Last week, I included Miles’s birthday correspondence in my discussion of chapters 10 and 11. That doesn’t actually happen until the beginning of chapter 12—oops.
It’s an easy mistake to make because Memory tends to suck you in. I plan to read a couple chapters, just to make sure I’ve nailed down the boundaries of the next blog post, and the next thing I know someone is having brain surgery.
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. Non-spoiler comments should also be relevant to the discussion at hand. Like Earth, Barrayar and other places in the galactic nexus live out sets of cultural practices range from beautiful to genocidal. Regardless of what may be commonplace as a cultural practice in any place or time, comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome. Please take note.
Miles should be having brain surgery, but he hasn’t made the plans yet. Ivan—a thoughtful relative—calls Miles with contact info for three clinics, in case he prefers to avoid ImpMil in this circumstance. One clinic is in Vorbarr Sultana, one elsewhere on Barrayar, and one on Komarr, in case Miles wants greater proximity to galactic medicine and is willing to balance that against the risks of being named Vorkosigan on Komarr. This is how you know it’s science fiction; In real life, lots of relatives would have called, and the information they offered would focus on their own problems and fad diets, not clinics to consider contacting. People in books are usually only allowed to have one crazy relative at a time, and honestly, Miles doesn’t have that many relatives anyway. It’s because practically all of Aral’s family was slaughtered in the massacre that started Mad Yuri’s War, and Vordarian’s Pretendership killed the only other survivor.
Ivan also invites himself to dinner, because he knows about the spiced peach tart. Bujold has done an amazing job showing-not-telling us how great this tart is. I don’t even like peaches that much, and I would turn out for this tart. Martin interrupts dinner to inform Ivan and Miles that someone from ImpSec is on the com for them. That’s an important call, and I’ll get to it in a minute, but first I want to deal with the impression that Bujold is trying to leave in re Martin’s general incompetence. The kid is seventeen. Of course he doesn’t know how to butler, find serving utensils, announce calls and callers, drive an armored car, or handle an employer with unexplained seizures. He’s practically a baby. Martin suffers from comparison to Miles, who took over a mercenary company at age seventeen. I think Martin deserves to benefit from comparison to Miles—he seems unlikely to face charges for treason, at least for several more years. Also, I don’t know Barrayaran law well enough to be certain, but I think it’s possible that it’s only treason to have your own space mercenary company if you’re Vor.
The call is from Galeni, who is definitely feeling treasonous on this particular evening. He has some spleen to vent about information he has lately received about Gregor and Laisa. From Gregor and Laisa. Who are GETTING MARRIED!!! I knew it! I knew it when he flew the horse in from out-of-District and kissed her palm! I knew it because it was screamingly obvious! And because I’ve read this book at least four times! Nonetheless, I am almost as excited about this as I am about the third royal baby. I recognize that there is a broad spectrum of opinion about royal babies; I live on the excited end of it. That baby is going to have a name and it’s going to wear clothes, and if they have another baby after this one, Harry can marry Meghan Markle without his grandmother’s permission. These are basically the exact same reasons I’m excited about Gregor and Laisa. Their wedding is politically important. It’s a great day for the Barrayaran fashion industry, which I think we don’t hear enough about. There’s going to be fireworks! Assuming that Gregor and Laisa carry out a rational set of reproductive plans (which they will—Gregor isn’t working for the passive destruction of Barrayaran monarchy) Miles and Ivan will wind up further from the Imperial Campstool. Weddings are the nicest thing about Barrayar. IF ANYONE HAS DONE A BARRAYARAN WEDDING I WOULD LOVE TO SEE PICTURES.
Gregor asks Miles to be his Second, because a Barrayaran wedding has a sort of nodding relationship with a duel. Which they can lead to! Aral’s first marriage did, anyway. Just in case you’ve forgotten that relationships that go bad can have extremely serious consequences, and that those might be of galactic political importance in Gregor’s case. WHICH IS WHY IT TAKES TWO MORE WHOLE BOOKS TO PLAN THE WEDDING. Yes, ladies and gentleman, THIS IS SPACE OPERA!! Our heroic space commander space-commands no longer, and we’re about to embark on 2.5 novels’ worth of delayed romantic gratification! Are Gregor and Laisa waiting until the wedding? Miles and I both sincerely hope not.
Galeni isn’t feeling my glee. He’s a wounded man. I imagine that Ivan’s offer of retroactive romantic advice doesn’t make him feel any better. It wouldn’t make me feel better. Who in their right mind would take romantic advice from Ivan? Miles helpfully muses that Laisa is almost thirty. I’m glad he keeps this thought in his own head, because it’s insanely hypocritical for a guy who’s all about middle age as a movable feast, and who has a sibling made from a lump of his own somatic tissue using widely available reproductive technology, to be thinking that a woman approaching thirty must be feeling her age. SHE HAS A PHD, MILES!! That is not the life plan of a woman who intends to reproduce in her twenties! Galeni has chosen Miles as the target for his rage because he had to be polite on the com with Gregor and Laisa. And he was. If anyone needed further proof that Galeni is Miles’s friend after the ice bath thing, here it is. Galeni went in to Vorkosigan House himself to ensure Miles’s safety, and he reached out to Miles when he needed a shoulder to cry on. It was angry crying, but they’re both steeped in the Barrayaran culture of toxic masculinity—they don’t have a lot of other options.
Ivan and Miles are both press-ganged into wedding planning because of their relationships with the Barrayaran principals—Gregor the bridegroom, and Alys, the wedding planner. I imagine, though I cannot confirm, that Alys has put some prior planning into Gregor’s betrothal and wedding. She certainly knows which books Miles needs to read. I also imagine that it would be impossible to select vendors in advance for an event of this magnitude, although I’m sure Alys maintains a short list to facilitate her work. And while a very suitable choice, Laisa is unconventional in that she is Komarran, so the wedding and associated ceremonies need to reflect that in a way that is somehow gracefully incorporated into Barrayaran tradition. This wedding calls upon Alys to do what the Cetagandans did for the Dowager Empress’s funeral, without the Cetagandan dome that allowed them to arrange aesthetically appropriate weather. Alys is off to Komarr to conduct sensitive discussions with Laisa’s parents. Gregor is hosting a tasteful selection of events to introduce Laisa, and the idea of himself and Laisa as a couple, to important people. All of this promises to be very sweet, and very carefully managed. Tune in next week for chapter thirteen, when it also gets very complicated.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.