Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 16

I wrote about three chapters last week so that I could get to this one faster. A Civil Campaign is an infinite series of meetings, and the best one is in the Library where Lady Vorkosigan slays the Koudelkas with a couch.

A really quite terrible one is at the Vorthys’s house where Hugo Vorvayne and Vassily Vorsoisson confront Ekaterin about her relationship with Miles. I don’t know what Vassily does in the military, but here he is a human instrument of torture. He and Hugo are colluding to act as the arbiters of Vor Social Propriety, and they are assholes. This is a great example of how seemingly nice people can turn against you in horrible ways if they decide that control is more important than caring. Vassily, who Ekaterin has met briefly twice and who has never had a conversation with Nikki, has an informant who has sent him intelligence suggesting that Ekaterin is being manipulated by the mutant Lord Vorkosigan, who, the informant also states, is known to have murdered her husband. (Picture a lot of whisper-screaming here—AN INFORMANT COMMUNICATED INTELLIGENCE ABOUT TIEN’S NOT-MURDER!!!! AHHHHHH!!!!)

This is very official-sounding language to describe what really happened, which is that Alexi Vormoncrief retaliated for Ekaterin’s rejection of his proposal by passing on some rumors that he hopes will sabotage her relationship with Miles. Alexi was probably encouraged by Richars or one of his allies, who want to punish Miles for his alliance with Dono in the vote on the Vorrutyer count-ship. I suspect he didn’t take a lot of encouraging, because Alexi hates Nikki, and wants to control Ekaterin. Fun fact: For the last couple weeks, I’ve been misspelling Alexi’s name. Usually, I try to check because I’m a terrible speller and spell-check doesn’t handle names well, especially when they belong to people who don’t live on this planet. But I haven’t been bothering because I don’t like him. I hope it annoys him terribly that he’s not correctly and consistently spelled, you know, when he comes into being hundreds of years from now and somehow reads my condemnation of his behavior, which I’m sure will be well-preserved in the historical record.

Vassily Vorsoisson is proposing to take his nephew, who he has never met, away from his sole surviving parent after a traumatic death and an interplanetary move, to live with him. Which ImpSec might be OK with, because Vassily lives on a military base and those are very secure, but in fact Vassily has no intention of taking care of Nikki himself (surprise!) and intends to dump him on a grandmother who is too unwell to entertain visitors this summer. Does she live on a military base? Is her household monitored by ImpSec? Can she afford the somewhat more expensive and exclusive schools that have the security that Nikki requires, per Imperial order? Vassily probably isn’t even aware that Nikki’s personal security is a matter of Imperial concern. In his mind, Nikki’s grandmother is a better guardian than his mum because granny doesn’t live in the dangerous high-Vor social milieu of the capital. He (or maybe it was Hugo) heard that one Vor lady had her brain transplanted into a male body! Bujold hasn’t said what kind of media Barrayarans encounter in the grocery store checkout line, but I’m guessing it’s pretty engaging. Per Hugo and Vassily, the Vor are respectable, morally upright, modest people until they have political power, at which point they erupt in moral depravity.

With custody and, therefore, Nikki’s psychological well-being on the line, Ekaterin folds like an Origami crane—as gracefully as she can. She really has no other choice. She agrees that she will not see Miles for one year, except for one brief visit to explain the situation to him. She is surprised to find that she is sad about it. Ekaterin worries that she’s suddenly deeply attracted to Miles because she doesn’t like having her toy taken away. I think Miles is benefitting from a flattering comparison with Hugo and Vassily’s fatuous denial of Ekaterin’s personal autonomy; They complain that her Aunt and Uncle haven’t set a curfew, and let her go wherever she wants. Which of course they do, because preventing a competent adult from going where she wants, when she wants, is a form of abduction. Nikki’s little girl cousin is in for a rough adolescence. So are her parents, but I think they probably deserve it.

We leave Ekaterin for the meeting Cordelia has arranged with the Koudelkas in support of Mark and Kareen. IT’S SHORT. For those who don’t recall, Drou’s first sexual encounter, which was with Kou, took place on a sofa in the library at Vorkosigan House just before Evon Vorhalas fired a soltoxin gas grenade through Aral and Cordelia’s bedroom window. Kou and Drou didn’t speak to each other for weeks afterwards and everything was terrible and awkward until Kou made it worse by apologizing to Drou for raping her, thus revealing that he didn’t notice that she had been an enthusiastic participant. Things continued in a painful and awkward state until Cordelia made them both talk about their feelings. Then they got married.

The historically significant sofa has been retrieved from the attic and placed in the library for this occasion. They sit. Butter, meet laser beam; laser beam, butter. For no reason that Mark and Kareen can see, Kou says that this is unfair. Drou says that the situation is ridiculous and she wants to see and talk to their friends. Cordelia asks a series of revealing questions of everyone present. Was Kareen’s discovery of her sexuality a mad, secret scramble in the dark? Of course not! She made an appointment like a civilized person. Mark was very supportive. Cordelia’s defense of Mark against Kou’s prejudices—he assumes Mark is insolvent, and also insane—is a lovely reminder of why Mark trusts her. Reason triumphs over the limits of Kou’s desire to lock his youngest daughter in the attic. Kareen puts her earrings back in. Mark tells Kou that he doesn’t know much about family, but he means to learn. It’s a great day for contraceptive implants and personal autonomy!

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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