Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Brothers in Arms, Chapters 3-4

The Warrior’s Apprentice got me into the Vorkosigan Saga, but Brothers in Arms got me hooked. I don’t want to get too bogged down in the literary analysis here—these are the chapters where Miles proves that he can show us a real good time. I’m not sure he proves that he can show Elli a real good time, but I’m good.

This reread has an index, which you can consult if you feel like exploring previous books and chapters. 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.

SUMMARY

The Dendarii set fire to a liquor store, and Miles and Elli go on a date.

COMMENTARY

OH YEAH, IT’S THOSE CHAPTERS. If you have ever recommended this series to anyone, it’s likely that you had this sequence in mind when you did. A lot of writers would take these two set pieces and spread them out across a larger number of chapters. Bujold is not afraid to spend her comedic genius.

Chapter 3 starts with Miles explaining his personal background, and his relationship to Ivan, to the wife of the Lord Mayor of London at a diplomatic reception. Why is Miles even at a diplomatic reception? He was ordered to be by his superior officer, who would like him to make pleasant conversation, charm guests, and report back on anything interesting he hears. Galeni has uttered kind words about Ivan’s aptitude for this work. Galeni would also like to keep Miles off the streets. But as the reception is winding down, Miles gets an emergency call from Elli. Some of the Dendarii are holed up in a liquor store, and the police are responding. Miles is the closest Dendarii officer. So obviously, he changes into his Dendarii uniform, and gets Ivan to help camouflage his exit from the reception. They deploy a pretty girl against the guards, and they both roll 20 for diversion. Sylveth is the attractive daughter of the Lord Mayor of London. She has silver-blonde hair, a color I am sure I would know if I ever saw it but really can’t imagine. Her character development doesn’t get a lot of attention here, so I’m going to speculate that she is deeply interested in galactic diplomacy with a focus on industry, innovation, and infrastructure, and she’s planning a career in civil engineering. In her spare time, she’s a recreational biathlete. Nice to meet you, Sylveth—thanks for your help with the door!

Bujold neglects Sylveth because we are following Miles, who is headed towards the drunken Dendarii and the liquor store where they have holed up. Miles tries to downplay the situation with the London Metropolitan Police, but they aren’t having any—the Dendarii have taken a hostage. So. That’s not great. Danio seems to be the ringleader. He’s got a pistol with notches on it for each time he kills someone. Xaveria is along for the ride. He distinguished himself at Dagoola. Somehow. They have a third companion who has a name, and who is completely out of his head—Miles thinks he’s been combining his alcohol with something else. That seems plausible. There seems to have been a little problem with credit cards that prevented the boys from acquiring more liquor in a legal and approved kind of way, and being very very drunk, they responded with weapons drawn. The hostage—the shopkeeper—has been tied up with Xaveria’s pants; The Dendarii certainly are resourceful. Miles talks them into surrendering peacefully and walks them outside to the police. A nice night’s work for the Little Admiral! But then the shop bursts into flames. Miles runs back inside to rescue the shopkeeper (still tied up). This leads to the exciting television coverage of Miles running out of the liquor store with his uniform on fire. It’s on, like, ALL the channels.

Television coverage is a notable feature of the Vorkosigan series on two other occasions—once when Cordelia kicks Steady Freddie, and once when Jole’s shirt catches fire in a hail of flaming leeches. Miles’s dramatic exit from the liquor store holds its own.

Miles now needs a clean uniform. And he needs to figure out what went wrong with the credit cards. He needs to be on his own ship, in orbit. Elli, freshly arrived on Earth’s surface, takes Miles and heads back to the Ariel. Items of plot significance here:

  • Miles’s fleet surgeon treats his muscle spasm with the GOOD drugs. Miles is kind of high for the rest of the night. Not Danio’s-third-party-friend high. But high.
  • Miles meets with his accountant.

I’m just a humble history teacher, and all I know about accounting is that the guy who invented double-entry bookkeeping was probably also Leonardo Da Vinci’s lover. But I do KNOW some accountants, and my sister offered some unsolicited thoughts on Vicky Bone’s standards and practices. Apparently, what Ms. Bone is proposing to do with concealing outstanding liens, ownership, and depreciation to use the Ariel as collateral for a loan violates some rules. We speculate that the rules might be different on Jackson’s Whole, which is where the Dendarii are chartered out of. Anyway, Miles and Vicky agree on a highly questionable plan of action that involves lying to a lot of people in order to address the Dendarii’s financial liabilities. It’s fun to charter an accountant.

And with that settled, Miles and Elli go on a date. Shopping!

QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK BEFORE GOING ON A DATE WITH LT. LORD MILES NAISMITH VORKOSIGAN:

  • Can you provide security at the same time?
  • Do you have a breath mint? What about a safe house?
  • How is your checking account balance?
  • Are you rated for heavy ordnance?
  • What will you say if he asks you to marry him?

Back in the moment, Elli is entranced by a cat blanket, which she wants to rub all over her skin. It’s “the very latest in biomechanical feedback systems” which is to say IT’S ALIVE. Miles almost buys Elli the cat blanket, but wouldn’t you know, he’s left his wallet in his other pants. Elli has to buy it for herself. He sure knows how to show a girl a good time. Elli isn’t bothered. Probably because IT’S THE BEST CAT BLANKET. People, I am not at all safe around the consumer goods of the Galactic Nexus. I’m riding around in my force bubble float chair with my mini-unicorn and my cat blanket. We live on butterbug milkshakes. No milkshakes for the cat blanket, obviously—you recharge that in a microwave at low power. You’re jealous.

Miles is entranced by Elli. There’s some kissing in a float tube (Miles thinks of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”—WHOSE VIRGINITY WILL THE WORMS BE TRYING, MILES?) and a lot more kissing in the street car. How high is Miles? At one point, he thinks he hallucinates his Barrayaran uniform on his reflection. HOW WEIRD IS THAT? He chalks it up to the drugs. I know I said these were the good drugs, but the Dendarii surgeon is not handing out anything with street value for muscle spasms, even to the Admiral. HI MARK!!! Somehow, in the chaos, Miles winds up going home with the cat blanket that Elli bought.

In one of the most stunning romantic letdowns in literature, Miles wakes up in the morning to find that he is being strangled by the cat blanket. Underwear-clad Ivan, toothbrush in mouth, pets it while echoing the words Elli used—“You want to rub it all over your skin!” What does this reveal?

  • The cat blanket has universal appeal, even though it seems like it might eat people in their sleep.
  • The embassy has Miles and Ivan sharing a room. That sounds dangerous.
  • Miles leads a hard life, rife with sexual frustration.

Bujold closes the loop for us with another diplomatic reception, at which Miles encounters a reporter from the liquor store incident and makes up a cover story about Admiral Naismith being his clone. He is confident that everyone will be pleased with this.

Next week, Miles is going to propose to Elli, which is exactly as fantastic a plan as you think it is. He’s also going to apply for a loan, and someone is going to try to smoosh him with a cargo container.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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