Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 20 and 21

Miles Vorkosigan is a military genius. This reread turns two this week, so I know that this statement is controversial, but I’m sticking to it because when we talk about Miles as a genius, we’re talking about tactics and strategy, wormhole blockades and gravitic imploder lances, and his ability to stare defeat in the face and laugh maniacally—although sometimes he has to contend with an arrest or a major depressive episode first. From a romantic standpoint, though, Miles Vorkosigan is a complete putz.

Observe, for example, his pursuit of his first love, his childhood companion Elena Bothari. Even if Miles hadn’t chosen her primarily for being around a lot (and I think that had a lot to do with it), Miss Bothari had a great deal to recommend her—she was kind, beautiful, incredibly intelligent, and had a very nice nose. In his effort to show her the galaxy and a good time so that she would love him forever, Miles accidentally started a mercenary company. Elena had a very nice career with the Dendarii, most of the time, until she retired to have a family with the guy she met while Miles was busy fighting a war. She’s now a commercial shipmaster. There’s a lot of success in that story, but none of the romantic success accrued to Miles.

In last week’s blog post, Ekaterin took care of the major strategic threat to Barrayaran power in Komarran space. This week, Miles is going to try to tie up the loose ends.

Ekaterin’s call to station security was cut off before she could say anything useful. Consequently, no one outside the Waste Heat Embezzlement Team’s cargo bay knows what happened inside it. All planning and preparation for a raid to free the hostages and capture the conspirators is based on the assumption that the device remains intact and may be triggered at any moment. The WHET has reported that Ekaterin and Professora Vorthys have been locked in the cargo bay’s airlock. Captain Vorgier of the Imperial Fleet has prepared both a raid on the cargo bay and an insulting speech about how civilian authorities should step back and let him do his job. Miles has a snappy rejoinder—Miles has spent a lifetime preparing snappy rejoinders for people who don’t take him seriously.

The hostage crisis is resolved through negotiation. This scene has exactly the right number of callbacks to Miles’s negotiation with Nikki in the bathroom scene. Less would have ignored the common themes—more would have been cloying. Miles convinces the Komarran conspirators to take a vote, and miraculously it goes his way. The reasons for this—beyond the negotiating skills Miles has been honing since early childhood—become clear once he enters the cargo bay. Miles first thinks the Komarrans destroyed the device themselves; They correct this misconception. Miles was in love with Ekaterin when he took her an Nikki to the clinic. He was in love when she left for the jump station. He was in love when he got off his transport. All of those loves pale in comparison to the love he feels now, which is the love that can only be found in Miles’s heart, and only for a person who combines all the things he finds most appealing in a lover—beautiful, tall, capable, good in a crisis, militarily useful, and willing to tolerate Barrayar. In this case, she’s also stuck in an airlock, but some ImpMil guys with a blowtorch get her out. She’s absolutely furious, and missing one shoe (She flushed it down the commode in a sabotage attempt a few chapters back), and she and her aunt head for the station infirmary while Miles takes care of cleanup. He is awestruck. His plan to embrace her was clearly a poor one at this moment. It’s a good thing he improvises well.

Venier’s proposal has Miles running scared. And Ekaterin is truly the most wonderful woman he has ever laid eyes on. She’s not just the right person, they have met at the right time. Ten years ago at the beginning of his career, Miles didn’t yet know how difficult it was to find women who would be willing to deal with Barrayar. Practically all the women he knew were Barrayaran, and he thought he’d found the one who was desperate to leave. His resume was quite brief at that point, and he didn’t have the experience and gravitas that impressed Ekaterin at age 30. Miles at 20 failed to impress Rian Degtiar. At the time, he blamed his height, but I think twenty-year-old Miles just wasn’t very impressive—at least not compared to his thirty-year-old incarnation. And of course, Rian wasn’t available. Ekaterin wasn’t available ten years ago either. I’ve called Tien her fleet shares, but he was also her Dendarii—the thing she gave her life to in her twenties that she can’t have anymore. Miles still has friends in the Dendarii, and he’s still emotionally invested. Ekaterin has Nikki, the most resilient boy since, well, Miles. His dad died last week, then he found out he has a genetic mutation, now he’s staying with friends for a few days, and in about fifteen minutes he’s moving back to Barrayar. That’s too much for most adults. So far, he’s managed to roll with it. I want to be Nikki when I grow up.

Miles can see that he is facing the most important romantic challenge of his lifetime, and he can’t just shoot a plasma cannon at it. His approach involves flowers, jewelry, and a list of his addresses and contact numbers. The flowers are Barrayaran native species (non-toxic ones). The jewelry is the extra Barrayar he picked up when he and Ekaterin went shopping and fell in the canal. Miles has a few addresses and several contact numbers. Bujold did not record if he typed all of them up, or hand-wrote them in his nicest penmanship. It’s more than could fit on a business card, so I don’t think he had them pre-printed.

Next week, we’re back in Vorbarr Sultana for a screwball romance with gardening, bugs, and extradition!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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