Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapters 2 and 3

Last week, Miles flew off to Kyril Island, which is like a magical frosty fairyland that also wants to kill you. And I committed one of the classic reread blogger sins—leaving off half of the chapter. The conversation Miles has with Major Cecil is very enlightening, but so are the conversations he has with Lieutenant Ahn and that incident where he proves he is totally getting better at subordination by regretting that he got snippy with his new CO. Miles is starting to realize that it’s one thing to demand that he be given a chance to be a soldier, but there may possibly be a limit on the number of chances he’s allowed to have. He’s only starting to realize it though; He’s, like, still wicked young. When I was Miles’s age (I’m estimating he’s about 20), I wanted to save the world. I think an objective observer would say that I did better than Miles, but I wouldn’t say it went well.

How ‘bout that spoiler policy? I read ahead last night and Jole makes an appearance right around chapter 5. Don’t want to be spoiled? See if your local public library has Gentlemen Jole and the Red Queen available as an ebook! Or perhaps on the shelf.

SUMMARY

So let’s talk about that missing half-chapter.

Lazkowski Base, on Kyril Island, is a winter training base for infantry troops. It is located near Barrayar’s arctic circle. Miles did his own winter training on the Black Escarpment while he was at the Academy. It sounds like the base there was a lot nicer.

Miles arrives at Lazkowski Base to find the current meteorologist, Lt. Ahn, extremely drunk. Miles then goes looking for a superior officer of any kind at all, and barks at a passing jogger to find out if the inmates are running the asylum. Yeah, that’s General Metzov, base commander. The next morning, Miles returns to his duty station to find Ahn alert and in uniform. Miles introduces himself, and claims that Ahn promised him a full technical orientation. Ahn obliges—all the equipment is named after women, all the manuals are taped to the bottoms of the machines, and all the weather forecasting actually relies on Ahn’s sense of smell. Since the weather can be deadly on Kyril Island, the resulting loss of efficiency could be a serious problem. Ahn warns Miles against the sudden, violent wind storms known as the wah-wahs.

The only consistent factor in Ahn’s emotional state is how glad he is to be retiring. One Day 5 at Lazkowski Base, Miles is unable to rouse Ahn from his bed. Ever dutiful, Miles takes a scat cat out to inspect the remote weather sensing array by himself. As Miles briefs the corporal in the motor pool on his mission plan, Tech Pattas offers helpful suggestions about parking his vehicle out of the wind.

Away from base, and from the prying, judging eyes of the entire base staff, Miles relaxes for the first time in days. He decides to spend the night at meteorological station 10, because it’s late and getting dark, and because he thinks she probably should orient himself to the cold weather survival equipment in the scat cat before he needs to use it in a weather emergency. For insurance against wah-wahs, Miles chains his shelter to the scat cat. This is the drowning in mud chapter.

Following his near-drowning and medical treatment for hypothermia, Miles reports to General Metzov for a dressing down. Due to circumstances beyond his control, Miles is wearing the wrong uniform. He is forced to admit that he’s been reading the wrong technical manuals. He’s assigned punishment duty for sinking the scat cat. Lt. Bonn in engineering assigns Olney and Pattas to work with Miles. They find a body in a drain out by the training fields.

COMMENTARY

One of the reasons I have always loved Miles is that he is so much like me. He hates being watched. He works hard to fix his mistakes. And given an opportunity to spend a night all by himself, he snuggles in with some snacks and a book. We imagine Miles as an extrovert because he’s so loud. I think maybe he’s really an introvert who knows he can’t escape notice and tries to make the best of it. On this occasion,Miles’s book is a Betan comedy of manners recommended by his mother. I’m imagining a plot structured around hilarious mis-readings of people’s earrings. If Miles hadn’t been submerged in mud when he woke up, it would have been a great evening.

Miles can’t escape being watched—it’s a combination of his notable physical deformities and his father. Ahn expresses some sympathy for this in a sober moment. In his sober moments, Ahn is a pretty decent guy. He’s not a great choice of officer for Miles to learn how to be subordinate to; Ahn needs a lot of support to function. General Metzov is a bad choice for a different reason. He’s a high level challenge—intensely conscious of the role class and privilege play in Barrayar’s military, and obsessed with concerns about creeping decadence in the ranks. Miles is not a desirable subordinate if you’re concerned about creeping decadence. Miles is highly functional—he’s great at solving problems; It’s his years of experience. I think Miles’s ideal commander would be a utilitarian who adheres to the 19th century Prussian practice of allowing officers flexibility in pursuit of an objective.

Metzov might embrace that approach to command in some circumstances, but not for Miles. Even on days when he hasn’t sunk a scat cat in the mud, Miles’s leg braces interfere with Metzov’s vision of Barrayar as Sparta in Space. Miles’s dress greens aren’t helping either. Important fashion notes—Miles’s uniforms are hand-tailored; In the Barrayaran military, senior officers who wear fatigues on a daily basis are identifying with The Fighting Man. Metzov might possibly respect Miles’s combat experience, if he knew it existed. For example, Metzov would probably be pretty keen on that time Miles commanded Bothari to torture a jump pilot. Miles can’t tell him about that. Later, Ahn will point out that Metzov commands only the base’s physical plant. The trainees have their own commanders.

In a lot of books, nearly drowning in mud and finding a corpse in a drain would be pretty close to the climax of the plot. In the coming weeks, The Vor Game is going to move rapidly towards higher drama.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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