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Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

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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Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapters 9 and 10

This week finds us in the Jacksonian Consortium where a mysterious emergency has drawn Ungari away, leaving Miles and Overholt to make their way home by commercial carrier.

I know that this emergency is extremely serious business, crucial to the security of the Empire. It’s much more important than Miles. I’m not convinced it was a good idea to separate Miles from his handler, though. Is Ungari aware that Miles is fairly high up the line of succession right now? Miles is aware! He’s pretty sure that several factions would have to really hate someone else for him to ever realistically be in a position to inherit the Imperial Campstool, but he IS in the line. Also, he’s a wanted man, and Jacksonian police arrest him while he’s waiting for his flight. One of the central messages of the Vorkosigan Series is that Monday morning quarterbacking is unfair. I’m going to do it anyway. Leaving a potential heir to the throne behind in what is, technically, foreign soil, while a foreign power has a warrant out for his arrest, seems like a not-so-great maneuver. If I was Illyan, I would probably have wanted Ungari to handle that a little differently.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapters 7-8

In this week’s re-read, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree—Miles applies Cordelia’s strategy for dealing with boredom in captivity. In Shards of Honor, Cordelia read histories of Barrayar in alphabetical order by author and was rescued before she got to the Bs. ImpSec is a more secure fortress than the General Vorkraft; Miles gets all the way to the Ls in the alphabetical catalog of training tapes. How many CEUs is that? I suspect we will never know.

The spoiler embargo is OFF, but no one with any kind of romantic life appears in these chapters anyway, so I hope you got anything you had to say about love triangles out of your system last week. Remember, comments should have at least a tangential relationship to the section of The Vor Game under discussion, in this case chapters seven and eight.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapters 5-6

This section starts with a siren in the night: There’s been a spill in the toxic stores bunker. The mutagenic poison leaking from its broken barrels is going to set off a chain of events that drives Miles to an unplanned act of civil disobedience.

These chapters also offer our very first ever official sighting of Oliver Jole. The spoiler embargo has now ended! Comments about future books in the series should bear at least a tangential relationship to the events in this section, please.  

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapter 4

I don’t usually blog about the process of blogging—it’s way too meta for me—but I feel I should acknowledge that this post is coming to you from Tuesday night, in a sort of “what the hell, I’m not sleeping anyway” frame of mind. I’m on the iPad, the cat (who still has four legs for now, thank you for asking) is snoring, and I would rather be thinking of the body in the drain than anything else in the world.

We’re very close to the last iteration of this spoiler warning. When Jole walks onto the page, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen becomes fair game. It’s not this week, but it’s either next week or the one after.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapters 2 and 3

Last week, Miles flew off to Kyril Island, which is like a magical frosty fairyland that also wants to kill you. And I committed one of the classic reread blogger sins—leaving off half of the chapter. The conversation Miles has with Major Cecil is very enlightening, but so are the conversations he has with Lieutenant Ahn and that incident where he proves he is totally getting better at subordination by regretting that he got snippy with his new CO. Miles is starting to realize that it’s one thing to demand that he be given a chance to be a soldier, but there may possibly be a limit on the number of chances he’s allowed to have. He’s only starting to realize it though; He’s, like, still wicked young. When I was Miles’s age (I’m estimating he’s about 20), I wanted to save the world. I think an objective observer would say that I did better than Miles, but I wouldn’t say it went well.

How ‘bout that spoiler policy? I read ahead last night and Jole makes an appearance right around chapter 5. Don’t want to be spoiled? See if your local public library has Gentlemen Jole and the Red Queen available as an ebook! Or perhaps on the shelf.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga