Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 5

Chapter five of A Civil Campaign opens with Ekaterin Vorsoisson knocking on the door at Vorkosigan House to ask what she should do with the maple tree she’s removing from Miles’s garden. Armsman Pym parks her in the library while he goes to fetch Miles. This gives Ekaterin the opportunity to encounter Mark. Mark has been getting short shrift in the ACC reread because of his tendency to show up in the second half of the chapter, after whatever all the other characters have done. This is unfair because Mark is very interesting. Ekaterin hasn’t previously had the pleasure of Mark’s acquaintance, but Miles described him to her once and she’s an incredibly perceptive person, so she instantly knows who he is. He’s wearing a lot of black—we found Lord Vorgoth!—and offers to take the maple tree off her hands.

Pym informs us that Miles is delayed because he was out late working on a case last night and then had a seizure. Pym has said that a loyal armsman never gossips, and that’s a fine principal, but I notice that he’s quite liberal in deploying information to facilitate his assigned mission. This morning, that’s ostensibly to prevent Madame Vorsoisson from decamping back to her work site (next door) before Miles can shower and dress. The information seems more personal than necessary for the purpose. I’m going to allow it on the grounds that, without some kind of interference, it was possible that Mark was going to offer Ekaterin a tour of the lab. Pym was compelled to extreme action to save his employer from having to brave the butter bugs in order to catch up with his lady love on a difficult morning. Miles’s seizures give Ekaterin and Mark something to talk about while he’s in the shower.

In general, I don’t think any story really NEEDS a morally ambiguous doppelganger with dissociative identity disorder. We need Mark, though. Bujold has never let him just be a plot device. The genius of Mirror Dance was that she explored the impacts of Mark’s creation on Mark, rather than just on Miles. The Komarran conspiracy that created Mark, ultimately, found him not to be a particularly useful tool. The Vorkosigans never asked for him, but they claimed him and here he is, finding his place in the family, and in Barrayaran society just like Miles had to albeit much later in life. His business enterprises are his way of riding the elephant, just like Miles’s Auditorship is his. But Mark still isn’t certain that he fits. Being left out of the loop on Miles’s seizures implies that he’s not part of Miles’s inner circle—not truly the Vorkosigan Miles named him when they met back on Earth. That’s not why Miles did it. Bujold reminded us of Miles’s impending doom last week (comment 111 on the chapter 4 blog post, in case you missed it). Miles has never dealt well with reminders of his own mortality. Mark was practically the only person that Miles could hide the exact nature of his seizures and their treatment from, and I understand why his explanation erred on the side of “Everything’s under control” rather than a possibly more accurate “Remember, I will die.”

Conventional wisdom has it that one page of text takes one minute to read aloud. Using this as an a rough measure of the length of the Mark and Ekaterin’s conversation, Miles is dressed and down the stairs in well under five minutes. I see that civilian life has not gotten him out of the habit of taking ImpMil Space Duty showers. Pym follows him with breakfast. The breakfast menu is somewhat peripheral to the progress of the chapter, but I know people want to know; Ma Kosti is serving spiced bread this morning. It is warm and thickly sliced. I’m guessing that this is something like pulla, but googling for spiced bread recipes yields an assortment of options in the zucchini and pumpkin bread category—lots of possibilities for those trying to re-create Ma Kosti’s cooking. Miles inquires about permits for the landscaping work over his bread and coffee.

I’m not certain how much time has elapsed since Miles hired Ekaterin to build his garden, but I am sure that it can be measured in weeks, rather than years. I’m impressed; Even allowing for the Vorkosigan family having an understanding with the local authorities regarding zoning and permits, this has been a very rapid process. I’m sure it helps that the garden is planned for private property, but it’s a large project intended for public use. I can’t imagine that there’s been time for the City of Vorbarr Sultana to do anything but collect fees. As far as I can tell, nothing has been done about consulting abutters, mitigating traffic disruptions, or ensuring that the utility needs of the project don’t exceed the capacity of existing infrastructure. This could be one of the results of Barrayar’s totalitarian-feudal political system—I hear it’s easier to manage large construction projects in non-democratic societies—but I’m inclined to give a lot of the credit Tsipis. He’s an amazing man.

Most of the breakfast conversation focuses on Miles’s new Auditorial case—the matter of Lord Vormuir and his novel approach to galactic reproductive technologies. The best thing about Miles spending time in Vorbarr Sultana is getting to find out about absolutely VorEveryone and what they choose to do with their time. Vormuir has decided to address his district’s declining population by cooking up a ton of daughters in his personal replicator banks. The Athosian authorities would not approve—I’m quite confident that Vormuir hasn’t accumulated enough Social Duty credits—but they have no jurisdiction here. Vormuir is using discarded eggs from a reproductive clinic in his district and his own sperm.

This doesn’t really raise ethical questions; It’s quite obviously unethical for a wide range of very good reasons. I think it should also be financially impractical—Vormuir has a long-term plan to use the older girls as caregivers for the younger ones, but he is currently paying caregivers for eighty-eight children under two, with thirty more on the way. It’s not unusual in many cultures for parents to insist that children perform household labor, including caring for younger siblings, but in general they are legally free to go once they reach the age of adulthood. Some of them free themselves, as a practical if not legal matter, by walking out the door before that point. Short of a Cay Project-style social engineering effort, I don’t see how Vormuir is going to persuade his daughters to care for an endless stream of baby sisters. These children will, theoretically, grow up to have families of their own and rebuild Vormuir’s tax base, though in fact they will be legally free to leave his District. Vormuir’s conniving has either caused or aggravated difficulties in his relationship with his wife. Armsman Pym, ever loyal, does not gossip about this, but somehow passes on a humorous anecdote about the Count’s last attempt at a conjugal visit (and the Countess’s aim with a plasma arc) without gossiping.

Barrayaran law does not directly address appropriate uses of uterine replicators, which are not new to the planet, but which are only just becoming widely accepted. Some new laws and regulations are in order, but they won’t stop Vormuir. Miles and Gregor need to twist Barrayar’s existing laws to fit. Ekaterin recalls an old law allowing the Emperor to set dowries for the Counts’ illegitimate daughters, and to force the Counts to pay them. At some point, the costs of child-rearing must become prohibitively expensive even for a Count with very deep pockets. Gregor probably has access to concrete information on what point that would be. I’m always thrilled when someone uses history to solve a problem. Miles is in awe of Ekaterin’s genius, because she is amazing and he is deeply smitten—he is in deep smit.

 Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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