Every so often I read something in a book written by someone else that clarifies my own thinking on what I write. One paragraph from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Komarr, does exactly that. The book is a mystery and a sci-fi adventure, but it’s also a long, detailed, brillant setup of the woman the intrepid Miles Vorkosigan is going to woo and win in A Civil Campaign (one of my favorite books of all time). Miles has many, many faults, all of Darcy’s pride packed into a malformed body, and Ekaterin’s now-dead husband, Tien, was socially conservative and fiscally heedless. She’s attracted to Miles but deathly afraid of being stifled again. In a really brilliant scene, Ekaterin asks about Miles’ past lovers, a telling question to ask any man.
Miles goes on to give a really charming, funny account of Elena, Taura, Elli, et al, and in each case he starts which who they were when he met them, and who they are now. In every case the woman has grown, changed, stretched into someone truly spectacular. Jumpship captain. Admiral. Surgeon. Empress.
To Ekaterin this is pure, cool water in the desert:
“Tien had protected her proudly, she reflected, in the little Vor-lady fortress of her household. Tien had spent a decade protecting her so hard, especially from anything resembling growth, she’d felt scarcely larger at thirty than she’d been at twenty. Whatever it was Vorkosigan had offered to this extraordinary list of lovers, it hadn’t been protection.”