Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 7-10

Last week’s blog post focused on ship knits and Nikki, leaving off at the awkward Vorsoisson family dinner. Several commenters noticed that this was not the end of chapter six. I cut away before Captain Tuomonen arrived from Imp Sec—Serifosa to announce that our body has been identified. It was Barto Radovas, the man who ran away with Marie Trogir.

Other than the fact that Miles and Vorthys are in Serifosa at all, this is the first sign that the soletta accident has a local connection. Up to this point, I’ve been able to assume that the big event that has massive implications for Komarr as a planet probably originated in Solstice, or somewhere in space. Komarr may be the Venice of the Galactic Nexus, but it’s a big planet, and Serifosa strikes me as the local version of Ohio; Close enough to important parts of the world to have some cool things if you know where to look, close enough to the middle of nowhere that the real estate is relatively inexpensive. At least, that is my explanation for why conversation pits are standard issue in Serifosa’s rental properties. They look glamorous, but the only thing a conversation pit does that a sectional sofa does not is require a multi-level living room.

Miles, Vorthys, Tuomonen, and Tien join a female dome cop to break the news to Radovas’s widow. The dome cop is very professional—she has tissues and connections to local resources, like the family services counselor. She tactfully acknowledges the awkward circumstances of Radovas’s departure from his family and his death. Tuomonen has questions that Ms. Radovas can’t, or won’t, answer. Tien is kind of awkward. Vorthys confiscates Radovas’s library to be reviewed by one of the basement boffins in a larger ImpSec office. Miles refrains from demanding a fast penta interrogation of the grieving widow and insists that she receive death benefits. Miles likes making sure people are taken care of. Perhaps in his later years, he will find a way that Barrayar can provide for all its subjects on a routine basis, and not just because Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan was on hand to tweak the rules.

Tien’s awkwardness is a puzzle. Tien is a terrible person, and I don’t like him. I also don’t think he knew about his office’s involvement with the soletta disaster; I don’t think the Komarran conspirators told him about the intriguing and novel device they were constructing. Tuomonen described the terraforming project as a place where Komarrans who couldn’t pass security checks could find work relatively easily—their ability to damage the Empire is (theoretically) minimal, so it’s enough to love Komarr. There is little reason to believe that Tien’s Komarran subordinates loved him. I know Tien believes there are no other demands on their cash flow, because he assumes that they can divert more of it to him on request. Tien is the kind of man who blithely assumes that his kitchen comconsole is private. We know that the comconsoles at the Vorsoisson residence are not secured. Tien does not appear to expect monitoring, either from the authorities or from his wife who happens to overhear. Ekaterin’s investigation into what she overheard will lead to her decision to end her marriage.

These are not decisions that Ekaterin takes lightly. Most of the women in the Vorkosigan Saga choose not to embrace traditional Barrayaran expectations for women. Cordelia was never Barrayaran in the first place. Drou was Gregor’s bodyguard and more. Alys uses Barrayaran femininity—and Barrayaran high society—as a mask for the immensely important political work she carries out among the High Vor. Elena Bothari left. The Koudelka girls expect to marry, but are well-placed to choose partners who respect their ambitions. Ekaterin didn’t really choose traditional Barrayaran femininity either. Miles likes to say that fish don’t see the water. Barrayaran gender roles were the water Ekaterin didn’t see. She loved living with her aunt and uncle during her year at the university, but she also loved the fairy tale that Tien represented when her father presented him to her. She’s just as committed to the notion of being right and proper as Bothari ever was. In deciding to leave Tien, she’s choosing to leave the rules and expectations that have shaped her entire life. And I’m so glad. I don’t know which is the bigger albatross around her neck—Barrayaran tradition or Tien. Together, they have caused her a great deal of pain.

Vorthys decamped in the morning to inspect something on the orbital station—he suggested that Ekaterin’s aunt might visit as he said his goodbyes. Miles and Tuomonen spend an unproductive day down at the terraforming project offices, carrying out a surprise inspection that absolutely everyone expected because Tien spilled the beans. The information Miles and Tuomonen gather about Radovas and Trogir is both limited and conflicting. Tuomonen suggests that Miles give serious thought to his ability to fast penta absolutely everyone without warrant or justification. I like habeas corpus, but I can see how it’s holding up the progress of the story here. Miles chooses to work late, hoping that tooling around the terraforming building will lead to a miraculous flash of insight. That’s why Miles is still hanging around the Terraforming Office when Tien comes back to work.

Expecting to return home to his wife, son, and a peaceful, Auditor-free dinner, Tien was surprised to find that Ekaterin waiting to let him know she’s filing for divorce. In the tense conversation that followed, Tien tried to blame Ekaterin for his need for money and dropped her bonsai’d skellytum off the balcony. In a last ditch effort to save his marriage, he asked her to wait while he does something to redeem himself. Something very immediate. As Tien heads out the door, Ekaterin rescues her plant from the sidewalk and continues her preparations for departure.

Tien’s plan is to take Miles out to the Waste Heat Embezzlement Station (shout out to commenter jcarnall, I will be using this term forever!) to show him the empty shell. In the lightflier on the way out, Tien begins his campaign to throw his Komarran staff under the bus so he can be the hero who uncovered a financial scam.

I don’t like Tien. He’s a horrible person. He doesn’t deserve to suffocate chained to the fence of the Waste Heat Embezzlement Station. No one does. The situation is also horrible for Miles, who gets to contemplate his recent mistakes while watching Tien die chained to the fence next to him. The only people I blame for Tien’s death are the Komarran conspirators who left him chained to the fence. However, Miles and Tien could both have taken actions that would have prevented Tien’s death. Tien could have checked his breath mask, made his confession at his office, or not gotten embroiled in financial improprieties. Those would have all been better choices. Miles could have called his ImpSec detail. I presume the dead don’t feel guilt, so it’s just Miles who has to struggle with the consequences of his actions when Ekaterin comes to find them. That’s in chapter eleven—we’ll get back to Ekaterin next week.

The comments should be a place for interesting, vibrant and respectful conversations. In keeping with this goal, posters should please observe the following guidelines:

  • Spoilers are welcome in the comments if they are relevant to the discussion at hand.
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  • 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.
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Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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