Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Chapters 16-19

One week before Winterfair, and Ivan is desperately trying to get his wife’s attention.

Tej is BUSY. Family are making a lot of demands on her time, which is just so typical of this holiday season. There’s a lot of pressure to pitch in and make things work and put family first. There are some domineering parents and grandparents.  Most of us are not using experimental chemicals to excavate bunkers located underneath government buildings while wearing fuzzy slippers for stealth, but otherwise, all of this sounds very familiar.

The Ghem Estif/Arqua family begins their quest to dig up Grandma’s buried treasure with a public dance performance intended to provide cover for their sonic mapping of the park in front of the notoriously ugly ImpSec building. Simon watches, which constitutes running interference. Simon is having a lot of fun here. Too much fun, really. But he doesn’t think the Arquas are going to make so much progress so quickly because he doesn’t know about the experimental excavation chemicals. I don’t understand how you can chemically melt through concrete and a lot of dirt and NOT also destroy things like decomposing corpses, important infrastructure, and buried treasure. This reminds me of what John Scalzi wrote about Starfleet phasers back in 2009—how do you get something like that to NOT destroy the things you’re trying to excavate? I see why Illyan has failed to anticipate the Arqua’s innovative approach.

In his quest to get Tej to give him the time of day, and, I think it is fair to note, in total desperation, Ivan attempts to consult both Simon and the Arquas for advice. The Arquas are not helpful. It is not their intention that Tej will remain married to Ivan. They are not interested in the resources that Ivan has to offer. They need to fight a small war, and they need it to be short and victorious. Ivan is not a consideration. Simon is more sympathetic, but not notably more helpful. In his capacity as an older mentor who is, at this moment, having an unusually Puck-ish mid-life crisis, Simon suggests that Ivan has a lot of resources at his disposal, and that he should use his ingenuity.

Ivan seems unusually isolated to me at this point. A few chapters ago when he was celebrating his birthday, Tej noticed that Ivan seemed to have comradely relationships with his brother officers, but at this moment, none of them work in Ops. He’s not encountering them on a daily basis and can’t deploy them in his cause—which might be for the best; the last officer he did that to wound up assigned to Kyril Island. He deserved it! Ivan didn’t encourage his interference in Ekaterin’s custody of Nikki! Still, maybe Ivan misjudges his own influence a bit. The best he can do for a confidant in this crisis is Byerly, who is struggling with the problem in the same way. I feel like they need advice. Or possibly inspiration.

In deference to the holiday season, Ivan might consider the following strategies—which I have extensively researched by watching Christmas movies on Netflix:

  • Fall off a horse: Gregor won Laisa’s heart in part by getting her on a horse. But falling off a horse is also a time-honored strategy for making oneself look vulnerable and in need of protection, and for riveting the attentions of one’s intended. If Ivan fell off a horse, Tej would probably have to spend at least 24 hours with him in some kind of isolated-yet-well-maintained wilderness lodge, making sure he wasn’t concussed or hypothermic. And although Netflix Christmas movies are too family-friendly to show it, everyone knows that the only sure way to treat or prevent hypothermia in a romantic story is for everyone to take off all of their clothes.
  • Hire Tej as an assistant private investigator: Ivan is dying to know what the Arquas are up to, and if only she would give him the time of day, Tej could probably tell him. Investigating the situation (or any situation) together would allow them to spend hours and hours together (on stakeout, obviously), during which they would get bored, listen to music, swap stories, and wind up in situations where they have to kiss. To maintain their cover.
  • Accidentally break some things: A charming display of clumsiness would demonstrate that Ivan isn’t like the suitors that Tej’s family would choose for her. And while Tej might not choose Ivan either, if left to her own devices, after the third cup of coffee spilled on an Arqua laptop, Shiv and Udine would probably detail Tej to keep Ivan distracted far away from their stuff, thus giving them the chance to talk that Ivan has been pining for.
  • Pretend to be someone else: This would allow Ivan to woo Tej undercover, gain her trust, persuade her to talk about her problems, and then reveal that’s it’s been him all along and save the day.
  • Find, and enlist the support of, the True Spirit of Winterfair: I don’t know exactly what the True Spirit of Winterfair is, but it’s probably not refusing to speak to one’s spouse, so it would probably help at least a little. Assuming that Ivan can remember what the Spirit of Winterfair is and win it over in a timely fashion. Sometimes this is tricky.

Critical readers might note that these options are all TERRIBLE.  They’re not wrong! But I think they compare favorably to the strategies pursued by some of Ivan’s friends and relations:

  • Fight a duel. While this worked out well for Cary Grant’s character in The Grass is Greener, it was not a success for Aral.
  • Carefully lay out a timetable for the relationship. Fail to convey that there is meant to be a relationship.
  • Drive way too fast.
  • Have a dinner party.

I think the best option is for Ivan to fall back on an old strategy of his own and deploy a kitten. Miles is out of town, but Ma Kosti can probably hook him up.

By the end of Chapter 19, Ivan is desperate enough to take time off work. He’s still working around to important questions like “Why are you so interested in plastic explosives?” “Who is Sgt. Abelard?” and “Tej, will you stay?

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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