Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Diplomatic Immunity — The Vorkosigan Saga Project

Diplomatic Immunity is the latest book we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project. We’ve returned to Miles and Ekaterin, joining them almost a year after their marriage (as we saw in “Winterfair Gifts”). They’re now expecting the birth (well, hatching) of their two children… however, of course, work has sprung up and Miles diverted to Quaddiespace.


You can read Katharine’s review of Diplomatic Immunity here, and Tsana’s review here.


Tsana: Well I remembered basically none of that from my first read through. I’m not sure why, but all that stuck in my head was that Miles and Ekaterin visit the Quaddies. Partway through I started worrying that I also remembered the death of a character, but, well I won’t say above the spoiler shield whether that was correct or not. Suffice to say a lot of the story came as a surprise to me.


Katharine: That must be good! I loved this one, especially comparing to Falling Free. It was interesting to see how they have expanded their part of the world and all the facilities they have now - like their own forensic investigators and such. And the story itself was rather exciting.


Tsana: I really liked the name references to some of the significant characters in Falling Free. Like how the Quaddies decided that they would only have first names, but the more popular names get numbers appended to them. So Leo Number and Silver Number and other founding quaddie characters are really popular. Also the bits of station named after Falling Free characters like Graf station and the Minchenko ballet.


Katharine: I agree - that was really quite lovely to see. And… oh, I should leave that for after the spoiler warning. Uhm. Well, so to the plot recap - so there was some trouble on the Quaddie station docks involving a security officer from the convoy's Barrayaran military escort. Miles and Ekaterin were the closest to Quaddiespace at the time, so Miles was asked to go see what the trouble was all about, and it turns out the military have assaulted one of their own for sleeping with a local and he’s now seeking asylum, and another Barrayan has been killed (or at least there was a lot of blood), and the body nowhere to be found.


Tsana: All this while in the background Miles and Ekaterin are keen to get back to Barrayar for the decanting of their babies. Miles figures that if he can get the scandal with the Quaddies sorted in two weeks they won’t be late for the decanting. But when do things go smoothly where Miles is involved? He uncovers far-reaching conspiracies wherever he goes.


Katharine: Decanting - I like that. Sounds classy! And yes, because it’s not as simple as a bit of rough-housing and a maybe-murder, no. There’s explosives and biochemical threats and all sorts. And that’s even before they discover… well. Spoiler shield time?


Tsana: Spoilers ahoy!




Tsana: I had completely forgotten about the Cetagandan connection in this one!


Katharine: I did like the slight mentions of them at the start, and then BOOM when it all comes to the stunning realisation. Though it is a bit sad how even on his deathbed, Miles is still so passionately desperate to save their worlds. I mean, sure, if he doesn’t hundreds of thousands could be killed… and yet.


Tsana: I’m not sure why that’s sad? Why wouldn’t he want to stop a nuclear and/or war, deathbed or not? Why did you find it sad?


Katharine: Because he doesn’t really have any time to feel sad about not meeting his kids, or whisper sweet nothings to Ekaterin - it kind of feels like more work, rather than saving the world, I guess.


Tsana: But he was also specifically sad about not meeting his kids/them dying/his ancestral home being destroyed. That’s (part of ) why he wanted to stop the war.


Katharine: Oh, absolutely. Just kind of seems like all hard work right up to the last moment. It’s admirable, just the poor guy never gets a break. Though he does get the highest honour on Cetaganda for his heroic efforts, so that’s nice.


Tsana: And this time without the embarrassing medal to go with it! We have kind of jumped to the end a bit though. Miles goes to Graf Station thinking that he’s mainly going to be dealing with his countrymen being bigoted/ableist twats against the quaddies — which they were, of course they were — but it turns out part of the problem was that not all the Barrayarans were being bigoted twats. One had fallen in love with a quaddie, which the others saw as a huge problem. I liked how Bujold used this opportunity to look at Barrayaran prejudice again, and to align Miles with the quaddies, since he’s automatically sympathetic to anyone that’s different, as we’ve seen many times before.


Katharine: And also how we see Miles act a little older as when the Barrayan who falls in love with Garnet Five (the Quaddie) Corbeau states he’s going to beg asylum and throw aside his years of training (and financial investments) all for Garnet Five, Miles instantly tries to talk him out of being rash and seeing how he feels again in another few years. Even though Miles himself has done some fairly rash things for love in the not so distant past.


Tsana: Well I think in that case Miles was thinking about the problem from Barrayar’s perspective as well as from a slightly more advanced age. Not only is Miles more than a decade older than Corbeau, as an Imperial Auditor he is also supposed to think about what’s best for the Imperium. And in this case, Gregor specifically asked him to try to keep the costs down and losing a pilot is a significant waste of training and surgical costs. Mind you, the final result of the pilot being a diplomat is still a waste of the surgical implants, but at least there’s the hope that he might get back to piloting. And the fact that Miles gave the quaddies the ship that he is able to pilot as payment for their fines suggests that he could be put to use piloting it in a diplomatic capacity if needed.


Katharine: We really have seen Miles grow up, haven’t we?


I wonder how much that ship would have cost to clean. I also really love how there wasn’t much pausing between the offer of the ship, and how they said they’d be adding the expenses to their tab. The Quaddies really are quite financially minded.


But back to possibly the most important thing we can say under the spoiler shield… BEL IS BACK!


Tsana: Yes! As soon as Miles arrives at Graf Station, he is greeted by a party of quaddie officials and.. Bel Thorn, who is now portmaster, apparently. Bel found a way back to Nicol, the quaddie musician Miles and Bel met in Labyrinth, and they now live happily together in Quaddiespace, with Bel occasionally passing information to the Barrayarans (despite having been fired from the Dendarii for getting Miles killed, Bel is still on ImpSec’s payroll).


Katharine: Pssst. Confession time. I had little recollection of Nicol. Oops.


But yes! Bel! And it and Nicol make such a good pair. Though some pretty damn tough times they manage to stick through. But before we get to that… in the investigations into the missing-presumed-dead officer, with Bel assigned to be Miles’ liaison as portmaster (being its official job whilst there), they meet a strange individual who’s quite worried about their cargo. And I mean, when is that ever NOT highly suspicious?


Tsana: Well the Betan herm (like Bel) has a perfectly valid reason for concern: transporting a bunch of livestock foetuses that will need to be born or destroyed by a deadline is a good excuse for worrying about lengthy delays. Of course, the real suspicion comes in when Miles goes to double check on the cargo (a little bit illegally) and finds that they are not actually farm animals. Although the cargo manifest wasn’t lying when it labelled them as mammal foetuses, the cargo is actually made up of a thousand babies in uterine replicators. 😱


Katharine: Which also makes it starkly apparent who they belong to, which certainly complicates things somewhat. So now he has a thousand very priceless foetuses (not that any should be worth more than others but these certainly have a lot of weaponry behind them if anything were to happen to them…), a few ships worth of irritated people in lockdown, a missing body (presumed dead), and all the rest of it. Then there’s the attack on his life (or maybe on Bel, or maybe on the Betan herm). And then Bel itself goes missing.


Tsana: To be fair, it takes Miles a little while to work out exactly where and why the foetuses came from. There were some threads to unravel to get there, like the identity of the shooter and assailant who had also been causing them some problems. I liked how excited Miles got when someone started shooting at him. Very Miles. He really had to work to not let the quaddies see how happy he was to have been shot at.


Katharine: I loved that bit - it’s quite like in Sherlock Holmes how Watson thrives for adrenalin. I think poor Miles was under so many different strains (as well as thinking of his upcoming fatherhood) otherwise he may have solved one or two bits a little quicker. Or at least before he’s infected. Can you explain the biochemical thing? I think your scienceyness will do it better than I could, but it’s easily one of my favourite things of the book. SO elegant, so awful.


Tsana: What do you want explained? The part where the rogue ba runs around infecting everyone with a horrifying bioweapon? Or how Miles manages to get infected?


Katharine: Mostly the first bit! (Miles getting himself in as much (or more) trouble as anybody else goes without saying.)


Tsana: Well the ba stole a bioweapon from the original Star Creche ship — just the one because the one of the haut women successfully destroyed the rest of the weapons — and has been running around using it on everyone that got in its way. The weapon itself implants a bunch of microparacites, which multiply then, while heating up, build up an unpleasant chemical inside themselves, then explode, releasing the chemical inside the person (and triggering a bit of chain reaction). The end result is a puddle of goo.


I have to admit, while reading I did suddenly wonder whether Bel survived this book — I vaguely remembered being annoyed about something to do with Bel — but once Miles was also infected I figured that Bel would probably also survive. Mind you, I am still a bit annoyed that a debilitating disability was Bujold’s method for guaranteeing Bel wouldn’t have further adventures or appear in later books.


Katharine: I honestly thought Miles would die in this one. I realised we only have a few books left (and isn’t one all about my favourite Ivan, and another about everyone’s favourite Cordelia?), and I don’t really know what the status is of our favourite characters at the end… so who’s to say it couldn’t have all ended? But I’m so glad they survived, and that their recovery seemed suitable - long, and not that easy. The poor things. Bel should almost be glad to see the back of Miles at the end of this, I expect its life was quite pleasant for the years since they’ve worked together.


Tsana: Well yes, Bel seems happy with Nicol and gets to keep being happy with Nicol, albeit unemployed and on a Barrayaran (and also quaddie?) pension. I did feel like the ending of the whole book felt very final. Miles and Ekaterin have children and live happily ever after the end. It seemed like she meant it as a conclusive ending. And, you know what? She didn’t write the next book (Cryoburn, which isn’t next chronologically) for another ten years.


Katharine: Gosh. I’m glad to be reading now without having to wait that long. Though I guess it is quite a nice ending - circle of life, everyone’s a bit teary holding babies. Parents are still there and everyone’s gathered around them. But still… yay, more!


Tsana: Yeah, I started reading the series not long after Cryoburn came out, so I only had to wait for the most recently published two books (which actually means I’ve already reviewed those two on my blog, hmm…). But now it looks like she’s taking another break. So who knows how long it will be until we get another Vorkosigan universe book, if we ever do. :-/


Katharine: Did you pay however much it was to get an ARC of Gentleman Jole?


Tsana: No, I just waited for the normal release. Probably still bought it direct from Baen though.


Katharine: I think I’ll definitely be on that train if we get the chance. Is there anything we haven’t discussed? I can’t quite think. My mind is already on Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance.


Tsana: Then I think we’re done.


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