Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Falling Free, Chapters 9-12

Welcome back to the Vorkosigan reread!

Last week, three chapters seemed like too much. This week, I’m throwing myself headlong into the breach—falling free, as it were—as the Quaddies stage the Revolution. We’re tackling chapters 9-12. If you need to catch up on the reading, the blog post will still be here when you get back. Maybe a little further down the page. You can bookmark it, if you’re worried.

 

SUMMARY

Although rich in technical detail, this section is fairly simple; The Quaddies kidnap Ti (Silver’s pilot), hijack a jump ship, stage an emergency to remove most of the downsiders from the Habitat, and take it over for themselves.

 

COMMENTARY

I love this book. I think it takes a really interesting approach to questions about the rights of children and the roles of families and the extent to which humanity uses new technology to reinvent old injustices. And that’s before you add in the stuff about Leo representing Bujold’s father and the connections between Claire and Ekaterin, and Leo and Professor Vorthys. Everything that’s great about Bujold’s writing is here in embryonic form—and it’s an impressive and award-winning embryo. But it’s best to take it at a bit of a clip. Slow and careful examination reveals some flaws, like the Leo/Silver romance, and the uneven pace of the narrative. In the grand scheme of the whole piece, these are minor issues. It’s really best to be looking at the big picture rather than carefully inspecting each weld for structural defects.

Bujold’s work tends to exist in the intersection between space opera and soap opera, and while the revolution is very interesting and dramatic, the soap opera is where the action is this week. I’m going to break this down by character.

Ti Gulik—Silver’s pilot is no worse than anyone else, and he’s not sure he wants to be any better. Hundreds of years from now, Bothari will tell Miles that you can always get a pilot to cooperate. As a result of impending technological obsolescence, along with his current employment situation, Ti’s headset is about to be rendered non-functional, despite being intact and still in his head. Ti was never in love with Silver. They had a mutually beneficial arrangement. Ti’s headset makes him vulnerable. Silver drafts him into her revolution by offering him another mutually beneficial arrangement. He helps the Quaddies, under carefully staged duress, and he gets a jump ship to call his own. Not in a legal sense—the jump ship will be stolen property. All Ti has to do to obtain this stolen jump ship is whatever Silver tells him. I wouldn’t say he rises to the occasion, but he doesn’t fall further.

Dr. Minchenko—Dr. Cay’s partner finally returns from downside leave on Rodeo. He’s been forced to leave Tony behind, and he’s mad as hell. He offers Claire some comforting words and then stalks off to have it out with Van Atta. He’s the first downsider we see making an overt protest against Van Atta’s authority—he refuses to carry out the ordered sterilizations and abortions, and instead goes on strike. When the alarm sounds, he refuses to leave, insisting that the Free Quaddies will need medical services. His argument centers on the fifteen Quaddie women who are pregnant. He doesn’t want to see his life’s work thrown away. This goal is sort of narcissistic and self-serving, but also helpful. It’s evident that, whatever the situation has been under Van Atta, Cay and Minchenko didn’t see the Quaddies as capital equipment. They also maybe didn’t fully consider the legal issues the Quaddies would face in escaping GalacTech control. Minchenko is pretty sure he can convince his wife to come along with the Quaddies. Like Tony, she’s on Rodeo.

Dr. Curry—Minchenko’s wayward minion is stuck carrying out the medical procedures Minchenko refuses to perform. He is this week’s example of a downsider who fails to understand the difference between not having any choices and not liking the choices he has.

Claire—Silver won the Sergeant Bothari nod of approval last week; This week it passes to Claire. In Claire’s far future, Cordelia will point out to Koudelka (I think) that Barryar controls fertility by controlling the whole woman, and Beta by controlling only the reproductive organs. Cordelia will maintain that both of these methods are coercive. Claire is up against that coercion now, as Curry calls her to the infirmary for her involuntary sterilization. Now considered a trouble-maker, she was second on the list. (Silver was first, but she’s too busy kidnapping Ti to show up to her appointment.) Claire attacks Curry, drugs him, and leaves him restrained in his own steri-shield. Once (most of) the downsiders clear the station, Claire reunites with Andy.

Silver— Silver intuits a lesson that young Miles Vorkosigan will have to learn through experience; When you’re leading a raid, don’t scream on your way through the door. She also knows that a weapon has no authority unless you’re willing to fire it. She’s young, scrappy, and hungry. She is not throwing away her shot. She is aiming it at a jump pilot’s knees to ensure his cooperation with her hijacking. Silver is embracing ruthlessness this week. She gets the job done.

All the other Quaddies on the Habitat—The Quaddie population numbers approximately 1000 individuals. Bujold has introduced us to fewer than a dozen of them. A large number of Quaddies are young children. Leo isn’t teaching them. Another large group are teenagers, some of whom are taking on adult responsibilities. Fifteen-year-old Zara is the Quaddies’ highest-rated shuttle pilot. In chapter 9, she becomes the first Quaddie to ride a skateboard. These are people who really want to go somewhere and do something cool.

Tony—Still downside.

The Orbital Habitat’s downsider staff—There are approximately 277 two-legged people on the Orbital Habitat. In the course of the book so far, Leo has had contact with six of them. What have the rest of them been doing? Their jobs, with varying degrees of commitment. And in the face of a depressurization emergency, most of them make an effort to continue doing their jobs. Unfortunately, this has meant fostering a Human-Quaddie division in which all Quaddies are seen as children and all authority is in human hands.

Van Atta—If you thought he was on a character arc, you haven’t been reading the right book. Van Atta spends this section shifting between plans and misconceptions without ever questioning himself or changing as a person. He is the Dunning-Kruger effect brought to life. He plans to take credit for Leo’s salvage operation for himself, then he thinks Leo has arranged an accident to kill the Quaddies. He sees every possible outcome as a way to advance his own career and sabotage Leo’s until he realizes that the module where the Habitat’s downsider staff have taken refuge has been cut off from the Habitat and is being pushed towards the space station. In the face of a crisis that causes him to question all of his assumptions, he blames Yei.

Mama Nilla—Although the Quaddies love their creche supervisor, I have been a Mama Nilla skeptic. She’s an obvious collaborator with Yei’s regime of social control, and, like a number of other downsider staff, seemed more interested in keeping her job than helping the Quaddies. She followed Van Atta’s orders to keep Claire away from Andy. And I expected her to do all of those things. In my heart of hearts, I don’t believe that Dr. Cay was trying to create a utopia. I don’t believe you can build a utopia with the sort of social programming that comes along with Bobby-BX99 Solves the Excess Humidity Mystery and vid-recordings of Animals, Animals, Animals! You need much more criticism of the outside world. And you certainly can’t build a utopia without co-opting your staff psychologist. If Cay was a utopian, Yei should have a much better picture of his vision for the Quaddies. But if Cay had wanted to build a utopia, Mama Nilla would have been a necessary ingredient. She sees keeping her job and protecting the Quaddies as one and the same. She can’t help them from off the Habitat, and she doesn’t think GalacTech would get anyone she considers reliable to replace her. Mama Nilla’s department is highly specialized and labor intensive, and while most of her teachers are not joining the revolt, Mama Nilla is not leaving. She’s essential life-support personnel. During Apmad’s inspection tour, child care was showcased as a reassuring circus act, part of Yei’s attempt to market the Quaddies to the VP. I’m glad to see the labor involved treated with the respect it deserves.

Leo—He’s faced with a series of technical problems this week. He’s important to the Quaddie revolt, but whatever revelations he may have recently had about being a Quaddie with legs, he’s not a Quaddie. As the Quaddies take control, Leo is pushed out of the center of the story. He’s moving to the periphery, back into his comfort zone. When he’s not putting out fires, Leo is mainly focused on Silver. Leo in love is a lot like Miles in the same state. There are no limits to the choices he thinks Silver—and, by extension, the Quaddies as a whole—should have. He’s like a fountain of freedom, keeping nothing for himself. Except perhaps an uncharitable attitude towards Ti. Leo really was certain that Silver was in love with Ti. He brought her along on the abduction in the hopes that she could offer some incentive for Ti to join the Quaddie revolution, and Bujold doesn’t say it outright, he seems to have thought that incentive would be sexual. Silver always knew her relationship with Ti was one of convenience. It was fun to beat the rules, she got book discs, and she was told that downsider men needed sex for their emotional stability. Leo is fairly confident of the subject of that passive verb.

Laser-solderers—Historically, more people have been killed with tools than with weapons. The laser-solderer is here to keep that score uneven. These suckers are seriously over-powered for their intended function. Once the safeties are removed, they can shoot a high-intensity laser beam across strategically significant distances. This seems like it would be overkill even at a short distance. What the dickens are the Quaddies soldering?

Other significant developments: Leo’s order of Necklin fuel rods is mis-typed, and he gets a hundred tons of gasoline instead.

 

Next week, chapters 13 through something! Embrace the uncertainty.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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