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The Time of Isolation was a period of time on the planet Barrayar in which the planet and culture was cut off from the rest of the galactic community.

Cause and Duration[]

Originally, during the 23rd century ECE, the Firsters, a group of 50000 colonists primarily from Russia, England, France, and Greece on Earth took a wormhole to Barrayaran local space and started to settle the planet.[1][2]

Then the wormhole collapsed. No other route was known to go to Barrayar, so the settlers were absolutely cut off from the rest of civilization. They survived and gradually formed a complex government. Eventually, about 600 years after they originally arrived on the planet, a new wormhole path was found that led from Komarr to Barrayar.[3] The span of time from the collapse of the wormhole until their rediscovery was called the Time of Isolation.


The Time of Isolation was a sizable chunk of Barrayar's history. It affected the evolution of culture on Barrayar and consequently affected the current state of affairs on Barrayar.

Technological Impact[]

The settlers lost nearly all their technology and had to come up with a way to survive on a poisonous planet. The only large animals were ones they'd brought themselves, and the local plants did not include an equivalent of hardwood trees. As a result, the first century of the Time of Isolation featured stucco and similar materials for buildings[4]. Over time, they recreated a fair amount of technology:

  • glass[5], stained glass[6], high-quality steel, jadeite bowls[7], cloisonne[8], mining of gold, jewels, and various metals[8].
  • Horse cavalry
  • muzzle-loading muskets[9], some means of bombing fish[10].
  • Cloth weaving[11], dyes, silk[12].
  • Paper making, hand-calligraphed and printed books[13][14].
  • slash-and-burn terraforming, various levels of agriculture.
  • Sewage pipes and storm sewers[15].
  • Red bricks as building materials[14][16].
  • Boating using pole-barges[17].

Effects of Isolation on the formation of Barrayaran Culture[]

  • Imperial Government - With a need to put as much time as possible into terraforming the land to grow crops so they could survive, the original colonists had little opportunity to develop political theory. Over the course of several centuries, they gradually developed a "neo-feudal" style of government based on oaths made by subjects to their lords. Emperors fought with Counts for power over the people until shortly before the end of the Time of Isolation, when Dorca successfully united the planet with the Counts subjugated to him.
  • Anti-Mutant Mindset
    • Infanticide - Due to the limited genetic pool from the original colonists, and the poisonous native biology, mutations were frighteningly common (note Mutagen Disasters, below). Infants showing signs of mutation were killed to prevent the spread of the mutation to the gene pool as a whole.
    • Prejudice against mutation - It was deeply ingrained in most Barrayarans minds that any mutation was terrible, even if beneficial and intentional. For example, Betan Hermaphrodites, Quaddies, and the Haut race of Cetaganda were deeply troubling to the Barrayarans because they were intentional mutations. "Mutie" was considered a terrible slur even in the most modern times of the Vorkosigan Saga.[18]
  • Transportation - Barrayaran transport went almost immediately from horses to air cars. Thus ground-based infrastructure was poor or lacking, but travel by lightflyer or aircar was not difficult.[19]

Effects of Isolation on the current state of Barrayar[]

  • Komarr - Barrayar conquered Komarr to make sure that they controlled the only gateway to their homeworld at all times. Thus, Komarr became an integral, though occasionally unwilling, part of the Barrayaran Imperium.
  • Politics - With the influx of galactic ideas and beliefs, much of Barrayar (mostly the plebes, or proles), wanted to move more towards a galactic-style constitutional government. Many of the Vor wanted to maintain the Vor system and keep the Imperium alive. Political parties tended to reflect this basic contrast.

Notable Events during the Isolation[]

  • Wormhole collapse
  • Pilgrimage through the fire[1]
  • Mutagen Disasters[14]
  • Bloody Centuries (these began roughly 200 years before the end of the Time of Isolation; see article Selig Vorkosigan)
  • Dorca brought an end to the Bloody Centuries shortly before the end of the Time of Isolation.

Behind the scenes[]

  • On October 16, 2000, as part of a collection of answers to questions of Russian fans (see www.lavkamirov.com/bujold/enfaqlet.htm), this statement was made:
    • Firearms were back well before the end of the ToI, as was water power. Steam, I think, was just being re-developed at the end of the Time of Isolation, with electricity hovering in the wings. Also balloon flight. If Barrayar had not been re-discovered by the galactics, I think it would still have had a home-grown industrial revolution in the century following Dorca’s re-unification of the planet.
  • A further statement by the author describes the Mutagen Disasters and an event that may correspond to the "Passage through the fire", namely a massive radiation blast that resulted from the collapse of their wormhole. See 061111.html for details.
  • On Goodreads, in response to a question about lost technology, this statement was made:
    • By the third generation, they had lost electricity, and were down to wind, water, and muscle power for a time. Loss of tech went hand-in-hand with loss of social cohesion, and came back much the same way. By the last quarter-century before the end of the ToI, they were getting electricity back. There followed about 15 years of very rapid development between the rediscovery and the Cetagandan invasion, half a generation. Development continued throughout the Occupation, in erratic patchy ways. Lots of off-planet imports turbo-boosted things, as well as disrupting them.
  • Certain aspects of the neo-feudalism of Barrayaran society were constructed from Meiji Japan, Imperial Russia, and Germany.


Until sufficient trees were mature enough to allow harvesting on a large scale, boating and home-building would probably have been somewhat limited.

Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Mountains of Mourning"
  2. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 5
  3. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 3
  4. Mirror Dance chapter 14
  5. Memory chapter 5
  6. Barrayar chapter 3
  7. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 22
  8. 8.0 8.1 The Warrior's Apprentice chapter 8
  9. Mirror Dance chapter 13
  10. Memory chapter 20
  11. Komarr chapter 19
  12. Shards of Honor chapters 7,9,11
  13. Barrayar chapter 7
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Mirror Dance chapter 14
  15. Barrayar chapters 1,12,18
  16. Barrayar chapters 16,18
  17. A Civil Campaign chapter 16
  18. Widespread, but particularly see Captain Vorpatril's Alliance chapter 5
  19. Barrayar