Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapter 4 (Part 1)

Ivan has been many things to many people. He has been an object of jealousy, a military officer, a friend, a cousin, and a lover. He has been a foppish playboy—he has, and will continue to have, some distinctly Bertie Wooster moments—and he has been the Vor lord, with intent, which is pretty impressive considering that he is the Lord of exactly nothing, it’s a courtesy title that acknowledges his close relationship to other people who are actually important. He’s been a hostage, a rescuer, and a native guide. He’s an ADC whose flat is stocked with rat bars and wine. And now, he’s the guy who’s bringing dinner.

What does Ivan bring, when he brings dinner?

Everything. Ivan brings everything.

For the occasion, Ivan has chosen Komarran-style cuisine—a nice choice, as it’s local. I can’t evaluate the carbon miles on the food, and I think it might be irrelevant for vat proteins and dome-grown produce. In the future, do restaurants maintain their own vats and grow their own meat on the premises? In any case, it’s cooked by someone with native expertise. I approve.

Everyone partaking of this meal has been subsisting on rat bars all day, and had, at best, a very interrupted night’s sleep. Hunger is the best pickle. Ivan’s menu includes vat-chicken with rosemary—a classic and a very safe choice—and slices of vat-beef whose seasoning and preparation goes undescribed. Also mentioned are salads (both green and fruit), cheeses, cheesecake, two kinds of ice cream, and three kinds of sorbet. Ivan says he wasn’t sure if Tej and Rish had dietary restrictions, needs or customs. He seems to have been prepared for the possibility that his house guests eat only desserts. Or that they had invited twelve friends over for a Barrayaran-style baby naming with lunch to follow. Or possibly that, in this instance, there was little practical difference between picking up takeout and buying a few days’ worth of groceries.

Ivan has also made thoughtful menu choices. The sautee of spinach with garlic and pine nuts sounds so good that I looked for pine nuts at the grocery store this morning. I didn’t find any. But Vorkosigan fans with pine nuts on hand should definitely try that, perhaps with a sprinkle of romano cheese and a thick slice of bread, rubbed with olive oil and garlic and a pinch of salt and grilled under the broiler. Or perhaps with a chicken roasted with rosemary, for greater authenticity. Let me know how that goes!

Having fed everyone, and—Tej notes—made pleasant dinner table conversation, Ivan collapses asleep on the couch. It’s been a very long day. Fun fact about Ivan: He doesn’t snore, he makes a soothing purring sound. I think Tej has lost her objectivity in re Ivan. Already. Rish retreats to the bedroom to watch her favorite vid drama, and I trust she brings a pint of ice cream. Why would she not? Her metabolism is permanently set on high.

Tej and Rish have not lost sight of their desperate situation—they also find the time to go through Ivan’s wallet and consider their next steps. In Jacksonian terms, Tej points out, they are Houseless. Jacksonian politics have mostly appeared to be ruthless, but Guppy in Diplomatic Immunity reflected on this issue as well—a Jacksonian House offers valuable services to its people. I’m not sure whether those people are subjects, citizens, shareholders, or property. But without a House, Tej and Rish have no protection, no advocate. And their former House, now presumed destroyed, left them with enemies. They consider emigrating to Sergyar—the Vicereine is working to draw immigrants from all over the Nexus, it’s rumored to be very diverse, no one wants to talk about the worm plague, and also they don’t have the resources to get there. I always love hearing about Cordelia, and I’m especially delighted when we hear from someone outside her family.

Tej and Rish’s conversation is also one of the moments when I feel like the problems posed by trying to remain incognito while blue are being mentioned, but not really explored. Rish is a dancer, so I suppose she can fill her days with private choreographic experiments that don’t involve thumping noises on the floor, in addition to the holovid serial dramas. But she also has a metabolism permanently set to high, and I imagine it was intended to support a high activity level. Her most recent activity was a midnight escape across a series of rooftops. She might be tired today, but I imagine she’s been going mad. She’s a great friend to Tej, and a loyal companion, and I wish she had her own book. Not that I get to say who needs their own book—it’s not my decision to make—but it would be cool. Kind of like it’s been cool to see the impact of Ivan’s abduction on Earth in this book. I bet there’s fanfic.

Rish and Tej’s conversation is interrupted by someone at Ivan’s door. It’s time for Twenty Questions with Byerly! The interrogation, or, if you prefer Tej’s terminology, The Deal, straddles chapters four and five. We’ll start there next week.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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