Discussion Post: The Flowers of Vashnoi by Lois McMaster Bujold


The Flowers of Vashnoi is the latest story we’ve read in our Vorkosigan Saga Project and the most recently published, with the ebook having dropped only days ago. This novella follows Ekaterin and takes place after Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance and before Cryoburn.

You can read Katharine’s review of The Flowers of Vashnoi here, and Tsana’s review here.


Tsana: Such perfect timing to have a new novella come out that fits perfectly into our chronological read-through!


Katharine: I’m actually here for a new book! It’s a weird feeling to be one of the first to read it and see how few reviews/chatter there is out there (I mean, still tons as heaps bought and devoured it first day of course) but it’s still all so fresh!


Tsana: And, OK, it wasn’t a super long novella, but still, yay. And it’s a story that’s all Ekaterin’s own, instead of alternating chapters with Miles like in the novels she’s featured in.


Katharine: And she was really able to hold her own. Not that there was any doubt on either her or Bujold’s ability, but it’s so excellent to see Ekaterin so relaxed and confident in her not-so-new life, when you think to how she was when she barely thought she deserved any kind of happiness.


Tsana: Right? This is the first time we’ve seen her properly after she’s had a chance to get used to her new life with Miles and of course she kicks arse because that’s basically a prerequisite for being around Miles.


Katharine: And I love how she’s so easily able to be loving and exasperated with both him and their kids (and the battle tactics on the poor cats). It’s almost as if it’s a realistic portrayal of a decent marriage – shock, horror!  

We also see the return of our favourite (well, only) scientist, Enrique Borgos. And the bugs.


Tsana: Yep. Although there’s two books that happen in between, The Flowers of Vashnoi seems to be a successor to A Civil Campaign, which introduces Enrique and the butterbugs (to much hilarity) and sets up the possibility for The Flowers of Vashnoi. I don’t think this new novella has as much impact without having read A Civil Campaign first (but I still hope people nominate it for a Hugo next year…)


Katharine: Agreed. So in this we see that the bugs have now been engineered to be able to assist with fixing the bit of land that’s still radioactive. It’ll be pretty incredible if it is possible, which does seem hopeful after their first visit to the area. However, they also find that some of the bugs, once again, have escaped the confines of their new habitat much to Miles’ disgust.


Tsana: Spoiler tag time!

<shields up!>

There is also a bit of a mystery as to what happened to the missing bugs. To be honest, I was kind of expecting them to discover that these bugs were cannibals… but no one even suggested that.


Katharine: Actually that was one of my first thoughts too. Zombie bugs! I mean, they are eating some pretty nasty shit. Miles has work so only Enrique and Ekaterin return to install some cheap and quick surveillance and take another look around… and we see yet again why Ekaterin is good for Miles – he wanted to ‘scrounge some of Imperial Security’s finest equipment’ to look into the missing bugs…


Tsana: She is a bit of a tempering influence. But we do also see a lot of Ekaterin’s thought-processes taking into account “what would Miles do?” and then not always choosing that option.


Katharine: She really is quite good at acting out his power in his absence, as we see throughout. Because it turns out the bugs weren’t having their own little soiree somewhere. They were in fact… kidnapped! Bugnapped! And Enrique will literally pay any ransom to get them back safely.


Tsana: Or do more drastic things to get them back. But why were there even people in the radioactive zone to kidnap the bugs? Well this is where the story harks back to themes raised in The Mountains of Mourning and old-fashioned Barrayar clashes with modern sensibilities.


Katharine: Though I do think I’d risk radiation poisoning (I mean, especially with their medical advancements) just to mess with Enrique’s head. 

So it turns out rural people are still ditching children they don’t want. There’s an old woman called Ma Roga who apparently had a deal with dear old Piotr, and she lives with her son, and a young ‘mutie’ girl and an albino boy… and a little set of children graves, because isn’t that just super. They live out in remote bushland, and the man hired by Miles’ family to look after the dangerous perimeter of the radioactive zone has known about them all this time.  

Anyway. It turns out Ingisi (the albino) has been bug-napping the bugs for the young girl, Jadwiga, who will probably die soon without the treatment Ekaterin instantly wants to get her. The bugs have been all kept safely in a shed where Jadwiga is also kept for her own protection, merrily glowing and safe for Enrique to recollect.  

And though she’s thought of as a ghost at first (for her white protective garb), Ekaterin is able to sit quietly with the kids and earn their trust. At least until Ma Roga turns up and starts howling and carrying on…


Tsana: I mean, the important thing about that little family is that the kids — including the dead ones with graves — were all abandoned in the exclusion zone for being born with a visible mutation. Ma Roga rescued them and looked after them until the radiation poisoning got to them. Leaving the babies out to die of exposure was probably the less heart-wrenching option than breaking their necks or drowning them…

As for Ma Roga, how she got to be in the exclusion zone harks back all the way to Count Piotr’s time.


Katharine: Is there really still reason to, what with Cordelia Vorkosigan having sent out better medical clinics out to the furthest reaches?


Tsana: Well Ma Roga was a bit separated from the real world in her exile. As for the clinics, it takes more than that for people to leave their traditions behind.


Katharine: I suppose, yes. It’s just such a damn shame. The two younger kids have such a delightful personality, too.


Tsana: Sure, but one has pointy ears to go with his albino appearance and the other has twelve toes and eleven fingers. (And a giant tumour thing on her neck, but she probably wasn’t born with it.) For people that have been scared of mutations for generations, you can see why it might still be a problem when modern education education has only really reached the youth in their areas. Think back on The Mountains of Mourning and how it was the grandmother of the baby with the harelip that killed her, not the younger mother.


Katharine: And what’s even more tragic here, is that when Ekaterin explains the help she’s going to get them and assures them that they do understand (Miles exists, after all) and that they know kids can be cruel and they won’t just be healing and dumping them without helping them acclimatise to city life…. Ma Roga still tries to kill them all and burn their little hut down, rather than let Ekaterin take them. Goodness.


Tsana: Maybe that’s a symptom of old people being afraid of change? Not to say that infanticide is excusable in any way, shape or form…


Katharine: She’s a bitter old hag, there, I said it.


Tsana: At least she wasn’t executed? She chose that life. She was given a choice between radioactive exile and hanging as a special consideration because she was pregnant at the time. But it really brings home the ongoing clash of traditional culture and modern values happening on Barrayar.


Katharine: I do like the fact that Bujold isn’t pretending that it’s an easy fix and that we keep coming back to it.


Tsana: I also like that we got to revisit the idea of doing more with the butterbugs than just what we saw in A Civil Campaign. There was so much potential for terraforming etc and it’s nice to see some of it coming to fruition. (Although I was hoping for more actual flowers in Vashnoi, alas.)


Katharine: Bujold really does tie everything in so damn well, doesn’t she? I mean this is the same plot of land that Piotr used to insult (or test) Miles when he was young. Then it’s the land Miles used to wager the start of the Dendarii on… and now we have it again – about to become a lovely (massive) garden.


Tsana: And even better we learn how Piotr ended up owning the whole area. He probably already owned significant chunks, but as Miles guesses, he probably bought some of the other worthless bits of miscellaneous citizens who needed the money. Basically, Piotr wasn’t a terrible person/Count aside from perpetuating the whole Time of Isolation eugenics thing.


Katharine: And I mean, he liked horses. …We don’t know much about his wife. Do we?


Tsana: She died with the rest of the family when Aral was 11. She was a princess as well as a countess (which is why Miles has a claim to the throne — also her sister was Ivan’s grandmother), and hence the whole family except Aral and Piotr were murdered by Mad Emperor Yuri. So she didn’t have a chance.


Katharine: …I need a story about all of them, and tiny little Aral.


Tsana: I want to know more about how Armsman Pym’s daughter (or granddaughter?) became the Vorkosigan’s nanny when on a uni break. I feel like she also has a bunch of stories.


Katharine: And a story about Gregor’s kids. I bet they’d be sassy. AND I want to see Simon having to babysit for whatever reason. One that somehow makes sense, as there would be heaps of royal staff… but…


Tsana: All the kids playing together while Miles and Gregor and everyone has to do something official! Or just kids as an excuse for more books.


Katharine: And Ivan drops theirs around also for the free babysitting even though he’s not busy!


Tsana: He could also be doing official stuff. But we don’t know anything about his future kids yet.


Katharine: They totally exist! Or actually, you know, one couple should just not have kids. I’d respect that. They sound totally overpopulated anyway.


Tsana: Er… which part of “Vorkosigan district is hemorrhaging people and also we have a whole third planet to populate” sounds overpopulated? But also, I think Ivan and Tej talked about having plans for kids at the end of Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, didn’t they?


Katharine: So it HAS happened! WOO! Ivan would be the best dad just by Bujold taking us by surprise like that. He seems like he’d be ridiculous – therefore – he’d be excellent. How’s that for logic?


Tsana: Sure, why not.


Katharine: Isn’t Tsana the best writing partner? Everyone! Suggest which series we should do next so she can’t escape me!


Tsana: Hahaha *edges away slowly* (just kidding!) 

Anyway, we seem to have gotten pretty side-tracked. Anything else you want to discuss about The Flowers of Vashnoi?


Katharine: ….I think we’re good. *squints* Yeah, we’re all good.


Tsana: So, next time we’ll be doing Cryoburn. It’s back to focussing on Miles and I mainly remember it being a bit dark…


Katharine: Awww shit. I hate dark!


Tsana:  To be honest, when I say dark, I only really mean I don’t remember it being funny…


Join us next time when we discuss Cryoburn, the chronologically second last Vorkosigan book!


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