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Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 6

Chapter six of A Civil Campaign is one of those moments when the book takes a breath. We’re still meeting new characters—René and Tatya Vorbretten make their first appearance in this chapter—but we’re mostly being reminded of how our characters are changing and where they are.

The chapter opens with Ekaterin wandering Vorkosigan House unescorted. Some part of Miles’s household arrangements have broken down, because this is a direct contradiction to his orders about Madame Vorsoisson’s presence in the house. She is to be made comfortable and offered the finest hospitality the house and its staff have to offer to stall her so that Miles can be alerted and scrambled to her location. She is not supposed to be knocking on the door of Kareen’s Butter Bug Ranch asking if they would like some amelanchier bushes and what they’re using all of this earth-descended biological matter for. Miles would especially like her to not encounter any butter bugs and not be fed any samples of bug vomit. Miles’s days with the Dendarii are not so far gone that he should have forgotten that even the most competent hand-selected personnel sometimes experience mission failure. Miles swings through the hatch/lab door like the combat trooper he once was—yelling like the first time he went into combat, although it’s hard to evaluate his volume on the page—to escort Ekaterin and her newly acquired bag of bug guano back to work. It’s very nice bug guano, OK?

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 5

Chapter five of A Civil Campaign opens with Ekaterin Vorsoisson knocking on the door at Vorkosigan House to ask what she should do with the maple tree she’s removing from Miles’s garden. Armsman Pym parks her in the library while he goes to fetch Miles. This gives Ekaterin the opportunity to encounter Mark. Mark has been getting short shrift in the ACC reread because of his tendency to show up in the second half of the chapter, after whatever all the other characters have done. This is unfair because Mark is very interesting. Ekaterin hasn’t previously had the pleasure of Mark’s acquaintance, but Miles described him to her once and she’s an incredibly perceptive person, so she instantly knows who he is. He’s wearing a lot of black—we found Lord Vorgoth!—and offers to take the maple tree off her hands.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 4

One of the delights of A Civil Campaign is that Bujold uses more than one viewpoint character. We haven’t gotten much of Ivan’s perspective in the series so far, but we do this week as he joins Alexei Vormoncrief and Byerly Vorrutyer for a beer in the pub near the Ops building. I learned a lot from their conversation.

The officers who serve in Ops headquarters at Vorbarr Sultana are not interested in cleanliness in their food-and-beverage service establishments. The calculated dinginess of the Ops Department’s favorite bar establishes it as a male bastion. Ick. This does not stop Ivan and Alexei from drinking there, and By is leaning on the bar when they walk in. The Gift of Rereading is that this looks a smidge suspicious. By is the sort of person who wears nice suits. I can’t think why he would frequent this bar—which is (a) gross and (b) popular among the serving officers in an institution that By does not work for—without some kind of ulterior motive. I know exactly how I missed this the first time around—I was busy with the conversation—but I now think I was very obtuse to have done so.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 3

Chapter three of A Civil Campaign introduces Miles to some opposing forces. Miles welcomed Ekaterin home, and now the bachelors of Vorbarr Sultana are following in his wake. This section of the book is strongly reminiscent of Georgette Heyer’s romances. Bujold is putting the players on the stage, and making it clear which of them is interesting as scenery and which of them is a genuine potential partner for our heroine. There’s no reason that Ekaterin needs to be paired off, but a strong Barrayaran societal expectation that she will be at some point.

The Imperial Military Operations Department is heavily represented in the Vorthys family’s living room. The gentlemen present when Miles drops by are Major Zamori, Byerly Vorrutyer and Alexei Vormoncrief. Vormoncrief is an exciting name. This appears to be a red herring; Oscar Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff, from The Importance of Being Earnest, spells his name with two fs, and the Barrayaran Lieutenant shows no inclination to go Vorbunburying. This is too bad, because Lt. Vormoncrief is an insufferable bore. He’s going to get more insufferable as we go forward. I have no reason to believe that he isn’t perfectly competent at his job in Ops, whatever that is. I’m sure he has some fine qualities as a person. Discovering those qualities would involve spending a lot of time scrutinizing a man who declared that “a daughter of the Vor” is preferable to “off-world exotica” so I’m going to spare myself. Heyer wrote a number of anti-romantic non-heroes, and they absolutely would have said things like that if they had lived in space. Major Zamori seems nice. He’s gotten to know Nikki. By Vorrutyer is a delight, though I don’t feel like he and Ekaterin have any particular chemistry. I don’t feel like any of these people have any particular chemistry. I’m rooting for Miles, even though he doesn’t deserve it.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Chapter 2

On Barrayar, you come home, you get flowers, and you make plans. This week, it’s Kareen Koudelka’s turn. Kareen is returning from a school year on Beta Colony. This situation is somewhat more complicated than she had anticipated when she left. Beta Colony is very open about sexual matters. Barrayar, by contrast, is a place where it is very difficult to say things like, “I spent a large part of the year knocking boots with your old friends’ recently discovered clone son.”

I would love for Kareen’s family not to care who she knocked boots with, as long as everyone involved was having a good time, but they DO care. It’s not initially clear whether they care because of Barrayaran cultural mores, or if they just want the hot gossip.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: A Civil Campaign, Cover Comparison and Chapter 1

A Civil Campaign was first published in 1999. In the great epic that is the Vorkosigan Saga, this is a “coming home” section. It has a number of science fictional elements—more than one planet, space travel, butter bugs—but the central narrative is the love story between Ekaterin and Miles. This is the most romantic of the books since Shards of Honor, which was comparatively very grim. This puts book publishers in a bit of a bind. A cover needs to sell the book—do they play up the SF and make sure the SF fans pick it up, or do they emphasize the romance and grab some new readers? What if readers think the book has girl cooties?

Some of the translated editions chose to err on the side of SF. Some of these errors were smidge egregious for my taste.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 20 and 21

Miles Vorkosigan is a military genius. This reread turns two this week, so I know that this statement is controversial, but I’m sticking to it because when we talk about Miles as a genius, we’re talking about tactics and strategy, wormhole blockades and gravitic imploder lances, and his ability to stare defeat in the face and laugh maniacally—although sometimes he has to contend with an arrest or a major depressive episode first. From a romantic standpoint, though, Miles Vorkosigan is a complete putz.

Observe, for example, his pursuit of his first love, his childhood companion Elena Bothari. Even if Miles hadn’t chosen her primarily for being around a lot (and I think that had a lot to do with it), Miss Bothari had a great deal to recommend her—she was kind, beautiful, incredibly intelligent, and had a very nice nose. In his effort to show her the galaxy and a good time so that she would love him forever, Miles accidentally started a mercenary company. Elena had a very nice career with the Dendarii, most of the time, until she retired to have a family with the guy she met while Miles was busy fighting a war. She’s now a commercial shipmaster. There’s a lot of success in that story, but none of the romantic success accrued to Miles.

In last week’s blog post, Ekaterin took care of the major strategic threat to Barrayaran power in Komarran space. This week, Miles is going to try to tie up the loose ends.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 16-18

I reread The Warrior’s Apprentice for the hyperactive wish fulfillment. I reread Memory to remember how to go on. And I reread Komarr for the iconic moment when Ekaterin Nile Vorvane Vorsoisson smashes a novel device into a cargo bay floor.

Chapter 16 opens on the jump station in Komarran space. Ekaterin has gone up to meet her aunt coming in from Barrayar for a visit. (Nikki is spending a few nights with Lady Vortorren’s brood so he doesn’t miss school, and so his mum can have a grown-up chat with her aunt.) Aunt Vorthys is a martyr to jump sickness, so Ekaterin has booked a room on the station for overnight to allow her to recover. They are on their way to it when they accidentally run into some of the Waste Heat Embezzlement Team and are taken hostage. The first duty of a hostage is to survive. After that, she’s supposed to try to escape and sabotage the enemies’ plans. Ekaterin will prove to be exceptionally skilled. It’s like she’s been a hostage for eight years and can’t take any more of it. Aunt Vorthys does her best to contribute to the general effort but is hampered by a combination of jump sickness and a heart condition.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 15 and 16

Chapters 15 and 16 of Komarr are action packed! And a lot of that action is centered on that other guy in Ekaterin’s life, Nikolai Vorsoisson. For years, Nikki has been the target of Ekaterin’s ambition to one day be the proud mother of a kid who’s been cured of Vorzohn’s Dystrophy. She just wants this one thing.

Ekaterin is one of my favorite parents in the Vorkosigan Saga. She’s diplomatic, sensitive, encouraging, and always on the lookout for an experience that might spark a child’s interest. Nikki isn’t thrilled to learn that he has a mutation that his parents didn’t tell him about, but Ekaterin provides well-timed, age-appropriate information and emotional support so he’s OK, even though hearing about it this week probably compounded the trauma of his dad’s death. You know what? Nikki went to school all but one of the days this week anyway. It would have been understandable if he had needed to take a couple days off, but a lot of kids find that sticking to their normal routine helps them cope with traumatic events. Testing shows that Nikki has no symptoms of Vorzohn’s Dystrophy and retrogenic treatment will ensure that he never does. In other news, Nikki has a scab on his knee that might possibly scar.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Read Cute Stuff: A Love Letter to Murderbots, Fanfiction, and Cake

Sometimes, when you blog about fiction, people say things to you that are inexplicable—things like, “I hated the winged horse,” or “I wanted to set this book on fire.” That’s fine, really. Cool story. Is there more to it? Did Satan give you something when you handed over your soul?

I have strong literary preferences of my own. For example, I prefer that people’s psychic companion animals not comment on their sex lives. And it really bothers me when time travel stories try to explain the underlying science involved by treating time like matter, and yet don’t tear the universe apart—either your time travel is hand-wavy and doesn’t really need an explanation or you have to deal with the laws of physics. Some of my opinions are controversial. There are lots of people who don’t like psychic cats, or happily-ever-after endings. And again, that’s fine! Many things are a matter of taste. But I’ll be honest—I think those people are missing out.

[You should read cute stuff.]

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 12-14

Years ago when Miles was a newly minted ensign, he found a corpse in a drain. At the time, and for a short time after, the corpse was almost glamorous. Miles risked his own life to find out why he died. And he hadn’t really died for anything. He was a homesick soldier with some hidden cookies.

Last week, Tien Vorsoisson died. His death, Miles will point out, wasn’t at all mysterious. Miles was right there. He saw the whole thing. Tien forgot to check his breath mask and drowned in Komarr’s unbreathable atmosphere. He was a sad, sick man desperate to control a situation that he was also desperate to ignore. No one got any cookies.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapter 11

Up to this point in Komarr, Tien Vorsoisson has served in the role of melodramatic villain. He’s embezzled, he’s abused his wife, he’s been careless about matters of life and death. He made every situation he was involved in at least marginally—and often significantly—worse. If he had a mustache, he would have twirled it. Now he is dead.

[I’m perfectly willing to speak ill of the dead…]

Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 7-10

Last week’s blog post focused on ship knits and Nikki, leaving off at the awkward Vorsoisson family dinner. Several commenters noticed that this was not the end of chapter six. I cut away before Captain Tuomonen arrived from Imp Sec—Serifosa to announce that our body has been identified. It was Barto Radovas, the man who ran away with Marie Trogir.

Other than the fact that Miles and Vorthys are in Serifosa at all, this is the first sign that the soletta accident has a local connection. Up to this point, I’ve been able to assume that the big event that has massive implications for Komarr as a planet probably originated in Solstice, or somewhere in space. Komarr may be the Venice of the Galactic Nexus, but it’s a big planet, and Serifosa strikes me as the local version of Ohio; Close enough to important parts of the world to have some cool things if you know where to look, close enough to the middle of nowhere that the real estate is relatively inexpensive. At least, that is my explanation for why conversation pits are standard issue in Serifosa’s rental properties. They look glamorous, but the only thing a conversation pit does that a sectional sofa does not is require a multi-level living room.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapter 6

Chapter five ended with the announcement that an unexpected corpse had been discovered associated with the wreckage of the cargo ship/soletta array collision. Our mysterious male space corpse was in a position and on a trajectory that suggests that he was on one of those things at the time of collision. His origin and identity are unknown, and his clothes—the remains of his entirely unexceptional ship knits—have been mostly destroyed by exposure to hard vacuum.

I know I’m supposed to be intrigued by the mystery of the corpse, and I am! I am dutifully intrigued, or I was, the first time I read Komarr, when I didn’t already know who he was. For first-timers, the corpse is a frozen enigma. Is he someone we’ve heard of? Is he someone entirely new? Will he blow Miles’s case wide open? All intriguing questions! After the first time you read a mystery, you know the answers to questions like this and you get to focus your attention on the details.

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga

Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr, Chapters 3-5

In chapters three through five of Komarr, Bujold presents an ever-growing list of reasons why Tien Vorsoisson is a terrible person. Ekaterin’s day out with her Uncle Vorthys showcases the Vorthys family’s concern for Ekaterin’s health and happiness. It strikes them as odd that Ekaterin and Tien have had only Nikki—Barrarayan families tend to reproduce in sets of four to six. The Professora wonders why they didn’t send Nikki to a Komarran school, for the cultural experience, and worries that Ekaterin is unhappy. Auditor Vorthys probably could secure medical treatment for Nikki and safe harbor for him and his mother in short order. He doesn’t know what she needs, and Ekaterin doesn’t tell him. Why not?

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Series: Rereading the Vorkosigan Saga