"The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart."
Sometimes known simply as the Miles Vorkosigan series, the Vorkosigan Saga is a collection of Space Operas by Lois McMaster Bujold taking place in a future where humans have colonized several new worlds, but continue to embrace all the bad habits that made life so fractious on Earth. The majority of the stories feature Miles Vorkosigan, son of the Prime Minister of the Empire of Barrayar, who was born short, hunchbacked and with brittle bones as the result of a chemical assassination attempt on his father while his mother was pregnant. The series follows, roughly in chronological order, his parents' meeting and his birth, his construction of a Secret Identity as the admiral of a mercenary fleet, his loss of this identity, and his subsequent reconstruction of his life.But funny. There is a lot more humor in the series than that thumbnail description would lead you to believe. Bujold is also an incredible writer who packs multiple levels of meaning into her deceptively simple but highly honed prose, and thus packing more story into each page of her deceptively slim volumes than virtually any other writer working today in any genre. It also examines a lot of timeless social, political and economic issues. Bujold has written a few non-Miles-centered novels set in the same universe, some of which serve to establish the wider verse and some of which feature minor or recurring characters from the primary storyline.
Works in the Vorkosigan Saga (Internal chronological order)
Warning: Tropes and subpages may contain unmarked spoilers. Please correct any you find.
This series contains examples of:
Absent Aliens (and Transhuman Aliens): No sapient aliens anyway. Several of the planets, most notably Sergyar, have very active ecosystems. There are plenty of odd creatures, but they all are variants of humans created via genetic engineering. The most prominent of these are the quaddies, built to work in zero-gravity environments, who have an extra set of arms in the place of legs. Cetaganda, which is the most consistent "enemy" of Barrayar, is an empire with bio-technological transhumanism as its basic philosophy and ultimate goal.
Absent-Minded Professor: Enrique Borgos. Fortunately, he's taken in hand by a Koudelka, who are all hyper-competent.
Accidental Hero: Cordelia reluctantly takes public credit for killing Admiral Vorrutyer during the Escobar War. She takes the blame to protect her rescuer from charges of mutiny, but is quick to point out the real hero when it comes time to assign the credit.
Achievements in Ignorance: In The Warrior's Apprentice, Elena presses and wins a desperate battle that the more experienced Tung would have withdrawn from, because she assumes things are just normally that bad.
Action Mom: Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan. Hikes across a countryside just after having her son ripped out of her womb, organizes another trip a few weeks later to sneak into enemy territory to get him back, and that is before her actual "shopping trip to the Capital".
Adrenaline Makeover: Ekaterin has a brief one at the end of Komarr. No one should look that hot while defeating Komarran terrorists barefoot, dammit!
Adult Fear: Tien is just a weak and incompetent spouse, which is not so unusual, but the slow erosion of Ekaterin's happiness—and the ultimate choice she must make between her honor and her sanity—does more damage to her psyche than a Card-Carrying Villain could.
Miles, realizing that his new job as Imperial Auditor is inherently reactive in nature — Auditors are not called in to deal with a situation unless it has already gotten pretty bad and more normal means of resolution are inadequate or impractical — contemplates trying to sell Gregor on the notion of an Auditor Provocateur to better match his own more proactive temperament.
Ain't No Rule: That a horse cannot be a count's heir. "If a horse's ass can be a Count, why not the entire horse?" Described in story as a Take That to the Count's human heir, who had a political split with the Count. The appointment was confirmed by a rump majority, made up of friends of the Count. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) "Lord Midnight" died before the Count, and by that time he had patched up his disagreement with his son. The funniest thing about Lord Midnight is that he's an important precedent; his case established that a Count may designate an heir who is not actually a blood descendant.
Pointedly averted in Imperial Security HQ: not only is the ductwork generally not amenable to crawling through, there are security cameras giving a view of every last inch of it. (ImpSec also averts Insecurity Camera and related tropes.)
In "Labyrinth", Miles infiltrates the Ryoval biological facility through an air duct. It only works because he's so small, and for him it's a tight squeeze.
All Are Equal in Death: The theme of her short story "Aftermaths", showing the crew of a space ship that is out reclaiming the dead bodies after a space battle.
Cordelia (and other Betans, it is implied) refers to death as "the great democracy."
The Alleged Boss: At the beginning of Brothers In Arms, Miles Vorkosigan faux-modestly claims to be this, saying that he just plays the part of the Admiral while Commodore Tung does the real work. This isn't complete rubbish - originally Miles relied on Tung's experience a lot - but it's not the whole truth, and Elli immediately calls him out on it.
Ass in Ambassador: In Diplomatic Immunity Admiral Vorpatril and the Quaddie Sealer (Foreign Minister) Greenlaw manage to combine to make a harbor brawl into a major interstellar crisis. Of the two the Admiral is more ham-handed and incompetent. On the other hand the Sealer claims to be an experienced negotiator(in fact seldom does a crises ever come that way) and still interferes with solving problems by overindulgence in Misplaced Nationalism.
Alliterative Family: Miles comments on the alliteration of Duv and Delia (D&D) when they become a couple.
All Therapists Are Muggles: In Shards of Honor Cordelia literally couldn't tell the Escobaran or Betan therapists the truth about what happened to her while in Barrayaran captivity, since that could set off a civil war on Barrayar.
Miles's cover job is as an Imperial Courier, justifying frequent and extended absences. Memory also reveals that the Imperial Security Headquarters building's janitors are all 10-year veterans, although that is more or less par for the course for ImpSec HQ employees.
On Barrayar, the it's rumoured title of "Count" is short for accountant, although even the people who repeat this rumor are unsure if it is actually true, or just something made up after the title came to exist.
Ivan, in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. He's the military aide to Admiral Desplains, and Tej has him pegged as "a middling Vor officer of middling responsibilities and middling rank. Just middling along." Then Captain Morozov informs her that that's a "charming understatement." Then Ivan starts to introduce her to his family...
Lampshaded by Mark, who called Miles' girlfriends and love interests "terrifying Amazons" and "the harrowing harem". Miles tends to be attracted to tall, aggressive women.
Mark averts this himself, preferring "round blondes". Kareen (his love interest) is the shortest of her sisters (known as "Commodore Koudelka's all-blonde commando team"), though even then he's at eye-level with Kareen's bust; she is estimated to be around 5 foot 9 or 10 inches.
Amicable Attempted Divorce. Ivan and Tej try to get a divorce from Count Falco. Falco denies it because there is no actual reason to grant it, Vor should take their oaths seriously, and he knows Ivan and thinks he should clean up his own mess for once. And perhaps because he secretly believes that Ivan might actually be happier married to Tej.
Amnesiac Resonance: One thing used to test an amnesiac Miles for returning memories is having him disassemble and reassemble a gun. He does it, while subconsciously making sure never to point it at either himself or his examiner.
Ancestral Weapon: The Vorkosigan Seal dagger willed from Count Piotr to Miles. Like many famous weapons in the series (e.g. Koudelka's swordstick) it mostly gets used for mundane purposes, but Bothari make rather disconcerting use of it during the Tau Verde campaign. Miles also uses it in the Tau Verde campaign to make the ImpSec agent in the enemy fleet follow his orders, then uses it to good effect in an emergency simulation at the academy, and it was a significant element in Miles' apology letter to Ekaterin. Ekaterin lampshades that It Belongs in a Museum:
When genuine seal daggers from the Time of Isolation appeared on the market, they were bid up into the ten of thousands of marks. Miles probably used his as a letter opener, or to clean under his fingernails.
And Now for Someone Completely Different: The final chapter of Shards of Honor is suddenly from the perspective of a tech who is working with a medtech. It's tied in with one of Aral's close friends being found by the medtech, who posthumously marries him to her dead daughter.
Anguished Declaration of Love: The second time around (the letter, not the dinner party) Miles gets it right. Though technically the fourth time around for Miles; his first was to Elena Bothari, the second to Elli Quinn (in Memory).
Animated Armor: High-end powered combat armor and heavy-duty engineering EVA suits often have remote operator capability.
Anti-Villain: In the book Komarr, the terrorists are mild-mannered academics who misguidedly think they are taking a non-violent path to political independence. They do not care that millions will die from the loss of access to Galactic technology — or rather they have convinced themselves that the consequences will not be that bad since Barrayar has the scientific knowledge and industrialisation to recreate the technology now. Miles himself describes them as less "Mad Scientists" than "Extremely Pissed Engineers."
Possibly just Obliviously Evil. Also a case of Lethally Stupid. Regardless of the consequences for Barrayar itself had their plan worked, as Miles points out, the vast majority of Barrayaran space-based military forces were on Komarr's side of the wormhole at the time. If they closed it, the Komarrans would be stuck facing the wrath of very angry Barrayaran military commanders with a fleet of warships at their disposal. Though to be fair, their original plan was to close the wormhole during the Emperor's wedding, when the vast majority of the fleet would be on the the Barrayaran side of the wormhole.
Miles' first official ImpSec cover identity was as a freelance arms dealer.
House Fell's primary income stream is from the interstellar arms trade.
Betans, rather curiously because of their rather exagerratedly enlightened culture, are some of the most enthusiastic arms exporters in the nexus. Their technological wizardry makes their products high-demand items.
Betan weapons helped drive the expanding Cetagandan Empire off of Barrayar, and were the key to stopping the expanding Barrayaran Empire from gobbling up Escobar. There's a pattern here...
Type two, permitting the young people to veto their elders' plans, seems to have been the rule on Barrayar formerly, but is now considered old fashioned.
Still exists among children of Jackson's Whole's House Barons, but on Jackson's Whole, this is because children are their parents' property in a non-patriarchal way. To quote Baron Cordonah, "They tell me that in some Barrayaran weddings the father is expected to give away the bride. That struck me as valuing her much too low."
Asskicking Equals Authority: Deconstructed. Barryar has to learn to get by without asskicking. Although Emperor Gregor, whose course of study at the military academy mostly consisted of him going through "standard" training exercises with a fleet's worth of backup hovering nearby in case anything went wrong, does strong-arm himself into a (largely ornamental, admittedly) co-commanding position at one point in the series. Aral wants to believe that the ruler of three worlds was, in fact, perfectly safe during the entire operation, and that the political and diplomatic results justified the (surely non-existant) risks... but is too honest to really think that. He is, however, immensely proud of the fact that Gregor had the stones to insist on doing it in the first place, and justifiably proud of himself for saying "Yes, Sire," instead of abusing his authority.
Komarr has had an automated traffic control system installed for decades — and the debate on how to revise the system to deal with the fact that the system is seriously stressed by the amount of intra-dome traffic that goes through on a typical day has been going on for years.
After the third vehicular near-miss of the week, Pym asks Miles when Vorbarr Sultana would be getting its municipal traffic control system installed. Miles responds that priority was being given to the automated air traffic control in light of increased lightflyer fatalities.
Cordelia's first impression of Barrayar, since unlike Beta Colony, parents can have as many children as they want without a permit.
The introduction of uterine replicators has one aristocrat issuing over 120 daughters. Gregor's ruling makes such schemes very unprofitable.
Ivan feels Miles is starting one of his own when his and Ekaterin's third and fourth children are born in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.
Badass Bookworm: Duv Galeni. Doctorate in Modern History and Political Science, seems to like being a desk jockey, able to render two armed Cetagandans — one a Covert Action Team leader — unconscious with his bare hands and a week of unexpressed frustration.
Piotr Vorkosigan, Miles' grandfather and war-hero.
Aral Vorkosigan as of Diplomatic Immunity.
Bad Dreams: Many of them star Lt. Murka, who was decapitated in front of Miles' eyes, and Sgt Beatrice, a female commando who fell out of an atmospheric shuttle after Miles missed grabbing her hand, though eventually he comes to realize she would have pulled him to his death (she was easily twice his size) if he had managed to make his grab good.
Bail Equals Freedom: Justified, averted, and lampshaded In A Civil Campaign. On Escobar, a bond is a guarantee of court appearance, but on Jackson's Whole bail means getting off into the clutches of the one who pays the bail.
"Whatever. The Escobaran Cortes does not, as you seem to think, engage itself in the slave trade. However it's done on this benighted planet, on Escobar a bond is a guarantee of court appearance, not some kind of human meat market transaction."
Betan Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapists need an Associate Degree or better in psychotherapy and must pass government examination boards. (The hermaphrodites make the most money; they are very popular with the tourists and virgins looking for a non-hostile and comforting first time.)
Several of Byerly's sub-agents are or have been prostitutes. He notes that it's easier to recruit prostitutes to be spies than the other way around.
How Cetagandans view all non-Cetagandans, as "barbarian outlanders."
Barrayarans have this reputation to the rest of the Galaxy, not entirely undeservedly. They are trying to get themselves a better reputation, and seem in general to be succeeding as the series progresses.
In Diplomatic Immunity Miles deliberately plays this up to aid his negotiations with the quaddies, in a somewhat forelorn hope it will lessen the eventual concessions he knows he'll have to make. They don't quite buy into it, but he does manage to keep them guessing just how much is true and how much is bluff.
In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance they are characterized as having conquered Komarr to prevent anyone else like the Cetagandans trying to come in and "civilize" them.
Ivan makes a remark about preserving some bits of old Barrayar "...now we're all turning galactic, y'know?"
This brought a smile to Tej's lips. "Is that what you Barrayarans think you're doing?"
Batman Gambit: Miles' somewhat uncanny ability to read people makes these a large part of his arsenal.
Battle Butler: Bothari (and later Pym, and then Roic) for Miles. Counts' Armsmen in general tend to live this trope; the informal title of one assigned to this position is "batman," which means a soldier assigned to act as manservant to a superior officer.
Battle Couple: Several, but Aral & Cordelia are the most prominent example.
Battle Trophy: Vorkosigan House has a bag of Cetagandan scalps in the attic presented by Piotr's faithful and ferocious followers.
Beastess: The eight-foot, fanged and clawed Taura nearly defines this trope.
Sergeant Bothari has, according to Aral, no sense of self. He becomes whatever anyone thinks he is. Bothari is Cordelia's self-proclaimed "dog" because Cordelia is the only person who sees him as a hero — and therefore, he is a hero around her. "He clings to you because you create him a greater man than he ever dreamed of being."
Miles Naismith Vorkosigan finds himself becoming Admiral Naismith (his fictional identity) more and more, and Lord Vorkosigan, his actual identity, less and less. This is helped by the fact that the reason he created and maintained his fictional identity was to have an outlet for the drives and urges his true identity is not permitted to indulge in. However, Memory happens and Miles finds his alter ego destroyed — and he realizes that after everything else has been stripped away, he is still a Dendarii hillman in his bones. Miles successfully adjusts by finally allowing his true identity to fulfill the impulses his alter ego had been satisfying, though his mother claims she thought he would flee Barrayar and "choose the little admiral."
Mark was brainwashed and trained from birth to impersonate Miles, and after breaking free of his captors he struggles for years to find his own personality and avoid Becoming the Mask.
Ivan often finds himself cast in this role to Miles.
Gregor: As you know, an Imperial Auditor may request anything he pleases. The first thing he requested was an assistant. Congratulations.
Ivan: He wanted a donkey to carry his luggage, and the first ass he thought of was me.
After Gregor gets engaged, Ivan gets seconded to act as his mother's assistant in the wedding planning.
Ivan: It's like working in an office with an entire boatload of mothers-in-law-to-be with pre-wedding nerves, every one of them a flaming control freak. I don't know where Mama found that many Vor dragons. You usually only meet them one at a time, surrounded by an entire family to terrorize. Having them all in a bunch teamed up together is just wrong. My chain of command is built upside down; there are twenty-three commanders, and only one enlisted. Me. I want to go back to Ops, where my officers don't preface every insane demand with a menacing trill of, Ivan , dear, won't you be a sweetheart and... What I wouldn't give to hear a nice, deep, straightforward masculine bellow of Vorpatril!... From someone other than Countess Vorinnis, that is.
Miles's Armsman Roic (see the Butter Bug Battle in A Civil Campaign) and his chauffeur/butler/pilot/etc. Martin Kosti (Memory)
Duv Galeni was the ImpSec rep stationed on (relatively) quiet Earth when the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet arrives in orbit, shattering his plans to perform his duties quietly as one of the first Komarrans in Barrayaran Imperial service.
Averted with Vorob'yev on Eta Ceta IV, stationed in the heart of the Cetagandan Empire. Part of the reason is that Miles is able to remain sub rosa for most of the story, but even when Lord Miles Vorkosigan causes some minor trouble, Vorob'yev is mostly unfazed.
Played straight by local ImpSec chief Voreedi, who is convinced that Miles was on a secret mission from Illyan by the end of the book, something Miles refuses to confirm nor deny.note Nope, just another Xanatos Speed ChessIndy Ploy played by Miles. Although he does attempt to justify it to himself that if Illyan were fully appraised of all the details, he wouldn't hesitate to assign Miles to sort it out.
Consul Vorlynkin in Cryoburn. Understandable, given the situation — the rather quiet consulate of far-off Kibou-Daini suddenly gets Miles freaking Vorkosigan dumped in their laps. Have fun, guys!
This instance is extra amusing because Vorlynkin occasionally comments on it. The clear frustration and exasperation as he realizes he has not gotten a right and proper auditor, but a sawed off madman ready to bend, if not break, every rule covertly to pursue his self-assigned need to correct some other countries political issues; while Vorlynkin has to legally justify it all, is so satisfying.
Ivan once notes that he has met many who have coveted the Imperial throne but not one who coveted the Imperial desk.
A Civil Campaign featured the intertwining romances of no less than five couples in addition to the primary story: Mark and Kareennote Particularly apt, considering where they've been attending school and their plans to return, Duv and Delia, Gregor and Laisa, Olivia and Dono, and Martya and Enrique. After all, this is a comedy of biology and manners.
Leo Graf was just a mild-mannered engineering geek who had his morality twisted by his employers. He ends up helping the quaddies turn a space station into a spaceship.
Ekaterin was a self-described Extreme Doormat of a housewife. Then she single-handedly thwarts a band of Komarran terrorists by hijacking a crane and smashing their multi-ton secret weapon into the floor. Repeatedly. It makes such a mess even Miles admits he would be hard pressed to do better.
Kareen Koudelka, at least according to Miles. While watching Kareen and Mark do their good cop/bad cop routine during a business negotiation, Miles thinks that it would be a serious mistake to assume that all of the "bad cop" ideas came from Mark (and vice-versa).
Taura is the "gets hungry often because of her fast metabolism" variety.
Rish as well, though not as pronounced as Taura and mentioned only in passing.
Mark also tends to eat a lot, mainly so that he cannot be mistaken for his brother Miles (who he now outweighs by a significant margin).
Big Fancy House: All Counts' residences (with the notable exception of Count Vorfolse: See Impoverished Patrician below) probably qualify. Due to the Schizo Tech nature of the planet, architectural styles differ from Quasi-fortress structures (Vorrutyer House) to ultra-modern (Vorbretten House).
Vorkosigan House in Vorbarr Sultana may be considered representative of the species: 4 residential floors for extended family and retainers, 2 underground service levels, extensive library, ballroom, dining room with space for nearly 100 guests if they don't mind a little crowding...
Vorkosigan House in the district Capital of Hassadar also fits, even though much of the building is occupied by administrative offices.
The Big Guy: Armsman Roic is big by Barrayaran standards, and that is big.
The noble prefix "Vor" means "thief" in Russian, which is one of the four major languages of Barrayar. Bujold was initially unaware of it, but was notified by a Russian fan, and has since incorporated it into a couple of pretty clever linguistic jokes in-series.
There are a few French words sprinkled here and there. For example, the Vorkosigan-run town near the lake shore is called Vorkosigan Surleau ("on the water"), the ruling caste of the Cetagandans are called haut ("high") and their servants are called ba (bas = "low"). Magnifique! Bujold even sneaks in a Stealth Pun with a joke about Vorkosigan Sousleau.
The name Lord Dono rings a bell for Japanese-speakers, since -dono is an honorific of great respect that is used to mean "lord."
Aral Vorkosigan, although all his sexual escapades (With either gender) occurred in the backstory since he met his wife in the first chapter of the first novel. She herself simply describes him as "monogamous," but when pressed explains that he is attracted to either gender, but leans towards soldiers, and that meeting her (a Captain in the Betan Survey, and later in what passed for Beta's military) presented a solution to this dilemma.
Terrence Cee has indicated he would not mind being Ethan's partner in Ethan of Athos.
Byerly Vorrutyer, though given his usual way of life it's more of a fodder for celebrity gossip than a disadvantage.
Bizarrchitecture: ImpSec HQ. Stunningly ugly. Oversized steps guaranteed to give anyone climbing them leg cramps. No windows. Ilyan once said that he'd cheerfully sell the place for a Betan dollar if he could find a Betan with a dollar and no taste — and if he could just get the funding to build a replacement headquarters. He kept a holo of the beautiful building that the Escobaran Intelligence Service was based in the way normal people would keep a pinup.
The Blank: Elli Quinn becomes this in The Warrior's Apprentice when she takes a plasma burn to the face. Fortunately, plastic surgery does wonders in the future.
Blind Jump: The first jump through a newly discovered wormhole is always blind — you have no idea where your ship is going to come out, and it could be close enough to a star to instantly vaporize your ship, or something similarly hazardous. Doing this used to be Cordelia Naismith's job.
Bling of War: The red-and-blue parade uniform of Barrayar, with two swords, boot-tassels, high collar and commonly described as gaudy. The normal service uniform is a more practical green.
In A Civil Campaign, Ekaterin notices that the seal of Miles' letter of appology to her was marked with the most old-fashioned and traditional smear of red-brown. The color of blood. Then she realizes that it is his blood.
In Cyroburn, Miles seals his letter of instruction to the Barrayaran Consulate with a thumbprint in his own blood, knowning that the Consulate will test it and so confirm that the letter really is from him.
Body Backup Drive: Some very rich and very evil people clone themselves, then when the clones are in their twenties have their brain transplanted into the clone's body. Mark has made it his life's work to eliminate this practice, by inventing a life-extension technology that does not depend on committing murder.
While Miles and Gregor were off in the Hegen Hub during The Vor Game, ImpSec had to scramble a bit to find a suitable person to play Emperor and vacation at Vorkosigan Surleau (The volunteer officer was informed of an assassination plot and jumped at the chance.) After the War of the Hegen Hub, a story about a secret diplomatic mission was crafted to explain Gregor's absence.
Mark was created as an evil one for Miles, and actually does this a few times in his first two appearances. Then he makes a point of gaining a lot of weight so that they cannot be mistaken for each other ever again.
In Falling Free: Bannerji lets the Quaddies get away because they have been classified as "post-fetal experimental tissue cultures," so killing them would be hazardous waste disposal and Van Atta has not filled out the proper paperwork.
In The Warrior's Apprentice, Elena assaults a Betan while Miles is elsewhere. From her perspective she is perfectly justified note it's strongly implied he makes a sexual pass, by Barrayaran standards an insult to her and her family's honor; from his he is entitled to justice, dammit! The complaining Betan is diverted to the Barrayaran Embassy, where he will spend several hours filling in forms that have to be shipped back to Barrayar (on paper, to ensure they take as long as possible in the loop) where they will inevitably be returned to the origin for minor errors in execution, several times. From the Betan perspective, things are getting done; from the Barrayaran, the whole thing can be kept in limbo indefinitely until the complainant's head cools.
A Civil Campaign: The two Escobar cops sent to arrest Enrique, Mark's scientist (and bail-jumper), mention how much trouble they had to go to to get to him. It took them a month, and twenty-five different pieces of paperwork. They would have gone after Mark, too, since he paid Enrique's bail, but he has Diplomatic Immunity and the second the two cops mentioned who they were after "every Barrayaran clerk, secretary, embassy officer and bureaucrat" they met essentially shut down. It took the guard at the gate forty minutes to get through their pieces of red tape. Individually. And they had to go through a great amount of effort to not alert Enrique... and it was all for naught since Miles points out they need another document that they can only get from him. He may have been bluffing; when another character asks if what he said was true his response is "look it up".
Breather Episode: A Civil Campaign and Captain Vorpatril's Alliance are both comedies of manners that have no real antagonist (save Richars in the former to some degree.) Both books focus on exploring Vor society, the former from an insider's perspective, the latter from a Jacksonian citizen's.
Briar Patching: In The Vor Game, Miles gets aboard the Ariel by claiming that the mercenaries are after him for selling them some defective weapons, and loudly begging his captors not to hand him over.
Memory: Once Miles realizes that General Haroche is trying to bribe him, he quickly puts together all the pieces of Illyan's chip sabotage and solves the case in less than 27 hoursnote The Barrayaran day is 26.7 hours long..
Deconstructed in A Civil Campaign, when Miles notes that bribing of Council votes is standard practice. (But also played straight: Richars Vorrutyer's attempt to buy or blackmail Miles' vote drives Miles to form an alliance with Richars' opponent.)
Miles uses trolling for bribes in his arsenal of investigative techniques in Cryoburn, both gaining valuable information from his targets and testing the loyalty of his staff. He succeeds in both areas; his targets reveal their plan when they try to bribe him, and his staff proves their loyalty when they try to report him to the Emperor for accepting a bribe.
At the beginning of Mirror Dance, the stunningly hot Elli fends off a suitor trying to maraud on her time with Miles by telling the would-be swain that Miles can do push-ups with his tongue. Miles laughs it off. Fast forward to Miles being held captive, with his hands cuffed behind his back, by a couple of jittery House Ryoval goons; he manages to talk them both into investigating a soundproof cell, slams the door on them, and when they turn on the plasma fire to burn their way out he uses the only appendage he has available (hint: not his toes) to cycle through the control panel options then drop the oxygen in the cell until the goons pass out. Not exactly pushups, but it might explain in part why Miles is so popular with the ladies...
This one goes back to Brothers in Arms. There's a scene where Elli makes a comment about "beard burn" while "scratching a thigh absently".
Ivan has been known to complain a few times that, "The reward for a job well done is another job," which is why he prefers to be Brilliant but Lazy. In the middle of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, he complains to Byerly that for all the help he provided in A Civil Campaign, nobody so much as offered him thanks. "And what do I get?" Ivan demands. Byerly responds, "Another job." This instantly mollifies Ivan, though Tej, having only just recently met him, is completely baffled as to why.
Ivan Vorpatril. He is no less talented than his cousin, but to exercise any effort that he could escape is against his nature. In addition to disliking work on its own merits, his position in the ranks of Imperial succession also makes him a target for assassination plots, revolutionaries and general muck-rakers. He has to work extremely hard to not be taken seriously. For all that, he is probably Admiral Desplains' (his immediate superior) favorite aide because when he does do a job, he does it well.
Ivan is also in line for the throne, and well aware that Miles and Gregor are a little bit safer as long as he looks like the worst choice of the three.
As shown in Cetaganda nearly all young Ghem Lord aristocracy fall under this category, due to misapplication of their inherent intellect, because all positions of importance are already occupied by previous generations of (long-lived) ghems. Miles finds this disturbing.
The Bus Came Back: Minor character example: Aral's brilliant aide Lieutenant Jole is described in brief but memorable detail in The Vor Game, as if to set him up as a recurring supporting character. After that book he vanishes and is never heard from again... until a blink-and-you'll-miss-it mention in the epilogue to Cryoburn, written twenty years later (and almost as long in-universe). "Admiral" Jole is one of Aral's pallbearers.
He's also mentioned in passing in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance as the commander of the Sergyar Fleet.
Busman's Holiday (with a side order of Weirdness Magnet): Even when he does not intend to, Miles tends to run into situations of intrigue and mayhem wherever he goes. He goes on a trip to Beta and ends up accidentally taking over a mercenary space fleet. He is assigned to a do-nothing post at an arctic outpost in the middle of nowhere and ends up putting his life and career on the line to take down a psychotic disciplinarian. He travels to Cetaganda on a diplomatic mission and ends up saving the Cetagandan empire from treason (and saving Barrayar from being caught up in another war while he is at it). Miles's entire early life is one long series of Busman's Holidays.
The Butcher: Aral gets called "The Butcher of Komarr" after one of his subordinates commits the slaughter he specifically did not want to have happen. Since Aral is a political pragmatist, he admits later in life, that he used the weight of that undeserved reputation to lean on those who would be awed by it. He states that since he paid the price for having that reputation, he had the right to use it in that manner.
After Admiral Naismith becomes well-known enough that people start noticing the similarities between him and Miles Vorkosigan, Miles "admits" that Admiral Naismith is a rogue clone, which gives him an opportunity to talk at some length about how cunning and charismatic Admiral Naismith is.
"Aye, there's the genius and the wonder of the man," cried Miles, then decided he'd better tone it down a bit.
"Naismith" agrees — yes, he surely is much handsomer and more intelligent than poor, dull Lieutenant Vorkosigan. This seems to reflect Miles' honest opinion about the lives he leads in his respective identities.
Tej gets a lot of this. She's described as quite busty, and despite her striking looks from her half-Cetagandan (half-haut, half-ghem) ancestry, her chest size is mentioned frequently as her most attractive feature, almost to the point of being a Running Gag. Her second feature is her "generous" figure.
Miles notes to himself that he could burrow into Big Beautiful Woman Laisa Toscane's bosom for the winter.
Call Back: Constantly, due to the "future history" nature of the saga. In one particularly subtle example the Barrayaran warship Kanzian in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is named after an admiral who appears briefly in Barrayar.
Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Jacksonian children play an electronic game called Great House that is recognizably similar to Diplomacy by description. It makes sense as that is a very Jacksonian kind of game.
Cannot Talk to Women: Ethan, in "Ethan of Athos," being from a single sex society, has this condition early on in the book. Notably, he finds a seedy bar of only men less threatening than a single female receptionist at a Diplomatic Embassy. To be fair, he grows out of this character quirk as Character Development. However, at the end he's helped conspire to make the entire stock of eggs on the planet come from a telepath, potentially making the single-sex society whose hat is He-Man Woman Hater into the only men who will ever truly be able to understand women.
Due to his small stature and unusual metabolism, a couple of drinks tends to put Miles to sleep.
Or so he thinks. Lord Vorpatril (Ivan's father) tells newlywed Cordelia that his cousin Aral was famous for being a lightweight. After a couple drinks he would be under the table "declaring revolution in iambic pentameter."
Commander/Captain Cordelia Naismith: Aral's "Dear Captain", Action Girl and Guile Hero. Then she resigns her commission and finds herself in Mama Bear territory...
Captain Simon Illyan, even though by the end of his career in ImpSec he is drawing Vice Admiral's pay (He refused to take an official rank greater than his predecessor, who saw no reason to claim higher rank because everyone knew how powerful he was without it), is one of a very few people that can even partially keep Miles in check. By reputation, his predecessor, Captain Negri, was even more badass.
Desplains, a spare and quietly competent officer in his late fifties, took in Ivan’s neat but squinty appearance with an ironic eye. “Heavy drinking last night, Vorpatril?” “No, sir, not a drop. I was kidnapped by two beautiful women and held prisoner in their flat all night. They didn’t let me get a wink of sleep.” Desplains snorted amusement and shook his head. “Save your sex fantasies for your friends, Ivan. Time to saddle up.”
Gregor (and Cordelia, from whom he inherited it): "Let's see what happens."
Ivan: "It's not my fault."
Miles: "Forward momentum"
Cordelia: "Barrayarans!" (A favorite curse)
Lord Auditor Vorthys: "No artificial shortages!" (of cookies)
Cat Scare: "Labyrinth" has the extended version of the trope: Miles, locked in a dark basement with a dangerous genetically-engineered lifeform, sees something moving in the shadows — but it's only a rat. Just as he's relaxing, the dangerous genetically-engineered lifeform pounces on the rat out of a different shadow.
For most of the series, What Measure Is a Non-Human? is the strongest theme, with "legacy" in some form or another appearing in all the disparate stories. The rest of the text is spent de- and reconstructing romance, morality and sexuality tropes...but in a funny way.
When Aral thinks he might be dying in Mirror Dance, he urgently tells Mark, "All true wealth is biological." This notion shows up everywhere in the series—whether it be family love, a politically-motivated quest for posterity, the constant ambivalence over the value of altered or unfamiliar lifeforms, the prison camp, Miles' death and resuscitation, the Cetagandan desire to refine human genetics, the Betan focus on quality-of-life, the Jacksonian clones, the villains' near-universal obsession with torture and dismemberment, and on and on and on... Human bodies, and whether or not they matter, and why or why not, are the explicit focus of nearly everything that happens in the series.
Another central theme is a Coming-of-Age Story of a society evolving from chaos into civilization.
Changeling Fantasy: Cruelly subverted in The Warriors' Apprentice in Elena Bothari's quest to find her mother's identity.
Invoked and defied in Brothers in Arms
Miles: Orphans are supposed to dream of golden parents, riding to their rescue — for you, it could have been true.
Mark: Hardly. I always knew the score.
Changing of the Guard: from Cordelia to Miles. The trope then makes a swerve with Barrayar, which is a prequel about Cordelia's exploits, written and published well into the Miles' times. According to the Word Of God, Barrayar was already planned, but she only got around back to it when the series became a big hit.
Character Tics: Miles tends to jerk his chin up defensively under stress; more so when younger and more self-conscious about his height. Miles also inherited the habit of putting his fingers together when being stern and incisive from his father, Aral. Mark shares all of Miles' tics, having been conditioned from a young age to impersonate him. In A Civil Campaign, a little time is spent illustrating that Lord Dono is training himself to use more masculine character tics, and echoes one of Aral'snote specifically, sitting backwards on a chair, with arms folded over the chairback.
Chef of Iron: Count Vorloupulous and his 2,000 cooks...sort of. Barrayaran law said that Counts cannot have private armies, so Vorloupulous hired 2,000 "cooks," equipped them appropriately (chef's knives instead of short swords), and set them loose on his enemies. When he was caught, his appeal to Ain't No Rule failed. He was sentenced to Death by Irony:
Miles: The Emperor ... arrested him for treason, for which the sentence was — still is — public exposure and death by starvation. So the man with 2,000 cooks was condemned to waste away in the Great Square of Vorbarr Sultana. And to think they always said Dorca Vorbarra had no sense of humor.
Cordelia's shopping trip to the Capital would not have gone nearly so well if she had not bought that swordstick for Kou earlier.
At one point in Cetaganda, Miles mentions that he might have gone into law enforcement if he had not entered the military. That's exactly what he does when he becomes an Imperial Auditor in Memory.
Early in Diplomatic Immunity, Miles muses on his fear that someday, while he is on assignment a hundred wormhole jumps from home, some grim-faced courier will catch up to him and begin by addressing him as Count Vorkosigan, sir? Just that happens at the end of the next book, Cryoburn.
Groats, in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. And the unexploded bomb.
Aral has a jar full of various medals stuffed in his desk drawer.
Miles has a lot, including one that would be the equivalent of a Cold War-era American soldier having a Hero of the Soviet Union medal (or a Soviet one having a Medal of Honor, given the flavor of the setting). The irony is that both his cover stories precludes him from wearing most of them or admitting he has them. His Cetagandan Order of Merit medal is one of the few exceptions, having been very publicly awarded to Lt. Vorkosigan by the Cetagandan Emperor. Miles only wishes he could have it classified. Miles finds a good use for them all in Memory.
After all, what's the point of wearing a medal that you can't tell a story about?
Miles: You should have stuck to your original plan. Or your second plan. Or your third. You should, in fact, have stuck to something.
Cincinnatus: Aral Vorkosigan. Emperor Ezar knows that Aral is both disgusted and frightened by Barrayaran politics, but is also supremely well versed in it so he is able to cope with it — and is honorable enough to give Gregor the throne when he turns 20.
Chubby Chaser: Those around Emperor Gregor theorize he is attracted to maternal figures due to the early loss of his mother.
Lady Alys: "All that time I wasted herding tall, slender beauties past him, when I should have been rounding up short, plump beauties. I could cry." She ate a decisive bite of cream cake, instead.
Citizenship Marriage: Ivan and Tej, who both gain from the arrangement: Tej was keen to avoid being abducted from Immigration's custody, while Ivan needed a way to avoid a charge of kidnapping. Played with a bit: it takes place as the authorities are breaking down the barricaded door to get at both principals, the government accepts it immediately, they tell everyone it is meant to be temporary...and then they cannot get out of it.
Claustrophobia: Ivan. The germ of it started when he and Miles got buried alive in a tunnel (briefly) as children, but after spending several hours locked in a pumping chamber in the Thames Tidal Barrier — the barrier is meant to prevent the raised sea levels from flooding London — Ivan considers taking up claustrophobia as a hobby. Later in the series, he grimly insists that he does not have claustrophobia; he has an entirely justified fear of being locked in small enclosed spaces, thank you very much.
Clean Pretty Childbirth: Justified with the use of the Uterine Replicator, which makes childbirth about as clean and straightforward as it's possible to be, although — as mentioned in Diplomatic Immunity — it does raise the rather embarrassing danger of a mother being late to her own child's birth.
Cloning Body Parts: Fairly common tech. Miles gets a whole new set of internal organs after his chest is blown out by a needle grenade, and Aral has to take some time off, waiting for them them to grow him a new heart, after his heart attack. In emergencies, the parts that get installed are often undersized and need to grow in situ, but with advance warning, full sized parts can be grown.
Clueless Chick Magnet: Miles Vorkosigan is a lot more attractive to women (and one hermaphrodite), for all his bodily deformities, than he even begins to realize — though his cousin Ivan surely does.
"Let me tell you about the Barrayaran Vor," cut in Miles. "[During the Cetagandan Occupation, t]he loonies who sought a glorious death in battle found it very early on. This rapidly cleared the chain of command of the accumulated fools. The survivors were those who learned to fight dirty, and live, and fight another day, and win, and win, and win, and for whom nothing, not comfort, or security, not family or friends or their immortal souls, was more important than winning. Dead men are losers by definition. Survival and victory. They weren't supermen, or immune to pain. They sweated in confusion and darkness. And with not one-half the physical resources Marilac possesses even now, they won. When you're Vor," Miles ran down a little, "there is no mustering out." ("The Borders of Infinity")
Come to Gawk: The official punishment for Vors who commit treason, until they starve to death.
"Could you people stop trying to come up with novel ways to kill me for just one hour? ... Just stop doing anything. Sit down and wait sensibly. Earth, water, air, fire—you're running out of elements, here!
Amiri looked very impressed by this ringing baritone rant. Grandmama ... looked less impressed, if perhaps sympathetic. Rising from Pearl's side and helping her up, she observed, "In some Old Earth mythologies there was imagined to be a fifth element—metal, as I recall."
Ivan Xav said through his teeth, "That was a rhetorical remark, not a bloody suggestion."
In "The Mountains of Mourning", a woman tries to bribe an ImpSec guard to let her in to see the Count with all the money she has on her — a mark and twenty pence. Miles orders the guard to let her through for free after learning she is trying to present a petition she has the legal right to make.
The inverted version occurs in "Labyrinth". A refugee from Jackson's Whole hands Miles and Bel Thorne her entire life's savings in cash, hoping it will be enough to engage them as mercenaries to get her off the planet. Bel tells her the price is wrong, then peels one single dollar off the stack and tells her this is more like it as it returns the rest. ("Makes it an official contract, you see.")
The Commies Made Me Do It: In The Vor Game, at least one of Cavilo's men is only following her because of his wife and family being held prisoner.
It was [Cordelia's] old Ship Captain's voice, Kareen realized; and her parents had both lived under military authority for decades.
Her parents sank as though folded.
Conditioned to Accept Horror: In Mirror Dance, the young clone of Baronne Lotus Bharaputra (herself a clone-daughter of Lilly Durona) knows and agrees with the notion of being killed to give "my lady" a full body transplant.
Baen Books strikes again. A Civil Campaign◊. The picture cannot capture the sparkly horror of the real thing. That's not even counting the bizarrely-shaped guards. Plus, the bugs are either not nearly ugly enough, or not nearly pretty enough, depending on which they are supposed to be. We'll clear up this question: The couple pictured are supposed to be Gregor and Laisa. Laisa's the one wearing the prom dress from circa 1985.
The runner-up is probably Miles Errant. Sitting in an ergonomic nightmare of a ship's bridge are a sour-faced garden gnome with a Wolverine haircut, a department store mannequin with a terrible case of helmet hair, and a werewolf with lipstick. These... creatures... are supposed to be Mark, Bel Thorne (who is a hermaphrodite) and Tauranote on their mission to rescue the clones.
This German cover◊, on the other hand, is actually rather good as an uncharitable take on Miles' personality, but it's still creepy and the Dendarii uniform is not quite that comic-opera-esque.
And then there's this rejected cover to Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. The final version looked like this, but tells one absolutely nothing about the story besides the fact that flying cars are involved. The contemptible cover is on the back of the spaceship cover. The author is happy with the back cover.
"The nice surprise, for those purchasing the hardcover, will be the back cover art, because, I was told, the artist really wanted to paint the blue girl. Which he did, delightfully; I have a print now framed and hanging in my dining area. ... Pretty good Ivan! ... Tej is a trifle pale, and a touch flat-chested, but otherwise very Tej-like, here. And Rish is very Rish-like."
Continuity Drift: Any series of this scope is bound to have some. Since many of the books were written anachronistically, this can occasionally make reading them in chronological order a bit disconcerting.
Perhaps the most significant example is the portrayal of Cetaganda. In Ethan of Athos it's described as a male-dominated totalitarian world governed by a military junta. A character who grew up there implies that the interrogation/torture of suspected political dissidents is routine; the telepathy complex is specifically being developed for that purpose. By contrast, in Cetaganda (written years later), we learn that it's actually an eight-planet empire governed by a hereditary emperor at the head of a complex two-tiered aristocracy, whose main hat is self-improvement through (female-controlled) genetic engineering; it doesn't really appear to be any more militaristic or totalitarian than Barrayar itself, and the LX10-Terran-C project was a purely scientific experiment privately sponsored by the Dowager Empress. Given that the two books are set chronologically back-to-back, the effect can be slightly jarring. Perhaps we should just assume that Terrance C has a somewhat biased and limited view of his home culture having grown up in a lab under the supervision of a jackbooted paranoid.
Not actually contradictory. Cetaganda's haut are an insular, not particularly militaristic ruling class of the eight planet empire. The ghem are male-dominated and militaristic. As explained in Diplomatic Immunity, they can coexist mainly because the haut women are the galaxy's best genetic engineers with an arsenal of terrifying bioweapons. Remember, as Barrayar is a bit of a stand-in for Imperial Russia and Beta is a stand-in for California, Cetaganda is a stand-in for Imperial Japan. Beautiful inside the Emperor's Court, terrifying if the military targets you, and with no real concept of freedom.
It is also observed in various places, notably in Diplomatic Immunity, that outsiders understand very little of how Cetagandan society really works, at least in part because the haut are isolationist even towards the lower castes of their own culture, and the Cetagandans in general do not mingle well with outworlders. The ghem are the most visible face of Cetaganda to the Nexus at large, and being the primary militarist caste they define the image of their society. This is contrasted to the Barrayarans, where the Vor encompass both the regular government and the military. Diplomats and other visitors may well have a shot at meeting Barrayaran Emperor Gregor Vorbarra. But most haven't got a chance in hell of chatting up, or even seeing, the haut Emperor Fletchir Giaja. So it is a case of a complex system being seen from many different points of view. Even Terrance C was only familiar with the ghem-managed project that created him, and had no direct experience with the Star Creche or the haut, despite the old empress sponsoring the project.
Earlier books imply that Miles's disfigurement was caused by the soltoxin his mother was exposed to during pregnancy. When the actual incident is finally described, in Barrayar, it turns out to be the soltoxin antidote that causes all the damage.
Given that his parents don't share much about their lives before his birth, including Aral's bisexuality and murder of his first wife's suitors in a duel, it makes sense that they might keep this detail quiet.
Several paragraphs at the beginning of The Warrior's Apprentice briefly outline what has happened since Shards of Honor — those events were planned, but the novel hasn't been written. When Bujold got to write Barrayar several years later, she did some things differently. The most cited by fans are circumstances of Padma Vorpatril's death and Cordelia's role during the mutiny. Fortunately, other novels published before Barrayar do not mention those events, and later ones stick with Barrayar version.
This could be the reason not to write interquel novels after Barrayar and Cetaganda.
In the beginning, natural childbirth was a normal, if minority, option among galactics. Even on Beta Colony, one in four babies were natural; Cordelia's brother was one, and she herself got pregnant with Miles without bothering to wait a few months for a Uterine Replicator to become available. Ten books and twenty years later, it's a mark of Tien Vorssoison's jerkitude that he doesn't want his wife to use one.
Halfway through Cetaganda, there is a brief moment in which Ghem-Colonel Millisor calls in with a status report for the hunt he is on in Ethan of Athos. In "Labyrinth," Dr. Canaba obliquely mentions the Terran-C gene complex as one of the gene complexes concealed in Taura's muscle. Miles makes a mental note and tells himself to get Elli Quinn in on it.
Miles makes a reference to his mother's infamous "shopping" trip during Komarr.
Shopping? That's an offer seldom made to the son of my mother.
He makes another reference to it in Diplomatic Immunity as a "family joke". The Quaddies are not amused.
Tej and Rish, discussing why Barrayar is a power to be reckoned with, note that one ImpSec agent took down House Ryoval.
Later books mention Barrayaran spaceships named after characters from earlier books who have presumably died in the meantime.
At the end of Mirror Dance, Mark is discussing investments with the industrialist Lord Vorsmythe. A passing mention in "A Civil Campaign" reveals that Vorsmythe Ltd. has teamed up with Toscangne Industries on several infrastructure projects.
Averted for the Barrayaran Emperor during the Emperor's Birthday ceremonies. When receiving the traditional birthday "gifts" (bags of gold coins symbolizing annual tax payments) from the various Counts, the Emperor sits on a standard military issue folding camp stool. The chairs in his private offices are considerably more luxurious and comfortable.
In Cetaganda, we see that the Cetagandan emperor gets a much, much fancier version than Gregor does. Because Barrayaran Emperor's don't have a throne they have a camp stool
Cool Horse: Fat Ninny; the name stuck from some youthful misbehavior. He's also a bit funny looking, but Miles loves him anyway, because he's imperturbable and brilliantly trained.
Miles (to Ninny): If anyone asks, I'll tell them your name is Chieftain.
In Mirror Dance, Aral says the horse's name is "Ninny".
Mark:(thinking) You mean Fat Ninny. You edited it, ha!
Cool Starship: Oddly averted. The ships (Prince Serg, Triumph, etc...) are implied to be very cool (the mere mention of Barrayar's new flagship, the Prince Serg, has Miles practically salivating), but they are barely described in the narration. It is the people who ride in them that count, after all.
"In an involuntary sort of way," said Vorob'yev. "These Cetagandan political suicides can get awfully messy, when the principal won't cooperate."
"Thirty-two stab wounds in the back, worst case of suicide they ever saw?" murmured Ivan, clearly fascinated by the gossip.
"Exactly, my lord."
Corrupt Corporate Executive: Bruce Van Atta, the only character in Falling Free actually willing to kill a thousand genetically engineered children.
Creepy Souvenir : The Vorkosigans have a hoard of Cetagandan scalps collected by Piotr's followers. They can't be thrown away (it would be a gratuituous insult to the district population after all) and so they are kept in the attic. Miles muses that unless The Emperor needs a clever means to send a Take That to Cetaganda, they will have to stay there.
Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: IVAN. He can be perfectly competent if he chooses to be (probably best demonstrated at the climax of A Civil Campaign) and is fiercely loyal, but finds it... safer (both for himself and his family and friends), as a potential heir to the throne, if everyone thinks he's an idiot who poses no threat and who no one would ever want to come to power.
Crusading Widower: Piotr Vorkosigan becomes this after Mad Emperor Yuri sends a death squad to kill his wife, eldest son and young daughter, failing to kill his second son. Piotr then proceeds to kick off a two-year civil war to depose Yuri, succeeding by placing his old friend and protege on the campstool, and helping leading the Dismemberment of Yuri.
Culture Clash: When Miles visits a Quaddie space as Lord Auditor, he has to explain that "Emperor's Voice" does not really mean that Barrayarans think that the Emperor is talking out of Miles's mouth, but that it is simply the Barrayaran term for "plenipotentiary". Apparently the Barrayaran reputation for primitiveness spread even to Quaddie territory.
Cure Your Gays: Hilarious subversion in Ethan of Athos. Gay Ethan wants to ask Elli Quinn for a very personal favor after several shared adventures. She says she has heard it all, and tells him to go on. He wants her to donate an ovary to his planet, and that he wants to use it for his future sons. She is considerably nonplussed, a rarity for her.
Custom Uniform: Miles wore very expensively tailored custom uniforms, designed to conceal some of his physical deformities, while looking as much like standard issue uniforms as possible.
Cyborg Helmsman: Implants are Required by jump pilots. Anyone with the proper training can handle in-system sublight flight, but a jump pilot's neural implants can streamline control of a suitably equipped ship's systems.
The Cycle of Empires: The Time of Isolation was a phase 4. Dorca's and Ezar's reigns were a phase 1. Gregor's is a phase 2. The Aral regency is a bridge between 1 and 2.
Dances and Balls: Form a significant portion of the High Vor social scene and seem to be regular events at the Imperial Palace, what with State Dinners, Emperor's Birthday, Winterfair, etc.
Mark is a wizard at it since he is Miles with no social restraints. In A Civil Campaign, he takes a precise shot that leaves Miles' flabbergasted.
"Mm, I wouldn't dream of interfering." Mark made for the door. "Though I'm not at all sure I'd choose to structure my most intimate relationship as a war. Is she the enemy, then?"
His timing was perfect; Miles' feet had just come down and he was still sputtering just as Mark passed the door. Mark stuck his head back through the frame to add, "I hope her aim is just as good as Countess Vormuir's."
Last word: I win. Grinning, he exited.
Simon Illyan is also one of the best.
Mark: He was... acerb.
Miles: I'll bet. He does acerb better than anyone I know...
Byerly Vorrutyer can give any of them a run for the money.
Alexei: Good, that leaves one more Barrayaran woman for the rest of us.
Byerly: Well, that leaves one more for one of us; unless you are suggesting something delightfully outré.
In Cryoburn, Consul Vorlynkin has his moments:
Miles: My case budget allows for a lot of discretion, you know.
All the latent amusement which had parried Ivan's sallies till now was abruptly wiped from his cousin's face. His back straightened as much as it could, and he leaned forward, his hands gripping his chair arms. His voice dropped to an arctic pitch. "I will thank you, Lord Vorpatril, to take care not to repeat that slander. Ever."
Ivan's stomach lurched in surprise. He had seen Miles come the Lord Auditor a couple of times now, but never before at him. The freezing gray eyes suddenly had all the expression of a pair of gun barrels. Ivan opened his mouth, then closed it, more carefully. What the hell was going on here? And how did someone so short manage to project that much menace? Years of practice, Ivan supposed. And conditioning.
Death Is Cheap: Partially averted. In-universe, cryo-revival can be performed to save prematurely deceased people, but several factors are involved. Their blood has to be replaced with cryonic fluid, the injuries have to leave their head intact, they have to be frozen immediately, and if absolutely everything is done properly (and the prep for most combat casualties is done on the battlefield, usually while still under enemy fire, and by medics who may not be completely up to speed on the current best practice), there is a significant chance they can lose some or all of their memory and mental faculty. In one case, some poor guy ended up with periodic seizures that cost him his career.
Defenestrate and Berate: Inverted when, after Ekaterin coolly informs Tien that she is leaving him, his responding tantrum climaxes with him threatening to toss either her bonsaied skellytum or himself off the balcony of their fifth story flat. When she doesn't respond, he throws the plant over. Ekaterin's only reaction:
Ekaterin: You ass, Tien. You didn't even look to see if there was anyone below.
Played for laughs twice (first with a bucket of ice water, then with the empty bucket) when Pym recounts Count Vormuir's attempt to enforce his conjugal rights in the face of his wife's Lysistrata Gambit
Mark: "Did she hit him?"
Pym: "Yes, both times. I understand her aim is superior."
Delivery Guy: Subverted at Ivan's birth, as Bothari has some knowledge of midwifery. Good thing too, since Drou and Cordelia have no idea of what to do, and all Kou is good for is supplying a jacket.
Depraved Bisexual: Prince Serg and Ges Vorrutyer, who exacerbated and magnified their own independent psychosis.
Designer Babies: A common feature of the setting; Cetaganda takes this further than anyone else: their society, economy and political structure is built around making designer babies. Most of the galaxy uses uterine replicators, but Barrayar is just beginning to adopt them, along with genetic screening. While Miles got his mix of genes the old fashioned way, his kids are screened and canned in a uterine replicator. It is often mentioned that some form of fetal sex-selection treatment is available; its introduction to Barrayaran culture, where the Vor are all very keen on male heirs, has led to a rather pressing demographic problem by the time of the series; there simply are not enough eligible women on Barrayar. It is even worse in the High Vor social scene, where eligibility is much more narrowly defined.
The Koudelkas saw this coming and had four girls. All of them make advantageous alignments. Kareen joins the Vorkosigan clan, Delia marries Duv-a highly placed ImpSec man, Martya is with a genius scientist (a wealthy genius to boot, thanks to being one of Mark's projects), and Olivia becomes a countess.
The men of Athos also take uterine replicators to their logical extreme, with a Planet of Hats of men only. (Though, it can only go so far, as duplicated ovaries can only last so far before a fresh batch is needed.)
Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Played straight with Miles, but subverted with Mark after he states that his only purpose in life was to kill Miles and Aral, and now that Ser Galen was dead, he had no purpose anymore. Cordelia simply reassures him that almost no one has is born with a ready-made purpose in the first place, so he's in good company.
Miles. Other characters refer to him with nicknames such as "Miles the monomaniacal," and Ivan lampshades it when he mentions that he has never seen a barrier that Miles could not climb, or find a way around, or dig his way under, or just blow up with sapper charges.
Ivan: Demonstrably, even sniper fire couldn't stop the hyperactive little git.
Detective Mole: In Memory. Simon Illyan is poisoned by Lucas Haroche, one of his direct subordinates and effectively his second-in-command. He doesn't lead the investigation personally, but does decide who is on it, its scope, and who can contact Illyan.
In Ethan of Athos Elli Quinn spends a chapter disposing of a body.
Quinn: Have you ever given thought to the difficulty of getting rid of a body on a space station?
The subject comes up in Diplomatic Immunity. The body simply melted away into a formless goo, which they eventually find in a nondescript canister.
Distaff Counterpart: Tej, to Ivan. Extremely attractive but unambitious scions of very powerful families, who are tremendous disappointments to their highly-motivated mothers, especially in how many failed relationships (Ivan)/rejected marriage negotiations (Tej) they had had.
Drives Like Crazy: Ivan's none-to-subtle Take That against his overprotective mother. He's so blatant about it even his normally level-headed Aunt Cordelia wants to slap him sometimes. He also flies like crazy, "assuring" Tej that it's virtually impossible to kill yourself crashing a lightflyer in rather horrifyingly specific detail that implies he's speaking from personal experience.
Count Aral during his self-destructive periods. Ivan recalls that Aral taught him to fly by demonstrating maneuvers that made his hardened Impsec guards scream in terror.
Barrayarans believe in making burned offerings to the dead, a trait the Cetagandans seem to share, at least for Empress Lisbet's cremation, in which functionaries brought priceless artifacts to be burned with her.
The ending of Shards of Honor.
The ending of Cryoburn. Emperor Gregor Vorbarra insists on being a pallbearer at Aral Vorkosigan's funeral. "The man has carried me since I was five years old. It's my turn."
Fourteen languages were handled by nineteen different brands of auto-translators, several of which, Miles decided, must have been purchased at close-out prices from makers going deservedly belly-up. [...] The fourth iteration of ["Ask Sealer Greenlaw"] was finally met with a heartrending wail, in chorus, from the back of the room of, "But Greenlaw said to ask you!", except for the translation device that came up a beat later with, "Lawn rule sea-hunter inquiring altitude unit!"
That's actually a subversion, as the last one translates out to '[green] [law] [sealer] [ask] [miles]', which actually is a translation of what was said... sort of.
Leo Graf in Falling Free: At first he wonders what he can do, as just an engineer, to save the quaddies from their plight, but then he realizes that it is an engineering problem, and that he is just the engineer to solve it.
Lord Auditor Professor Georg Vorthys, Professor Emeritus of Engineering Failure Analysis at Vorbarr Sultana University and generally regarded as the Empire's authority on the subject.
Epiphanic Prison: According to Miles, this is what the Cetagandans were trying to create with their Dagoola IV prison camp in "The Borders of Infinity":
"It's the Cetagandans' plan to break you, and then return you to your world like little innoculated infections, counseling surrender to your people.
"When this is killed," [Miles] touched her forehead, oh so lightly, "then the Cetagandans have nothing more to fear from this," one finger on her bicep, "and you will all go free. To a world whose horizon will encircle you just like this dome, and just as inescapably."
Escape Pod: "Bod pods" feature in a couple of the stories. They are inflatable, single person, idiot proof life support modules for use by untrained personel in an emergency. Miles really dislikes them, because once you're stuffed inside one, you're stuck waiting helplessly for someone else to come rescue you.
Eureka Moment: After the Bribe Backfire clues him in on who was responsible for Illyan's chip sabotage in Memory, Miles has the considerably more difficult task of proving it, since nearly all of the evidence is under the direct control of the perpetrator. After going on a mental sidetrip about What You Are In A Wing Chair In A Small Upstairs Room, Miles ruminates over how all he has to work with is mirrors and smoke ... which points him at the ImpSec HQ air filtration system.
Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Oki, one of NewEgypt's goons responsible for two deaths and three kidnappings/cryofreezings, explained his actions and continued employment with NewEgypt by pointing out that he has a family.
Even Evil Has Standards: In The Vor Game Oser, a rival of Miles, is surprised that to find that General Metzov had been cashiered from the Barrayaran service for brutality.
Oser: That must have taken some doing.
In Brothers in Arms, when reminded that on Jackson's Whole a clone would be the property of the one who commissioned it, Miles remarks "Even on Barrayar, no human being may own another."
Keeping "the deal" seems to be almost the only moral standard Jackson's Whole has.
Equally short but gorgeous vamp Cavilo in The Vor Game is this towards Miles, sharing his talent for clever scheming, but not giving a damn about others — Miles is the Guile Hero to her Manipulative Bastard.
In a way, although he is never per se evil, Mark also fits this in respect to Miles. Instead of having birth defects like Miles did, he was born handsome, but cruelly and painfully re-formed so that he could impersonate Miles. While Miles had a relatively benevolent "Well Done, Son!" Guy in his grandfather, Mark was raised by the physically and mentally abusive and insane Galen. The end result is someone who is brilliant in an unrestrained way just like Miles, but is much less friendly, and his unrestrained behavior can border on the questionably sane. Not that Miles is exactly a picture of perfect mental health. Lampshaded by Miles:
Miles: You see, some people have an Evil Twin. I am not so lucky. What I have is an idiot twin.
Evil Is Not Pacifist: The Komarran engineers are pleasant, non-violent intellectuals who are very distressed when they inadvertently cause the death of a colleague and the other deaths they cause in Komarr are similarly accidental. However, in a bit of overlap with A Million Is a Statistic, they are oblivious that their plans would entail bringing death and hardship to millions of people.
Aral can be a little slack about safety margins at times. e.g. Shards of Honor:
You'll make it in five days, boosting six points past emergency max the whole way. If the engineer's been doing his job, the engines won't blow until you hit eight. Quite safe.
This is a way that Barrayarans use to turn stunners and plasma arcs, or more specifically the high-density power cells that serve as their magazines, into jury-rigged bombs. One never knows quite how long the "fuse" is, making this a tricky maneuver at best, not suited to use in active combat as a supply of extra grenades, but great for fishing.
The Warrior's Apprentice: Sergeant Bothari going through Beta Colony customs. The custom's officer is very familiar with Bothari because he can never not try to get some weapon through customs.
Brothers In Arms: Quinn, at the Barrayaran Embassy. They treat her bodyguard status as a joke (thinking she is just Miles' mistress with an excuse to always be with him), until she pulls out every firearm known to man, including a few they did not expect. Miles enjoys every moment.
In Brothers in Arms, Miles considers trying to escape via this trope — claiming that he is the clone and that the real Miles somehow got free and tied him up — but quickly realizes that he has several days' worth of stubble and the clone does not, so it is not practical.
Played straight with the Duronas in Mirror Dance.
Family Honor: What pledging one's word as Vorkosigan (or Vorwhatever) means. This is done often as a binding oath, and breaking it has serious consequences for the family reputation.
Fantastic Caste System: The Cetagandans. There's the Emperor, the cultured haut lords, the ghem warrior aristocracy, the genderless ba who serve the haut, and the common man. Add a strict, caste-like gender divide that (on the surface) looks like a traditional patriarchy and constant genetic tinkering, and you get the complex system that drives the plot of Cetaganda.
Fantastic Honorifics: The "Vor" prefix is used to denote the military caste. The word itself is Russian for "thief," which Bujold did not know when originally writing the series, but she has since included many linguistic jokes once she was told by a Russian fan.
Fantastic Naming Convention: In Barrayar, aristocrats have a "Vor-" syllable in front of their last name so that Vorkosigan means "Sir" Kosigan, etc. The Cetagandan warrior caste does the same only using the syllable, "Ghem".
Barrayaran prejudice against mutants, which tends to include genetically engineered people such as hermaphrodites, quaddies, and Sergeant Taura. This is a problem for Miles, even though his deformities are (as he hastens to assure you) teratogenic, not genetic. In some backwoods communities, infanticide is still committed over "defects" as minor as a harelip, and the traditional engagement ceremony includes the bride's family giving the groom a knife as proof of her genetic purity. Carries over even into their fairy tales, where evil mutants are generally the villain. "Mutant" is, effectively, the Barrayaran word for "bogeyman."
Cetagandans look down on other humans as primitive barbarians, barely one step removed from animals.
Galactics sometimes look down on Baryarans for getting their milk and meat from real animals instead of replicaters and giving birth from real instead of artificial wombs.
Cetaganda for Heian-era Japan (most prominent in Cetaganda). Complete with separate court aristocracy and military aristocracy social classes, court dresses made of an amazing amount of layers (and incredibly long hairstyles that are never cut to match), incense-scenting contests, recitals of short poems and a power shield version of the Heian court ladies' ox-drawn carriages.
Barrayar has cultural elements of Russia (complete with Baba Yaga folktale), and Kibou-daini is heavily reminiscent of Japan (Including Japanese honorifics), but this is because their ancestors were actual Russians and actual Japanese.
The Barrayaran Vor resemble the Japanese Samurai, complete with the sole right to own "the two swords".
In Cryoburn, Cordelia refuses to put Aral in cryostasis because he died via a brain aneurysm. He would have been revived with serious brain damage, and considering what happened to Dubauer in Cordelia's Honor (shot by a nerve disruptor in the head), she has ample reason not to subject Aral to that. She also believes that reviving him, with his memories intact, would be just as bad a fate for him.
A Father to His Men: Aral's command style strongly emphasizes this. Miles tries to emulate it with the Dendarii, but his need to slip in and out of his Admiral Naismith persona tends to come across as "Slightly crazy, but very cool uncle" instead.
Feudal Future: Barrayar was isolated from the rest of the galaxy early in its colonization and terraforming when the wormhole leading there collapsed; when a new one was found several centuries later Barrayar had turned to a feudal society just to survive, and has carried it out into the stars.
Finger Poke of Doom: Miles demonstrates the power of a single finger to Super Soldier Taura, by having her use just one finger to manipulate the temperature control on Baron Ryoval's high-security freezers — the heart of his biotech empire. They go from "deep freeze" to "sterilize for cleaning"....
Miles: And the lesson is, it's not how much force you use. It's where you apply it.
Foreshadowing: In Mirror Dance Miles bitterly notes to himself that given his accomplishments, he's long overdue for promotion to Captain. Later in the book Mark is told that since the last two heads of ImpSec have been Captains (Negri because he didn't need higher rank to demonstrate how important he was, Ilyan because he didn't want to promote himself above Negri), the next one was likely to be stuck at Captain forever for the sake of tradition.note Fortunately for his successors, the next chief is already a General when he's appointed to replace Illyan, as is his replacement. In Memory, it gets revealed that Ilyan was grooming Miles to be his successor up until the incident which forced him to fire Miles.
In Cetaganda, Miles remarks he'll wear his newly acquired Cetagandan Order of Merit when he wants to really be obnoxious. Guess what he does when he goes to Gregor to get himself nominated as a temporarily Imperial Auditor in 'Mirror Dance'' (not to mention intimidate Harouche as well)?
Cavilo predicts that in 20 years Miles will end up like her; alone, bitter, selfish, without loved ones. She was only right in that he was still short, just like she was. He does get fired from ImpSec in Memory because he was selfishly trying to cover his mistakes, but shortly ends up with an arguably even more important position. He has plenty of close friends and relations, if you count the Dendarii is admired by thousands of people, and has public honors from both the Cetagendan and Barryaran Empires, along with at least two other nations he's saved in his Admiral Naismith persona.
Aral and Cordelia have not had even one date when Aral proposes, approximately five days into their acquaintance. Aral states he fell in love with her when she buried her dead compatriot, which was roughly thirty minutes after meeting him. Cordelia states that Aral finally found his perfect match: a soldier who just happened to be female.
Ivan and Tej had known each other for less than 3 days when they got married.
Free-Love Future: Beta Colony. Also Jackson's Whole, at least inasmuch as you can basically get anything you want as long as you have enough money to pay for it. House Bharaputra offers to clone a client's deceased wife and even program the clone's personality to their liking (i.e. a Type B Stepford Smiler). Barrayarans are an aversion, as their social mores are rather old-fashioned by the standards of most of the Nexus.
Fridge Horror/Fridge Brilliance: Used frequently as plot devices as characters often achieve true understanding belatedly or through hindsight. Often inflicted on the readers as well.
Miles, Rene, Dono, and even Ivan make a virtuous circle out of it in Campaign
Frontline General: Due to the nature of the contracts he brings the Dendarii, Miles spends considerably more time in the line of fire than most fleet commanders. This practice comes to bite him hard in Mirror Dance.
The Gadfly: Byerly Vorrutyer is seen by most people as a gadfly who never saw a foul rumor or vicious innuendo he didn't want to spread. There's actually a bit more to him than that, and there's a method to his madness, but most see him as an particularly annoying "town clown".
Played quite seriously in A Civil Campaign. Lady Donna Vorrutyer's only recourse to keep her cousin Richars from inheriting Vorrutyer District and running it into the ground is to take a trip to Beta Colony and come back as Lord Dono.
In the same novel, Dono mentions that it's not unusual for some Betans to have changed their sex more than a few times. He states personally he's never going back.
Gender Rarity Value: While the rest of Barrayar was using galactic reproductive technology to favor boys because of their patriarchal, warrior-obssessed society, the Koudelkas intentionally took Cordelia's advice and went the other way because girls would have Gender Rarity Value in the future. By the time of the Miles-centered storylines the number of available, socially-acceptable women plummets due to the imbalance and Vor men begin to resort to desperate, sometimes questionable acts in order to secure the affections of whichever Vor women happen to become available.
Miles, in a rare sympathetic way - he grows out of it in Memory.
Prince Serg, which is his downfall.
The Good Chancellor: Miles's father Aral, who serves Gregor as his regent for fifteen years during his childhood, when all of his enemies thought he would make a bid for the throne. He continues in the same role for almost another fifteen years as Prime Minister.
In The Vor Game, after being interrogated separately by Cavilo and Metzov, Miles wonders if they had set up a classic "good-guy/bad-guy" interrogation tag team, but got their signals crossed and both of them thought that they were supposed to play the bad guy. Later, Miles and Gregor pull the same routine on Cavilo, with Gregor as good guy and Miles as bad guy.
In Cryoburn, Miles notes that Mark and Kareen make a very good good cop/bad cop team, but also hastens to remind himself that not all the bad cop ideas come from Mark, and not all the good cop ideas come from Kareen.
Gosh Dang It to Heck!: In Komarr, Miles teases Ekaterin for her G-rated vocabulary. Later in the novel, circumstances are so bad she still does not bother to swear, feeling that all other words were just as inadequate. See Precision F-Strike for when she finally does.
Lady Alys Vorpatril, chief social mover and shaker of Vorbarr Sultana, is a rare sympathetic version.
Haut ladies all fall under this category as well. But the haut include enduring beauty in their genetic engineering, so if you see one outside her "force-bubble," you will likely notice she is rather sexier than your classic Grande Dame. Miles once used the term "edibly feminine."
Ekaterin is clearly a Grande Dame understudy, with her poise, beauty, breeding and recently acquired social position.
Cordelia is a Grande Dame modified who can play the vorwoman well enough when put to it, but really has a more detached perspective and thinks the whole thing is rather silly. She is however a fearsome woman with a powerful personality.
Gray Eyes: Cordelia and Miles (and, perforce, Mark). Miles' eyes remind Count Vorhalas of his mother, which influences him to spare his life in The Warrior's Apprentice. Miles later uses them effectively for his Death Glare, as seen in the example above.
Great Escape: Miles is given the job of freeing one POW and, in typical Miles fashion, winds up breaking out ten thousand of them. Admittedly one of the reasons he rewrites the mission this way is because his initial target rescuee was broken and on his deathbed, and would not have satisfied the goal of the operation. Years later, the Marilacans make a holovid drama called The Greatest Escape, and try to hire Admiral Naismith as technical consultant.
The Greatest Story Never Told: All ImpSec agents have to accept that no matter how heroic they may be, the rest of Barrayar will never learn of it. The best case in point is the Yarrow Incident, in which an extremist Count tried to assassinate Emperor Gregor with a freighter named the Yarrow. Lucas Haroche almost singlehandedly derailed the plot, but no one outside of ImpSec knows of the attempt. This secrecy is a source of frustration for Miles, and he is glad to be rid of it by the time he is an Imperial Auditor, though as an Auditor his major accomplishments will likely be even more secret. Even ImpSec only gets told about them if the Emperor wants them to be told. Despite that, Miles gets the fame and awe that comes with the role of Auditor itself.
In Shards of Honor, this is combined with Sudden Principled Stand when Sergeant Bothari refuses to rape Cordelia as per Admiral Vorrutyer's orders.
"She's Commodore Vorkosigan's prisoner. Sir."
Ekaterin in Komarr and A Civil Campaign, though it is probably better to say that she found and nurtured the spine, rather than grew it.
Grey and Gray Morality: While there are a few completely evil people to fight, most of the stories tend to fall in this category, with the protagonists displaying A Lighter Shade Of Gray. Lampshaded at the end of Brothers in Arms.
"At least this should be simpler than our late vacation on Earth," [Miles] said hopefully. "A purely military operation, no relatives, no politics, no high finance. Straight-up good guys and bad guys."
"Great," said Quinn. "Which are we?"
Miles was still thinking about the answer to that one when the fleet broke orbit.
Cordelia accidentally kicks the Betan President in the groin once. "I didn't vote for him..."
After Lord Dono (formerly Lady Donna) takes a shot to the pills for the first time, he is absolutely astonished at how much it hurts.
Dono: Ivan... do you remember, whenever one of you fellows got kicked in the nuts and went over, doing sports or whatever, how I laughed? I'm sorry. I never knew. I'm sorry...
The Grovel: Miles offered Ekaterin her dream job just to keep her close to him. When she learns the truth, she storms out of Vorkosigan House and he sets out to write the best damn apology letter ever, sealed in his own blood. Nothing like a determinator bent on groveling better than anyone else has ever groveled.
[Miles] went back inside Vorkosigan House to his study, where he sat himself down to attempt, through a dozen drafts, the best damned abject anybody'd ever seen.
A by-the-book example in The Vor Game with the huge brand-new capital ship of the Barrayaran Imperial Navy coming in all guns blazing to save the day.
A smaller scale one in "Labyrinth", as a car chase between a van full of Dendarii and two Ryoval security cars is ended by the arrival of a Dendarii drop shuttle.
Handicapped Badass: Miles, natch. Also applies somewhat to his clone-brother Mark, and both are amply lampshaded.
Handsome Lech: Ivan. Possibly even a Casanova. One scene in Cetaganda suggests he is a Miles-level genius when it comes to seductions. On the other hand these affairs are good-natured and rarely end up in a painful break-up, so he is probably more of a Chivalrous Pervert. In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance he attributes his successes to statistics — that even if you strike out 9 out of 10 times, then any pool of 10 or more candidates still had a guaranteed success for a date.
Referenced in Miles' thoughts in Memory when Gregor takes Laisa riding for the first time in her life. Since she is extremely "luscious" looking, Miles thinks that he would not hold it against Gregor if he used the opportunity to cop a feel while helping her on to the horse.
Gregor's handling of Cavilo in The Vor Game when he let her "seduce" him.
Miles: You realize, Gregor, you did this? Sabotaged the Cetagandan invasion singlehandedly?
Aral's parents prior to his mother's unfortunate untimely death.
Cordelia and Aral. For, like, ever.
Kou and Drou.
Professor and Professora Vorthys for even longer than Aral and Cordelia.
Gregor and Laisa.
Miles and Ekaterin.
Elena Bothari-Jesek and Bazil Jesek
Baron Shiv and Baronne Udine. Jacksonian pirate and half-ghem half-haut lady; who'da thunk?
Harmless Freezing: Notably averted. Soldiers who need better medical care than can be provided (such as after getting a huge hole blown into their chest) are routinely frozen so they can be transported to a medical facility. The required preparation includes replacing their blood with a special liquid. If anything goes wrong with that, it can lead to tissue damage, which can leave you a vegetable if it affects the brain. Even if everything goes right, more people than not suffer some amnesia. Miles himself ends up with a (first-)career-ending seizure disorder after undergoing the process.
Heir Club for Men: Gregor really needs a male heir. And as of Cryoburn, he has multiple children, though none of them have appeared in the story or been mentioned by name.
Hello, Nurse!: Elli Quinn's effect on men after undergoing plastic surgery. Well, not Ethan Urqhart.
Hermaphrodite: Bel Thorne, who is one of a whole manufactured gender from Beta Colony intended to replace the bimorphic human species. However, humans stubbornly retained the two sexes. Hermaphrodites by the time of the series have a population large enough to sustain on their own, existing as a subcuture within the larger Beta society. They can reproduce with non-hermaphrodites, but this requires the aide of artifical techniques and a deliberate selection of if the child will be male, female, or a hermaphrodite.
Heroes Gone Fishing: Miles takes Ilyan fishing as part of his convalescence in Memory. They end up cheating with a stunner.
He Who Fights Monsters: Galen is a very evil example of this, so obsessed with a conception of a demonically evil Aral Vorkosigan that he ends up acting exactly like that.
Higher Understanding Through Drugs: In Komarr, a scientist is questioned under "Fast Penta", a kind of truth serum, and discovers it helps her think outside the box in order to figure out a complex scientific mystery.. After being cleared of the charges against her she asks if she could try Fast Penta again in order to help her creativity.
Cryogenics is a mature technology, often used to freeze combat casualties until they can reach the high grade medical facilities needed to repair them. Miles himself spends much of Mirror Dance frozen.
The planet Kibou-daini, in the novel Cryoburn, has its entire culture and economy revolving around the cryogenic storage of people.
Humiliation Conga: Richars is just utterly dismantled at the climax of A Civil Campaign. By his erstwhile supporters, no less.
I Gave My Word: Barrayarans in general, and old school Vor in particular, are rather big on this.
This is about the only moral code Jacksonians seem to have. Breaking a Deal is worse than murder. Bending The Deal into impressive origami shapes, well, that's just shrewd business practice.
I Have This Friend: In Shards of Honor, Aral and Cordelia exchange their rather depressing romantic histories this way. Neither is fooled for a moment, but both respect the other's deep need for the emotional distance.
I Know You Know I Know: Ivan imagines this going on between Simon and Tej's father and gives up trying to work out the permutations after developing a headache.
Mild case with Simon after his retirement. Alys convinces him to go from cheap boring conservative suits to expensive well-tailored boring conservative suits.
In the short story Winterfair Gifts, Miles commissions his Aunt Alys to improve his ex-girlfriend Taura's appalling fashion sense. This has the double effect of making Taura more presentable for the wedding and keeps Alys busy enough that she isn't able to participate in the wedding planning.
Alys Vorpatril, while pregnant with the baby Ivan Vorpatril, is stranded in besieged city held by a pretender desperately looking for distinguished hostages like Alys.
Alys is also implied to be in danger of dying in childbirth - Ivan is a big boy, and the labour has already been going on for several days by the time Padme goes to try to get a doctor to her.
Cordelia is attacked with a poisonous gas while pregnant. The aftereffects of the treatment that saved her life drive most of Miles' life, as he was dwarfed and crippled by the effects.
Immediate Self-Contradiction: When Ethan of Athos is preparing for his trip off-world to get the ovarian cultures his people need to continue to reproduce, the council calls him in and gives him a list of instructions on how to conduct himself. Half of the instructions contradict the other half. Fortunately his boss visits him after the meeting, throws out his notes, and gives him a simpler set: Get the cultures and return. Nothing else matters.
Impossible Task: In A Civil Campaign, Simon Illyan advises Ekaterin not to try this on Miles. "Do you know all those old folk tales where the count tries to get rid of his only daughter's unsuitable suitor by giving him three impossible tasks?" "Yes..." "Don't ever try that on Miles. Just ... don't."
Quite a common circumstance on Barrayar, especially after Lord Regent/Prime Minister Vorkosigan's social and economic reforms. Byerly Vorrutyer is "notoriously without visible means of support." Though we discover in A Civil Campaign one source of his income.
Ghem-lord Yenaro is a Cetagandan example.
Ivan: Is this what they call genteel poverty?
Count Vorfolse is the descendant of a family which for the last several generations backed the losing side of every war, civil war, and rebellion. Consequently, while the effective Head of State of a small country, his official residence is a small apartment with "Vorfolse House" on the door. In context, it is extremely pathetic, and members of another Vor's entourage explain that, if they lived in Vorfolse District, they wouldn't mind being financially exploited if it meant their Count would put on a better showing.
Ekaterin is an unusual female example, as a Vor widow left destitute after her husband's death.
Barrayaran military issue Emergency Rations, according to Aral in Shards of Honor, can go for years without spoiling... and probably have already.
During their second encounter in The Vor Game, Cavilo provides Miles with a commercially available field ration bar that "...proved even more repellent than the Barrayaran Imperial version, resembling a rawhide dog chew. Wetted with spit, it softened slightly, enough to tear off gummy shreds if your teeth were in good health."
Cavilo: You've been fed the same as my troops.
Miles (displaying a ragged half-gnawed breakfast chew): Can't be. They'd have mutinied by now.
Cavilo (frowning sympathetically): Oh dear. Those. I thought they'd been condemned. How did they end up here? Someone must be economizing.
Insane Admiral: Ges Vorrutyer is a literal example. There are more than a few crazy generals in the Barrayaran combined services too, such as Stanis Metzov. Admiral Naismith also qualifies, but he's Crazy Awesome rather than Crazy Evil.
Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Earth is a strategic backwater, as an isolated cul-de-sac in the wormhole nexus, but it is still diplomatically and culturally significant:
But Earth still reigned, if it did not rule, culturally supreme. More war-scarred than Barrayar, as technically advanced as Beta Colony, the end-point of all pilgrimages both religious and secular.
Insistent Terminology: The Vor are a "warrior caste," not aristocrats, and Miles would like you to keep that in mind.
Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja: Mina thinks the black-clad arsonists are ninjas, and her opinion of (potential stepfather) Vorlynkin goes way up when he fights them off.
Instructional Film: Miles' boredom during his quasi-exile to ImpSec HQ following the Fetaine spill at Camp Permafrost drives him to start watching every training vid in the military library . . . in strict alphabetical order. One film on the list (Filed under H for Hygiene) was for training recruits from the remote rural areas of Barrayar how to take a shower.
Dr. Vaagen in Barrayar. Cordelia loves him for it; his dark humour and high-handed attitude instantly confirms for her that this is a man who will go to any lengths in order to succeed at his task.
Dr. Canaba in "Labyrinth", Memory, and Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. Miles reflects that one day, should Canaba's genius run short, he will be astonished to discover how much opprobrium his attitude has brought him... but for the foreseeable future, he will continue to make everyone around him grind their teeth in frustration, and then do exactly what the Doctor ordered.
One of the ways Roic puts his foot in it while talking to Taura in "Winterfair Gifts"; he winds up an account of the Butter-Bug Incident with a comment about exterminating the grotesque genetically-engineered monsters — having temporarily forgotten that his audience identifies herself as a grotesque genetically-engineered monster.
In Cetaganda, Ivan makes an off-handed remark about mutations, insulting Miles. He realizes this by blushing, and Miles tells him through clenched teeth, "Try not to start any wars down there" and mentally adds, "Civil and otherwise".
In Barrayar, Cordelia interrupts Kou when he is about to slit his throat with the sword she had acquired for him. He tries to pretend that he was not serious about it.
Part of Miles' backstory is an attempted suicide when he was fifteen that was interrupted by Sergeant Bothari.
In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan prevents Tej and Rish from leaping to their deaths off his 20th-floor balcony by offering Tej a Citizenship Marriage as another way out. Played with in that the suicides were to prevent capture and fast-penta interrogation rather than due to depression.
Ironic Echo: Aral's first wife committed suicide by plasma arc and burned her face off. Miles' first girlfriend, Elli Quinn, had her face burned off by plasma fire and was replaced with enhanced beauty.
When Miles gives his grandmother's old saddle to Ekaterin.
Duv Galeni, speaking as a trained historian, has this opinion of everything in the Vorkosigan House attic. He can apparently rant for hours about the fact that Miles has yet to document all the historically significant junk up there.
Duv gets this again when Ivan tells him exactly what's in the Cetagandan bunker underneath ImpSec headquarters. He promptly gets a research team from the local university to retrieve all the historically significant documents and artifacts in the bunker and sets up teams of analysts to work out which bits need to be classified and which can be used to rewrite the history books on the Cetagandan Occupation. He then sends some people to question Ivan's grandmother-in-law, the widow of a Cetagandan general at the end of the Occupation, for further information about that time period.
In Falling Free, Madam Minchenko has a valuable old violin that she used to keep in a climate controlled vault until she realized that musical instruments are meant to be played.
"It" Is Dehumanizing: Both the genderless Cetagandan ba and at least some of the Betan hermaphrodites actually prefer the term it, although for drastically different reasons. Bel Thorne prefers it because Beta Colony is so amazingly egalitarian that they can use that pronoun without being dehumanizing, while most people Bel encounters are put off-guard. The Cetagandan haut females call the ba slaves and use them as genetic experiment testbeds, which seems like a straighter use of the trope — until we find that the haut use everyone, themselves included, as such, and that the ba are as much siblings as slaves.
Just Following Orders: Subverted. During the years he served as Gregor's Regent and later Prime Minister, Aral himself personally gave a lecture to last year students in Barrayar's military academy about what to do when given an illegal order.
Karmic Death: Tien suffocates to death horribly when his mask runs out of oxygen. He was shown earlier in the book yelling at his wife for telling him to check on his oxygen reserves.
Keep It Foreign: Russian translation, big time. In the original, Russophone influence pops out at every corner, starting with Piotr Vorkosigan, Yuri, Ludmilla Koudelka and ending with... well, the list would be too long to even contemplate. It got almost completely wiped out in translation. Ekaterin, for example, became Katriona. Damn, they even managed to disguise Ivan... as Ivan. Using the fact that it's also a popular Scottish name, they've changed the pronunciation from Russian "Иван" (pronounced "Ee-`van") to British "Айвен" (pronounced "`Ai-ven"). The "fool-hero" reference was lost in process. That probably was because there wasn't much market for "nativist" SF in early '90s Russia, and everything foreign sold better.
Kicking Ass in All Her Finery: Olivia Koudelka demonstrates that Drou — former personal bodyguard to the Emperor — was passing more than just tips on baking cakes to her daughters as they grew up. Dressed in an evening gown, she responds to a attempted assault on a member of her party by first taking out one mook in hand-to-hand combat, then using a captured stunner to incapacitate two more. All in a matter of minutes in a crowded, poorly-lit parking garage.
Killing For A Tissue Sample: Averted in "Labyrinth", where Miles is sent on a mission to retrieve a sample stored in the muscle of a genetically engineered super-soldier. He's given a lethal injection for the super-soldier, but it's unrelated to fetching the sample. Rather, the scientist believes that Miles won't help rescue the said super-soldier and death is more merciful than what she faces.
Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand: How Aral deals with one mutineer. Undercut by his admitting he did not know if it would work or not — he was just so tired that he needed a moment to sit down.
Aral: We're talking about a man who can make even his own death serve his political purposes, remember? And if there's some way to govern Barrayar from beyond the grave, you can bet he's figured it out.
Knife Nut: Bothari. Piotr even introduces Bothari to Kly by telling him Bothari is "good at throats."
Knight Errant: Cordelia diagnoses Miles as thinking of himself like this. After a while, Mark is forced to agree.
Lady of War: Based on her exploits up to and including the Shopping Trip, Cordelia qualifies, but would be appalled at being so named.
The Leader: Of the characters whose leadership styles we get a good look at:
Aral: Type II (Levelheaded) with strong elements of type IV (Charismatic).
Cordelia: Type II.
Miles: Type I (Mastermind) and Type IV in roughly equal measure. Early in his career, he had Type III (Headstrong) tendencies, but grew out of it as he gained (often painful) experience. An odd part of Miles' charisma (in his Naismith persona) is the notion that he will always think of a way for an otherwise outmatched force to not just win, but win resoundingly, so his Type I feeds the Type IV.
Simon Illyan: Type I and Type II.
Gregor: Type II and Type IV. Given who was his Regent and who guided his early education, this is hardly surprising.
Ekaterin compares Tien's friendless state with Miles's many and interesting friends.
A pivotal point in Mirror Dance occurs when Mark, who has been trying — and failing — to be Miles all on his own, and is definitely well on his way to being a freak, finally figures out that not even Miles tries to be Miles on his own; he gets his friends to help. Or, if they don't want to help, he dragoons them into doing it anyway.
There's a common rumour that Beta Colony has one which it's not sharing with any other planets. It's not true, but Miles takes advantage of the rumour to explain how Admiral Naismith looks so young for his rank and presumed experience.
Mark is financing the Durona Group's research into developing one, as part of his campaign against the Jackson Whole clone trade. As of Cryoburn they are beginning to start human trials on a treatment that will revert someone from "old aged" to "middle aged."
In "The Borders of Infinity", the Cetagandan Empire exploits loopholes in the "Interstellar Judiciary Commission" rules regarding treatment of prisoners:
So many square meters per inmate? An opaque, luminous force shield encloses that much open ground and field latrines.
No periods of darkness for over twelve hours? No darkness at all, ever.
Water? Everyone gets a cup along with their clothes and a bedroll (the taps by the latrines work most of the time).
Access to medical personnel? Plenty of medics mixed in with the general population, but the rules mention nothing about medicines or equipment.
Food? A pile of IJC-compliant ration bars (one per inmate) appears at a random location on the camp perimeter twice per day. Each bar will provide half of the daily requirement of calories, protein and nutrients. And there's nothing in the guidelines about distribution, either — let the prisoners distribute it themselves.
No forced labor? Nothing to do at all.
No solitary confinement for more than 24 hours? <insert bitter laughter here>
No beatings or rapes by guards? No guards....
The legendary 2,000 chefs of Lord Vorloupulous were an attempt to pull this off against Emperor Dorca Vorbarra's decree that each Vor house could only have 20 sworn armsmen. It did not work.
Lost Colony: The planet of Barrayar, which was rediscovered only eighty years prior to the start of the main series timeline.
Love at First Sight: Aral considered marrying Cordelia from the moment he first met her, and cemented his decision after about two or three hours of knowing her. (Bear in mind that, during this time, he watched her throwing up in the mud and helped her to dig a grave.) He calls this love at first sight. Cordelia, as a Betan born-and-raised citizen, and also a woman in uniform, calls it his sub-conscious recognising a solution to all his sexual problems.
Love Cannot Overcome: Ellie Quinn loves Miles but is horrified by the thought of becoming Lady Vorkosigan. This becomes a recurring theme for his love interests, and Miles eventually jests (with more than a little truth behind the jest) that he has given up on trying to get a women to follow him to Barrayar, and has now decided to find a woman who already loves Barrayar and focus on getting her to love him.
Love Makes You Crazy. Miles, in a big way. The things he did to try to win Elena's hand, and then Ekaterin. From a certain point of view, Miles creates the whole vast edifice of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet just so that Elena can fulfill her longing to be a soldier — or, in a different sense of love, to prove his worth to his father.
Ethan: God the Father, the Population Council will think I was depraved enough to make love to a woman in a flex tube!
Elli: Gods forbid that Admiral Naismith would think I was stupid enough to make love to anything in a flex tube!
Malicious Slander. Several cases, including Aral Vorkosigan's first marriage, and Miles when he was accused of killing Ekaterin's husband Tien. Aral gave Miles a salient piece of advice regarding reputation and honor:
Aral: Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.
Meaningful Name: Miles means soldier (Per comments from the author, the name was picked at random and just worked out); Ivan is the stereotypical fool-hero in Russian folklore, their Jack equivalent.
"Barrayar" means the planet is named for/ruled by the Vorbarra family, much as Sergyar was named in honor of Prince Serg. The Vor prefix indicates one is a noble ("warrior caste," Miles would say) and apparently means "thief" in Russian — a happy coincidence for Bujold, since she had already described the first Vor as being the early emperors' tax collectors and enforcers, and given civilian attitudes toward such...
Miles' name was supposed to be Piotr Miles Vorkosigan, named after his paternal and maternal grandfathers. When Count Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan disowns him (after trying to kill the infant), Cordelia renames him Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, solely after her father.
The dropping of "Provisional" from the Dendarii Free Mercenaries.
Miles giving Taura her name on their first meeting.
Mega Corp.: GalacTech is prominent in Falling Free and is still in business as of the latest book. Maker of, among other things, ships, living furs, and fungoid tunnel borers. It's not portrayed as inherently evil, though the initial classification of quaddies as "experimental tissue cultures" — and never getting around to reclassifying them as children — leads to trouble when the Cay Project goes from being an asset to a liability.
It is noteworthy that GalacTech was introduced primarily as a construction company, building large space stations, etc, with bioengineering as a sideline that many in the corporation's upper echelons would have preferred to drop. By Miles' time, the only branch of the company that ever gets menitioned is GalacTech Bioengineering.
Men Don't Cry: Mirror Dance. Ivan after hearing about Miles' death. Mark notices his tears, but says nothing about them.
Mental Fusion: Wormhole-jump pilots have implants that let them neurally link with their ships. It affects them similar to LSD, in which they can transform into colors and taste sounds.
Merchant Prince: The system of Jackson's Whole is run by a set of corrupt merchant princes, including Baron Ryoval, Baron Bharaputra and Baron Fell. (The title is honorary.) The only reason they're not considered criminals is that they have all the power, and no other system can enforce its rules on Jackson's Whole.
The Toscanes of Komarr are a more respectable version.
This is a talent that the entire Vorkosigan clan seems to have. In The Warrior's Apprentice Miles starts out with an about to be junked spaceship, with an alcoholic washed up pilot and a cowardly deserter of an engineer; uses them to capture a bunch of total screw-up mercenaries and and turns them all into a crack special-ops team by sheer force of will and making them believe that they can do it. As the former alcoholic washed up pilot says:
"Your forward momentum is going to lead all your followers over a cliff someday." He paused, beginning to grin. "On the way down, you'll convince 'em all they can fly." He stuck his fists in his armpits, and waggled his elbows. "Lead on, my lord. I'm flapping as hard as I can."
Brother Miles uplifts 10,000 naked prisoners of war, bringing them bodily into the high places of the air.
Explicitly referenced in The Warrior's Apprentice:
Elena: "They asked me to come. You haven't been letting anyone else in, remember? They've been pestering me for days. They act like a bunch of ancient Christians asking the Virgin Mary to intercede with God."
Miles: "No, only with Jesus. God is back on Barrayar."
Leo Graf in Falling Free, after he realizes the quaddies could be saved by clever engineering:
The solution had been lying around him in pieces all this time, invisible until he'd changed. He grinned dementedly, possessed. He yielded himself up to it without reservation. All. All. There was no limit to what one man might do, if he gave all, and held back nothing.
"Or," Leo raised his voice, "you can take your lives into your own hands. Come with me and put all your risks up front. The big gamble for the big payoff. Let me tell you"—he gulped for courage, mustered megalomania—for surely only a maniac could drive this through to success—"let me tell you about the Promised Land. . . ."
Military Maverick: Miles, in a big way. The Vor Game starts with him being assigned to Kyril Island because the Academy staff feel he needs to learn how to be a subordinate instead of maneuvering himself into charge. He ends up getting his commander discharged from the Imperial Service. By the end of the book he is reporting directly to Simon Illyan simply because he makes such a habit of driving his superiors nuts that Illyan cannot, in good conscience, inflict him on anybody else. At one point in The Vor Game, Miles has three different commanding officers (in different contexts) locked up in neighboring cells in the brig. Contrary the trope, Miles does eventually get himself discharged in ill standing and does not get his commission back, even after he saves the day once again. Granted, Miles being the sort to "fall into a cess pool and come up with a handful of gold," it works out fine.
Military Science-Fiction: The series has an interesting place in that subgenre. While there is military action, and the books are published by Baen Books, they differ in that Bujold and her characters are social-liberal, whereas the genre is typically hard line conservative, and atypically, rather than being in the direction of a Super Soldier, Miles is a Non-Action Guy (or at least not physically strong).
Mind Rape: Happens to Mark during Mirror Dance, along with the physical kind.
Miles' first official ImpSec assignment in The Vor Game was to assist the officer assigned to find out what was going on in the Hegen Hub and possibly get the Dendarii/Oseran Mercenaries out of the area. Then he encounters a certain Greg Bleakman in a Jacksonian detention facility...
Komarr starts with the investigation of a collision between an in-system ore freighter and an orbital mirror, then detours to a modest embezzlement scheme...
The mess that sends Miles to Quaddiespace in Diplomatic Immunity (Missing Person case that escalates to a small armed clash with severe diplomatic repercussions) is nothing compared with what unfolds once Miles discovers what one of the Komarran trade fleet ships is carrying.
Miles has solved the mystery that sent him to Kibou-daini by the 1/3 point in Cryoburn. He spends the rest of the book uncovering a major local conspiracy that was only tangentially connected to his original case (and was completely outside of his jurisdiction as a Barrayaran Imperial Auditor).
Moral Luck: Referenced in universe in The Warrior's Apprentice. Miles successfully predicts his enemy will attempt a flank attack and insists that all weapons be placed on the flank of the base to drive off the attack. When a (dubious) ally excitedly states he is a genius for predicting the maneuver Miles soberly reflects on what they would say if he had been wrong about the angle of the attack. Though this isn't a perfect example of this trope, as Miles was relying on more than dumb luck when he selected where to place the weapons.
Mistaken for Gay: Gregor's inability to find someone to produce an heir led to rumors that he was more interest in men. Lady Alys snorted that even if it were true, it wouldn't help with finding an heir for him.
Mugging the Monster: Well, Predatory lending to a person with an Imperial Auditor in the room and an ImpSec forensic accountant waiting on the other line.
My God, What Have I Done?: Aral Vorkosigan during most of Shards of Honor and Barrayar, where his role as a conspirator to destroy Prince Serg through the broad assassination tool of an unnecessary war destroys his personal honor and leaves him a broken man in the former book; his decision to execute Carl Vorhalas is a prominent example in the latter book.
In The Warrior's Apprentice, Miles instantly regrets asking Bothari to get a jump pilot to talk. Bothari immediately becomes a Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant, and the pilot later dies, to Miles deep dismay. He later states that some lessons have prices that are too high.
The whole point of the Barrayar-Escobar War. With thousands of Barrayarrans dead in a botched invasion, nobody would realize that one of those casualties — Prince Serg — was deliberate.
More conventionally, during the War of Vordarian's Pretendership, Count Piotr Vorkosigan uses horses to move various important personages around in the Dendarii hills — on a thermal scanner, they'll look just like any other hill family, where more modern transportation would stick out like a sore thumb.
Nepotism: A large portion of the population of Barrayar is certain that Miles Vorkosigan only got his positions because of his father the Regent/Prime Minister or his foster brother the Emperor. They are mostly wrong. It was nepotism that got Miles into the Imperial Military Academy, despite him not meeting the physical requirements, and nepotism that kept him in the Imperial Service after the Kyril Island incident.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In Shards of Honor, Cordelia's Betan Survey crew decides to rescue her from the clutches of the psychotic Butcher of Komarr ... and in exactly the wrong move, they take in two Sergyar-stranded members of the mutiny against Aral (both secret police and nasty pieces of work) and orchestrate their return to the General Vorkraft where they stage a breakout of their fellow mutineers. They're terribly proud of themselves for being so clever, too.
Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: Mad Emperor Yuri tried to kill all of his direct blood heirs, including Piotr Vorkosigan's wife and children. Not also targeting Piotr was a serious tactical blunder, as he turned and helped Ezar win the throne.
Nice to the Waiter: Cordelia. Although it is not so much "nice to the waiter" as it is "nice to the bodyguards".
No Poverty: Beta, homeworld of Cordelia Vorkosigan, has such a high standard of living for all its inhabitants that the term "poor" means not having a computer in the home, and that is all but unheard of since access to information is guaranteed by the Betan government. To someone from Barrayar, where illiteracy and starvation are widespread amongst the rural population, it is a bit hard to fathom just how well the Betans live.
No Pronunciation Guide: The audio books each pronounce "Dendarii" differently, even ones with the same reader.
Barrayar, although it is (slowly) improving its treatment of women. Cordelia points out that there were biological imperatives for this when back when Barayar was a primitive society desperate to ensure sufficient reproduction to survive ("Beta Colony can control gametes, Barayar had to control the whole woman") but that established traditions that are taking a long time to fade even thought they are no longer necessary.
Athos is a more literal example, being a males-only Cult Colony.
Miles is really a subversion of the trope. Yes, he is short and has had more breaks than he has bones, but he spends ten years leading covert ops missions, often in the line of fire, and only loses once. Just do not ask him to perform hand-to-hand combat.
Ethan, who starts his story as a timid doctor unused to the galactic way of life and is a timid doctor unused to the galactic way of life.
Non-Idle Rich: Most of the rich people shown are busy either with politics or warfare and some are busy with commerce, industry, or invention. Even Ivan has more to do then he wants.
Bel Thorne notes the similarities between the well-intentioned creation of hermaphrodites on Beta and Baron Ryoval's sick experiments.
Miles' friends all note how similar Miles and Cavilo are at the end of The Vor Game, to Miles' embarrassment and frustration.
Cordelia notes that Barayar and Beta Colonies diametrically opposed attitudes towards sex and gender are essentially two different approaches to the exact same problems of human reproduction in a harsh environment
Not with the Safety on, You Won't: In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance Ivan jumps a mook who's holding him at stunner-point after he notices that the mook is holding Ivan's own stunner ... which has a personally-coded grip that keeps it from working for anyone other than Ivan.
Nuke 'em. The Cetagandans nuked a significent part of the Vorkosigan's district (including the old capital) during the occupation.
Ekaterin's husband was killed in an accident immediately after she told him she was leaving him. Because she never went through with the divorce her reputation remains intact in everyone else's eyes, but she knows she is an oathbreaker and suffers the shame of it.
Miles understands completely:
Miles: In my experience, the trouble with oaths of the form "death before dishonor" is that eventually, given enough time and abrasion, they separate the world into just two sorts of people: the dead, and the forsworn. It is a survivor's problem, this one.
He later lampshades that at least he got the order right since he died in Mirror Dance and broke his oath as an ImpSec agent in Memory, in part caused by his death.
Obfuscating Stupidity: Played with, in the case of Ivan: There is a conversation in Mirror Dance where this possibility is discussed, but Aral Vorkosigan dismisses it, commenting that Ivan has acted stupidly from too young an age for it to be an act. However, when you read the portions of the book from Ivan's perspective, it is clear that he is fairly intelligent, and more in the way of Brilliant but Lazy; he has learned that the "reward" for doing a job well is another, harder job. This had already been established in Cetaganda and Brothers in Arms, where it is clear that Ivan is a perfectly competent young soldier, but that he feels safer if everybody regards him as a harmless fool. Considering he is fourth or fifth in-linenote (After Gregor, Aral and Miles. And maybe Mark.) for Emperor of Barrayar, he may also believe that he keeps the people ahead of him safer (all of whom are family who he is close to), by assuring nobody wants him in charge.
Obstructive Bureaucracy: Barrayar's ministries will helpfully give you the runaround...in triplicate. Especially if your business involves a High Vor family (e.g. Vorkosigan) in any sort of negative way.
"I found I had only to pronounce his last name correctly to produce the most damn-all stone wall obtuseness from every Barrayaran clerk, secretary, embassy officer and bureaucrat I encountered."
Of Corpse He's Alive: Drugged version in The Vor Game, when Elena and Miles guide around a fast-penta'ed Admiral Oser.
Off with His Head!: In Barrayar, Vorhalas' first son is executed for dueling — but it takes three tries to properly decapitate him. Cordelia notes later when Bothari kills Vordarian with Koudelka's swordstick that Barrayar should have hired Bothari to execute him instead, since he does a better job with a single stroke.
The flashing stroke cut off his words, his head, and his life. It was extremely neat, despite the last spurts of blood from the stump of his neck. Vorkosigan should have loaned Bothari's services the day they'd executed Carl Vorhalas.
Oh My Aching Head: Miles not only gets headaches he gives them. Elena Bothari-Jesek opens a debriefing in Mirror Dance by passing around a bottle of painkillers.
In Diplomatic Immunity, when Miles learns the Barrayarans set fire to a police station on a space station, while attacking firemen and policemen trying to restore order as the military tried to break the Barrayarans out of jail. Bel tells Miles that they're idiots. Mile's response, "Yes, but they're my idiots."
Older Than They Look: Betans and Cetagandans both live considerably longer than the residents of most other planets. In both cases it is down to genetic tinkering, but where the Betans just eliminated genetic defects, the Cetagandans have been forcibly evolving themselves for centuries.
At one point Miles mentions that Cordelia, then in her mid-sixties, was just reaching middle age for a Betan, and this leads to rumors about a nonexistent "Betan rejuvenation process" that can extend the lifespan of anybody who can afford it. Miles points out in one of the books that it is just their way of life and their health care system that lets them live longer lives.
Several of the haut women Miles meets in Cetaganda are in their nineties and look no older than thirty or so. Lady Moira ghem Estif (a haut by birth) is about 130 at the time of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance and looks no worse than "faintly frail".
One Drink Will Kill the Baby: While pregnant with Miles, Cordelia passes on a glass of champagne, noting that she's forgoing "all metabolic poisons".
One-Man Army: Inverted. Mark claimed of Miles that "He's not a man, he's a mob."
Only One Name: Quaddies do not have last names. If someone wants to use a first name that someone else already has, they have to attach a number to it. One "Leo Ninety-nine" is given as an example, which happens to represent a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming in its way. The highest number ever seen attached to any other name is "Sixteen". The quaddies really remember Leo Graf fondly.
Ordered to Cheat: Not quite to cheat, but Drou is ordered to knock her opponent out while sparring in Barrayar, after he gooses her in a previous round, in order to discourage such behaviour from her future sparring partners. It also showed that she had been pulling her punches in her earlier matches.
Barrayar has a bit of this. They do not actually think Shakespeare was Barrayaran, but even during the height of their isolation, Barrayar made a point of preserving his plays through oral tradition. When the isolation ended they compared notes to the rest of the galaxy and it turned out that they had done such a good job that they had "preserved" three plays everyone else had "lost."
Baba Yaga is frequently mentioned as a characteristically Barrayaran myth.
Our Hero Is Dead: In Mirror Dance, Miles gets himself killed. He is cryogenically frozen almost immediately, holding out hope for reviving him later... if anyone knew where his cryo-pod ended up. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast have to adjust to the fact that he is dead and may not be coming back.
Our Showers Are Different: Sonic showers, toothbrushes, and other cleaning items make frequent appearance. At one point, Miles amuses himself by imagining what would happen if the programming for the gimmicky-even-for-Betans "sonic toothbrush" went awry.
Our Wormholes Are Different: Invisible to the naked eye and require "Necklin fields" to enable jumpships to traverse them. Ships without jump drives cannot just fly into a wormhole.
Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Played with in Ethan of Athos, since it's not so much that Athos is silly for still being highly religious but instead silly for the rather misogynist and gynophobic theology that informed the colony's founders. Also averted from an unlikely source — Cordelia, of highly progressive, scientific, sociologically and psychologically-minded Beta Colony, is rather calmly, quietly Christian. Her Christianity is only mentioned in passing by Miles a couple times, having been a minor influence in how she raised him. Everyone else seems blandly indifferent to the question of God, though occasionally willing to entreat or curse Him silently during moments of duress.
Outlaw Town: Jackson's Whole was initially a hijacker's base and along the way became "governed" by a loose connection of crime families specializing in specific crimes (sex slavery, arms dealing, etc.). It is ultra-capitalist and has no real laws to speak of — a handshake is as good as a contract, and you are as good as dead if you are not under the protection of one of its crime families.
Overly Long Name: Tej and her siblings. Her father found a book of baby names and couldn't make up his mind.
The Pardon: Aral handed this out generously after the Pretendership.
Parental Hypocrisy: In A Civil Campaign, Kou and Drou get extremely upset upon learning that Kareen has having (sane, well-adjusted, well-educated, and generally awesome) premarital sex with Mark. Cordelia turns the tables by quietly bringing the couch where they first had sex — also premarital, but a miserable, fumbling, painful expedition that wound up almost ending their budding relationship — out of storage. And then forces them to sit on it while she, Kareen, and Mark confront them. By the time she's done, the Koudelkas mere and pere are well and truly deflated. It's also implied that Kou, at the very least, might have had issues with Mark being unworthy of Kareen — a natural reaction for any father — and also Mark being a clone.
The Penance: In "The Mountains of Mourning", the perpetrator of an infanticide is sentenced to have her property rights removed and to be considered legally dead.
Perpetual Motion Machine: Discussed in Komarr. One of the physicists Miles calls in to consult determines that the device he is asking her about looks like a perpetual motion machine. Since she is a competent physicist who does not believe in such things, she concludes that it must be drawing energy from the deep structure of the wormholes it gets pointed at because there is nowhere else it could be coming from.
Photographic Memory: Due to a computer chip in his head, Simon Illyan has one of these. Until the chip is sabotaged.
"Ivan, you idiot..." and variations thereof. Amusingly reversed in Diplomatic Immunity:
Admiral Vorpatril: Vorkosigan, you idiot—!
At the climax of A Civil Campaign, Miles begins to say, "Ivan, you idiot!" when he appears late to the Council of Counts with Lord Dono and Miles' political antagonists, but Ivan interrupts him, knowing he has just saved the day, and enjoys a moment of knowing something Miles does not, for once.
"Unpack, Miles" may be a candidate: Ekaterin uses it several times in Diplomatic Immunity, and Miles himself uses it in Cryoburn. Miles thinks extremely fast, and tends to skip straight to telling people what to do without telling them why he needs them to do it.
Planetary Nation: Most of the nations, planets and Space Stations are this. The few exceptions are the Cetagandan Empire and Barrayaran Empires, which are nations made up of multiple planets, and Earth, which is still split up into a gillion countries like today.
The Plot Reaper: Ekaterin's unlikeable, abusive, and all-around Jerk Ass of a husband dies just as she has decided to leave him, freeing her to be courted by Miles Vorkosigan. Unfortunately, he dies in such a way that fewer than a score of people in the Barrayaran Empire have a high enough security clearance to be able to satisfy themselves that Miles didn't kill him out of jealousy, which causes problems for Miles all throughout the next book. As for Ekaterine, the reaper didn't strike until after she'd told Tien she was leaving, meaning she gets all the guilt of breaking her word without the catharsis of it actually accomplishing something.
Pointy-Haired Boss: Bruce Van Atta in Falling Free. A former engineer, transferred to management where he would hopefully cause less damage. When Leo Graf sets off his plan to reconfigure the quaddie's space station so that they can steal it, he tells Van Atta that he will be surprised by how much of the station, which Van Atta thinks is being decommissioned, can be "recycled." Van Atta insists that all of Leo's plans go through his office—so he can take Leo's name off them and replace them with his own so he can take the credit. Leo doesn't mind because he realizes Bruce isn't actually going to look at those plans and after they've gone the plans will provide damning evidence that Leo had practically warned Bruce of his plans to steal the station in advance.
Barrayar is underpopulated, and has unfettered reproduction (though it is somewhat "backward" and considers all sex out of wedlock to be illicit.)
Beta Colony is a marginally habitable world, and has strict population control. All babies must be licensed, though getting a baby license seems to be about as difficult as getting a driver's license (at least for the first two.) Since contraceptives are legally required for all females (and hermaphrodites), all sex between consenting individuals is considered to be normal recreational behaviour, though they do have statutory rape laws.
Athos is underpopulated, but since its entire population is male, it requires major technological assistance for anyone to reproduce. The actual cost of raising children to the age where they are self sufficient is a major part of the planetary government budget, unlike most other planets where it is part of the informal economy.
The Cetagandan Empire is a group of planets exercising extreme bio-engineering, where every child "born" (at least among the Haut class) has its genetic makeup designed by the central government. What is more, it would be possible for the child's parents never to have even met, let alone had sex.
Commodore Koudelka: You? I know you! You trust beyond reason!
Cordelia: Yes. It's how I get results beyond hope. As you may recall.
Praetorian Guard: The Barrayaran Armsmen. Counts are limited to twenty by law, so the Armsmen are all some kind of Bad Ass. The Vorkosigan family tends to attract the best of the best.
Precision F-Strike: Ekaterin is an extraordinarily polite woman, almost to the point of Extreme Doormat. The harshest thing she utters for the first one and a half books after her first appearance is "Drat." It comes as a shock when she finally lets fly with a comparatively mild "Open the damned door and let me out" later on. (Miles does have that effect on people.)
Emperor Gregor is normally so controlled that just his use of sarcasm is enough to mortify Illyan.
Prevent The War: In Diplomatic Immunity the hero is an Imperial Auditor (big-time troubleshooter) sent to calm down a harbor brawl that had escalated into an interstellar incident, only to find that there are more sinister aspects that threaten war with a rival empire.
Primal Scene: First Miles and later Ivan have this reaction in Memory when they realize that Lady Alys Vorpatril (Ivan's mother) is sleeping with Simon Illyan.
"You don't need to bellow."
"I am not bellowing," said Ivan. "I'm being firm."
"Could you please be firm at a lower volume?"
"No. Simon Illyan is sleeping with my mother, and it's your fault!"
Private Military Contractors: The Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet is one of many mercenary companies working around the wormhole nexus. The fact that they are on retainer with Barrayaran Imperial Security, and that their commander reports directly to the head thereof, is a secret known to only a very few.
Miles: This is a paid political rescue.
Sgt. Beatrice: Mercenaries?
Miles: We're not something wriggling with too many legs that you found in your sleeping bag. The proper tone of voice is Mercenaries!—with a glad cry.
— "The Borders of Infinity"
Professional Sex Ed: Betan Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapist training emphasizes the "educational" aspect of things, so they are occasionally contracted as "first time" introductions for nervous soon-to-be-ex-virgins.
Promotion Not Punishment: Miles Vorkosigan has a...problem with following orders, and those above constantly complain about his "excessive initiative" or curse him by wishing he one day commands someone "just like him". In Vor Games, he is put under the one man who could possible deal with him and sent on a simple intelligence gathering mission. By the end of this he manages to have 3 separate 'superior officers' locked in the brig so he can go about leading a mercenary troop to defend a wormhole from an enemy invasion which no one ever asked him to do. But since he did manage to save everyone he ends up with a promotion and his dream job of playing admiral for the military fleet.
Discussed in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, as ImpSec HQ is sinking into a mudhole, and people leave the building or stay at their posts:
Simon, his teeth pressed into his lower lip, released the stress to say, "At a guess, those would be the fellows who grew up in earthquake country, Guy." And after another minute, under his breath, as the evacuation continued more sporadically, "The ones still inside, you'll want to commend. The ones outside, those are the ones I'd promote..."
Proud Warrior Race Guys: The Vor of Barrayar and the Ghem-Lords of Cetaganda. When the Cetagandans invaded Barrayar, it was a bloody mess for all involved.
Protagonist-Centered Morality: Usually well averted, but the ending of Mark & Kareen's plot in A Civil Campaign drifts into this. The officers sent to arrest a man who actually ripped a lot of people off, even if he did it out of naivete, are sent packing by general agreement of the protagonists; even Ekaterin approves. No one expresses any concern for the cheated investors at all.
However, the officers trying to arrest Enrique did so by engaging in what amounts to an illegal home invasion in foreign territory. Yes, they got stonewalled by local officials due to the Vorkosigan name, but that doesn't mean invade a private residence out of your jurisdiction, especially that of the second most politically significant family on the planet. Frankly, they're lucky all they got was kicked out, as opposed to causing an interstellar incident between Barrayar and Escobar. Imagine if Spanish cops decided to grab someone from the home of a high-ranking Russian politician.
They're lucky they're still alive. The only two places in Vorbarr Sultana with heavier security are ImpSec HQ and the Imperial Residence. Indeed, one wonders at the epic amount of good fortune it took those two to so much as get inside the house without being shot fifteen times.
There is also the fact that the people on Barrayar who had been helping with the butter bug project had been paid in shares of the nascent company. If Miles had allowed the Escobarans to arrest Enrique, he would have been robbing Ekaterin, Ma Kosti, Kareen, and Martya of income they had rightfully earned. He was faced with a choice between causing harm to people he personally knew and liked or causing harm to people he had never even met and made the natural choice to decide in favor of those he knew.
Reading The Warrior's Apprentice before reading Shards Of Honor, it is shocking how little Miles is bothered by the eventual revelation of Elena's parentage, especially given how little he actually does know at that point about what happened and why. Having read the other book, we have sympathy for Bothari's insanity and his struggle to make something good out of the terrible things that happened. But all the characters should know at that point is 'prolonged rape and torture'.
Bothari qualifies as someone with serious schizophrenic/split personality, raised from the fact he himself was prostituted as a boy by his own mother. Cordelia and Aral both note that Bothari is a monster, but put in the right situation where he has strict rules, his motivations can be pointed in the right direction.
Miles is perfectly aware of Bothari's mental issues and so realizes that Elena Sr. has in fact murdered a fellow victim not a victimizer. It is worth noticing that Bothari is actually the more stable and recovered of the two. What have the Escobar psychologists been doing anyway?
Psycho for Hire/Psycho Sidekick: Bothari was taken into Aral's employ specifically to restrain his psychotic tendencies. Ges Vorruyter, on the other hand, employed Bothari to utilize them.
Purple Prose: In-universe during A Civil Campaign. Specifically, Miles' attempts at writing an apology to Ekaterin are implied to have gone there over the myriad drafts. Including the one in rhyme.
Some of the many Barrayaran uniforms enter this territory, to include jackboots, jodhpurs, high collars, peaked caps and capes. Miles offers a justification in Cetaganda, when he muses that it is derived from horse cavalry uniforms. Then he lampshades it, admitting it is a little silly to keep the boots when the last time the military used horses was his grandfather's time — and that, according to the old man, Horses saved his forces during his campaigns mostly by being edible. Aral at one point remarks that the officers must use them for riding hobbyhorses, high horses, and nightmares.
The Betan Expeditionary Force uniforms also included jackboots, even though the only horses to be found on Beta Colony are in the zoos.
Railing Kill: Unintentionally in Ethan of Athos: Quinn tries to stun a mook on a catwalk. Mook goes over the railing he was moving towards when she fired and breaks his neck. Elli is mildly (the mook was guilty of several murders, and was in the middle of staging an "accidental" death for Ethan) upset.
Quinn: Gee, I feel really bad about that. I've never killed a man by accident before. Unprofessional.
Rape By Proxy: Ges uses Bothari to abuse his female prisoners of war when he does not do it himself.
Rape Is Love: Inverted in Bothari, who convinces himself that the captive and brutalized Elena Visconti was his wife. Including a "honeymoon" in his quarters as he nurses her back to some semblance of health. He later expresses at least some understanding of the truth, going through great and literal pains to ensure that he did not also rape Cordelia.
Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Every one of Miles' love interests. Even Taura, described in "Winterfair Gifts" as having mahogany hair and ivory skin. At least, so described by the besotted Armsman Roic.
Read the Freaking Manual: After the Dinner Party in A Civil Campaign, Miles is at a loss for how to care for the lone occupant of Ekaterin's garden, despite detailed instructions appended to her resignation letter. Miles's thinking is not entirely rational when it comes to Ekaterin and gardens at this point.
A Real Man Is a Killer: Deconstructed in Brothers in Arms, when Galen tries to get Mark to kill Miles and Galeni:
Galen: You must learn to kill if you expect to survive.
Miles: No, you don't. Most people go through their whole lives without killing anybody. False argument.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: The good guys get one when Gregor finally tells off Cavilo, pointing out that she has been treating the Emperor of three worlds as a naive newbie.
Emperor Gregor: Commander Cavilo, both of my parents died violently in political intrigue before I was six years old. A fact you might have researched. Did you think you were dealing with an amateur?
Aral was assigned as the base commander when he was out of favor with Ezar, but he didn't remember much about it. "I was drunk most of the time."
After that, Aral was assigned to command General Vorkraft, which was nicknamed "Vorkosigan's Leper Colony".
General Stanis Metzov and Alexi Vormoncrief are later assigned to Lazkowski Base, and it could not have happened to more deserving guys. Vormoncrief in particular provided the page quote for 'Reassigned'.
Miles is also an example, metaphorically. His own assignment to Lazkowski Base is a matter of paying his dues: in his first assignment out of the Academy he's supposed to show that he can work with ordinary soldiers and officers. When things blow up, his career in the regular Service is aborted — he's reassigned to ImpSec where, as far as (almost) everybody knows, he spends the next ten years as a glorified mailman.
At the end of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan and Tej, to backwater planet Ylla rather than Lazkowski Base. Ivan rapidly uses his administrative skills to turn his "exile" into a two year honeymoon in paradise.
Recruited From The Gutter: Sgt Bothari was an Ax-Crazy slum orphan who entered the Barrayaran Imperial Service to find someone to control his violent impulses. Later he was used as a minion by a sadist to torture prisoners, until he refused to torture Cordelia Naismath, the heroine, and killed his master. When Cordelia married a Barrayaran aristocrat Bothari became an honoured bodyguard.
Red Light District: The caravanserai area of Vorbarr Sultana in Barrayar. By the time of the later books in the series it has been cleaned up and gentrified, but you can still get into trouble in some of its back alleys.
Specifically and thoroughly averted in the case of Aral Vorkosigan. See Cincinnatus above.
Vidal Vordarian was planning to do this. Ezar figured this out fairly quickly, which is why his grandson's regency went to Aral Vorkosigan instead. Vordarian immediately tries a more direct route to the Imperium.
Releasing from the Promise: A Vor lord can't do this for an Armsman. He can, however, send him off to live his own life elsewhere.
Royal "We": Gregor very occasionally when he wants to make it abundantly clear he is speaking officially.
Rule Number One: "You play games like that with the big boys, you'd better make damn sure you win, Miles says. Rule One. And there is no Rule Two." Count Falco Vorpatril, Ivan's distant uncle, says the same thing to Richars Vorrutyer just earlier in the book.
Rules Lawyer: In Barrayar, Aral Vorkosigan tells Bothari to obeys his wife's command as if they were his own and never rescinds the order. Aral probably meant that order as coming from Lord Vorkosigan. Bothari interprets it as coming from Lord Regent Vorkosigan, equivalent to an order from the Emperor himself.
In Shards of Honor, no one Cordelia meets actually voted for Betan President "Steady Freddy."
In Ethan of Athos all of the things that Q.E.D stands for according to Elli Quinn. "Quinn Elicits Deception"... etc.
The term "charming understatement" in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance.
Sadistic Choice: In Barrayar, Aral has to decide between the letter of the law and compassion: execute a young man for a drunken play-duel that became a real one, or pardon him for his crime. Aral chooses the law, due to Barrayar's political instability and fears that favors to friends would lead to rampant nepotism. This forever estranges him from his friend Count Vorhalas, and leads directly to Miles' exposure to soltoxin. It also allows Gregor to, sixteen years later, take control of a relatively stable multi-planet empire, where even the political opposition is a loyal one—led by Vorhalas, determined to make sure his son did not die for nothing.
Sanity Has Advantages: Mark is not exactly more sane than Baron Ryoval, but his insanity is far more orderly and patient. That proves to be enough.
Sarcastic Confession: While being questioned by the Komarran police about his report of a break-in, Ivan claims to have mentioned the incident to his commanding officer. This is how the conversation actually went:
Admiral Desplains: Heavy drinking last night, Vorpatril? Ivan: No, sir, not a drop. I was kidnapped by two beautiful women and held prisoner in their flat all night. They didn't let me get a wink of sleep. Desplains: Save your sex fantasies for your friends, Ivan.
Scars Are Forever: Miles has an amazing collection from years of bone replacement surgeries, the needle grenade, the Komarr Waste Heat Station incident... Ekaterin finds them most intriguing.
Schizo Tech: Barrayar was originally a Lost Colony, got cut off from everything, fell back into feudalism and is desperately trying to step up and rejoin galactic society. So while they may have a shiny new fleet of starships, equip their soldiers with kick-ass Powered Armor and are able to rebuild a man's nervous system, The Emperor still presides over the government in an old-school castle and in the outlying regions mail is delivered by hand. On horseback. The mailman on horseback is portrayed as keeping an old, valued, retainer on the government payroll, rather than replacing him with the more efficient modern alternatives. We get snapshots of backcountry life, twenty and thirty years later, that show that it has undergone the same sort of transformations that took place in similar areas of Earth in the last century.
Screaming Birth: Averted with Lady Alys Vorpatril, who was screaming and cursing her husband (although not for the usual reason); when she is told they cannot afford her to be loud, she bites a makeshift piece of rope and bears it.
Miles has had nepotism work in his favor many times. Helps to be foster-brother to the Emperor. To avoid giving the wrong impression, Miles is very careful to only (intentionally) play this card when he has no other options. Indeed, one of the reasons given for his relentless drive is to prove to himself and others that he does not need to rely on nepotism to advance. Which is why Illyan discussed kicking Miles out of ImpSec with Gregor before actually doing it.
"I didn't know he was that important," said Jin [Sato], ... Miles-san had never acted at all high-nosed or stuffy. On the other hand he'd never acted like the rules applied to him, either.
Subverted by Count Vorpatril in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. Unfortunately for Ivan, his connections are outranked by his mother's.
In an early book Miles notes(only half-facetiously) that when you belong to an aristocracy nepotism isn't a sin, it's a lifestyle.
Secret Secret Keeper: Both Ky Tung, and Bel Thorne reveal that they've known about Admiral Naismith's real identity for some time, Ky when announcing his retirement to Miles, and Bel when it's officially read in on the secret in Mirror Dance.
Miles fails one spectacularly in Memory. He has not forgiven himself for it. He passes another one in the same book. Because page quote.
Miles administers one on Consul Vorlynkin in Cryoburn. He lets the Consul witness him both soliciting and accepting a bribe. The Consul reporting Miles' perfidy up the chain of command is what tells Miles that he can be trusted with the greater picture of what Miles' real mission is.
In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance Byerly points out to Ivan that Tej's half-Cetagandan ancestry disqualifies any potential children — and probably Ivan — from ever becoming Emperor. Ivan is thrilled, and then realizes that Byerly was watching to see if Ivan wanted the throne. It also serves to nudge Ivan to realise his feelings about his Citizenship Marriage are rather deeper and much more complicated than he has admitted to himself thus far.
Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Emperor Yuri was convinced that his relatives were planning to kill him and take the throne. So he sent out assassins to kill them first. Those of his relatives who survived that night (Along with General Count Piotr Vorkosigan, who did NOT take having his wife, daughter and eldest son murdered at the dinner table well) decided that this was the final straw and launched a civil war to overthrow and kill the mad Emperor.
The Saga starts on the newly discovered world of Sergyar, and its colonization is part of the backstory of the rest of the series—especially after Aral is appointed viceroy of the new colony.
Barrayar itself is still being settled as new regions of the planet get terraformed and made habitable for humans and the earth-descended species they depend on. "The Mountains of Mourning" gives us a view of what life is like on the Barrayaran frontier.
Sex as a Rite-of-Passage: Betans are apparently big on this. As soon as you get your implant you are expected to try it out. Hiring a professional for the occasion if necessary.
Cordelia is very impressed by Aral in his dress uniform with all the trimmings near the end of Shards of Honor.
Lady Alys gives excellent advice to Drou on her wedding preparations, especially the dress, in Barrayar. Drou is finally put in a white silk wedding dress and is absolutely stunning.
In the short story "Winterfair Gifts", Taura visits Barrayar for Miles and Ekaterin's wedding, and after Lady Alys gets her hands on her the results are... memorable.
A stunning vision in hunter green stepped through behind her. Oh, it was still Taura, certainly, but ... the skin that had been sallow and dull against the pink was now revealed as a glowing ivory. The green jacket fit very trimly about the waist. Above, her pale shoulders and long neck seemed to bloom from a white linen collar; below, the jacket skirt skimmed out briefly around the upper hips. A narrow skirt continued the long green fall to her firm calves. Wide linen cuffs decorated with subtle white braid made her hands look, if not small, well-proportioned. The pink nail polish was gone, replaced by a dark mahogany shade. The heavy braid hanging down her back had been transformed into a mysteriously knotted arrangement, clinging close to her head and set off with a green ... hat? feather? anyway, a neat little accent tilted to the other side. The odd shape of her face seemed suddenly artistic and sophisticated rather than distorted.
Shifting The Burden Of Proof: One of Miles' Catch Phrases is "try to prove a negative", highlighted in Cetaganda when Fletchir gives Miles the Cetagandan Order of Merit (their highest award), then has Miles sequestered alone with three members of the Star Creche. Miles cheerily tells The Spymaster Vorreedi that there's no way to prove that he wasn't suborned or cut a secret deal, which was Fletchir's goal - sow doubt in Miles' superiors.
Cordelia: "You two are two of my favorite people. If only you'd get your heads on straight..."
Shirtless Scene: Roic gets a memorable one in A Civil Campaign, when he stumbles, half-awake, into the midst of a interplanetary-arrest-slash-food-fight while wearing boots, underwear, a pistol holster, and nothing else. It actually brings the mayhem to a halt, as all the ladies involved stop flinging bug butter at the cops so they can ogle.
Miles: Armsman Roic... you appear to be out of uniform.
Shoot the Dangerous Minion: The Lawful Evil Emperor Ezar turns out to have deliberately launched an invasion of Escobar which was doomed to fail, so that he could kill his son Prince Serg and discredit the violent nationalists at his court. The sacrifice of numerous innocents during that invasion made it possible for the throne to pass to Ezar's grandson, Gregor, who is a noble and benevolent Guy Wearing the Kingly Mask. And Ezar himself not only confesses to it all on his deathbed, but makes it clear he's looking forward to dying. After all he'd gone through by that point, he was ready for a nice long rest.
Shoot the Hostage: Miles threatens to shoot Gregor, Cavilo's hostage, in The Vor Game. He is bluffing, since his plasma cannon is unpowered. As Miles puts it the hostage problem is essentially unsolvable but threatening to shoot Gregor makes it Cavilo's problem, not his.
As a child, Miles was a big fan of a holovid action/drama serial, Lord Vorthalia the Bold, Legendary Hero from the Time of Isolation. As an adult, he can remember most of the 9 verses of the theme song. It is likely that he picked up some of his Knight Errant tendencies from this.
Some Marilacans attempted to hire Admiral Naismith as an advisor for The Greatest Escape — a holovid docudrama about the Dagoola IV breakout.
Nikolai Vorsoisson is fond of holovids featuring Captain Vortalon, a jump pilot who has galactic adventures with Prince Xav, smuggling arms to the Resistance during the Cetagandan invasion.
Beta Colony produced a film based on the Escobaran War and Cordelia's role in it called The Thin Blue Line. Their portrayal of Prince Serg upsets Elena, because most Barrayarans view Prince Serg as a hero, not as the Caligula he actually was.
While Rish is hiding out in her and Tej's flat in Solstice, she develops a fondness for Komarran soap operas.
Shrouded in Myth: ImpSec is shrouded in myth not only in Barrayar but elsewhere. In Jackson's Whole they are apparently a bogeyman.
Miles and Mark settle into a very intense sibling rivalry once they get over trying to kill each other. Fortunately for the rest of the universe, their favorite way of scoring points tends to be pulling each other's chips out of the fire — or out-snarking each other.
Ivan's reaction to a Cetagandan kitten tree. The fact that a kitten dies when he plucks it off the bush before it was... ripe... does not help matters.
This is Miles' and Elli's initial reaction to the fur blanket they find in a shop in London. To be specific, this blanket is alive, purrs and snuggles closer when stroked and feeds on ambient EM fields.
Applied to political infighting when one prospective heir of the late Count Vorryuter tries to disqualify the other via emasculation and loses the bulk of his political allies. Given that the former is an extreme conservative and the latter a voluntarily transgender man, there are several levels of intense discomfort to choose from.
Silk Hiding Steel: Alys Vorpatril. Later on, Ekaterin Vorsoissan also manages to find her steel and develop into this.
"Every assignment," Gregor went on, "may be totally unrelated to any other. Unpredictable. You'll be tossed in to sink or swim." "Not entirely unsupported," objected Vorthys. "The rest of us will be willing to call advice from shore, now and then." For some reason Miles had a mental flash of the whole lot of them sitting in beach chairs holding drinks with fruit on little sticks, awarding him judiciously discussed points for style as he went under, frantically gulping and splashing, the water filling his nose.
Situational Sexuality: Athos for obvious reasons, as not only are women not allowed on the planet, but all media containing them are tightly censored. After two centuries of this most men on the planet have long since stopped caring and just have relationships with each other. Those who are presumably strongly heterosexual simply opt for celibacy.
The Slacker: Quietly deconstructed in Ivan, who appears so casual and indifferent towards work because he is very efficient and does things right the first time, leaving him extra time to slack off. This culminates in him turning a job as consul's aide on a backwater planet into a three-days-a-week part-time position at full pay on a tropical island on said planet, simply because he could handle all the position's work more efficiently, directly improving his superior's quality of life at the same time.
Slasher Smile: Well, a "canine grin", but Bothari gets one off without even being seen when Koudelka accuses Bothari of being off his medication when he refuses to follow Koudelka's orders, proclaiming that he was Cordelia's "dog" and that he had resigned his commission.
How such could travel over a purely audio link Cordelia was not sure, but a canine grin hung in the air before them.
Snowball Lie: Miles's creation of the Dendarii Mercenaries in The Warrior's Apprentice.
So Bad, It's Good: In-universe. The ugliness of the ImpSec building is a Running Gag in Barrayar. Some of the gargoyles even managed to become characters in children's cartoons.
So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Elli Quinn: after getting her face burned off in a space battle, Miles pays for it to be replaced with the best face that 30th century reconstructive surgery can supply. She is initially delighted with her new face "but the second time a soldier made a pass at me instead of following an order, I knew I definitely had a problem." She goes on to explain that her problems do not arise because she is beautiful, but because she does not have the experience of knowing how to properly deal with her admirers that naturally-beautiful women would have gained while growing up.
The Sociopath: Practically everyone from the high class of Jackson's Whole has sociopathic tendencies. When the Cordonahs casually discuss how to profit at many Barrayarans' harm it was quite chilling. And the Barrayarans in questions had been nothing but kind and welcoming to them, even though the Cordonahs had a Cetagandan haut as part of their family.
They even consider tying up Tej's matrimonial loose ends by murdering Ivan. Fortunately Tej is "rather reluctant" on that score.
For the matter of that, it is implied that grandma Arqua was at least a minor accessory to war crimes during The Occupation probably including involuntary human genetic research.
Sociopathic Hero: Sgt. Bothari, Miles' bodyguard during his early years. A multiple rapist and murderer, who knows he is insane but struggles so hard to be a good dad for his daughter that he is very nearly The Woobie.
To a lesser extent Miles' father Aral, who murdered his political officer with his bare hands after the latter ordered a massacre of civilian prisoners; and earlier had murdered his first wife's two lovers, one in a fair duel, the other in more-or-less cold blood.
Solid Gold Poop: Butterbugs eat (or, at least, could be redesigned to eat) inedible Barrayaran plant material, and vomit up a bland, but nutritious, "butter" that can accept many flavourings to make it more palatable. Their droppings also make a spectacularly good compost, which is extremely valuable on a world that's still being terraformed and on which, in the not-too-distant past, wars have been fought over horse manure (or rather, the distribution rights of same).
Son of a Whore: Bothari, as revealed in Barrayar. Cordelia is unsurprised by this, but expresses outrage when Bothari reveals that his mother used to sell him to her clients. It also explains why "bastard" is a Berserk Button for Bothari when other epithets roll off his back.
The villain of Diplomatic Immunity very nearly gets away with multiple murder, stealing the uterine replicators of Rho Ceta and instigating a war between Barrayar and the Cetagandan Empire. But they couldn't plan for a) Russo Gupta managing to survive the contagion it infected him and his friends with and b) said Gupta managing to track them down, raring for revenge, thus alerting Barrayar and, crucially, Miles to what's really going on.
Spare To The Throne: At the age of eleven, Aral Vorkosigan watched as his mother and older brother and sister were slain by a death squad sent by the mad emperor Yuri. While these events happened before the time of the books, they are of critical importance in the relationships between Aral's father, Count Piotr Vorkosigan, and Aral's son, Miles. Miles' mother, Cordelia, was poisoned while pregnant, and the boy was considered lost by both Count Piotr and their doctors, who called for an abortion with the intent of trying again for a healthy heir. Years later, while Miles was briefly dead (he got better) his clone-brother, Mark — who had been created in a plot to replace him and destroy the Imperium — had to face the concept that if Miles was truly lost (dead and rotted) he might have to take up his progenitor's place as heir to the Countship of the Vorkosigan District in the Council of Counts.
Much is also made of the Vorkosigan family's status as the Spares to the Emperor's throne. After Mad Yuri's pruning of the family tree, and since Ezar only had one son (Serg), Aral was the closest thing to a spare if anything happened to Serg or (later) Serg's son Gregor. After Serg died and Ezar soon followed, Aral became Gregor's regent and remained the Spare, followed by Miles later on. Only it's an open secret that nobody would accept a "mutie" and "cripple" like Miles on the throne so the real successor if something was to happen to Gregor would be Ivan, who wants nothing of it. The Vorkosigan family's proximity to the throne is an extremely important plot point in several books, and the pressure is only lifted off Miles late in the series when Gregor finally gets married and works on some heirs.
Miles's persona as Admiral Naismith is not quite a complete disassociation, but often treated as one. Cordelia in particular expresses grave concerns over how Miles could cope in the event that he had to abandon the role. Despite a brief bout of depression, Miles does manage to maintain his stability after losing the alternate identity.
Mark's Black Gang. Mark is envious of Miles' split personality because Miles Naismith was someone you could take to parties and show off.
The Spymaster: Simon Illyan, and his predecessor Captain Negri, dubbed "Ezar's Familiar". And General Guy Allegre, who succeeds Simon, although in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance it's clear that Simon can't stop playing Spymaster just because he's retired.
Standard Royal Court: Though slightly more streamlined than most, the Barrayaran aristocracy consists of an Emperor and the high Vor (who are the sum total of the aristocracy), more armsmen (e.g. bodyguards) than you can shake a stick at, then the low Vor (anyone with "Vor" on the front of their name who's not directly in line for a countship). Unavoidably, there are courtiers in the emperor's orbit, but he does not deliberately court them.
State Sec: The Ministry of Political Education, complete with Political Officers. ImpSec, though its name is fairly ominous (and it is willing to trade on that factor on occasion) is more of a Properly Paranoid intelligence agency.
Strange Salute: A borderline example with the oft-mentioned (and unofficial) ImpSec analysts' salute, which is a salute so lazy that it is just a wave in the general vicinity of the face.
Subspace Ansible: Averted, which is often crucial to the plot. This technology does not exist in the setting and all messages have to be conveyed through the Wormhole Nexus by ships. As a result, there is nothing even close to real-time interstellar communication. Which means that Miles (and everyone else) have to work in an environment wherein they cannot simply call up their superiors for instructions. Of course, this also gives Miles an excuse to pull off gambits that would probably never get approved up front.
In Falling Free, Bannerji does not refuse to fire at and destroy the ship that the quaddies escape on per se, but he demands a proper work order, signed by the Hazardous Waste Management Officer and with an Environmental Impact Assessment attached. This gives the ship time to escape.
In Shards of Honor, when Sergeant Bothari refuses to rape Cordelia as per Admiral Vorrutyer's orders.
Super Breeding Program: A Barrayaran Count sets up a breeding program using cast off female eggs and his own sperm in Uterine Replicators to create dozens of his own daughters, not as a bid to create some kind of pure or super race, but to...make more taxpayers for his district? The wife (who had already given him a few legitimate children) whose consent he did this without was not very happy about it. The punishment? The count is expected to provide dowries for each and every daughter.
The Star Crèche is basically one giant eugenics project.
Super Senses: Rish and the rest of the Jewels—among other things, Rish can hear heartbeats and smell when someone is aroused. Also Tej and her other siblings, to a lesser extent. Sometimes a downside, since they're also trained to have a refined sense of aesthetics and are very sensitive to bad cooking or clashing colors. They also suffer very bad disorientation during wormhole jumps and thus find jumpship travel extremely unpleasant.
Taura was created to one ... by people with an imperfect list of specifications.
It is implied that the Cetagandans consider Miles to be one.
Supreme Chef: Ma Kosti, kitchen goddess. Took maple mead, combined it with bug butter. Result? A creamy, maple-flavoured dessert fit for the Emperor himself (Gregor is on the list of people who have tried hiring her away from Miles). And that was one of her minor culinary accomplishments. Ivan warns Miles to double her salary, and both Alys and Cordelia torment Miles with the idea they might tempt her away — and those two are some of the very few people in the galaxy who could strongarm Miles.
Ma Kosti had prepared the smallest lake trout, which was enough to feed the whole household, with a sauce that would have made baked cardboard delectable, and rendered the fresh fish a feast for minor gods.
Switching P.O.V.: Through Brothers in Arms, the stories are told in tight/limited third person perspective focused on Cordelia or Miles, but most of the later books are told from multiple perspectives:
Mirror Dance: Mark and Miles.
Komarr: Ekaterin and Miles, alternating chapters.
A Civil Campaign: Miles, Ekaterin, Ivan, Kareen, and Mark.
Cryoburn: Miles, Jin, and Roic.
Captain Vorpatril's Alliance: Ivan and Tej.
Sword Cane: Koudelka's swordstick. It avoids the unscrewing problem via a powerful spring-loaded sheath — strong enough to make the ejected sheath a useful projectile weapon in itself. It also has a very good blade, as Bothari demonstrates during the Shopping Trip.
Sympathetic P.O.V.: While early Miles-centered books are narrated from his point-of-view, later ones give the thoughts of Mark, Ivan, Ekaterin, Kareen and Armsman Roic. While Miles struggles with his low self-esteem, all of his friends emphasize how intimidated they are by his genius, drive, and presence:
Ivan: "In between inspiring you to strangle him with your bare hands, he could make you proud enough to cry...So small, so wrecked, so obnoxious. So incandescent. Give the people a light, and they'll follow it anywhere. Did Miles know how dangerous he was?" ... Kareen: "Mark, I'd take you and every member of the Black Gang at your worst for a week before I let myself get locked in a room with Miles. He... takes you over. Do you have any idea what it takes to stop him?"
Take My Hand: Subverted in "The Borders of Infinity" then deconstructed in Komarr, as Miles belatedly realizes what the consequences of a successful Take My Hand moment would actually have been. They were in a space shuttle, the other person weighed significantly more than Miles, and Miles was not anchored in any way.
In Memory, an angry Duv Galeni is described showing his teeth in a way that's "not at all a smile."
Ivan develops one after years of dealing with Miles.
Inverted by Taura, whose genuine smiles, thanks to her fangs, look downright terrifying to people who do not know her. Of course the "other" smile she uses when she tries to look intimidating is exceedingly effective.
Cavilo gives Miles an extremely sour "Watch this, asshole" smile before killing a captain she'd been blackmailing when Miles interferes too much, in The Vor Game.
Technology Marches On: The late-'80s/early-'90s worldbuilding shows particularly in the lack of mobile communication/computing. Nearly all personal communication — albeit with holographic display technology — is done via fixed desk-sized comconsoles (which also serve as the primary computing/entertainment hubs). Portable comconsoles do exist, but they seem to resemble the "luggable" portable computers of the '80s. Personal wristcoms and battlefield communicators are typically dedicated circuit devices, as opposed to 21st century cellular or wireless broadband technology. Very little resembling 21st century smartphones or other mobile computing devices are evident, even on the most technologically advanced planets (Earth, Beta Colony, Eta Ceta, etc.).
Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Slightly subverted between Aral and Piotr in the first book. Cordelia notes that despite their vitriolic argument over Miles, when Vordarian's forces make their attempt at usurping the throne, there's no wasted breath between them as they seamlessly plot out a strategy to defeat him... despite Piotr's having been on the verge of disowning Aral less than one minute ago.
Telepathic Spacemen: Terrance Cee, thanks to Cetagandian genetic engineering. In the future of the setting, the entire population of Athos will eventually become this — as may some people on Barrayar, thanks to the genetic samples made available by Miles and Elli Quinn.
In The Vor Game, Emperor Gregor asks Miles what he knows about Prince Serg. Miles suggests that he go talk to Countess Vorkosigan. Some of his actions in later books indicate that he did so.
Unfortunately for Elena, finding out about her mother in The Warrior's Apprentice was not what she expected.
Mark does this with Cordelia in Mirror Dance, with her having a frank discussion with him. She comments that Miles dismisses the (true) rumors about, say, Aral's sexuality because he thinks it's slander. She tells Mark the truth because he needs to know the truth about him with no illusions about him as anything but a real man.
Ivan: There are three people I'd most like to avoid in Vorbarr Sultana — m'mother, Miles, and Gregor, in that order.note A non-optional invitation from his mother to dinner that night arrives about a minute later. The invitation to tea with Miles and Gregor arrives the next morning.
Richars: Alys Vorpatril does not hold a vote in the Council of Counts.
Miles: Richars Vorrutyer sat right there and informed me that Lady Alys held no vote in Council. The fact that she has spent more years in the Vorbarr Sultana political scene than all of us here put together seemed to escape him.
Thanatos Gambit: Ezar: His maneuvering Aral into position as Regent from his deathbed; his use of his infirmities to trap foes:
Vortala: "He's flushed more rats out of the wainscotting in the last five months than the past twenty years. You could practically mark the shakedowns in the Ministries by his medical bulletins. One week: condition very grave. Next week: another deputy minister caught out on charges of peculation, or whatever."
They Call Me Mister Tibbs: Miles to Ivan in Memory: "That's Lord Auditor Coz to you." Ivan continues to address Miles as "Lord Auditor Coz" every now and then just to needle him. Mark seems to have picked up the habit (doubtless for the exact same reason); he scores a point or two off of "Lord Auditor Brother." This results in Tej thinking of Miles as The Coz when she meets him.
Took a Level in Jerkass: The angry, borderline-vindictive Elli Quinn portrayed in most of Mirror Dance bears little resemblance to the cheerful and friendly character from Ethan of Athos. Possibly justified as she's working under an extreme level of stress and grief... but the same applies to Elena and Taura, both of whom are still relatively sympathetic. Quinn's subsequent brief appearance in the first few chapters of Memory is not terribly flattering either, although in her defense, she has just watched the man she loves make a terrible mistake — involving both the fact that she nearly lost him and the weapon she fears most in all the universe — and then apparently-flippantly decide to cover the whole thing up.
Tractor Beam: A mature technology with the usual large scale military/civilian applications (grabbing spacecraft for tactical advantage or careful manipulation such as docking maneuvers), as well as smaller scale uses: Hand tractors for cargo handling and medical hand tractors for fine detail work under sterile conditions. It was also weaponized as the Gravitic Imploder Lance, using a modified version of the technology to inflict catastrophic damage on other ships.
Emperor Gregor when he gets mad, as Miles and Ivan found out.
Gregor had grown so neutral as to seem almost gray. So, that's what rage looks like on him. Miles wondered if Haroche realized what Gregor's extreme lack of expression meant.
Ivan: [...] You don't want to see what he's like pissed.
Byerly: What does he look like, pissed?
Ivan: Identical to what he looks like the rest of the time. That's the scary part.
Ekaterin. Her mother taught her when she was young to deal with anger by being an Extreme Doormat. As she grew more independent, this transmuted into what Miles called "turning to stone." She becomes icy, unemotional, and unmovingly pragmatic.
Transhuman Aliens: The Cetagandans & the quaddies. Ironically, the Cetas, who look like standard humans, are actually more alien in their thinking than the quaddies. After all the genetic engineering they have done on themselves, Miles wonders whether the Cetan Haut class can even be considered part of the same species as the rest of humanity. Or the reverse: how long before the Cetagandans stop considering non-Cetagandans human?
Transsexual: Lady Donna/Lord Dono's sex change to contest a seat on the Council of Counts is a major sub-plot in A Civil Campaign. Dono notes that Betan surgery is so advanced several Betans have changed sex a few times in their lives.
A variant is used to chilling effect in Shards of Honor, where the sadistic psychopath of a bad guy clips one of Cordelia's locks as part of his sick preparations to rape her for real.
The Haut ladies of Cetaganda never cut their hair. In Cetaganda one is held prisoner by clamping her hair. She and another Haut lady react with horror to Miles' suggestion to just cut her loose. Then he distracts them and cuts her loose anyway. In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, one sells her hair for an unstated but significant amount of money; her (half-haut, half-ghem) daughter's hair had been cut by her captors.
Tribal Face Paint: The Cetagandans wear elaborate facepaint with different variations for caste and rank.
After seeing Gregor's betrothal ceremony to its conclusion, and before preparations for the Wedding start gearing up, Alys Vorpatril — to Ivan's extreme discomfort, if not dismay — plans to spend a couple of weeks with Simon at some prole resort on the south coast that has never come to ImpSec's attention. Ivan mutters about "those disgusting drinks with the fruit on a stick in them" among other things.
Truth Serum: The drug fast-penta, which is ubiquitous and almost foolproof, provided you know the right questions to ask. However, it cannot be used on anyone with the wrong type of allergic reaction, as it would kill them, and the allergic reaction can be deliberately induced by a competent intelligence agency. Miles notes to himself, later in the series, that the ability to artificially induce a fatal allergic reaction to fast-penta has resulted in a world where this remarkable truth serum is now fantastically useful only when you are dealing with rank amateurs, since any professional subject will have been proofed against chemical interrogation long before you arrive on the scene. In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, it's revealed that Komarran criminal organizations have taken to foiling fast-penta interrogations by assigning the actual dirty work to underlings who don't know anything important.
Miles demonstrates an anomalous reaction to it in Brothers in Arms, where he becomes hyperactive instead of calm. Instead of compelling him to tell the truth in response to a question, every single thing he thinks just spills out of his mouth (truthfully, but not necessarily in response to what he was asked, which is the problematic bit from the interrogator's point of view) and it is impossible to shut him up. He realizes that he can evade questioning by "free associating" the questions to irrelevant topics, such as memorised poetry or plays, and ends up reciting the entirety of Richard III as a one-man show at top speed before vomiting and passing out. Most of this recitation took place after the interrogators gave up and dumped him back in his cell — the chain association was that strong.
Mark is tested for a reaction at a point when being able to verify his complete non-involvement in Aral Vorkosigan's heart attack would be very convenient. Results? Mark should definitely avoid fast-penta interrogations.
Ekaterin found that it removed constant pain she felt as a result of her life in a loveless marriage. Said marriage has just ended in the "suspicious" death of her husband, which was why she was given the drug.
One character in Komarr, after being subjected to it, states that she might start taking it as a way to free up her thought processes, visualize complex situations more easily, and make it easier to think outside the box.
One attempt to use it in Ethan of Athos reveals another weakness: if the person it's used on doesn't understand the question, instead of saying so, they'll try to translate it into a question that they do understand, resulting in an answer that the interrogator might not understand, as it may not have anything to do with the original topic.
Tyke Bomb: Mark Pierre Vorkosigan. It is telling that the people he was assigned to kill are the ones that give him his own name.
Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: To be fair, Baron Shiv isn't really ugly by any means, but he's not exactly described as a looker. Baronne Udine, meanwhile, is half-ghem and half-haut. That is, half unbelievably beautiful and half mind-shatteringly beautiful.
The lengths to which Ezar Vorbarra is willing to go to clean up his own government are... extreme. He declares a war he plans on losing so that his son will die in the crossfire and the "war party" faction be politically discredited. After he uses the Ministry of Political Education to enact a minor purge, he goes ahead and purges them too, because they were becoming too powerful. He very possibly let a civil war happen just because it was convenient.
Miles' persona as Admiral Naismith, compared to his duties as Lord Vorkosigan.
In A Civil Campaign Kareen muses that Cordelia is the most "unfettered" of all, due to her sheer indifference to Barrayaran mores, and the immovable moral center which she naturally possesses.
Ungovernable Galaxy: The absence of FTL communications and the limitations on where it is possible to travel to and from using the Wormhole Nexus results in this. There is no unified interstellar human government, with most colonies (and Earth itself) being independent. Some multi-system powers such as the Barrayaran and Cetagandan Empires exist, but they generally only control a handful of systems (three and eight respectively in these cases).
Universal Universe Time: Averted. For example, Barrayar has a 26.7 hour day. When Ivan is temporarily posted to Komarr, he grumbles that the 19-hour day length doesn't give him enough time to sample the nightlife after work.
Un-Person: Mara's punishment for infanticide was to be declared dead before the law, losing all property to the mother of the child (her own daughter), be barred from entering into any legally binding agreement (contract, will, etc.), and to never have an offering burned in memorial after death.
When Silvy Vale was relocated, the graveyard where she was buried was flooded under a new lake.
Harra: We didn't move my mother's grave, of course. I left her down there. Let even her burial be buried, no burnings for her.
Unproblematic Prostitution: As with so many other things, the Betans have this one worked out, with sex therapists being a licensed and respectable profession.
Miles:(to Ekaterin) "... Maybe you can go shopping." He waved them off, smiling. "Just don't haul home any severed heads." He glanced up to find Venn and Greenlaw both staring at him in some dismay. "Ah—family joke," he explained weakly. The dismay did not abate.
Lieutenant Vormoncrief, who did truly love Ekaterin (Or at least did truly lust for Ekaterin), kept butting into her life to "save" her from Miles, all at the prodding of Miles's political rivals. He managed to also draw in several of her relatives. Emperor Gregor himself eventually had to get involved to tell everybody (Except Ekaterin) to grow up, as he did not have the time to deal with their gullibility.
Memory. General Haroche nearly succeeds in doing this to Miles.
Victorian Novel Disease: Ekaterin mentions that when girls pretend it is the Time of Isolation, if they pretend to romantically die of disease, it is one "that makes you interestingly pale and everyone sorry and doesn't involve losing bowel control."
Prince Serg in Shards of Honor. We later learn Aral was goading him into leading the charge so that the Escobarans would kill him.
Miles goads Count Vordrozda and Admiral Hessman into one at the climax of The Warrior's Apprentice.
Richars Vorrutyer in A Civil Campaign. He was encouraged by Byerly into making an unwise attack on Dono. His abrasive personality may have doomed him to failure, as exemplified by his political mistakes and his performance at the Council of Counts. Twit.
War Is Hell: Emphasized in Shards of Honor, with the Barrayar-Escobar War, and Barrayar, with Vordarian's Pretendership. Nobody wins these things; our heroes just lose less. Somewhat.
Warrior Prince: The Hegen Alliance Navy, Emperor Gregor Vorbarra and Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan, Joint Commanders. Gregor pulls rank on Aral to get a seat on the Command Deck. This is in some ways the acid test of Aral's regency — he could have legitimately overuled Gregor, citing concerns for the safety of the Imperial person, but does not. Aral is loyal enough that he instead lets go of the reins... although doing so does make his ulcers flare up something awful.
Weapon for Intimidation: Aral, in Shards of Honor, prefers a nerve disruptor or plasma arc to a stunner for this reason. Miles is less than impressed three decades later when someone pulls the argument out.
Gregor and Laisa waiting to go on their honeymoon.
Miles and Ekaterin safely engaged.
Mark and Kareen with their Mutual Option arrangement.
Delia and Olivia Koudelka getting ready to fight over who gets married first, with their father moaning about what this will do to his finances.note We know that 6 months later in "Winterfair Gifts", both Olivia Vorrutyer and Delia Galeni are in attendance, so they must have settled it. No word about the financial angle—maybe some gifts, or Count Vorrutyer chipping in to his wedding, at least?
Mark musing (and by Cryoburn he is proved right) that Martya and Enrique seem to be getting very friendly.
Welcome to My World: Martya's tart response when Miles wonders why Rene's genes should trump his competence in A Civil Campaign. As a girl she is ineligible to become a count however competent.
Martya: "If you want sympathy you've come to the wrong store, Miles."
"Well Done, Son!" Guy: Apparently Miles had a man tortured to death, hijacked a spaceship, commandeered a mercenary fleet and won a minor war to impress his dad. Or possibly his late grandfather. Or maybe his love interest at the time, his bodyguard's daughter, who was the impetus of the entire trip. Though to be fair to Miles he had little idea of Bothari's true psychotic nature and didn't realize he'd resort to torture when asked to question someone. "Impress his dad" can be taken as a proxy for "justify my existence".
Wham Episode: Memory. Miles is drummed out of Imp Sec and becomes an Imperial Auditor; Simon is Brought Down to Normal and learns how to have an actual life. All of the Vorkosigan Saga books to date have been published in omnibus editions...except for Memory. Bujold herself called it "the pivotal Memory left as a stand-alone."
Wham Line: In Cryoburn: Count Vorkosigan, sir? It was foreshadowed in the very first Miles Vorkosigan adventure, The Warrior's Apprentice when he was addressed as Lord Vorkosigan when his grandfather died. In a later book, he admitted dreading hearing those exact three words, "Count Vorkosigan, sir?" and begged his father in absentia to live a long life.
What Happened to the Mouse?: How vital to the functioning of Kyril Island was Lieutenant Ahn's supernaturally good nose for weather?note Presumably not THAT vital. Ahn was supposedly about fifteen percent more accurate than the computer models, but they ran to above 70% accuracy on their own... Way better than any real-life weather prediction yet achieved. Miles worried about not having it, but presumably his replacement did not either.
Miles is sent to kill a genetically engineered monster in a laboratory basement. While there, he rescues a beautiful slave girl, who is chronically lonely and frightened by her imprisonment. They are the same person.
At the end of Mirror Dance, he confronts Taura and Quinn over essentially abandoning Mark to be tortured for five days. He then cashiers Bel Thorne for having knowingly led his troops into a botched and unsanctioned mission under false pretenses, which resulted in a number of deaths.
About the first quarter of Memory is an extended one of these for Miles, culminating in Simon Illyan tearing a strip off him and then firing him.
More than one person in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, on finding out about Simon Illyan's actions, asks "what the hell, Simon?"
What Would X Do?: Faced with a hostage situation in Ethan of Athos, Quinn ponders "What would Admiral Naismith do in the same situation?" as she seeks inspiration.
What You Are in the Dark: Or, in Miles' case, an old wing chair in a small room. Simon Illyan later reveals that he thought Miles was joking about the following interchange; he was not.
Simon: Miles? Are you all right?
Miles: I'm just... wrestling with temptation.
Simon: Who's winning?
Miles: I think... I think I'm going for the best two falls out of three.
Miles is terrified of nerve disruptors (energy weapons that destroy brain and nerve cells), and rightly so; if all you have going for you is your intelligence, what could be more terrifying than a gun that could render you brain-dead with a headshot? He also develops an understandable dislike of the cold after a chain of events on 'Camp Permafrost' that ended with him soaking wet in subzero conditions and crammed inside a radio receiver using static to transmit an SOS.
Quinn's fear of plasma arcs — it is fairly reasonable, considering her past traumatic experience.
Ivan is afraid of enclosed dark spaces filling with water thanks to Mark and Galen's method for holding him hostage on Earth. So in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance he gets trapped in a collapsed tunnel filling with water after an accidental explosion.
Woman Scorned: Exiled Lady ghem Estif offered to sell her brooch, filled with invaluable genetic data about wartime Barrayarans, to Cetaganda. Cetaganda offered ten million Betan dollars for it. However, when the exchange was to be made, she destroyed it in front of the haut Lady who came to purchase it.
Tej: Grandmama was really incensed at being culled from the haut, back when.
Ivan: That was a hundred years ago! She's held this grudge for over a century?
Tej: It's... it's a girl thing. Ghem Estif-Arqua style.
Worthless Yellow Rocks/Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Cordelia is bemused by the value Barrayarans place on gold, which to her Betan sensibility is categorized as "metal, soft, good conductor." Conversely, she has difficulty remembering that wood furniture is not a sign of fabulous wealth. Miles mentions they run the fireplaces to impress Betan visitors, because to them actually burning wood as a heat source is tantamount to rappers pouring bottles of expensive champagne on strippers in their music videos.
Word Of God admitted that she should have realized gold was rare universe-wide.note It could be Betans are a little pretentious - and wood would still be incredibly rare for a society that lives in domes in outer space. In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, part of the treasure the Arquas take away from the bunker are crates of gold. (In fact, practically the only thing, since Barrayar keeps its historical artifacts. The 5% of gold crates the Arquas receive are still worth 400 million Barrayaran marks, valued at 100 million Betan dollars.)
Count Vorhalas cannot stand Aral and is his most implacable political enemy, but his honor and principles are absolutely unimpeachable, and he rejects out of hand any attempt to bring Aral down through Dirty Business. Vorhalas is opposed to Aral because he allowed his son to be executed because of a drunk duel. Aral had to choose between compassion and political stability — and chose stability. Vorhalas also has deep-seated guilt for Miles' condition, however, which was caused by the actions of his other son who was being manipulated by a royal usurper.
Miles and Emperor Fletchir Giaja become a pair of Worthy Opponents, to Ivan's horror.
"Ivan." Miles let his voice grow unexpectedly chill. "Why should the haut Fletchir Giaja decide he needed to be polite to me? Do you really think this is just for my father's sake?" He ticked the medallion and set it spinning, and locked eyes with his cousin. "It's not a trivial trinket. Think again about all the things this means. Bribery, sabotage, and real respect, all in one strange packet... we're not done with each other yet, Giaja and I."
Aral actually finds it in his heart to claim that one of the men who had cuckolded him with his first wife was this. Mainly because he had done it with style and paid the proper Barryaran penalty in a stylish and honorable way.
Ghem Colonel Benin is a subversion being less an opponent and more a useful contact for Miles on the other side of the fence. He is as loyal to Cetaganda as Miles is to Barrayar but from time to time it is useful to their respective polities to be able to talk under the table.
"... But the odds aren't what they appear. The quaddies are creampuffs. Half of them are children under twelve, for God's sake. Just go in, and stun anything that moves. How many five-year-old girls do you figure you're equal to, Fors?" "I don't know, sir," Fors blinked. "I never pictured myself fighting five-year-old girls."
Yes-Man: At one point in Memory, Miles tries to be the most literal possible version of this with Emperor Gregor. It does not work very well. That is because Gregor grew up with Miles. Gregor is, at the very least, Miles Savvy. Later, Miles admits that his job description as Imperial Auditor is best summed up as "Whatever you say, Gregor."
Yet Another Stupid Death: Lazkowski Base on Kyril Island (AKA Camp Permafrost) gets a lot of these. The record for the most original and idiotic death goes to the guy Miles found wedged in a drainpipe, having drowned trying to save his cookie stash.
Yiddish as a Second Language: Miles uses Yiddish words somewhat frequently. So does Cordelia, from time to time. It is probably a Betan thing.
You Are Number Six: In "Labyrinth" there is a character called Nine, the only survivor of a batch of ten genetic experiments whose creators never bothered to give them real names. See Meaningful Rename above.
In Barrayar, Cordelia suspects that Aral's subordinates are happy that she made it to Tanery Base because they think that Aral getting laid will calm the old man down.
"I don't think I've ever seen a human being who needs to get laid worse than you do right now." Elli to Miles. When they do finally sleep together, it does not have the expected effect; instead of falling into a contented doze, Miles bounces straight back to his usual hyperactive self as soon as he gets an idea. Elli, naturally, unloads some snark in his direction over this.
Later, Kareen muses that Miles' household and armsmen are desperately hoping that 'someone can get the little git laid' so that he'll calm down — but then dismisses it, since they're all too much under Miles's spell.
You Should Have Died Instead: Piotr essentially saying that Mad Emperor Yuri's death squad killed the wrong son, near the end of Barrayar, is the final straw in his deteriorating relationship with Aral, leading to a five year estrangement between them.