Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Chapter 17

I write to you this week surrounded the pleasant detritus of an early summer weekend—my ukulele, a pile of books, a sleepy dog, a plate containing the remnants of some homemade ice cream sandwiches. We take summer seriously around here. The only problem is that, although my children are both out of school now, I’m not done until Wednesday.

Although I gather that some aspects of being a Betan Survey Commander and Vicereine of Sergyar are similar to some aspects of teaching at the secondary level, Cordelia has never been a high school teacher. Nonetheless, Chapter 17 finds her in a state of mind not unlike mine: With Jole’s decisions about his career and his children made, the moment she is living is warm and glorious, in many ways the polar opposite of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening”—but all the responsibilities are hanging over it anyway. We have miles to go before we sleep.

I didn’t capitalize the M. That’s all on you. I’m not a monster.

Cordelia’s morning starts with a meeting with her staff. Her press secretary, Blaise, seems to need a lot of guidance, and not for the first time. In general, I believe that Barrayar has developed a mostly-free press, but Blaise’s frequent need for direction suggests that, on Sergyar at least, journalists have yet to create significant difficulties for Barrayar’s political leaders. This morning, Cordelia instructs Blaise to counter the public’s interest in footage of her heroic shirtless boyfriend with a narrative that emphasizes the benefits of Sergyar’s military preparedness. That sounds like an uphill battle, but it’s a nice way to illustrate the Viceregal office’s emphasis on interagency cooperation.

Her next order of business—Plas-Dan, the plascrete supplier—is interrupted by ghem Lord Soren, who has come to ask for asylum. He says his consul didn’t give him permission to build a discernment garden. I’m not privy to the day-to-day operations at the Cetagandan consulate, but this sounds implausible. The consul’s son helped construct the installation and volunteered at it during the event. Lon ghem Navitt has, on at least one occasion, done things his parents weren’t aware of in advance. But generally, youthful rebellion does not take the form of assisting with construction and implementation of a cultural outreach project alongside one’s school friends. That’s literally something the kid could put on his college applications. Alex and Helen also helped with the discernment garden, and if it truly wasn’t approved by the Cetagandan consulate, I would think that it would have been diplomatic of their staff to share that information with local authorities, or at least send Lon’s friends home.

Nonetheless, Soren is facing the prospect of returning to Cetaganda in disgrace. He would prefer not to go. He’s applying for asylum. He tried asking Kaya Vorinnis to marry him first, and got turned down. BECAUSE OF COURSE. Vorinnis’s heart was never engaged here, and she’s not about to give her hand and her career in its place.

Concern for Soren’s fate is put on hold by a call from Kareen Koudelka. She’s here to bring Cordelia an Escobaran contracting company that’s prepared to assemble a prefab factory in Gridgrad as soon as a site can be leveled and plumbed. Everyone is thrilled to see Kareen, because everyone is always thrilled to see Kareen, as a person, not just as a deus ex machina that travels the Nexus distributing cement factories. Plas-Dan is about to learn the meaning of regret.

And it turns out that the horrible fate Soren wants to avoid in his asylum petition is working in the family plumbing business. Cordelia is so very nice about acknowledging that this seems like an unsurmountable setback to Soren because he’s only thirty. I think he’s a smidge old for Vorinnis, and should have acquired a sense of proportion at least five years ago. Cordelia is willing to grant his petition if he’s willing to work as a plumber on Sergyar. Apparently, anything that keeps Soren on Sergyar is preferable to the humiliation of returning to the Cetagandan Empire with his diplomatic career in shreds. Cordelia leaves the details to her very capable secretary—Ivy has been floating around in the background in this book, and I wish we got to see more of her. She seems less like an administrative assistant and more like a partner in crime—at least, like one of those bright women Cordelia was looking for in Barrayar. And also, I’m now primed to believe almost anything about people’s assistants. Do you think Ivy is trained to be the last man standing between Cordelia and whatever deadly threats she might face?

In the final pages of the chapter, Miles and his family decamp for their commercial flight back to Barrayar. Tune in next week for the epilogue, the very last post in this reread.

Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer teaches history and reads a lot.

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