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Miles Vorkosigan is the son of Lord Aral Vorkosigan of the planet Barrayar and his off-worlder wife Cordelia Naismith. While his mother was pregnant with him, she was hit by poison gas in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate his father. As a result of this, he is very short and deformed and his bones are abnormally brittle (although once he has finished growing he has surgery to have them replaced by synthetics). Many people on Barrayar are prejudiced against him because they incorrectly believe him to be a mutant, and his grandfather tries to kill him as a baby because he believes that "We cannot afford to have a deformed Count Vorkosigan".
At the age of seventeen, he fails the physical exam to enter the military. Soon after this, however, he takes a trip to Beta Colony, has (partly unintended) space adventures for a few months, and improvises an army called the Dendarii Free Mercenaries into existence. This army later obtains an official standing as Imperial Forces, and Miles carries out several more missions with them during the course of the series. For these missions he uses the alias "Admiral Naismith".
Miles' life becomes more complicated when he discovers that he has a clone, created by Komarran terrorists with the intent of killing Miles and his family and ultimately becoming Emperor of Barrayar. His friends urge him to kill the clone, but he thinks of him as his brother and lets him go free. In the book Mirror Dance , Miles is killed while trying to rescue his clone-brother, and although he is successfully cryo-frozen and revived, he is left with a seizure disorder. He tries to conceal this, and falsifies a report after he has a seizure in combat, but he is caught and fired from Impsec, which puts an end to his life with the Dendarii.
Almost immediately he becomes suspicious of a plot against his former ImpSec boss Simon Illyan who has fallen ill and is being kept isolated; he requests the assignment of an Imperial Auditor to investigate the situation and is somewhat surprised to be given the post of "Ninth Auditor", a traditionally temporary designation but nonetheless effective. Having solved the case his status as Auditor is confirmed: the other Auditors have been waiting a long time for a younger man to join the team.
Shortly thereafter he accompanies one of his new colleagues, Lord Auditor Vorthys, to Komarr (home to the only wormhole connecting Barrayar to the rest of the Nexus; Barrayar invaded Komarr some years before Miles' birth to preserve access). Their Auditorial task is to investigate an "accident" which turns out to be a plot to close off the wormhole and thus isolate Barrayar. Miles is quartered with Lord Auditor Vorthys' niece and her husband, a Barrayaran official. In the course of the investigation he survives yet another brush with death although his host, who has become ensnared in the plot, does not. To make a bad situation worse, Miles has fallen in love with the man's wife, Ekaterin, who just happens to be on the verge of leaving her abusive husband when disaster strikes. Ekaterin is then instrumental in foiling the plot: Miles is inextricably enthralled.
Ekaterin, now professing to be violently allergic to marriage, moves back to Barrayar with her son to stay with Lord Auditor Vorthys and Miles decides upon a bizarre, if typically complicated, strategy: he will woo Ekaterin without telling her, in the hope that she can be persuaded to reconsider her allergy. As might by now be expected, Miles is hoist upon his own petard during a dinner party chiefly memorable for the sheer number of disasters packable into a single evening. Ekaterin, initially furious about his machinations, discovers a whispering campaign against Miles: he is being accused of murdering her husband in order to marry her. However due to the sensitive political situation she is not at liberty to refute the allegations even when her family attempt to remove her son to "safety". This provokes her to drastic action: she proposes to Miles herself in the most public fashion possible; he naturally accepts.
They are married at Winterfair, the Barrayaran mid-winter festival, surviving yet another attack in which Ekaterin is poisoned by one of Miles' Auditorial victims. The plot is this time foiled by Taura, one of his former girl-friends, of which he has managed to amass an impressive quantity.
Their honeymoon is delayed by a considerable period, during which they conceive twins in uterine replicators ; while this is by now normal for well-to-do Barrayaran couples, it also conveniently allows the happy couple to leave the planet while their unborn children remain safely at home. Almost inevitably they become embroiled in yet another situation involving Miles, potential war with Cetaganda and a near-death experience. Happily they are able to return to Barrayar just in time for their children's birth.
Miles is one of the most striking characters in science fiction, and the series vividly portrays how his highly unusual life experiences have shaped him. He is both brilliant (especially about military matters) and hyperactive; one of his girlfriends who also works for the Dendarii describes him as "addicted to adrenaline rushes". He constantly tests himself against the restrictions of his inadequate body, sometimes with disastrous consequences, although more often his mental brilliance allows him to overcome his physical weakness.
Ambiguity is deeply rooted in his life: he often feels that his cover identity as Admiral Naismith is more real than his true identity as Lord Vorkosigan. He has an ambiguous status on his home planet, being simultaneously a pampered and powerful aristocrat and a despised outsider. At times he contemplates running away from Barrayar and its prejudice against disabled people, but he never acts on this impulse, perhaps because of his loyalty to his family and his Vor code of honour.
He has a strong tendency to manipulate people (although generally to their benefit as well as his own) and is very good at bluffing. The Dendarii Free Mercenaries begin as a pure figment of his imagination, and through frantic improvisation he conceals this deception from the people he co-opts, until his invention becomes real. This starts him on a pattern of believing that the way to solve problems is to "lie first, fix it later". He does not fully become aware of the ethically dubious nature of this strategy until over a decade later, when it blows up in his face twice. First he is caught lying about his seizure disorder, and then the woman he loves is enraged when she discovers that he has been courting her without letting her know about it.
By the time of the later novels, Miles is living the calmer (at least by his relative standards) life of a troubleshooter for the growing Barrayaran empire. He is also preparing to settle down and raise a family.
In the course of what is already a lengthy series, with several more books apparently on the way, Miles has been allowed to grow and evolve in ways most action heroes never do. While Miles grows, the series background does as well. The large support cast of characters that populate the Vorkosigan novels are well developed. The cultures of the various worlds and locations where the action takes place — Barrayar, Beta Colony, Cetaganda , Komarr , Kline Station, Athos, Jackson's Whole — are distinct and skillfully worked out. Variety also appears in the stories themselves: Miles's challenges are varied from one episode to another, not just a new space battle in each book. These strengths explain why the Vorkosigan series is among the most popular with readers and critics in current science fiction and likely to remain such in future installments.
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