Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapter 1

Last week, the reread finished off The Warrior’s Apprentice with Miles’s acquittal on charges of high treason and his subsequent enrollment in the Imperial Military Academy. This week, we follow Miles as he begins his military career. As a meteorologist. On Kyril Island. But before we deal with that, we have some business to attend to.

The first item before us this week is the matter of the spoiler policy. Despite an epic comment thread that spanned such diverse subjects as the ancien regime in France and whether or not I had managed to insult the US Marine Corps, very few posters took up my call for comments on the spoiler embargo in re: Oliver Jole. Those who did were unhappy with the current plan to start talking about Gentleman Jole spoilers sometime in the course of the re-read of The Vor Game. They expressed concern that revealing information from the last book in the series would color our understanding of the relationships between characters in earlier books. IMO, that’s not a bug—it’s a feature. I’m dying to explore the ways that the things we now know about Jole color my understanding of the relationships in the rest of the books. I am currently planning to hold off on Jole discussion until the Gentleman himself makes an appearance, but not one second longer. Please consider yourself warned.

The second piece of business we have to consider is book covers. This week has been rife with distractions—we’re waiting to hear if our cat needs his leg amputated—and this has cut into the research time required for a truly exhaustive post on cover art. I’m limiting myself to three examples.

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This is by Robert M. Brown. I already admitted that I didn’t have time for research this week—usually I would dig up a biography of the artist for the NESFA Press edition. I don’t know what else Brown has done. I like his composition. The use of green, the curving shape of the space, and the vines entangling the figure at center front create a sense of being engulfed in mud even though the scene depicted does not take place on Kyril Island. This is a clever combination of color and geometry to evoke two pivotal scenes from the story. If I were trying to overcome my personal biases this week, this might be my favorite.

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I have never been able to find an artist credit for the Amazon Kindle edition covers. This one features a tiny abstract portrait of Miles stuck in the cracks between some abstract ice floes, metaphorically representing the disaster facing Miles’s career. The red of the ice is idiosyncratic, and offers a fascinating visual reference to Alphonse Munch’s “The Scream,” and to Hitchcock’s Anatomy of a Murder.

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This piece is distractingly asymmetrical, and oddly cropped—the image does not wrap to the back cover, so the stairs and the aircraft on the left hand side just sort of protrude from nowhere. I imagine that Tom Kidd painted a larger scene, or he wouldn’t have included the hand rail. The facial expressions here are a treat. This is the image on the cover of the copy of The Vor Game I have had since high school, and therefore it is obviously the proper one and all others are pretenders.

 


SUMMARY

Freshly graduated from the Imperial Military Academy, Miles awaits his orders for his first real military post. He’s dismayed to be assigned to a job he doesn’t know how to do on a military base he’s never heard of. He appeals to Major Cecil in personnel for an explanation. Cecil informs him that the assignment is a test. Miles has an issue with insubordination. If he can contain it for six months on Kyril Island, Cecil will support his application for transfer to ship duty on Barrayar’s new flagship, the Prince Serg.

COMMENTARY

The short story “Mountains of Mourning” is set right before the beginning of The Vor Game—I will be addressing that as part of Borders of Infinity, whose frame story is set after this. Reina Csurik is on Miles’s mind here. Miles thinks of her murder (in vague and unspecific terms) as he thinks about Barrayaran anti-mutant prejudices. Miles’s feelings about his assignment and his conversation with Cecil expand on this theme. Miles expects that his assignment will be appropriate to his physical limitations. Kyril Island is primarily an infantry training post. Miles is ill-suited to the infantry. He’s somewhat reassured by Cecil’s reminder that meteorologist is not an infantry position.

Is it fair for Miles to expect his limitations to be taken into account in assigning him a post? I feel strongly that it is. Modern militaries require many different kinds of work. No one individual is well-suited for all of them. It’s not the responsibility of the junior officer to be equally ready for all possible military roles. Personnel officers are supposed to match them with posts that take advantage of their strengths. One of Miles’s classmates is assigned to language school, another to bodyguard training. Ivan is assigned to be ADC to an officer in Ops. Ivan isn’t a bad soldier because he’s not prepared for advanced language study. Miles’s comrade, Ensign Plause, isn’t a bad soldier because he’s a better linguist than he is a navigator. Miles is well-prepared to serve his Emperor in a number of ways. He’s never going to be Special Forces, or whatever the Barrayaran equivalent is. He wants to rise in the ranks by proving himself at something he has a decent chance of succeeding at.

Major Cecil doesn’t disagree with Miles, but he does remind Miles of his privilege. Miles didn’t get to enroll in the Imperial Military Academy because he created a mercenary fleet out of thin air and then won a war with it. His enrollment was an Imperial favor arranged by his father. As readers, we know that the favor was arranged and agreed to by the Emperor because of what Miles did with the Dendarii, but Major Cecil doesn’t. Miles acknowledges that his father is his saving grace, and he hopes that he can be the saving grace for the mutants who come after him. Cordelia told Piotr something similar, back in Barrayar when she said she hoped that Miles’s life, however it turned out, would make things better for other children and their families. I don’t think Cordelia was thinking of this—she spoke eloquently on the pain of raising children for 20 years only to lose them to failures of politics back in Shards of Honor—but I know that she’s committed to letting her children make their own choices.

Next week—Miles tries really hard to be a good meteorologist.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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