Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Brothers in Arms, Chapters 11 and 12

Last week, Miles and Galeni were in Komarran custody with little chance of escape. They tried anyway—it didn’t go well. This section opens in Miles’s nightmares; In the aftermath of Dagoola, Miles is consumed by his efforts to prevent others from sacrificing themselves for him. His parents sacrificed his potential siblings when he was a child, and now Galen wants to sacrifice Mark. It’s understandable that Miles is preoccupied with this, and difficult to deal with while he’s locked up. This week, Miles and Duv have a chance to deal with their problems—they go from the fire back into the frying pan, at least for a little bit.

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.

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Having thoroughly annoyed their Komarran captors in their escape attempt, Miles and Duv are on the brink of being stunned and dropped into the ocean—a fate reminiscent of los desaparecidos during the Dirty War in Argentina—when Elli Quinn canters in.

In fairness, this is one of the rare occasions when Quinn moves and is NOT actually described as “cantering.” Quinn canters a lot, though, often while carrying large weapons. Cantering is a form of movement that somehow manages to combine elegance and the efficient movement of heavy ordnance, and I will always think of it when I think of her. Although she’s a fixed point in the combat choreography here, Quinn does get an exciting action-movie entrance, complete with dramatic quips (“Wait!” “What for?” “Me!”) and she is incredibly timely. She was not aware that she would be rescuing Miles—she’s surprised to see him. Once everyone is back at the embassy, Ivan is also surprised to see Miles, because the London police have picked up Miles Vorkosigan on suspicion of trying to murder Miles Naismith. Ivan didn’t pick up on the clone thing either; He thought Miles was acting oddly (for Miles) but since he knew Miles had made the clone story up himself, he had no reason to believe it. Mark is clearly a very skilled imposter, but not a perfect one.

Mark is going to stay off stage because when Miles tries to spring him from the pokey, he finds that Ser Galen already came and got him—he identified himself as Duv Galeni. I don’t feel good about this for Mark. Galen knows that Mark defied him by interrogating Miles, and he sees Mark as having failed, probably damaging the Komarran plot in the process. While that conspiracy is nigh-impossibly ridiculous, it was very expensive, and Ser Galen made a great many personal sacrifices for it. I don’t like to imagine what’s happening to Mark, and I feel some urgency about the matter of his rescue.

I think possibly in a different book, this would be a dramatic parallel to Cordelia’s rescue of infant Miles. Had we but world enough and time, news would reach Cordelia on Barrayar. I am obsessed with what’s happening off stage this week. Cordelia is in the middle of a significant off-stage interlude, during which I presume she is building schools, opening hospitals, fund-raising for her philanthropic foundations, and lobbying the Council of Counts. I can see why she’s doing this off stage because while it’s important work, it lacks dramatic urgency. I know—because Miles thoughtfully reminded me just a chapter or two ago, and because I’ve read Gentleman Jole—that her reproductive ambitions are on hold. I can imagine Cordelia taking a sabbatical from her political projects and carrying out Mark’s rescue herself, perhaps with Drou and a detachment of Vorkosigan Armsmen. Drou could hold Ser Galen by the throat while Cordelia sticks a fork in his eye, makes him tell her where Mark is, and then lights something on fire. I think Mark would find this alarming. It certainly would be a very different start to his life of freedom than the one he is currently heading towards. I’d like to stick a pin in these thoughts for next week, when we can consider fire vs. water and the role of Ivan.

This week, Miles’s assessment of the urgency of the Mark’s rescue is escalated by the arrival of Commodore Destang from Tau Ceti. Destang is here to resolve the issue of how communications between Earth and Sector headquarters were subverted and manipulated by the courier, who had been compromised by the Komarrans. Bujold refers to Cold War-era patterns of espionage here, because that’s when she wrote the book. But of course, I’m rereading it now. Great fiction is always relevant, and it’s an interesting week to be pondering the power of kompromat.

Famously, Aral gives Imperial Military Academy cadets a class in refusing illegal orders. Destang has come to Earth prepared to conduct advanced seminar in how to give an illegal order. He’s inclined to favor simple solutions—a quick cutting of the Gordian knot that is, unfortunately, Mark. Destang fails to appreciate Miles’s priorities. These cross-purposes trigger Miles’s tendency towards legalistic argument. Mark has never set foot on Barrayar, thus he is not a Barrayaran subject and not bound by Barrayaran law. He has committed no crimes over which Barrayar can claim jurisdiction, and he is almost definitely a minor. If Mark is a Barrayaran subject, he is Vor, and is entitled to be tried for his crimes by the full Council of Counts. Respecting Mark’s rights poses some significant problems for Barrayar’s security and for Miles’s cover as Admiral Naismith that Destang would prefer to avoid. He reassures Miles that he has no intention of ordering Miles to kill Mark. Destang is accompanied by subordinates whose view of the situation is well-aligned with his own. Communications between Earth and Barrayar are demonstrably too slow for Miles to appeal to higher powers. Illyan has been looking for the Dendarii, probably because he has a new mission for them, and it’s sure to be important AND exciting. They don’t have time to think about how Sector Command is going to deal with the Komarran Resistance!

Destang is new here, so he’s not prepared to deal with Miles’s ability to multi-task. Miles does sometimes try to juggle too many competing projects, but he’s perfectly capable of walking and chewing gum. Destang has also failed to account for the other individual with inconvenient relatives in this situation. Galeni is in a precarious position because of his father’s involvement and his failure to report to his superiors when his father contacted him. Through no fault of Galeni’s, Destang is working to turn Galeni into the stereotype Miles suspected him of being when they first met. If it’s not Destang’s explicit intention to keep Galeni too busy answering for his father’s crimes to worry about seventeen-year-old clones, his demands of Galeni certainly hint at that as a desirable side-effect. But Galeni is, if anything, more capable of multitasking than Miles. He’s also admirably skilled at speaking in code. Miles and Galeni exchange promises and reassurances about their assorted inconvenient relations as Destang dispatches Miles to retrieve his mercenaries.

Next week—Destang finds Mark, but not soon enough for Ivan.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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