Miles Vorkosigan

Miles Naismith Vorkosigan is the hero of a series of science fiction novels and short stories by Lois McMaster Bujold known as the Vorkosigan Saga. In an article in The Vorkosigan Companion,[1] Bujold acknowledged several real-life inspirations for the character: T. E. Lawrence, a young Winston Churchill, "a physical template in a handicapped hospital pharmacist I'd worked with", and even herself (the "great man's son syndrome"). She also noted that she and her creation adopted dual personas, she as a housewife and writer, he as an aristocratic Vor scion and mercenary Admiral Naismith. However, she also asserted that Miles developed a personality all his own from the first book, The Warrior's Apprentice.


Fictional Appearance

Miles Vorkosigan first appeared in Bujold's 1986 novel The Warrior's Apprentice (although his parents had appeared in an earlier work, Shards of Honor (also 1986), which was set before Miles' birth.

According to The Vorkosigan Companion,[2] the internal chronology of the books featuring Miles (although not the order in which they were written) is:

  • Barrayar
  • The Warrior's Apprentice
  • Borders of Infinity (see note)
  • The Vor Game
  • Cetaganda
  • Brothers in Arms
  • Mirror Dance
  • Memory
  • Komarr
  • A Civil Campaign
  • "Winterfair Gifts" (novella)
  • Diplomatic Immunity
  • Cryoburn
  • note: Borders of Infinity is a collection of novellas, which take place at various times between The Warrior's Apprentice and MIrror Dance.


Traumatic Birth

Miles Vorkosigan is the son of Aral Vorkosigan of the planet Barrayar and his Betan wife Cordelia Naismith. He has several physical impairments due to an assassination attempt directed at his parents. A soltoxin gas grenade was thrown into their bedroom during Cordelia's pregnancy with Miles but the couple's lives were saved by quick administration of the antidote—a violent teratogen that destroys skeletal development in a growing fetus.

The only available treatment for the fetus was experimental at best, and would have been fatal to the mother. Miles was therefore transferred to an artificial uterine replicator in an effort to salvage his bone development. While in the replicator, Miles was kidnapped from the hospital and used as a hostage against his father by Vidal Vordarian, the leader of the Vordarian pretendership, putting a temporary halt to the treatments. He was ultimately born with "chalk-stick bones, friable as talc", and is described as "wizened as an infant homunculus."[3]


Despite repeated corrective surgeries, Miles's height only reaches four-foot-nine at maturity. He has his mother's sea grey eyes and his father's dark hair. Miles is described as winter pale with laugh lines around his eyes and pain lines around his mouth. Miles was slightly hunch-backed, but after his death and cryo-revival, a surgeon managed to straighten his spine a bit, giving him a valued additional centimeter of height. Miles has fine scars running all over his body from having his easily broken bones replaced with synthetics in his twenties.[4] Many people on Barrayar are prejudiced against him because they incorrectly believe him to be a mutant. "Mutants" (real or perceived, which are common on Barrayar due to a small population at the beginning of the Time of Isolation) are highly undesirable on Barrayar, and children visibly carrying a mutated gene are often killed by their families. Though the Time of Isolation is over, prejudice against mutants and the physically disabled is still very high.

Abnormal Name for the Abnormal Lord

When his famous grandfather learns of the prenatal damage, he tries to abort the fetus in the replicator, and later tries to kill the infant because he believes that "We cannot afford to have a deformed Count Vorkosigan." Count Piotr is thwarted in this by his own armsman, Sergeant Bothari, who is devoted to Cordelia. Vor male heirs are usually named with the first name of the paternal grandfather as the child's first name, and the first name of the maternal grandfather as the middle name, and before the soltoxin Miles was to be named Piotr Miles Vorkosigan. When the Count, frustrated in his attempted infanticide, disinherits Aral and his family from his name and his property, Cordelia instead bestows her deceased father's full name on her son, henceforth Miles Naismith Vorkosigan. (Which turns out to come in very handy indeed...)

General Count Piotr is reconciled to his son, daughter-in-law and grandson when Miles becomes able to walk at age five, and shows a forceful interest in his grandfather's beloved horses. This common ground, and observation of Miles' intelligence and determination, earns the boy Piotr's respect and acceptance, and they have a closer though still challenging relationship until the Count's death.

Childhood and Adolescence

As a child, Miles is highly energetic and enjoys swimming and horseback riding, despite frequent injuries and broken bones. Despite (or perhaps because of) ongoing bouts of painful medical treatments and social challenges due to his appearance, he develops tremendous charm and manipulation skills, even getting the Koudelka girls to march around as a "precision drill team". He has a series of adventures and misadventures, including driving a hover tank through a barn at age 12. His companions when growing up include Elena Bothari, Miles's bodyguard's daughter; his cousin, Ivan Vorpatril; and his foster-brother, Emperor Gregor Vorbarra.

Miles grows up around the corridors of power, and learns to see his father's powerful colleagues not as objects of awe but as fixtures in his home, as he listens to their frank discussions and arguments. This behind-the-scenes perspective will profoundly influence the course of his career.

At the age of 17, he fails the physical exam to enter the Barrayaran Imperial Military Service Academy. To get over this disappointment, he takes a trip to his mother's homeworld of Beta Colony, has (unintended) space adventures for a few months, and improvises a force called the Dendarii Mercenaries into existence. In the process, his lifelong protector Sergeant Bothari is killed. Miles is charged with treason, exonerated, and (through a little nepotism) accepted into the Barrayaran Imperial Military Service. After graduating he is asked to resolve an infanticide charge in Silvy Vale, a rural area of his father's district (described in "The Mountains of Mourning"). The people he encounters and his experiences there strongly influence his sense of purpose and identity throughout the rest of his life.

ImpSec career

Shortly after graduating from the academy Miles is assigned to the worst posting in the Barrayaran Empire; Kyril Island. Kyril Island is a winter infantry training post often called "Camp Permafrost". Miles is assigned as the weather officer for the base. There is an accident where a mutagenic poison is spilled and Miles and a few soldiers are ordered to clean it up without adequate protective gear. They refuse the order, and the infuriated base commander orders them to strip at gunpoint and stay outside until they are ready to comply. There in the snow, naked Miles convinces the base commander to use an alternative method, but at the cost of ending his career as he is charged with mutiny.

When the full story comes out, Miles's father leans on Simon Illyan to have Miles work in Covert-ops directly under Illyan. Miles is given difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible missions. He works only under Illyan with one rule, "Deliver results or pay with your ass".[5] Working deep cover missions in the persona of Miles Naismith, Miles is forced to improvise solutions to difficult questions extemporaneously. More often than not Miles talks his way into and out of life threatening situations. Unfortunately, his physical appearance makes him hard to forget. When cornered by a reporter who sees the similarity between Miles Vorkosigan and Miles Naismith he says that they are clone brothers.

The 24 year old Miles' life becomes more complicated when he discovers that he has an actual clone, created by a Komarr terrorist with the aim of killing Miles, his family, and the Emperor, and ultimately becoming himself Emperor of Barrayar. His friends urge him to kill the clone, but due to the Betan influence on his upbringing, Miles thinks of the clone as his brother and lets him go free. Four years later, Miles is killed while trying to rescue his clone-brother, and although he is successfully cryo-frozen and revived, he is left with a condition which causes periodic seizures, particularly under great stress. He tries to conceal this from Simon Illyan, his boss and chief of Imperial Security (ImpSec). Miles falsifies a report after he has a seizure in combat, but this is detected and he is fired from ImpSec, putting an end to his life with the Dendarii as well. Miles is devastated as the character of Naismith had become the expression of everything he ever wanted, in essence he loses himself and his sense of purpose.

Almost immediately, he becomes suspicious of a plot against Illyan who has fallen ill and is being kept isolated; he requests the assignment of an Imperial Auditor to help him investigate the situation, but instead, the Emperor surprises him by making him the "Ninth Auditor", a temporary designation by tradition, but nonetheless endowed with full Auditor powers. During the course of the investigation Miles confronts his quest for identity and wins.

His handling and solving of the case is reviewed by the other Auditors and his status as Auditor is made permanent. Miles is the first Imperial Auditor in the history of the Vorkosigans.

Mid life - 30s on

Shortly thereafter, Vorkosigan accompanies one of his new colleagues, Lord Auditor Vorthys, to Komarr, home to the sole wormhole connecting Barrayar to the rest of the Nexus. (Barrayar, led by his father, conquered Komarr some years before Miles' birth in order to gain control of that vital access). Their mission is to investigate an accident involving the solar energy array orbiting Komarr; the accident turns out to have been caused by the secret testing of a new weapon with which Komarran conspirators hope to permanently destroy Barrayar's access to the wormhole. Miles is quartered with Lord Auditor Vorthys' niece and her husband, a Barrayaran official. In the course of the investigation, Miles survives yet another brush with death although his host, who has become ensnared in the plot, does not survive. To make a bad situation worse, Miles has fallen in love with his host's wife (later widow), Ekaterin, who just happens to be on the verge of leaving her emotionally abusive husband when disaster strikes. She is then instrumental in foiling the plot. The entire affair is classified as secret due both to the political nature of the conspiracy and the new technology of the Komarran secret weapon.

Ekaterin, professing after her bad experiences with her late husband to be violently allergic to marriage, moves back to Barrayar with her nine-year-old son, Nikolai, to stay with her uncle, Lord Auditor Vorthys. Miles embarks 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 stance. Miles's plan backfires during a particularly disastrous dinner party to which Ekaterin is invited. She is initially furious when she discovers his machinations. An additional complication arises when rumors arise alleging that Miles murdered her husband in order to marry her. Due to the Imperial security concerns surrounding her husband's death, she is not at liberty to refute the allegations, even when her relatives attempt to move her son to "safety". This provokes her to drastic action: she proposes to Miles herself in a most public fashion; he accepts without hesitation.

In "Winterfair Gifts", they are married during the mid-winter festival that marks the beginning of a new year on Barrayar, and survive yet another attack in which Ekaterin is poisoned by one of Miles' Auditorial victims. The plot is foiled by Taura, one of his many former lovers, and Roic, one of his Armsmen.

Their honeymoon is delayed by a considerable period, during which they conceive twins who are nurtured 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. In Diplomatic Immunity, Emperor Gregor dispatches his youngest Auditor to defuse a diplomatic crisis at a Quaddie space station. The couple becomes embroiled in yet another deadly, complicated situation involving potential war with Cetaganda. Happily, Miles survives a near-death illness caused by exposure to a Cetagandan nanotech biological weapon, though he does suffer permanent damage, and they are able to return to Barrayar just in time for their children's birth—a son named Aral Alexander and a daughter named Helen Natalia.

At this point, Miles' full title is Lord Auditor Captain Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, heir to the Vorkosigan District as Lord Vorkosigan, or possibly Lord Auditor Captain Lord Vorkosigan. It is traditional for retired and discharged soldiers to retain their rank as a title. Additionally, the position of Imperial Auditor seems to attach a Lord at the beginning of the title regardless of former status. Although one (Lord Auditor) is a professional title, and the other (Lord Vorkosigan) is by primogeniture, it is unknown how to distinguish between an Auditor and one who is also a Lord as a result of being the heir to a District.


Following the death of his father from a brain aneurysm on Sergyar, Miles, age 39, assumes the Countship of the Vorkosigan District. At that time, he has a stepson (Nikolai (approximately 17)), a son (Aral Alexander (5)), and three daughters (Helen Natalia (5), Lizzie (3), and Taurie (10 months)).


Miles is one of the most striking characters in science fiction. He is both brilliant (especially in military tactics) and hyperactive; one of his girlfriends describes him as "addicted to adrenaline rushes." He compulsively and constantly challenges the world in spite of (or because of) his stature: sometimes with disastrous consequences, although more often his mind overcomes his physical weakness.

He has an ambiguous status on his home planet, being simultaneously a pampered and powerful aristocrat and a despised "mutie." In his youth he contemplated running away from Barrayar and its prejudice against disabled people, but he never acted on this impulse, perhaps because of his loyalty to his family and his Vor code of honor.

He has a strong tendency to manipulate people and is very good at bluffing. The Dendarii Free Mercenaries begin as pure imaginative figment, and through frantic improvisation he conceals his deception from his erstwhile recruits; their accomplishments make real his invention. Despite the initial successes of this "lie first, fix later" strategy, it always makes for manic juggling of various falsehoods and stories, and it does eventually blow up in his face: first he is caught lying about his seizure disorder, and then the widow he loves is enraged when she discovers that he has been attempting to court her by stealth during her socially-recognized period of mourning.

By the later novels, Miles is living the (relatively) calmer life of Imperial Auditor, a sort of cross between special investigator, special prosecutor and military commander, for the growing Barrayaran empire. Miles reports directly to and on the behalf of Emperor Gregor Vorbarra.

In the course of what is already a lengthy series, 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 supporting 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, Graf Station, (Quaddiespace), and New Hope/Kibou-daini—are distinct and skillfully worked out. Variety also appears in the stories themselves: Miles's challenges are varied from one episode to another, so rather than there being a new space battle in each book, the books fall into different genres, from mystery to regency romance to hard science fiction.

These strengths explain why the Vorkosigan series is among the most popular with readers and critics in current science fiction. Works with Miles Vorkosigan in them have won four Hugo awards and Two Nebula awards.

Admiral Naismith

Admiral Naismith is an alter ego and cover identity that Miles developed as a youth and used until the novel Memory.

Creation of Naismith

Miles Vorkosigan developed an alternative identity as Admiral Naismith, under which he ran the Dendarii Mercenaries (formally the Oseran Mercenaries until Miles took over from Admiral Oser) until the novel Memory. It began as a lie but eventually evolved into a real cover identity. Even this was an improvisation, as Miles found himself facing charges of treason for raising a private army, and had to offer the Dendarii as a "Crown Troop" working in the service of Emperor Gregor to deflect the charges. Necessarily he had to be Admiral Naismith so that the Dendarii could carry out missions on behalf of Barrayar without the responsibility for those missions being traced back to Barrayar itself. Given the restricted life of a Vor lordling, and the galaxy-spanning horizons available to Naismith, Miles eventually came to value Naismith's life over the one he was born to.

Who is Naismith supposed to be?

Miles Vorkosigan himself once said to Emperor Gregor Vorbarra of Barrayar, "I guess Naismith is me with no brakes. No constraints." (The Vor Game) This characteristic makes him a very dangerous enemy, as he is willing to take risks that most normal people would avoid. He also improvises brilliantly. Sent into a Cetagandan prison camp to find and extract one important Marilacan guerrilla leader, he managed to convert the mission into a full-scale breakout of most of the prisoners, using nothing more than the force of his personality, a screwball religion espoused by one of the inmates, and some coded comments picked up by his support team, who had infiltrated the Cetagandan garrison to monitor the mission. (Borders of Infinity). The success of this mission, and the ensuing rebellion on Marilac, caused the Cetagandans to put a price on Miles' head.

In theory, Naismith is a Betan by birth and speaks with the distinctive nasal Betan accent, which Miles learned from his mother. The typical Barrayaran accent is described as guttural in comparison. The back story that Miles improvised when taking over the Oseran mercenaries had him being part of a larger unit of mercenaries but in time it became apparent that the former Oserans were the whole of the Dendarii Mercenaries. Veterans such as Captains Ky Tung and Bel Thorne eventually realized the deception, but kept the fact that they knew hidden from Miles himself. Officially only Miles, Elena Bothari, her husband Baz Jesek, Arde Mayhew, and Miles' second-in-command and lover Elli Quinn, knew the truth.

Later, Miles developed a cover that he was a clone made by the Cetagandans meant to infiltrate Barrayar by replacing Miles Vorkosigan. This turned out to be ironic, as there was a real clone made for just that purpose, but by Komarrans. When Miles encountered, and made peace with, his clone brother Mark, this allowed Miles to cement his cover by having a Cetagandan officer witness both Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith in the same place at the same time.

Eventually, the split personality of turning Naismith on and off became a problem for Miles. This was especially true on Earth, when fleeing the Cetagandans required him to report to the Barrayaran embassy as Miles Vorkosigan and take cover there, while still commanding the fleet during a difficult and expensive refit. It was complicated by his developing affair with Elli Quinn, who was adamant that she did not like Lord Vorkosigan at all. It also complicated his dealings with various plots on his life, since he did not always know which were directed at Naismith, and which at Vorkosigan.

Decline and fall

Naismith—and Vorkosigan—was fatally shot with a needle grenade during a botched rescue mission on the planet Jackson's Whole. Miles was trying to rescue his clone brother Mark, who had impersonated Naismith for his own purposes. Fortunately cryo-preservation was available and eventually Miles was revived. Meanwhile Mark, despite gorging himself into obesity, had to become Naismith for a time. The chaotic story is described in the novel Mirror Dance.

As a result of his death and cryo-preservation, Miles Vorkosigan suffered neurological damage resulting in seizures triggered by the buildup of stress-related neurotransmitters, ensuring that he is most likely to have a seizure when he most needs to be lucid. When a seizure results in a badly botched mission, Miles covers it up. Illyan quickly discovers the coverup and Miles, in both personas, is fired from ImpSec. This precipitates a crisis for Miles, for whom Admiral Naismith was not just a role but his life—a better one, perhaps, than his "real" life on Barrayar. On hearing the news of Miles' dismissal, his mother, Cordelia Vorkosigan, bet her husband Aral Vorkosigan that Miles would choose "the little admiral" and run off with the Mercenaries.

Miles Vorkosigan mourned the loss of Admiral Naismith for a long time. However, his new role as Imperial Auditor gives him the opportunity to use Naismith's talents once more but as part of Lord Vorkosigan's life. As Ivan Vorpatril describes it, Vorkosigan as Naismith means "full tilt forward, no inhibitions, innocent bystanders scramble for their lives." Miles at last finds that he doesn't need to run away from Barrayar to have both the Lord and the Admiral.

Even had Miles not been fired from ImpSec, Naismith's effectiveness as a cover was coming to an end. During the celebration of Emperor Gregor's wedding, ghem-General Dag Benin passed Miles a message from the Cetagandan Emperor, expressing condolences over Naismith's death. The clear implication is that the Cetagandans have finally realized the truth. Benin also informs Miles that the Emperor would prefer Naismith to remain deceased, to which Miles responded, "I trust his resurrection will not be required."

Other Characters

A more complete listing of other characters can be found in The Vorkosigan Companion [6]

Ivan Vorpatril

A significant character in the book, acting as an instigator of action as well as a foil for Miles, is his cousin, Lord Ivan Vorpatril, also known as "that idiot Ivan" or "Ivan, you idiot". Ivan has been, since childhood, Miles' foil, burden, workhorse, and (until Miles has children) his formal heir. He is everything Miles is not - tall, handsome, and athletic. He is a graduate of the military academy and gets assigned one plum posting after another. He is very popular with the ladies.

Mark Pierre Vorkosigan

Mark Pierre Vorkosigan is Miles's clone brother.


  1. ^ Lois McMaster Bujold, p. 7-40, in Lillian Stewart Carl and John Helfers, The Vorkosigan Companion, Baen Books 2008, ISBN 978-1-4391-3379-8
  2. ^ Lillian Stewart Carl and John Helfers, "Appendix 2: Timeline", pp. 638-641, The Vorkosigan Companion, Baen Books 2008, ISBN 978-1-4391-3379-8
  3. ^ Bujold, Lois McMaster: The Vor Game
  4. ^ Bujold, Lois McMaster: Mirror Dance
  5. ^ Bujold, Lois McMaster: Cetaganda
  6. ^ Kerrie Hughes, John Helfers and Ed Burkhead, "Concordance," pp. 341-630, in Lillian Stewart Carl and John Helfers, The Vorkosigan Companion, Baen Books 2008, ISBN 978-1-4391-3379-8

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