Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapters 11 and 12

Chapter 10 featured hangovers. Chapters 11 and 12 see our characters sufficiently recovered from Miles’s dinner to begin having meetings.

Kareen Koudelka didn’t put in an appearance in chapter 10. Chapter 11 moves quickly to bring us up to speed on her situation. Her parents have stopped short of bricking her up with the cask of amontillado. Instead, they have barred her from visiting Vorkosigan House or speaking to anyone who lives there, and have imposed her sister Martya on her as a chaperone.

The Koudelkas—by which I mean “mostly Kou”—are not behaving rationally. Nothing we know about Barrayaran culture compels parents to behave this way, even if they have four daughters to marry off and careers that rely on their close connections with people in power. Kou’s close connection to high Vor politics comes from his relationship with ARAL, a man who ruined his own reputation with a WILD, SCANDALOUS AND SPECTACULARLY PUBLIC SEXUAL AFFAIR IN HIS YOUTH and yet somehow became Regent later. And before anyone says “Oooh, but Aral wasn’t a LADY” Lady Donna seems to have done OK, despite having a reputation for engaging in casual sex. Bujold hasn’t written the whole of Barrayar for us, but we have YET TO MEET any Barrayaran men who would reject a woman because of her sexual history. Not. A. One.

Aral didn’t ostracize Kou over a sexual indiscretion far more serious than anything Kareen has ever done. Lady Alys owes the Koudelka family a life debt. She’s hardly going to shun them because Kareen did with Mark what Ivan has done with young women on at least three planets at this point. I can imagine Barrayaran mothers who would do that—and I have to, because Bujold hasn’t written about them—but Alys’s foibles have always been limited to reciting the High Vor Vital Statistics roll call. The possible consequences of this fairly predictable news seem quite limited.

People have always done what people do, even on Barrayar. Kareen did what people do with a consenting adult Vorkosigan. Granted, it was Mark, the clone ordered up by militant Komarran separatists as part of an assassination plot. I’ve heard a lot in the comments about Mark being the sort of person who gives parents pause. I’m a parent, and I don’t buy that. I’m concerned about Mark’s history of trauma because of how it affects him. The impact of that trauma on Kareen doesn’t seem like it’s hideous—Mark has pursued therapy, in part so he can learn to be a good partner, and Mark’s therapist has admired Kareen’s insight and suggested some educational programs. Mark respects Kareen’s boundaries and encourages to pursue her interests and seek out new experiences. She understands his concerns and respects his limits. They care about each other so much and so well. I love them together. Kou and Drou don’t know that! But they could know if they took a deep breath, used their inside voices, and asked Kareen. I forgive Kou for choking on wine. I even forgive him for some of his blustering on the night of the dinner party. Kareen will eventually forgive him for the rest, and when she does, I will too.

We hear about this situation when Kareen and Martya drop by the Vorthys residence uninvited, hoping that Ekaterin can tell Kareen something about Mark. She can’t. She hasn’t heard anything from Vorkosigan House herself. ENTER ARMSMAN PYM. He’s carrying a handwritten abject letter of apology. It’s quite good. Miles specifically names what he did wrong, acknowledges that he messed up and explains why he did and why it was a bad idea. It does not rhyme. Miles admits there was a rhyming version. I would like to do a side-by-side reading of the rhyming apology and Enrique’s research abstract sonnet.

Unlike Ekaterin, Pym has been in Vorkosigan House and can provide news about its inhabitants. His orders only forbid him from pestering Ekaterin about a response to Miles’s letter. Kareen can’t talk to Pym. Ekaterin and Martya can talk to anyone they want. Pym can only answer direct questions. Martya likes these rules. Martya seems a great deal more Machiavellian that Kareen. Other things Martya likes include Enrique. This surprises Kareen who has worked with Enrique more extensively. Martya feels that Enrique could use a manager. OK, what she says is “managing type of wife.” I know this type! Christine de Pisan offered guidance and tactics for managing types of wives in her book The Treasure of the City of Ladies, back in 1405. I can see how this would fit into Barrayaran traditional society, Martya’s ambitions, Enrique’s life, Drou and Kou’s desire to have their bathroom to themselves, and the butter bug business all at once.

Pym tells a dramatic tale of the consequences of Kareen’s absence, which include an Enrique-induced plumbing emergency (bug butter sets like soft plaster—another potential military application?) featuring Miles as the hero. Miles, Pym opines, has rich previous experience with drains. TWO DRAINS. Unless he did a few more drains while we weren’t looking, this is Miles’s THIRD drain. By this standard, I have previous rich experience with bears. Call me for all your bear-related emergencies! Anyway, Miles heroically unclogged the deeply troubled Vorkosigan House drains. He surely will make some Vor lady a fine and useful husband.

Kareen has plans for her future that are festering because she can’t get to the lab at Vorkosigan House, but she’s too dependent on her parents to walk away from them. Ekaterin sympathizes. She points out that adulthood isn’t a prize granted to good children—it’s something you take for yourself. Kareen catalyzes the next round of meetings by proposing that Ekaterin redesign the butter bugs. This is a great example of Barrayaran women recognizing each others’ talents and networking. Also, it’s really good for the butter bug business because those suckers are revolting. Ekaterin produces a series of possibilities, and I hope that Enrique eventually uses them all. There’s no reason all the butter bugs have to be the same. For the moment, the butter bug crew decides to produce the glorious bug. It has flame-inspired colors and its wings fluoresce. Ekaterin is paid in shares. Martya, present at this second meeting as Kareen’s chaperone, returns to Vorkosigan House with Mark and Enrique to start managing. Mark extracts Ekaterin’s response to Miles’s note—she accepts his apology but can’t answer his question—and passes it on to Miles.

Miles, poor creature, has to contend with the affliction of a visit from Richars Vorrutyer. Richars is canvassing for votes. I suppose there will be readers who assert that, at this point, Richars is innocently pursuing his rational self interest. He’s a suspected murderer and he tried to rape his cousin when she was twelve. He refers to Dono as “Lady Donna” and to her suit as groundless. He also accuses Miles of murdering Tien Vorsoisson. Miles might have known this earlier if he had listened to his phone messages. Richars’s sliminess propels Miles into action—he has a cause now! It’s not letting Richars Vorrutyer think he can manipulate an Imperial Auditor and a fellow member of the Council of Counts with a threatened whisper campaign accusing him of murder. He calls Dono (Olivia answers the comconsole) to set up another round of meetings.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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