Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Barrayar, Chapters 9-10

It’s very apparent from the comments on the last few blog posts that many readers are eager to discuss the coup. Me too! Chapters 9 and 10 lay the stage. This section is about children—Miles, Aral, Drou and Kou’s dreams, and Gregor. This section also represents a key moment for the comconsole in the library at Vorkosigan Surleau.

If you’d like to catch up on previous posts in the reread, the index is here. At this time, the spoiler policy permits discussion of all books EXCEPT Gentlemen Jole and the Red Queen. Discussion of any and all revelations from or about that book should be whited out.

SUMMARY

Cordelia undergoes surgery to transfer fetal Miles to the uterine replicator. Piotr looks for ways to deal with his fears about mutation and protecting the genome. When he fails to talk Cordelia and Aral around to sharing his concerns, he tries to kill Miles. Aral revokes Piotr’s security clearance to prevent a second attempt. Aral and Cordelia leave the hospital to finish their recovery from the gas attack at Vorkosigan Surleau. When Piotr’s second attempt to kill Miles fails, he disowns Aral. In the meanwhile, Drou and Kou have finally almost-broken their interpersonal stalemate; They had sex in the library at Vorkosigan House while Evon Vorhalas was firing a soltoxin grenade through the window, in a scene whose implications are discussed here, but not fully explored until A Civil Campaign. Kou accuses himself of rape, and tries to apologize to Drou, who thought she had enthusiastically consented. Drou slams him into a wall. They do not kiss and make up. Kou discovers that the comconsole is broken. Negri and Gregor arrive in a damaged lightflyer. Vordarian’s coup has begun.

COMMENTARY

Chapter 10 opens with Piotr in Cordelia’s hospital room. He calls her “dear girl,” which is kindly and patronizing, and thus a useful representation of Piotr’s thinking. Aral calls her Dear Captain. Piotr is trying to comfort Cordelia on the loss of that which is not lost. Piotr implies, but does not actually say, that Cordelia can have other children. He talks about losing time. Aral will pick up this issue later when he points out that soltoxin poisoning causes testicular scarring that may reduce his fertility. Cordelia informs him that any two somatic cells and a replicator will do the job, somewhere other than Barrayar—they aren’t talking about their reproductive future, but about their son. I’m planning to revisit this scene later in Barrayar and later in the series.

The Age of Isolation ended before Piotr was born, but he’s still living in it. Piotr sees his grandson as lost because of the teratogenic damage he has suffered. He can’t stand the idea that a Vorkosigan would be a mutant or a lab experiment. Cordelia attempts to re-direct Piotr’s thinking by suggesting that her son will begin his life of Vor-ish service early. His suffering may create knowledge that offers hope to other parents and other children. Cordelia finds this idea affirming; She has none of the doubts that she has sometimes entertained about Dubauer. Piotr goes with “it may yet die.”

Cordelia’s evasion of Piotr’s disapproval here and later is a strategic combination of her Betan-ness and her understanding of Barrayaran culture. She disavows Barrayar’s approach to eugenics, but embraces its ideal of service and the importance of family and memory. She’s single-minded in the deployment of any argument that might help Piotr see Miles’s value and potential. She fails. What Piotr wants more than anything else in this situation is to be in control of it. To do this, he needs to preserve the traditions of the Vor. These include the image of himself as a father figure—once he’s done patronizing Cordelia, he calls Aral “boy.” Piotr arranged Aral’s first marriage, and Aral will later admit that he wonders if his first wife’s death was truly suicide, or if Piotr arranged that, too. Piotr is certainly not averse to arranging a death. The kindly old man we met in the cemetery at the end of Shards of Honor was only ever an illusion.

Piotr’s reaction to being thwarted is an effort to cling to parental control over a 44-year-old man who controls the Imperium. Aral’s reaction to Piotr is a master class in unemotional acknowledgment of another person’s choices. This argument ends in Aral being disowned and Aral and Cordelia’s son denied his grandfather’s name. Aral makes it clear that these are Piotr’s choices. Cordelia makes it clear that Piotr is a pighead. And then a lightflyer lands on the lawn. I’ll circle back to that in a minute.

In the hands of any other author, I would see the Kou-Drou axis as comic relief. But Kou’s struggles shed light on Miles’s future, and Drou’s problems are the problems of Barrayaran women. Drou is a force to be reckoned with, and Kou is struggling with that idea. This is partly because he is jealous that she has what he has lost. Drou is exceptional, but that doesn’t keep her from being a hopeless romantic. Both of them feel guilty about screwing on the library sofa while Evon Vorhalas fired a grenade through the window. Kou’s “confession” demonstrates that he’s been pretty self-centered. Drou’s conversation with Cordelia reveals that she was hoping that sex was a magic spell that would tie her and Kou together forever. They’re both misguided, and right now, that means they’re both very sad. And not speaking to each other.

They are both still integral parts of the Aral and Cordelia’s staff, so it’s Kou who discovers the malfunctioning comconsole. This was a hot topic in the comments thread a few weeks ago. Drou carries a comm link to facilitate her work as Cordelia’s bodyguard, and the guard commander has one as well, so the comconsole in the library is certainly not the only communication device in the house. Both Piotr and Aral play important roles in government—Piotr’s security classification was the very highest until Aral revoked it to keep him out of Henri and Vaagen’s lab—I can’t imagine that they’re relying on a single comconsole in the library, even in the relatively relaxed atmosphere of their country house. It’s possible that the saboteur destroyed several devices, and the damage to the library comconsole was discovered first. It’s also possible that there was something unique about the library comconsole. Back in chapter 1, Simon and Aral talked about installing a secured comconsole in the library of Vorkosigan House in Vorbarr Sultana. We’re not in Vorbarr Sultana right now, and I can’t know for sure whether this specific comconsole was secured or not. But I believe it was. I think Negri called that specific comconsole and did not attempt contact on others because he didn’t want to disclose more information than he had to over communications channels that were likely being monitored by the enemy.

Negri and Gregor’s dramatic arrival lets slip the dogs of war. After the sturm und drang over Miles in this section, Gregor seems like an unexceptional little boy. He’s not; He’s Barrayar’s illusions about itself. Barrayar believes that he is the vessel of imperial power. He has escaped Vordarian, but Gregor is no less a hostage for being in Vorkosigan’s hands. What would Aral have done if Vordarian had captured him?

Next week we’ll look at chapters 11-13 (probably), focusing on the back country phase of the civil war. There are horses!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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