Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 10

At the end of Shards of Honor, there’s a story—“Aftermaths”—about a salvage crew cleaning up after the failed invasion of Escobar. It’s a lovely story, and I’m very sentimental about it. In chapter ten of A Civil Campaign, there’s a story about a salvage crew cleaning up after Miles’s dinner party. It’s not half as serious as “Aftermaths” because, despite Miles’s earnest hopes as Ekaterin fled screaming into the night and the Koudelka family decamped, the dinner party had no fatalities. But in other ways it’s basically equivalent. It’s about what people do for each other. If it had its own title, it would have to be “Hangovers.”

When we left him, Miles was retreating up the stairs to his suite, and declaring himself not drunk enough yet. He doesn’t have to lie on his bedroom floor staring at an unopened bottle anymore—he has armsmen, and it looks like he has issued Pym a corkscrew. This is why Cordelia, Our Lady of the Salvage Crew, tackles Mark first. She’s not coming in cold—The altercation in the entryway was followed by a long conversation with Professor and Professora Vorthys, another with Simon and Alys, and a third with Enrique. By the time she talks with Mark, Cordelia’s information about the situation is very nearly complete. She conveys Alys’s dismay at Miles’s retreat, and her own at the way Miles set Illyan up for anxiety about his memory issues. Mark is concerned that Miles is going to be left to fend for himself, like a missionary in the wilderness.

Mark handled his feelings about the Koudelka Family crisis with a large quantity of bug butter—multiple liters. He didn’t come down to breakfast. Cordelia starts his afternoon with tea and soothing words. She’s quite sure that Kareen cares about Mark a great deal. She knew they might strike up a romance on Beta Colony. She trusts Mark to decide how to handle their relationship. She and Aral have found two butter bugs and have no plans to call in exterminators. Her primary mission here is to assure Mark that he is her son. She reminds him that the family will help him if he asks. He can’t imagine what to ask. I can, but I know more Vorkosigan family history than Mark does.

Cordelia’s conversation with Mark highlights the similarities between his situation with Kareen and Miles’s with Ekaterin. They’re both trying to decide what they want their relationship to be like. Kareen and Ekaterin are both struggling to negotiate with conventional Barrayaran gender roles. Neither of them wants to be forced into a role they aren’t ready for. They both have career ambitions that are important to them. Mark could solve Kareen’s financial problems, and would be willing to, but is concerned that doing so would make her feel obligated to him—she wouldn’t feel free to make her own decisions. Miles is a proactive problem-solver. He assumed that Ekaterin wouldn’t feel obligated or patronized because she would never find out. He’s proven Mark’s point. Competition with the rest of Barrayar’s bachelors is only a small part of Mile’s problem—he’s trying to pursue happiness as fast as he can. He knows his time is going to run out.

Ekaterin drank an enormous amount of wine last night, and is embarrassed about what she said to Miles. She’s pulling together her garden plans and instructions for her successor. Not being resident in Vorkosigan House, she has her conversation (and her hangover) with Nikki and her Aunt. Cordelia’s description of Professora Vorthys to Mark made it clear that she is fully qualified to Cordelia by proxy. The Professora points out that Ekaterin didn’t decline Miles’s proposal. Ekaterin has excuses, but no real reasons. This is a very reassuring conversation. Miles isn’t around to hear it, so he’s going to continue to stew over at Vorkosigan House, but it’s nice for me, as a reader, to know that his romantic hopes aren’t completely dead, just severely wilted, like the skellytum Ekaterin planted in his garden last night.

Miles is next. Cordelia’s sympathy for Miles’s situation—she passed up promotion in favor of an ill-advised lover when she was Miles’s age—is tempered by a very thorough understanding of how he screwed up. Aral’s sympathy—he committed double homicide shortly before his first wife killed herself, and then carried on a spectacularly scandalous public affair with Ges Vorrutyer—is tempered by snark. Miles makes his way to the Library to hear their critique sometime after dinner.

Aral has made a career out of guiding young men towards mature and independent judgment. He’s not always a sarcastic bastard, but he appears to have rich previous experience in the medium. He’s notably dismissive of the garden, which looked like a crater when he saw it in the dark. It’s a very incomplete project at a particularly unattractive stage. Also, I think the idea of a garden consisting entirely of Barrayaran native species is one that you really have to be sold on; The appeal of a garden full of variably toxic plants is not inherently obvious. Aral works mainly in sotto voce asides because Cordelia is riding point on this mission. She uses a story about an unfortunate incident with a game of crossball in Miles’s youth to guide him towards the conclusion that he needs to write Ekaterin an abject apology in his very own execrable handwriting. And he needs to water her skellytum.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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