lot, including by Jo Walton here on Tor.com. If you’re looking for a question I didn’t ask, check out her earlier interviews!

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapter 17

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan reread! The matter before us this week is The Vor Game, chapter 17. It is the final chapter of the book, which surprised me not because I didn’t think it was the end, but because I thought it was two chapters. Chapter 17 is a sequence of scenes in which Miles encounters other characters and their relationships move forward. It’s the portion of the space opera where we all go home, with some pit stops at some of our favorite roadside attractions along the way. We’re saying goodbye.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

The Excellent But Forgotten Ponies of The Hobbit

Please enjoy this encore post on The Hobbit from a horse-lover’s perspective, originally published March 2016.

A certain degree of affection for Tolkien and his works is almost a geek shibboleth, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time feeling bad about my almost total indifference towards The Lord of the Rings. I enjoyed Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday party, but absolutely could not tolerate the Mines of Moria, or whatever it was they had to trudge through for, like, ever to get to I don’t even know where because I gave up. I never even tried the rest of the trilogy. I thought the movies were OK, but kind of long. I don’t think this makes me a bad geek. I’ve read Diana Wynne Jones’s description of Tolkien as a lecturer at Oxford, and I don’t think I’m missing that much.

Out of respect for the traditions of my people, I have read The Hobbit, and read it to my children. It’s an enjoyable enough piece of light entertainment. I understand that the work has found an audience of devoted fans. But I am a reader with different priorities—and JRR Tolkien is almost unforgivably bad at horses. Tolkien will go on to do a better job with horses in later books: Samwise and Frodo named their ponies, and Frodo tries to rescue his from some trolls; Shadowfax is pretty cool; the Riders of Rohan seem like they would pass muster with the Pony Club. The Hobbit, however, is an equine abattoir.

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Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapter 16

“…You realize Gregor, you did this? Sabotaged the Cetagandan invasion single handedly?”

“Oh,” breathed Gregor, “it took both hands.”

Oh, Gregor. You had me at “Oh.”

Years from now, in Memory, Miles will watch Gregor helping Laisa on to a horse, and notice (among other things) Gregor’s stunning savior faire. Miles should not have been surprised. In this instance, Gregor has walked right up to a vulgar remark and stopped exactly the right distance away from it. I don’t know what emperors are made for any better than Gregor does, but it seems to me that stopping just short of vulgarity is one of the things they should do well.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapters 11-15

When we left off last week, Elena Bothari-Jesek was in the process of rescuing her childhood friends, Miles and Gregor, from the Oserans. She’s cut her hair! My attempt to interpret the description of her new ‘do puts it somewhere between Princess Diana and Mr. Spock. Very functional, very military, and a great look for a woman with Elena’s bone structure. I approve. Elena smuggles Miles and Greg onto a shuttle with Tung, and they make a plan to hand Gregor (with Miles) off to a Barrayaran embassy in local space that will handle their repatriation. I forget which embassy it was, and I think I should be forgiven for that (and I have not gone and looked it up) because they never get there.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Going Home: Mercedes Lackey’s Tempest: All-New Tales of Valdemar

My relationship with books—all books, not just ones about Valdemar—reflects the needs of the moment. Over the last several months, I’ve found that Valdemar stories speak to the part of my soul that really wants to live on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches (with extra butter). Valdemar offers magic and drama in a context of surprising social and political stability. Heroes come and go, they remember each other or they don’t, but Valdemar stays pretty much the same. No matter how far characters travel, or how strange their adventures, they kingdom they come back to is basically the one they left. I love the wild, magical elements of the series, and I love its assertion that, despite the conventional wisdom, you can go home, over and over again.

Most (though not all) of Lackey’s Valdemar stories have focused on one corner of Velgarth. There’s a lot of world outside it, and outside Lackey’s usual focus on Heralds, to explore. The Tales of Valdemar anthologies offer a wider range of perspectives, and a more diverse cast of characters, than the novels usually do.

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