Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Falling Free, Chapters 13-16

This is it—the final blog post in the Falling Free re-read! We’re going from chapters 13 through 16.

At the time of writing, your Vorkosigan re-read blogger is fueled by molasses cookies. And thus, gently sugar-high, we approach the Quaddies’ final leap through the wormhole to legal peril that will hopefully end in safe passage and freedom. But how do we get there?

 

SUMMARY

Leo does some very impressive zero-gravity engineering to replace a cracked mirror that somehow makes the jump ship go (or keeps it from going, if it’s broken). Meanwhile, on the surface of Rodeo, Van Atta tries to come up with a way to remind the Quaddies of his love. When he fails to come up with a fully armed battalion—Rodeo’s complete security forces number around thirty—he settles on taking a shock stick to Tony’s mouth. Ti, Silver and Dr. Minchenko take a shuttle to the surface to rescue Tony and fetch Madame Minchenko. They evade Rodeo’s security forces and return safely to the Habitat. Ti pilots the Habitat through the jump to Orient IV. At the very end, Leo and Silver kiss.

 

COMMENTARY

This week, the Sgt. Konstantin Bothari nod of approval goes to Tony. When Van Atta threatens him, demanding that he tell the Quaddies on the Habitat to surrender, Tony tells them to flee. He says downside is horrible, and they should abandon him and go. This is impressive under any circumstances, but especially when you remember that Tony has been isolated on Rodeo for the entirety of the Quaddie Revolution, and has no idea what the plans are. Ultimately, he is rescued and reunited with Andy and Claire.

I’m also impressed by Leo’s abilities here. I have a lot of feelings about this mirror. First, I’m confused about what it does. Jump field generators have always impressed me with their sheer incomprehensibility. Or maybe Bujold’s explanations are actually perfectly clear and logical, and the comprehension failure is entirely on my side. Either way, the Quaddies’ escape plan needs a large, precision-engineered mirror, and Leo has to make one out of nothing. This is a great opportunity for Leo and his Quaddie work crews to run into a series of obstacles that slow the story down enough to allow some of the other pieces to fall into place. There are explosives, and Leo’s salvage crew repeatedly plunders the kitchen. Although this process involves a number of ingredients readily available on Earth, it does not appear to be something I will be able to replicate over summer vacation.

The Leo/Silver relationship still isn’t working for me. There’s nothing hideously squicky about it. The age difference is big and the difference in experience of the universe is bigger, but my most serious complaint is there’s no chemistry between these characters, especially (but not exclusively) from Silver’s end. She thinks Leo has two legs and can be tricky. We haven’t seen her thinking romantic thoughts about him. We’ve seen more “romantic” thoughts from Leo, but they’re mostly expressions of sexual jealousy. I appreciate that Silver initiates their kiss, because it keeps their relationship from seeming entirely one-sided, but still.

I am much more excited about the conversation Silver has with Madame Minchenko while they wait for Ti and the doctor to return to the shuttle with Tony. Madame Minchenko is familiar with her husband’s work, but only through his reports. She’s never met a Quaddie before. She’s a musician. She asks Silver about music on the Habitat, and Silver tells her the story of the flute-toots, and sings her a song about colors. And now I have to tell you the story of the flute-toots too.

Once upon a time, one of the creche-workers brought the Quaddies some flute-toots, which sound like they were inexpensive recorders. They were fun to play, but they became annoying and the creche worker had to take them back. As the parent of a child who has been through an elementary school music program featuring recorders, I have some sympathy for the decision to ban flute-toots, which I assume was Yei’s. She who cannot deal with an outbreak of spitting among the five-year-olds is going to have a very difficult time with out-of-key renditions of Hot Cross Buns performed on the recorder. But both the temptation to end the musical pain and Dr. Yei ignore the reason we put up with music practice—it’s good for people. It’s good for children to learn to play an instrument; It’s been extensively studied. It’s good for adults to be patient with their learning process. At the very least, that patience is crucial to the survival and development of our musical culture.

Madame Minchenko does not support the anti-flute-toot agenda. “Oh Warren,” she sighs, “the things you have to answer for . . . “ If nothing else has, this should put to rest the idea that Dr. Cay and Dr. Minchenko were building a utopia. Dr. Minchenko cares enough about Madame Minchenko to risk everything to go back to Rodeo and get her. He is not the kind of man who starts a utopia without his wife, and she is clearly not on board with the Quaddies’ psychosocial programming. She demonstrates this by showing Silver how to play her violin.

When Madame Minchenko shows Silver how to arch her fingers, she is claiming her as a student and a child. She’s not infantilizing Silver—Madame Minchenko is stepping into the role of advocate and mentor, becoming the parental figure that Leo feels the Quaddies lack. She’s teaching Silver not because this skill is needed for survival, or for work, or to reassure the two-legged, but because she knows how and Silver wants to try. At this point, Van Atta has orders in hand that call for the destruction of the fetal tissue cultures. If Madame Minchenko and Silver don’t evade Rodeo’s security forces, the cause of Quaddie Emancipation will die on the sands, shortly followed by the Quaddies themselves. This is a dangerous moment, but this is also the first time a Quaddie learns something for the joy of it—the beginning of Quaddie art, the birth of a Quaddie culture centered around being something other than capital equipment.

Van Atta pursues the Quaddies and the Habitat until the last possible moment—until they make the wormhole jump out of Rodeo space (and into a jurisdiction that applies actual laws). He fails to recapture them because no one likes him. Yei attempts to stop Van Atta by hitting him on the head with a wrench. When she fails—she’s a psychologist, not a street fighter—Bannerji finds a bureaucratic obstacle; Shooting down the Quaddies would be an act of hazardous waste disposal, and it’s more than his job is worth to do it without the appropriate paperwork. Refusing to take action without complete and correct paperwork was also recommended by the OSS as a sabotage technique during World War Two. Miles will do something similar for Mark and Enrique in A Civil Campaign.

Next week, we start on Shards of Honor. I’m so excited! I’ll be looking at book covers in next week’s blog post, and embarking on the Oatmeal and Blue Cheese Wilderness Trek. I will be dealing with at least chapter one. For those of you who like to read ahead, I estimate a 60% chance that I’ll get through chapter three.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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