Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Ethan of Athos, Chapters 9-10

Last week on Kline Station, Elli Quinn, Terrence Cee, and Ethan sat down to talk about Terrence’s problems, which are many. Terrence is on the run from the Cetagandans, who want to exploit his psychic powers for their intelligence operations. I assume that these operations are nefarious in nature, because, well, that’s an assumption I feel pretty comfortable making about government and corporate intelligence operations. Terrence confirms. Score one for my assumptions, which are thick on the ground in this week’s blog post.

This reread has an index, which you can consult at will, should you feel the urge. We’re covering books in reading order, so Ethan is the seventh book, rather than the third. Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.

Taking a page from something that Miles just did in the last book in reading order, but certainly had not yet done when Ethan of Athos was published in 1986, Elli proposes that Terrence send a tissue sample to every government in the galaxy. Terrence opposes this strategy because this would lead to the creation of hundreds of separate enslaved psychic minorities across the galaxy, and that would, quite understandably, make Terrence very sad. Elli also suggests that Terrence join the Dendarii, and while Ethan is very concerned that this suggestion might have a lot of appeal, Terrence is clearly pretty uninterested. However, Terrence is struggling with decision-making because he doesn’t know who to trust—he’s operating blind. As we said last week, he needs tyramine.

Tyramine is a naturally-occurring amino acid that, it turns out, occurs in ALL THE GOOD FOODS; Chocolate, wine, anything pickled or fermented, and most cheeses except neufchatel and ricotta. I don’t want to dis neufchatel, the brunch cheese of choice for people who think that the creaminess of actual cream cheese might lead to socially irresponsible rioting in the streets, but I’m personally pretty neutral on its future existence, if you know what I mean. The neufchatel manufacturers of the world can survive or not—I don’t see how that would affect me in any way, I’ll just sit over here and see what the future brings. All the good cheeses have tyramine. The sources I have consulted on teh intarwebs sort of imply that Stilton has LOTS. Maybe that’s just the reading I have taken on to justify my personal strong feelings about Stilton.

We covered this ground (Terrence’s need for tyramine, not my feelings about Stilton) last week. This week, we need to talk about consequences.


Who among us might be the ancestors of the crazed Cetagandan homeless woman whose genes were crucial to Terrence’s creation? I eat A LOT of cheese—it is definitely not me. What about the rest of you? HAVE YOU CHECKED? I recommend a weekend evening, perhaps following some healthy physical exercise to help mitigate the long-term health consequences. NOT RECOMMENDED for those of you on MAOI inhibitors or already dealing with hypertension, which tyramine can aggravate. Sorry. Elli recommends a spacesick bag, because she has no respect for the finer things in life. I do appreciate her willingness to charge the finer things in life to her Dendarii expense account, though.


In the future, how will we protect ourselves from the invasion of psychic Cetagandan super-soldiers? In Cetaganda, Miles thought that Cetaganda was embarking on a stabilizing period that would probably last a few of their long generations. At the time Miles made this speculation, he was twenty-three years old. When I was twenty-three, I thought the internet would ensure the demise of totalitarian governments. Youth is prone to error, and even long Cetagandan generations eventually end. And that’s assuming—and I think it is a fairly big assumption—that the stabilizing period had ever begun. And then what? GOOD NEWS, EARTH PEOPLE—Florida is working the problem! Florida banned tyramine as a Schedule I controlled substance in 2012. It was still on the schedule as of 2016. I haven’t heard about any attempts at enforcement, but when the day comes, Florida has a legal mechanism that will ensure our protection. From the psychic part of the invasion. If we’re in Florida.

True confessions: If the Cetagandan invasion involves consumer goods like mini-unicorns instead of military action, I will capitulate very quickly. As Cetaganda has not yet been settled, let alone begun its long generations of expansion across the Galactic Nexus, I will quite certainly be long dead by the time the invasion begins in any form, so Earth is safe. From me, anyway.

Tragically, we can’t sit in Terrance’s hotel room convivially imbibing foods high in tyramine forever. Our little idyll ends not in vomiting, but in violence, as we discover that, following his involvement in the plan to acquire tyramine in purified tablet form, Elli’s cousin Teki been picked up by the Cetagandans. Elli swings into action by calling Kline Station’s health wardens to inform them that Colonel Millisor is in the process of spreading STDs. Like RIGHT NOW. Then she heads over to Millisor’s hotel with a stunner because she never meant to put Teki in danger and because, honestly, we all love Elli Quinn as an avenging angel.

Tune in next Monday for an in-depth discussion of who gets Elli’s second stunner and why. Among other things.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


Back to the top of the page


This post is closed for comments.

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.