Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Brothers in Arms, Chapters 9 and 10

Chapters 9 and 10 of Brothers in Arms are like Frankenstein. Ser Galen has created a monster, and he is in the process of losing control of it. Miles is always at his best on a rescue mission; This section begins his efforts to rescue his baby brother.

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.


Ser Galen interrogates Miles with fast penta. This does not go as expected. Miles and Galeni discuss their situation further. Miles meets his clone.


I understand why some readers would prefer to think that Ser Galen had not intentionally killed his older son in the process of faking his own death. I would also wish that no one was that evil. However, it is indisputable that, shortly after faking his own death (however he did it), Ser Galen commissioned the creation of a clone whose purpose was to destabilize the Barrayaran Empire from within. And, at the time the clone was commissioned, it was the clone of a medically fragile six-year-old boy. Why would you believe that a man would order the laboratories of Jackson’s Whole to clone a six-year-old for future regime destabilizing purposes, and then order the ongoing mutilation of that child because the bone damage that makes Miles so distinctive was not genetic, and NOT believe that Ser Galen would also kill his own son? It makes sense to me that Ser Galen would kill anyone whose death he felt would benefit his ultimate plan. And it makes sense to me because when we see Ser Galen, that’s what he is in the process of doing.

Galen believes that Aral Vorkosigan is a source of evil. All of Galen’s actions are justified as a reaction to Aral Vorkosigan’s seductive power. Galen is entranced by the romantic poetry of the thing—he sees Miles’s medical issues as a reflection of Aral’s moral depravity, even though he knows that Miles’s condition has nothing to do with Aral’s genes at all. In Ser Galen’s view, he has lost everything to the power of Aral’s evil. Creating the clone, like everything else Ser Galen does, is part of his noble effort to to free the Galactic Nexus of a viper of iniquity. To that end, he needs some information from Miles.

We’ve seen fast penta in use in a few of the previous novels in the series. It’s very reliable in its effects. If it doesn’t send the victim into anaphylactic shock, it induces euphoria and makes them sort of loopy and very cooperative with questioning. There’s a hell of a hangover. It works on Miles, in that it makes him talkative, but unlike most victims, he’s completely uncontrollable. It’s evident that Miles is still severely traumatized by the action at Dagoola, particularly the loss of Lieutenant Murka. Miles’s clone (who is called Miles at this point, because his whole life has been shaped by Ser Galen’s strategic needs) calls in during the interrogation. He’s concerned that Galen’s information has been incomplete—the Komarrans didn’t know about the Dendarii until very recently. The clone also complains about Ivan’s snoring and the live fur. The interrogation ends with Miles reciting all of Shakespeare’s Richard III—a play with dead brothers. Brothers are on Miles’s mind.

Galeni is interrogated the next day, despite his best efforts to force the guards to stun him instead. This prompts more reflection from Galeni on political activism. He shakes out his PhD thesis on the role of the military in Barrayaran society—it allows for what social mobility Barrayar has to offer. Galeni talks about his own goals—serving Komarr. He also talks about the importance of peace to civilian life and order; “What makes a practical difference is that there not be war.” In this, he’s a bit like Machiavelli, who suggested that if a leader does not interfere with his subjects’ land or women, they will support him over all other alternatives. Machiavelli’s strong feelings about the benefits conferred by order were shared by Metternich, and later Bismarck. Ser Galen disagrees with all of them. He sees Galeni as a collaborator. For those of you who remain uncertain about Ser Galen’s role in his older son’s death, Galeni notes, “He’s already sacrificed my brother.” I suppose you can read that statement as casual shorthand for “he took opportunistic advantage of my brother’s tragic and accidental death.” For myself, I find that reading too strained to be compelling.

This conversation flows into one about Miles’s parents, specifically his mother. Galeni is in the process of making the mistake that the uninformed make about Barrayaran politics—that women have no role in it. While this is de jure correct, women’s de facto influence is, has been, and will always be, a major force in Barrayaran politics. This is just one problem with Ser Galen’s plot, which Miles labels “intrinsically screwy.” Galen’s plan—and one that he is keeping secret from the clone, as one of its principal actors—is to create chaos on Barrayar timed to an uprising on Komarr. It’s reminiscent of the Black Hand’s efforts to destabilize Austria-Hungary, both in the high probability of collateral deaths and its chances of failure. Galen is telling the clone that he will be Emperor of Barrayar. Miles’s comments on the limits of the emperor’s power are interesting. He knows his father was present at the Dismemberment of Mad Emperor Yuri—he does not mention that his father made the first cut. I begin to feel that Miles’s exposure to history has been somewhat sanitized. If he had more information, Miles might possibly see the parallels between his own father—who lost an older brother, and who weathered Mad Yuri’s War at Piotr’s side—and Galeni’s connection to the Komarran revolt and his hopes for Komarr’s future.

Miles is more aware of other aspects of his parents protectiveness, including their decision not to have another child. Cordelia and Aral were deliberately avoiding a situation that would have intensified pressure to disinherit Miles. The dramatic fulcrum of this story is Miles’s prison-cell projection of his mother’s concern—“Miles, what have you done with your baby brother?” Cordelia drives Miles’s decisions as he faces a second interrogation, this time an illicit one carried out by the clone.

Miles wants to expose the plot so that the clone will consider alternatives, and he wants to offer some alternatives the clone could take. To this end, he gives the clone his Barrayaran name—Mark Pierre—and a list of opportunities the Vorkosigan and Naismith families would be delighted to provide for him if given half a chance. Like his brother before him, seventeen-year-old Mark functions on adolescent bravado. Twenty-five-year-old Miles urges him to look further into the future. He’s desperate to manipulate Mark into choosing to be something other than Galen’s pawn. Miles trades heavily on the mysteries of adulthood, a strategy that will be more transparent when he uses it on Nikki Vorsoisson in Komarr. It’s appearance here emphasizes Miles’s focus on the mysteries of his own future. Miles is already thinking of a time when Admiral Naismith is no more, and Count Miles Vorkosigan uses the connections he made in his Service days to carry out his political goals. Mark has not played a role in those calculations yet, but Duv Galeni has—Miles imagines him as a future viceroy of Komarr. Miles is in the process of assigning himself a string of rescues. His futile escape attempt at the end of chapter 10 is a sign of his desperation.

Next week—Quinn brings the cavalry!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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