Generally things are numbered up, instead of down, because most of the time you don’t know how many things there are going to be, in total. You would feel foolish to start with Chapter Fifty of your book and end on Chapter Three, or reach Chapter One and still have chapters to go. And yet, this is the end of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, so it feels a little bit like we’ve reached Zero in the countdown…or, as we always did as kids, “Blastoff!” or “Ready or not, here I come!” The last novel to date, CryoBurn, has reached its end, with the sucker-punch of revealing the death of Count Aral Vorkosigan, and all that’s left is the Aftermaths.
The last five hundred words, or so, of CryoBurn of course require special treatment. After the bombshell of the last three words of Chapter Twenty, the author decided, quite wisely, not to leave us hanging; however, probably also not wanting to overshadow the rest of the book, she confined herself to five hundred-word “drabbles”. Quite frankly, I feel that she failed in not overshadowing the rest of the book, because these last 503 words pack more of a punch than the rest of the book put together, IMHO. It’s like the spearpoint effect, except that these spearpoints are all tipped with scalpels. Probably laser-scalpels.
Also, because of their extreme brevity, I’m tempted to just quote them wholesale, but I probably shouldn’t. I was reading about somebody who got sued for lifting one brief passage from Gerald Ford’s biography of Nixon–and lost, because that one passage was the most important one in the book. So I won’t just quote them, except perhaps for the best bits; in fact I’m not sure it’ll work to just summarize them, because they’re so short that it’d really just be paraphrasing them entirely. In other words, bear with me here, I’m not sure what I’m doing.
First, we get Mark’s immediate reaction to Miles’s reaction to the news; he’s reminded of the time he shot “a man” with a nerve disrupter, and saw the life drain from the eyes. Later he realizes that he did see a death, the death of “Lord Vorkosigan”. I find it interesting that nowhere in that passage does he seem to consider that the man he shot was, surely, Ser Galen, his own father-figure at the time. I feel like there’s something there–Miles reacting to the death of his father like Mark’s own “father” when he died. Perhaps it’s more significant that he thinks of Count Aral Vorkosigan as “their” father, in a way that may have seemed inconceivable at the time of Mirror Dance…
Second, we get Count Miles Vorkosigan, now on a fast courier to Sergyar, swearing at his reflection and snarling at Roic, asking why they’re in such a hurry now that there’s nothing to be done. Roic tells him that Cordelia is waiting for them on Sergyar, though he stumbles over calling her “the Countess” or the “Dowager Countess” before settling on “your mother”. This is, quite frankly, the slightest of the drabbles–I get more of an impression of Miles’s state of mind from Ivan’s piece, later, quite frankly. But then, I feel like we know Miles the best, after all this time, so I feel that I have a pretty good idea what’s going on inside his head in the first place.
And speaking of inside his head, he says “I feel like my brain’s been pulled out, and there’s nothing in my skull but loose wires waving from my spinal cord.” This feel uncomfortably reminiscent of the loose wires pulled from the brain of the pilot on Auson’s ship, back in The Warrior’s Apprentice, Miles’s first kill (via Bothari, but I’m sure Miles still counts it as such)
Third, we get Cordelia; she was the one who’d found him, two hours dead of a brain aneurysm on a warm afternoon. Miles is asking her why she didn’t cryoprep him anyway, in case technology was one day advanced enough to revive him, but she said he wouldn’t have wanted to live as a vegetable. She thinks privately to herself that his memories themselves were almost as much of a horror, and then apologizes to Ensign Dubauer.
It does feel like a turnabout, after she kept Aral from euthanising Dubauer way back in Shards of Honour, to have made another choice for Aral himself, although it is in accordance with Aral’s expressed wishes on the subject. Is she sorry for the fact that she couldn’t bring herself to try preserving as much of Aral as she did of Dubauer? Or is she retrospectively wishing she had let Dubauer die rather than trying to keep his body alive?
Also, the thought that his memories were so much of a horror that death would be preferable; was it really that bad? Okay, from the period of Mad Yuri’s War and the death of so much of his family, to the violent end of his first marriage, his travels with Ges Vorrutyer…and then his betrayal of Prince Serg and sacrifice of so much of his honour in the name of Emperor Ezar, Gregor and the Imperium, there was a lot of bad stuff in there. And his feud with his father over Miles. But was there nothing in the last few decades of his life that outweighed that? Gaining another son, and grandchildren, seeing Miles grow up and achieve so much, seeing Gregor grow up and achieve so much…nothing worthwhile? Okay, perhaps Cordelia knew him best, perhaps nothing could dent his ongoing torment of his shattered honour, but…somehow I just don’t see it. Who shaves the barber?
Fourth, we get Ivan. Not sure if Tej was a gleam in the author’s eye at this point, but certainly there’s no mention of a wife, or any children of their own. But Ivan himself is not really the focus of this scene. He watches Miles go up to present the eulogy, almost deciding to toss away the carefully-prepared speech and do the whole thing off the cuff instead. But instead he sees his children, calms down, and reads the speech after all. And Ivan “wonders what the old Miles would have said”.
The whole scene is from Ivan’s POV, and I’m not sure why; perhaps just that we’d already done Miles, and we wanted to see that Ivan was there. The last thought, about the old Miles, is perhaps a little unkind. Would it have been better for Miles to babble away about his father in front of all those people? Perhaps Ivan isn’t thinking it would have been better for the “old Miles” to have taken over, but he’s just curious. He’s a little wary of his cousin, perhaps, after all this time, and may very well have been avoiding him a little; Lady Alys is mentioned (later) as being in charge of the arrangements, of course, so perhaps there hasn’t been the opportunity. Ivan’s been on Ylla for a few years by now, hasn’t seen much of his cousin in a while, maybe misses the old familiar Miles who would order him to use his initiative. But this is also the Ivan who dealt with Miles after getting fired from ImpSec, the one who ruthlessly subjected him to an ice-water bath to pull his head out of his ass; he probably just wants to pull Miles out of himself again, in case he’s shuttering up his grief. But maybe he doesn’t have the freedom to do that anymore, as father and as Count.
Fifth, and last, we get Gregor, at the interment at Vorkosigan Surleau. And here I will quote a bit.
The grave was double but only one side dug; the earth waited like a bridal bed. The pallbearers were six: Ivan, Illyan, and Koudelka, of course; Duv Galeni for Komarr; Admiral Jole for Sergyar. And one other.
Lady Alys tells the Emperor that he should be one of the mourners, but Gregor tells her that it’s his turn to carry Aral Vorkosigan now, for a change, and she gives way.
I gather that the “chief mourners” are Miles and Cordelia, perhaps Mark, as the immediate family. Ivan, as nephew (well, first cousin once removed, really), must be far enough away to be spared for pallbearing. Illyan and Koudelka make sense as his longtime subordinates and friends, and one presumes that he was well acquainted with Jole after all spending several years on Sergyar. (How long was that? Ten years, from _Memory_ to _CryoBurn_?) Or, actually, looking it up in the Companion, it turns out that there was a Jole who was Aral’s aide-de-camp in _The Vor Game_, likely the same guy; possibly even the same Gentleman Jole from the forthcoming book? And Galeni? Is he just there as a token Komarran? It doesn’t seem like he could have had a particularly close relationship with Count Aral Vorkosigan, especially since he didn’t achieve prominence in ImpSec until after the events of _Memory_…but they had to have one Komarran in there, or else risk whispers about how none of them wanted to carry The Butcher’s coffin, so I guess Galeni was the best bet.
Did Alys had another choice for sixth, that Gregor displaced? Not sure who that would be…another of the Counts, or an Admiral or General? Miles and Mark are out; not only are they likely “chief mourners”, but, well, height matters… Not Mrs. Koudelka, surely; that would be indecorous. Would Armsmen count? Was it Pym or somebody who was being replaced?
Also, “bridal bed”? Shudder.
And so the series ends, at least for now, with the passing of one of its earliest characters. Like Taura, there’s only so long you can put off killing off a character whose health has been at risk for several books now…
It’s been four years, to the month, at least, since I started this reread. As you may have gathered, the last two books have been more burdensome, and it’ll be a bit of a relief to be done. (I’ve made promises to try to do some actual writing with the time that I’ve been devoting to the blog entries, but we’ll see how well I do at that.) Will I return when Gentleman Jole comes out? Perhaps, but no promises. I have no plans to take the blog down right away or anything, but this may be my last post here ever, so…farewell, loyal readers.