Thursday, 14 December 2017

Memory — the Vorkosigan Saga Project

Memory is the latest novel we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. It falls after Mirror Dance and before Komarr. In Memory the story sees significant changes in Miles’s life and in the lives of some of the people around him. This book has major spoilers for Mirror Dance, so stop reading now if you haven’t read that book!

You can read Katharine’s review of Memory here and Tsana’s review here.

Katharine: And so we meet Miles back with the Dendarii - and quite quickly we see Miles land himself in some pretty terrible action. After dying in an earlier novel we see the side effects have continued; namely that he has seizures - usually at inopportune times, which we later learn is because they’re triggered by stress.

Tsana: For a book that I mainly remembered as being about Simon Illyan, this one really did have some significant life changes for Miles. For all that Miles has had the opportunity to fix a lot of his medical problems — he’s been gradually replacing his skeleton with stronger artificial bones, for example — he’s also been accumulating new ones and now, after much hardship, they’ve finally caught up with him severely enough that it’s time for a medical discharge. From the start of the book, he has seizures left over from his cryorevival but he hasn’t actually told anyone about them. So things go horribly wrong when he goes on a field mission and has a seizure in the heat of battle.

And we’re getting into spoiler territory very early on. Should we put up the spoiler shields or jump to discuss something less spoilery?

Katharine: Sure thing. Beep boop beep!

-- spoilers --

Katharine: So when we say he has a seizure in the heat of battle - which means he’s wearing his full battle armour - this means this his weapons accidently lock on and he neatly severs one of his own right at the legs. Just clips them off entirely and the poor chap almost dies. And then what does Miles do? What does Miles do, Tsana!?

Tsana: It’s not just one of his own soldiers that he injures, it’s the guy they’re being paid to extract! The Barrayaran courier they’re supposed to be saving! And then, although Miles mentions the friendly fire in his report (he can’t not mention the severing of legs when they’re the legs of the person at the centre of the mission) he doesn’t mention the seizures. To make it worse, he spends quite a bit of time angsting about whether to tell the whole truth and even writes two separate reports… But then he sends in the edited one! Silly Miles!

Katharine: It’s certainly a little selfish. We often see Miles ready and willing to do rash things - knowing he’s important/protected enough to throw his life on the line for the benefit of others. This, however, I can’t really think of any angle to it other than Miles doesn’t want to admit how badly he’s effed things up. I kind of lost a bit of respect for him in this act - and it only gets more annoying from there.

Tsana: I think that’s accurate. He thinks that he can make it go away without having to bring official condemnation into it. He also arrogantly thinks he’s taken into account all of Illyan’s spies, that are keeping an eye on him. But after the hardship he had to enure to get and keep the Dendarii — in his mind at least — I can see why he’s so worried about losing them so easily. But that doesn’t excuse putting people’s live at risk, obviously.

Katharine: Quinn obviously knows what’s happened, as do most of the Dendarii who were nearby when it happened. His medic also knows - the only one who knew he’s been having seizures as she’s been trying to find a treatment that will work on them. Why she didn’t put him on some sort of leave is beyond me, but anyway…

Miles is told to report back to ImpSec - something that worries him, only when he finally gets home it’s to wait around for days without even being called in. Now, it’s what happens on the journey home which really bugs me, and, I think as you were reading and sent me a few messages, something that you picked up on, too.

Previously I’ve mentioned how I just don’t get how Miles seems to pick up women and sleep with them and think he’s in love with them, all, at the same time. I don’t have any issues with being poly at all, but I would at least like the women to be aware that there are others at the same time, for crying out loud. He literally goes from wanting Quinn to be his wife on Barrayar to crooking a finger at Taura as soon as they’re alone on the transport home (having left Quinn in charge of the Dendarii) and bemoans how unfair it is that Taura will have such a short life - as if that’s a fact purely meant to be an additional hardship on his emotions. What the hell, Miles.

Tsana: Basically, up until now we could think that Miles had been loyal to Quinn except for that period where he lost his memory after cryorevival and hooked up with the doctor (and I think it’s fair to say that’s not his fault). But now we learn that he’s actually been sleeping with Taura every so often the entire time? And in this particular instance it’s supposed to be kind of OK because he’s just had a fight with Quinn? Not cool, Miles. Not cool. There is a conversation with Quinn much later when she’s not as upset as she could be (I would be more upset), but still. I’m now annoyed I defended him in one of our previous discussions.

Katharine: Wasn’t he already with Quinn when he first finds Taura, though?

Tsana: No, he meets Taura in Labyrinth but first gets together with Quinn later, in Brothers in Arms. And supposedly he doesn’t want to sleep with subordinates, but that doesn’t last very long or cause him a surplus of angst.

Katharine: And then - I know it’s jumping ahead a little here but I don’t see how it’ll come up later - at the end of the novel when he’s reunited with Quinn, he checks to see if she’s been sleeping around also! And she hasn’t been, and while there is a comment about how it would have been okay if she did, it doesn’t feel very genuine. Basically Quinn has been reasonable, and Miles has been a sneaky greedy little so-and-so.

Tsana: I suppose this is the aristocratic side of him coming out… As far as character design goes, I think I’d call this his biggest flaw? The others are much more endearing.

Katharine: Actually, we see it again pretty soon after he makes it home. He discovers that Ivan has been promoted to the rank of captain, and Miles simply hates the fact that he made it there before he did. Never mind the fact Ivan has been working just as long as Miles has - without using any medical leave, I assume, which means having the ability to squeeze in at least a few more missions, I’m sure. Eugh.

Tsana: Well, that’s a different issue though, isn’t it? Miles thinks he’s much smarter than Ivan so of course he’s going to be jealous when Ivan is more successful. And, in this case, the only reason Miles hadn’t been promoted sooner is because all his missions are so top secret. Miles and Ivan do have some girl problems in common though. It’s less prominent in this book, but we do start to see how both Ivan and Miles think that some of their female friends — like the Koudelka sisters — will always be around to accompany them to dances. But when Ivan realises he’s running out of time (well, running out of eligible girls that he doesn’t find annoying), his desperation is not enough to get a fiance…

Katharine: I think of it as tying into the same issue, where Miles can’t seem to fathom a world where he doesn’t get everything he wants if he tries for it. Girl who doesn’t say no - why not have both? Go on secret missions - should still have recognition! And just because Ivan isn’t as smart as Miles in his type of way (surely he’s better than Miles at some things) doesn’t mean he isn’t able to earn some things on merit/luck himself.

But yes, all that aside we get to see a little more of Vor life, as Miles - with nothing else better to do - socialises with Ivan, the girls, and Duv who we met in an earlier book. Especially when Miles’ stupid choice with his mission report is discovered and Simon has no other choice but to ‘medically discharge without prejudice’ and send Miles home. And we see him fall into one of his worst depressive fits yet. And Ivan is one of the few willing to stick around, and make sure he at least eats and showers sometimes.

It makes me wonder whether if their roles were reversed, what Miles would do for Ivan.

Tsana: Family is family. Remember, at least part of the reason Ivan was there was because his mother made him go. I think Cordelia would have made Miles go if the roles were reversed. And I think Miles would have taken up “fixing” Ivan as a challenge…

But as for Miles’s discharge. Simon really gave him the best possible option. If he wasn’t so close to Aral and didn’t have so much affection for Miles, he could have courtmartialed him instead. Once again, Miles is lucky to be who he is and from the family he is from. It’s just that in his depressive haze, he doesn’t have the space to realise that. All he can see is that the one thing that he really enjoys doing has been taken away from him.

Katharine: Yup, yup, and yup. And you can kind of see where he’s coming from in a way - just another time his body has failed him, and the long chain of health effects that he’s battled ever since he was born have finally beaten him, and taken away the career no one thought he’d ever achieve, yet somehow managed to. For a time.

So Miles is depressed for a while - Duv and Ivan kick his ass into gear for a while - and he takes his new man-servant for a bit of touring of the old country - returns to where he once investigated the death of the newborn and so on. When he returns it is to find that something may possibly be not-quite-right with Simon. And because he’s no longer part of ImpSec, it’s suddenly very hard to get to see him.

Tsana: Illyan has partly kept his job because the previous emperor, Ezar, had signed him up for a bit of human experimentation. Simon has had a memory chip embedded in his brain for thirty-five years, which has been methodically saving every single thing that he ever saw or heard. Perfectly, like a video recording that Simon can access whenever he wants. It’s one of the things that made him such an effective head of security. But everyone who had such a chip embedded in their heads did not last very long, so when something starts to go wrong with Simon’s chip, there’s no precedent and no one really knows what to do about it.

Katharine: I found it super interesting that Simon is the only case who’s survived the ‘upgrade’ for any decent amount of time - let alone that it’s worked perfectly for him for thirty-five years. What others have started to notice, and what Miles sees for himself when he makes contact with Simon, is that he seems to be getting the present confused with random bits of the past - he demands to know the outcome of a mission from ten years ago as if it’s currently in progress. He gets extremely agitated it he’s made aware of the discrepancy.

So far it’s happened mostly in isolation, but when it happens in the middle of an all-departments briefing, in front of the other most important members of ImpSec, he’s sedated and transferred to medical assessment immediately and his second-in-command, General Haroche - who Miles incidentally asked to investigate the possibility the day before - takes over. And refuses to let Miles or anyone else see Simon at all. He even sends dull reports to Gregor, skimming over the facts.

Tsana: And of course Miles doesn’t like being out of the loop! But since he’s been fired it’s not exactly weird for him to be kept out of the loop either. But on the other hand, Simon is a close family friend and Miles is not the only one worrying about him. What a dilemma! But since Miles doesn’t hate anything more than people not telling him things, he takes his concerns directly to Emperor Gregor. And although it wasn’t part of his plan, this is what really sets the next chapter of Miles’s life into motion. It’s also the point at which we really get to the Illyan part of the story.

Katharine: Miles asks that Gregor appoints him as an Imperial Auditor, which would enable him absolute access to anything deemed relevant to a specific case. In this case, it is of course anything and everything to do with Simon Illyan. Which enables Miles to see just how bad Simon is doing (pretty terribly, but I love what an excellent fighter this desk bunny turns out to be), and full access to all areas of ImpSec where he gets his Sherlock on, and surprisingly quickly discovers quite a few things of note.

Tsana: I don’t think it’s surprising to readers that Miles would enjoy investigating things and solving mysterious problems. He takes to it like a fish to water, not least because it finally gives him the power to actually do something to help Illyan.

I think the funniest thing Miles realises while working on the Illyan problem (and a bit before and after) is how close Simon has gotten to Aunt Alys, Ivan’s mother…

Katharine: I mean, if Simon was like an uncle to Miles then he would have been to Ivan, too. And Gregor. And Elena. There were basically four-and-a-bit parents to four kids - as well as basically running Barrayar together.

Tsana: I just thought Miles’s — and later Ivan’s — reaction to Alys and Simon getting together was pretty hilarious. But you’ve just reminded me of Elena and I kind of want to get sidetracked to talk about her from the start of the book for a moment...

At the start of the book Elena and her husband Baz tell Miles that they want to leave the Dendarii and start a family. This is a big deal not only because Elena was Miles’s first love, but because those two have very senior positions among the Dendarii and replacing them isn’t straightforward, especially since they’re also two of a very small group of people who know that Admiral Naismith is actually Lord Vorkosigan. Back then, at the start of the book, Miles has a lot of difficulty in accepting that Elena wants to move on with her life. He was quite outraged that she’d dare to change when (to him) they had such a great set up with the Dendarii. All Miles ever wanted to be was a soldier, but while Elena wanted that too, she’s done it now. To her, it’s time to move on to the next phase of her life. There’s a great quote where Elena says, remembering a conversation she’d had with Cordelia:

But once, reminiscing, she went into this sort of litany about all the things she'd ever been. Like astrocartographer, and explorer, and ship's captain, and POW, and wife, and mother, and politician . . . the list went on and on. There was no telling, she said, what she would be next. And I thought . . . I want to be like that. I want to be like her. Not just one thing, but a world of possibilities. I want to find out who else I can be.

This whole concept is something that Miles spends the entire book coming to terms with.

Katharine: I really hope we get to see Elena again in the future. Even if it will blow Miles’ little head if she has kids and goes all motherly without him.

What I do like about Miles and how he runs his investigation, is how he uses those around him. Ivan, as ever, is pulled into his little schemes. So is Duv, where possible. Through this, Miles manages to foil something before it really gets going - thankfully, as the novel has been taken up by quite a bit of angst and drawing out the investigation would have made for quite a long book.

Tsana: It’s also because Miles trusts Ivan and Duv and he knows that they aren’t the ones who screwed over Simon. But he also knows that all three of them (especially Miles and Duv) are, from the outside, top suspects. And prime candidates to be framed. (Good thing Gregor also knows that Miles wouldn’t have done it.) So, as seems to happen a lot, Miles has to be very careful and meticulous so as not to be accused of treason.

Katharine: It turns out to have been General Haroche after all - who seemed to be the obvious culprit at the start, so it feels like a double-bluff almost. What are your thoughts?

Tsana: Well having read it before, I remembered that he was the culprit, so it’s hard for me to judge how obvious the clues were when I knew to look for them. But I suppose Miles’s excuse is that he was a bit distracted by his own angst? Or maybe also that Haroche was in a similar position to him as being an obvious suspect. There’s also the fact that it took them all a while to work out whether Simon’s chip had degraded naturally or been maliciously attacked.

Katharine: Imagine how hard it must be, to go from having perfect and total recall (heh) to that interim period where he has a poor memory because he hasn’t had to use it for so long.

Tsana: Even being normal must be a disappointment after that! But at least normal is better than malfunctioning. And forced retirement means that he suddenly gets to have a personal life.

Katharine: He’s certainly earned it. Aral and Cordelia have scraped retirement for themselves even if it means being off-planet in order to avoid most (and yet still not all) requests for service. In this novel we get to see Aunt Alys complete her final (possibly) piece of work for the crown by acting as intermediary for Gregor’s engagement, and so together they get to enjoy Simon’s sudden retirement. I do love how positive the books are about the older generation actually having damn lives - it makes you realise how rare it is to see.

Tsana: Ooh, that is something we keep on seeing — especially since the current “last” book chronologically is back to Cordelia.

But I think the older generation have so far had a better time of it than Miles and Ivan. Sure, Mark has a girlfriend, but poor Duv lost his new girlfriend to Gregor and, well, we’ve already discussed Miles and Ivan. Cordelia, Aral, the senior Koudelkas and now Simon and Alys all seem to be doing a bit better.

Katharine: As I mentioned to you as I was reading, I think despite the fact he’s a bit bumbling out of all of them I think I’d go for Ivan. The majority of characters seem to have quite a few problems they’re working through (Mark, Miles, Duv), and as we’ve discussed above Ivan seems rather supportive, yet still thinks for himself when Miles isn’t around dragging him into things. And his mum seems nice, which helps.

Tsana: And apparently he’s good in bed… ;-p

Anyway, I think we’ve covered most things now. Anything else you’d like to add? Any thoughts on where Miles’s new adventures as the youngest Imperial Auditor are going to take him? (I know the answer to that, of course, and I am looking forward to re-reading and re-living the next book, Komarr…)

Katharine: I can’t wait to get to know the other auditors as I assume we’ll see a bit of them. They seem pretty cool for part of the ‘older Vor’ crowd. Um. Is it how Miles finally meets his own future-wife??

Tsana: In the next book, even!

Katharine: Whaaaaat. What are we doing chatting here then?! Go, go, go!

Join us in probably less than a month as we discuss the next book in the Vorkosigan Saga: Komarr!

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