Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Memory, Chapters 5 and 6

One of the many things I appreciate about Memory is that Miles’s character-shaping important mistakes are in the early chapters. He’s already shot himself in both feet (and Vorberg just below the knees) by not telling his ImpSec doctors about his seizures, not seeking medical attention for his seizures, not telling his second-in-command about his seizures, personally leading troops into combat despite his seizures, and falsifying a report to cover up his seizures. He also cut off Vorberg’s legs and argued with Quinn. There’s just one mistake left, and he already started making it when he falsified the report. He’ll finish the job in chapter six.

Before that—Duv Galeni goes on a date.

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.

Gregor is holding a party at the palace. Miles brings Delia Koudelka, and Galeni brings Laisa Toscane. Duv drives because even Denial Boy thinks he shouldn’t be doing that until he has the seizures under control. Miles’s brief conversation with Delia suggests that he has squired her to other palace events, and that she and Miles regard each other as siblings. Laisa is a Komarran woman who works for a shipping syndicate that has offices on Barrayar. She is wealthy, brilliant and well-educated. Also stunningly beautiful. Gregor takes immediate notice.

That last part is maybe not a welcome addition to Duv’s evening. Duv has been working hard to use the opportunities inherent in military service as a means of acquiring upward social mobility. Which is to say, Duv is the kind of guy who uses his kind of Marxist PhD thesis on the Barrayaran military as a route to social mobility for the non-Vor as a completely non-revolutionary instruction manual. I respect that, as I respect the dancing skills Duv has acquired as part of the process. I can see that Duv has thought about Laisa and her desires, because he hands her a straight line about shipping during dinner. The problem is that Duv is thinking about Laisa’s career ambitions, not her romantic ones. She wants to be swept off her feet. He doesn’t say it, but I’m pretty sure Duv sees romance as the bait laid to trap women into undermining their careers. This relationship is doomed. I’m grateful that it ends without us having to think badly of either party, because I admire Duv’s dry and biting wit. I don’t know Laisa well, but she is the kind of person who knows exactly how long to lobby her conquering emperor before tactfully changing the subject. She is flawless.

Neither Miles nor Duv would buy their lady-love (or any other gender flavor of love) a commercially-produced Cetagandan mini-unicorn. Gregor wouldn’t either, because of Barrayar’s history of Cetagandan invasion. Gregor would fund a project to look into the possibility of producing mini-unicorns domestically. He dances with Laisa three times, and laughs at her jokes. I don’t think we need to ask why she chooses an armchair instead of the couch when Miles offers her and Galeni drinks at Vorkosigan House. Miles wishes he had only uncovered the sofa. Newsflash Miles: Laisa can also move dust covers.

Gregor’s party is the highlight of Miles’s week. His orders are to hold himself ready to report on an hour’s notice, so he’s hanging around Vorkosigan House trying to guess when Illyan will call him. While he’s waiting, Ivan gets promoted to captain. The rank of captain has been the height of several people’s military ambitions. As with his dating experience, most of Miles’s leadership experience has taken place off-planet. I think this is a reasonable moment to point out that Miles has made an interesting choice about military rank—he sees the Admiralcy he gave himself as false and his Barrayaran Lieutenancy as real, instead of seeing all military rank as fantasy and the rank he gave himself just as valid as any other. Miles is his father’s son, and he will never abandon Barrayar.

An attachment to his native planet won’t make it easy to walk away from Naismith and the Dendarii. Ever timely, Ivan calls to remind Miles just how little Barrayar appreciates him. Ivan has been promoted to captain, and Miles has not. Ivan doesn’t mean to cause pain. He just wants to celebrate his promotion with his cousin, whose record of ship duty, combat, and command would be the envy of most of the Barrayaran officer corps, were it not highly classified. Miles’s little slice-and-dice job on Vorberg is also highly classified. Miles is not currently seeing the silver lining.

When I realized I would be writing about the scene in Illyan’s office this week, I thought about being sad. I decided against it—this particular sadness is beyond my abilities in the current political climate. I will miss the Dendarii, but a commander who slices up the hostage he is rescuing because he failed to respect his own limitations probably should face significant career consequences. Vorberg is probably facing significant career and personal consequences from having his legs sliced off and then reattached—trauma, medical leave, getting all his pants shortened. He’s the real victim here. Neither Miles nor Illyan mentions him in the office scene. Under the circumstances, honorable discharge for medical reasons is a kind and fair end to Miles’s military career. Millions of other discharged veterans have managed to find something else to do, and very few of them had anything like Miles’s resources at their disposal. All this means is that Miles has to seriously consider the non-military options he’s been ignoring since he was five. He’s going to be fine. Eventually.

He will not be fine next week. That’s fair, too. Just because he’s not giving up everything doesn’t mean he hasn’t suffered a terrible loss. Tune in next week for Miles’s very serious depressive episode, and lunch at the palace.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.



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