Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Mirror Dance, Chapters 6 and 7

Somewhere in the Vorkosigan universe, Ethan is presenting a newborn son to a grateful father. Cordelia, Jole and Aral are falling ever deeper in love. The Koudelka girls are having cozy chats with their mother about baking cakes, Ma Kosti is packing lunches for her sons, Lem Ksurick is building a hydroelectric power station, Simon Illyan and Lady Alys are exchanging knowing glances, and Bothari lies at peace at the foot of an empty grave.

In our corner of the world, Mark has just proven himself the inept twin. He’s not going to hold exclusive claim to the title for long.

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.

In chapter 6, Miles comes to the rescue. He plays the part of the angry big brother—dismissive of Mark’s strategy even while trying to salvage his objectives, delaying tough conversations for later. And then he gets shot. In chapter 7, Quinn dumps an injured trooper out of the cryo unit and cuts Miles’s throat to drain his blood. Quinn has long declined the role of Lady Vorkosigan, with the biological responsibilities that role implies, but clearly not because biology is too messy. She is pragmatic, ruthless, and up to her elbows in Miles’s blood. Taura makes bodies rain down from the sky by way of assistance. A little later on, Mark will note that Miles’s girlfriends are terrifying. Miles does not seem to have been wasting his time with anyone who can’t handle being his personal last line of defense.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cordelia this week, and about her beliefs. If you choose an action, she says, you choose a consequence. If you desire a consequence, you should choose your action accordingly. Miles chose to be a soldier, and he chose to be a mercenary, an admiral, and an ImpSec agent. He chose to serve his emperor. Everyone dies one day—that’s a thing that happens, and it’s not a choice. Miles chose to die in action. He made that choice well before he met Mark, so I am not blaming Mark for it, although Miles’s choices regarding Mark have contributed to Miles dying this way, on Jackson’s Whole, while rescuing Mark and a dwindling handful of clones. When I first read Mirror Dance, Miles’s death was shocking. It’s still shocking, I just think it really shouldn’t be. This has always been the trajectory Miles is on. A few chapters back, I identified Mark as the suicidal one. I also said that personality traits aren’t property. Miles has been headed towards his own grisly demise for a long time. He’s just kind of lost control of when and how.

As a note of personal interest, two of the Dendarii troopers are named Framingham and Norwood, after towns in Massachusetts. Bujold did a reading at the Borders in Framingham several months before Mirror Dance was published (back when there was a Borders in Framingham—it had the best Italian sodas) and I always assumed she got the names from signage on route 9, and look how good I am at not thinking about Miles being dead! In addition to being dead, Miles is MISSING and no one knows it until the Dendarii are back in space. At the moment, this is a mystery, so we will be discussing Miles’s fate later, and it will be both horrible and amazing.

Now, we have a small handful of clones, the remnants of green, blue, and yellow squads, and plans to dock at Fell Station. As it becomes apparent that Miles is not on either of the escaping Dendarii shuttles, Quinn imposes a communications blackout so she can work on the current state of emergency. Quinn has already made massive sacrifices to save Miles: She dumped one of her comrades out of the cryo-unit—destroying her chance of survival—in order to pack Miles in the ice. She’s not going to stop now.

Bujold has laid out the story carefully so we can see the risks of cryo-revival. Miles might make a complete recovery. Alternately, he could die, or he could survive with brain damage that causes massive personality changes. He might lose his memory. He might not remember Quinn. Quinn is willing to take all of these risks. She will stop at nothing to ensure that Miles has every possible chance at survival. She needs to have an admiral to cover for her attempts to rescue her admiral. She has someone who looks a lot like him. Her decision to use Mark to impersonate Naismith is one of the worst things that could happen to Mark; He’s in the process of trying to create himself, and she’s stopping him. Quinn is adding herself to the list of Mark’s torturers.

Quinn has refused to marry Miles for years now, because of her career ambitions. The inevitability of impermanence sometimes makes her feelings seem shallow. Miles’s ongoing relationship with Taura suggests that he might not take Quinn seriously either; Polyamorous relationships are not covert ops! Quinn’s actions now clearly demonstrate her feelings. She is not ready to let go of Miles. When we started Mirror Dance, I admitted that I haven’t reread it in ages, and I can’t recall how this book ends in regard to their relationship. Right now, I feel like Quinn is on the brink of a sacrifice that parallels the one Bel is making. Bel has sacrificed their career to pursue a fondly held but poorly planned ambition. Although she doesn’t yet realize it, Quinn has just set foot on the path of losing her relationship with Miles. How strong is that parallel? I’m going to have to do a lot more re-reading to find out.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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