Fridge Heartwarming: At the start of the saga, Aral tells Cordelia about himself and Barrayar: that he lost most of his family in mad Yuri's massacre at age 11; that he fought in the coup against Yuri; that Yuri was executed by a thousand cuts; that emperor Ezar gave Aral the 'honor' of first cut; that Ezar outlawed dueling on pain of death; that Aral, age 20-something, killed two men in duels because they cuckolded him; that he got away with it because it looked like the two killed each other; that captain Negri is Ezar's familiar; and that Negri knows everything. Ezar ordered Negri to cover it up to spare Aral.
Fridge Tearjerker: Imagine Miles giving his report to Gregor after Komarr: One stupid and insensitive Vor with a mutation in his genes, abusive of his wife and neglectfull of his son, looked down on people and always wanted a shortcut to success, killed while committing a crime. The wife, isolated from her family, survived because she focused all her energy on the son, now liberated by husband's death. The boy inherited father's mutation, wants to be a jump-ship pilot. Tien, Ekaterine and Nikki; or Serg, Kareen and Gregor?
Cordelia's belief that a glass of champagne will harm the developing Miles in Barrayar is the result of superstitious fears due to her lack of familiarity with in vivo pregnancy.
Alternately, this is a reflection of Barrayar's crippling fear of mutations. For these people, even the slightest chance of screwing up the baby is too much.
Why are the nobles of Barrayar referred to as the Vor class when 'Vor' is Russian (Which is one of the four common tongues of Barrayar) for 'Thief'? The Vor class started out as the Emperor's tax collectors, who often had to collect taxes at swordpoint during the Time of Isolation. From the perspective of the commoners being shaken down for taxes, they probably looked like thieves.
In the denouement of Komarr, pay attention to which conspirators believe Miles' warning that their MacGuffin is fatally flawed and will not work as originally intended, and which do not. You'll note that the less technically educated the conspirator is, the less willing they are to believe Miles' warning that the thing will just blow up in their faces. The Komarran conspirators' relative degree of caution about Murphy and Finagle are in direct proportion to their amount of experience as engineers!note Soudha, who is an engineer, believes him immediately. Madame Radovas, who has no engineering experience herself but was married to an engineer for decades, believes him after thinking it over. Cappell, who has at least some scientific education but is a theoretical mathematician and not a hardware guy, thinks it over and decides that the odds are good enough to risk it anyway. And Foscol, who is an accountant and doesn't know science from shinola, rejects Miles' warning out of hand as an 'obvious lie'.
A cultural reason for the rise of the Vor on Barrayar: The majority of immigrants were stated to be from Britain, France, Russia and Greece, countries which all have some form of noble tradition, so it would be quite easy for them to adapt to a renewed feudal state.
Some people have pointed out that in Shards of Honor, in vivo pregnancies are considered a slightly uncommon but ordinary thing, with approximately one in four pregnancies being natural. Fast forward to Komarr, and it seems that use of replicators is so ubiquitous that Nikki being a body birth is viewed as a major eccentricity, and borderline abusive on Tien's part. This may seem like Continuity Drift, but another explanation presents itself as well. Using a replicator guarantees that your children will be free of mutation, making the replicator an answer to a fear so ingrained into Barrayarans as to be practically written into their DNA.
On top of this, most of the characters we see strongly favoring replicator birth later in the series- Miles, Cordelia, and Alys - all have extremely strong personal reasons for doing so. Ekaterin in her doormat fashion seems to have adopted the prejudice but clearly feels that she is somehow cheating her children.
However, she did have a body birth: Nikki, and he inherited a genetic disorder, so she probably doesn't mind the replicator method. It's also stated that his body-birth had been "to her cost", which would imply that pregnancy, childbirth, or both were traumatic in some way. (She's also in her thirties when she and Miles start their family, when fertility starts to drop and the potential for complications starts to rise.)
This one takes a little bit to kick in. In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan states that trying to judge Shiv Arqua without including his wife is like "trying to assess Uncle Aral without including Aunt Cordelia." Who else made this mistake? Ser Galen, in training Mark!
Another one that takes awhile to kick in. All the way back in The Vor Game, Miles says, upon seeing an enemy in hostile circumstances, "Now would be a wonderful time to roll up his eyes and pass out, if only he had the trick of it." Five books, a needle grenade to the chest and a cryo-revival later, guess what?
The skillful aversion of standard Planet of Hats deserves praise. Serious world building was put into even minor details of each planet, with justification for their cultural beliefs that *make sense*, and due to the small size of habitable space, and the prevalence of technology that make it easier to communicate with anyone on planet, the shared culture of planets make sense.
Barrayar: The world was developed intended be a Sword and Sandles world, but how does one justify that in high tech? Strand the world, let them regress, then bring them back to modern technology. Their tech may be nearly up to date, but their *culture* is still stuck in medieval world trying to adapt.
The hate of mutants at his home shape every aspect of Miles, but why does that hate exist? Imagine a world that is colonized by only a few (by virtue of a world) isolated colonists. Inbreeding becomes a major issue, and thus negative recessive genes will lead to birth defects regularly. This is a world where 'mutations' (depending on how one defines a mutation) occur regularly and the only possible way for the world to survive is infanticide. Think about that, they *HAD* to be willing to kill their own children at the slightest sign of birth defect to even survive. One can imagine how an experience like that would become ingrained into the cultural psychology. Sure, birth defects aren't an issue in present day, but after so many generations of them being real issues it's understandable why a stigma would exist
Why do women have so little power? because in a world where people were fighting to survive, and infanticide occurred regularly, women *had* to be breeders. The emphasis on producing children, and protecting women so they could produce children, can be seen in all over the place in policy and practices on the planet. (Note: This also may have had significant influence on the development of gender roles in the real world as well.)
Women have all kinds of power on Barrayar, in their roles as reproducers and guardians of the genome and as mistresses of households and estates. They even enjoy certain legal immunities as lieges to their husbands who take the hit for them. Granted these are not kinds of power either men or women are taught to esteem in non-traditional societies.
Adherents of the Good Old Ways are fighting a losing battle at least partly because Galactic reproductive technology can accomplish something that no amount of careful breeding and infanticide could — guaranteeing defect-free births. Progressives who have adopted genetic screening and use of uterine replicators can reliably produce healthy offspring, while natural conceptions are still a gamble. Emperor Gregor did not have to have his arm twisted by Laisa Toscane over the stipulation that they would have kids the modern way precisely because he is so worried about congenital insanity among the Vor, and his line in particular, that a Galactic wife insisting on doing this eliminated one of his biggest fears in life. It is doing the same for numerous other Barrayarans, who in turn start to decide that other technological innovations are not so bad either.
Mark's win-win plan to bring an end to the Expendable Clone industry on Jackson's Whole. The Durona Group's current Fountain of Youth project would be a lot more appealing to otherwise amoral clients that might be squeamish about having their brains cut out of their skulls in a potentially fatal transplant into a younger clone body, even if the Durona's can currently only regress someone from old age to middle age. Plus, the competition this will create in the market will force the Jacksonian Houses to try to come up with comparable, or better, treatments of this sort in the face of the marketing argument that it is safer to make your own body younger than to try getting your brain put into a new one. Thus, even if the Houses stay in this business, the clone side of it will likely become less and less popular. Which is what Mark really wants.
Ivan has become a diplomat as of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen. This was very likely strategic on Gregor's part. Ivan's half-Jacksonian/half-Cetagandan wife Tej might be something of a political liability on Barrayar. But elsewhere in the Nexus she helps give Ivan a more cosmopolitan air and debunks the widespread of perception of Barrayarans (especially Vor) being inbred isolationists. Notably, in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, both Tej and Rish thought it was a big deal that Ivan had a mere one-eighth Betan ancestry. Gregor himself has hoped his own marriage to a Komarran would improve unity within the Imperium. Miles, five-eighths Betan, has always been one of the best adapted Vor to matters of galactic affairs. Ivan making the rounds on the diplomatic circuit with his galactic wife on his arm presents a much less parochial image of a Barrayaran Vor lord. As an added bonus, since Tej makes Ivan (and their children) too controversial to be an acceptable candidate for the throne as compared to Gregor and Miles' respective heirs, Ivan no longer has to maintain a pretense of being a ditz to avoid being the target of conspiracies. Thus Gregor could freely give him a more prominent job.
It doesn't hurt that Ivan is acquainted with members of the Star Creche, who are one tiny tick under Fletchir Gaija himself in political power in Cetaganda.
In The Vor Game Miles describes Lazkowski Base as "...The average IQ equalled the mean temperature in degrees cee, there wasn't a woman for five hundred kilometers in any direction and the base commander was a homicidal psychotic." Aral responds that it sounds just the same as the last time he was there. The last time Aral was there, he was the base commander.
It seems a little strange that Gregor would promise so much to Nikki in A Civil Campaign. Yes, it involves his foster-brother Miles, and yes, it's partly because it involves high level security dealing with Komarr and Barrayar, but one realizes that Gregor identifies with Nikki — a mentally unstable father and a harassed, devoted Mama Bear who has an unwanted suitor, exactly like Prince Serg, Princess Kareen and Vidal Vordarian. Nikki probably gives him very uncomfortable flashbacks to when he was five.
The Vor have a very strictly followed tradition whereby each first-born son is named after his paternal grandfather. Emperor Gregor has no apparent siblings. Gregor's paternal grandfather is named Ezar. Gregor's father Serg was shown to have had women impregnated for his unspecified evil amusement. So, it's quite probable that Gregor had an older brother who was killed by their father (and why Ezar is specifically stated as having protected Kareen once she conceived Gregor. He wouldn't have to do it if there wasn't a real reason to.)
Miles has an in-universe example; after failing to save Ekaterin from falling off a small ledge into a lake below, he confesses to her that for six years, he's had nightmares about the death of Sergeant Beatrice, who died from being sucked out of an air-craft. He'd run through so many what-ifs about how he could have saved her by managing to grasp her hand, that he'd never actually considered what would have happened if he'd managed to get a-hold of her. He finally realises that she would have pulled him out of the craft with her, since she was almost twice his weight and he had no anchor — and as Ekaterin silently muses, because he wouldn't have let go regardless.