In chapter 10 of Cetaganda, Miles and Ivan go to the Ghem ladies’ science fair. The Haut ladies have their own separate affair, privately in the Celestial Garden, and all of their projects are humans. Cetaganda is a really creepy place in this chapter. The plot details: Protocol Officer Voreedi accompanies Miles and Ivan; Yenaro tries to kill them with a carpet and an Orange Julius—he fails; Miles fails to meet up with Rian (almost being killed by Yenaro slowed him up). DOWN TO BUSINESS.
Miles has taken several memorable shopping trips in the course of the series. He has purchased a used RG Freighter, weapons and supplies, a mercenary company, more weapons and supplies, cat food, TV dinners, a lava lamp and some jewelry. I’m certain this is not an exhaustive list. His shopping trips are either very boring or very memorable. Miles does not go shopping in Cetaganda, which I didn’t miss the first time I read it, but now I think it’s a missed opportunity. Shopping is a great way to get to know an alien culture. His shopping trip in Komarr does not offer the same opportunity, because Komarr is basically Amsterdam in space, and not all that alien. The Cetagandans are human, I know, but their society is really not human-familiar from my particular 21st century Terran perspective. They’re the logical extreme of what you can do with uterine replicators. Although Miles is not shopping and the science fair is not a commercial event, I spotted some excellent things that he could have bought.
LIKE THE MINI-UNICORN. It’s with a little girl. It’s not even an exhibit! Miles thinks that it could be a commercial product. AND WHAT DO WE DO WHEN SOMEONE HAS A COMMERCIALLY-PRODUCED MINI-UNICORN, MILES? Apparently, if you’re Miles, you look the other way and wander on over to the kitten tree. BECAUSE WTF MILES??? This, right here, is the answer to at least part of Miles’s romantic difficulties. Why doesn’t an individual whose many qualities are as obvious as Miles’s have a girlfriend? BECAUSE HE PASSED UP THE CETAGANDAN MINI-UNICORN. It was being walked on a leash! By a small child! It’s obviously totally civilized! It could cavort with Fat Ninny in the pastures at Vorkosigan Surleau. Unicorns are great companion animals. I neither know nor care whether it is legal to import Cetagandan livestock into the Barrayaran Empire. Miles knows people. This is what connections are for. How big a fine could the unicorn possibly incur? Is that fine more or less than the cost of a used RG Freighter plus supplies for a supercargo of six? Because Miles could afford that out of his discretionary vacation allowance, back in The Warrior’s Apprentice. Not buying a unicorn means that Miles also does not talk with any members of the Cetagandan working class, continuing their complete and total absence from the book. We have food that is cooked, carpets that are made of dangerous chemicals, and hair that is elaborately styled in the complete absence of people who cook food, make carpets that burst into flame when exposed to asterzine, and style hair. DO NOT EVEN TRY TO TELL ME THE GHEM LADIES STYLE THEIR OWN HAIR. I read the book, that hair is not a DIY project.
Although force bubble float chairs are not featured in this chapter, Miles obviously should have bought one of those as well. Force bubble float chairs are a good time. I would fly around in mine with my pet mini-unicorn in my bunny slippers and pajamas, and no one would ever know. Me and my unicorn would be a floaty Easter Egg of fun, flying over Vorbarr Sultana like a hipster post-modern fairy, distributing free books and fortified milkshakes to the children of the caravanserei, and letting people use our mobile wifi hotspot to access educational services and watch the news. We would be a force for good, and it wouldn’t matter if we looked good doing it, because the force bubble can be set to opaque. Are force bubble float chairs culturally appropriate on Barrayar? Yes, they obviously are. Light flyers and float cars have bubbles that can be mirrored or set to opaque. They also float. The float chair is like a smaller version—a magic Vespa. And the battery life is really very impressive. How do they ever get the Haut women out to be married to the Ghem? You couldn’t pry my force bubble float chair from my cold dead hands. I’m taking that thing with me to the grave. Where it is the ideal way to address my fear of being buried alive.
I also, of course, spotted some things to not buy. “Lady Benello’s sister’s pretties” consist of fabric that changes scent depending on the mood of the wearer. That sounds like a great way to experience five different allergic reactions in a single evening. Who would want that? I suppose the Haut have found the gene for allergic rhinitis and eliminated it from the Cetagandan gene pool, and if so, that is certainly an enormous service to Cetaganda. Miles has a dramatic history with hay fever, so humanity still suffers.
I would also not buy the kitten tree. It’s cute in someone else’s garden, if you don’t have to think about it too hard. But trees are a lot of work to plant, you have to dig an enormous hole, they don’t bear fruit for 3-5 years, and then there’s the pruning and thinning. Which is absolutely mandatory if you don’t want your lawn littered with the rotting corpses of weak, undersized kittens. I’m also a huge advocate of spaying and neutering, and growing kittens on a tree seems like an express ticket to over-population. Not that regular feline reproduction isn’t also an express ticket to over-population—feline reproduction runs on multiple express routes. That said, Ivan complaints about the tree seem rooted not so much in the idea of a kitten tree as in his concerns that he is being sexually exploited by the women of the Ghem. Which he is. He has been a willing participant, up to a point, but he’s starting to worry that the Ghem aren’t into him because of his many fine qualities, but because of their own petty competitive urges. Which they are. Miles makes a point of needling Ivan about it because of his own petty competitive urges. His failure to purchase a pet unicorn is not Miles’s only personal failing here.
In addition to using his personality as an anti-Ivan needler, Miles is still keeping a lot of information from his superiors. This will come back to haunt him next week, when Ghem-Colonel Benin requests a second interview and Voreedi sits in.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.