Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapters 13-15

Heads up, rereaders, it’s been a wild week! The AP European History exam, which as a history teacher is kind of a big deal for me, coincided with the release of The Flowers of Vashnoi. I haven’t even had time to watch the royal wedding yet, and obviously I need to—it’s thematically relevant.

The Flowers of Vashnoi is set after Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance. I will blog about it at that point. Out of respect for readers who rely on public libraries or paper formats for their books, I will put a warning in the opening paragraph of any blog post that deals with The Flowers of Vashnoi. Please do not discuss Flowers in the comments of blog posts about other books. This blog post contains NO information about The Flowers of Vashnoi, and those who have read it already should not discuss it in the comments.

In chapter 13, Alexei Vorsoisson crosses over the line from being a jilted suitor licking his wounds at family dinner parties to being a more severe annoyance. He goes to the Vorthys house uninvited, enters without adult permission, and attempts to interrogate Nikki about his father’s death. He also tries to throw his arms around Ekaterin, who punches him in the nose. Fortunately, Simon Illyan is there on a visit—he came by to apologize for the awkward moment he inadvertently caused at Miles’s dinner party—and is able to scare the Lieutenant off by declaring his intention to speak with Alexei’s commanding officer. Alexei’s next maneuver will be an attempt to separate Ekaterin from Nikki by manipulating her family. I don’t know if I want to call Alexei a stalker—he’s not following Ekaterin around—but his efforts to control her demonstrate a flagrant disregard for her autonomy and judgment. I don’t like him. I never have. And while I hold Alexei personally responsible for his own actions, I suspect Richars Vorrutyer is encouraging his baser impulses. I don’t like Richars either.

The encounter with Alexei has caused Nikki a great deal of anxiety, and Ekaterin can’t answer many of his questions about his father’s death. With Illyan’s encouragement, she takes Nikki to see Miles, who might be able to tell him more. I love Miles and Nikki scenes. In this one, they talk about their favorite historical vid heroes—Nikki watched a vid series on Lord Vortalon that was supposed to be educational, Miles still knows all nine verses of the theme song to “Lord Vorthalia the Bold”—and Miles assures Nikki that no one expects him to seek vengeance for his father until he’s at least old enough for college. Like Hamlet.

Following their conversation, Miles and Nikki go to the kitchen to look at the new kittens and have Ma Kosti snacks. Can the staff and family at Vorkosigan House not managed to have their cats spayed and neutered? That’s not fancy imported galactic technology! It seems short-sighted of Mies to be concerned about the Vorkosigan bugs—which can’t reproduce without human assistance—but not to contemplate the problems presented by his cats, who reproduce at a near-constant rate and whose guts do not contain a finely-tuned suite of microbes that produces an edible substance that they return through their mouth parts. If Enrique ever gets bored with bugs, he could try working on cat guts. But mostly, when I read this scene, I’m focused on the snacks that would produce positive conditioning in rocks. What are those? I bet they have a lot of tyramine. All the best foods do.

While Nikki is playing with kittens and eating snacks, Miles suggests taking him to meet a man he knows who will have both the authority and the judgment to decide how much to tell Nikki. Ekaterin is understandably focused on Nikki’s needs, so she doesn’t pick up the hints that Miles is dropping about this man’s identity. Miles has a lot to plan—in addition to arranging a meeting with Gregor for Nikki, he is now on the move against Richars.

In chapter 14, Miles meets with Duv who explains that Richars’s accusations against Miles do not appear to have sprung from an actual leak about the Komarr case. It’s probably worse that the rumors are relatively logical-sounding conclusions that any casual observer might draw when two men go into the Komarran wilds, one dies in a breath mask accident, and the other begins what he believes to be a subtle romantic pursuit of the first man’s widow. Wherever the rumors came from, it wasn’t Ekaterin, and ImpSec is happy with any story that doesn’t mention Komarran conspirators.

Miles also invites René and Dono over for a strategy session. Lady Alys isn’t present, but she is clearly fully engaged; She’s sent Ivan with a handwritten note explaining the results of her lobbying with the Countesses. It’s a beautiful note, and a very productive meeting with excellent snacks. It puts the vote-gathering for both René and Dono on a much more optimistic footing, and shows us Miles coming into his own as a Barrayaran politician. But while it’s a lovely meeting, it’s honestly one of the less-interesting meetings in the book. There are better meetings yet to come. In chapter 15, Ekaterin and Nikki meet with Gregor. This meeting reviews the events of Komarr, including Tien’s crimes. Gregor finishes this meeting by ordering Miles to talk to his father about honor and reputation, and giving Nikki his comconsole card.

Aral’s conversation with Miles revisits Shards of Honor and the secrets Aral has been keeping since the invasion of Escobar. Miles wasn’t part of Ezar’s inner circle, so he’s not certain that Serg was a criminal. Aral looks him straight in the eye and calls the destruction of Serg’s flagship and Escobaran lucky shot. If Miles ever does find out what happened at Escobar, it won’t be because his parents told him. What Aral does tell Miles is that reputation is what others know about you, and honor is what you know about yourself. Miles is dismayed by the damage the rumors about Tien’s death has done to his reputation; Aral points out that it’s worse to have a glowing reputation and no honor. He doesn’t mention the two men he killed in duels before his first wife committed suicide.

Aral takes a long view of political intrigue. He’s confident that public attention will eventually shift, and that rumors of murder will help downplay any future rumors that Miles may have to deal with. Miles asks if he’s free to run riot, and Aral doesn’t mention his very public, alcohol-fueled affair with Ges Vorrutyer. I’m amazed that no one else has mentioned it either, because the High Vor are vicious gossips. Apparently, Aral doesn’t feel compelled to fill all the gaps in Miles’s intelligence. He does talk about the rumors that he killed his first wife. He offers a half-explanation for his secrets, for the benefit of readers, because I don’t think Miles sees it as Aral making an excuse—Aral suspected that Piotr might have killed his first wife, but he never asked. “What, after all, would I have done if he’d said yes?” What would Miles do if he knew Aral had killed two men and had an affair with Ges Vorrutyer? He’s overwhelmed by what he’s learned already—a version of his father that represents more information than he had before, but less than what Nikki knows about Tien now.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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