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Cetaganda (fictional empire)

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Cetaganda is the collective name for an 8-planet empire in the Wormhole Nexus of the Vorkosigan Saga novels of Lois McMaster Bujold. Cetaganda contrasts with the empire of Barrayar, Beta Colony, and Jackson's Whole.[1] It features heavily in the novel Cetaganda.


Cetaganda is an unusual society with a two-tiered aristocracy. Haut-caste Cetagandans are the products of a several-centuries-long self-conducted genetic engineering project to develop superior human beings. (They believe this process is as yet incomplete). The haut overlords of Cetaganda are infertile and have 47 chromosomes, with the extra chromosome being where the engineered genes are typically placed. They breed through embryos sent to them from the Star Creche in uterine replicators, rather than having children that are specifically genetically related to them. The women who run the Star Creche therefore wield enormous power within the empire, as they control the development of the next generation, and they determine who shall be parents.

Ghem-caste Cetagandans are a military caste that carries some engineered genes, but is largely free of the intensive control over reproduction that so thoroughly pervades the Haut. The Ghem are driven to impress their Haut-caste masters, largely through military conquest, often with disastrous results (at least as revealed in the series to date). The Ghem population functions as an intermediary between the Haut and the lower class by occasionally contributing genetic material to the Haut, and sometimes being awarded Haut women as wives when the Star Creche decides that a new gene is ready to be released into the Cetagandan population. While a Haut wife is one of the highest honors a Ghem can receive, it means disgrace to the Haut woman, whose high status is lost.

There is also a genetically engineered servitor caste, "Ba" — a genderless group incapable of reproduction and used as guinea pigs for Haut genetic engineering experiments. New genes being considered for introduction to the Haut gene pool will first be tried on Ba, who also generally act as house servants for their Haut masters, even though they are genetically very closely related to the Haut. There is some indication that the Ba, while being strictly conditioned and engineered for loyalty, may resent this status. Ba are not a common sight outside major Haut reproduction centers. While the Haut require significant resources to continue their lavish lifestyle, they make up such a small portion of the population within the vast Cetagandan Empire that only a small portion of its resources are required to support them. Cetagandan subjects enjoy a per capita tax rate that is approximately half that of a Barrayaran's.[2]

Role in the Vorkosigan Saga[edit]

Within the Vorkosigan Saga, Cetaganda is principally important for its unsuccessful attempts to gain control of the planet Barrayar, home to the saga's central character, Miles Vorkosigan. His father, Aral Vorkosigan, and grandfather Piotr Vorkosigan, both played an important role in repelling the Cetagandan invaders. Approximately 80 years before Miles Vorkosigan's life, a Cetagandan invasion of then-technologically backward Barrayar was repulsed. A later attack is called the Third War (the second war is never described), and it involves a less advanced thrust against Barrayan interests. It is discovered by Miles and fought off by his father in the novel The Vor Game. A fourth war may have been the result of a Ba's attempts to frame Barrayar for the theft of Haut genetic material, but was prevented by Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan in the novel Diplomatic Immunity, when he uncovered the plot and took measures to expose it.

In the novel A Civil Campaign, it is revealed that some Cetagandans had children with Barrayarans during the Cetagandan occupation, and that such children, and their descendants, are looked down upon. Genetic testing can reveal the Cetagandan origins due to some genetically engineered genes.

The Cetagandans are introduced gradually in the Vorkosigan Saga, with the existence of the haut class revealed only in the novel Cetaganda. The novels written earliest, The Warrior's Apprentice and Ethan of Athos, feature only Cetagandans in the characteristic face paint of the ghem. In the first case, they are mercenaries employed by the young Miles as he invents his alter ego, Admiral Miles Naismith. In the second, a group of Cetagandan agents searching for stolen bio-engineered materials kidnap and interrogate the protagonist Ethan, who has stumbled into the situation while attempting to recover a shipment of human ova supposed to be shipped to his home planet.

The novel Brothers in Arms, which also introduces Miles' clone brother Mark, has Miles, as Admiral Naismith, trying to repair his mercenary fleet's ships while avoiding revenge hits from the Cetagandans for a recent mission against them. He finds himself dealing with a full ghem-Captain, "painted and sworn to the hunt". Using his clone brother as a double, Miles is able to persuade the Cetagandans that Miles Vorkosigan and Admiral Naismith are not the same person, preserving the Vorkosigan identity as a place for him to hide between missions.

This marks the end of the ghem appearing as foes. The novel Cetaganda, while taking place early in Miles' career, was written later than the early novels above. It takes place somewhat before the events of Ethan of Athos, and thus before Admiral Naismith's flight to escape their wrath. Barrayar and Cetaganda are at peace, and Miles, as Miles Vorkosigan, helps to solve a mystery for the Cetagandan empire, if only because failing to do so would lead to chaos and probable war with Barrayar. The late novel Diplomatic Immunity involves Miles rescuing a shipment of haut embryos stolen by a Cetagandan renegade, who had arranged for Barrayar to be framed for the theft and the associated murder of a haut Lady.


The haut Rian Degtiar[edit]

Acting keeper of the Star Creche at the beginning of the novel Cetaganda. She recruits Miles Vorkosigan, on a courtesy diplomatic mission attending the state funeral of the late Empress, to help solve the mystery of the disappearance of the Great Key, a sophisticated decoding device without which the entire genetic database of the haut is indecipherable. At the conclusion of the novel she is elevated to permanent keeper of the Star Creche and full "co-Empress". Miles himself is overwhelmed by her beauty and charisma, which indeed is one of the ways the haut exert their influence over the "lower orders".

Emperor the haut Fletchir Giaja[edit]

In the Cetagandan scheme of haut his is the final decision in all matters pertaining to haut and the direction of the genetic project embodied in the concept. He is also the main interface between haut and ghem. A formidable opponent, he is nonetheless deeply pragmatic about relations between the Empire's satraps, and between the Empire and other galactic governments. He has plenty of insight into human nature, and is not without a certain ironic sense of humor. When the question of rewarding Miles for his help recovering the Great Key arises, he awards Miles the Cetagandan Order of Merit, a medal which satisfies Miles's deep need for recognition and which also ensures he will be discreet about the episode back on Barrayar, where the Medal would be anathema. The Order of Merit is the highest Cetagandan recognition in their awards system, equivalent to the United States Medal of Honor or the British Empire Victoria Cross.

The haut Pel Navarr[edit]

An older Cetagandan lady whom Miles meets on Cetaganda, and who appears again on diplomatic missions from Cetaganda to Barrayar. She may be almost a century old, but appears merely to be in healthy late middle age to Barrayaran eyes. Only her eyes suggest great age. She appears in the novels A Civil Campaign and Diplomatic Immunity, accompanied in both cases by ghem-General Dag Benin.

ghem-General Dag Benin[edit]

Introduced as a ghem-Colonel in Security in the novel Cetaganda. He supplies the inside information, and later the military muscle, which permits Miles to recover the Great Key. In A Civil Campaign he travels to Barrayar with haut Pel for Emperor Gregor's wedding carrying a message for Miles Vorkosigan regretting the passing of Admiral Naismith, in effect letting Miles know that the Cetagandans have seen through all of Miles's misdirections and deduced that he and Naismith are the same person. At the end of Diplomatic Immunity it is Benin whom Miles contacts to say that he has recovered the stolen haut embryos and is returning them to Cetaganda.

Terrence Cee[edit]

Also known as LX-1O-Terran-C, the product of a genetic engineering project on one of the Cetagandan planets. He is a genetic construct designed to have telepathic abilities, and to function as an undercover agent. Unfortunately his abilities depend on him consuming large quantities of the amino-acid tyramine, and they are too variable to be useful in the field. He was employed in monitoring interrogations instead, but found the experiences so horrifying that he, along with a fellow telepath known as JN9, or Janine, escaped, using their training as agents to hide from Cetagandan agents. When she was later killed, he used his abilities to amass enough money to have House Bharaputra on Jackson's Whole splice her DNA into the shipments of ovaries destined for the planet Athos. By spreading the telepathy gene across the galaxy he hoped to avoid the Cetagandans having a monopoly on the ability. However, when he reaches Kline Station, where the shipment is waiting for transfer to Athos, he discovers the Cetagandans waiting for him. His story is told in the novel Ethan of Athos.


  1. Edward James, Farah Mendlesohn The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction 2003 Page 237 "That a genuinely feudal polity is not a limitless despotism is a point underlined by Lois MacMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. ... Other possible orders - the eugenic human topiary of Cetaganda, the social-democratic brave new world of Beta Colony, the anarcho-capitalist tyranny of Jackson's Whole - are sharply limned and deftly satirized."
  2. Cetaganda, Chapter 9

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