[LMB] Villains

Elizabeth Holden azurite at rogers.com
Thu May 23 15:21:22 BST 2013

From: Karen Hunt <huntkc at gmail.com>

> > I was thinking of pointing out that we were once talking about villains
> in
> > the books and we were in fact at The Warrior's Apprentice. I think one
> > reason we fell off the wagon is that it's not immediately obvious who the
> > villains are in this tale. 

This is one reason I cited the setters of the military exam, who set everything in motion.  I was suspecting political motives.  And given the circumstances, I think I could even make a case that they were disinclined to help a Vorkosigan because of influence from Vordrozda and his party.  Okay, okay, that's something I made up without evidence, but it isn't implausible.


> I'd say more that the villain doesn't interact with Miles until close to

> the end of the book.. Vordrozda is the villain behind it all, 

Well... where does the conflict lie?

(1) Miles is unhappy because he failed to get into the Academy.  The non-com is the immediate cause, though you can assign it to other levels of authority.  Or blame the soltoxin attack, or Piotr for making Miles feel the need to prove himself, or for a passion for the military. (Which it's pretty clear he didn't get from his mother.)

(2) Miles gets into trouble because he feels the need to help Arde Mayhew.  The instigator of that problem is Calhoun, who could have defused the situation, or shown earlier social/personal responsibility.

(3) The antagonists become those Miles is trying to fool into accepting him as Admiral, or the enemy they are hired to fight, or Oser himself.... and to a large extent, it's Miles fighting his own fears and failures, his tendency to depression, his sense of self.

(4) The Vordorzda plot becomes a clear problem; in which Gregor himself is an antagonist.

I'd say: four levels of conflict, some primarily internal, all of which escalate as the story goes on.  A cacophony of little villains.  Miles battling his own illusions and weaknesses.  And the above is looking at the story from Miles' point of view, as we do: Elena Viconti would cast Bothari as villain, and not long ago I made a case to apply the word to her.

Sympathetic villains are perhaps a staple of the Bujold opus.

> I'm not denying that Vordrozda and Hessman were bad people who qualify in
> the villainous category. But they aren't that relevant to most of the
> story. Nothing they do or say affects Miles directly until the end of the
> book when Ivan shows up.

Does a villain have to be seen, in order to be a villain?  In most murder mysteries, you don't know who the killer is till the final page.  Yet they set the conflict in motion.

Gwynne (I think - my browser makes attribution difficult sometimes):

> Miles Vorkosigan, please step forward - the villain is you!

Antagonist, surely.  Inner demons and needs.

> Horrifyingly enough, the awful cover with Elena's combat nightie got
> something right - "He had first to conquer himself, after that the
> universe was easy."

Nice paraphrase of the plot. 

> As always, Miles is a special case. He certainly makes mistakes, and does
> accidently commit treason (again)

Making it a habit. Of sorts.  

>  but his motives are good - 

Yes. Miles is one of those characters who can do terrible things and remain heroic.

> most of the
> time he's either trying to do the right thing, or just trying to survive

Or trying to die.  He does both.

> (admittedly in situations he's created or put himself into). But I don't
> call him a villain in this book. 

What, compared to the many other stories in which he is a true villain?  I don't think so!  (That's the version written by Cavilo after she settled down on some obscure planet to make a fortune writing romantic thrillers.)

> For one thing, he's not nearly as well-organised
> or clear in his intentions as most villains, 

I don't know if I think Bujold villains are well-organized or clear in their intentions.  Most of them are bumbling as much as the heroes, and no more/less focussed. In Shards, Ges Vorrutyer opposes Aral and loves him at the same time. After assassination attempts, Aral gives his treacherous second in command a change to kill him, which the man passes up.  Ges Vorrutyer's assassin/torturer saves Cordelia's from torture, rape and murder.  Emperor Ezar allows much of his army to be wiped out for the sake of saving the future.   Mehta abuses Cordelias rights and freedoms to rescue her from imaginary enemy control. 

Maybe Ryoval had clear (evil) goals, but it seems to me most Bujold villains are far from clear-cut.

> he's just rocketing along from one
> situation to the next.

Aren't they all?  Isn't that, in fact, a major theme?


> I'm being a bit meta... Basically, his enemy is within himself. 

Yes. But this is so far from unusual for a hero that it's pretty much normal - far more common than otherwise, except in the most shallow of stories.  Becuase it's much more dull when the hero's conflict is all external. It's when the villains exploit a weakness of the hero, or the hero comes up against his own fatal flaw, that things become interesting.

There's a scene in one of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond novels in which someone points out that Lymond's true opponent, the one he had to overcome and defeat, was always himself.   That also is true of Miles.  And Aral.  And Gregor.  Not Cordelia or Ekaterin, I think, but they each had troubled figuring out what they really wanted, and the price to pay for it.


> That's true of most tales, from Jane Eyre on.


> Certainly, but not all the tales in this series are that way. These two in
> particular, Barrayar and The Mountains of Mourning, are very strongly that
> way.

I think they are mostly that way.  The exceptions I see are Cryoburn and Diplomatic Immunity.  "Winterfair Gifts" is a beautiful point, where the mystery plot comes from figuring out that the real threat is external not internal.

> In particular, look at Barrayar. I've picked as the big message line of the
> tale this one: "Change is inevitable," she asserted. "But you can't manage it Ezar's way.
> This isn't Ezar's era anymore. You have to find your own way. Remake this
> world into one Miles can survive in. And Elena. And Ivan. And Gregor."
> This is Aral's mission statement - the direction he is to lead the world in
> as Regent. Essentially, a new mother's topmost goal.

It can be argued that the rest of the Vorkosigan series is the planet's mandate to do just that.


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