|Becca Stareyes (beccastareyes) wrote,|
@ 2012-07-01 13:47:00
|Entry tags:||100 sff stories, fandom|
100 SF/Fantasy Stories 013: A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
So, somehow the whole 'lover who knows what you want better than you do' trope has come up, thanks to Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray, especially with the side of '... so he doesn't need to ask permission'. In response, I started rereading A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold.
So ACC is part of Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga and it's probably the most romance-oriented in the series (though Bujold notes it and Komarr, the previous book, can be read as a romantic drama and a romantic comedy). There's SFnal elements, as Miles's job requires him to deal with several crises of inheritance that ultimately come from a very patriarchal society that is changing only slowly but that also suddenly got genetic technology some decades ago and new technology buts against old laws and customs. And Bujold is good at picking up on themes: it's no coincidence that she picked up these plot threads while writing two and a half romances, amid thew backdrop of an Imperial wedding.
But let's talk about Miles and Ekaterin's relationship. Miles is the lead character of most of the books, a former covert agent and mercenary admiral (his cover story for the covert agent) turned into the Emperor's problem solver. He's intelligent, good at improvisation, extremely curious and horrible at getting in over his head. And very good at manipulating others, which is a useful job skill. And most of his previous girlfriends were the ones who propositioned him, which means he's actually not all that good at the romance aspect. Despite the fact he's part of a nobility that would prefer he marry and have an heir or two. (And did we mention that sex selection technology + patriarchy means that Miles's generation and class have about a 5:3 male to female ratio, and that most people are married by Miles's age? And none of his galactic girlfriends wanted to come home and play noble in a society where, despite everyone's best efforts, women are still second-class citizens.)
Ekaterin is a pretty good example of why women don't want to move to Barrayar. Her family was very old fashioned and she agreed to an arranged marriage to a man several years her senior who turned out to be an emotionally abusive controlling asshole. Even when they were posted off-planet, away from her family, honor and years of being beat down by everyone except her beloved aunt and uncle still kept her from leaving his ass. In the end, it was the fact he gambled away the money they'd been saving for treatment for his and their son's genetic disorder and had been compromised as part of a shady embezzlement scheme at work to cover his debts that was the last straw.
Of course, then he had the bad luck of trying to sell out his co-conspirators to the government (read: Miles, the agent on scene) and got killed because they trapped him and Miles in an unbreathable atmosphere, assuming that everyone checks their tanks before going outside.
So, anyway, Ekaterin got a clean break (and a brief investigation to make sure this wasn't a murder case) and, despite being a bit infatuated with Miles, was all 'I am done with men and marriage'.
And then Miles is an idiot for a hundred pages because his heart and his gonads outvote his limited common sense and he tries the Nice Guy technique of 'say you're okay with friendship when you hope that being her friend will lead to romance'.
Some of it is probably genuine friendship and encouraging someone who is intelligent and artistic but has spent most of her life being beaten down: it's noted that one of Miles's talents is finding people who are good at their job and making sure they can do their job, and Miles had his own loss of everything both in his physical disability nearly preventing his military career and in a medical discharge ending his military career. Miles asks Ekaterin to do some landscaping work for him, since he'd seen her garden designs and she was talented. He also tries to introduce her around to people on planet, so she'd have friends, and invites her to a dinner party he's hosting for a bunch of people (mostly friends of his family).
Then Miles's old boss (who has memory problems) lets the cat out of the bag to Ekaterin. And she blows up at him for manipulating her and storms out. (This is one reason That Dinner Party is all you need to say in the fandom. It's generally a big Charlie Foxtrot as everyone's plans run into one another.)
And Miles crashes. And reflects. And writes about a billion apology notes, and eventually sends one. That pretty much admits that he had unintentionally undermined Ekaterin by helping her for selfish reasons -- his mother compares it to 'that time your bodyguard let you win at some ball game that you were struggling with'. And that he'd like her to continue being a friend and completing the garden, but, frankly, his desires didn't matter here: she could back out with no loss of honor or money needing to be returned.
Ekaterin also reflects. Because, as she notes, she does like Miles. She doesn't like being manipulated, even if Miles had her best interests at heart, unlike her first husband. So she realizes that if she wants a relationship of any sort with Miles Vorkosigan, even one where he is trying to turn off the charm and manipulation, she has to be willing to tell him to knock it off if he crosses lines. Or, heck, that she will have to do that with men in general: it's not escaped her notice that she's single, nominally nobility (though poor and untitled) and the planet has a skewed sex ratio and a bunch of assholes who don't respect 'I am in mourning, dammit'.
And, yes, the two do reconcile and end up together, but that's not the point I was reflecting on. It was that Miles's attempts to arrange Ekaterin's life for her were portrayed as wrong and threatening to an abused woman, even if Miles is generally presented as mostly a good guy who has his ass showing. So, when the text has Miles realize his ass is showing, he eventually puts on some damn pants and doesn't get mad that people pointed that out.
Would that more books would have the female lead tell the male lead to knock it off with the I can handle your life better than you, and the male lead actually backing off and listening. And the female lead continuing to stand up for her right to self determine.
(Actually that may be another theme of the book, since Mark and Kareen have a bit of that as well, though the main conflict there is Kareen's parents. You could even make a case for Ivan's arc having some of that: Ivan has trouble dealing with the fact an old flame got gender reassignment surgery to cut his creepy cousin out of the inheritance of his brother, and Ivan has to put on his big boy pants and deal.)