Beta Colony (BAY-tah) was the second planet to be settled by humans, before wormhole travel was discovered. The planet's biome was almost entirely desert, described as "screaming hot," and the colony itself existed primarily underground. Sandstorms occurred from time to time; the largest body of water was smaller than the lake at Vorkosigan Surleau on Barrayar.
- "There's the old sandbox at last."
- ―Upon Cordelia's arrival home at the end of the Escobar War.[src]
Beta Colony had few identified wormhole connections. Known routes included one that led to Tau Verde IV via Dalton Station and one that led to Escobar (though they could both have started from a single common wormhole near Beta Colony). There was some sort of route connecting Beta Colony to Sergyar that was used by Cordelia Naismith's Survey crew and which did not go by way of Escobar, but it is unclear whether it involved a special wormhole from Beta or if it was simply a side-route from one of the already-known ones.
Beta was probably settled a bit after 2200 (a date for Alpha Colony given by the author), and was isolated (apart from years long radio links and the very occasional STL ship) for a couple hundred years before the wormhole connection was developed.
The government included, and was headed by, a President ("Steady Freddy" during Shards of Honor; a running joke through that book was that no one ever admitted to voting for him). He/she had a Cabinet, though the only identified post was Press Secretary. There were departments, two of which were the Justice Department, called JusDep, and the State Department. Therapy was handled by the Mental Health Board, also called the M.H.B., and galactic commerce was handled by the Bureau for Interstellar Trade. At the time of the Barrayaran-Escobaran War, there was also a Department of War.
Beta Colony did not have a large military most of the time; however, the civilianBetan Astronomical Survey, which served a largely exploratory and scientific purpose, sometimes functioned as a reserve military force. The head of the Astronomical Survey was the Surveyor-General. The Survey had quotas for non-Betans and competition for these spots was fierce. It is uncertain how many Betans wished to serve. Still, the Betan Navy was the only one known with certainty to commission dreadnought-type warships.
Civil rights were near and dear to Betans' hearts; item one on their list of civil rights was "Access to information shall not be abridged." Security from government-mandated interference in one's body and mind did not seem to have been concerns for Betans.
Beta Colony was noted for being a remarkably egalitarian-liberal state. Betan culture was also well-known for its tolerance and liberal attitude towards all varieties of sexuality; a number of practices considered immoral on many other worlds, such as licensed prostitution (the name of the job was Licensed Practical Sexuality Therapist), public partial nudity (the most popular female garment was the topless sarong) and recreational drug use, which were legal and accepted on Beta Colony. Beta Colony was also highly advanced, relative to most other planets, in many areas of technology (including military fields) and medicine. Many innovations mentioned in the Vorkosigan Saga originated on Beta Colony. For this reason, Betan dollars were considered one of the most stable and valuable currencies.
The people of Beta Colony generally had very good genetics and expected to live for at least 120 years. All women and hermaphrodites had permanent contraceptive implants; one needed a permit to have it removed. Every adult Betan wore earrings; these encoded the current sexual status of the individual who was wearing them. Poverty on Beta Colony was completely subsidized with shelters, ration cards and of course access to comconsoles. Age of consent seems to have been about fourteen but in Warrior's Apprentice Cordelia implied it could have been as low as twelve (there is no mention of whether there were restrictions such as forbidding adults to have relationships with young teens, but nothing contradicts the possibility, either). The age of majority was 22.
Due to its restricted habitats, reproduction was tightly regulated and openly discouraged. In order to have children, the two prospective "co-parents" had to take a course together and pass a number of physical, psychological and economic tests before being issued parental licenses. Relatively few families were authorized to have more than two children. Three-fourths of all Betan children were gestated in uterine replicators, although co-parents who preferred to have their children through old-fashioned pregnancy were free to do so. Hermaphrodites formed a significant minority of the Betan population; most of them lived in the town of Quartz.
Exactly why the living habitats of Beta Colony are still restricted after centuries of occupation is an interesting question. Theoretically the underground settlements should be infinitely expandable but instead expansion seems to have been brought to an artificial standstill at some point in the colony's history.
As another ramification of Beta Colony's inhospitable climate and underground development, Betans did not have any noteworthy works of architecture, but were very proud of feats of grand interior design and enclosed public spaces, and considered natural materials such as wood to be almost ludicrously extravagant. Cordelia Naismith was astounded that Barrayarans would use an intricate, antique parquet wooden floor as a dance-floor; on Beta, it would have been preserved and safeguarded as a great work of art.
'Therapy' was regarded as a cure-all and a generally useful threat against people who were believed to have committed crimes; the M.H.B. was not always scrupulous about patient consent as Cordelia learned the hard way in Shards of Honor.
The planet's chief industries seem to have been weapons R&D and sex tourism; they also had highly advanced scientific and medical facilities and research institutions. Artificial gravity and uterine replicators were discovered/invented on Beta Colony, for example. Beta Colony was a major arms supplier for other worlds, but they usually only sold weapons that had been made obsolete by their own most recent developments.
Places on Beta Colony
Many place names on Beta Colony appear to have been derived from geological substances and phenomena.
- A particularly well-known cultural attraction on Beta Colony was the Orb of Unearthly Delights.
- Quartz was the principal hermaphrodite community.
- Silica was the planetary capital. Located there were the Silica Zoo, Silica University, and Silica (University) Hospital.
- Hogarth Canyon was a particularly large 'discontinuity' on the planet.
- A popular sport was "desert-trekking."
- Mourning clothing appears to have been black-on-purple brocade jacket with matching sarong.
- Prince Xav Vorbarra, son of Dorca the Just, once served as Barrayaran Ambassador to Beta Colony. He married a Betan woman who worked in their Bureau for Interstellar Trade.
- A highly-regarded journal published on Beta Colony was The Betan Journal of Reproductive Medicine; Elizabeth Naismith was a co-author for at least one article in it.
- Near the end of Mirror Dance, Cordelia mentioned that if the Barrayarans hadn't gotten there first, Sergyar could have been a Betan daughter colony. This implies that Beta had colonized other worlds aside from its own through the Betan Astronomical Survey, but it is unknown what worlds those would be, or what form the colonization would take.
Betans in the Vorkosigan Saga
- Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan was born on Beta Colony and served in its military Survey Service until, falsely accused of several crimes, she sought asylum on Barrayar, home of Aral Vorkosigan whom she then married. Their son Miles Naismith Vorkosigan was 5/8 Betan; his paternal great-grandmother had also been from Beta Colony.
- Admiral Naismith: Miles Vorkosigan had dual citizenship, through his mother. As a cover while acting as leader of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet, he used the Betan name "Miles Naismith" and spoke with a Betan accent.
- Bel Thorne was a Betan hermaphrodite variously involved with the Dendarii Mercenaries.
- Arde Mayhew was a Betan pilot. He used to do freighter runs, but joined the Dendarii Mercenaries upon their creation. He was a liege-sworn vassal to Miles Vorkosigan.
- Elizabeth Naismith was Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan's mother. She did research-level work in uterine replicator technology at the Silica Hospital. She was also known to take in strays from her Barrayaran relatives, such as Elli Quinn and Mark Vorkosigan.
- Commodore Bill Tailor was Cordelia's commanding officer in the Betan Astronomical Survey.
- Steady Freddy was President of Beta Colony
- Philip Gould was Steady Freddy's Press Secretary
- Captain Mehta was a psychologist with the Betan Expeditionary Force.
- Kara Burton was a doctor who coauthored a paper with Elizabeth Naismith.
- Officer Brownell
- Tav Calhoun
- Ensign Dubauer
- Mr. Hathaway
- Lieutenant Lai
- Pete Lightner
- Dr. McIntyre
- Reg Rosemont
- Lieutenant Stuben
- Agent Timmons
- Dr. Ullery
- Prince Xav's wife (see below)
- Consul Vermillion
- Dr. Tatiana
Behind the scenes
- According to the author, Beta Colony was one of the first two colonies founded off Earth, both by American efforts; the other, Alpha Colony, failed. Shortly thereafter, a world war destroyed much of America and effectively ended their space program, among others (the short story "Dreamweaver's Dilemma" has some discussion). As a result, Beta Colony, with its emphasis on personal freedom and tolerance, technological innovation, and economic stability and influence, and racial and cultural diversity, holds a place in the political landscape reminiscent of an idealized version of America.
- A statement regarding Beta Colony's system of child credits from the author on the dendarii.com listserv, dated October 3, 2000: "A calculated number of third-child variances are given out each year by lottery; a certain number of these are reserved as rewards for outstanding citizens/contributors to Beta, chosen variously and probably by more than one group. While one's first permit (or, more accurately two half-permits, unless one chooses to clone oneself) is inalienable, and reverts to the pool if unused upon the death of its holder, lottery-won permits may be sold by their recipients to qualified purchasers, given away, or bequeathed."
- And on the topic of the strict rules Betans live under, there is this statement from the dendarii.com listserv collection, dated September 9, 2009 (036280.html), in the email titled "LQ #65: Bujold for here & now": "There is a lot about Betan culture and society that suddenly makes sense when one remembers they were the only Nexus planet to be settled by sub-light generation ships, with a trip taking something in the neighborhood of forty years. The social rules for surviving shipboard life shaped the new rules planetside, and the planet's less-than-friendly climate sustained them."
- For discussions of the culture of Beta Colony by the author, see "Chalion news, but not of tours yet", 036280.html, 061271.html, 084487.html, "Re: Beta and birth control", 113420.html, 096439.html, and "WTC thoughts".
- The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 19
- Shards of Honor
- Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 3
- "Dreamweaver's Dilemma"
- Shards of Honor chapter 12
- The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 5
- Shards of Honor chapter 2
- Shards of Honor chapter 13
- Mirror Dance chapter 2
- A Civil Campaign chapter 12
- Barrayar chapter 7
- The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 4
- The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 6
- Barrayar chapter 10
- Barrayar chapter 3
- Barrayar chapter 12
- A Civil Campaign chapter 5
- Barrayar chapter 5
- Falling Free chapters 1,7
- The Vor Game chapter 8
- A Civil Campaign chapter 9
- The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 7
- The Warrior's Apprentice chapters 5,6
- Ethan of Athos chapter 12
- Barrayar chapter 1
- Cetaganda chapter 3
- Ethan of Athos chapter 1,3