Scintillate, scintillate, globule aurific; fain would I fathom thy nature specific. Sesquipedalian version of a child’s nursery rhyme? Or a contrived introduction to another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread? You decide. In the meantime…um, well, here’s another installment of the Vorkosigan Saga Reread. This week I managed to cover two full chapters of Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, her SF/romance hybrid where her regular protagonist Miles Vorkosigan is joined by a capable supporting cast, including Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the woman he’s secretly (from her, at least) in love with…
Ekaterin arrives at Vorkosigan House with a question for Miles, which she tells Pym isn’t urgent; Pym goes off to fetch him, though Ekaterin realizes that he may still be asleep. She heads up to the library to wait for him, and is startled to find it occupied, by a man who she immediately realizes must be Miles’s clone-brother Mark; she notices the resemblances immediately, despite his barrier of flesh. He doesn’t seem annoyed at her presence, and she introduces herself, calling herself Miles’s “landscape consultant”.
She says that they’re taking down an old maple tree, and wants to know what Miles wants with done with the remains. Mark immediately says that if it’s “Earth-descended organic matter”, he’ll take anything of it that Miles doesn’t want, though he doesn’t say why, telling her that he doesn’t garden.
The decidedly disjointed conversation was interrupted by a booted tread, and Armsman Pym leaning around the doorframe to announce, “M’lord will be down in a few minutes, Madame Vorsoisson. He says, please don’t go away.” He added in a more confiding tone, “He had one of his seizures last night, so he’s a little slow this morning.”
“Oh, dear. And they give him such a headache. I shouldn’t trouble him till he’s had his painkillers and black coffee.” She turned for the door.
“No, no! Sit down, madame, sit, please. M’lord would be right upset with me if I botched his orders.” Pym, smiling anxiously, motioned her urgently toward a chair; reluctantly, she sat. “There now. Good. Don’t move.” He watched her a moment as if to make sure she wasn’t going to bolt, then hurried off again. Lord Mark stared after him.
Mark says that he’d thought that Miles’s seizures were practically cured; Ekaterin says that they’re more “controlled”, and she’s seen one of them herself. At Mark’s prodding, she says that it was on Komarr, during his recent Auditorial case. She mentions the device he uses to trigger them, though she wonders if the one he’d just suffered had been manually triggered or if he’d waited too long, and says she heard it was from cryo-revival damage. Mark tells her that Miles got killed trying to save Mark, and Ekaterin says she Miles hasn’t told her much of his prior career in impSec.
Miles emerges shortly thereafter, freshly washed and smartly dressed, but otherwise looking like death warmed over; Ekaterin tells him that he shouldn’t have gotten up. Pym arrives with coffee and breakfast, and after taking a few sips, Miles regains language ability and greets Ekaterin properly. He notes that she’s up early, and she forebears to contradict him; she says that she was eager to get started. Her hired crew is out gathering up the sod and topsoil, and preparing to transplant the oak, and she asks him what to do with the maple. Miles says they want it for firewood, and they have a pile to store it for household use and Winterfair bonfires. Mark says he’ll take the leaves and clippings for Enrique’s project, and Miles says that’s up to their “eight thousand little friends”.
Ekaterin, deciding to stay a little longer so as not to have gotten Miles out of bed for nothing, says they should be able to start excavating tomorrow; she has secured all the necessary permits, and learned more than she wanted to about Vorbarr Sultana infrastructure in the process. Miles agrees that it’s old and strange, and says she should ask Drou about the time she and Cordelia escaped through the sewers with Vordarian’s head. He says the dinner party is scheduled for a week tomorrow, which works for her as well.
Miles says he just got back from a bizarre Auditorial errand Gregor sent him on, mostly because of his Betan background. He tells Mark that their father had put in place legislation making it easier for ordinary Barrayarans to move from one district to another, changing their fealty to another Count; the result has been that people have been voting with their feet, and some Districts have been hemorrhaging population as a result. The Vorkosigan District is holding steady, losing people to Vorbarr Sultana and Sergyar but gaining people with the up-to-date educational and medical facilities in Hassadar. A certain Count Vormuir, however, has been losing steadily.
Ekaterin listens, entranced, as Miles outlines Vormuir’s novel solution to the problem. He bought thirty uterine replicators and began to populate them. With daughters, the oldest of which is two years old. Count Vormuir himself is the father, but his wife will have none of the affair, and has moved out, refusing him conjugal visits under the threat of plasma arc. The eggs have been surplus backups, which would otherwise have been discarded, from the District’s own replicator crèche, which Vormuir claims doesn’t violate any Barrayaran law. By now he has 92 daughters, plus another batch of thirty in the replicators; Miles has ordered him not to start any more, which he wouldn’t be able to do for seven months anyway.
Mark says there should be a law against this, and Miles agrees, but they have to take some time and figure out what kind of law first, studying how other planets are dealing with it. Even so, Vormuir won’t be affected by the new law. There’s no rape involved, the children are well taken care of, they’re all his own daughters and so not legally slaves, and the eggs haven’t technically been stolen. Ekaterin says that the girls should technically belong to their mothers, but Miles says that he’s not sure that applies if Vormuir never married any of them; in any event, he expects few of the mothers would want them, and if they did, they’d still be new population for Vormuir’s District.
Ekaterin’s brows drew down in thought. “By your account, Vormuir is much taken with economies, of scale and otherwise.” Only long after Nikki’s birth had she wondered if Tien had pushed for the old-fashioned way because it had seemed much cheaper. We won’t have to wait until we can afford it had been a potent argument, in her eager ears. Vormuir’s motivation seemed as much economic as genetic: ultimately, wealth for his District and therefore for him. This techno-harem was intended to become future taxpayers, along with the husbands he no doubt assumed they would draw in, to support him in his old age. “In effect, the girls are the Count’s acknowledged bastards. I’m sure I read somewhere . . . in the Time of Isolation, weren’t Imperial and count-palatine female bastards entitled to a dowry, from their high-born father? And it required some sort of Imperial permission . . . the dowry almost was the sign of legal acknowledgment. I’ll bet the Professora would know all the historical details, including the cases where the dowries had to be dragged out by force. Isn’t an Imperial permission effectively an Imperial order? Couldn’t Emperor Gregor set Count Vormuir’s dowries for the girls . . . high?”
“Oh.” Lord Vorkosigan sat back, his eyes widening with delight. “Ah.” An evil grin leaked between his lips. “Arbitrarily high, in fact. Oh . . . my.” He looked across at her. “Madame Vorsoisson, I believe you have hit on a possible solution. I will certainly pass the idea along as soon as I may.”
Ekaterin is gratified at his approval of her suggestion, and hopes she’s helped him feel better about his morning. She checks the time, and exclaims that she needs to be outside to meet the tree-removal crew. Pym and Miles escort her to the front door, and Miles encourages her to stop in again, telling Pym to show her where to put the maple wood.
Ekaterin glanced back over her shoulder. “He didn’t look very well this morning, Pym. You really shouldn’t have let him get out of bed.”
“Oh, I know it, ma’am,” Pym agreed morosely. “But what’s a mere Armsman to do? I haven’t the authority to countermand his orders. What he really needs, is looking after by someone who won’t stand his nonsense. A proper Lady Vorkosigan would do the trick. Not one of those shy, simpering ingenues all the young lords seem to be looking to these days, he’d just ride right over her. He needs a woman of experience, to stand up to him.” He smiled apologetically down at her.
“I suppose so,” sighed Ekaterin. She hadn’t really thought about the Vor mating scene from the Armsmen’s point of view. Was Pym hinting that his lord had such an ingenue in his eye, and his staff was worried it was some sort of mismatch?
Ekaterin gets to thinking about this possible ingenue, supposing that Miles will probably need to look to the younger generation for potential brides these days. He’ll probably have to settle for an intellectual light-weight, and hope for one who won’t snub him for his physical defects. She’s surprised to find herself indignant at the image of this idiot girl turning up her nose at Miles, and firmly turns herself back to the prospect of tree demolition.
Inside, Miles returns to the library, sitting down with care and resuming his breakfast. He tells Mark he thought the conversation went well, and asks what they talked about before he arrived. Mark says they discussed his seizures, and scolds Miles for not giving him all the information on them. Miles says Mark couldn’t do anything about them anyway, and while Mark still blames himself, Miles says it was the Jacksonian sniper who did the damage, after all.
Miles asks what Mark thinks of Ekaterin, as a possible Lady Vorkosigan.
Mark blinked. “What?”
“What do you mean, what? She’s beautiful, she’s smart—dowries, ye gods, how perfect, Vormuir will split—she’s incredibly level-headed in emergencies. Calm, y’know? A lovely calm. I adore her calm. I could swim in it. Guts and wit, in one package.”
“I wasn’t questioning her fitness. That was a merely a random noise of surprise.”
“She’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece. She has a son, Nikki, almost ten. Cute kid. Wants to be a jump-pilot, and I think he has the determination to make it. Ekaterin wants to be a garden designer, but I think she could go on to be a terraformer. She’s a little too quiet, sometimes—she needs to build up her self-confidence.”
“Perhaps she was just waiting to get a word in edgewise,” Mark suggested.
Mark contemplates Ekaterin; he supposes that she might appeal to Miles, with his taste for “brainy brunettes”, though he himself preferred curvy blondes, like Kareen. He’s glad he has Kareen, who’s making him more human just by being around him. He tells himself that he can’t take her recent attack of nerves personally. Killer whispers in his head that she’s probably found someone else, and he knows how to deal with problems like that; Mark shushes him. Even if she had, her honesty would have led her to tell him about it already. All Mark knows is that, if he had to choose, he’d rather have Kareen than oxygen. He briefly considers talking to Miles on the issue, but he holds off, not sure that Miles wouldn’t lead the posse after Mark’s head.
Mark asks Miles if Ekaterin knows about Miles’s intentions; Miles says that it’s a tricky situation. She’s recently widowed, and her husband died recently on Komarr, under circumstances that Miles can’t talk about, but was far too close to. So she’s not ready to be courted, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping the onslaught of Vor bachelors, or the non-Vor either. Miles’s plan is to get in under her radar as a friend, and then make his move when the time is ripe.
“And, ah, when are you planning to spring this stunning surprise on her?” Mark asked, fascinated.
Miles stared at his boots. “I don’t know. I’ll recognize the tactical moment when I see it, I suppose. If my sense of timing hasn’t totally deserted me. Penetrate the perimeter, set the trip lines, plant the suggestion—strike. Total victory! Maybe.”
He asks Mark not to spill the beans, and Mark says he won’t interfere; as a parting shot, he asks if Miles should really be planning his romantic life in terms of war, and leaves while he’s still sputtering.
Mark is, of course, perfectly right, as I’ve been saying and will continue to say. It does make perfect sense in Miles terms, but unfortunately Ekaterin is less likely to think of it that way. Plus, for someone trying to keep a secret, he keeps telling people about it. Trying to ask their opinions, shore up his insecurity, but increase the probability that someone’s going to spill the beans. And then he’s planning this dinner party, which keeps looming up throughout the book, which is going to be bringing basically everyone who knows about Miles’s intentions–and Ekaterin–into the same room.
Admittedly, Miles does seem to have some support. Pym seems to be entirely in favour of the prospect, even if his broad hints seem to sail right over Ekaterin’s head. Her Aunt Vorthys has also seemed fairly approving. Ekaterin must be wilfully keeping herself from contemplating the possibility at all. After all, if she had to regard Miles as someone trying to lure her back into the prison of marriage, she’d have to stop associating with him. Not that there aren’t worse things he could do, of course…
I’d forgotten how quickly Ekaterin disposed of the Lord Vormuir problem. It is a cunning plan–now I’m picturing Vormuir played by Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder (although, in my head, he looks more like Stephen Fry’s Melchett)–sailing through loopholes in Barrayaran law, but Ekaterin manages to point out a way that that law can be bent back upon him. She obviously has some familiarity with Vor law and custom, perhaps through her aunt if nothing else, and puts her finger on the correct spot. The situation does, though, sound like some awful movie, though since most of those don’t have uterine replicators, they tend to involve someone sneaking their sperm into the actual fertilized eggs that the husbands think are theirs.
Mark and Miles do seem to be settling into a standard sibling-type relationship, which is not, as Miles is finding out, as much about always being there for each other as it is about friendly rivalry and one-upmanship. Mark twits Miles about his campaign for Ekaterin, Miles complains about the butter bugs, etc. You’d think he’d have figured from Ivan what family is about, and now, like it or not, he and Mark are developing the same way. After all, more than most, Mark has a lot of sibling-rivalry issues, as his Betan therapist has doubtless spotted, since his “older brother” was literally held up to him as an example of the way to act. It’s probably good if all he’s trying to do about it these days is score “last words” and conversational coups against him.
Kareen is working in the lab when a woman comes in looking for Mark, introducing herself as “Ekaterin Vorsoisson, the garden designer”; she’s come to offer Mark more compost, having removed an entire row of bushes. Kareen asks Enrique, who says that if it’s Earth-descended organic matter, and free, they would like to try some. Ekaterin looks around at the lab, which Kareen congratulates herself is looking more scientific and appealing, and more organized. Kareen has also been building housing units for the bugs, and cleaning out the guano, which luckily hasn’t been as bad as she’d feared.
Ekaterin asks what they need the plant matter for, and Kareen invites her to come in and see for herself. She says she’s the Head Bug Wrangler–and also the only one, so far.
Kareen unlatched the steel-screen top of one of the bug hutches, reached in, and retrieved a single worker-bug. She was getting quite good at handling the little beasties without wanting to puke by now, as long as she didn’t look too closely at their pale pulsing abdomens. Kareen held out the bug to the gardener, and began a tolerably close copy of Mark’s Better Butter Bugs for a Brighter Barrayar sales talk.
Though Madame Vorsoisson’s eyebrows went up, she didn’t shriek, faint, or run away at her first sight of a butter bug. She followed Kareen’s explanation with interest, and was even willing to hold the bug and feed it a maple leaf. There was something very bonding about feeding live things, Kareen had to admit; she would have to keep that ploy in mind for future presentations.
Ekaterin is intrigued at the prospect of butter bugs that eat native foliage, and allows that she does have some practical experience with it. She asks to see the bug manure, and is impressed with the quality of it as fertilizer, reinforced by Enrique’s contributions on its exact chemical composition. She asks to borrow some, and encourages them to try to sell it. Enrique said nobody had been interested in it on Escobar, and Ekaterin tells him that on Barrayar it’s harder to come by good quality fertilizer when trying to terraform the soil. She tells Enrique about a time when the Counts and the Emperors would quarrel over the distribution of horse manure.
Enrique asks Ekaterin if she can show them around some of the native vegetation; Ekaterin says they really need a District agronomy officer, and Enrique points out that he didn’t even know there was such a thing. Ekaterin says that Tsipis could help them out, and Kareen agrees. Ekaterin says she’s been planning to go to the Dendarii Mountains to gather rocks to line the stream bed, and Kareen agrees that Miles is very fond of the mountains.
Mark arrives with a load of lab supplies, greeting Ekaterin and thanking her for the maple clippings. Mark persuades her to try the bug butter, and she agrees to a small taste. Kareen opens a container for her, telling Mark that they’re going to need more containers, the rate the bugs are producing it–and the rate that nobody else in the house is eating it. Ekaterin tries a spoonful, pronounces it “interesting”. then offers some helpful suggestions, like flavouring and freezing it.
“Hm. D’you think that would work, Enrique?”
“Don’t see why not,” responded the scientist. “The colloidal viscosity doesn’t break down when exposed to subzero temperatures. It’s thermal acceleration which alters the protein microstructure and hence texture.”
“Gets kind of rubbery when you cook it,” Mark translated this. “We’re working on it, though.”
Mark asks Kareen if she wants to come to the District with him and scout out sites for the future facility–though they can’t settle on the name (between Borgos Research Park, Mark Vorkosigan Enterprises, and Kareen’s Butter Bug Ranch). Kareen mentions Ekaterin’s rocks, and showing Enrique the native flora, and suggests they all go down together; secretly she’s reluctant to spend time alone with Mark, even though that’s obviously what he’s angling for. She arranges the trip for the day after tomorrow.
Miles dashes in then, saying that Armsman Jankowski only just told him that Ekaterin was here. He says he hopes they haven’t fed her the “bug vomit” yet, but Ekaterin says stoutly that it’s not half bad, they just need to do some product development. She picks up the fertilizer Kareen has packaged for her and says her farewells, until day after tomorrow; Miles escorts her out. He returns a few minutes later complaining about their feeding “that stuff” to Ekaterin. Mark says that Ekaterin, at least, has an open mind, and Enrique says that she seemed to understand him better than most people.
Miles asks what’s happening day after tomorrow, and Kareen tells him about the proposed trip to Vorkosigan District. Miles protests that he had Ekaterin’s first tour of the District already planned out, and Mark, unsympathetic, says that they won’t be going too far afield, there’ll be plenty to show her later. Miles tries to insist on going along, but Mark says he’s only got four seats, and he’d rather take Kareen than Miles. Miles leaves, grumbling about Armsman Jankowski.
Kareen asks what his problem is, and Mark explains that Miles is in love with Ekaterin, which is why he hired her as a gardener after meeting her on Komarr, but he hasn’t told her yet. Mark isn’t quite sure why, unless it’s sexual shyness; Kareen reminds him about Elli Quinn, and Mark postulates that most of Miles’s girlfriends have been more the forceful types, throwing themselves at him, and he doesn’t know how to actually court a woman who’s not. Mark is filled with glee at the prospect of watching Miles fumble around, and Kareen tells him to be nice.
Enrique asks if Miles was really upset about Ekaterin feeding the bug butter, and Mark says not to worry about it. Enrique says he’s got an idea to change Miles’s mind about the bugs, but will only say that it’s a secret. Mark asks Kareen about it, but she has no idea either. She suggests talking to Ma Kosti about the ice cream freezer, which Miles has probably gotten her one of. Then she thinks of how Ma Kosti seems a little frustrated with how little cooking she really has to do, and how she likes Mark for his obvious enjoyment of food, and she grabs some bug butter tubs and runs to the kitchen.
Miles arrives at Vorbretten House–more modern than Vorkosigan House, because it had to be rebuilt after the Pretender’s War. An armsman leads him inside, to where René Vorbretten is sitting in a darkened room. He is nervous at the arrival of Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, but Miles assures him he’s not there on business. René was worried that Miles had been sent with the news, but Miles assures him that the Council of Counts still can’t vote without him. René says the “Ghembrettens'” social life has dwindled away to nothing. Miles apologizes for not having come sooner, having been on Komarr.
Miles says the Progressive Counts will doubtless want to keep René around–a vote is a vote–but René says some seem to thinking that they don’t want to vote against his opponent, Sigur, and make an enemy of him, in case he wins. The definite votes one way or the other balance out, leaving the undecideds to settle the matter, and most of them have been avoiding him. Miles assures René that he has the Vorkosigan vote, no matter what damage Cetagandans might have done to his District.
They discuss the precedents–the horse heir, Lord Midnight (and other, less colourful cases), establishes that a Count’s successor doesn’t have to be a blood relative, but Sigur is claiming that René’s grandfather won his father’s approval fraudulently. It would make a difference if they could prove that the father had known his heir wasn’t his true son, but they can’t find any evidence in the archives one way or the other. Miles said that not everyone objected to the Cetagandan bastards, despite widespread customs of killing them and leaving the bodies around to shake up the invaders; Prince Xav himself objected to that practice. René says they still have no proof, but then, neither does Sigur.
Counthoods generally come up only rarely, as old Counts die, so it’s odd to have two disputed seats at the same time. Miles asks René if he knows what’s up with Donna Vorrutyer, but René hasn’t heard anything either. He says he’s grateful that Miles has come to visit, at least; Miles points out that he’s five-eighths Betan, so he can’t think that a little offworlder blood makes anyone unfit. René does speculate that Lady Donna’s trip to Beta Colony must have something to do with her objection, but he’s not sure what. Miles guesses that she’s looking for some obscure evidence against her cousin Richars, but René doesn’t think it’s anything that simple. Ivan might know, having dated her for a while, though René and Miles themselves missed out on that honour.
René says that Miles’s family has been fighting to integrate Miles’s clone Mark into the family; he speculates that Donna might be doing something similar with a clone of the late Pierre Vorrutyer, growing it on Beta Colony and planning to offer it as an alternative heir. Miles says it might be possible, but he’s not sure if the Counts would accept it. She was practically running the District anyway, though, so she might make a good guardian. René mentions one Countess, back in a time of civil war, who had herself legally declared a male so she could inherit. Miles wonders if there is a clone, whether Donna would want to gestate it in her own womb, which would make it harder to steal, or use a replicator, in which case Richars could end up in custody of it. In any case, her three months–a generous amount of time, probably dating back to days of travel on horseback–are almost up.
Feminine laughter heralds the arrival of Olivia and Martya Koudelka, who had been out shopping with René’s wife Tatya, Olivia being an old schoolmate of Tatya’s. They thank Miles for coming to cheer René up, then tell René that he can take them to a concert tomorrow night. Tatya shows René an envelope from Countess Vorgarin, which she opens eagerly, only to be crushed when it turns to be an “un-invitation” to a baby naming-day party. Martya and Olivia rip Countess Vorgarin’s character to shreds in absentia, but it doesn’t cheer Tatya up that much.
René notes that they haven’t received a wedding invitation from Gregor and Laisa yet; Miles points out that local invitations haven’t been sent out yet, not mentioning that which Vorbretten to invite is still a matter under discussion. Wanting to lighten the mood, he invites the Vorbrettens to his upcoming dinner party. René isn’t sure, but Olivia encourages him to come, saying that Miles is going to show off the lady he’s courting in secret–from her.
René’s brows went up. “You, Miles? I thought you were as confirmed a bachelor as your cousin Ivan. Married to your career.”
Miles grimaced furiously at Olivia, and twitched at René’s last words. “I had this little medical divorce from my career. Olivia, where did you ever get the idea that Madame Vorsoisson—she’s my landscape designer, you see, René, but she’s Lord Auditor Vorthys’s niece, I met her on Komarr, she’s just recently widowed and certainly not—not ready to be anybody’s lady-love. Lord Auditor Vorthys and the Professora will be there too, you see, a family party, nothing inappropriate for her.”
“For who?” asked Martya.
“Ekaterin,” escaped his mouth before he could stop it. All four lovely syllables.
Martya grinned unrepentantly at him. René and his wife looked at each other—Tatya’s dimple flashed, and René pursed his lips thoughtfully.
“Kareen said Lord Mark said you said,” Olivia said innocently. “Who was lying, then?”
Miles explains again that she’s in mourning, her husband just died, and he will declare himself in time, but he can’t yet, he has to wait…and he hates waiting. When Tatya asks, Miles has to admit he doesn’t know anything about her feelings for him. He grumbles about Mark spreading his secrets, but Martya says that she, Kareen, and her parents all heard it from different people–Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and Pym–so he’s not doing a good job of keeping it secret. Trying to defuse the conversation, Tatya accepts Miles’s invitation. René asks if Miles’s parents will be back from Sergyar yet, and Miles says probably not, but soon; this will be his own party, before the house fills up again. He’s also concerned about orchestrating Ekaterin meeting his parents just right.
His social duty satisfied, Miles bids them farewell; Martya takes him up an the offer of a ride home. Miles gives Pym a disgruntled look as they leave, not sure he likes that Pym is acquiring the valuable information he can get through gossip by trading Miles’s information to other people. He restrains himself from more than glaring, or from berating Martya for twitting him about Ekaterin like that.
He asks how she thinks the Vorbrettens are holding up, and she says René thinks they’re going to lose, and they’re pretty shaken. Since his father died in the Hegen Hub, he’s hated Cetagandans, so this revelation really unnerves him. Their marriage is also a little unsteady–they haven’t followed through with their plan to start a family, and Tatya enjoys being a Countess… Now her friends, apart from Olivia, are avoiding her, too.
“If you go back far enough, we’re all descended from off-worlders, dammit,” Miles growled in frustration. “What’s one-eighth? A tinge. Why should it disqualify one of the best people we have? Competence should count for something.”
Martya’s grin twisted. “If you want sympathy, you’ve come to the wrong store, Miles. If my da were a Count, it wouldn’t matter how competent I was, I still wouldn’t inherit. All the brilliance in the world wouldn’t matter a bit. If you’re just now finding out that this world is unjust, well, you’re behind the times.”
Miles grimaced. “It’s not news to me, Martya.” The car pulled up outside Commodore Koudelka’s townhouse. “But justice wasn’t my job, before.” And power isn’t nearly as all-powerful as it looks from the outside. He added, “But that’s probably the one issue I can’t help you on. I have the strongest personal reasons for not wanting to reintroduce inheritance through the female line into Barrayaran law. Like, my survival. I like my job very well. I don’t want Gregor’s.”
Ekaterin has now met Kareen and Enrique, and won them over too. She likes the butter bug guano, she offers helpful suggestions for the bug butter itself, and she has useful information about the Barrayaran vegetation…she’s just an all-around useful person. It’s so nice to see her blossoming in her new environment, sending out new shoots like that skellytum, no longer bonsai’d, one hopes. Which is why it’s going to be so devastating for her to find out why Miles really hired her to do his garden… I am reminded, too, that Enrique seems to fall for her a little bit, too, after this scene. Plus he’s got his “secret plan” to make Miles like the butter bugs, which I recall turns out really, really, well. Just like Miles’s dinner party.
I had almost forgotten this scene with Miles and the Vorbrettens, and two more of the Koudelkas–Martya and Olivia, who we barely see, if at all, before this book. Even in this book I don’t remember much with Olivia, though of course Martya gets a role later on in the book. Martya’s line near the end of the chapter is quite telling, though, especially given the speculation about Lady Donna’s visit to Beta Colony earlier in the scene. It is true that, no matter in what other ways it’s improving, Barrayar is not much yet for feminism and women’s rights.
It makes me think of that article that went around the Net a while ago, about how life as a white male was like playing on the easiest setting, compared to life as a woman or a minority. Does Miles, even with his physical issues, qualify for that? If I was building him for a role-playing game, one of those where you can give your character disadvantages to get more “character points” to buy things, his social class and mental skills would more than offset his physical limitations. Even he would have an easier time getting into the military than Elena, and an easier time becoming Count than Martya. Even _Mark_ would have an easier time becoming Count, and he was a clone born offworld and raised by Komarran radicals. He’s male, though, and that’s the important thing. Anyway, this book, taking place so much on Barrayar, and featuring so many female characters, gets the most heavily into gender issues. At the very least, I can look around at our world and say that at least we’re a little bit more progressive than Barrayar…right? Aren’t we?
No promises of a two-chapter post next week, but it could happen. May depend on chapter length as well as random circumstantial factors–weather, sleep, and other potential gumption traps. Lady Donna should be showing up soon, and the visit to the Vorkosigan District…and the fateful dinner party is looming… Oh, yeah, and Vormoncrief’s Baba may have arrived by now. Should be fun, in any case, except for the winceworthy painful embarrassing bits…