[LMB] Flowers of Vashnoi.... and so it begins

Gwynne Powell gwynnepowell at hotmail.com
Sun Oct 20 14:05:56 BST 2019

It begins with one of the deepest fears we have: radiation.

We're flying into Vorkosigan Vashnoi. This blighted spot has been in the
books since the beginning; it's the reason Miles has so few relatives, it's
a deep misery in the family. It was, for Miles, an example of his grandfather's
disgust with him. Later it became a symbol of hope; he decided that
maybe his grandfather left it to him personally simply because it was going
to take a lifetime or two before it was useful again. Miles used it to get a
rather dishonest loan when he was on Beta - and that led to him becoming
Admiral Naismith with his Dendarii fleet. It gives a certain leverage when
dealing with the Cetagandans; they broke every rule in the warfare book,
and even for them it was a shameful act.

For a dead, dangerous and useless piece of property it's actually had quite
an impact on Miles's life.

It's a mix of Earth and native vegetation, of swamp and meadows. It's an
area in flux. Rangers and warning signs keep people out, radiation levels
are checked regularly, they move the boundaries back as they can. Slowly.
The signs work on the older generation; the radiation threat is clear in
their minds. The younger generation may need fences. Progress: the fear is

Ekaterin and Enrique are working on an anti-radiation project. Ekaterin
hasn't seen the area before, she's worked off-site in the labs at Hassadar.
Miles has been twitchy about her being there, and she indulged him until
it was necessary to go on site.

Vadim, the ranger who is flying them, and who has been working on site
with Enrique, is stiffly nervous about being in the presence of Miles and
Ekaterin. She can see that, but knows that Miles will reassure him by the
end of the day (Miles is good with personnel. And he cares about the people
working for him, too.)

Almost a quarter of a million died there. That's horrific. Most of Piotr's family
were there, for a special meeting. He lost just about everyone. (The more
you think about Piotr, the more you realise why he was the way he was. That
poor sod took so many hits, broke his heart over and over again.) Piotr had
never made a ceremonial burning for his family; the explosion 'had been
burning enough'.

Piotr had inherited part of it, bought out other owners for the rest (a way of
compensating them - clever, and kind.) And he'd left it to Miles... just maybe
he thought Miles would be able to use that keen brain to get it fixed, somehow.

And, finally, that's what they're doing.

They also see rubbish there; people are using it as a good place to dump
rubbish. Maybe not for much longer?

So, that's a pretty rugged beginning - wholesale death and misery. Danger
from radiation, an always-scary thought. Land that's contaminated, dangerous,
unwanted, defiled. A graveyard for hundreds of thousands. Death and loss. We
start pretty horribly. Then there's the hope that this generation will rejuvenate
this place - a glimmer of hope. Once again Lois gives us a clever infodump, setting
the scene and the tone.

This one isn't such an easy entry as some of the novels and novellas, it's dark and
sad. But this is also one of those that really pays off for a second and third read,
there's so many gems that we find when we're past the simple 'what happens next'
stage of the first read, and we're able to settle in and pick up the subtleties.

And there's Ekaterin, the brisk and insightful tone of her mind. She can read Miles
like a book, she's very aware of the feelings of the people around her. And she has
a certain ruthlessness of her own, when she needs it; she'll indulge her husband
about his worries for her safety, until she needs to get out into the field. And then
she'll go; that's her job.

The van lands, they put on their radiation gear and head out. And off we go....

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