Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Memory, Chapters 17-19

This week in the Vorkosigan reread, Simon Illyan has his chip removed! Miles gets the cause of his seizures diagnosed! Those are important. I mean, wicked, wicked important. If Illyan didn’t get his chip out he was going to have a stroke from the stress, and possibly I would have had a stroke from the stress of reading about it. Honestly, I think what happened to Illyan is in the range of what happened to Mark, and Bujold let us off light by describing it only from the perspective of observers who weren’t there for very long. Harouche says it seems a waste to lose the chip, which proves that Harouche is underinvested in preserving Simon Illyan. Miles invites Illyan to recover from surgery at Vorkosigan House. The architecture there is a lot nicer than at ImpSec, and the food is amazing.

So those are the major plot points. And without discounting them in the slightest, I would like to turn our attention now to the matter of VOR LEISURE TIME.

Since the early volumes of the series, we have known that the Vor dance, and that they drink heavily at Winterfair and the Emperor’s Birthday. What else have they been doing with themselves? Gregor only recently got engaged; They can’t have been spending all of their time at “Get-to-know-Laisa” courting picnics. Now, at long last, we have some notion of what else the Vor do—they date!

This section of Memory marks the first recorded date in Vorkosigan Saga history. Aral and Cordelia met in a ditch and spent the early phases of their relationship on one of the least romantic wilderness survival hikes in literary history. I am well-qualified to make this judgment because I’ve read around the romantic wilderness survival hike genre, and usually protagonists don’t confess to quite so many jealous murders. Aral did, at one point, promise to take Cordelia to the seaside, but that got bumped from the schedule by Ezar’s invitation to be Regent, and as far as I know, it never got put back on. Miles attempted to take Elli Quinn on a date, while also attempting to pretend he didn’t shop in the company store, and then failed at shopping entirely because he left his wallet in his other pants. Galeni thought he was going on a date, but failed to communicate the romantic elements of the outing to his intended. Gregor’s lunch was very carefully orchestrated, but I don’t think it counts as a date—they had two chaperones and they stayed in.

At long last, Alys takes Ilyan to the Symphony. He wears his Imperial Dress Greens. She wears something Vorish. Miles describes this as beige with sparkles. That could mean almost anything. I think it’s reasonable to assume that Alys Vorpatril has the Galactic Nexus equivalent to the wardrobe of Anne Bonfoey Taylor, and deploys it effectively. It’s a pity a highly-trained ImpSec operative can’t describe it. The Vorbarr Sultana Symphony Orchestra is the best one on Barrayar, sold out years in advance. I’m sure Alys is a patron. Alys and Illyan stay out late, and Illyan decides he likes concerts very much. I’m so happy for them.

The Vor also avoid their mothers. We’ve seen Ivan do this for years, now it’s Miles’s turn. He doesn’t want her taking his emotional temperature, Betan style, so he packs up Illyan and his two-person household staff and retreats to his house in the country. On this occasion, Vorkosigan Surleau was selected as a vacation destination entirely because of its presumed distance from Miles’s mother, and it is maybe a little boring. I think Illyan feels this most acutely—he’s in the very early stages of a romance with a beautiful woman in Vorbarr Sultana, and I have to think that his removal at this juncture is most inconvenient, despite her busy schedule.

Lacking anything else to do, Miles and Illyan go fishing.

This is the best fishing scene in the history of space opera.

Barrayarans who willingly eat meat and who are actively engaged in fishing, an activity that kills real fish, opt for vat-grown bait because worms are icky. Since Miles is Vor, he and Illyan fish from a boat, with poles and beer. Since bait is on their minds, Illyan tells Miles the elephant story; Once upon a time, Prime Minister Vortala was negotiating a treaty and he gave the Polian ambassador an elephant. The ambassador kept the elephant (Illyan does not specify whether the costs of the elephant’s care came from the ambassador’s personal purse or the Polian embassy budget), and liked giving it baths himself. Gregor was ten at the time, and no one told him he had given away an elephant. Miles and Illyan don’t catch anything with their fishing poles, so when they run out of beer, Miles turns Illyan’s stunner battery pack into a hand grenade and kills kind of a ton of fish. In related news—Illyan carries a stunner, Miles doesn’t. Both of them are concerned about the other’s safety. Miles says he has minions to carry his stunner now, like one of the big boys. By way of demonstration, Miles makes Martin carry all the fish up to his mother, who probably made him gut and scale them. It’s hard to be Martin. Ma Kosti serves the fish with a sauce that would also pair well with baked cardboard. I cannot get enough of Ma Kosti’s cooking, and I’m not just saying that because I had Kraft macaroni and cheese for lunch (lovingly prepared by my ten-year-old) while writing this blog post. Although that is certainly one reason that it’s on my mind. I have an ample supply of cardboard, and I’m willing to try a lot of things.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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