Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Memory, Chapters 1-4

In Mirror Dance, Mark ruined what passed for his life and then found a better path. In Memory, Miles is freshly cryo-revived, so now it’s his turn!

The tradition in this reread blog is that we kick off the new book by examining some book covers. What does Memory have in store for us?

Note: 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.

Memory has some reminders of how little I know about Barrayaran military insignia, for starters. I know you get some tabs to pin to your shirt collar when you get promoted (“May I, Lieutenant? For my pleasure.”) Barrayar kind of loses me on things like colors and shapes, and the insignia featured in the lower left hand corner of this cover don’t look like Horus eyes to me. But I’m going to assume they are, and I’m going to assume that those somehow represent a captain’s rank, because I have decided that this silhouette is Simon Illyan’s. That’s why it’s totally cool that none of the stuff inside this head happens inside this book; No cities burn to the ground, no shuttles crash, I think it’s possible that someone gets shot but I can’t recall a specific incident (other than Miles’s seizure), and Alys Vorpatril isn’t a redhead. I am completely befuddled by Ms. Pouty Lips.

The cover for the Kindle edition is comparatively understated. Once again, we’re looking at Simon Illyan. This time, things are leaving his head. It’s very dignified. Where these Kindle covers miss the mark, I usually feel it’s because they’re a little boring.

In the interests of giving credit where it is due, the Kindle edition isn’t as boring as this German cover, which features a character I have never even heard of before—who is this blond kid?—and which would also work as a cover for any story that has an army vaguely near it.

The Estonian cover, by Toomas Nicklus, looks like it was intended for a book about an airfield in the Second World War.

The Japanese cover is a beautifully rendered image of something that absolutely does not happen in the book. I’m including it because I think that might be Elli Quinn on the lower left. Given an opportunity to draw a physically fit brunette woman with stunning facial features, a shocking number of artists have opted to draw space ships or something instead. She’s on some covers of Ethan of Athos, and some covers of Brothers in Arms, and Esad Ribic put her on the back cover of Mirror Dance, although I was dismayed by his decision to focus on her torso. (I’m sure it’s a very nice torso, but that’s not what Bujold has described as her most notable feature.) In total fairness, that’s almost all of the books she appears in. This is her last personal appearance in the books, so it’s the last time there’s an excuse to put her on a book cover. I’m struggling with that.

I’m super-critical of all of these because I have fallen in love with the Czech version.

If Martina Pilcerova’s painting of Miles holding a knife to his throat is too pretty, it is because the drama and use of color draw on the pre-Raphealite movement. Pilcerova has also created a moment that isn’t precisely in the story, but she honors its emotional heart. Her Miles is like a sexy Hamlet. That’s not in the story either, but again, I think it honors its emotional heart.

 * * *

The first four chapters of Memory feature Miles making every possible mistake. He leads a combat squad rescuing a kidnapped ImpSec courier, has a seizure in the middle of the action, and cuts off Lt. Vorberg’s legs with his plasma arc. Elli Quinn was his second-in-command on the mission, but he didn’t tell her about his seizure issues before he became an emergency. He didn’t tell anyone in the upward portion of his chain of command either, because he didn’t want to be stuck in a desk job. He puts together a mission report that leaves out all mention of seizures because he still doesn’t want a desk job. He argues with Elli Quinn about it because she is a rational adult. Quinn very rightly points out that Illyan has agents in the Dendarii Fleet, and word is likely to get back to him. Elli’s tone in the scene suggests to me that she will send word herself if Illyan’s agents don’t. I agree with her—commanders with uncontrolled seizures should have the sense to run operations from a safe distance with appropriate backup. And, you know, to get their seizures under control rather than crossing their fingers and hoping the seizure fairy is busy elsewhere today.

Miles’s attitude in re the relative virtues of combat and desks has a longer history in popular culture. Captain Kirk also subscribed to the philosophy that taking a desk job was, in essence, giving up on life. Aral and Cordelia would have had Things To Say about this if Miles had mentioned it to them. Both of them did a lot of meaningful work after leaving the line. They might have sent Miles to have a conversation with Koudelka, whose nerve disruptor injury made him unfit for combat at what turned out to be the beginning of his career. I’ve referred to Kipling several times in the course of this reread, so I feel justified in pointing out that Kipling also said things about seizures, although in a very different context—“Epileptic fits don’t matter in Political employ” (“The Post That Fitted,” 1886). It’s a decent poem, with fascinating ironic relevance to a book where a character ruins his life by trying to pretend that he’s not epileptic. You should read it, if you’re not familiar. The blog post will be here when you get back.

The poem’s discussion of romantic infidelity is also relevant to Memory’s early chapters. Miles is abruptly summoned home. Since he has lately argued with Elli, he brings Sgt. Taura as his bodyguard. He’s still sleeping with her. Miles has many excuses for this; He and Elli have never made vows or promises, his relationship with Taura predates his one with Quinn.

Yeah, nice try. If you have to hide one partner from the other partner, lest someone feel aggrieved and betrayed, you’re not being fair. And Miles isn’t being fair to Taura either. He’s Taura’s knight in shining armor, but only when they’re alone, and not anywhere near Barrayar. Miles is desperate to find any woman in the universe who he can bring home to Barrayar, as long as that woman isn’t Taura. I could live with that—Barrayar can barely accept Miles and Mark—if Miles spent a single second’s emotion on the fact that Taura probably would take on Barrayar if he asked her to, and it would be a horrible waste of her short and precious life. They do have a nice dinner. There are a lot of dinners in this book, even in the first four chapters.

On his return to Vorbarr Sultana, Miles delivers his doctored report to ImpSec Headquarters and finds Illyan away. He’s sent home on leave, but told to hold himself ready to report on short notice. This begins an idle section where Miles tries to sort out independent adulthood outside the context of his personal mercenary fleet; Miles starts doing ordinary things. He runs into Duv Galen in the elevator and exchanges greetings. Duv is seeing someone. How nice. Miles goes home to Vorkosigan House and notices that the gate guard is keeping a cat. Miles gets a little drunk. Miles goes to the corner store and buys cat food and TV dinners—Barrayaran TV dinners come with exclamation points. The shopkeeper accuses Miles of being a bachelor. Miles and Ivan find some people to invite to one of the Emperor’s parties. These are such fun slice of life moments, this little calm in the eye of Miles’s storm.

Remember in The Vor Game, when Miles found a man dead in a drain pipe? That was shortly before Miles faced a moment of decision that had serious consequences for his military career. Somewhere in the course of that book, Admiral Naismith stuffed Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan in a closet. In these first four chapters of Memory, the Lieutenant has escaped and kiled Admiral Naismith. It wasn’t staged as dramatically as Killer coming out and kicking Baron Ryoval in the larynx. The Lieutenant started plotting this murder shortly before he got over his cryo-revival amnesia and Naismith hasn’t yet discovered his own corpse.

This blog post would not be complete without mention of Elena and Baz Bothari-Jesek, who have left their lord’s service to pursue parenthood and civilian life. Elena is expecting a girl. Miles declined to be a complete idiot about it, which was clearly a struggle for him. The Koudelka daughters also get a mention, foreshadowing the significant roles they will play in this book and in A Civil Campaign.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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