Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: The Vor Game, Chapter 16

“…You realize Gregor, you did this? Sabotaged the Cetagandan invasion single handedly?”

“Oh,” breathed Gregor, “it took both hands.”

Oh, Gregor. You had me at “Oh.”

Years from now, in Memory, Miles will watch Gregor helping Laisa on to a horse, and notice (among other things) Gregor’s stunning savior faire. Miles should not have been surprised. In this instance, Gregor has walked right up to a vulgar remark and stopped exactly the right distance away from it. I don’t know what emperors are made for any better than Gregor does, but it seems to me that stopping just short of vulgarity is one of the things they should do well.

Chapters ago, at the beginning of this book, there was a corpse in a drain that, at the time, seemed to serve no useful purpose. (I don’t really respect Miles’s plumbing experience—one drain and one disconnected sewer line is hardly a thorough training program, certainly not a rational basis for the claims to expertise that Miles will make for the entire rest of his life.) The narrative purpose of the corpse in the drain is becoming more clear. It was Gregor. I mean, not GREGOR, but, you know, Gregor. Metaphorically. Because a man can die for stupid reasons. He can drown in pursuit of cookies. He can tumble off a balcony after learning something scandalous about his father, while wondering if it would be best if he never got a chance to lead the Empire astray. He wasn’t literally dead, but he had sort of gone inert.

There is no more reason for Gregor to be alive than there was for the man in the drain to be dead. It’s not just this incident, in which Gregor only has to survive himself, but a series of incidents beginning early in his life in which Gregor’s survival was anything but certain. And having somehow landed on his feet on Komarr, there was no reason for him to move on from there to any adventure more significant than a night out on Komarr. That alone could have been thrilling, both for him and for several media outlets in your empire. It might even have been fun. But oddly, he pursued adventure, rather than a few hours of freedom, because the height of his ambition was actually something smaller.

When Miles asked how Gregor wanted to be involved in the upcoming battle against the Cetagandans, Gregor asked to be a lieutenant with a handful of men to command. This is almost exactly Miles’s own ambition. I can’t say for certain who may have had a major influence on both of these boys to teach them that being a soldier is the highest form of service, but it is a short list of candidates. Miles made Gregor turn the request down for himself; His ability to make others take on responsibilities that they don’t want is very impressive not only for someone his age (which is Gregor’s minus five years) but for someone Gregor has known all of his life. Miles is a genius at what he does—which is to keep going and convince other people that it was their idea to come with him—but surely in over 20 years of acquaintance, Gregor learned how to manipulate him back, at least a little.

Gregor certainly knows Miles very well. The moment when he boarded Miles’s flagship with Cavilo and then walked right up to his plasma cannon certainly shows his deep personal knowledge of Miles to advantage. Miles notes that the plasma cannon is not usually an indoor toy, and that it will take out one charging mercenary in space armor and the hull beyond before the others can swarm it. Surely once the hull of a spacecraft has been destroyed by friendly fire, the mercenaries that it did not hit become a moot point? I think Miles really enjoyed making outrageous dynastic threats. This scene also addresses Miles’s faith in Elena Bothari-Jesek. He is really working those childhood relationships here, and it’s amazing because, on the whole, the Vorkosigan series does little to acknowledge Miles’s existence between the ages of 5 and 17.

Miles sends Gregor back to Vervain to negotiate a treaty. I think Gregor is right to complain that this is very boring. Aral seems to agree that this is unnecessarily safe, because the climax of this chapter features the Prince Serg impaling a Cetagandan cruiser on its unusually long gravitic imploder lance. Nice move there, co-commander Gregor! This is the fourth space battle in our epic space opera. I’m particularly interested in the comparisons between this one, which highlights Aral’s tactical brilliance, and the Escobar war, which was more of a mad secret scramble in the dark. Serg and Vorrutyer had command of the Escobar invasion, and while Serg has been transformed into a hero after his death, I notice that Vorrutyer has not. Aral was just in charge of the contingency planning at Escobar. Nonetheless, I think the similarities between the campaigns and the risks involved must be alarming. I believe Aral is going to address these issues in chapters 17 and 18. In the moment, we see them from Miles’s side. Miles is deeply invested in the glamour of the Prince Serg, as well as the glories of battle.

The Vorkosigan Reread is taking a break next week because your reread blogger is moving. We will be back in the New Year with chapters 17 and 18!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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