Vorkosigan Saga

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
One of the very few non-Contemptible Covers in the series.

"The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart."

Sometimes known simply as the Miles Vorkosigan series, the Vorkosigan Saga is a collection of Space Operas by Lois McMaster Bujold taking place in a future where humans have colonized several new worlds, but continue to embrace all the bad habits that made life so fractuous on Earth. The majority of the stories feature Miles Vorkosigan, son of the Prime Minister of the Empire of Barrayar, who was born short, hunchbacked and with brittle bones as the result of a chemical assassination attempt on his father while his mother was pregnant. The series follows, roughly in chronological order, his parents' meeting and his birth, his construction of a Secret Identity as the admiral of a mercenary fleet, his loss of this identity, and his subsequent reconstruction of his life.

However, there is a lot more humor in the series than that thumbnail description would lead you to believe, and it also examines a lot of timeless social, political and economic issues. Bujold has also written a few non-Miles-centered novels set in the same universe, some of which serve to establish the wider Verse and some of which feature minor or recurring characters from the primary storyline.

Warning: Tropes and subpages may contain unmarked spoilers.

Tropes used in Vorkosigan Saga include:
  • Absent Aliens (and Transhuman Aliens): There are plenty of odd creatures, but they all are variants of Humans created via genetic engineering. The most prominent of these are the quaddies, built to work in zero-gravity environments, who have an extra set of arms in the place of legs. Cetaganda, which is the most consistent "enemy" of Barrayar, is an empire with bio-technological transhumanism as its basic philosophy and ultimate goal.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Enrique Borgos. Fortunately, he falls in love with a Koudelka, who are all hyper-competent.
  • Accidental Hero: Cordelia reluctantly takes public credit for killing Admiral Vorrutyer during the Escobar War. She takes the blame to protect her rescuer from charges of mutiny, but is quick to point out the real hero when it comes time to assign the credit. She does it again with the execution of the usurper "Emperor" Vordarian, though Bothari probably wouldn't get into trouble for that one.
  • Action Girl:
    • Elli Quinn, Lieutenant then Commander then Admiral.
    • Cordelia Vorkosign (nee Naismith), Captain of the Betan Astronomical Survey
    • Elena Bothari-Jesek, Commander, Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet (who retires, but not before doing a damn good job)
    • Drou (Ludmila Droushnakovi, who dislikes her given name), personal bodyguard to Emperor Gregor Vorbarra of Barrayar
    • Taura, who takes this to rather terrifying levels.
  • Action Mom: Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan. Hikes across a countryside just after having her son ripped out of her womb, organizes another trip a few weeks later to sneak into enemy territory to get him back, and that is before her actual "shopping trip to the Capital".
  • Adrenaline Makeover: Ekaterin has a brief one at the end of Komarr. No one should look that hot while defeating Komarran terrorists barefoot, dammit!
  • Agent Provocateur
    • Aral goads Prince Serg into leading the Escobar invasion in person, ensuring the success of Ezar's Gambit Pileup.
    • Byerly actively encourages Richars's stupidity.
    • Miles, realizing that his new job as Imperial Auditor is inherently reactive in nature -- Auditors are not called in to deal with a situation unless it has already gotten pretty bad and more normal means of resolution are inadequate or impractical -- contemplates trying to sell Gregor on the notion of an Auditor Provocateur to better match his own more proactive temperament.
  • Alcohol Is Poison: While pregnant with Miles, Cordelia passes on a glass of champagne, noting that she's forgoing "all metabolic poisons".
  • Alliterative Family: Miles comments on the alliteration of Duv and Delia (D&D) when they become a couple.
  • Almighty Janitor:
    • Miles's cover job is as an Imperial Courier, justifying frequent and extended absences. Memory also reveals that the Imperial Security Headquarters building's janitors are all 10-year veterans, although that is more or less par for the course for ImpSec HQ employees.
    • On Barrayar, the title of "Count" is short for accountant, although even the people who repeat this rumor are unsure if it is actually true, or just something made up long after the title came to exist.
  • Almighty Mom: Cordelia, of course.
  • Ancestral Weapon: The Vorkosigan Seal dagger willed from Count Piotr to Miles. Like many famous weapons in the series (e.g. Koudelka's swordstick) it mostly gets used for mundane purposes, but Bothari make rather disconcerting use of it during the Tau Verde campaign, Miles uses it to good effect in an emergency simulation at the academy and it was a significant element in Miles' apology letter to Ekaterin. Ekaterin lampshades the fact that It Belongs in a Museum:

When genuine seal daggers from the Time of Isolation appeared on the market, they were bid up in to the ten of thousands of marks. Miles probably used his as a letter opener, or to clean under his fingernails.

    • In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Ivan finds "a complete set of seal-daggers from all sixty Counts-palatine in existence a hundred years back." With records of provenance, he estimates the value of this set as six to ten million Barrayaran marks. (And yes, he notes that Miles does use his to open letters.)
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: The second time around (the letter, not the dinner party) Miles gets it right. Though technically the third time around for Miles; his first was to Elena Bothari.
  • Anti-Villain: In the book Komarr, the terrorists are mild-mannered academics who misguidedly think they are taking a non-violent path to political independence. They do not care that millions will die from the loss of access to Galactic technology - or rather they have convinced themselves that the consequences will not be that bad since Barrayar has the scientific knowledge and industrialisation to recreate the technology now.
  • Arms Dealer:
    • Miles' first official ImpSec cover identity was as a freelance arms dealer.
    • House Fell's primary income stream is from the interstellar arms trade.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Illyan's list of the motivations of men: "Money, Power, Sex... and elephants."
  • Ascended Fanfic:
    • The series has very loose roots in Lois's history in Star Trek fanfic; you can see bits of the Klingon Empire in Barrayar, and the Federation in Beta Colony.
    • A Vorkosigan Fanfic story, Negri's Boys by Charles Finlay, was rewritten with the serial numbers filed off as The Political Officer, and published in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction. It was also nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Ky Tung, Captain of the Dendarri Free Mercenary Fleet, turns out to be a complete Aral Vorkosigan Fanboy.
  • At the Opera Tonight: In Diplomatic Immunity, Miles and Ekaterin go to the Minchenko Ballet. They enjoy the show, but the main purpose was to be seen.

"But there's no point in being seen enjoying their art if we just look like any other anonymous downsiders. Tonight, I think we should both look as Barrayaran as possible."

  • Automated Automobiles:
    • Komarr has had an automated traffic control system installed for decades - and the debate on how to revise the system to deal with the fact that the system is seriously stressed by the amount of intra-dome traffic that goes through on a typical day has been going on for years.
    • After the third vehicular near-miss of the week, Pym asks Miles when Vorbarr Sultana would be getting its municipal traffic control system installed. Miles responds that priority was being given to the automated air traffic control in light of increased lightflyer fatalities.
  • Badass Bookworm: Duv Galeni. Doctorate in Modern History and Political Science, seems to like being a desk jockey, able to render two armed Cetagandans -- one a Covert Action Team leader -- unconscious with his bare hands. Granted, he had had about a week of frustration built up at the time.
    • Granted, Duv did have that prior career as a Komarran terrorist and child soldier before he switched sides to Barrayar...
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Barrayar cultivates these, probably on purpose.

Tej (after Ivan finally demonstrates that he's quite capable in a fight): And you said you were just a desk pilot.
Ivan: But it's a Barrayaran desk.

  • Badass Creed: While the line itself is spoken by a Komarran, Duv Galeni, he's summing up what he finds admirable about the best of the Vor:

"And yet through it all the Vor have managed, however desperately, to hang on to certain vital principles of service and sacrifice. To the knowledge that it is possible for a man who would not stop and stoop to take, to yet run down the street for a chance to give...."

  • Badass Grandpa:
    • Ky Tung
    • Piotr Vorkosigan, Miles' grandfather and war-hero.
    • Aral Vorkosigan as of Diplomatic Immunity.
  • Bad Dreams: Many of them star Lt. Murka, who was decapitated in front of Miles' eyes, and Sgt Beatrice, a female commando who fell out of an atmospheric shuttle after Miles missed grabbing her wrist and hauling her back in, though he eventually comes to realize he would not have been able to save her even if he had managed to grab her hands.
  • Band of Brothels: Betan Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapists need an Associate Degree or better in psychotherapy and must pass government examination boards. (The hermaphrodites make the most money; they are very popular with the tourists and virgins looking for a non-hostile and comforting first time)
  • Barbarian Tribe:
    • How Cetagandans view all non-Cetagandans, as "barbarian outlanders."
    • Barrayarans have this reputation with outsiders to some degree, not entirely undeservedly.
  • Barrayaran Fire Drill: Miles does this constantly.
  • Batman Gambit: Miles' somewhat uncanny ability to read people makes these a large part of his arsenal.
  • Battle Butler: Bothari (and later Pym, and then Roic) for Miles. Counts' Armsmen in general tend to live this trope; the informal title of one assigned to this position is "batman," which means a soldier assigned to act as manservant to a superior officer.
  • Battle Couple: Several, but Aral & Cordelia are the most prominent example.
  • Beastess: The eight-foot, fanged and clawed Taura nearly defines this trope.
  • Becoming the Mask:
    • Sergeant Bothari has, according to Aral, no sense of self. He becomes whatever anyone thinks he is. Bothari is Cordelia's self-proclaimed "dog" because Cordelia is the only person who sees him as a hero - and therefore, he is a hero around her. "He clings to you because you create him a greater man than he ever dreamed of being."
    • Miles Naismith Vorkosigan finds himself becoming Admiral Naismith (his fictional identity) more and more, and Lord Vorkosigan, his actual identity, less and less. This is helped by the fact that the reason he created and maintained his fictional identity was to have an outlet for the drives and urges his true identity is not permitted to indulge in. However, Memory happens and Miles finds his alter ego destroyed -- and he realizes that after everything else has been stripped away, he is still a Dendarii hillman in his bones. Miles successfully adjusts by finally allowing his true identity to fulfill the impulses his alter ego had been satisfying, though his mother claims she thought he would flee Barrayar and "choose the little admiral."
    • Mark was brainwashed and trained from birth to impersonate Miles, and after breaking free of his captors he struggles for years to find his own personality and avoid Becoming the Mask.
  • Beleaguered Assistant:
    • Ivan often finds himself cast in this role to Miles.

Gregor: As you know, an Imperial Auditor may request anything he pleases. The first thing he requested was an assistant. Congratulations.
Ivan: He wanted a donkey to carry his luggage, and the first ass he thought of was me.

    • After Gregor gets engaged, Ivan gets seconded to act as his mother's assistant in the wedding planning.

Ivan: It's like working in an office with an entire boatload of mothers-in-law-to-be with pre-wedding nerves, every one of them a flaming control freak. I don't know where Mama found that many Vor dragons. You usually only meet them one at a time, surrounded by an entire family to terrorize. Having them all in a bunch teamed up together is just wrong. My chain of command is built upside down; there are twenty-three commanders, and only one enlisted. Me. I want to go back to Ops, where my officers don't preface every insane demand with a menacing trill of, Ivan , dear, won't you be a sweetheart and... What I wouldn't give to hear a nice, deep, straightforward masculine bellow of Vorpatril!... From someone other than Countess Vorinnis, that is.

  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat:
    • Duv Galeni was the ImpSec rep stationed on (relatively) quiet Earth when the Dendarri Free Mercenary Fleet arrives in orbit, shattering his plans to perform his duties quietly as one of the first Komarrans in Barrayaran Imperial service.
    • Averted with Vorob'yev on Eta Ceta IV, stationed in the heart of the Cetagandan Empire. Part of the reason is that Miles is able to remain sub rosa for most of the story, but even when Lord Miles Vorkosigan causes some minor trouble, Vorob'yev is mostly unfazed.
      • Fridge Brilliance: Vorob'yev is stationed in the heart of the Cetagandan Empire. The man assigned as ambassador to the single most dangerous, sensitive, and strategically critical post in the Barrayaran diplomatic service is quite logically going to be one of the very best men Barrayar can find.
    • Consul Vorlynkin in Cryoburn. Understandable, given the situation - the rather quiet consulate of far-off Kibou-Daini suddenly gets Miles freaking Vorkosigan dumped in their laps. Have fun, guys!
  • Beta Couple: A Civil Campaign featured the intertwining romances of no less than five couples in addition to the primary story: Mark and Kareen, Duv and Delia, Gregor and Laisa, Olivia and Dono and Martya and Enrique. After all, this is a comedy of biology and manners.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Leo Graf was just a mild-mannered engineering geek who had his morality twisted by his employers. He ends up helping the quaddies turn an entire space station into a spaceship.
    • Ekaterin was a self-described Extreme Doormat of a housewife. Then she single-handedly thwarts a band of Komarran terrorists by hijacking a crane and smashing their multi-ton secret weapon into the floor. Repeatedly. It makes such a mess even Miles admits he would be hard pressed to do better.
    • Kareen Koudelka, at least according to Miles. While watching Kareen and Mark do their good cop/bad cop routine during a business negotiation, Miles thinks that it would be a serious mistake to assume that all of the "bad cop" ideas came from Mark (and vice-versa).
  • Beware the Superman: The Cetagandan Empire does not exactly make the best neighbours...
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Laisa. Those around Emperor Gregor theorize he is attracted to maternal figures due to the early loss of his mother.

Lady Alys: "All that time I wasted herding tall, slender beauties past him, when I should have been rounding up short, plump beauties. I could cry." She ate a decisive bite of cream cake, instead.

  • The Big Guy: Armsman Roic is big by Barrayaran standards, and that is big.
  • Bi the Way:
    • Aral Vorkosigan, although all his sexual escapades (With either gender) occurred in the backstory since he met his wife in the first chapter of the first novel. She herself simply describes him as "monogamous," but when pressed explains that he is attracted to either gender, but leans towards soldiers, and that meeting her (a Captain in the Betan Survey, and later in what passed for Beta's military) presented a solution to this dilemma.
    • Terrence Cee has indicated he would not mind being Ethan's partner in Ethan of Athos.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • The noble prefix "Vor" means "thief" in Russian, which is one of the four major languages of Barrayar. Bujold was initially unaware of it, but was notified by a Russian fan, and has since incorporated it into a couple of pretty clever linguistic jokes in-series.
    • There are a few French words sprinkled here and there. For example, the Vorkosigan-run town near the lake shore is called Vorkosigan Surleau ("on the water"), the ruling caste of the Cetagandans are called haut ("high") and their servants are called ba (bas = "low"). Magnifique! Bujold even sneaks in a Stealth Pun with a joke about Vorkosigan Sousleau.
    • The name Lord Dono rings a bell for Japanese-speakers, since -dono is an honorific of great respect that is used to literally mean "lord."
  • Bishonen/Bifauxnen: Bel Thorne is described as quite good-looking, in an androgynous sort of way. Understandable, since it is a hermaphrodite.
  • The Blank: Elli Quinn becomes this in The Warrior's Apprentice when she takes a plasma burn to the face. Fortunately, plastic surgery does wonders in the future.
  • Blind Jump: The first jump through a newly discovered wormhole is always blind - you have no idea where your ship is going to come out, and it could be close enough to a star to instantly vaporize your ship, or something similarly hazardous. Doing this used to be Cordelia Naismith's job.
  • Bling of War: The red-and-blue parade uniform of Barrayar, with two swords, boot-tassels, high collar and commonly described as gaudy. The normal service uniform is a more practical green.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: The climax of Memory. No one died, however. Well, Miles Naismith, in a way.
  • Body Backup Drive: Some very rich and very evil people clone themselves, then when the clones are in their twenties have their brain transplanted into the clone's body. Mark has made it his life's work to eliminate this practice, by inventing a life-extension technology that does not depend on committing murder.
  • Body Double:
    • While Miles and Gregor were off in the Hegen Hub during The Vor Game, ImpSec had to scramble a bit to find a suitable person to play Emperor and vacation at Vorkosigan Surleau (The volunteer officer was informed of an assassination plot and jumped at the chance.) After the War of the Hegen Hub, a story about a secret diplomatic mission was crafted to explain Gregor's absence.
    • Mark was created as an evil one for Miles, and actually does this a few times in his first two appearances. Then he makes a point of gaining a lot of weight so that they cannot be mistaken for each other ever again.
  • Body Horror:
    • Star Creche bioweaponry

Guppy: What kind of hell-disease melts bones?

    • The non-lethal but disgusting Sergyaran worm-plague, which infests your skin with crawling subdermal parasites and leaves puckered, swirling scars.
  • Bothering by the Book:
    • In Falling Free: Bannerji lets the Quaddies get away because, as they have been classified as "post-fetal experimental tissue cultures," killing them would be hazardous waste disposal and he has not filled out the paperwork for that.
    • In The Warrior's Apprentice, Elena assaults a Betan while Miles is elsewhere. From her perspective she is perfectly justified [1]; from his he is entitled to justice, dammit! The complaining Betan is diverted to the Barrayaran Embassy, where he will spend several hours filling in forms that have to be shipped back to Barrayar (on paper, to ensure they take as long as possible in the loop) where they will inevitably be returned to the origin for minor errors in execution, several times. From the Betan perspective, things are getting done; from the Barrayaran, the whole thing can be kept in limbo indefinitely until the complainant's head cools.
    • A Civil Campaign: The two Escobar cops sent to arrest Enrique, Mark's scientist (and bail-jumper), mention how much trouble they had to go to to get to him. It took them a month, and twenty-five different pieces of paperwork. They would have gone after Mark, too, since he paid Enrique's bail, but he has Diplomatic Immunity and the second the two cops mentioned who they were after "every Barrayaran clerk, secretary, embassy officer and bureaucrat" they met essentially shut down. It took the guard at the gate forty minutes to get through their pieces of red tape. Individually. And they had to go through a great amount of effort to not alert Enrique....and it was all for naught since Miles points out they need another document that they can only get from him. He may have been legally wrong; he's not sure, and was bluffing.
  • Bribe Backfire:
    • Memory: Once Miles realizes that General Haroche is trying to bribe him, he quickly puts together all the pieces of Illyan's chip sabotage and solves the case in less than 27 hours[2].
    • Deconstructed in A Civil Campaign, when Miles notes that bribing of Council votes is standard practice.
    • Miles uses trolling for bribes in his arsenal of investigative techniques in Cryoburn, both gaining valuable information from his targets and testing the loyalty of his staff. He succeeds in both areas; his targets reveal their plan when they try to bribe him, and his staff proves their loyalty when they try to report him to the Emperor for accepting a bribe.
  • Brick Joke: At the beginning of Mirror Dance, the stunningly hot Elli fends off a suitor trying to maraud on her time with Miles by telling the would-be swain that Miles can do push-ups with his tongue. Miles laughs it off. Fast forward to Miles being held captive, with his hands cuffed behind his back, by a couple of jittery House Ryoval goons; he manages to talk them both into investigating a soundproof cell, slams the door on them, and when they turn on the plasma fire to burn their way out he uses the only appendage he has available (hint: not his toes) to cycle through the control panel options then drop the oxygen in the cell until the goons pass out. Not exactly push-ups, but it might explain in part why Miles is so popular with the ladies...
  • Brilliant but Lazy:
    • Ivan Vorpatril. He is no less talented than his cousin, but to exercise any effort that he could escape is against his nature. In addition to disliking work on its own merits, his position in the ranks of Imperial succession also makes him a target for assassination plots, revolutionaries and general muckrakers. He has to work extremely hard to not be taken seriously.
    • Nearly all young Ghem Lord aristocracy fall under this category, due to misapplication of their inherent intellect. Miles finds this disturbing.
  • Bring Them Around
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: Miles. He may be nuts, but he is very good at covert ops.
  • Busman's Holiday (with a side order of Weirdness Magnet): Even when he does not intend to, Miles tends to run into situations of intrigue and mayhem wherever he goes. He goes on a trip to Beta and ends up accidentally taking over a mercenary space fleet. He is assigned to a do-nothing post at an arctic outpost in the middle of nowhere and ends up putting his life and career on the line to take down a psychotic disciplinarian. He travels to Cetaganda on a diplomatic mission and ends up saving the Cetagandan empire from treason (and saving Barrayar from being caught up in another war while he is at it). Miles's entire early life is one long series of Busman's Holidays.
    • As a discussion on Tor about perhaps the most appropriate typo ever once put it:

Poster #1: All this makes me wonder how long Barrayaran ImpSec files remain classified, and if it’s long enough for the legend of Count Miles Vorkosigan, patron of Ma Kosti’s famous restaurant empire (and the reason why desserts with a side of maple ambrosia are known to future generations as “a la Vorkosigan”) to overshadow his later revealed covert oops career.
Poster #2: 'Covert oops' is perfect.
Poster #3: It's basically Miles' entire career. Oops. I have a mercenary fleet. Oops. I rescued Gregor. Oops. I saved the Cetagandan Empire. Oops.

  • The Butcher: Aral gets called "The Butcher of Komarr" after one of his subordinates commits the slaughter he specifically did not want to have happen. Since Aral is a political pragmatist even he admits, later in life, that he used the weight of that undeserved reputation to lean on those who would be awed by it. He states that since he paid the price for having that reputation, he had the right to use it in that manner.
  • But He Sounds Handsome: After Admiral Naismith becomes well-known enough that people start noticing the similarities between him and Miles Vorkosigan, Miles "admits" that Admiral Naismith is a rogue clone, which gives him an opportunity to talk at some length about how cunning and charismatic Admiral Naismith is.

"Aye, there's the genius and the wonder of the man,"[3] cried Miles, then decided he'd better tone it down a bit.

    • "Naismith" pretty much agrees -- yes, he surely is much handsomer and more intelligent than poor, dull Lieutenant Vorkosigan. This seems to reflect Miles' honest opinion about the lives he leads in his respective identities.
  • Cain and Abel:
    • Yuri and Xav. Both ways: Yuri tried, but Xav succeeded.
    • The monstrous Baron Ryoval and his moderately less evil brother, Baron Fell.
    • Mark and Miles, at least to start with.

Miles: While I thought I was an only child, he was growing up with the worst case of sibling rivalry you could imagine.

  • The Caligula:
    • Mad Emperor Yuri.
    • Prince Serg (if Ezar had given him the chance).
  • Caligula's Horse: Lord Midnight Vortala. "If a horse's ass can be Count, why not the whole horse?"
  • Can You Hear Me Now?: Wrist coms are pretty much ubiquitous, and fill much the same role as cell phones, with many of the same weaknesses. In Ethan of Athos the bad guys track down Elli Quinn using her wrist com, and she berates herself for not having dumped it as soon as she found out that they had her number.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Due to his small stature and unusual metabolism, a couple of drinks tends to put Miles to sleep.
    • Miles comes by this honestly. In Barrayar, Padma Vorpatril notes that whenever he went out drinking with Miles' father, Aral would invariably be under the table by the fifth round.
  • The Captain/Colonel Badass:
    • Commander/Captain Cordelia Naismith: Aral's "Dear Captain", Action Girl and Guile Hero. Then she resigns her commission and finds herself in Mama Bear territory...
    • Captain Simon Illyan, even though by the end of his career in ImpSec he is drawing Vice Admiral's pay (He refused to take an official rank greater than his predecessor, who saw no reason to claim higher rank because everyone knew how powerful he was without it), is one of a very few people that can even partially keep Miles in check. By reputation, his predecessor, Captain Negri, was even more badass.
    • Captain Elena Bothari-Jessek
    • Captain Bel Thorne
  • The Casanova: Ivan, at least during his peak years as a junior officer. He later shades into Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places when he realizes there may not be any single women of his class left if he doesn't snag one soon.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • Gregor (and Cordelia, from whom he inherited it): "Let's see what happens."
    • Ivan: "It's not my fault."
    • Miles: "Forward momentum"
    • Cordelia: "Barrayarans!" (A favorite curse) On at least one occasion, Miles says it, and someone else gives him a funny look.
  • The Cavalry: How Gregor and Aral arrive with the Hegan Alliance Navy, led by the brand new Barrayaran fleet flagship, Prince Serg, to prevent a Cetagandan invasion.
  • Central Theme:
    • For most of the series, What Measure Is a Non-Human? is the strongest theme, with "legacy" in some form or another appearing in all the disparate stories. The rest of the text is spent de- and reconstructing romance, morality and sexuality tropes...but in a funny way.
    • When Aral thinks he might be dying in Mirror Dance, he urgently tells Mark, "All true wealth is biological." This notion shows up everywhere in the series--whether it be family love, a politically-motivated quest for posterity, the constant ambivalence over the value of altered or unfamiliar lifeforms, the prison camp, Miles' death and resuscitation, the Cetagandan desire to refine human genetics, the Betan focus on quality-of-life, the Jacksonian clones, the villains' near-universal obsession with torture and dismemberment, and on and on and on... Human bodies, and whether or not they matter, and why or why not, are the explicit focus of nearly everything that happens in the series.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Poor Gregor.
  • Changing of the Guard: from Cordelia to Miles. The trope then makes a swerve with Barrayar, which is a prequel about Cordelia's exploits, written and published well into the Miles' times. According to the Word of God, Barrayar was already planned, but she only got around back to it when the series became a big hit.
  • Changeling Fantasy: Cruelly subverted in The Warriors' Apprentice in Elena Bothari's quest to find her mother's identity.
  • Character Tics: Miles tends to jerk his chin up defensively under stress; more so when younger and more self-conscious about his height. Miles also inherited the habit of putting his fingers together when being stern and incisive from his father, Aral. Mark shares all of Miles' tics, having been conditioned from a young age to impersonate him.
  • Chef of Iron: Count Vorloupulous and his 2,000 cooks...sort of. Barrayaran law said that Counts cannot have private armies, so Vorloupulous hired 2,000 "cooks," equipped them appropriately (chef's knives instead of short swords), and set them loose on his enemies. When he was caught, his appeal to Aint No Rule failed. He was sentenced to Death by Irony:

Miles: The Emperor...arrested him for treason, for which the sentence was--still is--public exposure and death by starvation. So the man with 2,000 cooks was condemned to waste away in the Great Square of Vorbarr Sultana. And to think they always said Dorca Vorbarra had no sense of humor.

  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Cordelia's shopping trip to the Capital would not have gone nearly so well if she hadn't bought that swordstick for Kou earlier.
    • Early in Diplomatic Immunity, Miles muses on his fear that someday, while he is on assignment a hundred wormhole jumps from home, some grim-faced courier will catch up to him and begin by addressing him as Count Vorkosigan, sir? Several books later, just that happens at the end of Cryoburn.
  • Chest of Medals:
    • Aral has a jar full of various medals stuffed in his desk drawer.
    • Miles has a lot, including one that would be the equivalent of a Cold War-era American soldier having a Hero of the Soviet Union medal (or a Soviet one having a Medal of Honor, given the flavor of the setting). The irony is that both his cover stories precludes him from wearing most of them or admitting he has them. His Cetagandan Order of Merit medal is one of the few exceptions, having been very publicly awarded to Lt. Vorkosigan by the Cetagandan Emperor. Miles only wishes he could have it classified. He finds a good use for them all in Memory.

After all, what's the point of wearing a medal that you can't tell a story about?

  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Cavilo, and how.
  • Cincinnatus: Aral Vorkosigan. Emperor Ezar knows that Aral is both disgusted and frightened by Barrayaran politics, but is also supremely well versed in it so he is able to cope with it -- and is honorable enough to give Gregor the throne when he turns 20.
  • Claustrophobia: After spending several hours locked in a pumping chamber in the Thames Tidal Barrier -- the barrier is meant to prevent the raised sea levels from flooding London -- Ivan considers taking up Claustrophobia as a hobby.
  • Come to Gawk: The official punishment for Vors who commit treason, until they starve to death.
  • Comically Small Bribe:
    • In The Mountains of Mourning, a woman tries to bribe an ImpSec guard to let her in to see the Count with all the money she has on her - a mark and twenty pence. Miles orders the guard to let her through for free after learning she is trying to present a petition she has the legal right to make.
    • The inverted version occurs in Labyrinth. A refugee from Jackson's Whole hands Miles and Bel Thorne her entire life's savings in cash, hoping it will be enough to engage them as mercenaries to get her off the planet. Bel tells her the price is wrong, then peels one single dollar off the stack and tells her this is more like it as it returns the rest.
  • The Commies Made Me Do It: In The Vor Game, at least one of Cavilo's men is only following her because of his wife and family being held prisoner.
  • Compelling Voice: Cordelia uses this towards the end of A Civil Campaign.

It wasn't even [Cordelia's] Countess Vorkosigan voice; it was something older, firmer, even more appallingly confident. It was her old Ship Captain's voice, Kareen realized, and her parents had both lived under military authority for decades.

Her parents sank as though folded.

  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: In Mirror Dance, the young clone of Lily Durona knows and agrees with the notion of being killed to give "my lady" a full body transplant.
  • Contemptible Cover and Covers Always Lie:
    • Baen Books strikes again. For sheer, "I don't want to be seen reading this" shame, nothing can beat the cover of A Civil Campaign. The picture cannot capture the sparkly horror of the real thing. That's not even counting the bizarrely-shaped guards. Plus, the bugs are either not nearly ugly enough, or not nearly pretty enough, depending on which they are supposed to be. We'll clear up this question: The couple pictured are supposed to be Gregor and Laisa. Laisa's the one wearing the prom dress from circa 1985.
    • The runner-up is probably Miles Errant. Sitting in an ergonomic nightmare of a ship's bridge are a sour-faced garden gnome with a Wolverine haircut, a department store mannequin with a terrible case of helmet hair, and a werewolf with lipstick. These... creatures... are supposed to be Mark, Bel Thorne (who is a hermaphrodite) and Taura.
    • This German cover, on the other hand, is actually rather good as an uncharitable take on Miles' personality, but it's still creepy.
  • Continuity Nod: Halfway through Cetaganda, there is a brief moment in which Ghem-Colonel Millisor calls in with a status report for the hunt he is on in Ethan of Athos.
    • Loads of them in Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. There've been suggestions that the author packed so many in as part of winding up the series.
  • Cool Chair:
    • Averted for the Barrayaran Emperor during the Emperor's Birthday ceremonies. When receiving the traditional birthday "gifts" (bags of gold coins symbolizing annual tax payments) from the various Counts, the Emperor sits on a standard military issue folding camp stool. The chairs in his private offices are considerably more luxurious and comfortable.
    • In Cetaganda, we see that the Cetagandan emperor gets a much, much fancier version than Gregor does.
  • Cool Horse: Subverted with Fat Ninny. Granted, Ninny was actually quite a good horse; the name stuck from some youthful misbehavior.

Miles (to Ninny): If anyone asks, I'll tell them your name is Chieftain.

  • Cool Starship: Oddly averted. The ships are implied to be very cool (the mere mention of Barrayar's new flagship, the Prince Serg, has Miles practically salivating), but they are barely described in the narration. It is the people who ride in them that count, after all.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Cetagandans do not take too well to failure.

"It was suicide, wasn't it?"
"In an involuntary sort of way," said Vorob'yev. "These Cetagandan political suicides can get awfully messy, when the principal won't cooperate."
"Thirty-two stab wounds in the back, worst case of suicide they ever saw?" murmured Ivan, clearly fascinated by the gossip.
"Exactly, my lord."

  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Bruce Van Atta, the only character in Falling Free actually willing to kill a thousand genetically engineered children.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: IVAN. He can be perfectly competent if he chooses to be (probably best demonstrated at the climax of A Civil Campaign) and is fiercely loyal, but finds it... safer (both for himself and his family and friends), as a potential heir to the throne, if everyone thinks he's an idiot who poses no threat and who no one would ever want to come to power.
    • In addition, Ivan's place in the Imperial succession means that virtually anyone who wishes to gain the throne by foul means must either kill him to clear their path or else co-opt him as their puppet Emperor. Ivan's pose as an amiable idiot is intended to very strongly bias that decision in favor of 'co-opt him', thus guaranteeing that if any such plot ever does arise to conspire against Gregor Ivan will be one of the first people to be told about it. (Which would of course mean that ImpSec would find out about it within the day.) Sadly, the one time a would-be plotter (Count Vordrozda) actually faces this choice he decides to try and kill Ivan anyway because he's already decided to try and make Gregor his puppet.
  • Culture Clash: When Miles visits a Quaddie space as Lord Auditor, he has to explain that "Emperor's Voice" does not really mean that Barrayarans think that the Emperor is talking out of Mile's mouth, but that it is simply the Barrayaran term for "plenipotentiary". Apparently the Barrayaran reputation for primitiveness spread even to Quaddie territory.
  • Cure Your Gays: Hilarious subversion in Ethan of Athos. Gay Ethan wants to ask Elli Quinn for a very personal favor after several shared adventures. She says she has heard it all, and tells him to go on. He wants her to donate an ovary to his planet, and that he wants to use it for his future sons. She is considerably nonplussed, a rarity for her.
  • Custom Uniform: Miles wore very expensively tailored custom uniforms, designed to conceal some of his physical deformities, while looking as much like standard issue uniforms as possible.
  • Cute Monster Girl: Taura, though strikingly beautiful is probably more accurate.
  • Cyborg Helmsman: Implants are Required by jump pilots. Anyone with the proper training can handle in-system sublight flight, but a jump pilot's neural implants can streamline control of a suitably equipped ship's systems.
  • Dances and Balls: Form a significant portion of the High Vor social scene and seem to be regular events at the Imperial Palace, what with State Dinners, Emperor's Birthday, Winterfair, etc.
  • Day in The Limelight: "Winterfair Gifts" focuses on Armsman Roic and Sergeant Taura.
  • Dead Guy, Junior:
    • The High Vor custom of naming the firstborn son using the first names of paternal and maternal grandfathers, plus the second son getting the middle names, tends to produce a fair number of these.
    • Among the non-Vor, memorial names also show up (e.g. Kareen Koudelka)
    • In Cryoburn, we see Taura Vorkosigan.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Almost everybody.
    • Mark is a wizard at it since he is Miles with no social restraints. In A Civil Campaign, he takes a precise shot that leaves Miles' flabbergasted.

"Mm, I wouldn't dream of interfering." Mark made for the door. "Though I'm not at all sure I'd choose to structure my most intimate relationship as a war. Is she the enemy, then?"
His timing was perfect; Miles' feet had just come down and he was still sputtering just as Mark passed the door. Mark stuck his head back through the frame to add, "I hope her aim is just as good as Countess Vormuir's."
Last word: I win. Grinning, he exited.

    • Simon Illyan is also one of the best.

Mark: He was... acerb.
Miles: I'll bet. He does acerb better than anyone I know...

    • Byerly Vorrutyer can give any of them a run for the money.

Alexei: Good, that leaves one more Barrayaran woman for the rest of us.
Byerly: Well, that leaves one more for one of us; unless you are suggesting something delightfully outré.

    • In Cryoburn, Consul Vorlynkin has his moments:

Miles: My case budget allows for a lot of discretion, you know.
Vorlynkin: Then I really wish you'd buy some.

All the latent amusement which had parried Ivan's sallies till now was abruptly wiped from his cousin's face. His back straightened as much as it could, and he leaned forward, his hands gripping his chair arms. His voice dropped to an arctic pitch. "I will thank you, Lord Vorpatril, to take care not to repeat that slander. Ever."
Ivan's stomach lurched in surprise. He had seen Miles come the Lord Auditor a couple of times now, but never before at him. The freezing gray eyes suddenly had all the expression of a pair of gun barrels. Ivan opened his mouth, then closed it, more carefully. What the hell was going on here? And how did someone so short manage to project that much menace? Years of practice, Ivan supposed. And conditioning.

  • Death Is Cheap: Partially averted. In-universe, cryo-revial can be performed to save prematurely deceased people, but several factors are involved. Their blood has to be replaced with cryonic fluid, the injuries have to leave their head intact, they have to be frozen immediately, and even if done properly, there is a chance they can lose some or all of their memory and mental faculty; in one case, some poor guy ended up with constant seizures that cost him his career. A botched prep can render someone a vegetable, if they're even recoverable at all.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: A literal example in the execution of Mad Emperor Yuri.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Cordelia rolls Vordarian's head out of a shopping bag after her "shopping trip" in Barrayar.
  • Defenestrate and Berate: Inverted when, after Ekaterin coolly informs Tien that she is leaving him, his responding tantrum climaxes with him threatening to toss either her bonsaied skellytum or himself off the balcony of their fifth story flat. When she doesn't respond, he throws the plant over. Ekaterin's only reaction:

Ekaterin: You ass, Tien. You didn't even look to see if there was anyone below.

  • Defusing the Tykebomb: Miles' and Cordelia's treatment of Mark.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Each planet has wildly differing social mores, causing massive WTF-ery when, say, a Barrayaran gets their first taste of Cetagandan culture.
    • The sheer disgust of Cetagandan women when they discover the Barrayaran they were flirting with was conceived, gestated and born naturally.
    • When Count Vordarian tries to shock Cordelia, who is from the sexually liberal Beta Colony, by telling her that Aral is bisexual, he is met with an utterly blasé "Was bisexual, now he's monogamous," followed with a bit of idle musing about if the breakup with his ex-lover drove the latter over the edge. Vordarian almost chokes on his drink when she reveals that she already knew. It is only a few paragraphs later Cordelia realizes that that was a serious attempt to break up their marriage.
  • Delivery Guy: Subverted at Ivan's birth, as Bothari has some knowledge of midwifery. Good thing too, since Drou and Cordelia have no idea of what to do, and all Kou is good for is supplying a jacket.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Prince Serg and Ges Vorrutyer, who exacerbated and magnified their own independent psychosis.
  • Designer Babies: A common feature of the setting; Cetaganda takes this further than anyone else: their society, economy and political structure is built around making designer babies. Most of the galaxy uses uterine replicators, but Barrayar is just beginning to adopt them, along with genetic screening. While Miles got his mix of genes the old fashioned way, his kids are screened and canned in a uterine replicator.
    • The often mentioned use of the "Choose Your Baby's Sex" pill/treatment/whatever made the Barrayaran parents crazy for boys.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose In Life: Played straight with Miles, but subverted with Mark, who states that his only purpose in life was to kill Miles and Aral, and now that Ser Galen was dead, he had no purpose anymore. Cordelia reassures him that almost no one has any purpose in the first place.
  • Determinator:
    • Miles. Other characters refer to him with nicknames such as "Miles the monomaniacal," and Ivan lampshades it when he mentions that he has never seen a barrier that Miles could not climb, or find a way around, or dig his way under, or just blow up with sapper charges.

Ivan: Demonstrably, even sniper fire couldn't stop the hyperactive little git.

Illyan: Do you know all those old folk tales where the count tries to get rid of his only daughter's unsuitable suitor by giving him three impossible tasks?
Ekaterin: Yes...
Illyan: Don't ever try that with Miles. Just...don't.

Quinn: Have you ever given thought to the difficulty of getting rid of a body on a space station?

"My brothers used to call me Lud," Drou had confided to Cordelia during the practice yesterday. "Rhymes with mud. Also thud, blood, crud, dud, and cud."
"You’ll always be Drou to me," Kou had promised.

    • Ekaterin hates her nickname, "Kat." The fact Miles loves her first name and icily corrects Ivan when he calls her that... well, you know.
  • Does He Have a Brother?:
    • Ekaterin asks this of Lord Auditor Vorthys about Miles in Komarr. A bit of a subversion, as she's trolling for family background and not in any romantic sense.
    • Miles later makes a mental note to ask if Ekaterin has a sister. Much more by the book; Miles has just realized that he is starting to fall for her.
    • Ivan wonders if Ekaterin has a sister in A Civil Campaign.
    • Miles, from Cetaganda: Ooh, I adore competent women. Do you have a sister, milady Maz?
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: In Mirror Dance, Mark says as much to Elena, stating, "Don't you dare pity me."
  • Drives Like Crazy: "Dear God, don't tell me you let Ivan drive."
    • In the later novel Memory, it is revealed that Ivan and Miles had a reckless driving competition as teenagers and Miles won decisively. By flying an aircar down a winding narrow canyon at over 100 mph with his eyes closed. When looking back on that period of his life as an older man, Miles concludes that only direct divine intervention kept him and Ivan alive long enough to reach adulthood.
  • Due to the Dead:
    • Barrayarans believe in making burned offerings to the dead, a trait the Cetagandans seem to share, at least for Empress Lisbet's cremation, in which functionaries brought priceless artifacts to be burned with her.
    • The ending of Shards of Honor.
    • The ending of Cryoburn. Emperor Gregor Vorbarra insists on being a pallbearer at Aral Vorkosigan's funeral.
      • "The man has carried me since I was five years old. It's my turn."
  • Dying Alone
  • Either World Domination or Something About Bananas: In Diplomatic Immunity:

Fourteen languages were handled by nineteen different brands of auto-translators, several of which, Miles decided, must have been purchased at close-out prices from makers going deservedly belly-up. [...] The fourth iteration of ["Ask Sealer Greenlaw"] was finally met with a heartrending wail, in chorus, from the back of the room of, "But Greenlaw said to ask you!", except for the translation device that came up a beat later with, "Lawn rule sea-hunter inquiring altitude unit!"

    • Amusingly, that last one actually translates out as '[green] [law] [sealer] [ask] [miles]'.
  • The Empire:
    • The Cetagandans to start off with, but even they get Character Development in Cetaganda.
    • The Barrayaran Imperium used to be this, and is currently trying very hard to drop the capital E (if not the precise system of government).
  • Enemy Mine: This is basically how Miles' parents met.
  • The Engineer: Leo Graf in Falling Free: At first he wonders what he can do, as just an engineer, to save the Quaddies from their plight, but then he realizes that it is an engineering problem, and that he is just the engineer to solve it.
  • Epiphanic Prison: According to Miles, this is what the Cetagandans were trying to create with their Dagoola IV prison camp in The Borders of Infinity:

"It's the Cetagandans' plan to break you, and then return you to your world like little inoculated infections, counseling surrender to your people.
"When this is killed," [Miles] touched her forehead, oh so lightly, "then the Cetagandans have nothing more to fear from this," one finger on her bicep, "and you will all go free. To a world whose horizon will encircle you just like this dome, and just as inescapably."

  • Escape Pod: "Bod pods" feature in a couple of the stories. They are inflatable, single person, idiot proof life support modules for use by untrained personnel in an emergency. Miles really dislikes them, because once you're stuffed inside one, you're stuck waiting helplessly for someone else to come rescue you.
  • Eureka Moment: After the Bribe Backfire clues him in on who was responsible for Illyan's chip sabotage in Memory, Miles has the considerably more difficult task of proving it, since nearly all of the evidence is under the direct control of the perpetrator. After going on a mental sidetrip about What You Are In A Wing Chair In A Small Upstairs Room, Miles ruminates over how all he has to work with is mirrors and smoke ...which points him at the ImpSec HQ air filtration system.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Oki, one of NewEgypt's goons responsible for two deaths and three kidnappings/cryofreezings, explained his actions and continued employment with NewEgypt by pointing out that he has a family.
  • Everything's Cuter With Kittens:
    • Subverted with the Cetagandan Kitten Tree.
    • Played straight with Zap's offspring in Memory and A Civil Campaign.
  • Evil Counterpart:
    • Equally short but gorgeous vamp Cavilo in The Vor Game is this towards Miles, sharing his talent for clever scheming, but not giving a damn about others - Miles is the Guile Hero to her Manipulative Bastard.
    • In a way, although he is never per se evil, Mark also fits this in respect to Miles. Instead of having birth defects like Miles did, he was born handsome, but cruelly and painfully re-formed so that he could impersonate Miles. While Miles had a relatively benevolent "Well Done, Son" Guy in his grandfather, Mark was raised by the physically and mentally abusive and insane Galen. The end result is someone who is brilliant in an unrestrained way just like Miles, but is much less friendly, and his unrestrained behavior can border on the questionably sane. Not that Miles is exactly a picture of perfect mental health. Lampshaded by Miles:

Miles: You see, some people have an Evil Twin. I am not so lucky. What I have is an idiot twin.

  • Evil-Detecting Dog: The sphinx in Cryoburn
  • Evil Is Not Pacifist: The Komarran engineers are pleasant, non-violent intellectuals who are very distressed when they inadvertently cause the death of a colleague and the other deaths they cause in Komarr are similarly accidental. However, in a bit of overlap with A Million Is a Statistic, they are oblivious that their plans would entail bringing death and hardship to millions of people.
  • The Evil Prince: Prince Serg in Shards of Honor.
  • Explosive Overclocking:
    • Aral can be a little slack about safety margins at times. e.g. Shards of Honor:

You'll make it in five days, boosting six points past emergency max the whole way. If the engineer's been doing his job, the engines won't blow until you hit eight. Quite safe.

    • This is a way that Barrayarans use to turn stunners and plasma arcs, or more specifically the high-density power cells that serve as their magazines, into jury-rigged bombs. One never knows quite how long the "fuse" is, making this a tricky maneuver at best, not suited to use in active combat as a supply of extra grenades.
  • Extended Disarming: Twice in the series, Played for Laughs.
    • The Warrior's Apprentice: Sergeant Bothari going through Beta Colony customs. The custom's officer is very familiar with Bothari because he can never not try to get some weapon through customs.
    • Brothers In Arms: Quinn, at the Barrayaran Embassy. They treat her bodyguard status as a joke (thinking she is just Miles' mistress with an excuse to always be with him), until she pulls out every firearm known to man, including a few they did not expect. Miles enjoys every moment.
  • Fakeout Escape:
    • In Brothers in Arms, Miles considers trying to escape via this trope -- claiming that he is the clone and that the real Miles somehow got free and tied him up -- but quickly realizes that he has several days' worth of stubble and the clone does not, so it is not practical.
    • Played straight with the Duronas in Mirror Dance.
  • Family Business
  • Family Honor
  • Famous Last Thoughts: Miles

Miles: (thinking just before death) Wait, I haven't...

Vordarian: What? You're a Betan! You can't do...- (Bothari chop!)

  • Fantastic Caste System: The Cetagandans. There's the Emperor, the cultured haut lords, the ghem warrior aristocracy, the genderless ba who serve the haut, and the common man. Add a strict, caste-like gender divide that (on the surface) looks like a traditional patriarchy and constant genetic tinkering, and you get the complex system that drives the plot of Cetaganda.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: The "Vor" prefix is used to denote the military caste. The word itself is Russian for "thief," which Bujold did not know when originally writing the series, but she has since included many linguistic jokes once she was told by a Russian fan.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • Barrayaran prejudice against mutants, which tends to include genetically engineered people such as hermaphrodites, quaddies, and Sergeant Taura. This is a problem for Miles, even though his deformities are (as he hastens to assure you) teratogenic, not genetic. In some backwoods communities, infanticide is still committed over "defects" as minor as a harelip, and the traditional engagement ceremony includes the bride's family giving the groom a knife as proof of her genetic purity. Carries over even into their fairy tales, where evil mutants are generally the villain. "Mutant" is, effectively, the Barrayaran word for "bogeyman."
    • Cetagandans look down on other humans as primitive barbarians, barely one step removed from animals.
  • Fantastic Slurs: "Mutie" means mutant and by extension any disabled or oddly shaped person.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture:
    • Cetaganda for Japan (most prominent in Cetaganda)
    • Beta Colony for California (per Word of God)
    • Barrayar has cultural elements of Russia (complete with Baba Yaga folktale), and Kibou-daini is heavily reminiscent of Japan (Including Japanese honorifics), but this is because their ancestors were actual Russians and actual Japanese.
  • Fate Worse Than Death:
    • A non-lethal headshot by a nerve disruptor. A nerve disruptor destroys nerves.
    • Becoming one of Baron Ryoval's slaves.
    • In Cryoburn, Cordelia refuses to put Aral in cryostasis because he died via a brain aneurysm. He would have been revived with serious brain damage, and considering what happened to Dubauer in Cordelia's Honor (shot by a nerve disruptor in the head), she has ample reason not to subject Aral to that. She also believes that reviving him, with his memories intact, would be just as bad a fate for him.
  • A Father to His Men: Aral's command style strongly emphasizes this. Miles tries to emulate it with the Dendarii, but his need to slip in and out of his Admiral Naismith persona tends to come across as "Slightly crazy, but very cool uncle" instead.
  • Fire-Forged Friends
  • Fish Out of Water:
    • Cordelia, on Barrayar. Or, Barrayar on Cordelia.
    • Ethan Urquhart on Kline Station in Ethan of Athos, though he adapts pretty well, considering.
    • Leo Graf in Falling Free, on what will become the Quaddie colony named for him.
  • Feudal Future: Barrayar was isolated from the rest of the galaxy early in its colonization and terraforming when the wormhole leading there collapsed; when a new one was found several centuries later Barrayar had turned to a feudal society just to survive, and has carried it out into the stars.
  • Finger-Poke of Doom: Miles demonstrates the power of a single finger to Super Soldier Taura, by having her use just one finger to manipulate the temperature control on Baron Ryoval's high-security freezers-- the heart of his biotech empire. They go from "deep freeze" to "sterilize for cleaning..."

Miles: And the lesson is, it's not how much force you use. It's where you apply it.

  • Flying Car: Like many Speculative Fiction settings with mature Anti Gravity tech, there is a wide variety of flying vehicles:
    • Float bikes (flying motorcycle analog)
    • Lightfliers (2-4 passenger, high performance)
    • Aircars (4-8 passenger. Police/security models have varying armament options)
    • Lift Vans (mass cargo/passenger transport)
    • Anything larger will usually have orbital capability, moving into cargo shuttle or Drop Ship territory.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Aral and Cordelia have not had even one date when Aral proposes, approximately five days into their acquaintance. Aral states he fell in love with her when she buried her dead compatriot, which was roughly thirty minutes after meeting him. Cordelia states that Aral finally found his perfect match: a soldier who just happened to be female.
  • Four-Star Badass:
    • General Count Piotr Vorkosigan (Protracted guerilla campaign against the Cetagandan occupation)
    • Admiral Lord Aral Vorkosigan (Architect and commander of the Komarr conquest)
    • Admiral Miles Naismith (At least as far as the greater galaxy is concerned, ignoring Miles' protests about not having "real" flag rank.)
    • Admiral Elli Quinn (Unless something really unexpected happens.)
  • Free-Love Future: Beta Colony.
  • Gambit Pileup:
    • Most of The Vor Game. Most of the schemes were Cavilo's. Miles later points out that if she had just stuck with a plan, any plan, instead of inflicting this on herself, she would have won.
    • This drives the plot of A Civil Campaign. To quote from the back cover: "Miles has a cunning plan... Unfortunately his clone-brother Mark and his cousin Ivan also have cunning plans."
  • Gargle Blaster: Maple mead.

It tastes smooth going down, but it destroys cell membranes coming up.

  • Gender Bender: Played quite seriously in A Civil Campaign. Lady Donna Vorrutyer's only recourse to keep her cousin Richars from inheriting Vorrutyer District and running it into the ground is to take a trip to Beta Colony and come back as Lord Dono.
  • Gender Rarity Value: While the rest of Barrayar was using galactic reproductive technology to favor boys because of their patriarchal, warrior-obssessed society, the Koudelkas intentionally took Cordelia's advice and went the other way because girls would have Gender Rarity Value in the future. By the time of the Miles-centered storylines the number of available, socially-acceptable women plummets due to the imbalance and Vor men begin to resort to desperate, sometimes questionable acts in order to secure the affections of whichever Vor women happen to become available.
    • Meanwhile, the Koudelka daughters have, by virtue of their extremely high scarcity-induced value on the marriage market, have respectively managed to marry the third-in-command of Imperial Security (who will, barring catastrophe, almost certainly be commanding it one day), the most brilliant scientist on Barrayar (who also holds a substantial stock interest in one of Barrayar's most potentially prosperous growth industries), a member of the Council of Counts (who is positioned to one day soon become an influential member of his party's leadership, no less), and the second son of House Vorkosigan (who are the Koudelka's longtime patrons, have a absurd amount of political connections and influence as the most prominent house in Barrayaran politics short of the Imperial Family, and whose second heir is personally one of the richest industrialists on Barrayar without even counting his family wealth).
  • General Ripper: Stanis Metzov.
  • Genius' Sweet Tooth: Lord Auditor Vorthys is very fond of desserts, and goes on regular trips to the local bakery to stock up on pastries. He also keeps a stash of cookies in his study.
  • Genre Shift: Up to around Mirror Dance it is fairly straightforward Space Opera/Military Science Fiction with a generous dash of Character Development. Then comes Memory and Komarr, and the series veers into Mystery and political intrigue. And a ton of Character Development.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: Lord Auditor Vorthys tends toward this, but his usual wardrobe is a little too frumpy. Professora Vorthys might actually be a better Distaff Counterpart match.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Byerly Vorrutyer never insults anyone unintentionally.
  • Glory Hound:
    • Miles, in a rare sympathetic way.
    • Prince Serg, which is his downfall.
  • Good Cop, Bad Cop:
    • In The Vor Game, after being interrogated separately by Cavilo and Metzov, Miles wonders if they had set up a classic "good-guy/bad-guy" interrogation tag team, but got their signals crossed and both of them thought that they were supposed to play the bad guy.
    • In Cryoburn, Miles notes that Mark and Kareen make a very good good cop/bad cop team, but also hastens to remind himself that not all the bad cop ideas come from Mark, and not all the good cop ideas come from Kareen.
  • Good-Looking Privates: Tons, most notably Ivan and Elli Quinn (after the facial reconstruction). It is also noted that Miles' (and Mark's) facial features are very similar to Ivan's, so they would would also count if not for their injuries and deformities. Armsman Roic has his share of admirers, as well.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck: In Komarr, Miles teases Ekaterin for her G-rated vocabulary. Later in the novel, circumstances are so bad she still does not bother to swear, feeling that all other words were just as inadequate. See Precision F-Strike for when she finally does.
  • Grande Dame:
    • Lady Alys Vorpatril, chief social mover and shaker of Vorbarr Sultana, is a rare sympathetic version.
    • Haut ladies all fall under this category as well. But the haut include enduring beauty in their genetic engineering, so if you see one outside her "force-bubble," you will likely notice she is rather sexier than your classic Grande Dame (see also Older Than They Look below). Miles once used the term "edibly feminine."
    • Ekaterin is clearly a Grande Dame understudy, with her poise, beauty, breeding and recently acquired social position.
  • Grey and Gray Morality: While there are a few completely evil people to fight, most of the stories tend to fall in this category, with the protagonists displaying A Lighter Shade of Gray. Lampshaded at the end of Brothers in Arms.

"At least this should be simpler than our late vacation on Earth," [Miles] said hopefully. "A purely military operation, no relatives, no politics, no high finance. Straight-up good guys and bad guys."
"Great," said Quinn. "Which are we?"
Miles was still thinking about the answer to that one when the fleet broke orbit.

  • Gray Eyes: Cordelia and Miles (and, perforce, Mark). Miles' eyes remind Count Vorhalas of his mother, which influences him to spare his life in The Warrior's Apprentice. Miles later uses them effectively for his Death Glare, as seen in the example above.
  • Great Escape: Miles is given the job of freeing one POW and, in typical Miles fashion, winds up breaking out ten thousand of them.
  • Great Offscreen War: Recent Barrayaran history has quite a few that resonate down the years.
    • Mad Yuri's War: Sets up the tension over Imperial succession that only gets relaxed with Gregor's marriage and his mentioned but unnamed offspring.
    • The Cetagandan Invasion/Occupation: Tore the heart out of Vorkosigan's District, established General Count Piotr as a political force to be reckoned with, and was the impetus for...
    • The Komarr Conquest and Revolt: Establishes Aral's reputation (both good and ill) and the galacto-political situation at the start of the primary storyline.
    • The Third Cetagandan War. It happened sometime between Vordarian's Pretendership, and the Komarr Revolt, but that's all we know about it.
  • The Great Repair: "Falling Free."
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: All ImpSec agents have to accept that no matter how heroic they may be, the rest of Barrayar will never learn of it. The best case in point is the Yarrow Incident, in which an extremist Count tried to assassinate Emperor Gregor with a freighter named the Yarrow. Lucas Haroche almost singlehandedly derailed the plot, but no one outside of ImpSec knows of the attempt. This secrecy is a source of frustration for Miles, and he is glad to be rid of it by the time he is an Imperial Auditor, though as an Auditor his major accomplishments will likely be even more secret. Even ImpSec only gets told about them if the Emperor wants them to be told. Despite that, Miles gets the fame and awe that comes with the role of Auditor itself.
  • Grew a Spine:
    • In Shards of Honor, this is combined with Sudden Principled Stand when Sergeant Bothari refuses to rape Cordelia as per Admiral Vorrutyer's orders.

"She's Commodore Vorkosigan's prisoner. Sir."

    • Ekaterin in Komarr and A Civil Campaign, though it is probably better to say that she found and nurtured the spine, rather than grew it.
  • Groin Attack:
    • Cordelia accidentally kicks the Betan President in the groin once. "I didn't vote for him..."
    • After Lord Dono (formerly Lady Donna) takes a shot to the pills for the first time, he is absolutely astonished at how much it hurts.

Dono: Ivan... do you remember, whenever one of you fellows got kicked in the nuts and went over, doing sports or whatever, how I laughed? I'm sorry. I never knew. I'm sorry...

  • The Grovel: Miles offered Ekaterin her dream job just to keep her close to him. When she learns the truth, she storms out of Vorkosigan House and he sets out to write the best damn apology letter ever, sealed in his own blood. Nothing like a determinator bent on groveling better than anyone else has ever groveled.

[Miles] went back inside Vorkosigan House to his study, where he sat himself down to attempt, through a dozen drafts, the best damned abject anybody'd ever seen.

  • Guile Hero: Miles most prominently, but really the whole Vorkosigan family qualifies, each with their own signature brand of guile:
  • Gunship Rescue: A by-the-book example in The Vor Game with the huge brand-new capital ship of the Barrayaran Imperial Navy coming in all guns blazing to save the day.
  • Handicapped Badass: Miles, natch. Also applies somewhat to his clone-brother Mark, and both are amply lampshaded.
  • Handsome Lech: Ivan. Possibly even a Casanova. One scene in Cetaganda suggests he is a Miles-level genius when it comes to seductions. On the other hand these affairs are good-natured and rarely end up in a painful break-up, so he is probably more of a Chivalrous Pervert.
  • Hands-On Approach:
    • Referenced in Miles' thoughts in Memory when Gregor takes Laisa riding for the first time in her life. Since she is extremely "luscious" looking, Miles thinks that he would not hold it against Gregor if he used the opportunity to cop a feel while helping her on to the horse.
    • Gregor's handling of Cavilo in The Vor Game when he let her "seduce" him.

Miles: You realize, Gregor, you did this? Sabotaged the Cetagandan invasion singlehandedly?
Gregor: Oh, it took both hands.

  • Happily Married:
    • Aral's parents prior to his mother's unfortunate untimely death.
    • Cordelia and Aral. For, like, ever.
    • Kou and Drou.
    • Professor and Professora Vorthys for even longer than Aral and Cordelia.
    • Gregor and Laisa.
    • Miles and Ekaterin.
  • Harmless Freezing: Notably averted. Soldiers who need better medical care than can be provided (such as after getting a huge hole blown into their chest) are routinely frozen so they can be transported to a medical facility. The required preparation includes replacing their blood with a special liquid. If anything goes wrong with that, it can lead to tissue damage, which can leave you a vegetable if it affects the brain. Even if everything goes right, more people than not suffer some amnesia. Miles himself ends up with a (first-)career-ending seizure disorder after undergoing the process.
  • Heir Club for Men: Gregor really needs a male heir. And as of Cryoburn, he has multiple children, though none of them have appeared in the story or been mentioned by name.
  • Hello, Nurse!: Elli Quinn's effect on men after undergoing plastic surgery. Well, not Ethan Urqhart.
  • Her Heart Will Go On: Ekaterin is a grieving widow...grieved by the damned mess Tien left her with.
  • Heroic BSOD: Miles engages in several.
  • Hermaphrodite: Bel Thorne, who is one of a whole manufactured gender from Beta Colony intended to replace the bimorphic human species. However, humans stubbornly retained the two sexes. Hermaphrodites by the time of the series have a population large enough to sustain on their own, existing as a subcuture within the larger Beta society. They can reproduce with non-hermaphrodites, but this requires the aide of artifical techniques and a deliberate selection of if the child will be male, female, or a hermaphrodite.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Galen is a very evil example of this, so obsessed with a conception of a demonically evil Aral Vorkosigan that he ends up acting exactly like that.
  • Honorary Aunt/Uncle:
    • "Tante Cordelia" to all the Koudelka daughters.
    • Simon Illyan, to Miles. As of Memory, he is even sleeping with Miles's aunt.

"I called him 'Uncle Simon' all my life until I went to the Academy, after which I called him 'Sir'."

    • Technically, "Aunt Alys" Vorpatril is Miles' 1st cousin once removed by marriage (Alys' late husband's mother was Count Piotr's sister-in-law).
  • Hot Amazon: Lampshaded by Mark, who called Miles' girlfriends and love interests "terrifying Amazons." Miles tends to be attracted to tall, aggressive women in the first place. Perhaps not coincidentally, his mother was one herself in her younger days.
  • Human Popsicle:
    • Cryogenics is a mature technology, often used to freeze combat casualties until they can reach the high grade medical facilities needed to repair them. Miles himself spends much of Mirror Dance frozen.
    • The planet Kibou-daini, in the novel Cryoburn, has its entire culture and economy revolving around the cryogenic storage of people.
  • Humiliation Conga: Richars is just utterly dismantled at the climax of A Civil Campaign. By his erstwhile supporters, no less.
  • I Gave My Word: Barrayarans in general, and old school Vor in particular, are rather big on this.
  • I Have This Friend: In Shards of Honor, Aral and Cordelia exchange their rather depressing romantic histories this way.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Fashionable: Mild case with Simon after his retirement. Alys convinces him to go from cheap boring conservative suits to expensive well-tailored boring conservative suits.
  • Identical Twin ID Tag
  • Identity Impersonator: Mark at the end of Brothers in Arms.
  • Imperial Russia: Barrayar is heavily based on it.
  • Impoverished Patrician:
    • Quite a common circumstance on Barrayar, especially after Lord Regent/Prime Minister Vorkosigan's social and economic reforms. Byerly Vorrutyer is "notoriously without visible means of support." Though we discover in A Civil Campaign one source of his income.
    • Ghem-lord Yenaro is a Cetagandan example.
    • Count Vorfolse, who is effectively the Imperial Governor of a large province, lives in a small apartment with "Vorfolse House" on the door. In context, it is extremely pathetic, and members of another Vor's entourage explain that if they lived in Vorfolse District they wouldn't mind being financially exploited if it meant their Count would put on a better showing.
    • Ekaterin is an unusual female example, as a Vor widow left destitute after her husband's death.
  • In the Blood: Gregor is afraid of this because of how insane, inbred, and generally Royally Screwed-Up much of his family was. Finding out how evil his father was almost drove him to suicide, though that was far from being the only issue.
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: In Diplomatic Immunity, after being shot at by a jury-rigged piece of construction equipment.

Miles: You might say he riveted my attention.

  • Indestructible Edible:
    • Barrayaran military issue Emergency Rations, according to Aral in Shards of Honor, can go for years without spoiling... and probably have already.
    • During their second encounter in The Vor Game, Cavilo provides Miles with a commercially available field ration bar that "...proved even more repellent than the Barrayaran Imperial version, resembling a rawhide dog chew. Wetted with spit, it softened slightly, enough to tear off gummy shreds if your teeth were in good health."

Cavilo: You've been fed the same as my troops.
Miles (displaying a ragged half-gnawed breakfast chew): Can't be. They'd have mutinied by now.
Cavilo (frowning sympathetically): Oh dear. Those. I thought they'd been condemned. How did they end up here? Someone must be economizing.

  • Indy Ploy:
    • Cordelia is no slouch. Consider her roundabout escape from the General Vorkraft in Shards of Honor, the rescue of Alys Vorpatril and especially the climax of the shopping trip.
    • Miles, perhaps most dramatically in The Warrior's Apprentice. He would prefer to have time to plan, but reality seldom cooperates. Fortunately, he has a flair for seat-of-the-pants improvisation.
  • Infraction Distraction
  • Insane Admiral: Ges Vorrutyer is a literal example. There are more than a few crazy generals in the Barrayaran combined services too, such as Stanis Metzov.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Earth is a strategic backwater, as an isolated cul-de-sac in the wormhole nexus, but it is still diplomatically and culturally significant:

But Earth still reigned, if it did not rule, culturally supreme. More war-scarred than Barrayar, as technically advanced as Beta Colony, the end-point of all pilgrimages both religious and secular.

  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja: Mina thinks the black-clad arsonists are ninjas, and her opinion of (potential stepfather) Vorlynkin goes way up when he fights them off.
  • Instructional Film: Miles' boredom during his quasi-exile to ImpSec HQ following the Fetaine spill at Camp Permafrost drives him to start watching every training vid in the military library . . . in strict alphabetical order. One film on the list (Filed under H for Hygiene) was for training recruits from the remote rural areas of Barrayar how to take a shower.
  • Insufferable Genius:
    • Dr. Vaagen in Barrayar.
    • Dr. Canaba in "Labyrinth" and Memory.
  • Insult Friendly Fire:
    • One of the ways Roic puts his foot in it while talking to Taura in "Winterfair Gifts"; he winds up an account of the Butter-Bug Incident with a comment about exterminating the grotesque genetically-engineered monsters -- having temporarily forgotten that his audience identifies herself as a grotesque genetically-engineered monster.
    • In Cetaganda, Ivan makes an off-handed remark about mutations, insulting Miles. He realizes this by blushing, and Miles tells him through clenched teeth, "Try not to start any wars down there" and mentally adds, "Civil and otherwise".
  • Interrupted Suicide:
    • In Barrayar, Cordelia interrupts Kou when he is about to slit his throat with the sword she had acquired for him. He tries to pretend that he was not serious about it.
    • Part of Miles' backstory is an attempted suicide when he was fifteen that was interrupted by Sergeant Bothari.
  • Ironic Echo: Aral's first wife committed suicide by plasma arc and burned her face off. Miles' first girlfriend, Elli Quinn, had her face burned off by plasma fire and was replaced with enhanced beauty.
  • It Belongs in a Museum:
    • When Miles gives his grandmother's old saddle to Ekaterin.
    • Duv Galeni, speaking as a former historian, has this opinion of just about everything in Miles' attic. He can apparently rant for hours about the fact that Miles has yet to document all the historically significant junk up there.
    • In Falling Free, Madam Minchenko has a valuable old violin that she used to keep in a climate controlled vault until she realized that musical instruments are meant to be played.
  • It Was a Gift
  • It's Okay If It's You: Terrence Cee just might consider adopting the Athos way of life with Ethan.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Cordelia is at first appalled by the notion, but later admits that it has its uses. Such as when you are in a tearing hurry.
  • Just Following Orders: Subverted. Aral himself personally gives a lecture to last year students in Barrayar's military academy about what to do when given an illegal order.
  • Karma Houdini: Cavilo.
  • Karmic Death: Tien suffocates to death horribly when his mask runs out of oxygen. He was shown earlier in the book yelling at his wife for telling him to check on his oxygen reserves.
  • Keep It Foreign: Russian translation, big time. In the original, Russophone influence pops out at every corner, starting with Piotr Vorkosigan, Yuri, Ludmilla Koudelka and ending with... well, the list would be too long to even contemplate. It got almost wiped out in translation. Ekaterin, for example, became Katriona. Damn, they even managed to disguise Ivan... as Ivan. The last case was purely phonetical: instead of Иван (pronounced "Ee-`van") they translated it as Айвен (pronounced "`Ai-ven"). The "fool-hero" reference was, of course, lost in process.
  • Kick the Dog: More like Drown The Puppy. Lord Richars' reaction to Lady Donna fighting off his attempt at raping her. When she was twelve years old.
  • Kicking Ass in All Her Finery: Olivia Koudelka demonstrates that Drou -- former personal bodyguard to the Emperor -- was passing more than just tips on baking cakes to her daughters as they grew up. Dressed in an evening gown, she responds to a attempted assault on a member of her party by first taking out one mook in hand-to-hand combat, then using a captured stunner to incapacitate two more. All in a matter of minutes in a crowded, poorly-lit parking garage.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence:
    • Vidal Vordarian, as seen in Famous Last Words.
    • Miles himself. It didn't stick.
    • The tale of an officer in the Cetagandan War, whose last words were purported to be, "Don't worry lieutenant, their guns can't possibly hit us at this ran-"
  • Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your Hand: How Aral deals with one mutineer. Undercut by his admitting he did not know if it would work or not — he was just so tired that he needed a moment to sit down.
  • King on His Deathbed: The magnificent, manipulative Emperor Ezar, who manipulates events from his deathbed and beyond.

Aral: We're talking about a man who can make even his own death serve his political purposes, remember? And if there's some way to govern Barrayar from beyond the grave, you can bet he's figured it out.

  • Knife Nut: Bothari. Piotr even introduces Bothari to Kly by telling him Bothari is "good at throats."
  • Knight Errant: Cordelia diagnoses Miles as thinking of himself like this. After a while, Mark is forced to agree.
  • La Résistance: Miles organizes one in "The Borders of Infinity."
  • Lady of War: Based on her exploits up to and including the Shopping Trip, Cordelia qualifies, but would be appalled at being so named.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Bujold just loves this trope. Miles in particular takes great joy in devising and delivering these sorts of comeuppances.


Dr. Weddell: That, gentlemen, is a bioengineered apoptotic prokaryote. Or so I have reconstructed it.
Miles: A what? Simplify, please.
Dr. Weddell: A little bug that eats things.
Miles: (dryly) Not that simplified.

  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Vor who commit treason are usually offered this as an alternative to the official punishment: public starvation. Miles asks Illyan if he ought to do this for Illyan's betrayer Lucas Haroche; Illyan says he would rather the man live through every eternal minute of his trial and punishment.
  • Loners Are Freaks:
    • Ekaterin compares Tien's friendless state with Miles's many and interesting friends.
    • A pivotal point in Mirror Dance occurs when Mark, who has been trying -- and failing -- to be Miles all on his own, and is definitely well on his way to being a freak, finally figures out that not even Miles tries to be Miles on his own; he gets his friends to help. Or, if they don't want to help, he dragoons them into doing it anyway.
  • Long Running Book Series
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • In Borders of Infinity, the Cetagandan Empire exploits loopholes in the "Interstellar Judiciary Commission" rules regarding treatment of prisoners:
      • So many square meters per inmate? An opaque, luminous force shield encloses that much open ground and field latrines.
      • No periods of darkness for over twelve hours? No darkness at all, ever.
      • Water? Everyone gets a cup along with their clothes and a bedroll (the taps by the latrines work most of the time).
      • Access to medical personnel? Plenty of medics mixed in with the general population, but the rules mention nothing about medicines or equipment.
      • Food? A pile of IJC-compliant ration bars (one per inmate) appears at a random location on the camp perimeter twice per day. Each bar will provide half of the daily requirement of calories, protein and nutrients. And there's nothing in the guidelines about distribution, either - let the prisoners fight each other over distribute it themselves.
      • No forced labor? Nothing to do at all.
      • No solitary confinement for more than 24 hours? <insert bitter laughter here>
      • No beatings or rapes by guards? No guards....
    • The legendary 2,000 chefs of Lord Vorharopulous were an attempt to pull this off against Emperor Dorca Vorbarra's decree that each Vor house could only have 20 sworn armsmen. It did not work.
    • There ain't no rule that a horse cannot be a count's heir. "If a horse's ass can be a Count, why not the entire horse?" Described in story as a Take That to the Count's human heir, who had a political split with the Count. The appointment was confirmed by a rump majority, made up of friends of the Count. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) "Lord Midnight" died before the Count, and by that time he had patched up his disagreement with his son. The funniest thing about Lord Midnight is that he is an important precedent; his case established that a Count may designate an heir who is not actually a blood descendant.
  • Lost Colony: The planet of Barrayar, which was rediscovered only eighty years prior to the start of the main series timeline.
  • Love Across Battlelines: Aral and Cordelia when they first meet in Shards of Honor.
  • Love Cannot Overcome: Ellie Quinn loves Miles but is horrified by the thought of becoming Lady Vorkosigan. This becomes a recurring theme for his love interests, and Miles eventually jests (with more than a little truth behind the jest) that he has given up on trying to get a women to follow him to Barrayar, and has now decided to find a woman who already loves Barrayar and focus on getting her to love him.
  • Love Makes You Crazy. Miles, in a big way. The things he did to try to win Elena's hand, and then Ekaterin. From a certain point of view, Miles creates the whole vast edifice of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet just so that Elena can fulfill her longing to be a soldier - or, in a different sense of love, to prove his worth to his father.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Ethan was going to be force-fed alcohol and tossed over a railing before Elli showed up.
  • Male Gaze: An in-universe example: haut women hide themselves in bubble shielded float chairs. When they are clearly seen, their intense beauty (part of their genetic engineering) causes non-Cetagandans, including Miles, to become instantly enraptured. Miles eventually becomes used to them — almost.
  • Malicious Slander. Several cases, including Aral Vorkosigan's first marriage, and Miles when he was accused of killing Ekaterin's husband Tien. Aral gave Miles a salient piece of advice regarding reputation and honor:

Aral: Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself.

  • Mama Bear: Cordelia, especially in Barrayar.
  • Meaningful Name: Miles means soldier (Per comments from the author, the name was picked at random and just worked out); Ivan is the stereotypical fool-hero in Russian folklore, their Jack equivalent.
  • Meaningful Rename:
    • Miles' name was supposed to be Piotr Miles Vorkosigan, named after his paternal and maternal grandfathers. When Count Piotr Pierre Vorkosigan disowns him (after trying to kill the infant), Cordelia renames him Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, solely after her father.
    • The dropping of "Provisional" from the Dendarii Free Mercenaries.
  • Men Don't Cry: Mirror Dance. Ivan after hearing about Miles' death. Mark notices his tears, but says nothing about them.
  • The Men First
  • Mental Fusion: Wormhole-jump pilots have implants that let them neurally link with their ships. It affects them similar to LSD, in which they can transform into colors and taste sounds.
  • The Messiah:
    • Cordelia. Look at her effect on Kou, Drou, Aral, and Bothari - and in later life, Mark and Kareen.
    • This is a talent that the entire Vorkosigan clan seems to have. In The Warrior's Apprentice Miles starts out with an about to be junked spaceship, with an alcoholic washed up pilot and a cowardly deserter of an engineer; uses them to capture a bunch of total screw-up mercenaries and and turns them all into a crack special-ops team by sheer force of will and making them believe that they can do it. As the former alcoholic washed up pilot says:

"Your forward momentum is going to lead all your followers over a cliff someday." He paused, beginning to grin. "On the way down, you'll convince 'em all they can fly." He stuck his fists in his armpits, and waggled his elbows. "Lead on, my lord. I'm flapping as hard as I can."

    • Brother Miles uplifts 10,000 naked prisoners of war, bringing them bodily into the high places of the air.
  • Military Maverick: Miles, in a big way. The Vor Game starts with him being assigned to Kyril Island because the Academy staff feel he needs to learn how to be a subordinate instead of maneuvering himself into charge. He ends up getting his commander discharged from the Imperial Service. By the end of the book he is reporting directly to Simon Illyan simply because he makes such a habit of driving his superiors nuts that Illyan cannot, in good conscience, inflict him on anybody else. At one point in The Vor Game, Miles has three different commanding officers (in different contexts) locked up in neighboring cells in the brig. Contrary the trope, Miles does eventually get himself discharged in ill standing and does not get his commission back, even after he saves the day once again. Granted, Miles being the sort to "fall into a cess pool and come up with a handful of gold," it works out fine.
  • Military Science Fiction: The series has an interesting place in that subgenre. While there is military action, and the books are published by Baen Books, they differ in that Bujold and her characters are social-liberal, whereas the genre is typically hard line conservative, and atypically, rather than being in the direction of a Super Soldier, Miles is a Non-Action Guy (or at least not physically strong).
  • Mind Rape: Happens to Mark during Mirror Dance, along with the physical kind.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Sometimes it seems as if Miles' career is built of these.
    • Miles' first official ImpSec assignment in The Vor Game was to assist the officer assigned to find out what was going on in the Hegen Hub and possibly get the Dendarii/Oseran Mercenaries out of the area. Then he encounters a certain Greg Bleakman in a Jacksonian detention facility...
    • Komarr starts with the investigation of a collision between an in-system ore freighter and an orbital mirror, then detours to a modest embezzlement scheme...
    • The mess that sends Miles to Quaddiespace in Diplomatic Immunity (Missing Person case that escalates to a small armed clash with severe diplomatic repercussions) is nothing compared with what unfolds once Miles discovers what one of the Komarran trade fleet ships is carrying.
    • Miles has solved the mystery that sent him to Kibou-daini by the 1/3 point in Cryoburn. He spends the rest of the book uncovering a major local conspiracy that was only tangentially connected to his original case (and was completely outside of his jurisdiction as a Barrayaran Imperial Auditor).
  • More Deadly Than the Male:
    • Princess Kareen.
    • Cordelia.
  • Multigenerational Household:
    • Vorkosigan House: Piotr + Aral & Cordelia, Aral & Cordelia + Miles. Good thing the place has all that room.
    • The Koudelkas: At least until Delia and Olivia got married, and Kareen moved in with Mark..
    • The Vorthys residence until Ekaterin settled things with Miles.
  • Mushroom Samba: Miles's allergic reaction to fast-penta. Well, more of a Mushroom Charleston with a side trip to Stratford-on-Avon.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Miles is accused (but only in the court of public opinion) of clearing the way to Ekaterin in A Civil Campaign.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Aral Vorkosigan during most of Shards of Honor and Barrayar, where his role as a conspirator to destroy Prince Serg through the broad assassination tool of an unnecessary war destroys his personal honor and leaves him a broken man in the former book; his decision to execute Carl Vorhalas is a prominent example in the latter book.
  • Nail'Em: Guppy and the automated hot riveter in Diplomatic Immunity. (See Incredibly Lame Pun above for Miles' reaction.)
  • Nakama: Lampshaded by Ekaterin, when she compares her loner, Jerkass late husband Tien to Miles' rowdy collection of Crazy Awesome BadAsses, geniuses, Cool Old Guys, Cool Old Ladies, Officers and Gentlemen...
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast:
    • The Butcher Of Komarr [4]
    • The legendary Count Pierre Vorrutyer, known as Le Sanguinaire (The Bloody, in French). [5]
  • Near-Rape Experience: Mark is a perpetrator on blonde clone Maree in Mirror Dance, which blows just about all the good will the Dendarii might have had left for him ... because although Maree looks like a spectacularly buxom twenty-something, she's actually about ten.
  • Needle in a Stack of Needles: The whole point of the Barrayar-Escobar War. With thousands of Barrayarrans dead in a botched invasion, nobody would realize that one of those casualties - Prince Serg - was deliberate.
  • Nepotism: A large portion of the population of Barrayar is certain that Miles Vorkosigan only got his positions because of his father the Regent/Prime Minister or his foster brother the Emperor. They are mostly wrong. It was nepotism that got Miles into the Imperial Military Academy, despite him not meeting the physical requirements, and nepotism that kept him in the Imperial Service after the Kyril Island incident.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In Shards of Honor, Cordelia's Betan Survey crew decides to rescue her from the clutches of the psychotic Butcher of Komarr...and in exactly the wrong move, they take in two Sergyar-stranded members of the mutiny against Aral (both secret police and nasty pieces of work) and orchestrate their return to the General Vorkraft where they stage a breakout of their fellow mutineers. They're terribly proud of themselves for being so clever, too.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Mad Emperor Yuri killed, or tried to at least, all of his direct blood heirs, including Piotr Vorkosigan's wife and family. Missing Piotr was a serious tactical blunder, as he turned and helped Ezar win the throne.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Cordelia. Although it is not so much "nice to the waiter" as it is "nice to the bodyguards".
  • No Biological Sex: Cetagandan ba which, when added to Betan herms, leads to real Pronoun Trouble.
  • No Periods, Period: Via the widespread use of contraceptive implants.
  • No Poverty: Beta, homeworld of Cordelia Vorkosigan, has such a high standard of living for all its inhabitants that the term "poor" means not having a computer in the home, and even that is all but unheard of since access to information is guaranteed by the Betan government. To someone from Barrayar, where illiteracy and starvation are widespread amongst the rural population, it is a bit hard to fathom just how well the Betans live.
  • Non-Action Guy:
    • Miles is really a subversion of the trope. Yes, he is short and has had more breaks than he has bones, but he spends ten years leading covert ops missions, often in the line of fire, and only loses once. Just do not ask him to perform hand-to-hand combat.
    • Ethan, who starts his story as a timid scientist unused to the galactic way of life and is a timid scientist unused to the galactic way of life.
  • Noodle Implements: Lead-lined rubber hoses are mentioned several times as being part of the older Barrayaran discipline parades.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • The Infamous Incendiary Cat Plot, That Time We Stole a Tank and--Ivan's personal favorite--The Abandoned Escape Tunnels.
    • One draft of Miles' apology letter to Ekaterin was written in rhymed poetry, which she understandably pines to read just for novelty's sake.

Her mind hiccuped to a stop. For a moment, all she could wonder was who emptied his wastebasket, and if they could be bribed. Pym, probably, and likely not.

    • Ivan mentions an incident involving an old guerrilla cache of explosives that he and Miles and Elena

"...found up in the Dendarii Mountains when we were kids. But we were being very stupid kids, as everyone from Uncle Aral on down explained, very memorably, after the--never mind that now."

  • No Pronunciation Guide: The audio books each pronounce "Dendarii" differently, even ones with the same reader.
  • Not So Different:
    • Bel Thorne notes the similarities between the well-intentioned creation of hermaphrodites on Beta and Baron Ryoval's sick experiments.
    • Miles' friends all note how similar Miles and Cavilo are at the end of The Vor Game, to Miles' embarrassment and frustration.
  • No Woman's Land:
    • Barrayar, although it is (slowly) improving its treatment of women.
    • Athos is a more literal example, being a males-only Cult Colony.
  • Nuke'Em. The Cetagandans nuked a significent part of Vorkosigan's domain (including the old capital) during the occupation.
  • The Oathbreaker:
    • Ekaterin's husband was killed in an accident immediately after she told him she was leaving him. Because she never went through with the divorce her honor remains intact in everyone else's eyes, but she knows she is an oathbreaker and suffers the shame of it.
    • Miles understands completely:

Miles: In my experience, the trouble with oaths of the form "death before dishonor" is that eventually, given enough time and abrasion, they separate the world into just two sorts of people: the dead, and the forsworn. It is a survivor's problem, this one.

    • He later lampshades that at least he got the order right since he died in Mirror Dance and broke his oath as an ImpSec agent in Memory, in part caused by his death.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Played with, in the case of Ivan: There is a conversation in Mirror Dance where this possibility is discussed, but Aral Vorkosigan dismisses it, commenting that Ivan has acted stupidly from too young an age for it to be an act. However, when you read the portions of the book from Ivan's perspective, it is clear that he is fairly intelligent, and more in the way of Brilliant but Lazy; he has learned that the "reward" for doing a job well is another, harder job. This had already been established in Cetaganda and Brothers in Arms, where it is clear that Ivan is a perfectly competent young soldier, but that he feels safer if everybody regards him as a harmless fool. Considering that Ivan is officially fourth in line for Emperor of Barrayar (Aral, Miles, Mark, then Ivan) he may also believe that he keeps the people ahead of him safer (all of whom are family who he is close to), by assuring nobody wants him in charge.
  • Obstructive Bureaucracy: Barrayar's ministries will helpfully give you the runaround...in triplicate. Especially if your business involves a High Vor family (e.g. Vorkosigan) in any sort of negative way.

"I found I had only to pronounce his last name correctly to produce the most damn-all stone wall obtuseness from every Barrayaran clerk, secretary, embassy officer and bureaucrat I encountered."

  • Of Corpse He's Alive: Drugged version in The Vor Game, when Elena and Miles guide around a fast-penta'ed Admiral Oser.
  • Off with His Head: In Barrayar, Vorhalas' first son is executed for dueling -- but it takes three tries to properly decapitate him. Cordelia notes later when Bothari kills Vordarian with Koudelka's swordstick that Barrayar should have hired Bothari to execute him instead, since he does a better job with a single stroke.

The flashing stroke cut off his words, his head, and his life. It was extremely neat, despite the last spurts of blood from the stump of his neck. Vorkosigan should have loaned Bothari's services the day they'd executed Carl Vorhalas.

  • Older Than They Look: Betans and Cetagandans both live considerably longer than the residents of most other planets. In both cases it is down to genetic tinkering, but where the Betans just eliminated genetic defects, the Cetagandans have been forcibly evolving themselves for centuries.
    • At one point Miles mentions that Cordelia, then in her mid-sixties, was just reaching middle age for a Betan, and this leads to rumors about a nonexistent "Betan rejuvenation process" that can extend the lifespan of anybody who can afford it. Miles points out in one of the books that it's just their way of life and their health care system that lets them live longer lives.
    • Several of the haut women Miles meets in Cetaganda are in their nineties and look no older than thirty or so.
  • One-Man Army: Inverted. Mark claimed of Miles that "He's not a man, he's a mob."
  • Ordered Apology: One technique Miles uses while reclaiming the Dendarii.
  • The Original Klingon:
    • Barrayar has a bit of this. They do not actually think Shakespeare was Barrayaran, but even during the height of their isolation, Barrayar made a point of preserving his plays through oral tradition. When the isolation ended they compared notes to the rest of the galaxy and it turned out that they had done such a good job that they had "preserved" three plays everyone else had "lost."
    • Baba Yaga is frequently mentioned as a characteristically Barrayaran myth.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: In Mirror Dance, Miles gets himself killed. He is cryogenically frozen almost immediately, holding out hope for reviving him later... if anyone knew where his cryo-pod ended up. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast have to adjust to the fact that he is dead and may not be coming back.
  • Our Showers Are Different: Sonic showers, toothbrushes, and other cleaning items make frequent appearance. At one point, Miles amuses himself by imagining what would happen if the programming for the gimmicky-even-for-Betans "sonic toothbrush" went awry.
  • Outlaw Town: Jackson's Whole was initially a hijacker's base and along the way became "governed" by a loose connection of crime families specializing in specific crimes (sex slavery, arms dealing, etc.). It is ultra-capitalist and has no real laws to speak of -- a handshake is as good as a contract, and you are as good as dead if you are not under the protection of one of its crime families.
  • Parental Hypocrisy: In A Civil Campaign, Kou and Drou get extremely upset upon learning that Kareen has been having (sane, well-adjusted, well-educated, and generally awesome) premarital sex with Mark. Cordelia turns the tables by quietly bringing the couch where they first had sex — also premarital, but a miserable, fumbling, painful expedition that almost ended their budding relationship — out of storage. And then forces them to sit on it while she, Kareen, and Mark confront them. Silently, for the first few minutes. By the time she's finally done with them — not using so much as a single harsh word — the Koudelkas mere et pere are well and truly deflated.
  • Patchwork Story: Borders of Infinity (the novel) is actually the shorter works "The Mountains of Mourning", "Labyrinth", and "The Borders of Infinity" with a frame story tacked on.
  • Patriotic Fervor: All Vor have this. Some express their patriotism by seeking to improve Barrayar as well as/instead of providing military service.
  • Penal Colony: "The Borders of Infinity."
  • The Penance: In Mountains of Mourning, the perpetrator of an infanticide is sentenced to have her property rights removed and to be considered legally dead.
  • Perpetual Motion Machine: Discussed in Komarr. One of the physicists Miles calls in to consult determines that the device he is asking her about looks like a perpetual motion machine. Since she is a competent physicist who does not believe in such things, she concludes that it must be drawing energy from the deep structure of the wormholes it gets pointed at because there is nowhere else it could be coming from.
  • Photographic Memory: Due to a computer chip in his head, Simon Illyan has one of these. Until the chip is sabotaged.
  • Phrase Catcher:
    • "Ivan, you idiot..." and variations thereof. Amusingly reversed in Diplomatic Immunity:

Admiral Vorpatril: Vorkosigan, you idiot--!

    • At the climax of A Civil Campaign, Miles begins to say, "Ivan, you idiot!" when he appears late to the Council of Counts with Lord Dono and Miles' political antagonists, but Ivan interrupts him, knowing he has just saved the day, and enjoys a moment of knowing something Miles does not, for once.
      • In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, a young lady calls him "you idiot" and is puzzled and irked that he smiles in response. Apparently he's gotten to the point in his life where the phrase brings back fond memories.
    • "Unpack, Miles" may be a candidate: Ekatarin uses it several times in Diplomatic Immunity, and Miles himself uses it in Cryoburn. Miles thinks extremely fast, and tends to skip straight to telling people what to do without telling them why he needs them to do it.
  • Pineal Weirdness: The source of telepathy in Ethan of Athos. More or less.
  • Pity Sex: Miles finds himself as "an object of charity" in Beta Colony, and does not care for it.
  • The Place: Barrayar, Cetaganda, and Komarr.
  • Planet of Hats:
    • Cetagandans value artisty, even in their bioweapons.
    • Quaddies place a high value on the concept of work (Miles even compares it to the way Barrayarans feel about honor).
    • Betans are either enlightened or decadent depending on your point of view.
    • Athos is a planet of only men. Offworlders sometimes derisively call it 'The Planet of Fags.' Athosians need not necessarily be gay, but most members of the culture are for fairly obvious reasons.
  • Playing with Syringes: Taura.
  • The Plot Reaper
  • Pointy-Haired Boss: Bruce Van Atta in Falling Free. A former engineer, transferred to management where he would hopefully cause less damage. When Leo Graff sets off his plan to reconfigure the Quaddie's space station so that they can steal it, he tells Van Atta that he will be surprised by how much of the station, that Van Atta thinks is being decommissioned, can be "recycled." Van Atta insists that all of Leo's plans go through his office--so he can take Leo's name off them, and replace them with his own so he can take the credit.
  • Population Control: Different planets have different approaches:
    • Barrayar is underpopulated, and has unfettered reproduction (though it is somewhat "backward" and considers all sex out of wedlock to be illicit.)
    • Beta Colony is a marginally habitable world, and has strict population control. All babies must be licensed, though getting a baby license seems to be about as difficult as getting a driver's license (at least for the first two.) Since contraceptives are legally required for all females (and hermaphrodites), all sex between consenting individuals is considered to be normal recreational behaviour, though they do have statutory rape laws.
    • Athos is underpopulated, but since its entire population is male, it requires major technological assistance for anyone to reproduce. The actual cost of raising children to the age where they are self sufficient is a major part of the planetary government budget, unlike most other planets where it is part of the informal economy.
    • The Cetagandan Empire is a group of planets exercising extreme bio-engineering, where every child "born" (at least among the Haut class) has its genetic makeup designed by the central government. What is more, it would be possible for the child's parents never to have even met, let alone had sex.
  • Portal Network
  • Post-Rape Taunt: In Shards Of Honor Ges Vorrutyer attempts this, but makes a serious misjudgement of who to use as a proxy.
  • Power Degeneration: Taura.
  • The Power of Trust: The Big Freaking Gun in Cordelia's arsenal.

Commodore Koudelka: You? I know you! You trust beyond reason!
Cordelia: Yes. It's how I get results beyond hope. As you may recall.

  • Precision F-Strike: Ekaterin is an extraordinarily polite woman, almost to the point of Extreme Doormat. The harshest thing she utters for the first one and a half books after her first appearance is "Drat." It comes as a shock when she finally lets fly with a comparatively mild "Open the damned door and let me out" later on.
  • Primal Scene: First Miles and later Ivan have this reaction in Memory when they realize that Lady Alys Vorpatril (Ivan's mother) is sleeping with Simon Illyan.

"You don't need to bellow."
"I am not bellowing," said Ivan. "I'm being firm."
"Could you please be firm at a lower volume?"
"No. Simon Illyan is sleeping with my mother, and it's your fault!"

  • Prison Episode: The novella The Borders of Infinity, set in a very nasty but technically legal prisoner of war camp.
  • Private Military Contractors: The Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet is one of many mercenary companies working around the wormhole nexus. The fact that they are on retainer with Barrayaran Imperial Security, and that their commander reports directly to the head thereof, is a secret known to only a very few.

Miles: This is a paid political rescue.
Sgt. Beatrice: Mercenaries?

Miles: We're not something wriggling with too many legs that you found in your sleeping bag. The proper tone of voice is Mercenaries!--with a glad cry.
—"The Borders of Infinity"
  • Professional Sex Ed: Betan Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapist training emphasizes the "educational" aspect of things, so they are occasionally contracted as "first time" introductions for nervous soon-to-be-ex-virgins.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guys: The Vor of Barrayar and the Ghem-Lords of Cetaganda. When the Cetagandans invaded Barrayar, it was a bloody mess for all involved.
  • Psycho for Hire/Psycho Sidekick: Bothari was taken into Aral's employ specifically to restrain his psychotic tendencies.
  • Purple Prose: In-universe during A Civil Campaign. Specifically, Miles' attempts at writing an apology to Ekaterin are implied to have gone there over the myriad drafts. Including the one in rhyme.
  • Putting on the Reich:
    • Some of the many Barrayaran uniforms enter this territory, to include jackboots, jodhpurs, high collars, peaked caps and capes. Miles offers a justification in Cetaganda, when he muses that it is derived from horse cavalry uniforms. Then he lampshades it, admitting it is a little silly to keep the boots when the last time the military used horses was his grandfather's time. Aral at one point remarks that the officers must use them for riding hobbyhorses, high horses, and nightmares.
    • The Betan Expeditionary Force uniforms also included jackboots, even though the only horses to be found on Beta Colony are in the zoos.
  • Railing Kill: Unintentionally in Ethan of Athos: Quinn tries to stun a mook on a catwalk. Mook goes over the railing he was moving towards when she fired and breaks his neck. Elli is mildly (the mook was guilty of several murders, and was in the middle of staging an "accidental" death for Ethan) upset.

Quinn: Gee, I feel really bad about that. I've never killed a man by accident before. Unprofessional.

  • Rape by Proxy: Ges uses Bothari to abuse his female prisoners of war when he does not do it himself.
  • Rape Is Love: Inverted in Bothari, who convinces himself that the captive and brutalized Elena Visconti was his wife. Including a "honeymoon" in his quarters as he nurses her back to some semblance of health. He later expresses at least some understanding of the truth, going through great and literal pains to ensure that he did not also rape Cordelia.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Every one of Miles' love interests. Even Taura, described in Winterfair Gifts as having mahogany hair and ivory skin. At least, so described by the besotted Armsman Roic.
  • Read the Freaking Manual: After the Dinner Party in A Civil Campaign, Miles is at a loss for how to care for the lone occupant of Ekaterin's garden, despite detailed instructions appended to her resignation letter. Of course, Miles' thinking is not entirely rational when it comes to Ekaterin and gardens at this point.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Deconstructed in Brothers in Arms, when Galen tries to get Mark to kill Miles and Galeni:

Galen: You must learn to kill if you expect to survive.
Miles: No, you don't. Most people go through their whole lives without killing anybody. False argument.

    • Played with in that the Straw Man Has a Point here - while most people do indeed get through their entire lives without being in a lethal force situation, people in Galen's chosen career track (terrorist) or Mark's (assassin) damn sure do need to learn how to kill or else they're going to die very young. (Or they need to find another career, which is exactly what Miles is suggesting.)
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The good guys get one when Gregor finally tells off Cavilo, pointing out that she has been treating the Emperor of three worlds as a naive newbie.

Emperor Gregor: Commander Cavilo, both of my parents died violently in political intrigue before I was six years old. A fact you might have researched. Did you think you were dealing with an amateur?

  • Reassigned to Antarctica:
    • Aral and Miles. They even got assigned to the same hellhole, thirty years apart. In Miles' case, this leads to a Reassignment Backfire.
    • Alexi Vormoncrief, and it could not have happened to a more deserving guy.
  • Reassignment Backfire: Miles was sent to Lazkowski Base on Kyril Island, aka "Camp Permafrost," to teach him to take orders. He wound up getting his commanding officer discharged.
  • Recycled in Space: A Civil Campaign is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband In Space!
  • Red Light District: The caravanserai area of Vorbarr Sultana in Barrayar. By the time of the later books in the series it has been cleaned up and gentrified, but you can still get into trouble in some of its back alleys.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • Miles builds his career on this. At one point, he is sent into a prison to rescue one man, and ends up rescuing over ten thousand.
    • Leo Graf from Falling Free, who hijacks and flies away an entire space station.
  • Regent for Life:
    • Specifically and thoroughly averted in the case of Aral Vorkosigan. See Cincinnatus above.
    • Vidal Vordarian was planning to do this. Ezar figured this out fairly quickly, which is why his grandson's regency went to Aral Vorkosigan instead. Vordarian immediately tries a more direct route to the Imperium.
  • The Remnant: In Brothers In Arms, the villain is one of these for the Komarran resistance.
  • Reluctant Ruler: Gregor in The Vor Game
  • The Resenter: Mark, at first. He gets better.
  • Retired Badass: Aral and Cordelia, in the later books.
  • Revenge by Proxy
    • Ser Galen's treatment of Mark.
    • In The Mountains of Mourning, someone wounds the throat of Miles' horse in an attempted "retroactive infanticide by proxy."
  • Roaring Rampage of Rescue: Cordelia embarks on one in Barrayar.
  • Romancing the Widow:
    • Vidal Vordarian attempted to do this with Princess Kareen as part of his Regent for Life plan.
    • Drives the plot in A Civil Campaign, and got a head start in Komarr.
  • Royal We: Gregor very occasionally when he wants to make it abundantly clear he is speaking officially.
  • Royally Screwed-Up: The Vorbarra family. Thank Father Frost for gene cleaning.
  • Rule Number One: "You play games like that with the big boys, you'd better make damn sure you win, Miles says. Rule One. And there is no Rule Two." Count Falco Vorpatril, Ivan's distant uncle, says basically the same thing to Richars Vorrutyer just earlier in the book.

Falco: There is an unwritten rule among us, Richars; if you attempt any ploy on the far side of ethical, you'd damned well better be good enough at your game not to get caught. You're not good enough.

  • Rules Lawyer: In Barrayar, Aral Vorkosigan tells Bothari to obeys his wife's command as if they were his own and never rescinds the order. Aral probably meant that order as coming from Lord Vorkosigan. Bothari interprets it as coming from Lord Regent Vorkosigan, equivalent to an order from the Emperor himself.
  • Running Gag: In Shards of Honor, no one Cordelia meets actually voted for Betan President "Steady Freddy."
  • Sadistic Choice: In Barrayar, Aral has to decide between the letter of the law and compassion: execute a young man for a drunken play-duel that became a real one, or pardon him for his crime. Aral chooses the law, due to Barrayar's political instability and fears that favors to friends would lead to rampant nepotism. This forever estranges him from his friend Count Vorhalas, and leads directly to Miles' exposure to soltoxin. It also allows Gregor to, sixteen years later, take control of a relatively stable multi-planet empire, where even the political opposition is a loyal one--led by Vorhalas, determined to make sure his son did not die for nothing.
  • Sanity Has Advantages: Mark is not exactly more sane than Baron Ryoval, but his insanity is far more orderly and patient. That proves to be enough.
  • Scars Are Forever: Miles has an amazing collection from years of bone replacement surgeries, the needle grenade, the Komarr Waste Heat Station incident...
  • Schizo-Tech: Barrayar was originally a Lost Colony, got cut off from everything, fell back into feudalism and is desperately trying to step up and rejoin galactic society. So while they may have a shiny new fleet of starships, equip their soldiers with kick-ass Powered Armor and are able to rebuild a man's nervous system, The Emperor still presides over the government in an old-school castle and in the outlying regions mail is delivered by hand. On horseback. The mailman on horseback is portrayed as keeping an old, valued, retainer on the government payroll, rather than replacing him with the more efficient modern alternatives. We get snapshots of backcountry life, twenty and thirty years later, that show that it has undergone the same sort of transformations that took place in similar areas of Earth in the last century.
  • Screaming Birth: Totally averted with Lady Alys Vorpatril, who was screaming and cursing her husband (although not for the usual reason); when she is told they cannot afford her to be loud, she bites a makeshift piece of rope and bears it.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Jackson's Whole's hat of choice. Mark abuses this with glee.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections: Miles has had nepotism work in his favor many times. Helps to be foster-brother to the Emperor. To avoid giving the wrong impression, it should be noted that Miles is very careful to only (intentionally) play this card when he has no other options. Indeed, one of the reasons given for his relentless drive is to prove to himself and others that he does not need to rely on nepotism to advance. Which is why Illyan discussed kicking Miles out of ImpSec with Gregor before actually doing it.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Leo Graf, Dr. Minchenko, and Mama Nilla refuse to let the quaddies be sterilized and sent to the surface to live out probably-short lives.
  • Secret Identity Identity: Miles.
  • Secret Secret Keeper: Both Ky Tung, and Bel Thorne reveal that they've known about Admiral Naismith's real identity for some time, Ky when announcing his retirement to Miles, and Bel when it's officially read in on the secret in Mirror Dance.
  • Secret Test of Character:
    • Miles fails one spectacularly in Memory when he falsifies a report to his superiors to try and hang onto a position that he is no longer medically able to qualify for, resulting in his dismissal from ImpSec and Barrayaran military service entirely. He passes another one in the same book when he refuses the villain's offer to reinstate everything Miles lost by his original failure of integrity, under circumstances where no one would ever know. See the page quote above.
    • Miles administers one on Consul Vorlynkin in Cryoburn. He lets the Consul witness him both soliciting and accepting a bribe. The Consul reporting Miles' perfidy up the chain of command is what tells Miles that he can be trusted with the greater picture of what Miles' real mission is.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Emperor Yuri was convinced that his relatives were planning to kill him and take the throne. So he sent out assassins to kill them first. Those of his relatives who survived that night (Along with General Count Piotr Vorkosigan, who did NOT take having his wife and eldest son murdered at the dinner table well) decided that this was the final straw and launched a civil war to overthrow and kill the mad Emperor.
  • Selling the Antidote: One of the ways Baron Fell earns a living.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely:
    • Cordelia is very impressed by Aral in his dress uniform with all the trimmings near the end of Shards of Honor.
    • Lady Alys gives excellent advice to Drou on her wedding preparations, especially the dress, in Barrayar. Drou is finally put in a white silk wedding dress and is absolutely stunning.
    • In the short story Winterfair Gifts, Taura visits Barrayar for Miles and Ekaterin's wedding, and after Lady Alys gets her hands on her the results are... memorable.
    • Tej and Rish both blink in favorable reaction at the sight of Ivan in the Barrayaran green uniform.
  • Shipper on Deck: Cordelia to Drou and Kou in Barrayar.

Cordelia: "You two are two of my favorite people. If only you'd get your heads on straight..."

  • Shirtless Scene: Roic gets a memorable one in A Civil Campaign, when he stumbles, half-awake, into the midst of a interplanetary-arrest-slash-food-fight while wearing boots, underwear, a pistol holster, and nothing else. It actually brings the mayhem to a halt, as the two ladies involved stop flinging bug butter at the cops so they can ogle.

Miles: Armsman Roic... you appear to be out of uniform.

Miles: "Aye, there's the genius and the wonder of the man!"

    • A passage from Pilgrim's Progress, never explicitly identified (A character thinks it is "scripture" of some kind) plays a role in Borders Of Infinity.
  • Show Within a Show:
    • As a child, Miles was a big fan of a holovid action/drama serial about Lord Vorthalia the Bold, Legendary Hero from the Time of Isolation. As an adult, he can remember most of the 9 verses of the theme song. It is likely that he picked up some of his Knight Errant tendencies from this.
    • Some Marilacans attempted to hire Admiral Naismith as an advisor for a holovid docudrama about the Dagoola IV breakout.
    • Nikolai Vorsoisson is fond of holovids featuring Captain Vortalon, a jump pilot who has galactic adventures with Prince Xav, smuggling arms to the Resistance during the Cetagandan invasion.
    • Beta Colony produced a film based on the Escobaran War and Cordelia's role in it called The Thin Blue Line. Their portrayal of Prince Serg upsets Elena, because most Barrayarans view Prince Serg as a hero, not as the Caligula he actually was.
  • Shrouded in Myth
  • Sibling Rivalry:
    • Miles and Mark settle into a very intense sibling rivalry once they get over trying to kill each other. Fortunately for the rest of the universe, their favorite way of scoring points tends to be pulling each other's chips out of the fire.
    • A milder one happens between the Koudelka girls.
  • Sick and Wrong:
    • Ivan's reaction to a Cetagandan kitten tree. The fact that a kitten dies when he plucks it off the bush before it was... ripe... does not help matters.
    • This is Miles' and Elli's initial reaction to the fur blanket they find in a shop in London. To be specific, this blanket is alive, purrs and snuggles closer when stroked and feeds on ambient EM fields.
    • Applied to political infighting when one prospective heir of the late Count Vorryuter tries to disqualify the other via emasculation and loses the bulk of his political allies. Given that the former is an extreme conservative and the latter a voluntarily transgendered man, there are several levels of intense discomfort to choose from.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Alys Vorpatril. Later on, Ekaterin Vorsoissan also manages to find her steel and develop into this.
  • Slasher Smile: Well, a "canine grin", but Bothari gets one off without even being seen when Koudelka accuses Bothari of being off his medication when he refuses to follow Koudelka's orders, proclaiming that he was Cordelia's "dog" and that he had resigned his commission.

How such could travel over a purely audio link Cordelia was not sure, but a canine grin hung in the air before them.

  • Snowball Lie: Miles's creation of the Dendarii Mercenaries in The Warrior's Apprentice.
  • So Beautiful It's a Curse: Elli Quinn: after getting her face burned off in a space battle, Miles pays for it to be replaced with the best face that 30th century reconstructive surgery can supply. She is initially delighted with her new face "but the second time a soldier made a pass at me instead of following an order, I knew I definitely had a problem." She goes on to explain that her problems do not arise because she is beautiful, but because she does not have the experience of knowing how to properly deal with her admirers that naturally-beautiful women would have gained while growing up.
  • Sociopathic Hero: Sgt. Bothari, Miles' bodyguard during his early years. A multiple rapist and murderer, who knows he is insane but struggles so hard to be a good dad for his daughter that he is very nearly The Woobie.
  • So Proud of You
  • Son of a Whore: Bothari, as revealed in Barrayar. Cordelia is unsurprised by this, but expresses outrage when Bothari reveals that his mother used to sell him to her clients. It also explains why "bastard" is a Berserk Button for Bothari when other epithets roll off his back.
  • Spanner in the Works: Miles, in almost every book he is in.
  • Spare to the Throne: At the age of eleven, Aral Vorkosigan watched as his mother and older brother were slain by a death squad sent by the mad emperor Yuri. While these events happened before the time of the books, they are of critical importance in the relationships between Aral's father, Count Piotr Vorkosigan, and Aral's son, Miles. Miles' mother, Cordelia, was poisoned while pregnant, and the boy was considered lost by both Count Piotr and their doctors, who called for an abortion with the intent of trying again for a healthy heir. Years later, while Miles was briefly dead (he got better) his clone-brother, Mark--who had been created in a plot to replace him and destroy the Imperium--had to face the concept that if Miles was truly lost (dead and rotted) he might have to take up his progenitor's place as heir to the Countship of the Vorkosigan District in the Council of Counts.
  • Split Personality:
    • Miles's persona as Admiral Naismith is not quite a complete disassociation, but often treated as one. Cordelia in particular expresses grave concerns over how Miles could cope in the event that he had to abandon the role. Despite a brief bout of depression, Miles does manage to maintain his stability after losing the alternate identity.
    • Mark's Black Gang.
  • The Spymaster: Simon Illyan.
  • State Sec: The Ministry of Political Education, complete with Political Officers. ImpSec, though its name is fairly ominous (and it is willing to trade on that factor on occasion) is more of a Properly Paranoid intelligence agency.
  • Strange Salute: A borderline example with the oft-mentioned (and unofficial) ImpSec analysts' salute, which is basically a salute so lazy that it is just a wave in the general vicinity of the face.
  • Subordinate Excuse: Miles originally goes about courting Ekaterin after their return to Barrayar by hiring her to build a garden. She quits the job in a rage once she discovers this, since this entire manipulation went against the single request she had of Miles, that he never lie to her.
  • Sudden Principled Stand: Used several times.
    • In Falling Free, Bannerji does not refuse to fire at and destroy the ship that the Quaddies escape on per se, but he demands a proper work order, signed by the Hazardous Waste Management Officer and with an Environmental Impact Assessment attached. This gives the ship time to escape.
    • In Shards of Honor, when Sergeant Bothari refuses to rape Cordelia as per Admiral Vorrutyer's orders.
  • Super Breeding Program: A Barrayaran Count sets up a breeding program using cast off female eggs and his own sperm in Uterine Replicators to create dozens of his own daughters, not as a bid to create some kind of pure or super race, but to ... make more taxpayers for his district? The wife (who had already given him a few legitimate children) without whose consent he did this was not very happy about it.
  • Super Soldier:
    • Taura.
    • Miles is implied to be considered one by the Cetagandans.
  • Supreme Chef: Ma Kosti, kitchen goddess. Took maple mead, combined it with bug butter. Result? A creamy, maple-flavoured dessert fit for the Emperor himself. And that was one of her minor culinary accomplishments. Ivan warns Miles to double her salary, and both Alys and Cordelia torment Miles with the idea they might tempt her away - and those two are some of the very few people in the galaxy who could strongarm Miles.
  • Sword Cane: Koudelka's swordstick. It avoids the unscrewing problem via a powerful spring-loaded sheath -- strong enough to make the ejected sheath a useful projectile weapon in itself. It also has a very good blade, as Bothari demonstrates during the Shopping Trip.
  • Sympathetic POV: While early Miles-centered books are narrated from his point-of-view, later ones give the thoughts of Mark, Ivan, Ekaterin, Kareen and even Armsman Roic. While Miles struggles with his low self-esteem, all of his friends emphasize how intimidated they are by his genius, drive, and presence:

Ivan: "In between inspiring you to strangle him with your bare hands, he could make you proud enough to cry...So small, so wrecked, so obnoxious. So incandescent. Give the people a light, and they'll follow it anywhere. Did Miles know how dangerous he was?"
Kareen: "Mark, I'd take you and every member of the Black Gang at your worst for a week before I let myself get locked in a room with Miles. He... takes you over. Do you have any idea what it takes to stop him?"

  • Take My Hand: Subverted in "The Borders of Infinity" then deconstructed in Komarr, as Miles belatedly realizes what the consequences of a successful Take My Hand moment would actually have been. They were in a space shuttle, the other person weighed significantly more than Miles, and Miles was not anchored in any way.
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: Ivan Vorpatril. Tall, Dark and Snarky as well, at least when alone with Miles.
  • Tangled Family Tree: The Vor. Ivan is Gregor's second cousin on his mother's side, and his second cousin once removed on his father's.
  • Technically a Smile:
    • In Memory, an angry Duv Galeni is described showing his teeth in a way that's "not at all a smile."
    • Inverted by Taura, whose genuine smiles, thanks to her fangs, look downright terrifying to people who do not know her.
    • Cavilo gives Miles an extremely sour "Watch this, asshole" smile before killing a captain she'd been blackmailing when Miles interferes too much, in The Vor Game.
  • Technology Marches On: The late-80s/early-90s worldbuilding shows particularly in the lack of mobile communication/computing. Nearly all personal communication -- albeit with holographic display technology -- is done via fixed desk-sized comconsoles (which also serve as the primary computing/entertainment hubs). Portable comconsoles do exist, but they seem to resemble the "luggable" portable computers of the 80s. Personal wristcoms and battlefield communicators are typically dedicated circuit devices, as opposed to 21st century cellular or wireless broadband technology. Very little resembling 21st century smartphones or other mobile computing devices are evident, even on the most technologically advanced planets (Earth, Beta Colony, Eta Ceta, etc.).
  • Teen Superspy: Miles starts as one.
  • Telepathic Spacemen: Terrance Cee, thanks to Cetagandian genetic engineering. In the future of the setting, the entire population of Athos will evenutally become this - as may some people on Barrayar, thanks to the genetic samples made available by Miles and Elli Quinn.
  • Tell Me About My Father:
    • In The Vor Game, Emperor Gregor asks Miles what he knows about Prince Serg. Miles suggests that he go talk to Countess Vorkosigan. Some of his actions in later books indicate that he did so.
    • Unfortunately for Elena, finding out about her mother in The Warrior's Apprentice was not what she expected.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Ezar: His maneuvering Aral into position as Regent from his deathbed; his use of his infirmities to trap foes:

Vortala: "He's flushed more rats out of the wainscoting in the last five months than the past twenty years. You could practically mark the shakedowns in the Ministries by his medical bulletins. One week: condition very grave. Next week: another deputy minister caught out on charges of peculation, or whatever."

Technician: I hate to be the one to tell you this, Baron, but your torture victim appears to be having a wonderful time.

  • To the Pain: Tried Twice. Failed. Twice.
  • Tractor Beam: A mature technology with the usual large scale military/civilian applications (grabbing spacecraft for tactical advantage or careful manipulation such as docking maneuvers), as well as smaller scale uses: Hand tractors for cargo handling and medical hand tractors for fine detail work under sterile conditions. It was also weaponized as the Gravitic Imploder Lance, using a modified version of the technology to inflict catastrophic damage on other ships.
  • Transhuman Aliens: The Cetagandans & the quaddies. Ironically, the Cetas, who look like standard humans, are actually more alien in their thinking than the quaddies. After all the genetic engineering they have done on themselves, Miles wonders whether the Cetan Haut class can even be considered part of the same species as the rest of humanity. Or the reverse: how long before the Cetagandans stop considering non-Cetagandans human?
  • Transsexualism: Lady Donna/Lord Dono's sex change to contest a seat on the Council of Counts is a major sub-plot in A Civil Campaign.
  • Tranquil Fury:
    • Emperor Gregor when he gets mad, as Miles and Ivan found out.

Gregor had grown so neutral as to seem almost gray. So, that's what rage looks like on him. Miles wondered if Haroche realized what Gregor's extreme lack of expression meant.
Ivan: [...] You don't want to see what he's like pissed.
Byerly: What does he look like, pissed?
Ivan: Identical to what he looks like the rest of the time. That's the scary part.

    • Ekaterin. Her mother taught her when she was young to deal with anger by being an Extreme Doormat. As she grew more independent, this transmuted into what Miles called "turning to stone." She becomes icy, unemotional, and unmovingly pragmatic.
  • Traumatic Haircut:
    • A variant is used to chilling effect in Shards of Honor, where the sadistic psychopath of a bad guy clips one of Cordelia's locks as part of his sick preparations to rape her for real.
    • The Haut ladies of Cetaganda never cut their hair. In Cetaganda one is held prisoner by clamping her hair. She and another Haut lady react with horror to Miles' suggestion to just cut her loose. Then he distracts them and cuts her loose anyway.
  • Tribal Face Paint: The Cetagandans wear elaborate facepaint with different variations for caste and rank.
  • Tropical Epilogue: After seeing Gregor's betrothal ceremony to its conclusion, and before preparations for the Wedding start gearing up, Alys Vorpatril -- to Ivan's extreme discomfort, if not dismay -- plans to spend a couple of weeks with Simon at some prole resort on the south coast that has never come to ImpSec's attention. Ivan mutters about "those disgusting drinks with the fruit on a stick in them" among other things.
    • Ivan himself gets one at the end of Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. No sign of fruit on a stick, though.
  • True Companions: Quaddie culture puts special meaning into being part of a "work gang". The concept of the Crew is this trope, to them.
  • Truly Single Parent: the Durona group.
  • Truth Serum: The drug fast-penta, which is ubiquitous and almost foolproof, provided you know the right questions to ask. However, it cannot be used on anyone with the wrong type of allergic reaction, as it would kill them, and the allergic reaction can be deliberately induced by a competent intelligence agency. Miles notes to himself, later in the series, that the ability to artificially induce a fatal allergic reaction to fast-penta has resulted in a world where this remarkable truth serum is now fantastically useful only when you are dealing with rank amateurs, since any professional subject will have been proofed against chemical interrogation long before you arrive on the scene.
    • Miles demonstrates an anomalous reaction to it in Brothers in Arms, where he becomes hyperactive instead of calm. Instead of compelling him to tell the truth, everything he thinks just spills out of his mouth. He realizes that he can evade questioning by cross-linking the questions to poetry, and ends up reciting the entirety of Richard III as a one-man show before vomiting and passing out.
    • Mark is tested for a reaction at a point when being able to verify his complete non-involvement in Aral Vorkosigan's heart attack would be very convenient. Results? Mark should definitely avoid fast-penta interrogations.
      • Fridge Brilliance: Mark was raised from birth as an intended deep-penetration mole and assassin by Komarran terrorists. They had every reason to have given him the induced allergic reaction insurance, and also had several reasons to not have told him about it.
    • Ekaterin found that it removed constant pain she felt as a result of her life in a loveless marriage. Said marriage has just ended in the "suspicious" death of her husband, which was why she was given the drug.
    • One character in Komarr, after being subjected to it, states that she might start taking it as a way to free up her thought processes and make it easier to think outside the box.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The quaddies run a relatively non-violent version of this in Falling Free.
  • Tyke Bomb: Mark Pierre Vorkosigan. It is telling that the people he was assigned to kill are the ones that give him his own name.
  • The Unfettered:
    • The lengths to which Ezar Vorbarra is willing to go to clean up his own government are... extreme. He declares a war he plans on losing so that his son will die in the crossfire and the "war party" faction be politically discredited. After he uses the Ministry of Political Education to enact a minor purge, he goes ahead and purged them too, because they were becoming too powerful. He very possibly let a civil war happen just because it was convenient.
    • Miles' persona as Admiral Naismith, compared to his duties as Lord Vorkosigan.
    • In A Civil Campaign Kareen muses that Cordelia is the most "unfettered" of all, due to her sheer indifference to Barrayaran mores, and the immovable moral center which she naturally possesses.
  • Universal Universe Time: Averted. For example, Barrayar has a 26.7 hour day.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Miles for Elena Bothari.
  • Unperson: Mara's punishment for infanticide was to lose all property to the mother of the child (her own daughter) and to never have an offering burned in memorial after death.
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: Aral and Helen.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Shopping".

Miles: (to Ekaterin) "... Maybe you can go shopping." He waved them off, smiling. "Just don't haul home any severed heads." He glanced up to find Venn and Greenlaw both staring at him in some dismay. "Ah--family joke," he explained weakly. The dismay did not abate.

  • Unwitting Pawn:
    • Lieutenant Vormoncrief, who did truly love Ekaterin (Or at least did truly lust for Ekaterin), kept butting into her life to "save" her from Miles, all at the prodding of Mile's political rivals. He managed to also draw in several of her relatives. Emperor Gregor himself eventually had to get involved to tell everybody (except Ekaterin) to grow up, as he did not have the time to deal with their gullibility.
    • Memory. General Haroche nearly succeeds in doing this to Miles.
  • Upper Class Twit:
  • Uterine Replicator: The central technological innovation of the series. See Central Theme, above.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: Ekaterin mentions that when girls pretend it is the Time of Isolation, if they pretend to romantically die of disease, it is one "that makes you interestingly pale and everyone sorry and doesn't involve losing bowel control."
  • Villainous Breakdown:
    • Prince Serg in Shards of Honor. We later learn Aral was goading him into leading the charge so that the Escobarans would kill him.
    • Miles goads Count Vordrozda and Admiral Hessman into one at the climax of The Warrior's Apprentice.
    • Richars Vorrutyer in A Civil Campaign. He was encouraged by Byerly into making an unwise attack on Dono. Of course, his abrasive personality may have doomed him to failure, as exemplified by his political mistakes and his performance at the Council of Counts. Twit.
  • Walking Transplant: The fate of clones from Jackson's Whole.
  • War Is Hell: Emphasized in Shards of Honor, with the Barrayar-Escobar War, and Barrayar, with Vordarian's Pretendership. Nobody wins these things; our heroes just lose less. Somewhat.
  • Warrior Prince: The Hegen Alliance Navy, Emperor Gregor Vorbarra and Admiral Count Aral Vorkosigan, Joint Commanders. Gregor pulls rank on Aral to get a seat on the Command Deck.
  • Warrior Therapist: Cordelia. Miles too.
  • We ARE Struggling Together!: Barrayar, until quite recently.
  • Weddings for Everyone:
    • Shards of Honor: Cordelia and Aral get married.
    • Barrayar: Kou and Drou get married.
    • The Warrior's Apprentice: Elena and Baz get married.
    • Cetaganda ends with Ambassador Vorob'yev engaged to Mia Maz.
    • Ethan of Athos ends with Ethan contemplating taking up the Athosian equivalent to marriage with Terrance Cee.
    • At the conclusion of A Civil Campaign we have:
      • Gregor and Laisa waiting to go on their honeymoon.
      • Miles and Ekaterin safely engaged.
      • Mark and Kareen with their Mutual Option arrangement.
      • Delia and Olivia Koudelka getting ready to fight over who gets married first, with their father moaning about what this will do to his finances.[6]
      • Mark musing (and by Cryoburn he is proved right) that Martya and Enrique seem to be getting very friendly.
    • Captain Vorpatril's Alliance includes Ivan's marriage -- and Byerly Vorrutyer hooks up with the bride's half-sister.
  • We Do the Impossible: House Vorkosigan. As Cordelia remarks:

"The difficult we do at once. The impossible takes a little longer."

  • We Will Use Wiki Words in the Future: ImpSec and Holovids, among other examples.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Aral, in Shards of Honor, prefers a nerve disruptor or plasma arc to a stunner for this reason. Miles is less than impressed three decades later when someone pulls the argument out.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Apparently Miles had a man tortured to death, hijacked a spaceship, commandeered a mercenary fleet and won a minor war to impress his dad. Or possibly his late grandfather. Or maybe his love interest at the time, his bodyguard's daughter, who was the impetus of the entire trip.
  • Wham! Episode: Memory. Miles is drummed out of Imp Sec and becomes an Imperial Auditor; Simon is Brought Down to Normal and learns how to have an actual life. All of the Vorkosigan Saga books to date have been published in omnibus editions...except for Memory. Bujold herself called it "the pivotal Memory left as a stand-alone."
  • Wham! Line: In Cryoburn: Count Vorkosigan, sir? It was foreshadowed in the very first Miles Vorkosigan adventure, The Warrior's Apprentice when he was addressed as Lord Vorkosigan when his grandfather died. In a later book, he admitted dreading hearing those exact three words, "Count Vorkosigan, sir?" and begged his father in absentia to live a long life.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: How vital to the functioning of Kyril Island was Lieutenant Ahn's supernaturally good nose for weather? Miles worried about not having it, but presumably his replacement did not either.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
    • Miles is sent to kill a genetically engineered monster in a laboratory basement. While there, he rescues a beautiful slave girl, who is chronically lonely and frightened by her imprisonment. They are the same person.
    • The quaddies were created and enslaved by a Mega Corp, then slated for sterilization when they were rendered obsolete.
  • What Would X Do?: Faced with a hostage situation in Ethan of Athos, Quinn ponders "What would Admiral Naismith do in the same situation?" as she seeks inspiration.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Or, in Miles' case, an old wing chair in a small room.

Simon: Miles? Are you all right?
Miles: I'm just... wrestling with temptation.
Simon: Who's winning?
Miles: I think... I think I'm going for the best two falls out of three.

  • When He Smiles: When Aral--the frighteningly stern yet chivalrously professional Barrayarran officer--gives Cordelia-his-prisoner a sudden grin, she is shocked and discomfited by how boyish and appealing it is.
    • In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Tej thinks this about Ivan ... and notes that Gregor's is even more so.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?:
    • Miles is terrified of nerve disruptors (energy weapons that destroy brain and nerve cells), and rightly so; if all you have going for you is your intelligence, what could be more terrifying than a gun that could render you brain-dead with a headshot? He also develops an understandable dislike of the cold after a chain of events on 'Camp Permafrost' that ended with him soaking wet in subzero conditions and crammed inside a radio receiver using static to transmit an SOS.
    • Quinn's fear of plasma arcs -- it is fairly reasonable considering that her current face is a complete surgical reconstruction -- to replace her original one, which was burned off by a plasma arc.
  • World of Badass: To a point. We are repeatedly reminded that the Vor are a military caste, whose martial traditions emphasize personal valor and skill at combat. While this gets observed less and less as Barrayar progresses to a more modern planet and Vor become more conventional aristocrats, many Vor still take it seriously. And there's definitely the famous moment in The Warrior's Apprentice where the villain, exposed at last on the floor of the Council of Counts and facing arrest and execution, draws a weapon to take Gregor with him... and is stymied by everyone else present immediately stepping to block his line of fire.

Miles: (thought balloon) Only on Barrayar would pulling a loaded needler start a stampede toward one.

  • Worthless Yellow Rocks/Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Cordelia is bemused by the value Barrayarans place on gold, which to her Betan sensibility is categorized as "metal, soft, good conductor." Conversely, she has difficulty remembering that wood furniture is not a sign of fabulous wealth. Miles mentions they run the fireplaces to impress Betan visitors, because to them actually burning wood as a heat source is tantamount to rappers pouring bottles of expensive champagne on strippers in their music videos.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Count Vorhalas cannot stand Aral and is his most implacable political enemy, but his honor and principles are absolutely unimpeachable, and he rejects out of hand any attempt to bring Aral down through Dirty Business. Vorhalas is opposed to Aral because he allowed his son to be executed because of a drunk duel. Aral had to choose between compassion and political stability - and chose stability. Vorhalas also has deep-seated guilt for Miles' condition, however, which was caused by the actions of his other son who was being manipulated by a royal usurper.
    • Miles and Emperor Fletchir Giaja become a pair of Worthy Opponents, to Ivan's horror.

"Ivan." Miles let his voice grow unexpectedly chill. "Why should the haut Fletchir Giaja decide he needed to be polite to me? Do you really think this is just for my father's sake?" He ticked the medallion and set it spinning, and locked eyes with his cousin. "It's not a trivial trinket. Think again about all the things this means. Bribery, sabotage, and real respect, all in one strange packet... we're not done with each other yet, Giaja and I."

  • Wretched Hive: Jackson's Whole is a planet-sized version.
  • Xanatos Gambit:
    • Commander Cavilo famously gave Miles a salient piece of advice in The Vor Game.

Cavilo: The key to strategy...is not to choose a path to victory, but to choose so that all paths lead to a victory.

    • Miles takes this lesson to heart, and later echoes it to Cetagandan Emperor Fletchir Giaja in Cetaganda.

"The best strategies run on rails like that," Miles pointed out. "Live or die, you make your goal."

  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Miles vs. Cavilo. Cavilo has an early edge, but Miles is a very quick study, and uses Cavilo's Chronic Backstabbing Disorder to good effect to earn the final victory.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Ekaterin.
  • Yes-Man: At one point in Memory, Miles tries to be the most literal possible version of this with Emperor Gregor. It does not work very well. That is because Gregor grew up with Miles. Gregor is, at the very least, Miles Savvy. Later, Miles admits that his job description as Imperial Auditor is best summed up as "Whatever you say, Gregor."
  • Yet Another Stupid Death: Lazcowski Base on Kyril Island (AKA Camp Permafrost) gets a lot of these. The record for the most original and idiotic death goes to the guy Miles found wedged in a drainpipe, having drowned trying to save his cookie stash.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: Miles uses Yiddish words somewhat frequently. So does Cordelia, from time to time. It is probably a Betan thing.
  • You Are Number Six: Quaddies do not have last names. If someone wants to use a first name that someone else already has, they have to attach a number to it. One "Leo 99" is given as an example, which happens to represent a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming in its way. The highest number ever seen attached to any other name is something more like 8. The Quaddies really remember Leo Graf fondly.
  • You Mean "Xmas": Winterfair
  • You Need to Get Laid:
    • In Barrayar, Cordelia suspects that Aral's subordinates are happy that she made it to Tanery Base because they think that Aral getting laid will calm the old man down.
    • "I don't think I've ever seen a human being who needs to get laid worse than you do right now." Elli to Miles.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: Piotr essentially saying that Mad Emperor Yuri's death squad killed the wrong son, near the end of Barrayar, is the final straw in his deteriorating relationship with Aral, leading to a five year estrangement between them.
  1. it's strongly implied he makes a sexual pass, by Barrayaran standards an insult to her and her family's honor
  2. The Barrayaran day is 26.7 hours long.
  3. This is a just-slightly-off quote of what Holmes said the first time he discussed Professor Moriarty with Watson.
  4. aka Aral Vorkosigan, and no he did not earn that title
  5. It's said that the only two people Pierre feared were his wife and Emperor Dorca Vorbarra ... and no one's certain that he really feared Dorca.
  6. We know that 6 months later in Winterfair Gifts, both Olivia Vorrutyer and Delia Galeni are in attendance, so they must have settled it. No word about the financial angle--maybe some gifts, or Count Vorrutyer chipping in to his wedding, at least?