Good evening, or morning, or noon, or dusk, or locked-in-a-metal-box-with-no-sunlight; it’s time once again for the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, that spot on your dial for the
relentless and impenetrable charming and witty summarization and commentary on Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga, which is, in many ways, a saga about the Vorkosigans. One of the ways in which it’s not a saga about the Vorkosigans is the way in which the book I’m in the middle of, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, is about a Vorpatril instead of a Vorkosigan, but he’s a Vorpatril with close ties to the Vorkosigans, so I suppose that’s all right. This week I trudge through Chapter Sixteen, which has one of those tedious dinner parties in it.
In the lift tube up to Mamere’s apartment, Tej tells Ivan that she hasn’t managed to tell them about Simon yet; Ivan wonders what they were talking about all that time, but it’s too late by now. The doors open for them, and Tej steps forward to introduce her family to Alys and Simon Illyan, though she just refers to him as her “stepfather-in-law, Imperial Service, retired”. The Baron, at least, seems startled by his name, but shakes his hand heartily and refers to his memory chip; Illyan tells that how it was removed upon his retirement. On their way inside, Illyan confides to Ivan that he was touched at being referred to as a “stepfather”; it’s not that he really wants to be married to Lady Alys, but he’s getting tired of being introduced as an “um”.
Tej’s ancestors are reunited with her siblings, and Byerly as well, who Ivan notes always seems somewhat diffident around Illyan, though he twits Ivan about the sheer quantity of his new in-laws. Illyan seems to be taking charge of Baron Shiv Arqua, Lady Alys of the Baronne Udine and her mother, both of them covertly watching the “youngsters”. Ivan tries to figure out the dynamic among the Jewels and the Baron’s full children, which doesn’t seem to fit into the “acknowledged bastards” status they’d have on Barrayar.
He overhears part of the conversation between Illyan and Shiv, the Baron talking about how Prestene’s takeover must have been an inside job, that a trusted subordinate must have betrayed them. Illyan commiserates, saying that’s how his memory chip was sabotaged, explaining that his retirement was forced by its removal, not the other way around.
The dining room is opened, and they are all seated, Ivan unfortunately separated from his wife, between Star and the Baroness; Ivan quickly discerns that Ma Kosti has been appropriated as cook for the evening. Lady Alys begins by asking Lady Moira ghem Estif about her stay on Earth, Ivan being urged to volunteer comments on his own visit there, though of course leaving out the inappropriately exciting parts. Lady Moira had apparently mostly spent her time there doing genetics work, rather than just being a retiree.
Star, who’s a bit tipsy, asks if her mother’s conception was planned by her Constellation, but Lady Moira says that ghem-haut breeding is not nearly as tightly controlled, in hopes of serendipity. She was never romantically attached to her husband, but she was able to do a small part in helping replace the son that he lost–a story unfamiliar to most of those present. Apparently the General’s son had a Barrayaran lover, and they were together in Vorkosigan Vashnoi when it was destroyed, though they didn’t find that out until after they’d already retreated to Komarr. They’d stayed on Komarr because of the General’s acquisition of a number of voting shares, but Lady Moira herself had never become a citizen, and in fact still doesn’t have any citizenship of her own.
The conversation then breaks up into a female side (mostly concerned with various types of breeding technology) and a male side (more military-focused), with Ivan somewhat separated from the latter, as much as he wishes to hear the one-upmanship contest between Illyan and the Baron. Dessert is Ma Kosti’s trademark maple bug-butter ambrosia, which Ivan declines to mention to anyone present. Afterwards, Illyan invites Shiv into his study, a rare honour, accompanied by a rare Vorkosigan brandy; he shoos Ivan out, despite Ivan’s desire to work something out with his father-in-law. Byerly asks after the two men shortly thereafter, and Ivan indicates the study; he asks By if he thinks that Shiv is trying to pull some hustle on Illyan.
By shrugged. “Well, of course. Arqua has to be hustling every possibility he sees, right about now. Trying to get support for his House in exile, in the interest of making it not in exile. It was less clear”–By hestitated–“why Simon seemed to be hustling him back. Even more subtly, note. Unless it was just habit, I suppose.”
“That’s a disturbing thought. The two of them, hustling each other.”
“Yeah. It was…rather like watching two women trying to make each other pregnant.”
Ivan asks By if Rish has outed him yet, and By admits he doesn’t know. He hadn’t planned, when he revealed his real job to Rish, that the two of them should come to Barrayar. He asks Ivan to find out, and Ivan complains that he hasn’t even had a chance to talk to his wife. They are interrupted by Pidge joining them, complimenting Ivan on his mother’s hospitality, and also turning the topic to Simon Illyan, noting his non-Vor name and asking why he’s only a captain. Ivan explains about how Illyan’s predecessor never took a rank about captain either, though the current head, Guy Allegre, was already a general before he was appointed.
Ivan notes that Illyan did rate a vice-admiral’s pay, though; Pidge asks how much that is, exactly, and Ivan declines to tell her. She then asks about Illyan’s personal wealth, and is surprised when they don’t know; By notes that Illyan lived a fairly frugal lifestyle and didn’t seem to have any vices to fritter away his money on. Ivan recalls to himself a revelation shared with Illyan when they were drunk a couple of years earlier.
Through a progression of subject that were soon a blur in Ivan’s mind, they had somehow got on to just what Illyan did and did not recall or miss from his memory chip, at which point Ivan had learned just where the largest and most arcane pornography collection on Barrayar had been secreted…
It’s not as if I acquired most of it on purpose, Illyan had protested. But the damned chip didn’t allow me to delete anything, whether I picked it up inadvertently or in a moment of bad mood or bad judgement or bad company, and then I was stuck with it forever. Or in the line of work, oh, God, those were the worst. Do you have any idea how many truly appalling surveillance vids I had to review in forty years…?
There were some things, Ivan reflected, that no man should know about another, not even or perhaps especially his um-stepfather.
Pidge insists that Illyan’s career must have lent itself to some sort of “personal acquisition”, especially for a man as clever as him. Ivan realizes that she has a point, but he still believes that Illyan didn’t have time for any vices; his passion was ImpSec, and his drug was adrenaline. He has to admit, though, that he doesn’t know whether or not it bothers Illyan that Mamere is so much richer than him, whether he’s satisfied with his retirement pay.
Ivan doesn’t get a chance to talk with Tej before the party breaks up–Simon and Shiv emerging from the office at last, seeming to have come to some understanding, and Alys, Moira, and Udine having ascended to using each other’s first names. Illyan expresses to Tej a certain admiration for her father and his turn for salesmanship.
Tej has been trying to avoid Ivan all evening, with her thoughts whirling around buried Cetagandan treasure, though she’s relieved that her father seems to have come off well enough in his initial meeting with Simon Illyan, despite her failing to brief him about Illyan earlier. As they prepare for bed, she keeps chat to a minimum, and makes it clear she’s too exhausted for any bedplay. Ivan gets up to ask Rish if she’s spilled the beans about Byerly yet; she says she hasn’t, except of course to her family.
Ivan asks Tej if she thinks her father is trying to suborn Illyan; she quarrels with his choice of words, insisting that “suborn” implies something treasonous or evil, and her father would never do that. Ivan says that’s good, because anyway Illyan’s loyalty has been tested enough times that he wouldn’t fall for something like that anyway. Ivan asks her what’s going on, and she tells him she can’t tell him until she knows whether he’s in it with the rest of them or not; privately she thinks that he’s likely to want to claim the whole treasure for Barrayar anyway. Ivan says that married couples shouldn’t keep secrets; Tej says he keeps secrets from her all the time, as part of his job, and Ivan says that’s different. Tej says that he does talk in his sleep sometimes, though.
“I talk in my sleep? About classified…”
“It’s kind of hard to tell.” Tej composed her mouth into Ivan Xav’s accent and cadences, and recited, “‘Don’t eat that avocado, Admiral, it’s gone blue. The blue ones have shifty eyes.'”
Returning to the previous subject, Ivan says there’s no need to keep it from him if it’s benign; Tej, in her exhaustion, let’s slip that there’s a thing that they’re looking for, and Ivan realizes it must be something to help reclaim their House. He doesn’t have a problem with that, but it concerns him that it’s something they’re looking for on Barrayar; Tej refuses to “play fast-penta” with him any more, though Ivan mentions that it’s actually a kind of party game, “Fast-penta or dare”.
“Barrayarans are strange.”
“Yes,” Ivan Xav agreed with a pensive sigh, then seemed to belatedly decide this might be considered a slur on his homeworld and revised it hastily, “No! Not as strange as Jacksonians, anyway. Or Cetagandans.”
Tej says that it’s not just the House, it’s also Erik and Topaz, prisoners of Prestene, Erik maybe even unrevivably dead. Ivan wonders that they want to try to retrieve them, then, if Topaz is just a Jewel, not really one of Shiv’s children at all, but Tej said that he never seemed to make that distinction with them, treating them all as his own. Tej asks about Ivan’s own relationship with Illyan, and Ivan says that it happened so late in his life that he hardly knows how to think of his as any kind of father figure. He stutters through a list of classified incidents that he can’t tell her about, before she gets annoyed and shuts him up.
What is it about the dinner party chapters that they never end up being as much fun as I think they should? This isn’t as bad as the disastrous one in A Civil Campaign, though at least that one served as a solid transition point to advance the plot. I guess this one does start the thing that goes on between Shiv Arqua and Simon Illyan, the nebulous thing that I’m not sure is ever precisely cleared up. (Probably it is, I just can’t recall right now if it comes out at the end or not.) And, as you can tell, it just doesn’t seem to be very quotable.
I also don’t recall if Lady Moira’s tale of her stepson’s death in Vorkosigan Vashnoi is relevant to anything, or just illustrative in some way. It has enough space dedicated to it that it seems like it should be relevant. Do we find out exactly who the stepson’s lover was, for instance? Does it had something to do with the finding of the Cetagandan cache? Something else I don’t remember.
I’m never quite sure how homophobic Barrayaran society is supposed to be. We don’t get that many gay characters, and the societal expectations do tend to be highly heteronormative. Aral did have his affair with Ges Vorrutyer, which Vordarian tries to use to disrupt his marriage, so one gets the impression that it is at least frowned upon. (Not by Cordelia, of course.) And then there’s Byerly Vorrutyer, too. Maybe it’s just that queer-bashing is mostly pre-empted in lout society by mutie-bashing. (Though maybe they consider it just another form of mutation…)
And, finally, at the end of the chapter we get the start of the real rift between Ivan and Tej. Which I suppose is inevitable in your standard romance plotline–they have to have the misunderstanding so they can reconcile later. And it does make sense in the context of the treasure-heist plot that is going to be taking over the second half of the book. But it is, none the less, somewhat frustrating, and another part of why I don’t like this book as much.
I checked ahead, and there are twenty-five chapters in the book, plus an epilogue, so probably no more than, say, ten weeks left in the book. More than halfway, which is almost a little surprising. But that means I’m on the downward slope, I suppose. Another chapter next week, probably…