Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 3

Chapter three of A Civil Campaign introduces Miles to some opposing forces. Miles welcomed Ekaterin home, and now the bachelors of Vorbarr Sultana are following in his wake. This section of the book is strongly reminiscent of Georgette Heyer’s romances. Bujold is putting the players on the stage, and making it clear which of them is interesting as scenery and which of them is a genuine potential partner for our heroine. There’s no reason that Ekaterin needs to be paired off, but a strong Barrayaran societal expectation that she will be at some point.

The Imperial Military Operations Department is heavily represented in the Vorthys family’s living room. The gentlemen present when Miles drops by are Major Zamori, Byerly Vorrutyer and Alexei Vormoncrief. Vormoncrief is an exciting name. This appears to be a red herring; Oscar Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff, from The Importance of Being Earnest, spells his name with two fs, and the Barrayaran Lieutenant shows no inclination to go Vorbunburying. This is too bad, because Lt. Vormoncrief is an insufferable bore. He’s going to get more insufferable as we go forward. I have no reason to believe that he isn’t perfectly competent at his job in Ops, whatever that is. I’m sure he has some fine qualities as a person. Discovering those qualities would involve spending a lot of time scrutinizing a man who declared that “a daughter of the Vor” is preferable to “off-world exotica” so I’m going to spare myself. Heyer wrote a number of anti-romantic non-heroes, and they absolutely would have said things like that if they had lived in space. Major Zamori seems nice. He’s gotten to know Nikki. By Vorrutyer is a delight, though I don’t feel like he and Ekaterin have any particular chemistry. I don’t feel like any of these people have any particular chemistry. I’m rooting for Miles, even though he doesn’t deserve it.

Lieutenant Vormoncrief is welcoming Ekaterin to Vorbarr Sultana with a lengthy comparison of family trees. Major Zamori of Ops and Byerly Vorrutyer are also present. Auditor Vorthys has fled the house in the rain to avoid the plague of locusts who have descended to consume his pastries. Ekaterin proclaims herself bewildered as to what they could all want. The demographic imbalance created by the availability of sex selection technology has certainly made the Vorbarr Sultana social scene very intense! By Vorrutyer seems determined to amp that up. He takes this opportunity to mention Miles’s dad’s first wife who died young. We last heard of her when Aral was suffering from febrile delirium and confessing to homicides while hiking through the wilderness back in Shards of Honor. Long-time readers may also recall that Aral had a wild, scandalous, and very public affair with Ges Vorrutyer before the invasion of Escobar. I believe that Ges was Aral’s wife’s brother, but I’m really not certain. He could have been a cousin. By is doing light scandalous snark today—he might be making a subtle reference to Aral and Ges when he talks about resounding silences, but if he is, Miles doesn’t know enough to catch it. By is leeching off Vormoncrief. I’m glad—I feel like someone should.

Miles has arrived at the Vorthys household by appointment, to look at garden plans, so his motives are pure. Miles has also been planning a quiet family dinner party as a welcome back for his close friend Kareen Koudelka, nothing that would be at all unsuitable for a widow in her mourning year. Her aunt and uncle will be invited so she will be very properly chaperoned. His dinner invitation is also very proper and not in any way an unwelcome romantic intrusion. Family dinner parties are not romantic. Miles is genuinely interested in gardening. He introduces Ekaterin to Tsipis so she can get started on planting his garden. He also pays her for her garden design because this meeting is entirely professional, and not a step in his plan to get Ekaterin to come to some wedding week dinner engagements with him.

This week’s returning Barrayaran is Mark. He’s discovering what Robert Frost said about home—it’s where when you have to go there, they have to take you in. If you’re a Vorkosigan, they also have to take in your weird-scientist travelling companion and eight thousand of your bug friends. The Vorkosigans love you just the way you are. Mark isn’t returning out of any personal need. He’s home for the wedding, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have bothered if Kareen hadn’t been home for the wedding as well. Barrayar makes him uncomfortable. How uncomfortable? He travelled by way of Escobar so that he could get highly toxic and unpleasant weight loss drugs in case he needed to kill someone on this visit. That’s where he picked up the scientist, Dr. Enrique Borgos, and the bugs. I’m not sure whether he doesn’t get flowers because he’s male, and flowers are for women, or if it’s just a result of his failure to call ahead.

Here’s what he does get: Food. The spread Pym lays out is reminiscent of the high end catering package you might find at a really nice conference center, with the exception of the hors d’oeuvres, which are an astounding work of culinary art. Ma Kosti is an amazing miracle. I imagine she has a freezer full of app trays ready to go into the oven on a moment’s notice. Here’s what I ate while writing this blog post: Some cheese popcorn and a mocha I made by putting a generous quantity of cocoa mix in my morning coffee. Here are the chances that I find time to fill my freezer with trays of ready-to-bake hors d’oeuvres: Zero. I lead a sad life.

Mark pitches his new business venture—bugs—to Miles over snacks, carefully explaining what the bug butter is before he explains where it came from. Mark thinks the bugs will be valuable to the Barrayaran terraforming effort, both as a source of fertilizer and as tiny little engines that transform Barrayar’s toxic native vegetation into (bland, but perfectly edible) food by processing it through their gut bacteria. Mark’s last-minute replacement of the word “regurgitate” with “return through their mouth parts” is a sign that the marketing for this project is in its early stages. This sounds like a fascinating use of insects and their gut bacteria. It’s also a sketchy, vaguely criminal enterprise. Mark was able to invest heavily in this project in its middle stages, after Dr. Borgos developed dozens of functional bug colonies, because of some significant financial impropriety on Borgos’s part. I wish we’d gotten to see the lab rescue raid. It’s easy to forget that Mark has a functional military skillset and just think of him as the business guy. He didn’t do a good job rescuing a large number of recalcitrant clones from Jackson’s Whole, but that was a very challenging project. One cooperative scientist and some lab equipment sounds like a much more reasonable beginner-level raid. BONUS: Removing Borgos from the reach of Escobaran law enforcement eliminates the need to limit profits by repaying the original investors.

Tune in next week to find out how Vormoncrief thinks his attempts at romantic conquest are going!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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