Motherhood and Bujold
I mentioned in my last booklog update that I had thoughts about Ekaterin, which needed to be off in a separate post. This is that post; it contains spoilers for the Vorkosigan series, so I’m putting the actual content behind a cut.
The short form is, Bujold clearly cares about writing stories where family and children are something that happen to the characters, and where motherhood is treated as worth writing about. Except that I don’t feel like she really succeeds in that mission — a statement which I think I can only make sense of by following my thoughts through their process of formation.
It started with Drou. I really liked her as a character, and the dynamic between her and Kou — them living in a society where men are ideally warriors and women are not, but he’s physically disabled and she’s an Amazon. It made me happy when zunger reassured me there would be “plenty more” of those two later on in the series, because I wanted more exploration of the lack of choices Drou had, and maybe her daughters getting to have more choices.
. . . but sorry, zunger, I have to disagree with your assessment. There isn’t “plenty more” of them; there’s hardly any, except in A Civil Campaign, where their role is pretty much restricted to concerns about their daughters’ marriages. We’re told Drou is still athletic, and later on it’s clear she taught her daughters to defend themselves, but nobody has picked up her baton and run onward with it. Drou’s societal role basically goes from “bodyguard to the Emperor of Barrayar” to “mother,” and it disappoints me.
Then there’s Cordelia. Who is awesome, and the heroine of two novels . . . but her story ends with Miles’ birth. After that, she’s a side character in his story. She does some cool things (handling Mark; smacking Kou and Drou upside the head), but she doesn’t get point of view, and isn’t a protagonist anymore.
Which wouldn’t have bugged me, except for what happened with Ekaterin. When we first see that woman, she’s a pov character; in fact, Komarr starts with her, before we even get to Miles, and I seem to recall the book ends with her, too. The only other character to be given that kind of prominence is Mark, in Mirror Dance. She doesn’t take much of Miles’ shit, and she has a Crowning Moment of Awesome with the gravitic thingy, all of which made me quite like her as a character. And it pleased me that she went on being interesting in A Civil Campaign, with another CMoA at the end.
. . . but then there was Diplomatic Immunity. In which she doesn’t get pov, and doesn’t have much effect on the story, except for Miles to worry about her safety and getting her home in time to decant the kids.
. . . and then there was Cryoburn, in which we get one kid-laden message from home, and that’s it.
It’s hard not to walk away from that feeling like motherhood means the end of your story. (Heck, even Elena takes a step backward out of the story when she marries Baz, and a bigger one when they retire to have children.) I know this is the Miles Vorkosigan series, not Ekaterin’s or Cordelia’s or anybody else’s, but some characters have gotten co-equal protagonist status with Miles. Once I’ve invested in those people as semi-independent actors in the plot, watching them get relegated to the sidelines is disappointing. I can accept it better with Mark; after all, his mission in life is to have a life away from his brother. But Ekaterin, I feel, should be there: at Miles’ side, doing narratively interesting stuff like she did before. God knows she has the security clearance for it, and Bujold, I think, knows that there’s valuable intel to be gathered through social channels. It could have worked very well in Diplomatic Immunity, and the failure to take that opportunity really weakened that book. Cryoburn‘s more intense lack of Ekaterin makes it look even worse.
Mind you, it’s possible to make the argument that fatherhood means the end of your story nearly as much. Aral fades into the background even more than Cordelia does, and Kou ends up next to Drou on the sidelines. Baz leaves with Elena. But there are counter-arguments in all of those cases: Aral and Baz were never as prominent in the story as their eventual wives, so had less distance to fall. None of the men had protagonist status like Cordelia or Ekaterin. And of course, Miles doesn’t stop being interesting when he has kids — because it’s his series, and if Bujold stops telling stories about him, then the party’s over.
It’s just enough of a problem to annoy me. I really, really hope that whatever Vorkosigan book comes next reverses the trend, and puts Ekaterin back into the story in some interesting fashion. Otherwise this disappointment is going to stay with me, and I’d really prefer if it didn’t.