Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapters 9 and 10

This week finds us in the Jacksonian Consortium where a mysterious emergency has drawn Ungari away, leaving Miles and Overholt to make their way home by commercial carrier.

I know that this emergency is extremely serious business, crucial to the security of the Empire. It’s much more important than Miles. I’m not convinced it was a good idea to separate Miles from his handler, though. Is Ungari aware that Miles is fairly high up the line of succession right now? Miles is aware! He’s pretty sure that several factions would have to really hate someone else for him to ever realistically be in a position to inherit the Imperial Campstool, but he IS in the line. Also, he’s a wanted man, and Jacksonian police arrest him while he’s waiting for his flight. One of the central messages of the Vorkosigan Series is that Monday morning quarterbacking is unfair. I’m going to do it anyway. Leaving a potential heir to the throne behind in what is, technically, foreign soil, while a foreign power has a warrant out for his arrest, seems like a not-so-great maneuver. If I was Illyan, I would probably have wanted Ungari to handle that a little differently.

Now that I have committed the sin, I must repent – it might not have been the greatest idea for Ungari to leave Miles behind, but it did make it possible for Miles to find Gregor. Sure, it was a lucky accident in the aftermath of his arrest, but Miles did what the rest of Barrayaran intelligence could not. Miles has been arrested as Victor Rotha. Gregor is traveling under the name Greg Bleakman. It sounds, um, very bleak. If I was Gregor, I would have gone for a slightly snazzier still-extremely-bleak nomme-de-guerre, like Gregor Samsa. Maybe Barrayar’s Imperial Military Academy and its associated preparatory academies don’t cover Kafka. There appear to also be some substantial gaps in the Dealing With Big Feelings parts of the curriculum. Mr. Bleakman wandered away from his security detail while visiting Komarr, by the simple expedient of contemplating suicide hard enough to actually fall off of his hotel balcony.

This is Miles and Gregor’s second prison visit, and there are several crucial differences from the one they had last week. There’s no wine. Neither of them planned it. They’re both prisoners this time. Gregor is being carried off for some short term slave labor. Miles feels duty bound to not leave him alone, so they steal another prisoner’s uniform and Miles makes the transfer to Aslund with Gregor.

I have completely lost track of the space geography involved here, and I’m at peace with that because I have no recollection of EVER having kept track of any space geography in any book anywhere. The important thing is that Miles and Gregor are now further from Barrayar then they were before, and there are no Barrayaran security handy. The new location has Oseran mercenaries, though, and that’s an opportunity. Miles’s first approach to the new station is to hide until the Jacksonians stop looking for him. Then he ventures out into the halls to see what’s going on. My favorite part: He gets to do more plumbing. He’s wearing a contract laborer smock, and a tech sends him into a wall to locate a leak in a sewage pipe. It’s a step up from Lazkowski base, because the pipe does not actually contain sewage. Or corpses. Miles does almost get stuck, but he puts his foot through a supposedly unbreakable panel. And he’s a complete snot about it, which makes sense because Miles LOVES inspecting things. He does not actually say “God help us” in this scene, he just points out the use of substandard materials inappropriate for a military installation that’s supposed to withstand enemy fire. It’s a fleeting brush with other people’s incompetence, of the kind that Miles thrives on. He’s almost giddy as he walks away.

Miles’s next step is to find someone he can trust in the Oseran organization and use them to get in touch with Elena Bothari-Jesek. Miles has a lot of interesting and confusing feelings about Elena that are further evidence of the deficiencies of the Imperial Military Academy’s social-emotional skills curriculum. The lingering of Miles’s adolescent romantic ineptitude is a nice reminder to readers that he’s highly fallible, and we will need this in the next crucial scene; Miles’s contact with the Oserans hands him over to Oseran security rather than to Elena Bothari-Jesek, and Miles and Gregor are hauled off to an interview with Oser.

If you’re wondering why The Vor Game won a Hugo, look no further. The scene in Oser’s office would be a delightful and satisfying story even if the rest of the novel was missing. Oser is a combination of ruthless and careful that implies everything that happened in The Warrior’s Apprentice without describing it in detail. He treats Miles like a space merc version of Harold Hill from The Music Man. Not only do I want to see this scene on film, I want to see multiple versions, with both Oser and Miles performed by multiple different actors. William Shatner, Robert Downey Jr., and Chiwetal Ejiofor would all make really interesting Osers. Peter Dinklage, Martin Freeman and Simon Pegg would each bring something unique to Miles.

In addition to being an amazing piece of craft completely independent of the rest of the book, Miles’s conversation with Oser also stands as a dramatic contrast to his earlier conversation with Metzov. Miles starts both encounters at a disadvantage. His dream of a berth on the Prince Serg, and the sinking of the scat cat, put Miles at a disadvantage against Metzov. With Oser, Miles is freed from the need to be good. In fact, Gregor’s presence makes him obliged not to be. Miles slides back into his Naismith persona, and makes up a mission for an imaginary client. He’s very close to talking Oser onto his non-existent side when Oser realizes that the best way to protect himself and his control of the Oseran fleet is to have Miles and Gregor spaced from the nearest airlock. Preferably before he has a chance to work his wiles on anyone else.

That is an excellent strategy, but perhaps it might have worked better for Oser if the interview had been conducted at the airlock, rather than a short distance down the corridor from it. Miles’s attempt to talk his way out of this situation fails, but it buys enough time for Elena Bothari-Jesek to come to the rescue. I like this too – Miles is an amazing negotiator, but Elena comes through with the real resources in the clinch.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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