Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Cryoburn, “Aftermaths”

At the time of this writing, Aral is the last character to die in the Vorkosigan Saga.

This is the second time a book has ended with something that functioned as an epilogue titled “Aftermaths.” The previous “Aftermaths” appeared at the end of Shards of Honor and described the process of finding and identifying the remains of the casualties of the Escobar War. Aral lost a great deal in that war, and among other things, that story was about his losses. He got to go on and have a second life he never anticipated; the losses never went away, but he gained things he never expected to have. The current set of aftermaths are about everyone else’s loss of Aral.

We start with Mark.

Mark was once trained to assassinate Aral, and make it look like a heart attack. Then, Aral actually did have a heart attack while they were together. That was awkward. Mark’s drabble describes Miles reacting to Vorventa’s news, the life draining from his eyes like he’d been shot with a nerve disruptor. Mark knows this look because he once shot a man with a nerve disruptor. I believe that man was Ser Galen. This drabble summarizes who Mark is—Miles’s brother—and who Mark has been—a killer—in one moment of sympathy where he sees Miles feel like his own life is lost.

Miles has spent a lot of his life preparing to be Count Vorkosigan, sort of the way Mark spent a lot of his life preparing to be an impostor and assassin. Miles has served as his father’s voting deputy in the Council of Counts for years. He’s managed the Vorkosigan estate and taken over his grandfather’s rooms at Vorkosigan House—the best ones. He’s well ensconced as the Vorkosigan on the ground. In some ways, Miles’s life will continue as it has since Miles became an Auditor. The loss is all the things that were left unsaid, that now can never be said, and all the things that only Aral knew, that no one knows anymore.

Next up is Miles, growling at his bathroom mirror on the fast courier to Sergyar. He’s going to see his mother, whose titles have also changed. Roic is there being stoic and dependable. This trip—Miles to Sergyar, rather than Cordelia and Aral’s remains to Barrayar—seems to me like something that has been planned. Winston Churchill’s death was planned for twelve years before it happened, so it makes sense to me that Aral’s death would have been planned as well. I imagine that Alys did most of the planning. She probably has a plan for Gregor’s funeral too. That’s the kind of thing someone has to do, and Alys is good at it. The trip back to Barrayar with Aral’s remains is something that Cordelia shouldn’t have to do alone. I worry a lot about Cordelia’s loneliness. Her life since the Escobar War has also been something she could not have predicted before it. A complete change of career and life trajectory in early midlife seems to be a Vorkosigan family trait. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed that before.

The third drabble is from Cordelia, who reflects on her decision not to have Aral cryopreserved—a decision that no Barrayaran would have contemplated a generation ago. Aral had been dead for hours before anyone noticed he was gone. I can see that the suddenness of his passing was painful for his family, but it seems to have been very peaceful for Aral himself. I’m reminded of his calling Quintillian’s death in a car crash a wasted one back in Mirror Dance, because it was just an accident, not a political assassination. Miles proposes that the technology might one day progress to the point where Aral could be revived despite his hours of unobserved decomposition, but it’s a moot point because Aral made his views on surviving catastrophic brain damage known back in Shards of Honor when he asked Cordelia to slit his throat for him if it came to that. In this moment, Cordelia thinks a silent apology to Ensign Dubauer.

In my imagination, Dubauer has not recovered fully from being shot in the head with a nerve disruptor, but he has recovered substantially. That’s what would have happened to him if I wrote the story. I didn’t. I’m just making stuff up based on my assumption that a person who can respond to environmental stimuli, walk two thousand kilometers, and swallow soft foods, and who lives on a planet that is at the cutting edge of galactic medicine, is in a good position to benefit from rehabilitative therapy. Koudelka did, and he had to make do with Barrayaran medicine. Cordelia knows whether or not her apology is warranted better than I do. Nerve disruptors are a filthy weapon.

Drabble four is Ivan, watching Miles deliver Aral’s eulogy. Miles uses his prepared notes, and Ivan wonders what the old Miles would have said.

Aral would recommend that Ivan get Miles drunk and ask him. Miles isn’t dead. The old Miles is in there somewhere.

In the comments last week, Lois talked about showing, telling, and evoking. Aral’s pallbearers are evocative. Illyan and Koudelka represent his oldest career connections—the survivors, men he commanded who became personal friends. Ivan represents his family. Ivan had a complicated and uneasy relationship with his uncle, who had limited patience for him but who made time for some important moments anyway. Galeni represents Komarr. Aral played an important role in Galeni’s career and a complicated role in Komarran history.

Jole represents Sergyar. THAT’S WHAT IT SAYS. We’ll talk more about that next week.

Gregor represents Barrayar. Aral made Barrayar what it is, and he made Gregor who he is. Gregor uses words so thoughtfully. I chopped a lot of onions cooking dinner tonight, people, and I’m sure many of you did too.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.


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