Apr 6 2009 3:56pm

Hard on his superiors: Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Vor Game

The Vor Game was Bujold’s first Hugo-winning novel, and it’s here that the series really hits its stride, and also where it (briefly) starts to look like a normal series. Chronologically, The Vor Game follows on from The Warrior’s Apprentice, with the novella The Mountains of Mourning (which also won a Hugo) coming between them. And Young Miles gives you just that, and I think that every single time I’ve read this series (certainly every time I’ve re-read it) I’ve read them in just that order. I had never actually consciously realised that Bujold had written Brothers in Arms first and come back to fill in this piece of the continuity.

I think The Vor Game would probably be a perfectly reasonable place to pick up the series, and as this is the first published novel where the writing quality is really high, it might even be a good place. It has an entirely self-contained and very exciting plot. And it’s largely about what it means to be Vor, and Miles’s subordination problems.

At the end of The Warrior’s Apprentice, Miles’s reward is entry into the Imperial Academy. In The Vor Game he has just graduated from it and been given an assignment—weatherman on an infantry base on Kyril Island. He’s told if he can keep his nose clean he’ll get ship assignment in six months, and of course he doesn’t keep his nose clean. He is sent on a secret mission to the Hegen Hub for ImpSec. He’s along to deal with the Dendarii, his superiors are supposed to find out what’s going on. He finds out what’s going on, and goes on to rescue the Emperor and defeat the Cetagandans.

As a plot summary this does read just like more of The Warrior’s Apprentice and kind of what you’d expect in another volume—Barrayar and duty against the mercenaries and fun. And there’s a lot about this story that is pure bouncing fun. He does retake the mercenaries wearing slippers. (He’s so like his mother!) At one point Miles has his three supposed superiors, Oser, Metzov, and Ungari all locked up in a row, and Elena remarks that he’s hard on his superiors.

In The Warrior’s Apprentice, it’s MilSF fun with unexpected depths. Here the depths are fully integrated and entirely what the book’s about. Practically all the characters are as well-rounded as the best of them are in the earlier books. We see a little bit of Ivan, a lot of Gregor, a little of Aral, of Elena, Bel, and there are the villains, Cavilo and Metzov, complicated people, and interesting distorting mirrors of Miles.

And Miles here is the most interesting of all. For the first time we see Miles longing to be Naismith almost as an addiction—Naismith is his escape valve. In Brothers in Arms there’s the metaphor of Miles as an onion, Admiral Naismith being encompassed by Engisn Vorkosigan who is encompassed by Lord Vorkosigan who is encompassed by Miles. Here we see that working. It isn’t just his subordination problem, the way he sees his superiors as future subordinates. (All my family are teachers, and I had the exact same problem in school of failing to be awed by the people assigned to teach me.) The most interesting thing about Miles is the tension between Betan and Barrayaran, between his personalities. He says to Simon at the end that he couldn’t keep on playing ensign when the man who was needed was Lord Vorkosigan, and thinks, or Admiral Naismith. He genuinely feels that he knows best in all situations and he can finesse it all—and so far, the text is entirely on his side. Miles does know best, is always right, or at worst what he does is “a” right thing to do, as Aral says about the freezing incident.

The book is called “The Vor Game” because one of the themes is about what it means to be Vor and bound by duty. I disagree with people who think “The Weatherman” should be in Borders of Infinity and not here. Even if it wasn’t absolutely necessary because it introduces Metzov and dictates what comes after, it would be necessary to introduce that Vor theme—Miles can make threatening to freeze stick not because he’s an officer but because he’s Vor, and because he’s Vor he has to do it.

Feaudalism is an interesting system, and one not much understood by people these days. Bujold, despite being American and thus from a country that never had a feudal period, seems to understand it deeply and all through. Vor are a privileged caste on Barrayar, a warrior caste, but this gives them duties as well as privileges. Miles standing freezing with the techs who refuse to endanger their lives, unnecessarily cleaning up the fetaine spill, is a man under obligation. Similarly, Gregor, who has tried to walk away from it all, accepts his obligations at the end. Gregor, with supreme power, is the most bound of all. (And he wishes that Cavilo had been real.) He isn’t a volunteer, and yet by the end of the book he has volunteered. It’s a game, an illusion, and yet it’s deadly serious. In The Warrior’s Apprentice, Miles uses it to swear liegemen left and right, here we see how it binds him. And that of course feeds back to The Mountains of Mourning, which shows us why it is actually important, at the level it actually is.

The Vor Game looks like a sensible safe series-like sequel to The Warrior’s Apprentice, it’s another military adventure, it’s another conflicted Barrayaran plot, and Miles saves the day again. It’s the first book in the series that does look like that—and pretty much the last one too. What Bujold is setting up here is Mirror Dance. To make that book work, she had to have not only Mark from Brothers in Arms she had to have all this grounding for Miles and Gregor and the Vor system.

I started this post by mentioning that it was Bujold’s first Hugo-winning novel. People who don’t like Bujold talk about her fans as if they’re mindless hordes of zombies who vote her Hugos unthinkingly and because she’s Bujold. This is total bosh. When she writes something good, it gets nominated and often wins. The weaker books, even the weaker Miles books, don’t even get nominated. I think she’s won so many Hugos because she’s really good and because she’s doing things that not many people are doing, and doing them well, and thinking about what she’s doing—and because what she’s doing is something people like a lot. I think the system is working pretty well here.

Carl Rigney
1. cdr
Thank you for the fascinating analysis of one of my favorite books. I'm really enjoying this series of articles.

I was surprised to hear there are people who don't like Bujold's books. I suppose I knew such a thing was theoretically possible, it's just hard for me to imagine.

I'm eagerly looking forward to your articles on the remaining books!
Chris Meadows
2. Robotech_Master
I've decided it's about time I collected this series e-bookishly. Baen has them up for sale.

There are four Webscription months that I'm getting that, between them, have all or most of the Vorkosigan books in them.

Baen has a deal where when you buy a Webscription month, you can send a duplicate of that month to someone who is not yet a Webscriptions purchaser (or past free-gift receiver). So I figure if anyone reading these reviews is interested and eligible, I'll offer them the chance.

Email me which one you want, at the userid robotech and the domain eyrie dot org. Let me know if you'd be OK with some other one if your first choice is already spoken for.

Leaving aside the various other books in them, these are the Miles books in those Webscription months. First come, first serve.

W200307 July 2003 WebScription
- (1) Cordelia's Honor, 0671578286
- (1) Young Miles, 0743436164

W200802 February 2008 WebScription
- (1) Miles in Love, 1416555226

W200308 August 2003 WebScription
- (1) Miles Errant, 0743435583
- (1) Miles, Mystery and Mayhem, 0671318586

W200708 August 2007 WebScription
- (1) Miles, Mutants and Microbes, 1416521410
- (1) Memory, 067187845X
Nicholas Alcock
3. NullNix
Thanks for that. I never really understood _The Vor Game_ before now (I think the huge jump from Kyril Island to the Hegen Hub disconcerted me, which, oddly, the even huger jumps in _Memory_ never did). I think a reread is in order in the light of your review: I suspect I'll grasp it more this time.
CD Covington
4. ccovington
I really liked Gregor's arc in this book. Sure, it was the more minor side of things, since Miles is our POV guy, but Gregor grows up here. He had some spine-strengthening in TWA (where the manipulations of others are laid bare), but here, he goes from wanting to quit to ... not so much resigned to his position, but seeing how much is dependent on him not just doing his job, but being Gregor Vorbarra, the symbol, whatever that may cost Gregor Vorbarra, the person.

I never paid much attention to Miles' arc. Sure, I like the hyperactive little shit (I just got to the start of the action in Memory), but his arc doesn't stick out much in my memories of the book.

@Robotech - Huh, I thought your domain sounded familiar, so I went there. A couple of my friends are longtime readers of UF and NXE. Small world?
Chris Meadows
5. Robotech_Master
Cool, thanks. Good to hear we're still kindly thought of (though I haven't been actively involved in UF for a long long time).

(But that's eyrie dot net you're thinking of, really. happens to belong to a friend whose net handle is Eagle, so he had just as much claim to an "Eyrie" motif as Gryphon did—and registered it just a couple weeks before Gryphon tried to, so Gryphon had to settle for For entirely unrelated reasons, I ended up associated with both and, which are otherwise entirely unrelated to each other. heh.)
CD Covington
6. ccovington
@Robo: heh; following links from site a to site b can be a tricky thing ;) But yeah, I find that the geek world is pretty dern small anymore. I always used to be skeptical of the propensity in fiction for people to run into people they knew or friends of friends in completely random places, until I started meeting people (at cons, say) who know people I also know, from different places.

What's the likelihood Miles would have gotten on the same shuttle as Gregor? Or that he would run into somebody like Metzov? Possibly not as small as I used to believe. To try to drag the discussion back to the topic at hand, kicking and screaming if need be. ;)
7. JoeNotCharles
The reason I said The Weatherman should be in Borders of Infinity is that it's the only part of this book I actually like - mainly because, as you said, a lot of it feels like a retread of The Warrior's Apprentice. I love Gregor as a character, but for some reason his starring role in this one doesn't do much for me. Too much of this book feels like it's been covered, better, in the others.
8. Tony Zbaraschuk
It's a wonderful book, if a little bit loosely plotted (why does Metzov end up with Cavilo? what are the odds that Gregor would walk into Miles' cabin on Jackson Hole?) But there are lines that hit little laser beams -- "_A_ right thing. Perhaps not the best of all possible right things, but you were the man on the spot." Or "A shorter and uglier name for it was _betraying your troops_."

I love it for Miles', ah, *discussions* with Cavilo, for Gregor growing up, for the absolutely amazing way in which Miles re-takes the Dendarii. For the sense of consequence, the persistence and power of choices, and the way in which the good thing once achieved must be continually re-secured and re-fought for. Miles can't just hand the Dendarii on a platter to Elena and have it be that way forever; Aral has to keep policing Barrayar's armed forces; Miles... has to do and decide what's right despite immense pressures in all directions; Gregor has to stop being the protected heir and take up his mantle for himself; even Tung and Oser have to make choices.
Pasi Kallinen
9. paxed
This is where I picked up the series; The Vor Game was the only Bujold book in the local library.
CD Covington
10. ccovington
Joe @7 - It does seem a bit contrived/plot ex machina that Greg and Miles wind up together. But considering how many coincidental meetings happen in real life, my suspension of disbelief isn't completely broken.

It is kind of a retread, inasmuch as "look, mercenaries! Miles has to win them over (again) and thwart an invasion!" is what happened in TWA, but Miles is a little different, a little older, and has (hopefully) picked up some skills in the Academy to back up his bluster.

This is the first chronological-order (and publication order? I think?) book where Gregor takes a lead. Sure, he's got an arc in TWA, but it's almost in the background. I like how he grows up in the book. You can see in later books (Memory comes to mind) the results of his determination to be Emperor Gregor: Symbol/Leader but still try to make room for Gregor Vorbarra. And he gets good at being Emperor Gregor, if he's still haunted by the ghosts of his father and great-grandfather.
Ursula L
11. Ursula

Reading your (excellent) essays, I was thinking it might be helpful to list the year of publication with each book, and perhaps also mention the year of publication of other books in the series when they're discussed in an essay.

Sequence and timing of the writing seems to be quite key to your analysis, with the resolution of each book laying foundations for latter books, and I think it would help understand what is going on. For example, you mention here that part of what is going on is setting up the background on the Vor system for Memory - it makes a difference on that point if Memory is published a year later, versus ten years later. With 10 years (versus 1 year) between two books being discussed, it suggests a much deeper laid plan for the series, while shorter "prep" time suggests a more organic growth of the concept.
Kate Nepveu
12. katenepveu
This is fascinating--I always think of _The Vor Game_ as a minor book, and I'm not sure why, but I think I will appreciate it more when I go back.

(Though it has a deal of Gregor, which is all to the good.)
Maiane Bakroeva
13. Isilel
I am kicking myself for having missed these reviews/discussions when they were taking place. Nobody is going to see this, probably, but I still have to vent:

IMHO, the Vor Game is one the greatest missed opportunities in the Vorkosigan saga.

I always felt that the character of Gregor and his relationship with the Vorkosigans was a treasure trove of drama that was never fully explored and here only gets glossed over despite Gregor's chunk of screen time.

I mean, think of it - Gregor is in a very real sense much more Miles' brother than Mark. They were raised by the same people. They are both heirs to different aspects of Aral, in fact in some sense Gregor is more Aral's heir than Miles. Ditto Cordelia's.

And yet... Gregor was taken in out of duty, Miles was wished for an fiercely loved.
Gregor had to sacrifice so much in service to the state since his earliest childhood, while Miles was more or less allowed to run wild.
Miles was a precocious, charming genius, while Gregor clearly was more ordinary, a late bloomer and an introvert.
Sure, Miles did have a terrible disability, but one could easily imagine what a mixture jealousy, insecurity and bitterness this situation could provoke. Miles never wanted Gregor's place - but I bet that Gregor used to dream of Miles'!

Also, Vorkosigans were somewhat responsible for the death of Gregor's mother - another source of pain and confusion for him.

And in fact Gregor's behavior in WA seems consistent with all this.

And if ever there was an opportunity to bring it all into the open, it was in VG.

I was waiting for Gregor to tear into Miles for his sanctimonious hypocrisy in VG when Miles berated him. Miles, who had failed to obey the much lighter strictures for 6 measly months!

Because let's be honest - Gregor running away may have been catastrophic, but Miles' shenanigans around the galaxy were hardly ideal either, given his pedigree.
Forget Galeni's mad plot - what if somebody snagged Miles' genetic material and produced a healthy child or clone and used him in a play for the throne? How would Barryaran laws deal with _that_?

And Gregor coming into his own was ...very anemic. It was still mostly Miles running around and being brilliant, maneuvering Gregor here and there like a piece of luggage. I expected more.

BTW, despite Gregor's evolution in the later books, he still didn't become Miles' boss in any real sense. I long for some conflict where they disagree , Miles doesn't manage to run around/manipulate Gregor to his ends and in the end Gregor is proven to be right.
Jo Walton
14. bluejo
Isilel: Very interesting. I've also heard people speculate essentially the opposite, that Aral and Cordelia would have paid more attention to Gregor because he was older and more important and less damaged. I don't agree with this, but it's worth thinking about. (I'd love a novel set when they're kids, the episode with Elena dn Ivan and the tank, for instance...)

I agree that Miles gets away with things, though I do like how they catch up with him in Memory. I think it's why Mirror Dance is one of my favourites.
Maiane Bakroeva
15. Isilel
But Miles always remembered how much time his parents spent with him. How Aral would take 2 hours daily out of his busy schedule to play with him, snatched the few free days that they spent together, how A&C left the Imperial palace when Gregor went to school, so that even when Gregor came home for the holidays his parent figures weren't there for him.

And also, we have seen Aral with Miles and Gregor and the contrast is striking. Naturally, things are always complex where Gregor is concerned, but still... Cordelia seems a little more equal in her affections.

I wonder how much both Gregor's and Ivan's self-esteem has suffered from close interaction with Vorkosigans. They are so overwhelming, brilliant, giants among people... and of course poor Ivan could never stand up for himself, pit his strengths against Miles' weaknesses.

Anyway, I think that all of this could be explored through Nikki's storyline. His situation bears some similarity, though is much better and could evoke some memories and comparisons from respective characters.

I love Memory, but that Auditorship was a little too easy too soon, IMHO. Also, no confrontation with Gregor over Miles' misdeeds.
Ursula L
16. Ursula
Anyway, I think that all of this could be explored through Nikki's storyline. His situation bears some similarity, though is much better and could evoke some memories and comparisons from respective characters.

Interesting. This might also offer some perspective on Gregor's willingness to step in and help Ekatrin keep Nikki, when he didn't step in for other needed help (such as financial.) A sort of anti-nostalgia for his own childhood. His mother could not protect him, or stay with him, but he can help this woman protect her son.

In particular with the removal of Nikki becoming a near-physical confrontation - that must have brought up memories of Gregor being torn away from his mother by Negri.

There is also Gregor's relationship with Drou in this mix. She's his mother's bodyguard and his playmate, until she's reassigned to Cordilia in Barrayar. After the Pretendership, Cordilia assgins her back to Gregor, for his emotional stability - but she quickly marries, and seems to have started her own family, distracting her from Gregor. I suspect this may have been as big a deal in Gregor's emotional life as Aral and Cordilia's distraction by Miles. Aral and Cordilia were never wholely in Gregor's life without distraction - Drou was.
Maiane Bakroeva
17. Isilel
Well, IIRC Drou also stayed with Gregor until he went to a military boarding school at the age of 10? 12? Anyway, it must have been quite a shock when all his parental figures up and left. Sure, they visited him and everything, but they weren't living under the same roof anymore, even when he was home.

I have often thought that while Miles rhapsodizes over how great his parents were - they weren't all that great for other kids more or less under their care.
Gregor I have already mentioned.

But what about poor Ivan?! Ivan-the-idiot? Really? That's some Pestallozzi approach there. And why was Aral annoyed that Alys expected him to be the male guiding figure in Ivan's life? Isn't it completely normal for Barrayar? And to top it all, they seem to have done nothing to curb the rather tyrannical little Miles taking advantage of Ivan, when Ivan clearly couldn't be allowed to defend himself in the usual way.

And what about Elena? Miles calls her a foster-sister, but it seems that she mostly lived in the country and was a summer playmate. She sure didn't go to the same kind of school as Miles did, nor were any plans made for her further education. It seems that the issue was never even brought up. Her future was sacrificed for Bothari's peace of mind. Etc.
I am also quite curious what happened to the other 16 half-Escobaran kids.

Re: Gregor and financial help, I always wondered why he didn't give the 4 Kudelka girls full scholarships, given his relationship with Drou and with them. I guess the plot allows him to only make Miles' life easier :).
Ursula L
18. Ursula
I suspect that both Elena's lack of education/experience and the lack of financial support for the Koudelka sisters has to do with their benefactors (Gregor and the Vorkosigans) consciously limiting the use of their power and favoritism.

In Elena's case, while the Vorkosigan's supervised Bothari to ensure he wasn't acting inappropriately with Elena, there is also a limit on what sort of intervention is appropriate. I suspect the other Armsmen would be concerned about their employer stepping in and overriding the decisions that an Armsman made about the education of his children. Plus, they aren't just an interested family, they're the government, and undoubtedly conscious of the limits of what's appropriate for government intervention into families.

With Gregor and the Koudelka's, there would be concerns about favoritism, and also about the extent of his responsibilities. The Koudelka's have served him faithfully - but so have hundreds of other people. And not all of them will be getting multiple scholarships for their children.

Gregor seems to be quite conscious of these sorts of limits - for example, he doesn't initially just say that Miles can enter the Academy, he gives a fairly narrow and difficult variant on the Academy entrance policies, which Miles fails at. It is only when Miles ha both shown considerable military talent and Gregor is feeling personally guilty for misjudging Vorkosigan loyalty that Miles is allowed to enter by Imperial fiat.
Hugh Arai
19. HArai

I find your perspective very thought-provoking. I don't think I agree however.

On the topic of Gregor: Don't forget Gregor wasn't sent off to military boarding school because Aral and Cordelia decided they were sick of raising him. Between Barryan society's idea of what is proper for the Emperor and people trying minimize Aral's influence on Gregor for his whole regency, I think their options were sharply limited. Most adoptive parents don't have to worry about people convincing their son that Dad is plotting to take over the son's empire. Aral and Cordelia did. I think the fact Aral,Cordelia and Miles appear to be the 3 people he relies on the most in matters of conscience show that the Vorkosigans were (and are!) good for him. They aren't perfect of course, but no one is.

On the topic of Ivan: "Ivan-you-idiot" seems to be Ivan's creation not Aral and Cordelia's. It seems like a response to both his smothering mother and to what happens to people considered close to the throne. Like his father for instance. What I remember about Aral's annoyance was that Alys tried to draft Aral to tell Ivan to listen to his mother. I expect if my sister-in-law tried to get me to do that with my nephew I'd be annoyed too.
As for Miles "tyrannizing" Ivan - I think the relationship between Ivan and Miles is a lot more equal than it appears, and probably always was. Don't forget when it comes to being in charge, Ivan's response is do not want. So of course Miles will end up instigating things. But it seems to me everyone that grew up with Miles - Ivan, Gregor, Elena, Team Koudelka - all know that if it's important to you, you can tell Miles 'No', and he'll accept that. If Aral and Cordelia had really just let Miles run wild without consideration for the other kids, I don't think they'd know that.

As far as Elena and the Koudelka girls are concerned I think Ursula @18 expressed what I was thinking better than I could have.
Maiane Bakroeva
20. Isilel
Of course it is proper for a Vor boy of 12 to go to a military boarding school. It is like the public schools in 19th - early 20th Britain. Everybody who hoped to become somebody had to go. Aral went to one and I bet that Ivan did, too.

What I take issue with is that "home" wasn't there for him either during the holidays as everybody close to him was no longer resident in the palace.

As I said before, situation with Gregor was complex, but still A&C were for all purposes his parents and emotional difference between the way they treat him and Miles even in private is palpable. Again, regardless of whether it was their fault or not and to what degree, Gregor had reasons to feel bitter and insecure.

One thing that struck me is that Gregor had to play with Miles' and cohorts because they were "safe". But surely they could have had found somebody safe his age? I mean, he did later go to school where he was surrounded by other boys, so they must have been deemed safe enough.

Re: Ivan, there are actually enough hints that he did try to compete with and stand up to Miles as a kid, but it was a lost cause. I do think that his behavior is, among other things, reaction to Miles.

Re: Elena. Bothari wasn't fit to be a parent even by Barrayaran standards. It was understood from the beginning that Vorkosigans would be co-responsible. They took it upon themselves willingly. Miles calls her his foster-sister.
She was not just some random Armsman's daughter - although even there I'd expect Cordelia to extol education and self-sufficiency. Vorkosigans had every right and duty to see to Elena's interests, instead of abetting Bothari's old-fashioned fantasies.

And I find it bizarre that Cordelia, who was never shy about expressing her opinion on backwardness of Barrayar or encouraging education, was supposed to not talk about these things with Elena or even Bothari himself because she shouldn't "intervene".

Nor do I think that giving Elena a scholarship or encouraging her to compete for many already existing scholarships for Vorkosigan County would have been even a blip on Barrayaran nepotism meter.

IMHO it was pretty clear that Elena's interests were being sacrificed to make Bothari happy.

Giving Koudelka a job back then was more of a favoritism. Or dropping physical requirements for Miles' Academy entrance exam. Let's not kid ourselves - Miles was never fit for military duty, not until they replaced all of his bones. Or really a million of other things that were done in the series.

Ditto Gregor. He has a private fortune and could give scholarships to whomever he likes, just as rich people IRL can.

It is just like with Ekaterin - even if they couldn't give her a medal for her heroism, an annuity would have been in order. But the plot required her to be destitute, so...

It does make Gregor and Vorkosigans look quite a bit callous occasionally, as sometimes they'd move mountains for a person, while in other times they wouldn't do even the most obvious and expected things.
Jo Walton
21. bluejo
I think Elena wasn't quite a person when Aral and Cordelia made those arrangements. I mean everything for the wounded human you care about and owe a lot to and nothing for a baby just out of a replicator is quite different from when she's seventeen. And she was only seventeen -- maybe Cordelia would have come up with scholarships when she was eighteen and a legal adult? Or maybe she was in their blind spot. She was Bothari's.

I'm personally very fond of Bothari in Miles's memories, holding him up to see parades. When Miles thinks "Oh sergeant!" when he gets his memory back in Mirror Dance I had tears in my eyes. But that doesn't disguise the fact that he is a monster and not really a suitable companion for a little boy, however good a bodyguard he is. Bujold is well aware that Bothari has shaped Miles as much as his parents have -- did Cordelia think when Miles was in the replicator that that was going to happen?
Hugh Arai
22. HArai
What I take issue with is that "home" wasn't there for him either during the holidays as everybody close to him was no longer resident in the palace.

Can you point out textual examples of this? I have to say that I've never picked this up in any of my reads, but I've certainly missed things before. Not that A&C weren't at the palace, but your implication that Gregor couldn't visit them while on leave or that they wouldn't have visited him. After all it's the people that are important when you go "home". I find it unlikely the Vorkosigans just left him to sit by himself in the dark.

As far as a difference between how A&C treat Gregor and Miles:

Gregor himself has always been aware that A&C are not his parents. It was decided that A&C would raise him in his parent's place, but I seems to me Gregor would never have had the illusion of them _being_ his parents. It was bound to make a difference to Gregor.

I don't really see any way they could avoid treating him differently. On Gregor's side - they're not his parents. As you pointed out, Cordelia was involved when his mother was killed. On A&C's side it's even worse: They know Aral essentially killed Serg on Ezar's orders. I don't think "call me Da" was in the cards.

I don't argue that Gregor's life growing up very likely made him envy Miles. What I don't see is callousness on A&C's part. Are we arguing past one another?
Maiane Bakroeva
23. Isilel
Hm, are you saying that relationship between an adopted child and adopted parents can never be as close as with biological offspring? Because I disagree with this. That's why I found "all the wealth is biological" a bit problematic, too.

Anyway, that's a gut feeling, but every time I saw Gregor, Aral and Miles together on screen, it looked like Miles was basking in parental love, while Gregor was wistfully and longingly looking on. Less so with Cordelia, but then they are seen together less. Even when Gregor marries, they are happy for him, yes, yet large part of it is also tremendous relief that succession is secured and heat is finally off them. Basically, all their interaction with Gregor, while affectionate, seems to have strong underpinnings of duty.

And also the whole fiasco of Serg & general mental health issues. I mean, given family history, it was logical that Gregor would have apprehensions on that score. And since the Emperor's genome must have been analyzed back and forth it should have been quite easy to reassure him.
BTW, that's one of the plot holes of TVG - that Gregor never thinks to check his own medical records and nobody suggests it to him either.
Also, I wonder how they thought to keep Gregor from learning the truth about Serg once he came of age and got unlimited access to all secret information (another plot hole of TVG).

Sure, there are tons of problems associated with Gregor, but it always seemed to me that they were not all political, but also psychological ones of Vorkosigans themselves.

As to Elena, she was already 18, she is older than Miles. She should have been entering the next stage of her education at the same time. But... nothing. And again, it is all this "almost daughter", "almost sister" stuff that got me from the beginning and yet such indifference to her future and willingness to box her in the most retrograde Barrayran tradition to make Bothari happy. It struck me forcibly from the first reading of WA.

Re: Ivan, IIRC the "idiot" thing was all Vorkosigans and not Alys. I don't remember her ever using this expression, in fact. And IRL it is actually quite harmful to tell a child from the earliest age onwards that he is an idiot, whether people consider it a joke or not.

Gregor also has tons of moments of plot-related, but somewhat psychologically jarring callousness. Well, he started as more of a plot device than as a character and isn't fully fleshed after all these books, but it could be very interesting to retroactively explain/explore his motivations.
Jo Walton
24. bluejo
Gregor was five, I think loving a just-orphaned five year old would be different from loving a baby. And for Aral at least, duty would always get in the way.

Tangentially, does Gregor have access to The Silk Room Secret? I don't think I'd have told him if I were Aral. He can't have had it at the time of The Vor Game, and if they didn't tell him at the end of the Regency, when would they tell him?

(Illyan doesn't know, it would have to be Aral or Cordelia.)
Maiane Bakroeva
25. Isilel
Yes, Gregor was 5. Still doesn't make it impossible IRL for a close child-parent relationship to develop. And it may have been an unintended fluke, but it always seemed to me in Gregor's scenes that he desperately wanted it. That the problem was on their side, rather than his. YMMV.

IMHO, Aral didn't tell him, but Gregor is clever enough to figure the Silk Room secret out. So is Miles, of course, but he has no reason to study the records of those events closely and to think about them and analyze them, while Gregor does.

BTW, I don't believe for a second that after the Serg fiasco Ezar would have left production of a quality heir to chance. Just not like him.

IMHO, Gregor is a product of IVF and his genome has been cleaned up to the nth degree. And all of it has been kept a secret (with everybody involved except for Kareen and Negri killed), because at the time various interested parties could have questioned Gregor's succession rights if it was known that he was gengineered.
Jo Walton
26. bluejo
IVF isn't at all how I read what Kareen says about managing to produce an heir. And Ezar was like Piotr, his generation, can you really see him thinking anything but "mutants on purpose are still mutants"?
27. Yrf
Yeah, Gregor was born around the time of the Komarr invasion. Previous to that, Barrayar's going to be using its foreign exchange for weaponry, not reproduction (the opposite of Athos?). Aral has never even heard of a uterine replicator.

Remember that Gregor does -not- want to publish his genescan in ACC. I assume that's -because- he knows what minefields are in there. If the capability existed to genescreen, I can't imagine Cordelia would have gone for a natural conception over that either.

A lot of the arguments around Elena here revolve around the idea that becoming a housewife is an Automatically Unworthy occupation for her. I think this is, mmm, showing modern prejudices a little. "It's not real work!"

One of Bujold's main themes is that motherhood is critically important and an entirely worthy occupation for intelligent young and not-so-young women and men ;). Elena -herself- eventually finds (true?) fulfillment in marrying a nice young Barrayaran officer and having his kids, one should note. Drou ends up there. So does Cordelia. Ethan of Athos is all about this. And Miles marries a housewife...
Ursula L
28. Ursula
Any adoptive parent/child bonding between Gregor and the Vorkosigans would be necessarily disrupted by the politics of their relationship. Aral may be Gregor's foster-father, but he is very definitely Gregor's Regent, not his father.

Any "call me Da" allowed to interfere with that would make every political rival suspicious that he was trying to usurp Gregor's position, inserting himself as father and Emperor instead of foster-father and Regent.

This is dangerous, physically, for both the Vorkosigans and Gregor, as fear of Aral usurping Gregor's position would be a powerful motivation for civil war. It would also be treason, something that Aral is very conscious of, and wants to avoid - both in appearance and reality.

Gregor is also old enough when his mother dies to remember her, and recognize that the Vorkosigan's aren't his family. He isn't adopted as a baby. He's a child who has lost his parents, and mourns them, and as his foster-family, the Vorkosigans recognize this, and don't try to replace people whom they shouldn't replace in Gregor's affections. It's respect for the person he is.


I'm also not sure that Bothari's raising of Elena is anywhere near as bad as what we're led to believe. We mostly learn about this alleged overprotectivness, reactionary aspirations, and stifling of education via Miles's POV as a teenager, and indirectly as Elena's POV as a teenager.

But they're teenagers. And teenagers are notoriously unreliable narrators when it comes to seeing their parents. In particular, teenagers are known to feel that their parents are overprotective and interfering with the teenager's goals and aspirations - the exact complaints Miles and Elena have.

But the evidence in Elena is different. No, she isn't educated for a military career, and that disappoints her, because she's heavily influenced by the military surrounding the Vorkosigan household. But that doesn't mean that she's uneducated. And, despite all complaints, she seems to be very well educated. When Miles takes her to Beta colony, she's fully ready for interplanetary travel. Somewhat naive (but she's a teenage girl, and that's somewhat expected), but still, no indication that she has problems dealing with potentially different languages or dialects between the cultures, or that she lacks the wits and training to be able to adapt and fit in.

More importantly, when she does step into the mercenary crisis, she functions, and functions brilliantly - as well as Miles, but in a different role. Each task he gives her, she succeeds at. And when he leaves, leaving her in a leadership position, there is no doubt in her mind, or Miles's mind, that she's got the education and skill to quickly train herself up for the role, and to function in it. And she does function, quite well.

To do that, she'd have to be well educated, both with the type of excellent general education that lets you quickly gain a specific education for any career, and with the self-education study skills that come from having good educational opportunity.

Similarly with her dowery fund - we see that through Miles's POV. And he resents it, because he's in love (in his teenage way) with Elena, and knows that there will never be a dowery fund suitable for her to marry him.

A dowery doesn't just buy a girl a husband, it is part of the funds that a young couple uses to set up their household. This isn't a worry for Miles. At that age, he's been insulated enough by his Vor upbringing to not really think about that type of need. But for Bothari, as someone who is pretty much middle class, helping his daughter establish her home when she marries is more of a concern. And as someone who grew up very poor, it isn't just a dowery - it is the assurence that Elena won't wind up in the same type of impoverished life that he had.

Doweries are fading out of Barrayan culture at this point, but they aren't gone yet. Ten years later, during the events of Memory and A Civil Campaign, they seem to be mostly gone. But when Bothari started the fund, perhaps ten years before Warrior's Apprentice, the custom was probably much stronger. They're in a transition time, and if a dowery may not be needed for girls at the top of the political and social order, like the Koudelka girls, it might still be something helpful to bring respectablity to Elena, who has the stigma of being illegitimate.
Hugh Arai
29. HArai
Gregor is also old enough when his mother dies to remember her, and recognize that the Vorkosigan's aren't his family. He isn't adopted as a baby. He's a child who has lost his parents, and mourns them, and as his foster-family, the Vorkosigans recognize this, and don't try to replace people whom they shouldn't replace in Gregor's affections. It's respect for the person he is.

This is what I was trying (and apparently failed) to say. Thank you. It's not that an adopted child can't be as close as a biological child. My two older brothers were adopted (I was a happy surprise) and there's never been a difference there. It's this specific child and foster parents. However much Gregor and/or Aral may have wished it, Aral can not be Gregor's father the same way he is to Miles.

As for dowries - doesn't Kou still at least consider the custom for his daughters in ACC?
Hugh Arai
30. HArai
Another data point that hasn't come up in this thread is Mark. Look at the Vorkosigan's response to another unplanned obligation:

"Ha-Aral!" he snarled. "Do you realize what your son has been up to?"
The Count blinked. "Which one?" he asked mildly.

It's one of my favorite parts of the entire series, although I admit I had to look up the exact wording just now. I think it shows how A&C behave with an adoption without the most lethal of political complications.
Maiane Bakroeva
31. Isilel
Concerning Ezar, he was _not_ like Piotr. He was more flexible by far, as his actions in CH and his described prior actions testify.

Politically, Xav was far too the left, Piotr rather far to the right and Ezar was in the middle.
Ezar was the one who opened high military and bureaucratic careers to commoners - something that Piotr was still bemused by and not happy about.
Ezar was the one who experimented with dismantling feudalism with his political ministries, etc.
He was the one who presided over technological revolution on Barrayar and flirted with dubious technologies such as the memory chip.
Ezar was immediately far more accepting of Cordelia than Piotr was.
And most importantly, Ezar would stop at nothing if he considered situation desperate enough.

And situation was desperate - Serg was unfit and Aral was very problematic for many reasons, too.

Ezar was also pretty old by Barrayaran standards - he may have hoped to live until his grandson came of age or close to at the time, but there was no room for any more failures, no time could be wasted on producing girls.
IMHO, the fact that Ezar didn't pressure Kareen to bear a "spare" as well, as is customary on Barrayar, is an indirect testimony that he knew for a fact that Gregor was 100% healthy.

And it is because of "mutie on purpose" aspect that Ezar would have kept Gregor's gengineering a total secret, killing most people involved afterwards. Even Kareen didn't have to know.

Publishing Gregor's gene scans during his marriage was a dumb idea in any case, because it would have made it easier for anybody so inclined to target a bio-weapon specifically at him. It was entirely logical for Gregor to object.

I also don't get the notion that Barrayrans wouldn't have used genetical tests on unborn fetuses or IVF. I mean, we use them now and Barrayarans have a very strong cultural imperative to do so, given all the grief that could result otherwise and their focus on reproduction. It is one of the signs of books becoming a little dated, IMHO. IRL cultures invested into having male heirs jumped all over this stuff.

It can be retroactively explained with characters without known family history of problems like Ekaterin and Tien, with Tien's psychological problems to boot it makes sense, but where Ezar's grandson, Serg's son and Mad Yuri's grand-nephew is concerned, not so much.

Re: Cordelia, she herself admitted later that she was caught up in Barrayaran retro-romance. But still, from her POV the risks of natural conception would have been minimal. _She_ had perfect certified genome, after all.
So, she had only spontaneous mutations to worry about and/or rare dominant genetic deceases that manifest late in life/ have incomplete penetration. And both would be fixable abroad from her POV.

I mean, consider - at the time Jacksonians were transplanting brains and growing clones. Pre-natal genetic scans, IVF, gengineering - it was all available to anybody who could pay for it and felt a need to employ it. As Ezar very much would have, after the Serg fiasco, IMHO.

Re: Elena, it is one thing entirely for a person to _decide_ to become a housewife (or a house-husband) of their own free will. I certainly respect that.

Drou did and it worked well for her indeed. Ekaterin did as well and it wasn't so successful for her. But such is life.
Both of them also had alternatives open to them, which they explored first.

But Elena, when we first meet her, feels trapped and depressed. She didn't make this decision - it was made for her and without taking her own wishes and best interests into account.

Sure, she is a teenager at the time, but her male childhood friends are all moving into the next stage of their lives and educations, while she is in limbo. No prospect of education, no prospect of a job, no prospect of a real romance even.
Just a chattel for her father to marry off to somebody he approves of, to satisfy his old-fashioned fantasies and make him happy. And the oh-so-progressive Vorkosigans to whom she is supposedly "almost-daughter" and who signed on being co-responsible for her well-being cheering all of this on.
32. Yrf
I'm sorry, there's no evidence that Gregor's gene-screened and quite a lot of evidence he wasn't. "I'm sure Laisa's will be just fine" has loads of implications behind it. So does "Ezar protected me from Serg, after I became pregnant," when previously Serg and Ges were clearly allowed to have their way with her. Also pretty much every discussion Gregor ever has on the topic as an adult.

Gene-screening is not trivial! You can't just wave a magic wand and eliminate everything you dislike about the embryo. Taking it out to scan and modify it seems necessary, and if you don't have a uterine replicator... You also have to know what you're looking for. Using a Betan genetic screen designed to produce Good Betan Citizens would rob the embryo of Barrayar-specific adaptions and uniqueness of all sorts, and would surely be undesirable for a future Emperor. Gene-screening in a Betan might be as easy as adding a cell to the embryo with a few things tweaked. For a Barrayaran, you might have to throw out half the Vor genome because you don't know what it does.

And gene-screening isn't a guarantee you -won't- be psychopathic. All the haut and ghem are, after all. So, almost certainly, were Ser Galen and Baronne Bharaputra.
Ursula L
33. Ursula
Another issue with the Miles-POV filter on Elena in Warrior's Apprentice.

Miles is, at that point in his life, absolutly obsessed with the military. In his own life, he just failed the tests for the Imperial Acadamy, and is convinced that his life is ruined, there's no hope, and he has no future. In his mind, if you can't have a military career, you're being wasted.

And that's the eyes through which we see Elena's opportunities - she's a girl, she can't have a military career, so therefore, her life and future (like his) are being wasted. Not because there aren't a thousand other opportunties for people who don't have or can't have or don't want military careers, but because Miles sees no possible success in life other than the military.

Elena might well be considering a career in law, or medicine, or as a judo instructor, but when she's around Miles (which is all we see) the conversation is going to be all about the military, and lack of military opportunity. She might have a crush on some nice young fellow in the village, so that she'd appricate the dowery Bothari's been saving, but we only see the dowery from Miles POV, as a symbol of a future that will necessarily take her out of his orbit.

But while the Miles-POV filter probaby exagerates the "lack of opportunity" Elena herself seems to be quite obsessed with the military in her own right, and not interested in other options.

The military-obsession certainly comes from Bothari, as well. For him, the military was literally salvation, from a life first as the son of a prostitute who is forced into prostitution himself, and then as a homeless, parentless child living on the street. On an emotional level, Elena would have picked that up. Even knowing consciously about other career opportunities, there will be a level where the military is seen as the road to safety, respect, etc.

The Vorkosigans (particularly Cordilia) can offer her many options. But they haven't remade the Barrayan military into a place of gender equality. (Cordilia's managed a lot of changes on Barrayar, but she's still one human and can't do everything, and I'm pretty sure her focus has been on improvements for women in areas other than the military.)

If what Elena wants is military, and she's rejecting everything else, there is a limit to what the Vorkosigans can do about it. She's had a good education through the equivalent of high school, and she seems to be stuck at the decisions about college. The trip to Beta Colony would certainly (had it gone as planned) have exposed Elena to a variety of options that she'd been overlooking in her assumption that sucess on Barrayar must be via the military.

I suspect that the Vorkosigans, and Bothari, are facing the dilemma many parents face. You make sure your child gets a good education through elementary and high school, but once they get to the point of choosing a career, you discover that they're obsesed with something completely impractical. Bothari's way of dealing with this is to continue to save and prepare in the conventional way of his culture.

The Vorkosigans, in turn, fund the trip to Beta Colony, which would hopefully help Elena see more potential opportunities. This trip isn't something they had to give her - they could have sent Bothari and Miles without her, as they did in the past. And it is a huge expense - by all indications, interplanetary travel is not something most people can afford in this universe. It's also quite an imposition on Cordelia's mother, who has to make room for not two, but three houseguests, in the limited space of a Beta Colony apartment.
Maiane Bakroeva
34. Isilel

Of course Serg was allowed to have his way with Kareen if Ezar wanted the pregnancy to look natural. Doesn't mean that it was.

And they can eliminate known genetic risk factors and even ensure a certain level of general intelligence in a future child. This has been mentioned in the text. Nor is an uterine replicator necessary when the embryo is going to be born to term by a woman.

Jacksonians and Cetagandans go beyond that, though - they try to engineer for genius/talent, which, logically enough, often leads to various instabilities.

Anyway, it would be completely unbelievable to me if after Serg fiasco Ezar pinned Barrayar's future on rather unfavorable odds that Serg would have a son and that said son would be a fit heir. I mean, Ezar didn't even believe in Providence - he was an atheist! And he would stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

BTW, as a side-thought - it is often assumed that Miles' children would be as gifted and hyperactive as he is. But realistically speaking they shouldn't be. They should be healthy and intelligent, sure, but not in their father's league. And how would Miles deal with that, I wonder?

Ursula Re: Elena, it is Miles' POV, sure. But she should have been sitting/ preparing for her entrance exams if she was continuing her education, which was not the case.
Or looking into job opportunities/vocational training. Ditto.
There was no great love on the horizon either.

So, yes, Elena couldn't have had the military, but she also seemed to have no other options. It wasn't just Miles' lens.

Re: trip to Beta, IIRC it was Miles' idea that Elena should come along . And it was nice of Vorkosigans, sure, but it was only done to make Miles happy, not out of true concern for Elena. Elena in WA is basically in position of a 19th century "companion" - she gets a lot of the perks of a family member, but ultimately exists for comfort/entertainment of Vorkosigans rather than being encouraged and helped to forge her own future. Not how I'd expect progressive people to treat their "almost daughter", whose upbringing they agreed to oversee back when she was born.

Harai: yes, Vorkosigans did very well with Mark. But that's what I found so jarring - that IMHO they did much worse with the adoptees whom they knew since their childhood, but who weren't related to them by blood.
And incidentally that Miles was all over his new-found brother, when Ivan, Elena and Gregor are much more his siblings IMHO than Mark could ever be.
Hugh Arai
35. HArai

You seem to feel that just because Gregor, Aral and Cordelia are all aware A&C are not his parents, they "did much worse" with him. Without mental conditioning, I don't see how they could manage to not be aware. They all clearly remember his mother and Cordelia is not her. Envying Miles is normal since it would amount to wishing his mother was not dead. There is still obvious trust,repect and affection in both directions and Gregor grew up to be a man willing to make the sacrifices it takes to be Emperor. I guess I still don't see the failure here.

With Ivan, well, I don't see it here either. My reading is that Ivan quite carefully engineers the "Ivan-you-idiot" response, and everyone except his mother humors him. I feel it's very telling that they depend on him when things are really important. They wouldn't do that with someone they really thought was an idiot. When he lets himself rise to the occasion, the response isn't "Wow, I never would have guessed you were smart enough to do that" it's more "Wow, you broke cover that time". They expect him to be able to do it, they just assume he'll try to duck out of it. Whatever "it" may be.

As far as Elena is concerned, I think I'll have to re-read. It seems very odd to me that she was capable of keeping up with Miles to the point of leading an assault mission if her preparation for the future was as limited as you describe.
36. Yrf
I don't see anything provoking Ezar into giving foreign scientists custody of either Serg's genome or the future Emperor's. The risk of tampering is too severe. At the time of Gregor's conception, Barrayar clearly doesn't have a domestic medical/tech base up to the task because if it did we would have seen it in the novel Barrayar. That sort of thing does turn up later, but not at that time. And Barrayar hasn't even looted Komarr yet, so no help there and (likely) no access to the wider galaxy during the fighting.

Serg's almost certainly not mad because of galactically known risk factors that are easy to correct. He's mad because of the cumulative Barrayaran genetic mutational load, which is something a Betan or Jacksonian lab is not going to be able to fix without knowing the context. If you remove everything that looks weird from a galactic perspective, you'll end up with a child that is functionally -not a Barrayaran-.

Ezar (who probably speared Cetagandan bastard babies with Piotr in his youth, let's not forget), doesn't object to the psychoticism per se (as Aral notes), but the unfitness to govern. That's something that's even harder to screen for, because the ability to rule Barrayar is coming from Dorca and Pierre and Ezar, the same place the madness is.

You need to be a little crazy to run that planet.

You could make a better argument that -Serg- was the product of IVF, actually, given the age of his mother and the craziness of his recently deceased uncle. And unlike with Gregor, you don't have to speculate stealthily stealing sperm from the father. You're pretty much going to need Serg's cooperation or knowledge somewhere for primitive IVF without going into ridiculous conspiracy theory territory.

About the best you could argue for along eugenic lines during that period of Barrayaran history is an early fetal abortions if the kid takes too much after Ezar's wife as opposed to Ezar. That's plausible. IVF is not.

Gregor isn't rejecting the idea of publishing his genescan for logical security reasons in ACC, but because he's revulsed by it.
Ursula L
37. Ursula
As far as Serg's insanity goes, I suspect, like mental illnesses now, there is both a genetic predisposition and an environmental component.

Serg grew up in very difficult circumstances. Ezar was a ruthless and pragmatic person - not someone who would be a caring father. His emotions don't run that way, and even if they did, he was too busy to spend much time caring for his son. There were multiple wars - wars with Cetaganda, civil wars, etc. It isn't quite clear how old Serg is, but he's certainly old enough to have been affected profoundly by this chaos.

And he wasn't just an ordinary person caught up in the madness of war. He was born into its center. The target for assassination plots, as a small child. Never knowing who liked him for himself, and who was just being nice to him for the sake of political influence. No one near him to tell him "no." Politically, he outranked his caregivers, as he was the prince, and they were servants, and it takes a rare talent for someone to raise a child who is their social and political superior, and not raise a selfish brat.

Serg's madness was the madness he was raised to. Surrounded by violence, he turned to sexual sadism, incorporating that violence into his sexual development. Surrounded by sycophants, he grew selfish and uncaring. Surrounded by people who treated him as a thing ("the prince") rather than a person, he in turn saw other people as things, rather than people.


To then consider the Vorkosigans as Gregor's caregivers - they faced all the same obstacles that led to Serg's faults. Gregor is still the prince surrounded by servants. They are required, by law and honor, to be clear that he is the Emperor, and they serve him. His childhood is filled with violence and war - the death of his father in the Escobar war, the death of his mother in the war of Vordarian's pretendership, and other wars and crises mentioned in the latter books but not covered directly.

Yet Gregor grew into a calm, wise, cautious man who cares about the people around him.


And no, Gregor wasn't "gene scanned" or subject to other medical or genetic manipulation at conception. He was conceived the old-fashioned way. Not because the technology didn't exist somewhere out in the galaxy, but because in Barrayan culture, at that time, you just didn't think of that as a way to address potential genetic problems. The idea that you'd go to a doctor before having a child, to prevent problems, is a new one for our culture, and not a natural one. It's an idea closely tied to the ready availability of birth control, so that becoming pregnant is something you decide to do, rather than just something that happens.

It would also have involved too much outside influence (non-Barrayan) on the political succession - something Ezar would have been paranoid over, given the history of outside invasion and occupation. And Serg was selfish and self-centered enough that he wouldn't have thought of the possibility, and if anyone suggested it, he'd have taken it as an insult that his Vorrish genes weren't good enough.
Ursula L
38. Ursula
Re: Elena, it is Miles' POV, sure. But she should have been sitting/ preparing for her entrance exams if she was continuing her education, which was not the case.
Or looking into job opportunities/vocational training. Ditto.
There was no great love on the horizon either.

So, yes, Elena couldn't have had the military, but she also seemed to have no other options. It wasn't just Miles' lens.

She may well have been doing those things, and we don't hear about them because Miles is military-obsesed and doesn't really think about it or talk to her about it. Or she may have been refusing to do those things because she's military-obsesed and thinks them a waste of time. Or there may be an element of both - she's doing these things, because she knows she should and is being encouraged by A&C, but she's military-obsessed, and therefore unenthusiastic about the process, and not talking about it, and definately not with military-obsesed Miles with whom she gripes about the lack of military options.

Having failed the enterence exam for the Imperial Acadamy, Miles should have been looking at other educational opportunities, and applying to programs. The fact that we don't see him doing so isn't being interpreted as a lack of opportunity - just as a lack of his interest in those opportunities. A&C seem willing to give him time to travel and consider options - and they're giving Elena the same chance.

At the beginning of Warrior's Apprentice, Miles and Elena are in the exact same position, educationally. Both have had good educations up through the Barrayan equivalent of the US High School. Both are obsessed with the idea of a military career. Both are being told they can't have it. Both see no point in trying for anything else. Both are given the exact same opportunity to travel and consider their options.

Re: trip to Beta, IIRC it was Miles' idea that Elena should come along . And it was nice of Vorkosigans, sure, but it was only done to make Miles happy, not out of true concern for Elena. Elena in WA is basically in position of a 19th century "companion" - she gets a lot of the perks of a family member, but ultimately exists for comfort/entertainment of Vorkosigans rather than being encouraged and helped to forge her own future. Not how I'd expect progressive people to treat their "almost daughter", whose upbringing they agreed to oversee back when she was born.

Miles thought up the idea of the trip. But that doesn't make Elena a nonperson to A&C, or her travel any less of an opportunity. Miles didn't control the family finances, and couldn't have brought her along against A&C's will.

The reasons for sending Miles to Beta Colony - to help a young person obsessed with a military career see options other than the military - apply equally to Elena.

Miles sees Elena's presence on the trip as being just brought along as a friend. But Miles is still a self-absorbed teenager, and doesn't really see Elena (or anyone else) as much beyond an extension of himself. That's one of the important bits of growing he gets in the book, learning to see other people as people in their own right.

But that's Miles's POV. We don't know what A&C were thinking, at least not directly. You can't take the mindset of a 17 year old boy and ascribe it to his fully-adult parents. There reasoning may well be that while Miles wants Elena there as a companion, it is worth paying for the trip because they see that it will be beneficial for Elena in her own right.

There is no reason to believe that A&C, as adults, share the reasoning and motivations that Miles, as a teenage boy, has towards Elena's role on the trip. Particularly because Bujold does a very good job of giving adults the minds and motivations of adults. (e.g., Cordilia, Ista, Dag, Cazaril, Miles in the latter books.)
Maiane Bakroeva
39. Isilel
May I point out that selection/gengineering of offspring was a routine procedure in large parts of the galaxy at the time of Gregor's conception? That somatic cells could be used in a pinch (i.e. Serg's medical test samples taken during a routine check-up)? That specialists secretly hired to do it didn't have to know whose DNA they were working with and who was the woman they were doing IVF on?

And that IIRC Gregor was born a few years into Serg's marriage?

As to cultural impediments, from what we have seen of Ezar, he wasn't noticeably hobbled by them when he considered his goal to be of vital importance.

Re: upbringing of princes and the results it had on their character, historically it still was possible to distinguish between normal professional trauma ;), being spoiled even more than the norm, being stupid and being mad.
And Serg was clearly the last. He was born after the civil war, so he actually had a less traumatic childhood than either Aral or Gregor. Much less pressure than Gregor, too, as Serg was only a prince, with strong, vigorous Emperor as a father.

Re: Elena, I completely disagree. Miles had a shot at a military career, however long, he fanatically prepared for it and when he failed, he moped. Completely natural and expectable. Miles being rich also allowed him to take time to figure what to do next - and IIRC a couple of options were brought up. Heck, he could have even tried again, next year!

But Elena never had any chance at military career. Only an idiot wouldn't have come up with an alternative goal by that summer.
And if she had to settle for something else and was unhappy about it, it would have come up in the dialog.
What pops up instead is her despair at complete lack of any perspectives. Miles POV here or there.

Re: Elena's education, my understanding was that she lived in the country and went to school there. She did complete secondary education, yes, but all the extras came from Bothari's views of what a woman would need to be able to defend her honor (and is a bit of a plot-hole, as Bothari was hardly there except during the holidays when Miles also was) and as a side-effect of playing with Miles and Ivan as well as occasionally providing company to Vorkosigans.

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