Ever wonder what makes the world go around? Love? Money? Or maybe, just possibly, the Vorkosigan Saga Reread? Because here it is again, after a week off, and, just between you and me, didn’t the rotations seem to go by a little more slowly? Well, fret not, because we’re starting a new book in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga–Komarr, omnibized as the first part of Miles In Love, because Miles Vorkosigan’s lack of love life, which he was beginning to worry about in Memory, is beginning to turn around at last. Though, of course, this is Miles–nothing about it is going to be easy for him. Because, after all, his author is accustomed to come up with the worst curves for life to throw at him: in this case, getting hung up on a married woman, the narrator he shares POV with in this book, a woman named Ekaterin Vorsoisson…
Ekaterin Vorsoisson looks up at the sky from the balcony of her apartment in Serifosa Dome on Komarr. The soletta array of mirrors in orbit around the planet, designed to help terraform the planet by increasing the incoming solar radiation, has been damaged, half of its mirrors out of commission. An ore freighter had collided with it two weeks earlier. Inside the domes, it’s mostly a matter of putting up extra lights, but outside the domes, it could be fatal to the fragile plantations that are also part of the terraforming effort. She’s put up extra lights herself for the garden of Barrayaran plants on her balcony.
Briefly, she considered moving her old bonsai’d skellytum indoors, to provide it with more controlled conditions, but it was all indoors here on Komarr, really. She hadn’t felt wind in her hair for nearly a year. She felt an odd twinge of identification with the transplanted ecology outside, slowly starving for light and heat, suffocating in a toxic atmosphere . . . Stupid. Stop it. We’re lucky to be here.
Her husband, Etienne (or “Tien”), calls her inside, and when she comes, he tells her that her uncle has called to say he’s arrived at the shuttleport. Her uncle, Auditor Vorthys, also said that he brought another Auditor with him, annoying Tien at being expected to feed another Auditor at short notice. He speculates about what favours Vorthys must have called in to get the position; Ekaterin says that surely Imperial Auditors don’t get their jobs that way, and Tien just calls her naive. He points out that Vorthys’s guest, Auditor Vorkosigan, presumably got his position just for being alive, being incredibly young for the job.
Ekaterin notices Tien’s hand shaking, but he insists that he’s just tired and tense. Ekaterin says he’s older than his brother had been when it started, but Tien reminds her that it could start at any time. He promises they’ll go offplanet to get it treated soon; Ekaterin asks why they can’t do it on Komarr, and Tien says he has no desire to be branded a mutant at this point in his career. He forbids her to tell her uncle about it; she asks him to promise not to kill himself like his brother did. Tien says they’ll go on their galactic “vacation” with their son Nikolai after his current appointment is done. After he leaves, Ekaterin thinks to herself that he’s the one who keeps putting off the treatments.
She modifies her meal plans for the extra guest, mostly be bringing out two more bottles of wine, hoping to get their guest so drunk he won’t notice the food. She wishes she’d hired a servitor, but they’re expensive, and the press are speculating enough about the soletta accident that she didn’t want to add to the Auditors’ social pressure. She’d lived with the Vorthyses after her mother’s death, while she went to Imperial University, before she married Etienne. Long before they found out about the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy.
Nikolai, nine years old, comes out and she gets him a glass of juice; she asks if he remembers his uncle, and he remembers a visit to his lab. She asks to check the size of his hands–almost as large as hers–but is really checking for tremula. Vorzohn’s Dystrophy could start as early as puberty, but so far Nikolai’s shown no symptoms.
Etienne returns with the guests, and Nikki runs to greet them, swept up into a hug by Uncle Vorthys, who then gives his niece a hug as well. Only then does she notice Auditor Vorkosigan, and is struck by his size and odd shape, as well as the expensive custom fit of his clothes. She greets him courteously, realizing she doesn’t know his name, and he introduces himself as Miles Vorkosigan. As Nikki and Tien take Vorthys off to the guest room, Ekaterin swiftly revises her plans to put Miles in Nikki’s bed, because it might seem too much of a comment on his size. Instead she takes him to her office/planting room, where she promises they’ll put in a grav-bed for him.
“It’s fine,” he assured her. He stepped to the window and stared out over the domed park. The lights in the encircling buildings gleaming warmly in the luminous twilight of the half-eclipsed mirror.
“I know it’s not what you’re used to.”
One corner of his mouth twitched up. “I once slept for six weeks on bare dirt. With ten thousand extremely grubby Marilacans, many of whom snored. I assure you, it’s just fine.”
She smiled in return, not at all certain what to make of this joke, if it was a joke.
Miles foils her plans to get him drunk by asking for only half a glass of wine, saying he’s tired from spending hours in a pressure suit, and it’d put him right to sleep. Once the food is served, she begins asking her uncle about their plans. He says they’re mostly onplanet now because they’re waiting for the rest of the pieces in space to be collected, in particular anything from the control systems, which hopefully shouldn’t take more than three days. Tien asks if it was sabotage, and Vorthys says they’ll have trouble proving it, with the pilot dead. It hit the mirror edge-on, which was the worst angle for the collision; Miles says that it was so perfect, it makes it seem more like an accident, because of how difficult it would have been to actually calculate it that way. Ekaterin watches Tien, wondering what he thinks of Lord Vorkosigan, an obvious mutant who’s obviously so successful.
Tien says that Vorthys’s specialty in failure analysis is well-known, and asks what Miles’s role in the investigation is. Miles says he does have some experience with space stations, but he’s mostly there to observe Vorthys’s investigation, and because of the sensitivity of relations with Komarr with the Imperial wedding coming up. He asks about the local terraforming project, where Tien works, and Tien promises to take them on a tour the next day.
Tien asks how long before the mirror is likely to be repaired; Miles says that it will depend on how much money Barrayar is willing to spend, with terraforming on Barrayar still ongoing as well as active colonization of Sergyar. Ekaterin protests that they can’t stop the project now, three hundred years in. Miles continues, saying that some military elements think that it might be preferable to keep Komarrans in domes, to keep the conquered people safely restricted, though he wonders if they think that Komarrans will still be “conquered people” three centuries later when the terraforming is supposed to be complete. Gregor’s policy is assimilation-oriented, which means that potential suspects could be isolationist Barrayarans or Komarran extremists, but even the average Komarran may question the short-term costs of terraforming.
Miles asks Tien what he thinks of Komarr; Tien says it’s fine except for the Komarrans, who he tends to find either greedy or surly, liking nothing better than cheating Barrayarans. Miles asks Ekaterin, who considers her answer carefully, already wondering if Miles is really there as the political side of the investigation. She admits she hasn’t made many Barrayaran friends, Nikki going to a Barrayaran school, and she has no work outside the home. Tien points out that she hardly needs to work.
“That depends on your ability to choose the right parents,” said Tien, a touch sourly. He glanced across at Vorkosigan. “Relieve my curiosity. Are you related to the former Lord Regent?”
“My father,” Vorkosigan replied, with quelling brevity. He did not smile.
“Then you are the Lord Vorkosigan, the Count’s heir.”
“That follows, yes.”
Ekaterin tries to keep the conversation from getting too awkward, but Tien asks if his father was disappointed in his lack of military career. Miles says briefly that it was more his grandfather who wanted it. Tien then points out that not every Vor need be a soldier, indicating Vorthys as an example; Vorthys then mentions that Miles spend thirteen years working for ImpSec, which Miles adds were far from dull. Ekaterin fleeds to serve the dessert, and returns to find that Nikki has lightened the conversation with talk of his favourite game; the grav-bed arrives, and the menfolk head off to set it up.
Tien returns once Miles is settled, and Ekaterin points out that Miles, an apparent mutant Vor lord, seems to be living a normal enough life; Tien says that it’s all because of his family connections. Ekaterin wonders if Miles is really sent to judge the whole Komarran terraforming project on behalf of the Emperor, but Tien dismisses him as a “high Vor twit”. He accuses her of arguing with him, insulting his intelligence in front of her uncle; while she nervously protests, he reminds her that having an exalted relative doesn’t make her anybody of note, and then stalks out. She almost follows, to try to smooth things over, but can’t muster the energy for the attempt.
She heads out onto the balcony again with a glass of wine, watching the soletta set. She is startled to see Miles in the kitchen; she offers to get him a glass of wine, but he gets it for himself and comes out to join her. She says the western view is the best thing about their apartment, but mirror-set isn’t as pretty as it used to be. Miles drinks deeply of his wine, and she wonders if he’s actively seeking sleep out now. He asks where she’s from, and she says she’s from the Southern Continent.
“So you grew up around terraforming.”
“The Komarrans would say, that wasn’t terraforming, that was just soil conditioning.” He chuckled along with her, at her deadpan rendition of Komarran techno-snobbery.
She says she misses the open horizons, though she enjoyed Vorbarr Sultana with its intellectual horizons. Miles asks if she studied botany, but she says it’s just a hobby. He says it looks like more of a passion. He examines the plants on the balcony, then asks what the bonsai’d plant is. She says it’s a skellytum, and he’s amazed, since they’re normally five meters tall. She says she inherited from a great-aunt on her father’s side; it’s over seventy years old, and it’s the only plant she brought with her from Barrayar.
He had a presence which, by ignoring his elusive physical peculiarities himself, defied the observer to dare comment. But the little lord had had all his life to adjust to his condition. Not like the hideous surprise Tien had found among his late brother’s papers, and subsequently confirmed for himself and Nikolai through carefully secret testing. You can get tested anonymously, she had argued. But I can’t get treated anonymously, he had countered.
Since coming to Komarr, she’d been so close to defying custom, law, and her lord-and-husband’s orders, and unilaterally taking his son and heir for treatment. Would the Komarran doctors know a Vor mother was not her son’s legal guardian? Maybe she could pretend the genetic defect had come from her, not from Tien? But the geneticists, if they were any good, would surely figure out the truth.
After a while, she said elliptically, “A Vor man’s first loyalty is supposed to be to his Emperor, but a Vor woman’s first loyalty is supposed to be to her husband.”
Miles says that this could be a good deal for the wife, since she would be protected from her husband’s crimes; in addition, loyalty was clearer, because sometimes there were multiple Emperors to choose from, but only one husband per woman. He alludes to his grandfather’s choice to abandon Mad Emperor Yuri. She asks if his passion is politics, or history; he says it used to be the military, but isn’t any more. He muses that people are loyal to their Counts, their Counts are loyal to the Emperor, and the Emperor is loyal to the Imperium, which is made up of the people…but he still hasn’t figure out how the Emperor can be loyal to everybody at once. Then he says he’s getting a little drunk, so he bids her good night.
The first chapter starts with Ekaterin, establishing her situation–living on Komarr in what certainly looks like an unhappy marriage. Tien certainly has a few problems–his hidden medical ones, the looming Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, but he’s also just not that nice a guy. He belittles his wife, he doesn’t seem to believe that person can get ahead on merit without personal connections, and he doesn’t seem to like Komarrans. I’m sure more will come up later.
The skellytum seems like another rich image. Does it represent Miles, a fully functional organism in a small package? Does it represent Ekaterin herself, starved of nourishment so that it can be handled easily, shrunken from its normal daunting size to be kept as a conversation piece? A little piece of Barrayar brought to a foreign place, careful to keep within its limited bounds?
I was noticing that Ekaterin and Etienne are both ‘E’ names, which tend to be a no-no for writers. Bujold gets out of this one mostly by referring to Etienne by his nickname, Tien…which changes his name from French to something more Chinese-looking. “Soisson” certainly looks French, too. I don’t think we find out Ekaterin’s maiden name this book, though it does come up later. You could be excused for thinking it was “Vorthys”, but apparently not.
Miles awakens from an embarrassingly sensual dream of running his hands through Ekaterin’s hair. She seems, unfortunately perhaps, to be of a type that appeals to him: “long cool brunettes with expressions of quiet reserve and warm alto voices”. At least part of his babble on the balcony the night before had been sexual panic, which he hoped she hadn’t recognized as such. He wishes he hadn’t let Vorthys talk him into coming along, since Miles’s presence at this family affair doesn’t seem to be an improvement. He envies Vorsoisson his seemingly successful family, having apparently snatched his wife before the sex-selected shortage of Vor women reached its full depth, leaving Miles and so many others with nobody to choose from.
He admonishes himself to keep himself under control, and not shame the office of Imperial Auditor, though he admits that, unlike him, most Auditors are long past the age of getting involved in sex scandals. Maybe Ekaterin has a sister…
He gets up, has a cold shower, dresses in a nice grey suit, and heads out to breakfast. Tien is ready to head out for work, Nikolai is breakfasting, and Vorthys is sorting through newly-arrived data. A comlink has arrived for Miles–Vorthys asks why he didn’t get one, and Miles says that his father is more notorious on Komarr. ImpSec on Komarr had wanted to surround him with a constant escort, and he’d gotten them to back off using his Auditorial powers, so the comlink to impSec, with built-in tracking device, represents a compromise. The new data is mostly newly-discovered pieces of debris, but there is a preliminary autopsy of the pilot, based on pieces they’ve recoved, for Miles, who’d volunteered to look at the medical end of things.
Ekaterin arrives to overhear their discussion of the body, and seems mildly disturbed by it; Nikki is fascinated, but Vorthys discourages him from asking for more information. Ekaterin is dressed modestly, her hair still done up, to Miles’s relief. The pilot was the last missing body, so Miles is relieved that they found it at last. Tien says that his department will do a presentation for Vorthys in the afternoon, and in the morning Vorthys can visit Nikki’s school. Miles says he’ll stay behind and go over data, receiving Ekaterin’s permission to use her comconsole in the workroom.
After breakfast, Miles takes the data discs to the workroom and loads them into the comconsole. He checks over the new pieces of wreckage, thinking that in theory they would be able to track every piece back to its origin and determine the forces that caused it, but in practice it never worked out that neatly. ImpSec has been looking for anyone who might have happened to be recording that area of space, but he suspects that if anyone had, they’d have already come forward. Vorthys has begun to think that the ore freighter had already begun to break up before it hit the mirror, though they’re not sure if that explains all of the distortions in the pieces they’ve found.
The ore freighter had been on a routine run in from the asteroid belt, coasting between acceleration and deceleration, running early and a little off course, but within normal parameters and, actually, farther from the soletta than normal. It had, however, crossed the three-space location of one of Komarr’s unused jump points, one that led to nowhere of any use. A popular theory with the media, unsupported by any evidence, had a ship popping out of its hideout and destroying the freighter before disappearing again. No trace of an actual attack on the ore freighter has been found, or any of the residues such a ship would have left. The jump point itself shouldn’t have affected any ship without Necklin rods and jump capability, but it was nonetheless there, so they can’t discount it completely.
Miles turns to the autopsy of the Komarran pilot, a woman in her mid-fifties, which Miles finds less pleasant than a male corpse. The accident’s results are grisly, but there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual based on the information they have on the collision; no signs of drugs or alcohol, either. Also included are the final reports on the soletta crew, and a note asking if the bodies can be released to their families; Miles authorized it, surprised and a little annoyed that it hasn’t already been done. The final reports don’t include much new or surprising information either.
Needing a break from the grisly data, he begins idly browsing through the data files on Ekaterin’s computer. Interested by the title Virtual Gardens, which proves to contain files from a landscape design program, he begins looking through them. The most active is one called Barrayaran Garden, which he decides to check out in holographic view.
It was not a garden of pretty Earth-plants set on some suitably famous site on Barrayar; it was a garden made up entirely and exclusively of native species, something he would not have guessed possible, let alone lovely. He’d always considered their uniform red-brown hues and stubby forms boring at best. The only Barrayaran vegetation he could identify and name offhand was that to which he was violently allergic. But Madame Vorsoisson had somehow used shape and texture to create a sepia-toned serenity. Rocks and running water framed the various plants—there was a low carmine mass of love-lies-itching, forming a border for a billowing blond stand of razor-grass, which, he had once been assured, botanically was not a grass. Nobody argued about the razor part, he’d noticed. Judging from the common names, the lost Barrayaran colonists had not loved their new xenobotany: damnweed, henbloat, goatbane . . . It’s beautiful. How did she make it beautiful? He’d never seen anything like it. Maybe that kind of artist’s eye was something you just had to be born with, like perfect pitch, which he also lacked.
In the Imperial capital of Vorbarr Sultana, there was a small and dull green park at the end of the block beside Vorkosigan House, on a site where another old mansion had been torn down. The little park had been leveled with more of an eye to security concerns for the neighboring Lord Regent than any aesthetic plan. Would it not be splendid, to replace it with a larger version of this glorious subtlety, and give the city-dwellers a taste of their own planetary heritage? Even if it would—he checked—take fifteen years to grow to this mature climax . . . .
The virtual garden program is intended to allow gardeners to check out their ideas before committing to them, but Miles supposes that if Ekaterin can’t have the actual gardens, this might be a substitute. Though not, he suspects, a sufficient one. Then, out of habit, he begins checking out her financial records. She seems more economical than Tien’s salary would account for, not even spending much on gardening supplies, or any other vices that he could find. He does discover a private account called “Nikolai’s Medical” which she’s funneling money into, as much as she can spare, apparently. This puzzles Miles, since their family medical expenses should be covered by the Imperium because of Tien’s position.
Puzzled, he finds a nameless, encrypted file, which he manages to crack into in a few minutes, which turns out to be on the subject of Vorzohn’s Dystrophy. The disease arose during the Time of Isolation, but wasn’t even labelled a genetic mutation until afterwards. When it does start having effects, they can be nasty, but it’s treatable by modern medicine…though expensively, because of its rarity. If Ekaterin or Tien has it, though, it should have been picked up when Nikolai was put into the uterine replicator…unless they’d gone through a body-birth for some benighted reason. He suddenly realizes the abnormality of the Vorsoisson family–no other children, which means that they must have found out after his birth. He begins to wish he hadn’t begun snooping into their family affairs, an ImpSec habit highly inappropriate for an Imperial Auditor.
He’d chafed for years under military regulations, till he’d come to a job with no written regs at all. His sense of having died and gone to heaven had lasted about five minutes. An Imperial Auditor was the Emperor’s Voice, his eyes and ears and sometimes hands, a lovely job description till you stopped to wonder just what the hell that poetic metaphor was supposed to mean.
So was it a useful test to ask himself, Can I imagine Gregor doing this or that thing? Gregor’s apparent Imperial sternness hid an almost painful personal shyness. The mind boggled. All right, should the question instead be, Could I imagine Gregor in his office as Emperor doing this? Just what acts, wrong for a private individual, were yet lawful for an Imperial Auditor carrying out his duties? Lots, according to the precedents he’d been reading. So was the real rule, “Ad lib till you make a mistake, and then we’ll destroy you”? Miles wasn’t sure he liked that one at all.
Embarrassed by his actions, he removes all traces and goes back to the autopsy reports, turning up the heat slightly against the perceived chill of death.
So why does Miles begin snooping on Ekaterin’s computer? Bored of the autopsies, tired of looking at death, I suppose that it’s understandable he might want to look at garden files. And I suppose that once or twice I may have gone wandering in odd folders on strange computers, just to see what’s there (usually not much), including once raising a few flags by trying to access restricted folders on the college VAX mainframe… But, as Miles belatedly realizes, he does go too far looking into finances, and decrypting files to learn family secrets. I guess I’m just not buying why he did it in the first place, or why, at least, the qualms didn’t start a little sooner.
The beginnings of his attraction to Ekaterin begin right away, too. At least that he realizes is wrong right away, but I suppose he can’t blame his subconscious. Although I thought he was more subconsciously attracted to redheads–or did the aftermath of the Dagoola escape quash that one? Was Rowan Durona a “long cool brunette with an expression of quiet reserve and a warm alto voice”? Or Elli Quinn? Elena Bothari? Well, I guess a person can have more than one turn-on… Maybe this is why he was snooping on her computer, to find out more about her? Or at least why his inhibitions didn’t surface sooner…
I was surprised to read here that jump points don’t normally interact with normal matter. No ships wandering accidentally into a wormhole, apparently, in Bujold’s universe. It makes me wonder how they discovered them in the first place; they must have discovered enough “five-space” physics to deduce their existence, and find something that would detect them, and then invent Necklin rods, or their predecessors, to take advantage of them. I kind of like the idea of pirates setting up hidden bases in abandoned wormholes, though perhaps it’s not really Bujold’s kind of thing. As the plot goes on, it seems to get further away from the actual soletta-array accident, and this may be our first clue about what’s really going on, although it doesn’t have anything to attach to yet…
Komarr is in many ways the beginning of a new phase of Miles’s life–not only the Imperial Auditor phase, but the Ekaterin phase. Even if that takes a book or two to come to fruition…depending on whether you’re reading the omnibus or not, perhaps. Certainly it’s not going to happen by next week, but come back anyway…