Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Falling Free Chapters 7 and 8

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan reread!

True confessions here people—the chapter announcements at the end of each post are a lie. I expected to do chapter 7 this week, but then realized that I had missed the chapter break between 7 and 8. And also the one between 8 and 9. Chapter 8 leaves a lot of loose ends, but chapter 9 was too much for this week. It’s next week! Along with chapter 10. Probably.

 

SUMMARY

Chapter 7 opens with Silver is frantically knocking on Leo’s door during his sleep shift. Claire has tried to go out an airlock. Silver jammed the controls to keep the outer door from opening, but the inner door won’t open either, and Silver is afraid their supervisor will find out. Since her return from Rodeo, Claire and Silver have been kept apart, and Claire hasn’t been allowed to see Andy at all—Van Atta threw her out of the creche. Silver feels personally responsible for Claire’s situation and now she needs Leo to open the inner door the same way she jammed it—without setting off any alarms. Leo suggests that Claire needs help with more than getting out of the airlock. Silver points out that what she’ll get is Dr. Yei.

Leo tells Claire that the proper response to Bruce isn’t suicide, but murder. He promises Claire that he and Silver will help solve the problems the Quaddies are facing. He explains that Van Atta is just one person, and GalacTech is just a convenient way for a group of people to organize work. Rodeo is in a weird legal limbo, but the Quaddies will be traveling to other planets soon, working in and passing through other jurisdictions. He proposes a class-action suit to have the Quaddies declared legal persons.

At lunch, Leo has a conversation with a shuttle captain who tells him that Beta Colony has invented artificial gravity. Leo abandons his meal to confirm the rumor with Van Atta. The Quaddies’ first contract has already been cancelled. The Cay Project is being shut down. The Quaddies will be sterilized, the fifteen pregnancies in progress will be aborted, and the Quaddies will be relocated to a facility on Rodeo, a planet with Earth-like gravity and little breathable atmosphere. Leo is appalled. Van Atta points out that the Quaddies could be facing worse—Apmad would have been just as happy to have them exterminated. Van Atta doesn’t want a panic. Leo and the other teachers are ordered to continue business as usual until the downside facility is ready. Leo wonders what will happen when Orient IV expropriates the planet in 14 years. Van Atta sees this as someone else’s problem.

Leo realizes that he’s never really pushed himself to his limits, because he feared destruction. He needs to now. Van Atta plans to make Yei handle the process of informing the Quaddies of their new destiny. Leo goes to find Yei. Like Van Atta, Yei is planning to follow orders. She doesn’t feel she has any other choice. Quitting her job will not help the Quaddies, and could make their situation a lot worse. She opines about the dangerous legal edge the Quaddies are balanced on, and about the roots of Apmad’s prejudices—she was forced to abort five pregnancies because of genetic abnormalities before she stopped trying to have children and threw herself in to her career. Leo points out that Yei doesn’t have to follow orders. Yei doesn’t see any other choice. Leo realizes that part of the problem is that the Quaddies are orphans. He leaves Yei’s office feeling furious.

In a flash of insight, Leo realizes that the problem the Quaddies are facing is an engineering problem after all. They need a solar system with an asteroid belt they can live on. And they need a way to get there. Abruptly, Leo decides, or maybe realizes, that he is a Quaddie too, just one with legs. He is committed to their cause. He goes to track down Silver.

Silver takes Leo to the Quaddies secret clubhouse so he can explain his plan to her in secret. The clubhouse’s existence is against the rules the Quaddies live under, and letting Leo see it is against the rules the Quaddies set for themselves. Leo explains the situation and his plan to Silver. She can recruit the rest of the Quaddies, but she’s worried about how they will get rid of all the downsiders on the station. Leo plans to make them all get into one module, throw in some emergency oxygen, then cut it off from the rest of the station. They can be coerced with weapons made from the tools in the Habitat. Silver is concerned about this plan. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, and, she says, “If I have to shoot Mama Nilla, I’d rather go downside and die!” Leo acknowledges the need to find a different plan for removing the downsiders from the Habitat.

The plan will also require the reconfiguring of the Habitat, and finding a jump pilot to help move it. Leo needs Silver’s help recruiting Ti, the pilot who gave her book discs. After he talks with Silver, Leo convinces Van Atta to putting him in charge of managing salvage operations on the Habitat.

Silver visits Mama Nilla in the creche. She’s having difficulty getting Andy to adapt to formula. Mama Nilla is upset by the situation surrounding Andy and Claire. She wrote up a protest, but her supervisor blocked it She’s been in touch with Dr. Minchenko, and has heard that Tony should be returning to the station soon to finish his recovery. Tony’s safe return might be the signal for the start of the Quaddies’ revolt.

In his classroom, Leo explains the situation to the Quaddies. He outlines the possible consequences of their abandonment in the facility Van Atta has found on Rodeo, and explains his plan.

 

COMMENTARY

Either Leo is not familiar with the Dred Scott decision, or he thinks the Quaddies live in a better world than the one that existed before 1857.

The discussion of the jammed airlock highlights a key difference between Leo’s perspective and Silver’s. Leo has fallen into the habit of seeing the Quaddies as children who don’t understand the risks they’re facing. Silver understands the risks of her situation very well; She’s not one of Yei’s “good children.” She’s a bad influence. And, she’s the hero who saved the Quaddies’ secret clubhouse! It has healthy snacks, which impressed me until I remembered that even rebellious Quaddies only have access to what downsiders choose to give them. For her stalwart defense of the Resistance in the face of improvisational chemically-enhanced interrogation techniques, Silver is awarded the Sergeant Konstantin Bothari nod of approval this week.

Silver’s resistance to torture isn’t just about protecting the video player and some book discs. The clubhouse is going to become a vital refuge as Yei and Van Atta carry out GalacTech’s plan to commit genocide. Forced sterilization deprives the Quaddie community of a future, and relocation to Rodeo is perilous. GalacTech is scheduled to pull out of Rodeo space in four years, leaving the Quaddies in the care of Orient IV, an empire that doesn’t yet know about their existence. Leo’s concerns are focused on the decline of life support infrastructure as a result of a critical lack of services. He’s such an engineer. I’m concerned that once Orient IV expropriates the planet it will treat the Quaddies like industrial waste. For the purposes of this story, Leo’s concerns are good enough to be going on with.

The pace of these two chapters is a little frustrating because the narrative requires Leo to flail for a bit. To abandon his life, his job, and (I bring this up because he keeps mentioning it) his pension, Leo has to exhaust all other options. Yei shares Leo’s concerns about pensions, but not his concern about the Quaddies. When she thinks about helping them, she thinks about adopting one or two, and then rapidly discards the idea. They aren’t her children. That’s part of the Quaddies problem—they aren’t anyone’s children. They’re meticulously biologically engineered orphans. In most of Bujold’s work, uterine replicators are a symbol of hope, or at least a symbol of options. They’re a source of vulnerability for the Quaddies. In chapter 1, Van Atta crowed about the replicators avoiding the expense and inconvenience of “a bunch of flaky foster mothers.” Their lack of legal parents has left the Quaddies without anyone to prevent them from being forced to stick their wee little hands into zero-G industrial machinery.

Yei’s conversation with Leo is mirrored by Silver’s conversation with Mama Nilla, the creche manager. I’m inclined to see Mama Nilla as a collaborator. As an educator, she must have played a major role in the Quaddies’ psycho-social programming. She’s hidden information from them, participated in Yei’s regime of censorship, and prepared vulnerable children for a lives controlled by callous two-legged authorities. Mama Nilla doesn’t know about the gravity generator. She’s worried about losing her job, but she’s also worried about Claire, Tony, and Andy. Silver trusts her, and turns to her for comfort. Their relationship seems like one of the legacies of Dr. Cay’s leadership. I wish Bujold had found a way to put more of his intentions into the story. SIlver and Claire also seem to trust Dr. Minchenko, who has been on downside leave (to protect his bone density) since the beginning of the book. The absence of senior staff may be exacerbating the Quaddies’ problems.

Leo is in the process of falling in love with Silver in this section. Leo seems to appreciate her rebellious nature, and there certainly is a good deal to appreciate there, but why that makes him jealous of Ti the Pilot or leads to sexual attraction is a bit of a mystery. The romance is awkwardly tacked on. Awkwardness is Leo’s theme this week. He’s also rediscovered faith. Bujold is into theists. Leo doesn’t seem to be expecting divine intervention, which is nice—He seems to think he needs to make himself the divine intervention. Which is at least very proactive. I’m a little uncomfortable with his sudden spiritual awakening in Van Atta’s office, which puts me and Van Atta on the same page for the first (and last) time ever.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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