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February 6, 2016

Gentleman Jole and the SPOILER Queen
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:32 AM * 140 comments

I know it’s been a few days since it was requested, but here’s a SPOILER thread for Bujold’s latest installment in the Vorkosigan series.

It’s not been a great winter for taking in new things for me, so I confess that I haven’t read it yet. As a result, my image of the book at the moment is a conversation between two characters from elsewhere in literature…

Desire waited in the carriage. Again. The thing with Norton had been a setback, but this one should be easier. Royalty, taken as a whole, was pretty venal. That’s how they got to be—and stayed—royalty. And Pain was a good salesman. He’d even sold himself his own nostrums. Still, it was frustrating. He talked so quietly that only one side of the conversation was audible.

“You call that an offer? I’ve seen offers in comparison with which that would be a confiscation! Besides, queens never make bargains.”
(Cajoling from Pain)
“When I want a thing, that means that I lack it. But to lack a thing is not to have it. And if I see something, it’s mine, and what I cannot see, I cannot miss.”
(Slightly confused response from Pain)

Pain returned to the carriage, carrying his head in his hands. The gore from his neck stained his shirt a deeper red. “That didn’t go very well.”

(I know I’ve mapped Gentleman Jole to an extremely unlikely character.)

Comments on Gentleman Jole and the SPOILER Queen:
#1 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 07:52 AM:

1)It has been discussed elseweb that Gentlemen Jole is probably going to count as a 2015 book for the purposes of Hugo nomination. It fulfills the criteria: widely available to the public in the calendar year.

2)I squeed my way through. I also kept waiting for the earth-shattering kaboom. Lois usually gives us small personal stories set against a backdrop of galactic chaos. I kept waiting for an invasion fleet.

#2 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 08:19 AM:

The invasion fleet was Miles and family dropping in unannounced.

I hope it doesn't get classed as a 2015 release, since I'm still waiting for my h/c from the big South American river... I wouldn't count a "you can buy and download an unproofed advance reader copy from the publisher's website" as "widely available". There are other books that moose want to vote for this year.

#3 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 09:56 AM:

I kept waiting for an invasion fleet, too, although it certainly didn't need it. I bought the eARC last fall, and read it twice within a couple of weeks; I almost never do that. The hardcover is waiting for me to dig out from under all the *other* books I just got this week, then I'll read that, too.

There's a discrepancy in the kids' ages. Alex and Helen are eleven here. But they were only five in Cryoburn, which is explicitly three years ago. Also, we see Alex-then-known-as-Sasha as a toddler (just started to walk, not talking intelligibly yet) in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, which is explicitly seven years ago. So the twins should be eight, not eleven.

(Why, yes, I *did* go back and re-read most of the rest of the series after finishing this one. New Bujold books always trigger a re-read for me.)

#4 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 10:32 AM:

This is such a grown-up book. People are making big decisions, with life-altering consequences, that are not in reaction to invading fleets. I liked that a lot -- not that I haven't thoroughly enjoyed Bujold's mayhem.

It has all the usual character driven humor that I love.

Is "retcon" the right term for introducing the 20-year polyamorous relationship? It makes perfect sense for bisexual Aral and Betan Cordelia. It's fun imagining how poor Simon Illyan must have been tearing his hair out. It's also nice that they had that extra love in a time when their lives were so stressed.

#5 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 10:34 AM:

By contrast, I was reading "The Magicians" just before this. Friends had raved about it, but it was a bit of a yawn to me. I'm just not as interested in the throes of being 17 these days.

#6 ::: Affenschmidt ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 10:39 AM:

Sisiule #1, I wasn't expecting an invasion fleet, but I was expecting a close-to-literal earth-shattering kaboom in the form of the volcano having a spectacular ahead-of-schedule eruption and level Kareenburg while everyone was at the party...

#7 ::: Affenschmidt ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 10:40 AM:

Also: Sisuile #1, apologies for the misspelling in the previous.

#8 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 10:57 AM:

The suggestion that the deputation should present their petition to the volcano "but if you get an answer, run" was superb.

#9 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 11:04 AM:

And here I was spending my Anticipation Credits waiting for the Cetagandan sensory booth to actually contain invasive Bioengineered Horrible Stuff.

#10 ::: Wendy Bradley ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 02:02 PM:

What kept throwing me out of the story in the first few chapters was that he was called *Oliver* and not Arkady (as in the fanfic series "The World that you Need" which deals with a Jole/Vorkosigan relationship) I guess the relationship is now canon, but not the name.

#11 ::: Tehanu ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 03:16 PM:

I noticed on Amazon that the reader reviews were about evenly divided between "An adult novel about feelings, how great!" and "An adult novel about feelings, what a bore!"

Me, I'm in the second camp; if I want to know about middle-aged women going through life crises, I call my friends and ask them. I want to read epics, not character studies, Jane Austen always excepted. So ... not the book I was hoping for; but I don't think my personal reaction qualifies as a judgment on the quality of the book. I do, however, think that Bujold should have kept this to novella length or shorter; and I'm still hoping for at least one more book from her with a story that covers more ground.

#12 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 03:20 PM:

My head-canon based on the title alone was "Jole and Cordelia turn space pirates," possibly as part of an ImpSec operation. Ghod knows they've both got the experience to pull it off!

Sisuile, #1: I know! When they actually got to the party, I kept thinking that something was going to go Drastically Wrong -- and maybe if you count the rain of blown-up radial goo it did, but that wasn't the level of Drastic I was expecting.

I think Bujold's fanfic background is really showing here. If I were reading this story on AO3, I'd expect to see it tagged No Archive Warnings Apply, Mature, M/F with authorial tags of Background M/M/F, Polyamory, Family, Fluff.

janetl, #4: After finishing it, I was thinking that this is going to be one of the sneaky ones that end up changing people's lives because they see such a clear parallel to their own situation in it. In this case, it's people facing a fork-in-the-road choice in late middle age: do I keep going the way I've been, or take a leap of faith into something entirely different? Jole can either have his career and retire as a thrice-twenty-years man capped by being head of Ops, OR he can retire now and have Cordelia and children of his own -- but not both.

Wendy, #10: Yeah, me too a little, although since I haven't read that series in a while it was more of a minor "wait, that's not really his name" itch.

OTOH, that's not necessarily a bad thing, because they're not the same story and the name difference will help people who've read both keep them unconflated.

Tangentially related: "The World That You Need" series also contains one of the best illustrations of how to handle consent issues in a chain-of-command relationship that I've ever seen. Because obviously at least some of the Vorkosigan armsmen are going to have to know, and what would they think about that?

#13 ::: Henry Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 03:29 PM:

I thought it was pretty clear right from the beginning that this was going to be one of the occasional social novels a la A Civil Campaign rather than one of intrigue and politics. And it was quite well done (but not as good as ACC, which is my favorite of the Vorkosigan novels - the dinner scene in that book is as perfectly pitched as Wodehouse). There aren't many novels about older people falling in love, and still fewer that are explicit about sex (though I could have done with less references to Betan sex toys meself).

#14 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 03:56 PM:

Three snarky reactions ...

1. Wow, first time I've ever read a novel-as-character-study where the central character is dead. Someone is getting snarky wrt. the whole death-of-the-author Theory game, amirite? (Probably not, but anyway ...)

2. Set-up for "Vorkosiverse: The Next Generation" sighted off the port bow!

3. Someone should give a copy of this to Vox Day and record a time-lapse video of his face as he reads it. I'm guessing it'll look a lot like Cronenberg's "Scanners".

#15 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 03:59 PM:

Henry: writing comedy-of-manners-gone-wrong dinner party scenes is really hard, even when you apply Hofstadter's Law. No, seriously, my hat's off to Lois for the dinner party in ACC. (Been there, tried to do that, ouch.)

GJatRQ is a lot lower-key and lacks the slapstick elements, but it's still a powerful piece for all that.

#16 ::: Beth Friedman ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 05:10 PM:

@janetl #4: It's not a retcon so much as behind-the-scenes canon; Lois Bujold has been talking privately about Aral Vorkosigan having a long-term relationship with Jole since not long after The Vor Game came out. Most of the books after that were from Miles's point of view (or his and Ekaterin's), and he had no clue, so it never came out.

#17 ::: Karl ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 06:55 PM:

After Cryoburn, Jole promising to outlive Cordelia made me twitch.

#18 ::: mjfgates ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 07:06 PM:

cstross@14/1: Paladin of Souls. Okay, not quite, but it's close enough for snark.

A graph showing acts of violence per word vs. publication date in Vorkosiverse stories would be a steady descending slope. If this is to continue, Bujold is only allowed to write one more book in the series unless she figures out how to write negative punching.

#19 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 07:40 PM:

Henry Farrell@13, how you can call A Civil Campaign not about politics and intrigue baffles me.

That said, admittedly, I know what you meant. It was personal politics and intrigue, not galactic-scale. (The wedding of a head of state of a multi-planetary empire notwithstanding.) But there were real stakes to it--Ekaterin and Miles's relationship principally, plus Mark and Kareen figuring themselves out.

And stakes are where I feel Gentleman Jole is lacking. There weren't any. The closest I can imagine is "someone, which in this context means Miles because who else, has a problem with what's going on," and that failed as stakes because 1) I had a hard time believing he really would, and 2) it's Miles and Cordelia, the worst case scenario is that they have a spat and/or don't see eye to eye. Which, you know, can happen between people, especially family. Doesn't mean they stop being family. (My apologies to those who, as the Dysfunctional Families series demonstrates, have had a differing experience. I should say, this is the ideal, an ideal the Vorkosigans have always represented.)

None of the other possible stakes, like Jole's decision about his sons and about the promotion, actually carried any weight. For one, as he even admits (the bales of hay), he is choosing between multiple good things and trying simply to maximize happiness, as he defines it, so it'a really just "whatever he thinks is what will happen and he'll enjoy it." And Cordelia...has been set up to do whatever she wants, and who's going to gainsay her?

The central conversation between Miles and Jole was well written--for that matter everything was well written, with good turns of phrase, good moments, good characterization. Nothing in this otherwise underwhelmed commentary should give the impression that Bujold's skill as a writer of scenes and characters has diminished.

But...well. Bujold has said that her rule is to ask, "So what's the worst possible thing I can do to *this* guy?" and then do it--but she isn't pulling that card anymore and it shows.

#20 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 08:06 PM:

Tehanu, #11: That's funny, because I read this as being about a middle-aged man going thru a life crisis. Cordelia was devastated by Aral's death, but at the beginning of the book she's mostly worked her way past that and decided (more or less) the shape she wants the rest of her life to take. But then she drops the idea of children on Jole, and the rest of the book is about him processing that and making decisions about his own life.

And what some people seem to be calling "an adult novel about feelings" is what I call "characterization". Which, I hasten to say, is not always the case; for example, Fond Memories of Vagina tales usually fall short on that score. But this book is largely what would be called, if it had teenage protagonists, a coming-of-age story, and that generally involves significant character development.

Will, #19: The overall tone of this book is what I've learned (via other long-running series) to think of as "the calm before the storm". It suggests strongly to me that the next book is going to be a nail-biter.

I will admit I'd like to see more of ghem Soren. He's played for laughs for most of the book, but his final scene impressed me much the same way it did Cordelia -- he's got both brains and guts, and enough flexibility to become a major player. Remember the Vorkosigans' ability to attract exceptional people...

#21 ::: Jennifer Barber ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2016, 08:58 PM:

I'm a characterization fan first and foremost, yet I still found myself a little surprised at how quick a read it was given there was so little action. I probably could have put it down if I'd had to*--it wasn't exactly a have-to-know-what-happens-next kind of story--but I didn't want to put it down anyway. Oddly, by the time we did get action in the form of the radial-explosion, it felt a little out of place to me, despite its use in helping Jole decide what he wanted.

Is it possible for the Hugo committee to decide eligibility before the nomination deadline, or does that only happen once something makes the prospective short list? I don't think it should be considered 2015, but if it is, it'll make my list.

* Though having learned from prior experience with, among others, A Civil Campaign, I'd taken the day off work to avoid "one more chapter"-ing myself into being up all night.

#22 ::: Henry Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 12:46 AM:
Henry: writing comedy-of-manners-gone-wrong dinner party scenes is really hard, even when you apply Hofstadter's Law. No, seriously, my hat's off to Lois for the dinner party in ACC. (Been there, tried to do that, ouch.)

I believe it - it has to take quite exquisite control - both in the careful setup of the dominos over many chapters before, and in ensuring that they fall just so and in that order when you finally start to tip them over.

And stakes are where I feel Gentleman Jole is lacking. There weren't any.

I disagree respectfully and completely. The stakes were the most important stakes that most of us have in our lives - love and children (whether to have them; what to do with them when and if you do have them). Likewise in ACC - the interesting questions aren't the politics in the background - it's whether the couple in the foreground get together. The novel could work perfectly well without the intrigue, given a few adjustments, but it couldn't work at all without the romance.

#23 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 03:10 AM:

Maybe 'odds' rather than 'stakes'?

I agree with what I think Will was saying (and Sisuile?): it didn't ever look like failure. Admittedly, for the first sailing invitation, Jole risked serious embarrassment (and we're talking about an author who knows the root word for 'mortification' is 'death'), but that was early on.

By the middle of the novel it's clear that Jole/Cordelia is on. The stakes stay high, but the odds don't. The only person who could possibly be a problem is Miles, but I never really bought that. We've seen Cordelia be brutally honest about Miles in Memory, and we've seen her reconcile with Piotr even after a murder attempt on her son. If Miles does throw a tantrum, it's not going to ruin everything for her, and Jole doesn't really know him.

The standard plot for a romance includes a period where the protagonists despair about the relationship, and we don't see that. (From a genre point of view it's a bit like how Memory doesn't work as a formal whodunit because Haroche is the only named character who we don't know a priori to be innocent).

I loved the book, but I kept expecting something horrible to happen -- whether a Cetagandan attack or a volcano or Jole being outed to a group he really needed to persuade.

It was a lovely detail how people blaming the Cetagandan sensory garden for the radials (which was an obvious lead) were lumped in with lunatic conspiracy theorists.

Also, thanks to the people who referenced the Jole/Aral fanfic. I hadn't seen that, and it's lovely. I especially like Pym's viewpoint on the whole thing.

#24 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 04:13 AM:

thomas, #23: The thing about the romance in this book is that it's a resumption more than a beginning. There are some pretty obvious cues that, although Aral was the gravitational center of the relationship, it also had some triangular elements. They were both devastated by Aral's death, and it took a while for the numbness to heal. But once enough healing has occurred, the main thing holding Jole back is the feeling that he could never measure up, and Cordelia has to convince him that she's not measuring him at all. What they don't have to go thru is the kind of courtship phase that Miles had with Ekaterin -- they already know each other well past that.

#25 ::: RiceVermicelli ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 09:16 AM:

Oh, this book.

When I was about fourteen, a twitchy, smart, generally misunderstood guy handed me Warrior's Apprentice in the hopes that it would help me understand him better. I liked the book and hunted up the others.

When I went to college, multiple twitchy smart guys who thought of themselves as misunderstood despite the fact that they were at an engineering school full of twitchy smart guys continued to try to hand me Warrior's Apprentice in the hopes that it would help me understand them better. I began to apply my own interpretations to the suggestion. They weren't all flattering.

Last year, at a local knit night, someone announced that her new boyfriend suggested that she read Warrior's Apprentice. I don't go to a particularly SFnal knit night, but many of us knew what that meant.

I feel like GJatRQ is Bujold's personal gift to fans like me. Intended to make up for some of those fan boys. And possibly also intended to be handed back to them, as an attempt at their edification.

#26 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 01:12 PM:

I think GJRQ is middling Bujold-- not as spectacular as Civil Campaign or Memory, not as minor as Cetaganda or Diplomatic Immunity.

It was a pleasant read, and I wish the major characters well, but I hit a point where I wanted more plascrete and less relationships.

The book gave an excellent sense of generational time-- people get older and some of them die, children come along and grow up. I don't think I've ever seen this done so well in sf.

On the other hand, there was a middling case of "teenagers are so annoying and ridiculous". This wasn't as strong in the second half of the book. Ok, this is Cordelia's book, but can anyone recommend a book which gives equal weight to the concerns of adults and teenagers?

I was really hoping that there was going to be a hilarious disaster related to the Cetagandan display rather than mere thuggery.

Was Miles plausible as fuddy-duddy? It's not usually his job to try to be the brakes. Less importantly, shouldn't the tech be there for something better than a cane?

I loved that Jole finds a fascination with Sergyar wildlife, but I wouldn't have minded learning more about what was so weird about it.

#27 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 02:23 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 26: Less importantly, shouldn't the tech be there for something better than a cane?

I suspect that Miles just likes canes. Especially if he went and got a swordstick, like Koudelka's old one. (He mentions thinking of that in Cryoburn.) He has also probably got some powerfully negative memories of leg-braces of any sort, and his medical history is probably reason enough to avoid surgery, ditto . . .

Mary Aileen: There's a discrepancy in the kids' ages. Alex and Helen are eleven here. But they were only five in Cryoburn, which is explicitly three years ago.

I have a feeling that the error in the kids' ages was in the earlier books rather than this one--according to the Timeline, Miles is 32-33 when the twins are born and 43 in this book, which is eleven years later. So making the eldest kids 10-11 now (it really depends on when their birthday is) would seem to be the correction. Given that Alex and Helen--not to mention the others!--are much less "present" in the earlier books than they are in this one, too, that would seem to make sense to me . . .

#28 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 05:31 PM:

RiceVermicelli, #25: At this point, I'd be sorely tempted to respond to a guy handing me The Warrior's Apprentice with a variation on my response to Randites: "The only reason Miles comes off so well is that he has an author standing over him making sure things work out all right for him. You do not have an author standing over you." And then hand him Memory.

Unfortunately, this is an observation that a lot of 20-year-olds are not yet going to have enough life experience themselves to make.

Nancy, #26: You consider Diplomatic Immunity to be a minor book? Why?

#29 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 05:52 PM:

Amazon describes this as book 17 of the Vorkosigan saga, but lists Cryoburn as book 15. Was there a 16 I missed?

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 06:02 PM:

That would be the one with Ivan and the dancer.

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 06:23 PM:

Reading the debate so far, I feel a bit odd. I read the story as one of grown-up love. Two people who, recovering from the loss of a pivotal figure in both their lives, find comfort and hope in each other, and have the maturity to recognise it. Two people who find it possible, given a technology that permits it, and a science that permits them to live long enough (not to mention a diet rich in handwavium sulphate) to have their own children rather than children who will be born with obligations to state and society from the moment they take their first breath.

There are, thus, in my readings intertwined themes of loss, freedom, hope, maturity, and love in the story. Much of its power comes from the way these themes intersect in the lives of Oliver and Cordelia as well as in how we can see their pasts come together as realised lives. Not as central, but in its way just as important, is Miles's own recognition that his role as chef de famille is a very different one from either Piotr's or Aral's but still as valid and as valuable.

I was as taken by this novel as I have been by the best of Lois's work. Not only by the way she explores and exposes the characters but by the sheer beauty of the tale and the fact that her women and her men are whole and true human beings.

#32 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 08:24 PM:

Fragano Ledgister @ 31: Agreed.

Henry Troup @ 29: The last book, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, is finally Ivan's book.

#33 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 08:52 PM:

#28 ::: Lee

I'm sorry, but I don't know why I'm not that crazy about Diplomatic Immunity. If I read it again, I might have a answer for you.

For what it's worth, I was discussing this with another Bujold fan, and neither of us could remember the title. I said "the one about the quaddies", she said there were two books about the quaddies, I said I liked Falling Free, and then we both got stuck. I have the title for this discussion because I looked it up.

What did you like about Diplomatic Immunity?

#34 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2016, 10:45 PM:

janetl #32
Amazon appears to be messed up - they have Captain Vorpatril's Alliance as #14, with Cryoburn labeled #15. The bibliography on doesn't put anything in publication order between Cryoburn and the topic under discussion. I think Amazon possibly counted the packaged novellas Miles In Love, although they don't identify that as #16 on their site.
I don't think I've read Winterfair Gifts, and now I want to.

#35 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 01:58 AM:

Nancy, #33: Diplomatic Immunity is the other book about the Quaddies; the first 3/4 of it is set in Quaddiespace.

As to what I liked about it:
- It's a mystery crossover, which always appeals to me.

- We get a really good look at the way Quaddie society has evolved since Falling Free, and it's fascinating.

- The stakes could not possibly be higher, although you don't see that at first because Lois keeps ratcheting them up. First you've just got Miles trying to prevent a Barrayaran commander from committing an act of war against Graf Station. Then you've got the murder mystery. Then Miles falls into the middle of a major treasonous plot against the Cetagandans, with a fallback position of blaming Barrayar for it. Then you've got both Miles and Bel Thorne getting hit with a Cetagandan bio-weapon, necessitating a race against time to get both of them plus the invaluable stolen cargo back to Cetagandan space in time to save their lives AND avert an all-out war that would have wiped out the entire Imperium -- because the Cetagandans are ready to go scorched-earth this time.

I honestly don't see how you could possibly consider this a "minor" entry in the Vorkosiverse.

Henry, #34: If you want to read "Winterfair Gifts", look for the original publication in the New American Library anthology Irresistible Forces. I bought Miles in Love because I wanted to have all 3 of the courtship stories in one place, and I was appalled at the poor quality of the editing on "Winterfair Gifts". The other 2 stories were fine, but WG was absolutely riddled with typos and formatting errors. It may be that they fixed it in a later printing, but definitely don't buy MiL sight-unseen.

#36 ::: etv 13 ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 04:36 AM:

It's always nice to get more Cordelia, but I think Paladin of Souls is a much richer, deeper take on similar themes. And this is trivial, but a constant irritant for me as I read: I could never settle on a pronunciation of "Jole" -- is it one syllable or two? And if two, does it rhyme with "jolly" or "ole"?

#37 ::: Nancy Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 05:49 AM:

Etv13, I've been saying it to rhyme with whole.

#38 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 07:42 AM:

Lee, you've convinced me that I might want to reread Diplomatic Immunity, but as for why I didn't appreciate it, my best guess is that I didn't get engaged enough to notice what was going on.

#39 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 08:55 AM:

I've always thought The Warrior's Apprentice was the weakest Vorkosigan book. Also a hell of a weird thing to give someone to explain yourself, since the message is something like "I am faking it, and have no f--king clue what I'm doing or where all my lies are leading, but I'm hoping my native brilliance and good luck will save my ass in the end."

I liked Diplomatic Immunity a lot. Along with the stuff Lee mentioned (I especially like how the Quaddies' society turned out), it gave us a much better picture of what kind of mental resources and experiences and abilities Miles brings to his Imperial Auditor job. It also develops Ekaterine's character quite a bit, as she has to take over and make decisions to get the right outcome (like overriding the idiot who wanted to hold the uterine replicators hostage), and gives us a clear picture of what kind of scary crap the Haut are holding over the galaxy's heads. (Presumably with the understanding that using most of that would risk bringing the whole galaxy down on them.)

#40 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 08:55 AM:

Had it been obvious to everyone else that Sergyar was the planet where Aral and Cordelia first met? Beecause that came as a bit of a surprise to me, though it made seense . . .

#41 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 09:10 AM:

I thought GJatRQ was good, but not great. I liked the way Bujold wrote a book where one of the major characters in the story exerts his influence despite having been dead for three years. I very much liked the relationship between Cordelia and Jole, and the backfilled one involving Aral. (And the image of Simon at the point of a nervous breakdown, and Jole convinced he was going to end up with his head in a bag when she got home from Beta colony, was perfect.).

I guess my biggest qualm was that there was not enough dramatic tension. I'm not complaining about the lack of a Cetagandan invasion or something, but it just didn't seem like any of the problems they faced were especially challenging for them. The riot and exploding radial were good examples of the kind of problems either one could handle any day of the week, and while both Cordelia and Jole handled them well, that wasn't a surprise. (By contrast, the same story told from the perspective of Lt Vorinnis would have been more scary, and told from the perspective of Freddie Haynes (teenaged daughter of one of Jole's underlings), it would have been a huge and scary adventure.)

I liked the image of Jole deciding to pursue a completely different track in the rest of his life, probably becoming an academic and raising kids with Cordelia and all. It's sort-of the inverse of Duv Galleni's life track (though the wife and presumably kids came with the ImpSec career for him.). It was worth reading, but didn't quite reach whatever point I wanted it to reach.

#42 ::: Mike G. ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 09:14 AM:

rea @ 40: Yes, it was explicitly clear during either _Barrayar_ or the end of _Shards of Honor_, I forget which, that Barrayar (the empire) was going to colonize it as Sergyar.

Charlie Stross @ 14: LOL at #3, yes.

If look at the reviews the eARC got on Baen's site, a lot of the negative ones seemed to say "OMG, LMB betrayed us, Cordelia cured his gay, she said so in passing at a party 20 years before he met this guy!" Not a view I share, of course. I thought the story was great, and I thought the Aral/Jole/Cordelia relationship made a lot of sense.

#43 ::: donatellonerd ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 09:16 AM:

yes, rea40, I think it's been clear all along, but I don't have enough rereads to be able to tell you exactly where it was mentioned.
I liked Diplomatic Immunity a lot also. more on rereading. though Cordelia's Honor, Barrayer, Memory and ACC remain my all-time favorites. And I'd just like to thank all these people I respect so much for liking this book. When I finished it on Boxing Day, the only reviews I could find online were pretty negative ("fan service") and made me wonder how dumb I was for having really liked it. Not as much as my favorites, but enough to make me very glad it was my Xmas present to myself, the first book to read during a week off intended to let me catch up on pleasure reading.

#44 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 10:11 AM:

I liked this one, but, for me, it wasn't as unputdownable as many of the other Vorkosigan books. I suspect part of that was that my expectations were different from what the book had to offer. Most of the Vorkosigan stories up to this point have had some sort of big political scheme or mystery (or both), even when that scheme is the secondary plot to the main character story. This one was all character, and I kept expecting the plascrete mixer (but, oddly, not anything Cetagandan) to turn into some mystery about military contractors and corruption. It's not that there were no stakes, because there were very important stakes. Rather, they were not stakes that particularly resonated with me at this stage in my life. That said, I don't think that stories necessarily need high stakes to be good stories, or even always need any stakes at all.

As character studies of Cordelia, Jole, and Aral, it worked wonderfully. The relationship with the three of them made perfect sense, as did the new relationship between Cordelia and Jole. It was nice to see Miles again too, although he seemed decidedly less manic. I suppose that's explainable by how tiring the countship and all his children are, though.

albatross @ 41:

I've always thought The Vor Game was The Warrior's Apprentice done better. They're both good, and they're definitely not the same story, but from the broad perspective of Miles takes over a mercenary fleet by bluffing and sheer force of will, The Vor Game seems more polished to me.

#45 ::: Quill ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 10:29 AM:

I stayed up until 2 this morning to finish this one, so I guess I found it riveting enough...

TBH, I've been waiting for more Cordelia POV since I finished "Barrayar" the first time back in 1990-something. I love Miles--and Aral--but to me Cordelia has always been the most fascinating character, the person most worth emulating. (Granted, trying to emulate Miles borders on insanity if not infinity.) I have always admired her practicality, her straightforwardness, her occasional ruthlessness--and the core of compassion behind it all. By no means a perfect person, but she both cuts through the bullshit around her and remembers that people are people. Her line about trust and results is one I try to keep in mind, because I’ve seen that kind of thing actually work.

Seeing her forty-plus years down the line, matured but still utterly herself, is a delight. I too kept waiting for the other boot to drop, but now that I’ve finished the story I can read it again without that skewing my perceptions. I had wondered what she would do with herself post-Aral, and now I know.

I also found it very refreshing to see a man faced with a decision that is almost always a woman’s--having to decide between career and children. It was pretty obvious what Jole would choose, but the interest for me lay in watching him work through the choice and break out of his cultural thought-patterns.

#46 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 10:29 AM:

Mike G #42: What she said was that Aral was monogamous. Clearly, that changed into a poly relationship.

#47 ::: Mike G. ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 10:59 AM:

Fragano @ 46 - I agree that's what she said, and what happened. All of which made sense to me, and made GJ&tRQ quite enjoyable to me.

I'm just reporting on the reactions of others.

#48 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 11:29 AM:

Mike G #47: Indeed so. Some people do not seem to get the point when it hits them between the eyes.

#49 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 11:36 AM:

I am enjoying this spoiler thread even though I haven't read the book yet. (I am not particularly spoiler-averse.) I've bought it, I just haven't read it. The comments are convincing me that I am correct to save it to read at some point when I need a break from medical stuff. I have always liked Cordelia - my all-time favorite Vorkosiverse book is Memory but Barrayar is probably tied for second with ACC. I'm looking forward to reading a book focused on character and life decisions.

#50 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 11:42 AM:

Quill #46: It seemed to me that Quill had two choices, not one. He had, simultaneously, to choose between career (the promotion to head of Ops) and both children and Cordelia. That he chose the latter says something about how Lois conceives mature manhood to be. Note that Miles, Mark, Simon, and Aral, each a very different character, are also part of her typology of the fully adult male.

I wonder which one is closest to her ideal type? The flawed boy who recovers, learns, and takes the lesson (Miles, Mark). The man who comes through grief to wisdom (Aral, and, in a somewhat different manner, Piotr). The man who passes beyond his comfort zone and by yielding to his vulnerability surpasses it (Simon, Ethan). And, of course, the man who rises through a combination of his own native ability, luck, warmth, and affection (Oliver Jole).

#51 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 12:14 PM:

Argh. Halfway through. must...resist....

#52 ::: Quill ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 01:41 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #50: Hmm, yes, but I submit that it was his potential sons that were the crux. His realization about Cordelia came after he figured out the sticking point. Of course, I’ve only read it once so far and am running on little sleep, so I could be misremembering. :)

I don’t know about her ideal type, but I don’t think the categories are exclusive. One may pass through several of these stages in one’s life, perhaps more than once. Separating them out on the page is a convenience of fiction writing. IMO actual people are too irrational and contradictory to make good reading; fictional characters are clearer and by necessity simpler.

#53 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 01:47 PM:

Count me in as one of the ones who liked GJatRQ, even or despite the lack of aliens, pirates, exploding volcanos, and the like -- and I admit I kept waiting for the shoe to drop.

One thing that struck me is that the kind of decisions that Jole was enticed into (or had to deal with throughout this book) are the decisions that have generally been solely made by women. The careful consideration of career versus children has rarely been made by men -- and I know there's exceptions to every rule, but really. No woman, including myself, has made any career decision without also thinking of the spouse and the child. As Jole struggled, it seemed to me that Lois was showing how future parents could struggle equally, rather than unequally, especially after reproduction is separated from the bodily constraints we humans suffer under. Freedom from pregnancy of the body means that all parents, however many there may be, will be co-equal in the choices of career versus kids. I think this will be a good thing.

#54 ::: alisea ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 01:52 PM:

I'd like to join the party. Problem is, I haven't read any of the Vorkosigan saga yet. After much scratching of my head, since my usual ebook-dealer doesn't have any of them (but does have Bujold's fantasy series), I finally remembered that this is published by Baen and that Baen has its own e-shop, and indeed, there they are.

So, my question is: How far back in the series do I want to start to be able to enjoy this one? I've looked at Bujold's own recommendations here and didn't come to any good conclusions. Any recommendations appreciated.

#55 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 01:53 PM:

I'm inclined to think Bujold doesn't have one ideal male type, just various sorts of men who become capable of handling responsibility well.

Authors who don't have ideal types might tend to be more interesting, with Pratchett as probably the most extreme case.

Fragano, does Ivan have a type in your system? I got the impression that Bujold liked him a *lot* in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, possibly because after many Miles books she was more than ready for a character who didn't want drama.

I liked Jole's choice of becoming a scientist instead of pursuing his career, but perhaps the way it was set up is an example of the stakes being low. What if he had good reason to think the situation for Barrayar was desperate and he was probably the best person for the head of Ops?

#56 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 01:57 PM:

albatross, #39: I love that summing-up of The Warrior's Apprentice!

and @41: That's why I used the "fluff" tag to describe it. Fluff, in fanfic jargon, refers to a story in which nothing goes severely wrong and there are more warm-fuzzies than angst or conflict. The sort of thing you read when you've had a rough day and you just want to spend some time with people whose lives are going well for a change.

And one of the things I really liked was Jole turning something that's always been a strong interest, but only at the hobby level, into a vocation. That has its own parallels for me, as I turned a long-standing interest in gems and minerals into a second career in my 40s.

Fragano, #46: The phrasing was unfortunate, because I can see how someone who believes that being gay is a choice can get from what she said to "he's not attracted to men any more" -- it's in the same territory as the kind of guy who thinks all a lesbian needs is to be raped by the right man. But "bisexual" and "monogamous" are not mutually exclusive, and to me it always read as "he's chosen not to act on his attraction to men any more".

#57 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 02:03 PM:

alisea @54: Bujold claims you don't need any background at all to enjoy it, and I suppose that's true to a point, but the bigger history you have with all the characters the better it gets.

If you are the kind of person who likes going back to read prequels knowing 'how it's going to come out' (in a limited sense), this is a good book for that; I'd start with the two previous Cordelia-centric books (Shards of Honor and Barrayar, or published together in one cover as Cordelia's Honor) so you get her and her voice and her loves.

You could skip from that (initiation of lifelong love relationship and settling into family-dom) ahead 40+ (I think?) years to Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen if you enjoy that kind of flash-forward fictional clue-connecting.

But if you would prefer to know The Whole Story and all the beats that happen between the marriage and the widowhood, you're going ot need to basically read all the Vorkosiverse books (except Ethan of Athos and Falling Free, which are really side tales; and for this I suppose you could skip Captain Vorpatril's Alliance as well, as it mostly doesn't impact on Cordelia's closest family and emotional bonds).

That's a lot of books, though.

It all depends on the kind of reader you are.

#58 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 02:04 PM:

alisea (54): At a minimum, I'd say read Cordelia's Honor, which is an omnibus of the other two Cordelia-centered books, Shards of Honor and Barrayar. (Note that SoH was her first published book and is kind of rough around the edges; Barrayar is much more polished.)

#59 ::: Mike G. ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 02:05 PM:

alisea @ 54 - there's no reason not to start at the beginning of the series. They're all excellent.

Some of the books aren't available as standalones any more, or are cheaper as part of an omnibus edition.

Wikipedia may help you decode which Omnibus editions from Baen contain which books on that list - it's a bit confusing, but I think they're all available.

#60 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 02:07 PM:

Heh. I'm re-reading this one, and just (re)noticed that Cordelia is carrying a plasma arc when she and Jole go to Mount Rosemont; he's the one with a stunner. A sign of how much Barrayar has changed her. (For those who have forgotten, when they first meet, she tells Aral that she wouldn't use anything but a stunner.)

#61 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 02:13 PM:

alisea, #54: Lois is right to say that each of her books stands alone pretty well. I've dipped in and out of the series -- and there are still a couple of books I haven't gotten around to reading -- and I've never felt that my enjoyment of a book was damaged by not having read the lead-up to it.

That said, if you want to get a feel for Cordelia as a character, you should pick up Shards of Honor and Barrayar, or the omnibus Cordelia's Honor which includes both in a single volume. Jole doesn't get much screen time prior to this book, but if you want to see what he does get, it's mostly in The Vor Game. And if you want to read something in the middle to get an idea of how Cordelia and Aral worked as a couple, A Civil Campaign is a good choice; it's not absolutely necessary to have read Komarr first, although it will be obvious that there are back-references to it. But I read them in reverse order and didn't feel that I was missing much in ACC -- it's largely a stand-alone story.

#62 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 05:13 PM:

I also strongly recommend Cordelia's Honor or Shards of Honor + Barrayar. I found that I liked and cared more about Cordelia and Aral than about the early Miles, though later on, Miles became more interesting.

Another strong male type Bujold does well (perhaps modeled after her father) is an engineer with a high level of both integrity and competence. Miles' colleague and Ekaterine's uncle Dr Vorthys is one example; Leo Graff in Falling Free is another.

#63 ::: Bruce H. ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 05:34 PM:

Another good one for showing Cordelia in more than a bit part is Mirror Dance. One of my favorite scenes is where Mark learns, "Oh. That's what integrity looks like." There are also several scenes where she pushes Aral and Mark (in separate scenes) to be their best selves. And one where she is utterly ruthless with Simon.

#64 ::: RiceVermicelli ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2016, 11:18 PM:

@55 - It was my impression based on CVA that LMB is awfully fond of Ivan. He feels a little like he was borrowed from the Liaden Universe, which has several heroes who secure their romantic conquests by being ethical and competent and having useful inclinations about food.

#65 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 02:04 AM:

Mike G. @ 42: If look at the reviews the eARC got on Baen's site, a lot of the negative ones seemed to say "OMG, LMB betrayed us, Cordelia cured his gay, she said so in passing at a party 20 years before he met this guy!"

Wait, the penny just dropped--people really said that? More than one reader-reviewer? Hadn't any of them read Mirror Dance, specifically the scene where Cordelia and Mark discuss Aral's sexual orientation, and she makes it clear that she is quite aware that her husband IS bisexual? I could see readers being (slightly, very slightly, and mostly because Bujold set us up by using Miles's pov to show us Jole up until this book) blindsided by the long-term polyamorous relationship--Mirror Dance is before Sergyar, after all, and before the relationship settled down into something constant (I believe), so there is no reason for Cordelia to mention it to Mark, but not understanding that Aral's bisexuality is a part of who he is, at this point in the series? That's . . . well. Odd. I'd say. And if their real problem is that monogamy has become poly- over the course of a decades-long marriage, as Fragano points out it has @ 46, that's not a betrayal either. To say so would be to deny the author's understanding of her own characters and their lives. Which is silly, in my opinion.

(I have heard comments from people offended by that scene in Barrayar because the use of the past tense in "was bisexual" implies that bisexuality is somehow mutable, in the sense of implying that a man or woman who has become monogamous is for that reason no longer "really" bisexual; I didn't take it that way myself--partly because it seemed too offhand and casual a comment to me for such an implication--but they had a point. So when I first read the scene in Mirror Dance I did wonder if maybe Bujold was taking the opportunity to set the record straight . . . among other things. It's a remarkable scene.)

#66 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 07:52 AM:

'That' scene is such a setup for the rest of the book, showing all the ways that Vordarian doesn't understand anything about Cordelia or Aral, and really only interacts with his image of them. And that he doesn't realize it and learn from his mistakes while they're still small enough to not be fatal.

* He doesn't know enough about Beta to realize that Barryarian sexual hangups aren't their sexual hangups.

* He has no idea the level of communication or trust that Aral and Cordelia have with each other.

* He doesn't know how or why Gus Vorturryer died.

Cordelia response parses as "I know, but The Regent is conforming to your social codes now. And don't attack him through me, because the last guy died over it." As the Regent, his goal was to turn a functioning empire over to a sane, prepared Gregor. Publicly violating the social norms at that time would have been counterproductive. Aral was a better strategist than that.

#67 ::: Quill ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 09:02 AM:

Thinking of the next generation...I don't know if Ms. Bujold has any intention of writing it, but do you think Alex's reluctance is related to being Heir/someday Count, or to being a soldier? Obviously non-soldiers must sometimes become Counts, life being what it is, but if he doesn't want to be the Count and ultimately rejects the position, will that set up Helen to fight for the spot herself?

#68 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 11:22 AM:

By the way, this is not really central to the book, but really--Oliver and Bel Thorne? How . . . delicious.

#69 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 11:34 AM:

Quill @ #67, for me it evoked the image of Aral having to "fall on the grenade" of becoming a soldier and then Count, instead of following his own bliss, after his brother was killed; the first of very many times his destiny was driven by duty to the Empire and force of circumstance rather than what he might have preferred given his own choice.

It ties in with that thing Cordelia said about "the world we built for" the next generation--that given enough peace and stability, maybe they will be freer to do what they wish.

#70 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 12:07 PM:

eric @ 66: 'That' scene is such a setup for the rest of the book

Agreed. That scene is remarkable, too. Here we have a newly-married woman, who married after (really) only a short courtship (which is about all anyone on either Beta or Barrayar knows about the relationship; it must have seemed to come out of nowhere to most people)--and she's married into a society where marriages are often arranged, and the new couples probably don't know each other that well. Vordarian's attempt to cause trouble parses to me as "You don't really know your new husband all that well. Are you sure you haven't made a mistake?" That he misunderstands Betan attitudes towards sex is just a bonus, to my mind. Cordelia's quick, offhand response is to the "you don't know Aral," as much as anything; she's saying, "I know everything important about him, and you don't know me." Her wording might be a little clumsy--I think, for a half-second, she's forgotten she isn't talking to another Betan, who would be able to unpack the shorthand ("Yes of course I know he's been in relationships with other people, but he's in one with me, now")--but then, Boom! It's about five lines of solid character- and conflict-building.

Through in the fact that the book was written in the 1980s, and well. As I said, though I acknowledge the point, the use of the past tense always seemed a fairly minor problem, to me. I've also sometimes thought that Bujold was reacting--possibly unconsciously--to the old canard about bisexuals being incapable of fidelity. I grew up hearing that one, and it always struck me as silly. That this is Aral we are talking about, who is incapable of anything but fidelity, underlines the point, both in Barrayar and throughout the series, really. I've got a headcanon that the only way his secret crush on Oliver turned into a real relationship (back during the Prime Minister days) was that Cordelia encouraged it, possibly even openly: "Yearning like that isn't healthy, love. Either physically or mentally. Why don't you just ask him?" And so on . . .

#71 ::: Andrew Woode ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 12:58 PM:

I was struck by one point which, like the revelations about the key relationships, will make me re-read the earlier books in a different light; the explicit realisation that Cetaganda is in a different league to Barrayar: "the haut could destroy us at any time. The only reason why not is that they haven't chosen to" (Ekaterin, immediately confirmed by Miles). Of course, in previous books it was already becoming obvious that the end of the Cetagandan occupation could not have been simply due to the Barrayaran resistance, but this also questions the significance of some of Miles' own heroics in earlier novels.

#72 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 01:24 PM:

Andrew Wood @ 71: but this also questions the significance of some of Miles' own heroics in earlier novels

Sort of, but remember: the Barrayarans (including Miles) mostly fought the ghem, not the haut. I think what's happening is that the galaxy (or at least Barrayar) is beginning to realize that the haut and the ghem are separate peoples, even though both are Cetagandan, and that the haut are the ones really in control. In addition, they are realizing (well, I bet Miles realizes it, anyway) that beyond a certain point the haut just don't care what the ghem get up to in order to "prove themselves." If the ghem had succeeded in conquering Barrayar, or even the rest of the galaxy, fine; that's another planetary system--and people--brought under haut control, for whatever purposes the haut might wish to use them. But the haut didn't really need Barrayar, I don't think. Besides, it was the ghem's last-ditch appropriation of haut tools to use against Barrayar without permission that displeased the haut, and it was Barrayaran resistance that got the ghem to that point of last resort. The haut could destroy just about any planet in the galaxy in a walk; the ghem--not so much. But the haut can destroy the ghem, too, even more swiftly and easily. In an eyeblink, just about.

No one has ever really fought the haut, I think is partly the point of that conversation--and what the haut actually want is a disturbing mystery, one that maybe even the ghem couldn't solve, I suspect. There was a conversation in an earlier book--Cetaganda, I think--about how the haut aren't really quite human anymore, and will be even less human in a few centuries. I've always had the weird feeling that what we were getting was the self-creation of the elves, or Fair Folk. And in the end, the elves don't rule. They leave . . .

#73 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 01:33 PM:

Something else that just hit me about the conversation re: the bunker, in GJaRQ--the ghem want property, real estate, material things. To "rule" in a conventional sense. The haut want more of the human genome to play with. A planet empty of people wouldn't be of much interest to the haut; Barrayar's humans, and any possible genetic drift after their long isolation, might well be intriguing. Wonder if that accounts for the existence of the lady ghem Estif's brooch ("Let's make sure that part of the treasure is something the haut want, and maybe they'll let us get away with the rest of the plot"), and why its destruction is a such a specific slap in the face to the Star Creche, in CVA? Miles did say that the ghem putting together that bunker did have at least one "suborned haut" working with them, and that suborned haut might well have kept a careful eye on what unsuborned haut Back Home would actually value . . . and if the suborned haut in question was maybe the lady ghem Estif herself . . . well, that's interesting!

#74 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 02:17 PM:

ISTR some previous Vorkosigan story in which it was bandied about that the one thing keeping the Haut from unleashing their bioweapons was that the rest of the galaxy could retaliate with physical weapons, or possibly with bioweapons of their own. Even after you've killed Barrayar, the fleet may well end up joining with the Betan, Earth, Tau Cetan, Escobaran, etc., fleets to wreak vengance. And even if the Haut are, say, 90% sure they can come out ahead in the end (the Ghem will fight to protect their systems effectively), there's still that 10% uncertainty about whether they're right. Think of the plasma mirrors, or the longer-ranged grav lance, or that Komarran jump-point-collapsing weapon that might eventually somehow be made to work. One of those cropping up in the hands of the fleet whose home planet you've just rendered lifeless at the wrong moment could be a bit of a problem, and I'm pretty convinced that a fleet of starships in control of your system can find dozens of ways to wreck your planet without ever coming close enough to be in danger from your scary bioweapons. Even if you can ensure that they'll all die eventually, it will be very little consolation for your dead population and newly-sterilized home planet.

I think the inevitable result of biowarfare at a planetary scale would be the destruction of almost all trade in goods and the complete destruction of migration between worlds/space stations/etc. Anything that comes through the jump point *not* squawking the current time-synched IFF signal gets blasted to bits, and then the bits get nuked again, just to be sure. Information and maybe rare raw materials that can be sterilized and scanned can still be traded, but not people or most kinds of goods.

That would cause a massive collapse in wealth throughout the galaxy, with multi-system empires having some advantages but everyone ending up massively poorer.

#75 ::: Quill ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 02:45 PM:

Lila @ #69: Ooh, yeah, that didn't occur to me. The question would be, I suppose, whether the rest of Barrayar (or perhaps the Council of Counts?) will be ready for that freedom. Gregor might not even be on the throne any longer by then.

#76 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 02:53 PM:

albatross, #74: So... uncounted thousands of years into the future, Mutual Assured Destruction is still the best deterrent for war that we can come up with? :-(

#77 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 07:32 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 55: ...I got the impression that Bujold liked [Ivan] a *lot* in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, possibly because after many Miles books she was more than ready for a character who didn't want drama.

I certainly like Ivan a lot. As Miles becomes an adult, you see him spinning off into all sorts of adventures, and Ivan "plodding along". But then you realize that Ivan is doing a remarkable job of keeping a low profile. He's in the succession to the throne, Gregor and Miles' childhood friend, the son of the Emperor's "first lady", and yet he manages to not make waves. He performs his job very well as an officer, quietly being very essential in a support role without personally being seen to do anything heroic. He doesn't marry and produce heirs. He does everything he can to not be an idiot drone, yet without every giving anyone any impression that he'd be a good figurehead for a coup against the emperor.

That's a remarkable balancing act!

#78 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 07:33 PM:

"All wealth is biological." Perhaps the same applies to power, at least if your biotech is good enough.

#79 ::: Devin Singer ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2016, 07:56 PM:

I read it yesterday, and while I enjoyed the characters (and their snark), it didn't really hold my attention. The choice Jole is presented with seems like a fait accompli from about page 40, so I felt no narrative tension, and this choice doesn't give me much if any insight into what should be an exciting new character. I still don't have any idea why Aral fell for him, other than the uniform and the fact that he's hot and good in bed. (Which, hey, good for both of them, but it didn't compel my interest.)

I really REALLY would have loved a book set exactly where this one ends. What's it like to go from Perfect Soldier to minor academic? What's it like to raise kids ​*after*​ a full and successful life, in your 70s? Those are much more interesting and revealing questions, in my opinion.

#80 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2016, 08:18 AM:

I must say, as a lifelong Bujold lover, both Captain Vorpatril and GJole felt, to me, like the things that happen happen because the author says they should, not because the characters in particular did anything to MAKE them happen. I had to read Vorpatril's Alliance three times and THEN talk it over with a friend to even find a character through-line for his love interest, much less any way that Ivan was involved with the first 2/3 of the plot besides accidentally ending up falling into the middle of it face-first.

I think it's a writing-style choice that makes certain things no longer visible to me, because other friends of mine find the plotting gripping in Vorpatril's Alliance, but I literally cannot see the same things on the page as they do. We read through a passage together once and I said, "See? Completely accidental and she has no character," and my friend said, "No! See, this hint and that hint and this unsaid thing add up to GRIPPING DRAMA!"

Are dogwhistle plots a thing? I'm usually good at reading between the lines but this seems to require some wavelength of vision I'm not personally equipped with. Maybe it's because I hate romance novels (or amybe it's WHY I hate romance novels), my friends who have all the romance protocols installed love both books.

#81 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2016, 10:41 AM:

Elliot Mason @ 80

I took both CVA and GJ&TRQ as character studies (GJ&TRQ more so than CVA) with the romance as incidental. They were both stories about people at turning points in their life without lots of outside forces working on them to inflict the need for change.

In CVA, Ivan got tripped up by his own gallantry and the Miles' instilled reflex of "help fix things that are wrong". Only this time, the person Ivan chose to help had the same life goals as he did: keep your head down, be happy, do something that interests you, and take things as they come rather than forcing the universe to bend to your will. In GJ&TRQ it was all about self-aware, self-controlled, largely autonomous people giving up a certain amount of autonomy and control to others and fate. For control freak, that's a huge thing. Both Jole and Cordelia are control freaks who like being in charge. If they weren't, they wouldn't have the jobs they do.

I think it's interesting that Bujold basically wrote a "plotless" book. As in there was no one big disaster/battle to force the change. As romances go, it's missing a couple of things to make it a true Romance.

#82 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2016, 04:41 PM:

Tangentially: People who enjoy Miles as Imperial Auditor will probably enjoy Hydra-Headed. It's a well-done casefic in which an Imperial Auditor has been assassinated and Miles and all the other available Auditors descend on the scene of the crime to find out who did it and why. The ending is a bit gruesome, but IMO not inappropriate for the setting and the story. The Auditorial discussion about what recommendations to make for sentencing is particularly interesting (at least to me).

#83 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: February 10, 2016, 09:17 PM:

For those who are interested (and/or are eligible to nominate) Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen has just been declared eligible for a Nebula for 2015 publication, on the basis of the eARC that Baen was selling that fall. I can't manage a link right now, but there are posts to that effect up at both File 770 and Scalzi's Whatever.

#84 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2016, 11:45 AM:

For those of you wondering about reading the earliest Vorkosigan books, I (as a NESFA member) feel obliged to point out the NESFA Press editions of her first eight books (plus a collection of her earliest work, and unpublished stuff) are available here.

The faces on the covers were semi-identikit-selected by Lois, and the final versions approved by her. Just in case you were curious.

#85 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: February 11, 2016, 02:52 PM:

Quill #52: That's certainly a plausible reading.

It seems to me that one of the things that LMB is exploring is what good models of manhood/womanhood are or will be like in a potential future. She's given us some very good examples of ideal women in Alys, Cordelia, the Professora, the Koudelka sisters, Elli Quin, Taura, Hana, and Ekaterin to mention most but not all of them. She's also shown us the development of some truly fascinating men in Aral, Miles, Mark, Gregor, Ivan, Simon, and Oliver.

#86 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2016, 03:56 PM:

#65: I have heard comments from people offended by that scene in Barrayar because the use of the past tense in "was bisexual" implies that bisexuality is somehow mutable, in the sense of implying that a man or woman who has become monogamous is for that reason no longer "really" bisexual

I wouldn't say offended, but I was pretty disappointed by that line for a similar reason. If Cordelia doesn't believe that being monogamous makes him less bisexual, why use the past tense? But Cordelia is a Betan and should know better. The only conclusion I could come to is that *Lois* didn't know better and that's why Cordelia believed that Aral's bisexuality could just stop.

Either I misunderstood or she's come around since, and either way, I'm glad.

I do tend to agree that Jole's choice is not very climactic though. Both he and the reader know that there are other men who can run Ops and do it well, and nobody would say that a career that only made it to Admiral wasn't successful. He gets to have both as long as he does it in order (with the right technological help), and that makes it not really a fair comparison to the similar choices faced by someone like Hanna or the young Ekaterin (or, for that matter, the people he and Cordelia will hire to take care of *their* children, with time taken away from caring for their *own* if any).

P.S. I've always felt that the ultimate example of Lois's "what's the worst thing I can do to this guy" school of writing was Ezar, who isn't even a POV character. Speaking of choosing between your family and your career responsibilities.

#87 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2016, 07:41 PM:

Finally got to this. Enjoyed it a lot, although I wouldn't put it on any award lists for the year.

I find an interesting comparison to _Lifeboats_, a non-big-publisher novella in Diane Duane's Young Wizards series. In both cases we have a story which does not run at the same stakes level as the "normal" books of the series. _Lifeboats_ is about a wizardly crisis which is *serious* but not, you know, "two kids must save the universe right now" serious. A large group of wizards form an emergency response team, head out, and do their jobs in an effective and well-organized way.

In one sense you can say "why the heck is that a story?" but it's obvious that Nita and Kit have plenty of stories that are like that. Similarly here -- Vorkosigans can go entire decades without any invasions, space battles, biochemical catastrophes, or close-range volcanic eruptions. It's not what the previous novels covered, but does that mean Bujold isn't allowed to do it?

On the other hand, I sometimes read books and say "stuff happened but there was no plot." (I had this problem with some of the Lakewalkers books.) GJRQ didn't fall into that category. Bujold deployed the same sense of *moment* that I'm used to -- Jole struggles with problems and more problems on top of them. The problems have consequences and I cared about them. They weren't problems with the word "treason" or "invasion" in them.

(Except, as noted, that "invasion" is the collective noun of young Vorkosigans.)

(Koudelkas count for this purpose.)

#88 ::: DanA ::: (view all by) ::: February 14, 2016, 11:04 PM:

I was surprisingly disappointed with GJatRQ. While it was a reasonably enjoyable character study the lack of any genuine conflict or revelation made it feel hollow. Had it been a cheap novella, free ebook, or even a library borrow I'd probably be contented but as someone who has bought everything Bujold has published in the last 15 years within the week it has been released I'm not likely to continue doing so without at least reading reviews after dropping 35 dollars for something that did not live up to the quality I've come to expect from Bujold. I feel bad saying that because conceptually I like the idea of romance where people communicate like adults and make good decisions for themselves without drama but there was never any tension about what would happen or how and, while I love Cordelia, I had no emotional investment in Oliver who was retconned in and dropped to the forefront simultaneously.

I think that the novel had the bones that a really good Vorkosigan Saga tale could have been built on and had tons of hooks that could have been used to present challenges or conflict. Alternately if this book had happened after another couple where Admiral Jole was a character and we had been shown, instead of told, how difficult the interactions between him and Cordelia were and seen how much advancing within the military meant to him it might have reached the level where his decisions didn't seem to be foregone conclusions from the moment they were introduced. Heck even if there had been the typical chaos of a Vorkosigan style romance between Voriniss and Soren seen secondhand by our viewpoint characters to contrast their mature steady approach against it might have worked.

I don't want to be such a downer about it but I love Bujold's writing normally and this came close to being a good story but in the end it was like cotton candy, sweet but left me unfulfilled.

#89 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2016, 05:53 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @33: Diplomatic Immunity is a weird one. First time I tried it, I bounced right off of it—only got about a third of the way through before giving up. And then forgot that I even had it.

Second time, it worked for me just fine; sailed right through, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Only difference I can point to is relative brain weather. (And this is by far not the only time I've experienced this.)

#90 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2016, 07:08 PM:

I puzzled through the first third, thinking, "Where's the story?" Then decided that it was probably going to be just a low-key, "stuff happens" kinda book. Settled back, took it on that level, and ended up enjoying it. Key part: I was disappointed when I finished it; wanted more.

Had absolutely no memory of Jole being mentioned elsewhere in the series.

But that's a good thing: next reread, there's another layer that will now be visible to me.

#91 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2016, 07:36 PM:

Jacque, #90: I think Jole mostly appears in The Vor Game, as Aral's assistant. However, he is also specifically mentioned as being one of Aral's pallbearers at the end of Cryoburn.

#92 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: February 16, 2016, 09:56 PM:

Bujold posted to Goodreads about how the book is doing: happy dance, writer-style.

Seeing her post doesn't appear to require a Goodread login. She refers to it as "her quirky book", and urges us not to tell people you need to have read the whole series to appreciate it.

I follow her on Goodreads, and she posts fairly often, usually answering questions from readers.

#93 ::: Matthew Ernest ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 12:12 AM:

"If Cordelia doesn't believe that being monogamous makes him less bisexual, why use the past tense?"

Because Vordarian is the one with the poor understanding of bisexuality, and Cordelia is taking the piss out of him.

#94 ::: Soon Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 02:07 AM:

janetl #92:

I enjoyed GJatRQ hugely and wonder if I would have enjoyed it nearly as much as a new reader to the series (unaware of all that character history). I thought it was a spearpoint book.

#95 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 07:48 AM:

OtterB@49: I don't know which books you "have" to read to enjoy this one. My reaction to finding out that you hadn't read any was sort of, "You're one of today's lucky 10,000!

In that link @92, Bujold says that you don't, apparently, have to read all the previous books or any of them. But you don't have to eat all the ice cream either.

As far as the "Was bisexual. Now monogamous" line, it's a good, memorable line that is unfortunately wrong, and was written a couple decades ago. I don't know whether it needs unpacking or retconning; I put it in the same category with the (NSFW site) giant eagles from LoTR.

As far as this book, I tend to agree with everyone else. Lots of fun, some marvelous moments ("You must never start any wars at a cocktail party by accident") but very short on action.

#96 ::: Craft (Alchemy) ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 12:19 PM:

I finished this last night. I'd read a number of comments to the effect of "I was expecting an invasion fleet"; even pre-warned that there wasn't one I did still find myself waiting for the explosion. I think I need to read it again and try and bear properly in mind that this is a different kind of book.

I thought the central relationship made a lot of sense, both in its historic version and the new one. Cordelia and Jole carefully feeling their way to a relationship as a whole pair, rather than a bereaved 2/3 of a triad, felt very real. (I don't know how better to put it than that.)

What I would also love to see - and hope Bujold might go back to - is a story set sometime during the main-sequence Miles books looking at Cordelia's or Jole's perspective. GJ&RQ puts it front-and-centre how little Miles knows about certain things; what else did he fail to notice while he was off on his adventures?

#97 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 01:19 PM:

Sandy B.: As far as the "Was bisexual. Now monogamous" line, it's a good, memorable line that is unfortunately wrong, and was written a couple decades ago. I don't know whether it needs unpacking or retconning

I basically agree. (In fact, as I said above, I've often wondered if the scene about Aral's sexuality in Mirror Dance wasn't Bujold's way of correcting the error--partly, at least.) That said, it is fair to acknowledge that Cordelia is speaking casually here, to a man whose attitudes towards sexuality she doesn't fully understand--and that she's also speaking as a Relatively New Bride who is perhaps understandably a bit hyper-focused on her own marriage at this point . . . at least, that's how I explain to myself why the line didn't bother me when I first read it!

#98 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 02:53 PM:

<font size=+3 face=ARIAL>

I knew I was going to do that at some point.

#99 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 04:10 PM:

Sandy B @95 I have read all the other books. I was commenting on not having yet read GJ&RQ, but reading the spoiler thread anyway.

I didn't remember Jole being listed as a pallbearer in Cryoburn. I remember him from The Vor Game, but he was Aral's aide then, and I am 100% certain that Aral would not have initiated a sexual relationship with someone under his command.

#100 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 04:29 PM:

OtterB @99: That's one reason why I love the dsudis fanfiction canon about Arkady Jole; she shows the initiation of the relationship and all the negotiations of power and consent.

#101 ::: ULTRAGOTHA ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 06:17 PM:

OtterB @99

"I remember him from The Vor Game, but he was Aral's aide then, and I am 100% certain that Aral would not have initiated a sexual relationship with someone under his command."

This is what bothered me the most about Aral starting a relationship with Jole. Not the "now he's monogamous" line. Not starting a sexual relationship with someone else while Cordelia was away on Beta. Certainly no a poly/bi relationship.

It was the starting a sexual relationship with a subordinate. When Jole was a Lieutenant and Aral the PM the power differential was huge. Regardless of Aral's personal honor, I don't feel that was a wise move. Nor continuing it with the Vorkosigans as Viceroys and Jole as Commander of the Sergyar fleet. No doubt that was one of the main reasons they all kept it so secret.

#102 ::: cyllan ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 06:27 PM:

I loved this book. It's turned into a comfort read, and while I read the critiques and get where they're coming from, I find that none of the raised problems bothered me one whit. Admittedly, I was lucky enough to hear LMB read the first chapter at Minicon last year, so I had some time to re-read the series looking for mentions of Jole. I think that helped because I was much more interested in supporting the triad than I was surprised by its existence.

Also, I find that, as my real life gets stressier, low-stakes books are important to me. This book read like it was written for me, and I am delighted by it.

#103 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 08:58 PM:

cyllan #102 I find that, as my real life gets stressier, low-stakes books are important to me.

This. So much this.

I can reread higher stakes books since I know they're going to come out okay (or avoid them if I don't find the resolution okay), but I have no spoons for new books of dystopia or angst or unlikeable people just now.

One of Zenna Henderson's stories featured a teacher and a child who refused to learn to read. As I remember it, the problem turned out to be that the child had a very low tolerance for stories that involved coercion, and way too many children's stories and rhymes feature that (e.g. Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater locking his wife up in a pumpkin shell). The child was prereading the stories with a quick scan and deciding he was unwilling/unable to read them.

#104 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2016, 10:19 PM:

ULTRAGOTHA @101" This is what bothered me the most about Aral starting a relationship with Jole.

It bothers me, too, mostly (I think) because I'm profoundly allergic to mentor-student relationships developing into sexual relationships. Profoundly. As in "Gack, I can't read that!" But somehow, I could read this. Bujold has done her best to make it work even for me, and at least come awfully close. It does help that we get everything in retrospect, I think--or maybe it would be better to say, in one sense, it helps. In another--well, I occasionally found myself wishing I could have actually seen the relationship develop in real time, but that wasn't what this book was about. Still, it's clear even in retrospect that Oliver was an adult and already had quite a bit of military experience when he becomes the Prime Minister's military aide/secretary (Aral meets him with the PM has to pin a medal on the heroic young officer); he was never technically in Aral's chain of command (unless we count the brief revival of "Admiral Vorkosigan" during The Vor Game, which is clearly a brief and emergency situation). More, for me, however, problematic that early relationship is, it ends with Oliver going off and being independent (including having affairs with other people). When he manages to get himself assigned as Admiral of the Sergyar Fleet (which is a sound career move, too, after all), they are clearly equals in authority--well, as "equal" as Aral ever can be to/with anyone.

That's the other thing that keeps me from doing more than wincing at even the problematic early relationship: who else was Aral going to be equal with, in that sense? Simon? Given his past with Simon, or with people like Koudelka, not a chance. His own age-mates? Not likely, again given their shared past--and given the fact that he is more powerful than most if not all of them, as well. He is literally standing across history like a legendary colossus, by that point. And he must have been awfully lonely . . . even with Cordelia. Throw in Oliver's own apparent authority kink, and, well. (Bets he's the one who initiated the relationship?)

Anyway. Tl;dr--I agree with you, but I could see it happening, with both sides (or all three sides?) trying to act with honor while it happened.

#105 ::: Marius Gedminas ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2016, 04:23 AM:

Thank you for letting me know this book was out! I somehow managed to not notice.

Aside -- the Big South American River Company has this "Follow" button on the author's profile. I'd assumed that clicking it would ensure I was notified about any new book releases. I was mistaken.

About three quarters of the way through the book (which was at about 1 AM last night, the book is unputdownable) I noticed myself tensing for the inevitable approaching calamity (on the invasion/natural disaster scale), and regretting that inevitability. And then it never showed up, which was amazing!

#106 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2016, 09:11 PM:

Haven't read the book yet. Went back and reread The Vor Game, and Jole seems to show up just on a page or two as Aral's aide, competent and good-looking (I forget from whose perspective, probably Miles's but maybe it was Omniscient Narrator's.) I'll have to go reread Cryoburn and see if I've got Mirror Dance (looks like it's in the Miles Errant combo volume, so I guess I do.)

#107 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2016, 08:50 PM:

It was the starting a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

Clearly such a situation can be abused, but I don't think it follows from that that it must be abused. There are a lot of people primed to be suspicious of it if they find out; but those people aren't putting people before principles, or trusting beyond reason.

From the perspective of GJatRQ, though, this issue is history -- not literally only because it was successfully kept secret at the time -- and any qualms the POV characters might have had about it have been overcome long since. So it makes sense not to dwell on it, IMO.

#108 ::: RiceVermicelli ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2016, 08:07 PM:

@101 and 107 - Cordelia does mention in the book that the rank and power differential in the relationship would make most Betans choke sand, and that she felt the same way at first. The resolution of that concern doesn't feature in the book - it must indeed have been resolved long since - but Bujold definitely nods at the problem.

#109 ::: ULTRAGOTHA ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2016, 07:55 PM:

#108 I saw that and see from the *results* that the relationship wasn't problematic as it worked out.

But the starting of it gives me pause.

#110 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 01:48 AM:

Sandy B.@95: In terms of retconning the bisexual/monogamous line, one possible approach is to note that she's trying to communicate to Baryarans, not 2015 USians. (Yes, of course Lois the actual author was trying to communicate to modern humans; go away, you're interfering with the retcon :-) ).

And one thing she's trying to do is tell them that, however scandalous the history (and she refuses to be scandalized by it), Aral is today not going to cause scandal or leave a trail of bastard claimants to the Countship (being regent and later viceroy are not inheritable, so those don't enter into it).

So, "Now he's monogamous" is a strong, safe, statement for her to end on. To a Baryaran.

#111 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 03:49 AM:

She's also talking as a Betan. Her vocabulary is different from ours, and what we know about Betan sexual identity is quite strongly present-desire focused. They're not really interested in "do you have some theoretical attraction to men that you are not presently acting on," they're interested in "are you looking for men?" (Or rather, they're interested in both, but the latter is the key identifier while the former is background detail.)

Whatever terminology she has in her head that most closely equates to what we mean when we say "bisexual" probably actually means "sleeps with men and women" rather than "is attracted to men and women." In that context, the past tense is entirely appropriate: Aral-the-Betan would have taken off the earrings that mean "Men or women, but only if you're in uniform" and put on the ones that mean "I'm taken."

I tend to suspect that Betans would regard our notion that sexual orientation is this fixed thing where you fall into one of a small number of buckets your whole life as trivially wrong.* They'd see the notion of a "cured bisexual" as, well, as silly as the notion of a "cured New Yorker," and like that term they'd see "he was a New Yorker, but now we live in Seattle" as a perfectly reasonable statement that obviously did not (and could not) erase his identity as someone who loved New York.

*Our heavy loading on that notion of fixed orientations is a consequence of our present (and recent past) political situation. Take away the idea that one orientation is better than another or that any choices you make about your own desires are ever wrong, and yeah, sexuality is somewhat fluid, some folks' more than others', and we have some agency in that. Pointing out that someone used to sleep with men and women but now just sleeps with me is only a dick move if you're in a culture that systematically erases bisexuality and is barely over its attempts to suggest that if everyone just picked an opposite-sex partner and prayed hard enough they could be straight.

#112 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 08:20 AM:

Another writer (not Bujold) did, in my view, a stellar job with the start-of-polyamory plot and all of its ethical implications. Namely, dsudis in her "The World That You Need" fanfic stories.

Link provided for those who don't read fic very often to make it easy to discover. Specifically, the ethical issues are brought up in the second snippet, very early in the situation; the third story introduces a lot of writer-invented canon about the history of homosexual behavior on Barrayar that makes perfect sense to me and is part of my headcanon of the world now, and without which the habitual navigating of rank between Barrayaran officers with same-sex attractions becomes nonsensical and much less ethical, probably.

Much later, after it is established fact, a new Armsman finds out about The Situation and has to be talked down by Pym, and everything they say is just fascinating to me and rings utterly true to Barrayaran history and character.

#113 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 12:37 PM:

Regarding the "was bisexual, now he's monogamous" comment, I took it to have two possible readings.

First, Cordelia may be using the terms Aral preferred to use, out of respect for how he self-identified. He's Barrayan, and might not accept that he couldn't change from being bisexual in the way a Betan would. At that time, he might think that his commitment to a monogamous relationship with Cordelia made him not bisexual, and she would not publicly identify him as a sexual orientation he didn't identify with.

The other thing might be a reference to the Betan earring codes.

Before meeting Cordelia, Aral's earrings, if he'd been Betan, might have read "bisexual, with a kink for soldiers." At the time she made the statement, it would read "in a monogamous marriage, please don't embarrass us both by asking." Details of his preferences would not be needed with those earrings, as others would not have a need to know in order to keep up the communication standards Betans aim for.

#114 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 12:56 PM:

I love the idea of the Betan earring code, but it was always one of those little points of continuity that niggled me.

When the idea's introduced, it read as "You get your ears pierced when you're feeling ready to get into the romance market," no more and no less. If there's a code of earring styles, why in the world did Miles' grandmother let Elena get a style that said she was looking? Shouldn't she have pointed out styles that meant "not interested right now"? (And shouldn't she have explained to the Barrayaran that there even was a code, even if it was as simple as "Pierced ears means looking"? She can't possibly have thought the young Barrayaran lady had any idea, not with Betan attitudes towards Barrayan sex ed...)

#115 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 01:36 PM:

Carrie S. @ 114: That's Warrior's Apprentice, isn't it? So, from a composition perspective, it's possible that Bujold was still
"working out" the earring code, to a certain extent. From an in-text perspective . . . well, that's pretty tight-Miles pov. We don't know what sort of misunderstanding might have happened when Elena and Miles's grandmother were speaking privately,or if/how Grandmother Naismith got the wrong idea about how much preparation Elena had had for Beta. I suspect that Grandmother Naismith was also fairly inexperienced at dealing with female Barrayarans at that point, too, after all . . . she'd never visited Barrayar, I don't believe, and who but Cordelia and the occasional (likely male, since Drou was relatively newly-married and busy producing offspring) armsman would have visited Beta? And Elena is certainly capable, in her naivete, of misunderstanding and adding to the confusion.

Besides, Miles himself is only 17 or so in that book, so Grandmother Naismith probably hadn't had all that much experience with any Barrayarans approaching the age of consent yet, either.

#116 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 01:47 PM:'s possible that Bujold was still "working out" the earring code, to a certain extent.

Yeah, that's clearly the Doylist explanation.

I'm just not sure I buy a Watsonian one that involves Grandma Naismith not realizing that a Barrayaran of any age or degree who's never been to Beta before would need to have the earring thing explained to them, unless she thought Miles had explained it already or something? Clearly, someone should write The Ear-Piercing Fic. :) (Not me, I suck at humorous misunderstanding because it makes me twitch.)

It's just that Betans clearly have a very low opinion of Barrayaran attitudes toward sex. "They don't even have a nice simple available/not available signal!" would probably be the kind of thing G'ma N. had heard clucked about.

#117 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 02:17 PM:


My understanding of the earring code is that you get your ears pierced at puberty. Cordelia said she had a period, once, which was followed by getting a contraceptive implant, getting her ears pierced, and taking a programmed learning course on sexuality.

The strict Betan laws on reproduction demand that everyone of reproductive age have contraceptive implant, unless authorized to have a child, and even then, most of the time they would have the child by replicator.

#118 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 02:38 PM:

Devin, #111: Aral-the-Betan would have taken off the earrings that mean "Men or women, but only if you're in uniform" and put on the ones that mean "I'm taken."

That's the best quick description I've ever heard, and explains the line perfectly. Thank you.

#119 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 03:50 PM:

Carrie S @116

I'm sure Grandma Naismith gave some explanation. I suspect the misunderstanding is about what "looking" means and what will happen next. Two possible explanations:

1. GN fished around for a similar Barrayaran signal, wedding rings or hairstyles or whatever, and then (with inadequate inquiry into the details) guided Elena into a seemingly-analogous earring choice, without ever quite getting to the slight but important differences.

2. GN did her due diligence and quizzed Elena fully, Elena explained that she wasn't really looking per se, but I guess if a nice boy wanted maybe a holiday fling that could be fun... GN probably guessed that Elena would be surprised and maybe even a little embarrassed (in an awkward-teenage way) at what a polite Betan would consider an appropriate holiday fling, but didn't realize she's consider it deeply insulting.

Personally, I read the scene as about the proposition, not the earrings. The actual misunderstanding isn't so much about the earrings (they're almost-correct, in that Elena probably is somewhat interested in invitations to start down the long-and-winding Barrayarran road to some of those destinations) but about what happens next. Elena is assuming that of course, what happens next is some nice young boy will ask if he can call you later and maybe take you out for ice cream. That is, obviously, What Happens When You're Looking, and it wouldn't occur to her to say so. GN is assuming that some nice young boy will, with a pointed glance at your earrings, ask if you're into ice cream. A positive response will incur a follow-up: licking it off or being licked? A Betan would know what that glance means and demur with "nah, I hate being sticky" or "sorry, not my type, but gimme your number, I might have a friend..." or most likely in Elena's situation, "you're sweet, but let's get to know each other first." GN is probably guessing that Betan frankness will be somewhat embarrassing to an awkward teenager, but (speaking from my experience) awkward teenagers will find ways to be embarrassed.

Recall from Cordelia's commentary in Barrayar that Betans don't have a sexual double standard, so there isn't that "women aren't allowed to say no, therefore men must not ask certain questions (unless they are assholes)." She was probably also thinking about the risks to Elena, rather than from Elena, which was after all the problem. She may have figured Elena was likely to tell the first fellow where to shove his ice cream, and then they'd have a little conversation about "no thank you," and everything would be fine.

Also, Grandma Naismith does not seem like a risk-averse parental figure. She raised an Astronomical Survey captain, after all, which even after her co-parent's shuttle-accident death doesn't seem to have bothered her. Going off to live with the barbarian militarists was a little odd, but not overly worrisome apparently. She encouraged both Miles and (half-jokingly) Elena in desert-trekking.

#120 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 03:58 PM:

(I choose to believe that Cordelia's "safe, stay-at-home brother" does something insane, like underground demolitions or EVA rescue. He's just considered the boring one because he's never made a blind wormhole jump.)

#121 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 04:28 PM:

Devin @ #120:

Sexual therapist to first-visit Barrayarians?

#122 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 04:58 PM:

Ingvar M:

Brilliant! Can't be Barrayarans, or some of it would have rubbed off on his mom, I expect. But Nuovo Brasilians or something? Or ghem, they'd be very interesting from a Betan perspective: their own distinct sense of cosmopolitan sensuality, but I'd expect some particular triggers in very non-Betan ways.

#123 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2016, 09:48 PM:

Betans don't have a sexual double standard, so there isn't that "women aren't allowed to say no, therefore men must not ask certain questions (unless they are assholes)."

I think this incident was probably more likely to involve one of those questions a young woman in Elena's position isn't allowed to say *yes* to on Barrayar, especially not in public.

It seems possible to me that Grandma N deliberately set Elena up for an educational experience that would probably be good for her, and overdid it in the fine old family style.

#124 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2016, 11:15 AM:

chris: I've lost track: which book are y'all talking about?

Meanwhile, I'm rereading Captain Vorpatril's Alliance (of which I remember nothing from the eARC), and have discover that, whenever Ma Kosti comes up, I visualize Mrs. Patmore.

#125 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2016, 11:19 AM:


#126 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2016, 11:25 AM:

Her hat's different, though. :-)

#127 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2016, 06:27 PM:

#124: I've lost track: which book are y'all talking about?
The episode in _Warrior's Apprentice_ where some Betan makes a pass at Elena, apparently in a manner offensive to Barrayarans, since he shows up wanting her charged with assault. IIRC, it's about the time Miles is getting drunk with Mayhew.

I think that subthread started at #114.

#128 ::: Jacque flags gnomes for Chris, stuck in Server Error Purgatory ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2016, 07:36 PM:

Yo! Chris! Post another comment, your most recent one* is stuck in durance vile.

* In which I am reminded that the events I'd lost track of were in Warrior's Apprentice, thank you, yes. Now I remember.

#129 ::: Jacque, never mind, Gnomes! ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2016, 07:37 PM:

Chris's comment showed up while I was busy panicking.

#130 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2016, 10:36 AM:

Read it last night.

An obvious fanfic comes to my mind, because I suspect Ivan knew about The Situation all along:

"Miles, you idiot!"

#131 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2016, 12:34 PM:

Jon, #130: And even if Ivan didn't, Byerly certainly would have been able to figure it out!

#132 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: March 09, 2016, 08:39 PM:

Just finished the book; I think my favorite passages were the ones describing Miles from other people's perspectives... like shooting fish in a barrel. :)

#133 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2016, 05:46 AM:

A wild thought on the earring code...

I have heard of various real-world codes, not always widely used but known in certain groups who had a need to signal in a non-public way, such as the handkerchief code.

A Betan earring code doesn't have that element of concealment, but it doesn't need to be shouting it out. In the time it has taken to write the series, first book published 1986, a lot of things have changed in our world.

Couldn't the Betans have invented smart earrings, using something akin to NFC tech, maybe including an identity tag so that Cordelia doesn't send all the details to J. Random Betan, unless she wants to. So Betan-Aral gets all the kinky details, and Betan-Pym gets a little bit of info so he knows that strange noises are not somebody having a fit (old joke: unless it's a tight one).

It's hard to imagine the Betans without something like smartphones, with good personal security, so that the signalling can be easily changed to fit the mood. And a smart-earring probably does some general signalling of appearance so that you can tell just who in a group is feeling frisky.

Well, there are smartphone apps that do all this now. But the earring isn't something that falls out of a pocket.

And maybe there are local signals that tell the system not to shout all the details. People always know you're looking, but there might be a hush zone in a medical clinic.

#134 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2016, 01:30 PM:

@131: In my interpretation, Ivan figured it out the first time he saw Aral and Jole together in the same room. But he's not getting involved with that, no, certainly not. None of his business.

#135 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2016, 07:47 PM:

Jon Meltzer @134: Nah, it took longer than that, and almost certainly involved a conversation with (and/or observation of) his Aunt Cordelia! But yes, of course he figured it out and just didn't say anything to anyone because Nope, don't want to know, none of my business, let Miles figure it out for himself (wait, you mean HE HASN'T YET?) lalala . . .

Wonder if he mentions it to Tej? If not, she's certainly likely to have spotted it, or spotted something, the minute she meets all three principles!

#136 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2016, 08:36 PM:

A recent reread reveals that part of the subthread about the earrings was off base: the earring-related incident occurs *before* Grandma Naismith makes her first appearance. It's the earrings Elena was wearing on the ship from Escobar that sent the wrong message.

Speaking of which... why do Miles, Elena and Bothari go via Escobar anyway? In _Shards_ Cordelia is surprised to learn that the planet later known as Sergyar is connected to Escobar, therefore her ship couldn't have come that way and Beta has its own route to Sergyar.

#137 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2016, 08:52 PM:

chris (136): Maybe the route via Sergyar and Escobar is shorter/faster than previously known routes between Barrayar* and Beta.

*or Komarr, given that Komarr is on the only route into Barrayar

#138 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2016, 02:14 AM:

Ah, doesn't Miles nudge the planning so they go via Escobar intentionally, creating an opportunity look for Elena's mother's grave?

#139 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2016, 03:31 PM:

Matthew Ernest @93: Yes, and according to Lois, even more than taking the piss out of him, she was responding to hostile action from him. As Lois put it, "He was trying to blow up her marriage!" So Cordelia made a tactical answer and watched to see if his head would explode. She's a Betan, sure... but Betans don't necessarily tell the fully-explained Betan-phrased truth all the time. Certainly they don't necessarily tell it in combat situations... and Barrayaran social situations involving high-ranking Vor attacking Aral through her at that time and place were close enough to combat situations. (Anyhow, that's what Lois told bisexual-polyamorous-me when I eyerolled at her again recently about the original line.)

On another note, as a widow, I find GJatRQ a powerful book about agency, identity, grief, rebuilding (or building anew), and how to go on. From what I hear, other widows and widowers find it so also.

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