Archive for May, 2011

Welcome to the second post of my reread of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, in which I cover Chapters Three and Four of Shards of Honour.    It’s too bad that she doesn’t have chapter titles and icons like Robert Jordan, but I suppose those can be a lot of work, and a pain to try to keep creative without giving away too much, so I’ll live with it in this case.  At least she didn’t go the other extreme, like George R.R. Martin, who doesn’t number his chapters, just lists the viewpoint character, so it’s hard to even identify a particular chapter.  Or Terry Pratchett, who often doesn’t even have chapters (or, I suppose, has only one chapter, with the same title as the book).

Be cautious about reading this if you haven’t read the series before and can’t bear to have the slightest thing given away; I try to avoid plot spoilers, but I will feel few compunctions about mentioning that such-and-such a character, or planet, or whatever, turns up later, or about mentioning cultural or setting notes that may not come up until later books.  You can probably read the series faster than I do, so go out and buy a copy of Cordelia’s Honour and read ahead.  Some of Bujold’s books are available online for free from Baen, but I can’t remember which ones, and it may change, so go and look for yourself.  Anyway.  On to the actual chapters.

Chapter Three

Aral asks Cordelia to talk to him as they walk that morning, to keep his mind off his leg.  They talk about leadership styles, and Cordelia says that if she has to use force, she’s already failed, and she wins mostly through keeping her temper longer than anyone else.  She adds that civilization is mostly for the benefit of women, and mothers, and doesn’t know how she’d cope in a primitive situation.  Aral says she could have handled it, and she’d be a fine “mother of warriors”.  Cordelia doesn’t think much of the “warrior” part, though.

“Save me from that! To pour your life into sons for eighteen or twenty years, and then have the government take them away and waste them cleaning up after some failure of politics—no thanks.”

Aral asks if it would be different if they volunteered to fight, and Cordelia allowed it would be, but that it’s academic, since she has no children in any case.  Aral asks if she’s glad about it, and she replies neutrally, despite it being a painful topic for her.

They cross a stretch of badlands, with some effort, Cordelia helping Dubauer through.  Afterwards they take a break, and Aral examines the festering wound on his leg.  He asks if Cordelia thinks she could drain the wound, but she says she’d be more likely to get it infected.  She thinks that it must be bothering him to have mentioned it, and he takes a precious half-painkiller.

As the continue, Aral talks about his father, a former ground commander and friend of the current Emperor.

Cordelia caught a faint, faraway impression of a cold father whom a young son could never quite please, even with his best efforts, yet who shared with him a bond of underlying loyalty.

Cordelia describes her own family, and asks if Aral remembers his mother.  Aral tells her how she died in Yuri Vorbarra’s Massacre.  Emperor Yuri had become paranoid about his relatives, so he tried to have them all killed, including Aral’s grandfather Prince Xav, Aral’s mother, and Aral himself.  Yuri left Aral’s father alone, but he turned against the Emperor after his wife was killed.  Aral was there, and berates himself for having tried to take out his mother’s assassin with a mere table knife, when there were better knives to hand.  Aral says he was thrown across the room, and stops short of describing the actual murder, though more details have surfaced than he thought he remembered.  Cordelia notices that he seems to be feverish.

Cordelia describes her father’s death, in a shuttle accident, and how they were all blinded by the explosion for days afterward.  Aral parallels this with the deafness after the sonic grenade that killed his mother.

“…I couldn’t hear anything after that for quite some time. As if all sound had gone off the scale of human reception. Total noise, emptier of meaning than silence.”

“Yes . . .” How strange, that he should know exactly what I felt—he says it better, though. . . .

He says the experience, the helplessness, is what made him want to become a soldier, so he’d be better prepared in future.  Cordelia asks him about combat, and he says that space combat is very clean, unless your ship is hit.  Different from murder, like when he killed his Political Officer on Komarr; he saw his own death in the face of the corpse, but he’d had to protect his honour.  He tells Cordelia that anger seems to make her stronger, not weaker like it does him, and Cordelia isn’t sure how to react to the odd compliment.

They see a contrail in the sky, of a shuttle coming down for the cache.  Cordelia wonders if they should try to attract its attention, but Aral says, “My best friends and my deadliest enemies all wear the same uniform. I prefer to make my presence known as selectively as possible.”  He wonders if had Gottyan found his hidden sealed orders, but doubts it, since the Political Officer Radnov hadn’t found them yet.

Cordelia describes the man who shot Dubauer and asks if that was Radnov, but Aral says it was probably Bothari, which would explain matters.  Bothari is odd, hating Aral and having been recently disciplined by him, but unlikely to shoot him in the back; Radnov may have tried to recruit him in any case.  Aral enjoys sparring with him because he doesn’t pull his punches.  Cordelia points out that Bothari nearly killed her, but Aral insists that in his own way, he’s honourable.

The ground rises and vegetation becomes thicker as they approach the mountain, and Cordelia finds the going increasingly difficult for Dubauer, and eventually she berates Aral for the Barrayarans’ choice of weapons.  He agrees that stunners are more civilized, but they’re not threatening enough, and people don’t mind risking getting hit by them.  Cordelia says that she’d rather have a stunner, because she couldn’t even bring herself to fire a nerve disruptor.

As they continue, Aral tries to help with Dubauer, but Dubauer shies away from him, and he gives up.  He pushed himself onward with increasing determination, making Cordelia wonder if he’ll make it to their destination, or leave her to try to pick the right side of Barrayarans without his help.  They reach a waterfall close to sunset, and Aral decides they should stop there, rather than try to push on the cache during the night.  He offers his Barrayaran rations, which Cordelia compares unfavourably to boot leather, and even to the porridge and blue cheese they are by now heartily tired of.

Cordelia offers to take the longer shift on watch, pointing out that Aral is obviously exhausted, and she and Dubauer won’t make it without him.  Aral says she’s not what he expected a female officer to be–less of an “imitation man”, but still professional.  Cordelia says she’s really not that unusual for Beta Colony.

Aral asks about arranged marriages, and Cordelia finds the whole idea bizarre.  Aral says that among his caste on Barrayar, almost all marriages are arranged–not forced, but arranged by parents, and it seems to work.  He finds the Betan concept of just arranging things among yourselves, with no go-betweens, to be awkward, but Cordelia says that lovers can generally work it out.  Aral tells her that in the Time of Isolation, it was considered dishonourable to take a military woman for a lover, which made it a popular topic for fiction if nothing else.  He asks what she had expected being taken prisoner by Barrayarans, and Cordelia says, “Something criminal” (i.e. rape).  Aral doesn’t deny it happens, but considers it a sickness, and only the “scum of the service” would sink to it.

Cordelia tells the story of “a friend of hers”:

“…She was rather—socially inept. Everyone around her seemed to be finding their soul-mates, and the older she grew, the more panicky she got about being left out. Quite pathetically anxious.

“She finally fell in with a man with the most astonishing talent for turning gold into lead. She couldn’t use a word like love, or trust, or honor in his presence without eliciting clever mockery. Pornography was permitted; poetry, never.

“They were, as it happened, of equal rank when the captaincy of their ship fell open. She’d sweated blood for this command, worked her tail off—well, I’m sure you know what it’s like. Commands are few, and everybody wants one. Her lover persuaded her, partly by promise that turned out to be lies, later—children, in fact—to stand down in his favor, and he got the command. Quite the strategist. It ended soon after. Thoroughly dry.

“She had no stomach for another lover, after that. So you see, I think your old Barrayarans may have been on to something, after all. The inept—need rules, for their own protection.”

Aral tells a story of his own “friend”, in an arranged marriage at twenty.  He was often away on duty, and she found herself in a society where it was expected that she take lovers.  The friend arranged duels with her lovers.  He killed the first in a swordfight (Aral makes a slip here which convinces Cordelia that the story is about him, the same way her story was really about her), and the second wouldn’t even fight; Aral’s “friend” killed him anyway in disgust.  The wife, distraught over losing her lovers, killed herself with a plasma arc.  The “friend”, ready to give himself up to justice, found that the authorities believed the two lovers killed each other, and that he was entirely blameless.  Somehow he carried on, though the memories don’t go away.

After Aral goes to sleep, shivering in his fever, Cordelia covers him up with one of Dubauer’s bedrolls.


The chapters that are mostly dialogue are the hardest to summarize.  All I end up doing is paraphrasing the dialogue as reported speech, trying not to copy too many actual phrasings, so you should really read the original instead.  I’ve probably left out a few points about Beta Colony vs. Barrayar that came up in the dialogue, too.  So far, Beta Colony seems to be the more futuristic, while Barrayar is stuck in the past, but of course Barrayar seems to be more acquainted with the virtues of “principle” and “honour”.  It’s telling, in Cordelia’s story, that there doesn’t seem to be any way for her to take reprisal, where a Barrayaran who was betrayed the same way would doubtless do something, albeit probably something rash.

Aral isn’t doing a good job of selling Cordelia on Barrayar, with Yuri’s Massacre, the death of his wife, and even Bothari.  And yes, okay, Bothari was the shooter back in Chapter One with the nerve disruptor.  I just wish Bujold had made it a little clearer, so I wouldn’t have made such a fool of myself missing it the first time.  (All the other times I read it, of course, I continued on to Chapter Three a little quicker, so I figured it out in less time.)  I don’t know if Aral has formed his intentions towards Cordelia by this point, and if he’s intentionally testing her to see how badly she recoils, or if he’s perhaps letting slip more than he means to because of his fever.

I should also perhaps mention that while I consistently refer to him as “Aral”, in the actual text of the book he is pretty much always “Vorkosigan”.  Cordelia doesn’t feel that intimate with him yet, perhaps, but I find “Aral” to be, not to put too fine a point on it, shorter and easier to type, so I’ll continue that way.  I thought about referring to Aral’s father by his name, Pyotr, but there’ll be time enough for that later when the name is actually mentioned.  (There’s also a bad joke somewhere about how Aral must be Prince Caspian’s younger brother…)

Chapter Four

Aral wakes up a couple of hours before dawn and sends Cordelia to get a couple of hours’ sleep; she awakens to find him washed and depilated.  He asks her to help drain the wound on his leg, to hold him until they get to the cache.  Cordelia cuts it open, and they wash it out at the edge of the waterfall.  Afterwards, Aral has trouble walking on the leg, so he uses his last painkiller, plus a precious stimulant pill which he says will give him sixteen hours before he collapses.

They arc around the base of the mountain and examine the cache from an outcrop through a field scope, Dubauer asleep in a sheltered spot.  Aral spots two men–Koudelka, who he can trust, and Darobey, who is one of Radnov’s spies, and then Radnov himself.  Aral anticipates taking Radnov’s superiors to task after the man’s act of outright mutiny.  Then he spots Gottyan himself, armed and in charge.  As they return to shelter, they discover Dubauer missing; they make a quick search, but don’t find him.  Aral convinces Cordelia that by this point it’ll be quicker for him to take his command back and then send out a proper search party.

They sneak up on the cache, Aral not being sure why the shuttle returned and not wanting to just walk in until he does.  They lie down in the grass; Aral gives Cordelia back her stunner and keeps his knife.  When Gottyan passes by, Aral steps out and greets him.  Gottyan pulls out a nerve disruptor in reflex, and doesn’t lower it even when he sees who it is.  Aral asks if he was in on Radnov’s plan; Gottyan says no, but the opportunity for his own command was too good to pass up.  He asks Aral about the sealed orders, but Aral doesn’t tell him.  Gottyan says that Bothari told him what really happened at the camp, which is why they came back, to wait for Vorkosigan to turn up, though Bothari is in solitary confinement, and he hasn’t told anyone else that Aral is still alive.  Aral comments that there’s still time to change his mind; Gottyan doesn’t believe that Aral could forgive him this, though.  Cordelia sees him crying tears for Aral and realizes he’s about to shoot, so she shoots him with the stunner.  It doesn’t knock him out completely, but Aral takes the opportunity to disarm him.  Aral asks Gottyan about the pickets, and he says Koudelka is to the south, Sens to the north; as Aral ties him up, he tells Cordelia that Sens is one of Radnov’s.

They debate whether to believe Gottyan, and eventually decide to go north.  Aral tells Cordelia to fall back and “use her initiative” as he approaches the guard post; he finds Koudelka there, who is honestly happy to see him.

She leaned against a tree, suddenly weak. And just when was it, she asked herself, that you stopped being afraid of him and started being afraid for him? And why is this new fear so much more gut-wrenching than the first? You don’t seem to have come out ahead on the trade, have you?

Aral calls Cordelia out of concealment, which puzzles Koudelka and his companion guard, who thought the Betans had killed him.

“Your funeral was splendid,” said Koudelka. “You should have been there.”

“Next time, perhaps,” Vorkosigan grinned.

“Oh. You know I didn’t mean it that way, sir. Lieutenant Radnov made the best speech.”

“I’m sure. He’d probably been working on it for months.”

Koudelka, a little quicker on the uptake than his companion, said “Oh.” His fellow merely looked puzzled.

Vorkosigan went on. “Permit me to introduce Commander Cordelia Naismith, of the Betan Astronomical Survey. She is . . .” he paused, and Cordelia waited interestedly to hear what status she was to be assigned, “ah . . .”

“Sounds like?” she murmured helpfully.

Vorkosigan closed his lips firmly, pressing a smile out straight. “My prisoner,” he chose finally. “On parole. Except for access to classified areas, she is to be extended every courtesy.”

He asks Koudelka who’s in the landing party, and when Koudelka tells him, he orders the arrest of Radnov, Darobey, Sens, and Tafas.  Koudelka asks if he’s sure about Tafas, and Aral reminds him that there will be a trial, to separate the guilty from the innocent.  They head off toward the entrance to the cache cavern, Aral trying to disguise how much he’s leaning on Cordelia.

In front of the entrance, there’s a cluster of Barrayarans; Cordelia realizes that two of them are hauling Dubauer’s face out of the water.  Aral orders them to release him, and they explain that he was captured, but “refused” to talk, and they were trying to interrogate him.  Aral explains about the disruptor damage, and Cordelia castigates them all as “barbarians, scoundrels, and assassins!”  Aral formally apologizes to her, which Cordelia accepts with poor grace.  Aral orders the ranking officer, Ensign Buffa, to take command, relieves Tafas of his weapon, and tells Buffa to take his prisoners, Dubauer and Cordelia, to the cave and them whatever they require.  He heads off to deal with Gottyan himself, and Cordelia reminds him obliquely to be careful.

Koudelka asks him what happened to Aral, and Cordelia downplays the leg injury, but says he should get medical attention for it as soon as they can get him to slow down.  Koudelka says he’s never seen anyone with as much energy as “the old man”, which puzzles Cordelia as he doesn’t seem old to her, Betan lifespans being longer.

As they go through the tunnels, Cordelia realizes that this is more than just a cache, with extensive tunnels carved by plasma arc, and stuffed with supplies.  She is troubled by the implications.  Koudelka takes them a mess hall and fills in the cook there, Yeoman Nilesa, about Dubauer and Cordelia’s status.  Cordelia asks for anything but oatmeal or blue cheese, and is delighted with the simple but tasty food he brings.  She has soon won Nilesa over, and he even offers to help feed Dubauer.

Aral arrives and makes a similar request for food.  Cordelia asks what happened with Gottyan, and Aral says he gave Gottyan his plasma arc and turned his back, saying he was tired of working with someone who made his shoulder blades itch.  After ten minutes, Gottyan gave it back and they returned to the camp.  Aral and Cordelia both sit tiredly at the table until Koudelka returns to tell them that they collared all of the mutineers except Radnov and Darobey, who got away.  Aral tells him that he will leave them on the planet and they will return to the ship in orbit.

They ride up in the shuttle with the rest of the Barrayarans, including the prisoners.  The soldiers seem to be speculating on what Cordelia and Aral got up to on the planet, which amuses her somewhat.  Aral goes forward as they near orbit, and Cordelia senses him drawing apart, back into his duties.  She anticipates some quiet times with him over the next few months, which she resolves to consider a holiday spent studying Barrayaran culture.

Once they dock with the ship, Koudelka takes them to the sickbay to drop off Dubauer.  Cordelia tells the surgeon about Aral’s leg, and the stimulant pill he took.  She waits around for Aral, who is close to the end of his energy, but still trying to give orders, to get Bothari released from custody and Cordelia given what she needs; they manage to get him to lie down, and the surgeon reassures her that he’ll be all right once it wears off.  Koudelka gets her some clothing from stores, and recharges her stunner, as Aral had ordered, even though she is a prisoner; Cordelia points out that technically she’s merely a detainee, since they’re not at war.  Koudelka takes her to the Visiting Officer’s Quarters.


A bit of an abrupt end for the chapter, really.  A lot of new people, some of which doubtless turn up later in the book, so I’ve been trying not to stint on names, though Koudelka is the only one I remember from later books.  The Political Officer thing seems very Soviet, which was current at the time Bujold was writing, I guess; that whole system seems to be gone in later books, even in The Warrior’s Apprentice, set a generation later, but published the same year…  I think that comes about as a result of events in this book, but I can’t remember.  Aral’s method of winning Gottyan back over is admirable, judging him to have enough honour left not to shoot him in cold blood.  Or maybe he just knew that Aral’s survival was already established, and he couldn’t escape blame for the murder without a lot more deaths.  Don’t remember yet what happens to him, either.

I love the little scene with Aral, Cordelia and Koudelka that I quoted above.  I giggle every time Cordelia says, “Sounds like?”  I also mostly forget the significance of the size of the cache, though I suspect it’s explained in the second half of the book somewhere.  It’s always like this on rereads of a series–I’ll remember the things that carry over into later books, but I’ll often forget about the details and characters that bear on that book’s particular plot.

I just suddenly realized that, for some reason, Ms. Bujold reuses a character name–there’s a Dubauer in Diplomatic Immunity–but in such a way that it’s highly unlikely that there’s any relationship between the two.  Since Dubauer is an assumed name in the later book, it would have to be some kind of cryptic reference to Cordelia’s past that would go right over Miles’s head…so it’s probably not a conscious reuse.  Just struck me, though.

Week Two–so far, so good.  Two chapters seems to be about the right pace; I could potentially manage three, but I like the slightly lower pressure.  And hopefully there are fewer dialogue chapters to come.

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Hello, and welcome to the first proper entry in my Vorkosigan Saga Reread, in which I cover the first two chapters of Shards of Honour.  (Yes, I intend to use Canadian spellings throughout, but I promise, you’ll hardly notice, unless that sort of thing bothers you.)

These days, Shards is part of an omnibus called Cordelia’s Honour, but Shards of Honour was Lois McMaster Bujold’s first published novel.  I originally read The Warrior’s Apprentice, the first Miles novel, which was published the same year, but it took me three years to get around to trying Shards.  She started off with a bang.

Chapter One

Cordelia Naismith is a Commander from Beta Colony, exploring an idyllic new world with her team botanist, Ensign Dubauer.  There follows a whole page of beautiful nature description before bad-smelling smoke rising from the campground below makes Cordelia wonder what’s going on, just as their shuttle takes off precipitously.  Cordelia pages the camp, but doesn’t get any response.  When they return to the camp, they find tents slagged, equipment smashed, and Lieutenant Rosemont, who had been left in charge of the camp, killed by a weapon called a “nerve disruptor”.

Most of the communications equipment is slagged, but Cordelia and Dubauer manage to pry open a cabinet and find an intact comm link.  They contact their ship, and are informed by Lieutenant Stuben that a Barrayaran patrol appeared, claiming they found the planet first, and one of them began shooting.  They all escaped except for Rosemont, and are now trying to evade the Barrayaran ship.  Cordelia instructs them to try to evade and outrun the Barrayaran ship, since they can’t outgun it, and if necessary go back to Beta Colony and work through political channels.  The Barrayarans are professional soldiers, and the Betans are outclassed, so Cordelia wants to spare her crew.

After Cordelia signs off, a “hatchet-faced” Barrayaran soldier appears and levels a nerve disruptor at them; Dubauer pushes Cordelia out of the way, and she tumbles down a ravine and hits her head.

When she awakens, she finds the Barrayaran standing over her, training her own stunner on her.  After she throws up, he introduced himself as Captain Aral Vorkosigan, commander of the ship General Vorkraft.  Cordelia introduces herself, and asks about Dubauer; Aral says there is nothing she can do for him now, and Cordelia calls him a murderer.  She asks why the Betans were attacked, and Aral says that they were only supposed to taken prisoner, but he himself was hit with a stun beam, though he doubts it was from one of the hapless Betans.  Cordelia lets it slip that the rest of the crew escaped.

Aral asks if she has another comm link, and when she does not, insists on taking her with him to the nearest base, despite her concussion.  He says that it’s 200 kilometres, two days for him but doutless longer with her along.  Cordelia insists on burying her officers before they leave, and Aral eventually acquiesces.  When they reach the spot where she thinks Dubauer’s body should be, it is missing, and Aral tells her that he is still walking around, but is surely brain-dead after the nerve disrupter hit.  She finds Dubauer in the vegetation, having a seizure, and insists they need to get him to medical help.

“You are being unrealistic, Commander Naismith. One does not recover from disruptor injuries.”

“So? You can’t tell the extent of the damage your filthy weapon has done from the outside. He can still see and hear and feel—you can’t demote him to the status of a corpse for your convenience!”

His face seemed a mask. “If you wish,” he said carefully. “I can put him out of his suffering. My combat knife is quite sharp. Used quickly, it would cut his throat almost painlessly. Or should you feel it is your duty as his commander, I’ll lend you the knife and you may use it.”

“Is that what you’d do for one of your men?”

“Certainly. And they’d do the same for me. No man could wish to live on like that.”

She stood and looked at him very steadily. “It must be like living among cannibals, to be a Barrayaran.”

Cordelia asks where he plans to go, and he says there is a supply cache, with medical supplies and communications equipment.  Cordelia pledges her parole and aid, short of endangering her ship, if he will help her get Dubauer there, or else he will have to leave them behind or kill them.  Aral eventually agrees, and Cordelia helps Dubauer to walk.

Cordelia washes Dubauer while Aral searches the camp for any salvageable rations.  He finds two cases of ration packs with labels burned off.  One is instant oatmeal, and one turns out to be blue cheese dressing.  Aral surprises Cordelia by producing a spoon from a Swiss Army Knife.  He finds a small shovel, and sets up a cold light while she starts digging a grave for Rosemont.  After a while, he takes a shift digging, asking Cordelia what they know about the fauna on the planet to gauge how deep the grave needs to be.  Cordelia recalls someone mentioning predators called “fuzzy crabs”.

As Cordelia is mounting a cold light on a pole, they hear noise in the bracken.

The three creatures made a concerted rush into the ring of light. Cordelia caught a glimpse of fast low bodies, entirely too many hairy black legs, four beady black eyes set in neckless faces, and razor-sharp yellow beaks that clacked and hissed. They were the size of pigs.

Between the shovel, the pole, and Aral’s knife, they drive off the “fuzzy crabs” before they can make off with Rosemont’s body, though Aral is wounded in the leg.  He binds the wound and resumes digging, finishing the grave close to midnight.  He suggests they take Rosemont’s clothes for Dubauer, and they finish burying him, Cordelia making a silent prayer at Aral’s urging.  Cordelia beds down next to Dubauer while Aral keeps watch, though he promises to wake her for a shift later.


As you may have guessed, even if you haven’t read this before, Aral Vorkosigan is going to be somewhat important to the series to come, despite his initially unpromising introduction.  Betans and Barrayarans apparently tend to get along like Democrats and Republicans, which makes me think of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver for some reason.

We never get Aral’s point of view, so his motives for taking Cordelia, and perforce Dubauer, along are a little obscure.  He probably feels an odd mixture of responsibility for Cordelia, since she’s the last survivor of his crew (if he doesn’t count Dubauer), mostly due to what his own subordinates have done, and a little bit of contempt for a captive specimen of an incompetent (by Barrayaran standards) enemy.  Not that Betans and Barrayarans are long-standing enemies, but Barrayarans have a bad reputation as violent militarists, and hence savages, by Betan standards, in the wormhole nexus.  Which makes me think of how apparently Lois McMaster Bujold’s first iteration of this story was as Star Trek fanfic, where Aral Vorkosigan would have been a Klingon.  This may have predated Worf and Star Trek: TNG, too, though perhaps not John M. Ford’s The Final Reflection, I’m not sure.

I skimmed over the mention of the wormholes, by the way.  The Betan team have reached this previously unknown planet through a wormhole, which is the only method, in Bujold’s universe, of getting around the speed of light.  The whole of Bujold’s interstellar civilization is joined together by wormholes, and the importance of a star system tends to be directly related to how many wormholes it contains, and where they lead.  Though the wormholes are mostly a convenient plot device, Bujold does not neglect to investigate their implications in the series.  For now, it’s a little while before we even see one.  They do get off the planet in this book, in case you’re wondering.  (I can’t remember if they name the planet this book, or not until later, though.)


Not one but two comments, one from my wife, pointing out that the hatchet-faced man who shot Dubauer is probably Bothari, not Aral Vorkosigan.  Which makes perfect sense, and I probably knew that.  So now I’m going to go back and see if I can figure out how obvious that is, that I missed it.  First, the soldier who shot Dubauer:

A movement in the mottled shade caught her eye. She started to her feet, hand moving toward her stunner. The tall, hatchet-faced Barrayaran soldier in the green and grey splotched camouflage fatigues moved even faster. Dubauer moved faster still, shoving her blindly behind him.

(In case you were wondering, I’m reading this from the CD bundled with the CryoBurn hardcover, so I can just copy and paste directly…which makes this whole thing much easier.)

And then, in the next scene, here’s Aral:

Heavy black boots, sunk in the mud and topped by green and grey splotched camouflage trousers, encased legs spread apart in a patient parade rest. She suppressed a weary whimper. Very gently she laid her head back in the black ooze, and rolled cautiously onto her side for a better view of the Barrayaran officer.

Her stunner! She stared into the little rectangle of its business end, held steadily in a broad and heavy hand. Her eyes searched anxiously for his nerve disruptor. The officer’s belt hung heavy with equipment, but the disruptor holster on his right hip was empty, as was the plasma arc holster on his left.

He was barely taller than herself, but stocky and powerful. Untidy dark hair touched with grey, cold intent grey eyes—in fact, his whole appearance was untidy by the strict Barrayaran military standards. His fatigues were almost as rumpled and muddy and stained with plant juices as her own, and he had a raw contusion across his right cheekbone. Looks like he’s had a rotten day too, she thought muzzily. Then the sparkly black whirlpools expanded and drowned her again.

The first guy has three characteristics: tall, hatchet-faced, and wearing green and grey splotched camouflaged fatigues.  Aral is wearing green and grey splotched camouflaged trousers, and presumably the rest.  He is not described as not having a hatchet face.  So I guess what I needed to pick up on was the phrase “barely taller than herself”, as opposed to “tall”.  Though if Cordelia is herself tall (as I vaguely recall that she is), then someone “barely taller than her” is still “tall”.

Add to this the reference in the first paragraph in the second excerpt to “the Barrayaran officer”, italics mine, and I feel that I could be forgiven for concluding that they are the same person.  She sees “a Barrayaran soldier”, and later wakes up to find “the Barrayaran officer”.  Unless an officer can never be the same as a soldier; I tend to take “soldier” as being a more inclusive category, but I suppose I could be wrong.

The other clue, which I suppose I missed was this:

“What happened to your party?”

Cordelia’s eyes narrowed. “Weren’t you there? I was up on the mountain, assisting my team botanist.” And more urgently, “Have you seen my botanist—my ensign? He pushed me into the ravine when we were ambushed—”

She says “we were ambushed”, not “you ambushed us”.  Which may mean that she can tell, from physical details not vouchsafed directly to us readers, that Aral is not the same person as Hatchet-face.  On the other hand, I’m sure that if Hatchet-face isn’t Aral, she would still conclude that Aral, as a Barrayaran Captain, would likely be Hatchet-face’s superior officer, and so would still be responsible for the ambush, so either way, it should be “you ambushed us”, differing only in whether “you” means Aral himself or “you” means Aral and the soldiers under his command.  And yet she uses the passive voice, perhaps out of some Betan habit of circumlocution and the avoidance of direct blame-assignment…who knows.

Aral also says that he was stunned and found the camp “as she did” when he came to.  I took that to mean that he was stunned during the initial attack that slagged the camp, and then came to around the time Cordelia and Dubauer returned.  But then, Aral’s holsters are empty of plasma arcs and nerve disruptors, and all he has is Cordelia’s stunner, so I suppose that he doesn’t have the nerve disrupter that killed Dubauer.  But perhaps his disruptor merely ran out of charge?  He is shown to have plasma arc power packs in the next chapter, but that doesn’t mean he has some for his nerve disrupter…

Anyway, the point here is that while I am perfectly willing to believe, based on later evidence, that Hatchet-face and Aral are not the same person, I really would have liked Ms. Bujold to have presented us right away with the fact that they are two different people–something that, if this were a movie, we would have been able to figure out in nanoseconds, thanks to the embedded facial recognition software in our brain.  Instead, she provides a selection of maddeningly indirect clues, leaving it ambiguous and confusing until matters are clarified, possibly chapters later when we actually meet Bothari.  *wags finger admonishingly at author*  Oh, well, it was her first novel, I suppose I can cut her some slack.  Eventually.

Chapter Two

Aral, Cordelia and Dubauer make their way down from the mountainside campsite and walk along a stream rather than hack through the dense undergrowth.  Cordelia notes some floating radial native lifeforms, like transparent balloons, floating above the stream.  During a rest break, Cordelia suddenly remembers where she’s heard of Aral Vorkosigan before, and blurts out that he’s the Butcher of Komarr.

“What do you know about Komarr?” His tone added, An ignorant Betan.

“Just what everyone knows. It was a worthless ball of rock your people annexed by military force for command of its wormhole clusters. The ruling senate surrendered on terms, and were murdered immediately after. You commanded the expedition, or . . .” Surely the Vorkosigan of Komarr had been an admiral. “Was it you? I thought you said you didn’t kill prisoners.”

“It was.”

“Did they demote you for it?” she asked, surprised. She had thought that sort of conduct to be Barrayaran standard.

“Not for that. For the sequel.” He seemed reluctant to say more, but he surprised her again by going on. “The sequel was more effectively suppressed. I had given my word—my word, as Vorkosigan—they were to be spared. My Political Officer countermanded my order, and had them killed behind my back. I executed him for it.”

“Good God.”

“I broke his neck with my own hands, on the bridge of my ship. It was a personal matter, you see, touching my honor. I couldn’t order a firing squad—they were all afraid of the Ministry of Political Education.”

Cordelia wonders that he wasn’t hanged, but Aral tells her that a Vorkosigan cannot be just executed, though he did make some enemies.  She asks if one of those enemies shot him, and Aral says that it’s possible, but he doubts it because he’s alive.  Cordelia reflects that Barrayaran politics sound more dangerous than the Betan variety, but Aral says that at least his subordinates don’t argue over his orders.

They make the way down toward the plains, stopping for the night a little above the flatland after Dubauer has a seizure that leaves him weak.  They eat some more oatmeal and blue cheese dressing, than Aral takes the first watch again.  He wakes her in the middle of the night and gives her the stunner, reporting nothing but some loud beast out in the bushes, then goes to sleep.  She contemplates Aral Vorkosigan, one of the old guard of aristocrats on Barrayar, trying to fight off the rising ride of bureaucrats.  Only the aging Emperor Vorbarra seems to keep them from each other’s throats, according to what little she knows of the planet.  She also contemplates the trust that lets him sleep while she has the stunner, but admits that she needs his help with Dubauer.

The next day they reach a river.  While trying to find a ford, they spot some hexapeds basking on a sandbar in the river, and some larger specimens of the transparent balloons.  Some of the balloons alight on the hexapeds’ backs, where they appear to suck blood until the hexapeds dislodge them and slide into the river.  Finally crossing the river just above a small waterfall, Dubauer slips and goes under, pulling Cordelia with him; Aral rescues them before they can be swept too far downstream.

Later, Cordelia disturbs a smaller hexaped, which she suddenly remembers is edible; Aral calls for the stunner and takes the creature down in one shot.

“Oh, good shot!” cried Cordelia ecstatically.

Vorkosigan grinned like a boy over his shoulder at her, and jogged after his prize.

“Oh,” she murmured, stunned herself by the effect of the grin. It had lit his face like the sun for that brief instant. Oh, do that again, she thought; then shook off the thought. Duty. Stick to duty.

Cordelia advises Aral on how to kill it, and they decide to stop for the day early so they can eat it.  Aral notices Dubauer’s absence, and Cordelia backtracks quickly to find Dubauer staring up entranced at a descending vampire bubble.  It settles on his face, but Aral pulls it off before it has sunk more than few tendrils into Dubauer.  Cordelia helps pluck the remnants of the tendrils loose, noticing the creature has left behind a burning acidic coating, and Dubauer is weeping.  Aral washes his hand off in the stream, then gives Dubauer one of his few remaining painkillers.

When it comes to starting the fire, Aral notes that he was supposed to have learned to start a fire with sticks in childhood military camps, but he usually resorted to hotwiring a power pack.  He finds a plasma arc power pack, takes it down to a bend in the river, and then runs back quickly before it explodes.  It leaves behind a hot, glassy crater, which Aral uses to light a torch, but the river quickly fills it in.  They cook the hexaped meat over the fire–well done, as Cordelia tells Aral they hadn’t completed the parasite survey yet–even Dubauer managing to eat some small pieces.

Cordelia is amused to note how primitive Aral looks after only a few days in the bush, unshaven and covered with blood and grease, smelling of sweat, though she feels a wave of physical attraction which she sternly suppresses.  Aral asks about her dedication to Dubauer, if they were in love, but Cordelia says he’s too younger for her, and she just feels responsible.  They talk about their families–Cordelia’s mother and brother are on Beta Colony, but her father died in an accident years earlier; Aral’s father is Count Vorkosigan, and his mother was half Betan.  Cordelia asks for more details, and he tells her that his maternal grandfather was Prince Xav Vorbarra, a diplomat who was posted to Beta Colony as an ambassador.  Xav was a progressive, but the Count is aligned with the military aristocrats; Aral himself claims that he tries to avoid politics, because they tend to be hard on his family.

She wakes up in the middle of the night as Aral puts more wood on the fire, and tells her the carcass of the hexaped is attracting scavengers, the “fuzzy” crabs they saw earlier.  They face them off with torches, and Aral drops a couple with the stunner, but it’s running low on charge.  As the scavengers draw closer, Aral is dismayed to notice some of the balloons hovering overhead, but Cordelia reasons that they must use hydrogen gas to float.  Aral knocks one of the sky, then Cordelia hits it with her torch and it explodes; she continues until the scavengers are fleeing, and then realizes that Aral is patting out bits of her burning hair.  He captures one more of the balloons and wraps it in his shirt, just in case they need it later.  They decide that eating the wildlife is too risky.

In the morning, the balloon creature has died, staining Aral’s shirt badly.  Later, he gets some tiny stinging insect-like creatures in his pants, and Cordelia notices that the wound Aral received from the “fuzzy crab” earlier is looking infected, but there is little they can do about it.  She notices him favouring the leg while walking, but he refuses to take any painkillers until they are closer to their destination.  His leg is swollen the next day, and he cuts himself a walking stick, but insists they can still make in another day or two.  He insists he is one of the fittest men over forty in his command (out of four, he admits), and he has a powerful stimulant he can use later, too.

He tells Cordelia that he suspects his Political Officer, Radnov, of trying a spur-of-the-moment assassination attempt which they could blame on Betans, but whoever was supposed to kill him stunned him and hid him under a bush instead.  And yet whoever it was hasn’t informed Aral’s first officer, Gottyan, that Aral is alive, so he’s not sure what side this person is on.

Aral asks about Cordelia’s ship, and she decides it’s safe to tell him that they’re probably back at Beta Colony by now.  Aral says that Gottyan would probably be back at the planet by now, then, but refuses to tell Cordelia any more, though he says he will try to see that she doesn’t end up in a Barrayaran prison cell.  Cordelia doesn’t know how to deal with this kindness.


The first signs of attraction on Cordelia’s part, and a hint that relationships between Betans and Barrayarans are not foredoomed or anything.  And the first mention that Aral’s descended from a Vorbarra Prince, albeit through the female line, which, as you may imagine, doesn’t count for as much on Barrayar as it might elsewhere.  (Vor is a prefix indicating nobility, so Vorbarra = Vor + Barra, and Barrayar = Barra + -yar.)  This chapter is really as much as we get in this book about the alien fauna, though what there is is interesting enough.  I’ll be happy enough for them to get back to dealing with other people, because trekking-through-the-wilderness stories can get old really fast.

It’s interesting how Aral almost doesn’t dispute Cordelia’s horribly biased account of the Komarr story, not mentioning at first the fact that he didn’t order the deaths himself.  And no mention of the reason that Barrayar attacked Komarr (which was provoked, if perhaps not quite justified, so I suppose it probably cuts no ice in Betan eyes).

Betans and Barrayarans do start out with such dissimilar worldviews, but it seems that it’s easier for a Betan to understand a Barrayaran than the other way around, because part of the Betan way of thinking includes the possibility that others think differently.  (Reminds me of David Brin’s essay “Otherness”, where he says that Americans–or is it First Worlders as a whole?–try to force their worldview on others, even though part of that worldview is “all worldviews are equally valid”.)  On the other hand, some things that Betans regard as basic human rights–such as equality of the sexes, and the sanctity of life–just make Barrayarans look at them funny.

And that’s all for this week.  With luck, I’ll manage another two chapters for next week, and we’ll see how long I can keep up the pace.  Thanks for reading.

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My name is Aaron Humphrey, and I’ve been reading science fiction, fantasy, and other books for many years now.


Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series comprises over a dozen books, for the most part fast-paced space opera, which mostly just means that people fly around in spaceships without worrying too much about how they came up with the science behind it.  Not to belittle Bujold’s attention to the science–she just doesn’t let it get in the way of the plot, and quite often the implications of the science are actually integral to the plot.  It’s also partially military SF, in that our most major character, Miles Vorkosigan, spends a lot of time in military service of one sort or another, but it manages to avoid the most dreary tropes of that subgenre too.


This blog.  Was that not clear?


I’m a busy guy, and I’ve got a lot of other things on my plate, but I’ll try to do one post a week.  I know that regular posting schedules are important to keep an audience, assuming I ever get one in the first place, and I will do my best.  I work full-time and I like to play computer games, watch TV, and, you know, read books, so it will help if I can keep my enthusiasm level high.  It will help that I love the Vorkosigan series and love to reread it every year or so, and this way I may be able to read it more often.  Feedback will also keep me excited about the series.


In addition to what I mentioned in my last answer…I see lots of fantasy series rereads these days.  There’s a Wheel of Time reread, a Malazan Book of the Fallen reread, a Memory, Sorry & Thorn reread, a Lord of the Rings reread, Harry Potter rereads, A Song of Ice And Fire…uh…well, there’s a first-time-read, at least, and possibly a reread somewhere too.  In many cases, it’s because there’s a long gap between books, and many details which reward repeated reads, but it’s a lot of work to do it all by yourself.  I have to say, the Vorkosigan series isn’t really like that.  Bujold’s books aren’t as thick, there aren’t as many ongoing plot points that you have to keep track of, they’re SF, not fantasy, and there’s no overarching plot arc.  Nevertheless, I see a need.  Far too few people seem to know about these books, and I would like to raise awareness of them.  I mean, last November there was a new Wheel of Time book and a new Vorkosigan book coming out.  The Wheel of Time book, Towers of Midnight, showed up in our local chain bookstore on the day it was scheduled to, and we snapped it up right away.  The Vorkosigan book, CryoBurn, I seem to recall, we eventually special-ordered after two weeks when we gave up on it showing up on its own.  So you see the problem.

I admit, she’s won multiple Nebula and Hugo Awards for the series, so she’s certainly not hurting for acclaim, but still I continually meet people who know who Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin are who blink nonplussedly when I mention her name.  So let me make my own modest contribution to increasing her profile.


First of all, I plan to do the books in chronological order as much as possible.  The first book published, Shards of Honour, is also the first chronologically, luckily, so that’s an easy call, but the second book chronologically, Barrayar, was published after three or four others came out.  I believe I originally read them in publication order, but now I prefer the chronological order as much as possible.  For one thing, that’s how they tend to be omnibized, and I’ve got the two books above (which, by the way, star Miles Vorkosigan’s mother, Cordelia Naismith) in the new omnibus of Cordelia’s Honour because I gave my original copies to someone else.  Ms. Bujold doesn’t always make things easy, because there are a few short stories, which got anthologized into Borders of Infinity and are scattered along the timeline.  But I will try my best.  (I do plan to skip Falling Free, since it’s a much earlier book set in the same world, but I’ve decided to toss Ethan of Athos in there, even though it doesn’t feature any of the Vorkosigans directly, but it does overlap slightly, and fared better the last time I did reread the series.)

In more mechanical terms…a couple of chapters for each post, I imagine, with a synopsis, a few notable quotes interleaved, and then commentary.  I haven’t decided how spoilerrific I’ll be; probably not too much, but I will not be above making spoilery hints and comments.  I encourage you to pick up your own copies and read along if you haven’t read the series before and you want to follow me.  Two chapters a week shouldn’t be too hard, should it?

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