Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 3-5

In chapters three through five of Komarr, Bujold presents an ever-growing list of reasons why Tien Vorsoisson is a terrible person. Ekaterin’s day out with her Uncle Vorthys showcases the Vorthys family’s concern for Ekaterin’s health and happiness. It strikes them as odd that Ekaterin and Tien have had only Nikki—Barrarayan families tend to reproduce in sets of four to six. The Professora wonders why they didn’t send Nikki to a Komarran school, for the cultural experience, and worries that Ekaterin is unhappy. Auditor Vorthys probably could secure medical treatment for Nikki and safe harbor for him and his mother in short order. He doesn’t know what she needs, and Ekaterin doesn’t tell him. Why not?

Abusers aren’t unique or creative. The patterns and impacts of abuse follow predictable patterns. Abusers work to gain control over their partners. Tien has argued, threatened suicide, made accusations of infidelity, isolated, blamed and belittled Ekaterin to ensure his control over her and over their marriage. He did those things because they work. They’re particularly effective because Barrayaran law limits women’s rights, including the right to make decisions for their minor children. Tien is sick with Vorzohn’s Dystrophy—although at this moment his only symptom is a hand tremor notable only to his wife. Ekaterin has a bad case of Tien. Her family’s ambitions for her were limited to marriage. She was happy enough with that plan when she married, but Tien wasn’t what he seemed—or perhaps he’s changed from what he was. A few chapters from now, we will discover that Tien invested heavily in a trading fleet that failed. Tien was Ekaterin’s fleet shares—she over-invested in him and lost. They are struggling emotionally, medically, and financially. Further highlights in Tien and Ekaterin’s anti-romance in this section include the infamous breath mask reminder incident and a singularly unappealing sex scene.

But Miles and Vorthys came to Serifosa to investigate the soletta array, and the rules of mystery writing say that the solution to that mystery has to be here. The Auditors carry out a formal inspection of the Serifosa branch of the Komarran terraforming project, mostly by attending a departmental presentation. It features a lot of history. I love history. The Komarrans CRASHED A COMET INTO THEIR PLANET to create a series of lakes in the southern hemisphere and ensure adequate supplies of surface water. They’ve been planting peat bogs. Humanity’s presence in space is really an incredible technological marvel. Also, Komarr has really cute rats—they’re all descended from domesticated rats who escaped, so they’re very fancy. Some local government decisions appear to be made by either referendum or New England-style Town Meetings, and Komarrans have voted to keep the cockatoos that somehow also got loose. I am ONE HUNDRED PERCENT HERE for any and all descriptions of planetary infrastructure that Bujold has to offer, including Miles’s facetious “Lots. Green. Squishy.” report on Komarran peat bogs. Has anyone written that? I take fanfic recs.

Anyway, Miles and Professor Vorthys meet most of the co-conspirators, who give reports featuring the terraforming project’s unofficial mantra, “light, heat, funding.” They’re very upset about the soletta array. The Professor takes this opportunity to follow up on an issue that arose at his lunch with Ekaterin—one of Tien’s employees went missing with another of his employees some weeks before the soletta incident, leaving behind her boyfriend and an apartment full of cats. People don’t just abandon their cats. It’s very suspicious. So is the Waste Heat experiment station, which is larger and better-equipped that Miles had expected. Miles doesn’t insist on a stop to check it out. He’s trying to show restraint.

Tien didn’t appreciate the auditorial invasion of his workplace, so he asks Ekaterin to take Miles shopping the next day. After a brief, oblique comment on family history—I know Miles doesn’t know everything about his parents, but he seems to know the story about Vordarian’s head—Miles agrees. He needs to buy wedding presents. He winds up getting a lava lamp for Gregor. I’m thrilled that there’s a market for reproductions of 20th century Earth kitsch, and that Gregor and Miles are close enough friends to find it funny. Miles also buys tiny planet jewelry for basically all the women he knows. He’s going to need it later, but now the primary function of these gifts is to make Miles and Ekaterin fall into a canal.

Miles and Ekaterin are not romantically involved at this point, but they are deeply curious about each other. The curiosity on Miles’s side is at least partly sexual, although he doesn’t intend to act on it. Ekaterin wants to know about Miles’s apparent mutation. The shopping trip is an opportunity for both of them to get to know each other better, and while they talk a lot about their families and childhoods, nothing brings two people together like unexpected immersion. Not only is this shared experience ridiculous, it’s cathartic for Miles. After years of struggling with the haunting loss of Marilacan Sergeant Beatrice who fell out of the drop shuttle trying to disengage the ramp on the escape from Dagoola IV, Miles realizes that if he had caught her hand, they would have fallen together. This doesn’t end his grief over her death, but it makes him realize that she didn’t die because of his mistake. We also discover that Ekaterin is hilariously oversocialized. Her response to falling in a canal and losing her shoe is the single word, “Drat.” As a reward, Ekaterin gets to see Miles with his shirt off. He is very scarred.

On the way home, Miles confesses his investigation into Ekaterin’s comconsole. He reminds her that her Uncle would beg to be considered a resource. And then they’re home and someone has found another body on the space station, so that conversation is over now. Next week, Miles deals with the body and Ekaterin makes a discovery.

I have honed and refined the comment rules for this reread several times over the last two years. Honing the comment rules is my least favorite part of being a reread blogger. I would much rather we just had interesting, vibrant, respectful conversations all the time. As it currently stands, the comment rules state that:

  • 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 that range from beautiful to genocidal. Regardless of what may be commonplace as a cultural practice in any place at any time, comments that question the value and dignity of individuals, or that deny anyone’s right to exist, are emphatically NOT welcome.

In order to better facilitate the goal of keeping these conversations interesting, vibrant, and respectful, this week I must also add that the comments on this blog are not an appropriate place to debate settled matters of fact, history, human rights or ethics. We can talk about what rights are protected in the Barrayaran Empire. We can talk about why specific individual characters make the choices that they do. We will not be debating anyone’s right to make their own decisions.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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