Sunday, June 29, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, introduction, in which we solve a mystery by studying its genetics

It's been a hell of a ride, hasn't it?  This is the final Speaker for the Dead post, and July is a novel-writing month, so I wouldn't count on a lot of new blog content during that time.  After that, I may return with Ender's Shadow, the retelling of Ender's Game from Bean's perspective, which I still consider to be Card's best novel (I just think that's a lower bar than I used to).  Or maybe I'll move on to something else entirely.  Maybe something good?  Or at least better?  Erika the Blogqueen has contemplated doing a series on Mistborn; I've got like eighteen books partly read lying around my apartment and half of Wheel of Time that I inherited from a former roommate.  We'll keep you posted on our post-July posting plans.

(Content: ableism, partner abuse, racism. Fun content: y'all like point-form lists, right?)

Speaker for the Dead: p. ix--xxii

So... Speaker for the Dead, eh?  What was up with that?  It takes some careful planning to create a story where all of the problems exist solely because people would literally rather die than ask a direct question.  As I belaboured back in chapter fourteen, Ender was in a much better position to play an antagonist who proves to be a friend than he was to be the hero, yet he's presented to us as the hero because he's the only one who isn't afraid of the truth.  This needs explaining, and in the spirit of Speaker for the Dead, I'm going to argue that we can figure out what caused this atrocity by tracing back its evolutionary history to a catastrophic plague the 1980s.
Speaker for the Dead is a sequel, but it didn't begin life that way--and you don't have to read it that way, either.  It was my intention all along for Speaker to be able to stand alone, for it to make sense whether you have read Ender's Game or not. Indeed, in my mind this was the "real" book; if I hadn't been trying to write Speaker for the Dead back in 1983, there would never have been a novel version of Ender's Game at all.
Interesting premise.  Let's summarise Speaker for the Dead by chapter:

  1. Pipo rescues young Novinha from sadness by taking her in as his daughter (in a weirdly romantic relationship with her pseudo-brother), then is horribly murdered by the mysterious primitive aliens.
  2. Ender Wiggin is super-smart and philosophical and a three-thousand-year-old war hero, and people have very strong opinions on the morality of being an alien because his ultra-brilliant sister wrote an essay about fjords a couple of months ago.  He also owes a mysterious debt to someone.
  3. Novinha hides all the science that somehow led to Pipo's confrontation and death, and also breaks up with her pseudo-brother to protect him, but also summons Ender Wiggin to cross the galaxy to solve the mystery that she believes must never be solved.
  4. Ender Wiggin's girlfriend is the internet and he's super rich and he carries the last survivor of his accidental genocide. 
  5. Ender Wiggin breaks up with his newlywed pregnant sister to cross the galaxy in a private star cruiser in hopes of protecting aliens.  His best student figures out the truth and devotes her life to serving his sister's family.
  6. Novinha's children are terrible.  Ender arrives and immediately astonishes the mayor with his knowledge and history, learns that Libo died after all, scares children because the Bishop has told them he's the devil, and befriends one of Novinha's kids.
  7. Novinha's children are terrible.  Ender enters their home, subdues them by physical force or argument, refuses to leave, and tells them how foolish they are for not understanding their little brother.  Novinha's dead husband used to beat her.
  8. Novinha comes home.  Ender tells her he knows everything, she's a terrible mother, and he will redeem her.
  9. Ender's literal internet girlfriend Jane reveals that all of Novinha's kids were fathered by Libo.  Libo's kids, Miro and Ouanda, are bad at science.
  10. Ender befriends the local monastic sect because he was besties with their founder two thousand years earlier.  Jane distracts Ender, so he switches her off for a bit.
  11. Being cut off from Ender for an afternoon utterly devastates Jane and she spends the equivalent of 50,000 years in recovery, then sparks an interstellar police action.
  12. Ender is super rich, Novinha is obsessed with him, and her children are fractionally less terrible now that they're obsessed with him as well.
  13. The aliens demand to meet with Ender because he is everything.  Ela reveals to Ender that she's secretly been doing real science for years.
  14. Miro and Ouanda take Ender to meet the aliens.  Ender tells them that they're terrible scientists, and the aliens then reveal everything to him because he's so important.
  15. The government locks down the planetary computers, but they save some vital information because Ender is special.  Ender makes the entire colony sympathise with a dead abuser by explaining that he couldn't have kids and his wife cheated on him.
  16. Everyone tells each other everything now that Ender is there.  Miro wants to run away to the forest to marry his sister, but grievously injures himself instead through terrible science.  The colony rebels because Ender is so special that he can completely prevent any consequences to rebellion for the next thirty years.
  17. The aliens tell Ender everything else they haven't said.  Ender teaches them how not to be terrible warmongering savages, signs a contract, and ritually murder-metamorphoses an alien volunteer to seal the deal.
  18. Miro is permanent disabled and shoved in temporal storage for later.  Ender gets the girl, brings civilisation to the primitive aliens, learns that his sister is uprooting her family to come meet him, and revives the last survivor of his war crime, clearing his conscience.
Now, on the one hand, this synopsis does make it clear that there wouldn't be much of this book left without Ender there.  On the other hand, without Ender's Game as background, Ender literally never earns anything--he's just a brilliant rich straight white male ex-soldier poet-priest whose very presence elicits awe even from people who claim to hate him.  I'm curious if anyone has read Speaker and not Ender's Game, and whether they found Ender remotely sufferable.  I find him aggravating and I've read about all the harsh childhood and suffering and abuse that is supposed to have turned him into who he is in this book.  (I've even read Ender in Exile, y'all.  Never let it be said I'm not dedicated.)

Back to the introduction.  Card explains that the 'speaker for the dead' concept is the result of his dislike for eulogies that erase anything uncomfortable about the dead person and therefore make them less like real people in memory.  He insists that the only story worth telling (despite it being unknowable) is the story of what the person meant to do with their life.  I'm a little unclear on how this is possible--surely, if the true story is unknowable, then the speaker has to take a guess at it, and in doing so they still erase the real person in favour of an explanation that makes sense to them and is therefore "much easier to live with", which is exactly the problem he has with 'normal' eulogies?

This really gets to the heart of the problem, because Card insists that intentions are all that matter to morality, but even he admits that we can never really know what a person's intentions were.  In that case, the logical conclusion seems to be that we can never know how moral a person is, and maybe then we end up at the traditional Christian 'judge not', but Ender's assertion seems instead to be that everyone has good intentions all the time and therefore they are ultimately good even if shallow outsiders think they're 'bad' just because they do stuff like start bar fights and abuse their families.

The next point is interesting:
So when I thought of the idea of an alien species which, in order to reproduce, had to slaughter each other in terrible intertribal wars, it was only natural that I decided the story should be told from the viewpoint of a human scientist studying them.  Only gradually, over several years, did I develop the idea of the piggies and their strange lifecycle, and the intertribal war receded in importance--so much so that I didn't need to make it an issue in Speaker for the Dead at all.
This explains a fair bit--the wars (which play some kind of vital role in Little One society by allowing males to go tree without having to be selected by the females, circumventing their usual honor-related system) seem like they should be a bigger deal, and everything that happened to Pipo and Libo would make more sense if the Little Ones specifically required speedy, violent death, but that wasn't the story Card wanted to tell.  He also couldn't quite bear to get rid of it (and it does allow for that great scene where civilised white Ender teaches primitive little Human about non-aggression treaties and peaceful alliances), so it stayed in some vestigial form, an offshoot that evolution doesn't really need but hasn't had cause to eliminate either.

Originally the role was the Singer of Death, but Card's wife pointed out that all of his acclaimed works had some kind of music thing going on, so he ditched that and attached instead to the only one that didn't: the short story of Ender's Game.
What if Ender Wiggin comes to an alien world as a Speaker of Death, and accidently gets caught up in the mystery of why these piggies are slaughtering each other? It had a delicious symmetry to it--the man who, as a child, destroyed one alien species now has a chance to save another.
On the one hand, I think Card made the smart choice here by having the ultimate threat be 'scared humans with guns' rather than having to understand why the primitive aliens keep slaughtering each other when it's actually harmless.  On the other hand, the story we have got is basically 'humans colonise a planet wrong, so Ender teaches them to colonise it right and the primitive natives are much better off, and this makes other humans angry'.  At no point do we seem to have any hope of 'humans discover the aliens are actually handling their own affairs just fine and if they'd stop trying to force the aliens into human institutions we'd all float on okay'.  One way or another, regardless of whether the endless reproducto-war is centre stage or an afterthought, we're pretty sure that Ender needs to save these people from their ignorance.

Card set up the deal for Speaker of Death in 1983, only to find:
...that the book was unwritable.  In order to make the Ender Wiggin of Speaker make any kind of sense, I had to have this really long, kind of boring opening chapter that brought him from the end of the Bugger War to the beginning of the story of Speaker some three thousand years later!  It was outrageous.  I couldn't write it.
Card then details the short conversation that abruptly led to him having a contract to do a novel of Game before Speaker, but I'm left confused.  That's quite literally what this book does for the first few chapters: show us Ender of three thousand years later, rich and respected and forgotten, and tell us all about his childhood achievements.  What made the original 'outrageous' draft so different?  (Card acknowledges that Ender Wiggin wasn't really a full character until he fleshed out Ender's Game, which is a fair point and presumably made a difference in trying to approach Speaker, but that's not a problem with the story of Speaker, that's a reminder that you have to know your characters before you can write them, or you'll be visibly flailing to figure out their deal on the page.)

With Ender's Game written, he approaches Speaker again, starting with Ender arriving on Lusitania to speak the death of "an old lout named Marcão", but two hundred pages in found it hollow, even after adding Novinha, Pipo, and Libo.  Card was on a trip with a friend and former student, Gregg Keizer, who took some time to read the manuscript of Speaker.
He had many good ideas. Of course, most of them dealt with small fixes for problems in the manuscript as it now stood. One comment he made, however, illuminated everything for me. "I couldn't tell Novinha's kids apart," he said. "I couldn't remember which was which."
This, Card tells us, was the key.  Novinha's kids were "nothing but placeholders", like a younger sister in another novel whom he would forget existed for hundreds of pages at a time until he finally decided to retcon her into dying in infancy, because I guess the death of a baby sister is exactly the same as her never existing?  But he couldn't just cut her kids:
Because I wanted Novinha to be voluntarily isolated, I had to have her be otherwise acceptable to her neighbors. In a Catholic colony like Lusitania, this meant Novinha needed to have a bunch of kids.
Wait, what?  There's an entire sect of teacher-administrators on this planet whose whole deal is that they are married without children.  (I'm not entirely sure what to make of the assertion that Novinha is and had to be voluntarily isolated, given that we're told she was isolated from a young age because no one took the time to understand her and for the rest of her life no one tried to stop Marcos from beating her--Card's insistence that Novinha literally signed up for physical abuse still horrifies me.)
Once you've read Speaker, of course, you'll wonder what the story would be without Novinha's children, and the answer is, It wouldn't be much!
Novinha's children, in order of relevance:
  • Miro: informed almost-protagonist, fails to get useful information, gets permanently injured trying to run away to marry his sister, gets put in storage so people don't have to deal with him being all physically disabled at them.
  • (Honorable mention because she's not Novinha's kid: Ouanda: like Miro, but female and therefore less important.  Does basically nothing of consequence; exists mostly to assist Ender, be told she's screwing up, and create angst for Miro.)
  • Ela: runs the actual household and does the actual science.  Gives Ender vital information a few times and tells everyone that all of their problems are Novinha's fault.
  • Olhado: gives Ender vital information several times and likes him first.  Records key incidents with his cyborg eyes because a pocket camera just wouldn't feel sci fi enough.
  • Grego: poster child for broken household, violent, needs proper physical discipline from a strong man.
  • Quim: religious zealot, shows that even Ender's least-rational fanatical enemies like his work.
  • Quara: like Grego, but female and therefore less important.  Quiet, needs signs of affection from a strong man.
Card goes on to complain that genre heroes never seem to have parents and we never see them grow up and become parents either, and he's not wrong about that.  Showing protagonists as part of a larger family makes a big difference and we could do with more.
The romantic hero is unconnected. He belongs to no community; he is wandering from place to place, doing good (as he sees it), but then moving on. This is the life of the adolescent, full of passion, intensity, magic, and infinite possibility; but lacking responsibility, rarely expecting to have to stay and bear the consequences of error. [....] Only when the loneliness becomes unbearable do adolescents root themselves [....] many fail at adulthood and constantly reach backward for the freedom and passion of adolescence. But those who achieve it are the ones who create civilization.
Card decided that, if he couldn't write a parent's perspective, he could at least write the perspective of an adult who feels responsibility to a family, and thus this book was an opportunity to show"the miracle of a family in transformation".  This, at least, explains a little more of why Novinha is such a non-entity in her family.  Card had already decided that the caring adult was Ender, and Novinha was 'voluntarily isolated', so there was no hope of her actually doing anything for her kids.

This undertaking, Card wants us to know, was haaaaard:
Most novels get by with showing the relationships between two or, at the most, three characters. This is because the difficulty of creating a character increases with each new major character that is added to the tale.
Characters A and B just have an A-B relationship, he explains, but add C and you've got A-B, A-C, B-C, and A-B-C.  And we change all the time depending on who we're dealing with, so A might be a very different person with B than with C, and so each one is multiplied and it's so hard.
What happens, then, when you start with a family with a mother, a dead father, and six troubled children, and then add a stranger who intrudes into the family and transforms every one of them?
In this book?  Apparently you reduce half of them to caricatures and ignore the relationships that aren't with Mighty Whitey.  Quick, someone tell me how Ela's relationship to Miro changes as a result of the transformative impact of Ender's presence on both of them over the course of the story.  (I'm pretty sure they talk to each other... once in the whole novel?  Was it once?)
I sat there with Gregg, assigning some immediate and obvious trait to each of the children that would help the reader keep track of them. Oh, yes, Olhado is the one with the metal eyes; Quara is the one who says outrageous things after long silences; Grego is the violent one; Quim is the religious fanatic; Ela is the weary mother-figure; Miro is the eldest son, the hero in the others' eyes. These "hooks" could only serve to introduce the children--I'd have to develop them far beyond that point--but having found those hooks, I had a plan that would let me proceed with confidence.
I'm not sure I have anything left to say about how far these characters have been developed beyond the lines above that I haven't already said over the last six months and three weeks.  Perhaps it will suffice that ppfffbbfbttthaaaaahaaaahahahahaha.

Card notes as well that Jane wasn't in any of the original outlines for Speaker; Ender's computer uplink wasn't sentient (I guess he personally hacked all the things?), but Card started the idea and just enjoye it too much, finding that she brought Ender to life.  This is one of those moments where someone almost has an epiphany and then just barely misses it and runs in the opposite direction: Jane made Ender more interesting because Jane is interesting and Ender's just got a lot of backstory.  Sure, Jane's computer powers are a plot device, but no less than Ender's magical intuition.  Jane could have made a fascinating protagonist, knowing everything and incapable of doing anything without human assistance.

She did apparently get spun off to play a major role in the third book, which came out of nowhere when Card's agent told him she had sold the 'Ender trilogy' to an English publisher.  Card immediately realised that, in the same way that he had turned the Speaker idea into a book by jamming Ender into it, he could turn his concept for another story, 'Philotes', into the third book (Xenocide) by the same process.

Just in case anyone got their hopes up, I'm not reading Xenocide.
Besides--and here you are about to learn something truly vile about me--having a third book would mean that I didn't have to figure out some way to resolve the two loose threads that I knew would be dangling at the end of Speaker: what happens to the hive queen? And what happens to the fleet that Starways Congress sends?
Gotta say, not sure that's more vile than the stuff you happily publish about them disgusting homosexuals, Card.  I mean, sure, self-deprecation can be comedy gold, but it kind of plays better when you're not actually terrible?

There's more rambling that doesn't strike me as vital to our purposes, except that Card loops back to the same thing he said in the last intro, that the story in the book is the result of the reader interpreting and transforming with their mind the materials that the author has put there.  "I hope my tale is true enough and flexible enough that you can make it into a world worth living in."

Flexible, you say?  Flexible.  Okay then.  Let's bend it.

What would Speaker for the Dead become if we cut Ender out of the story and split his part among other people?
  • Chapters 2, 4, and 5 get ditched entirely, along with their obsession with sniping at Calvinist theology that matters so little for the rest of the book.
  • Chapters 6 through 8 can get enormously condensed, because we don't need any time to fawn over the pageantry surrounding Ender's arrival or his invasion of the Ribeira house.
  • Chapter 9: Someone else has to be doing the actual investigation.  I nominate Ela, the only person on the planet who actually does her job (unlike Novinha the UnScientist, or Miro and Ouanda the Missionaries).  The only thing Ela needs to discover in order to set everything off is that she and her siblings were fathered by Libo, not Marcos.  There are a score of ways this could happen, since she's a biologist.  For whatever reason (her insistence on studying Descolada in case it comes back, for example, or her desire to ensure that none of her siblings are going to die from Marcos' disease) she realises that Libo was their father, and this begins unravelling everything she thought she knew about her family history.  Much like Ender, once she knows Novinha didn't hate Libo, she has to figure out why else she would try to cut him out, and steadily comes back to the way Descolada files have been locked away.
  • Chapter 10 can get cut.  So can 11, if scientists elsewhere in the galaxy catch Miro and Ouanda's meddling with the aliens without needing Jane's help, because at least one other scientist also does their job.
  • The rest of Ender's meddling is substantially reworked.  I'm going to suggest that Ela tries to engage Miro with some of the things she's discovered, but he is too removed from the family and focused on his work to particularly care.  Ela argues that he's just repeating what their mother did, hiding in science because she rejected her family, he says it's not his responsibility to fix her mistakes (he considers his future family with Ouanda to be the only one he needs to care about), and we get into those same issues Card was talking about with adolescent heroes never dealing with consequences or families, and the way adulthood means dealing with the situation you are in rather than running off to somewhere fresh.  Miro considers literally moving into the woods with Ouanda and cutting humanity off, since no one else can come through the fence without their clearance.
  • There is still a need for the critical point where Ela confronts people with the truth--the colony knows it will be locked down, and Miro resolves to run away, but Ela drags him and Ouanda and Novinha together (maybe others? Ye Must Love Reapers?) to reveal all that she knows.  Miro and Ouanda have the stark choice to either flee or to try to understand and fix things like responsible adults.
  • Miro, who is his mother's repetition, stays with her and tries to hash things out about why she did everything she did (they both broke so many rules of good science for bad reasons) while Ela and Ouanda go into the woods to resolve the science mystery.  (They agree that if Ouanda comes back with answers, they will rebel to defend the Little Ones, but if they get ritually murdered like Pipo and Libo, Miro will go to stand trial without her to protect the colony.)  As in the book, they know the government has left them with all-or-nothing options and so they, like Ender, toss aside their not-even-half-assed attempts at secrecy, but keep to other anthropological good practice like 'Don't remake other societies in your own image'.  They're also damned sure going to tell the Wives that they think they could, with permission, save the lives of the Mothers with a scalpel, some thread, and a mashed yam, rather than let the males keep that fact to themselves.
  • I don't particularly care if one of them has to carve Human open to seal the contract or not.
  • In a final optional twist, Novinha realises her childhood dream of becoming a Speaker for the Dead to help humanity understand the Little Ones, but not before she (with Bruxinha's permission, if she mentions Libo's infidelity with her) Speaks the death of Marcos herself.
At this point, we've covered the same ground in substantially less time and with fewer asides to talk about how much Calvinists suck and partner abusers are sometimes just misunderstood, which should leave some room to deal with the arrival of the deadly Evacuation Fleet, rather than leaving that for another book.

So now we've got Card's own account of why the hell Ender was in this book: he didn't actually realise he needed to write the other characters until someone read his manuscript and told him to write the other characters.  He was more prepared to write an entire 'prequel' novel about Ender's childhood than he was to figure out what anyone on Lusitania was thinking or doing.  They didn't matter until they were set pieces, the boy with cyborg eyes and the girl who doesn't talk and the young woman trying to be sister and mother and scientist all at once.  He got halfway through the first draft before he acknowledged that they needed some attention.  He already knew which character he identified with: the white guy from another land.

And that, as best I can tell, is what the hell was up with that.  /speakerpulpit

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter eighteen, in which Card hurriedly scrawls To Be Continued across the page

I don't see any useful way of splitting this chapter up, and practically nothing actually happens, so we're just going to go for a huge sprint to the end.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, because the tunnel is on fire.

(Content: ableism, incest, sexualisation of minors, misogyny.  Fun content: Stephen Hawking's wikipedia biography tells this book's story better than it does.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 356--382
Chapter Eighteen: The Hive Queen

The final intro-excerpt is from the Speaker for the Dead's latest publication, The Life of Human.  It's a fairly straightforward depiction of life inside the mothertree, drinking sap and occasionally making a dash for the light when the tree opens, until one day he's fast enough to make it through and discovers there is an entire new world out there, transitioning from the first life to the second life.  There's nothing particularly super-empath about this section, so I assume the magic words have to come in later (unless this is another case of Ender just intuiting information rather than asking the Little Ones what it's like inside the mothertree, or asking them to relay the words of Human's tree).

What does get me is that this is another case of a Miraculously Brilliant and Heartbreaking publication from someone only naming themselves Speaker for the Dead, and it's got to be a matter of public record that the only Speaker on Lusitania is Andrew Wiggin, and maybe someone might take another crack at piecing together the way all three of the great Speaker texts were anonymously published on planets where a guy named Andrew Wiggin lived, and the first such Andrew Wiggins were the brother of Peter the Hegemon and of Valentine who was Demosthenes and maybe could a historian connect some dots please.  (It's presumably a retcon, but according to the Shadow series, everyone found out who Locke and Demosthenes were within a couple of years of Ender and Valentine leaving Earth.)

We return to Miro, whose malice towards science has been turned back around on him, because he rapidly heals from all temporary damage but also rapidly runs into a layer of permanent damage that Dr Navio can do nothing to address, presumably because he's run out of anti-witch salt.  So, in three days Miro can sort of walk, sort of talk, like "a very healthy man who is a hundred years old", but he's going to stay that way forever.  Science.  (I'm not sure who Navio's reference point is; my grandmother is ninety-nine (and a half) and while she won't be running any marathons, she likes going for walks, she's as sharp-minded and articulate as anyone I've ever met, and for her birthday her friends got her a personalised billiard cue because she's a pool shark.  So his idea of 'very healthy for 100' seems off, to me.)

There's a nice big heap of disability tragedy porn as everyone thinks about how lucky he is not to be bedridden for the rest of his life, how awful he feels listening to his own voice slurring, how he understands why none of them want to stay home with him now that he doesn't need constant attention, and he doesn't want them to stay either; he wants to be out asking the Little Ones direct questions at last.  There's no actual explanation for why he can't do that--he's at least partly mobile, and they should be able to create some sweet mechanised wheelchairs in the future, not to mention speech-generating devices that could help with his intelligibility (he could probably even use his own voice, given all the audio notes they've saved).

Speaker was written and published in the mid-1980s, pretty much exactly the same time that Stephen Hawking was publishing A Brief History of Time and also got his first speech-generator equipment.  (I strongly recommend reading up on Hawking; his life story hits a lot of the themes that this book goes for, loss and recovery and incomparable brilliance and bringing enlightenment to the masses and complicated marriage dynamics, but without the huge shovelfuls of racism and colonialist apologism.)  I don't know if Card was making any intentional reference, or if he had any particular interest in Hawking's work, but I feel like the publication of mass-market science by a man with significant motor and verbal disabilities should probably have made it easy to find out what the cutting edge of assistive devices looks like and try extrapolating that three thousand years into the future.  My point is that Miro's life here doesn't suck because he's disabled now; Miro's life sucks because Card and all of his characters have no interest in helping Miro maintain any connections to his family, job, or lifestyle.

Card is at least upfront about some of this--Miro relays questions to Ouanda for her to ask the Little Ones, but apparently Ouanda doesn't value her colleague now that they're not going to bang, soshe gets direct answers to his questions and leaves them at that rather than ask follow-ups or probe issues.  For that matter, the Little Ones have been running around Milagre for years even when it was illegal; why aren't any of them just coming to see Miro at home and chat for a few hours?

Miro is still creepy as hell himself, since privately in his own mind he still wants to run away with Ouanda and live in the woods and Lannister it up, but he knows that she is "a believer, a belonger. She couldn't possibly violate the only universal human law."  I am deeply distressed that Miro casts 'not wanting to bone your sibling' as the product only of bowing to popular belief and not, like, a reasonable reaction to a messed-up hypothetical.  I don't think peer pressure is the issue here.  (I'm always unsettled when people talk about morality like it's the result of popular vote or only external sources, as in that old favourite 'how can you be moral without God', and I'm just saying that the main places I hear this concept come from are conservative Christians and that Miro is our only confirmed atheist in the cast.)

In a neapolitan twist of horror, Miro compares his situation to that of his mother, since Novinha and Libo boned even though it was against the rules (extramarital affairs are apparently just like incest), but concedes that there is a difference (yay) because Libo was able-bodied and "not this useless carcass" (goddammit).

Enough of Miro.  Ouanda's helping the Little Ones develop phonetic alphabets for Males' and Wives' languages,Quim is trying to figure out how to translate the gospels, and Ender and some construction workers are colonising the hell out of them by installing plumbing, computers, teaching them more agriculture, and trying to domesticate cabra to pull plows.  (Apparently they can have a computer terminal with full galactic library access but a mechanical plow is out of the question.)
At the same time, Ender was trying to keep them self-sufficient, inventive, resourceful. The dazlle of electricity would make myths that would spread through the world from tribe to tribe, but it would be no more than rumor for many, many years. It was the wooden plow, the scythe, the harrow, the amaranth seed that would make the real changes, that would allow piggy population to increase tenfold wherever they went.
Misogyny Update: medical intervention to allow mothers to survive to adulthood is disgusting colonialist meddling that might completely overturn their society in unpredictable ways, but technological intervention to increase their total population by 1000% is just neighbourly.

Ela is frankensteining away in her lab, creating anti-Descolada plants, animals, and insects from Earth roots, because clearly what this fragile ecosystem characterised by unprecedentedly weird and unspeakably fast mutation really needs is a bunch of foreign species introduced in rapid succession--I mean, they managed to dodge that amaranth had the potential to choke out literally all other vegetation on the planet, so clearly there's no risk making dozens of new species intended to neutralise the infection that is the foundation of all plant, animal, and insect reproduction in the world.  Novinha, for her part, is working specifically on creating something to let the hive queen and the formics resist the Descolada, which sounds borderline impossible, so I'm going to guess it'll take seven weeks.

More disgusting ableism through Miro, who considers himself "less human than the piggies were [....] he was varelse now".  Remember when this book started and I thought the Hierarchy of Exclusion was sort of adorably gratuitous and illustrative of Card's ego?  I hate it.  I hate it so much.  It has never once been actually used to bring someone closer together, to say 'you think these people are incomprehensible but you just don't understand them'; its sole purpose is voting people out of personhood.

One day Miro finds that he's accidentally somehow cut through multiple layers of security into Ouanda's confidential science files, but rather than admit it, he just steers the conversation towards the same subjects, and they talk a little more like old times, about actual science.  Then the computer starts feeding him everyone's files (except Ender), and becomes intuitive to his commands rather than needing exact typing every time.  When he tries to tell the mayor, Ender shows up instead and says it's not a program helping him, but a person, an impossibly fast person with very few friends.
"Not human," said Miro. 
"Raman," said Ender. "More human than most humans."
What the hell does that mean?  How are we grading humanness in this galaxy?  By my tally, here is our current in-universe ranking of humanity from most-human to least:

  • Ender Wiggin
  • People Ender Wiggin likes and/or has claimed ownership of
  • The immortal consciousness of the internet
  • Practically everyone else
  • Pig-shaped alien genius-savages who turn into trees when you cut them open (or are devoured by their young)
  • Bug-shaped alien psychics with absolute control over billions of drone-bodies they birthed themselves
  • People with disabilities
Miro snarks that he doesn't want a companion or a pet, Ender snaps at him not to be a jackass and to show her absolute trust and loyalty, because her only other friend once showed her an hour's thoughtless disloyalty and things were never the same again after that.  Miro realises that Ender is passing a dear friend over to him, and suddenly the whole thing gains a new level of creepy; a man giving ownership of a woman to another, younger man.  Not sold on the creepy?  Miro turns back to the terminal when Ender leaves, and there's a hologram:
She was small, sitting on a stool, leaning against a holographic wall. She was not beautiful. Not ugly, either. Her face had character. Her eyes were haunting, innocent, sad. Her mouth delicate, about to smile, about to weep. Her clothing seemed veil-like, insubstantial, and yet instead of being provocative, it revealed a sort of innocence, a girlish, small-breasted body, the hands clasped lightly in her lap, her legs childishly parted with the toes pointing inward. She could have been sitting on a teeter-totter in a playground. Or on the edge of her lover's bed.

Jane is smart enough to first make it clear that she's ungropeable, and Miro pauses to think about how no one will ever sleep with him because he's gross now.  She goes on about all she sees and hears in the galaxy, and Miro admits that he wants to leave Lusitania, and there's a bunch of ironic flirtation because I guess that's the only way a boy and a three-thousand-year-old philotic consciousness containing the knowledge of all humanity which is currently projecting itself in the ghostly holographic shape of a girl can really get to know each other.

Elsewhere, Ender and Olhado go exploring--he lets Olhado drive the shuttle, presumably because there are no pilots on Lusitania and also Card was exhausted after naming all those other characters.  (Plus Olhado can plug his eye into the computer and, I don't know, pilot with his mind or something; it's not clear.)  They're surveying for a spot to release the hive queen.  We get a quick breakdown of Ela's findings, which all just validate her initial guesses: land life on Lusitania consists of reeds/flies, riverbank grass/snakes, grass/goats, vines/birds, vines/worms, bushes/bugs, and trees/Little Ones.
That was the list, the whole list of surface animals and plants of Lusitania. Under water there were many, many more. But the Descolada had left Lusitania monotonous. [....] Lusitania, like Trondheim, was one of the rare worlds that was dominated by a single motif instead of displaying the whole symphony of possibility. [....] Lusitania's climate and soil cried out a welcome to the oncoming plow, the excavator's pick, the mason's trowel. Bring me to life, it said.
I don't even know what to say to that; apparently bringing landscape to life means plowing fields clear, digging up the rocks you like best, stacking them into huge buildings, and letting loose a scourge of your favourite alien critters that have been genetically engineered to kill the molecular symbiote of the entire world.
Ender did not understand that he loved this place because it was as devastated and barren as his own life, stripped and distorted in his childhood by events every bit as terrible, on a small scale, as the Descolada had been to this world. [....] He fit this place as if he had planned it. The boy who walked beside him through the grama felt like his true son, as if he had known the boy from infancy.
Ender's really an excellent poster boy for appropriation and colonisation; all he has to do is assert how strongly he feels something and suddenly 'I was severely bullied' is indistinguishable from 'mass extinction-level event', and 'I really like this kid I've hung out with for a few weeks' means he can just assert legitimate fatherhood (without asking Olhado).  I don't mean to suggest that bullying is a minor issue, or that it's not wonderful to find a person and immediately feel a comfortable, trusting bond, but the parade of Ender declaring his personal experiences and feeling equal to everything and everyone else he meets is goddamn exhausting.

They find a spot for the hive queen, and Jane reports (businesslike) that Novinha's ready with daisies that the formics can drink from to ward off the Descolada.  Ender is sad that she doesn't joke with him anymore, but reflects instead on his new family and how much he loves his almost-kids and how sad he is that Miro's life is irrevocably stolen from him and no one can do anything to help.  Olhado comes up with a solution: literally ship him away for a while, Mazer-Rackham-style, to bring him back in time for the Evacuation Fleet to arrive.  (Olhado says Rackham only experienced two years, while Ender's Game said eight, but, again, Card fucking hates calendars.)
"Miro's the smartest person in Lusitania, and the best. He doesn't get mad, you know. Even in the worst of times with Father. Marcão. Sorry, I still call him Father." 
"That's all right. In many ways he was."
Card's genetic-continuity fetish also means that it's magnanimous to declare that the person who was actually around his kids and to some degree helped raise them might have some claim to fatherhood comparable to the man who secretly provided a gamete and then never spoke to them again if he could avoid it.  Also, the kid whose most noteworthy recent decision was to cross an agony field with only the protection of alien grasses because he was afraid he wasn't going to be allowed to marry his sister--this is the guy you want making decisions in thirty years, but you also want to make sure he only has a couple of years' time to reflect and mature before he gets those responsibilities?  This sounds like a good idea... why?

As they return home, Ender admits that he is the Xenocide, and Olhado is amused because, in his estimation, saying the Speaker was the Devil made for good sermons, but if The BISHOP had said Ender was the Xenocide the people of Lusitania would have murdered him on the spot.
"Why don't you now?" 
"We know you now. That makes all the difference, doesn't it? Even Quim doesn't hate you now. When you really know somebody, you can't hate them."
Apparently, when you really know somebody, anything terrible they say and do ceases to be terrible?
"Or maybe it's just that you can't really know them until you stop hating them." 
"Is that a circular paradox? Dom Cristão says that most truth can only be expressed in circular paradoxes."
This chapter was written specifically to cause me pain.
"It's just cause and effect. We never can sort them out. Science refuses to admit any cause except first cause--knock down one domino, the one next to it also falls. But when it comes to human beings, the only type of cause that matters is final cause, the purpose. What a person had in mind. Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart."
This would be a vastly more compelling argument to me if I felt that I had to be absolutely pure in order to draw any kind of moral conclusion.  Suffice to say that I don't.  I mean, I don't think hatred is inherently productive or valuable either, but I don't feel any particular need to try to identify with the perspective of people who hate me for whatever reason, philosophy or politics or religion or orientation.  And as I think we've seen, the stuff that Ender thinks is a universal desire includes 'expanding to engulf the whole of existence', so I don't think he's a good source on universal human nature either.

(As a side note, Ender states that even if he had known what he was doing in the final battle, he would still have destroyed the formic homeworld, thus undermining the central conceit of the book and all the vast secrecy around his training.  Olhado asks if she might not now get revenge; Ender says he's as sure of it as he is of everything, and admits he's gambling everyone's lives on it without so much as asking them.)

The next day, Valentine calls, twenty-two years older than when Ender last saw her.  She's coming to Lusitania--in the face of panic and anti-Little-One propaganda and the threat of the Descolada, she's revived Demosthenes, found out the fleet has Doctor Device, and they're leaving now, with all their electronic tracks covered by someone called Jane.  She, and Jakt, and their three kids, and Plikt.  Ender volunteers to send Miro to meet them and "make the last week of your voyage very educational", because apparently he figures Miro's two-decades-out-of-date information will be more valuable than, say, stopping to pick up an ansible transmission with a few years' worth of scientific notes and journal updates from the entire family?  He doesn't bother to ask Miro; Jane has already convinced him, and showed him the recording of Ender and Valentine's discussion, because privacy is still forbidden.  Ender is unsettled just to realise that Jane is now Miro's bestie more than his own, which is at least a taste of actually empathising with all the people whose privacy Ender has trampled every day for the last couple of decades.

Before he goes, Miro wants to know properly why Pipo and Libo died.  Ender says that it was an honor, but more to honor Leaf-eater and Mandachuva, and the only reason that the humans died instead was the Little One's I-kill-you-or-you-kill-me honor system.  Libo brought them the amaranth, but Leaf-eater convinced the Wives to allow a huge generation to be born, gambling that there would be food waiting for them when they left the tree.  (In this description, the amaranth wasn't the first technology that the xenologers gave the Little Ones--from flipping back through the book, it is possible that the first thing was the process for neutralising the cyanide in merdona root, then a bunch of other stuff like bows and arrows, then amaranth, then they killed him.)  For advocating this and being proven right, Leaf-eater was given the honor of getting sliced, but Libo refused.  Okay.  Sure.

But then we go back to Pipo and it's worse than ever.  Ender reports that Pipo's great discovery was that the plague that killed humans was naturally part of the Little Ones, "that their bodies could handle transformations that killed us".  Mandachuva's great achievement was concluding that humans were not gods, just an older and more experienced race with advanced tech.  So he was granted slicing, and asked Pipo to do it, and when he refused, tried to make Pipo's body undergo a transformation which they had literally just been told was fatal to humans.

God, I'm glad this book is almost over.
"There are worse reasons to die [...] than to die because you cannot bear to kill." 
"What about someone," said Miro, "who can't kill, and can't die, and can't live, either?" 
"Don't deceive yourself," said Ender. "You'll do all three someday."
How the hell is 'you'll kill someone someday' supposed to be heartening?

Miro leaves the next day, and no one likes hanging around at home for some weeks because they feel his absence.  Ender reflects on his own parents and suspects that they didn't hurt so much when he left, or want him back.
He already loved another man's children more than his parents had loved their own child. Well, he'd get fit revenge for their neglect of him. He'd show them, three thousand years later, how a father should behave. Bishop Peregrino married them in his chambers.
Not included: 'But Ender did not feel any hatred toward his parents, because deep inside he could find his own desire to abandon his children to a brutal military school and never see them again'.

Having reviewed all the science available, Ender lived with the Little Ones for a week while writing the Life of Human, and got reviews and input from Leaf-eater and Mandachuva (and they were to be planted within "a hand of hands of days" from Human's planting, so apparently all of this has happened in less than 25 or so days, unless the Little Ones have more than five fingers, meaning Novinha solved the Descolada for the formics in maybe two weeks, as opposed to my estimate of seven).  He invites everyone he likes out to Human's sapling, now three metres tall, and reads it to them--it takes less than an hour, and I wonder what all he has to say after the first five pages of larval form--a lot of interactions with the xenologers and blazed-out stumbling around Milagre in the middle of the night, I guess?
"Speaker," said the Bishop, "almost thou persuadest me to become a humanist."
I still don't get this.  First, why would understanding biology and alien cultures cause the Bishop (living next to aliens for decades) to abandon Catholicism in favour of a label that specifically excludes aliens?  Is he taking a subtle shot at Ender?  I think he's taking a shot at Ender and no one else is catching on.  I love meta-Bishop.
"This was why I called you here," said Novinha. "I dreamed once of writing this book.  But you had to write it."
Ender says she was important, both her scientific work and the way her family 'made him whole', thus making it appropriately clear that women support men who are responsible for actually achieving the things women aspire to.

Jane spams the galaxy with the book, and with the text of the treaty, and the images of Human being converted into a tree.  Most people think it's some kind of fake, or believe it but still think the Little Ones are too alien and terrible, but some buy into it completely and start protesting, start calling the fleet a Second Xenocide, and trouble spreads across the galaxy.  I wonder if maybe they should have tried doing that before they launched Miro into space in a time-dilation process that everyone compares to death.

And then they place the hive queen's cocoon in the ground in the spot Ender chose, next to some anti-Descolada daisies and a dead cabra, and fly off, and Ender sobs in his seat as he picks up on the philotic overflow of the queen's joy as she breaks free of the cocoon, feeds, lays the first dozen eggs, and starts to grow.

Next week: We interrogate the introduction to figure out what the hell was up with this book.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter seventeen, part two, in which Mighty Whitey saves the day

We're closing in on the end now.  This is the supposed climax of the book, and then there's a final chapter to pretend to resolve plot points and set up the sequels.  Needless to say, there's very little tension, because it's mostly about Ender giving the Little Ones the Simple Wikipedia version of peaceful nationalist propaganda (irony meter broken) and them instantly realising how much better this way of life is because they're very smart and just needed to be shown the ways of civilisation.

(Content: misogyny, imperialism, racism, death. Fun content: more matriarchy, the most harrowing Garfield story ever.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 331--355

Ender has been negotiated with Star-looker for hours now, but adrenaline is keeping him sharp past midnight, while Ouanda and Ela are getting dozy because I guess the socio-cultural information on the Little Ones, the future of interspecies interactions, the fate of their entire planet, and the impacts this could have for all of humanity's future aren't that exciting.  Ender has been trying to help them figure out cultivation (now that they've started farming, they care about prairie land for the first time, but they don't know how much to claim or cultivate and neither does he because, praise the Jade Emperor, Ender is somehow not an expert in agriculture).
Harder still was the concept of law and government. The wives ruled: to the piggies, it was that simple. But Ender had finally got them to understand that humans made their laws differently, and thathuman laws applied to human problems. To make them understand why humans needed their own laws, Ender had to explain to them human mating patterns.
If that makes the slightest sense to anyone, please let me know.  "We just let our adult females tell us what to do."  "Humans can't do that."  "Why not?"  "Well, unlike your species, human women generally survive pregnancy."  "Oh, heavens!  You can't put them in charge!  Fertility is the mind-killer!"  Is that it?

 Laverne Cox summarises the logical conclusion.

The wives find the idea of adults mating creepy, and the idea of loyalty to your immediate family over the rest of your tribe bafflingly arbitrary.  (They have a point on the latter.)  Regardless, after three hours, they've agreed that Little One law applies to the forest and anyone who enters it, and human law applies within the fence.  Ender brings up the hive queen, whom they expect to rapidly outpace both of them since she doesn't actually have to teach anyone anything and her drones are totally sweet super-labourers.  Star-looker declares that the rest of the forests of Lusitania are theirs to divide up as they see fit, and Ouanda points out that it's considered poor form to graciously gift someone with a neighbouring country you're at war with.

At that moment, Novinha and Quim arrive with Miro's message--they relay what he heard earlier, about the Little Ones' plans to use their mass numbers to conquer the world, and Arrow confirms what Ouanda says, that in any war the winning tribe gets rights to the trees of the fallen (thus improving their gene pool).  They're counting on Ender to prevent this tribe from taking over the world.  Leaf-eater and Human argue about whether the wives should be told what's just been said (Human, naturally, prefers to say nothing, because we're supposed to like him).  Leaf-eater threatens to translate it anyway.
"Stop!" shouted Ender. His voice was far louder than he had ever let it be heard before.  Immediately everyone fell silent; the echo of his shout seemed to linger among the trees. [....] "Tell Shouter that if she lets Leaf-eater translate words that we humans have said among ourselves, then he is a spy. And if she lets him spy on us, we will go home now and you will have nothing from us. I'll take the hive queen to another world to restore her."
In case we thought that all this talking was insufficiently manly (it's been ages since we heard about Ender's rippling white shoulder muscles), he asserts his power through shouting and threats and defines 'spy' to suit his own purposes when, in all likelihood, the Little Ones have never had such a concept before in their history.  (Hard to sneak around a forest and do reconnaissance when literally every tree is sentient and psychic and your enemy.)

On the plus side, Human does raise some counterpoints, arguing that Ender is meddling in Little One affairs (Ender says he only promised not to "try to change you more than is necessary") and that he knows Milagre has basically declared war on their own galactic government, so he finds this hypocritical.
Surely Pizarro, for all his shortcomings, had an easier time of it with Atahualpa.
That is an actual line of text in this book.  That is what our hero is thinking right now because his translator has made some very fast and comprehensive assumptions about human politics based on an incomplete understanding of intergalactic law. Of course Pizarro 'had an easier time of it' you colossal jackwagon; Pizarro was a colonialist warmonger who held a mock trial and then murdered Atahualpa when he got bored of dealing with him.  'For all his shortcomings'?  Who the hell edited this book?  STEP FUCKING ONE: CHECK IF YOUR HERO EMPATHISES WITH A HISTORICAL MONSTER.

(Actual line from wikipedia, at the end of the introduction: "modern Peruvians look askance at Pizarro, considering him the force behind the destruction of their indigenous culture, language, and religion".  You don't say.)

Ender explains that they hope not to actually fight other humans, and if they do, the point will be to win the right to star travel for the Little Ones.
"We have set aside our humanness to become ramen with you. [....] Human and piggy and hive queen, here on Lusitania, will be one. All humans. All buggers. All piggies."
Human considers this, and then waxes poetic about the Little Ones' lifestyle, their histories of war (their oldest fathertrees are the heroes of the war that started their forest; their "houses are made of the cowards"), and they've been increasingly excited about their prospects for global domination over the last few years (Human says ten, which doesn't match the timeline, but what else is new for Card).  Asking them to abruptly give up those dreams is hard, he insists.
"Your dream is a good one", said Ender.  "It's the desire of every living creature. The desire that is the very root of life itself: To grow until all the space you can see is part of you, under your control."
If Card keeps telling me what the fundamental desires of all living creatures are, I'm going to have to declare him raman.  If things like 'ownership of the universe' or 'endless grandchildren' were really universal desires, he probably wouldn't need to tell us as much quite so frequently or persistently.

I'm torn on how much of Ender's further arguments to share, because on the one hand it's like the word of the day on Sesame Street is 'imperialism', but on the other, I did sign up to examine what the hell is going on in this book for my many confusingly-devoted readers.
  • Ender points out that humans have given them technology instead of conquering them, and thus modelled the idea that it's possible to make other people greater without making yourself weaker.
  • Human counters with the idea that strength is relative and thus if all the tribes gain technology at the same rate, none of them have really gained anything.
  • Ender walks through the idea that it's possible to bring glory to your fathertree without killing any of the other fathertrees in the forest, and (once Human buys into this), argues that the lines dividing 'in my tribe' and 'not in my tribe' are arbitrary, and therefore the best way to own the universe and maximise your glory is to bring everyone into your tribe.
"If we say the tribe is all the Little Ones in the forest, and all the trees, than that is what the tribe is. [....] We become one tribe because we say we're one tribe." 
Ender marveled at his mind, this small raman. How few humans were able to grasp this idea, or let it extend beyond the narrow confines of their tribe, their family, their nation.
This is, by a wide margin, the best morality that Card espouses in his books.  (The Ender's Shadow series ends up in the same direction, most explicitly when Bean analyses Peter's work and says that he's also trying to make every human on Earth see themselves as one 'tribe'.)  And yet it's rather hollow in the larger context, given that Ender considering everyone to be 'in his tribe' hasn't stopped him from violating the rights and privacy of anyone or leveraging threats of his illegitimate government power against people for the last few days, even when there was nothing at immediate stake to his knowledge.  It hasn't caused him to respect the customs or privacy of the Little Ones, or stayed his hand from meddling in their society (except when Ouanda and Ela wanted to fritter away their time saving the lives of alien women, what nonsense that was).

And out here in the real world, I don't think this is the brilliant breakthrough Card imagines it is either.  Just look at him: he wrote this book about thirty years ago; about a decade ago he wrote another series with the same 'one tribe' aesop, and yet he's also practically a spokesperson for sexism, racism, and homophobia camouflaged under religious beliefs and legalistic vagueness.  Orson Scott Card, who wrote a fanfic about Barack Obama declaring himself Emperor of the United States and oppressing white people--Orson Scott Card, who just barely didn't declare himself the potentially-insurgent enemy of any government that would dare to support same-sex marriage*--this man opines on how much people just don't understand the idea of 'one universal tribe'.

Beyond simply hypocrisy, I think this illustrates the weakness of Card's quick-and-easy all-one-tribe system, which is that it doesn't necessarily mean anything.  Ender declares that they're all ramen together, all one tribe, and then declares that humans won't recognise Little Ones' laws outside the forest and vice-versa, and leverages his technological advantages to dictate terms and demand apologies for ritualistic empty threats, but none of that can actually be used against his unilateral declaration that he's on their side and they're all equal.

And ultimately it doesn't matter if he declares everyone 'one tribe' or not, because within the tribe it's still very easy to declare that those people are our enemies for whatever other reason--they want the wrong rights or they support the wrong way of doing things.  And this is, I think, the ultimate reason why privileged people are so desperate to explain how they're being oppressed--if you can say you're provoked, you can go to war with a clear conscience.  (Spoilers: that's exactly what the final treaty says.)

Human agrees to try to sell the wives on this philosophy, and Ender agrees to make exactly the same treaty with every forest of Little Ones on the planet and to restore the hive queen and let her make her own treaties.  for the final matter, Ender gets around to asking about the third life and why they killed Pipo and Libo. Human confirms that the first life is their infancy in/on the mothertree, the second life are the standard-issue Little Ones, and the third life is tree.  Ender explains that humans don't have a tree life, and that the afterlife of the Bible is an immaterial thing, entirely different.  It still takes Human a remarkably long time to work out that this means they straight-up murdered Libo and Pipo.

Revelation: the Little Ones mark momentous honors by planting someone.  Pipo and Mandachuva jointly made a biological breakthrough (I still don't grasp exactly what), and Libo and Leaf-eater worked out forest agriculture, and therefore in each case one of them had to be ritually planted.  Pipo and Libo each refused to eviscerate their pal, and therefore had to be eviscerated themselves.  (Leaf-eater and Mandachuva both have emotional breakdowns.)  I feel like we covered a lot of this ground a while back, but the extra twist is that this treaty is an equally momentous occasion, and therefore under forest law either Ender has to cut open Human or Human has to cut Ender before the end of the day.  Human now understands and therefore won't cut Ender, but he does demand to be given "the honor of the third life".

Ender agrees, although Ouanda is horrified because being the shocked female is her only remaining job.  Human sends them away with Arrow while he explains human biology, and as they leave, they hear an eruption of wailing from the wives.  Ouanda and Novinha take some solace in it, while Ender reflects on how much more emotional pain he will go through cutting open Human, since "to Ender himself he would be taking away the only part of Human's life that Ender understood".  Now, if I were in his place, I would feel some kind of creeped-out gut reaction too, absolutely, but it reads to me like Ender feels there's something still intellectually or morally wrong with the act, and I don't understand why, except to try to upsell the angst factor because "Once again, he thought, I must kill, though I promised that I never would again".

Novinha pulls the 'I can't see in the dark' tactic to justify taking Ender by the arm, and they both laugh as Ela chastises Olhado for not realising it's a ploy to hold hand.  Novinha tells Ender that he'll be able to do what's needed, not because he's "cold and ruthless", but "compassionate enough [...] to put the hot iron into the wound when that's the only way to heal it".  Novinha is only a genius xenobiologist, so I suppose she wouldn't have been taught that cauterisation was a gratuitously hideous practice that was used throughout Europe for centuries mostly because everyone forgot how ligature works.  Like, the metaphor does approximately work, but it mostly makes me think that there's probably a better solution.  (Traditional empty threats: completely unacceptable.  Eviscerating a person to validate a treaty: well, what're you gonna do?)

Ender wakes up lying in the grass with his head in Novinha's lap.  A bunch of Little Ones have emerged from the woods, led by Human, including several that Ouanda doesn't recognise ("from other brother-houses" which, apparently, have been permanently retconned in).  They carry the printout of The Hive-Queen and the Hegemon that Miro brought them years ago, which he conveniently printed single-sided, such that they've used the blank sides to write up their treaty.  Ouanda mutters that they never taught them to write, but having learned how to read**, they figured out the writing aspect themselves and improvised some ink.

The written version has some additions: the humans have to have the same terms in their treaties with every forest, any inter-species disputes will be settled by the third party (i.e., the hive queen will adjudicate if humans and Little Ones ever have a conflict), forests that have signed the treaty won't go to war unless they are physically attacked by non-treaty Little Ones, and humans and Little Ones are forbidden to 'plant' each other, with the exception of Ender slicing up Human.

Human insists it's a great honor, even if it feels wrong to him, and says that all his life he has known Ender would be the one to understand him and to plant him.  (Star-looker signed the contract, and Human relays her words, that she was named for always staring at the night sky but until Ender arrived she hadn't known what she was waiting for.)  Basically, they love him and they have always loved him and they wish they could all cling to his nipples or something.  Ender silently (very silently) thinks about how much hope has been placed in him even though everyone else has done the hard and important work.  Now let us never speak of that blasphemy again.

They pass the treaty to Ouanda and go to Rooter's tree, which opens up to let Human climb inside and talk to his father for a while.  (A sweet moment for Father's Day, I guess?  Make sure to call your dad if he's not a terrible person or a psychic tree.)  They clear the space for Human's tree, so that he and Rooter will approximately flank the gate to Milagre, and Novinha sidles up to quietly observe that he signed the contract "Ender Wiggin".
"I never went to the priests to confess," she said, "because I knew they would despise me for my sin. Yet when you named all my sins today, I could bear it because I knew you didn't despise me. I couldn't understand why, though, until now."
I understand why Novinha would think everyone would despise her, because that's the kind of thing despair and depression makes you think, but really, she cheated on her abusive husband and thus Ender isn't going to challenge the idea that she's a monster no one but the Xenocide could ever empathise with?  Most of Milagre doesn't even know the worst things she did (hiding scientific information that has prevented any progress in researching Descolada, so that everything on the planet is a world-killing bioweapon that can't be defused or defended against, and incidentally preventing Libo from having any hope of understanding why his father died, potentially contributing to his own death).  I don't hate Novinha (as an individual, rather than a character), and I've murdered zero people.

Ender and Human have more poignant discussions about how much they are brothers, and Human asks Ender to write another biography, "the Life of Human", to go with HQ&H.  He agrees, and tries to clear the others away, but they all have their reasons to stay (Olhado is recording everything as evidence for the other tribes, Ela is a scientist, and Quim compares it to Mary staying at the crucifixion).  Ender does the necessary surgery with Mandachuva and Leaf-eater's guidance about what organs go where, and they take root quickly, turning into a tiny sapling in minutes.  When Ender is finished, the other Little Ones are dancing, but he just crawls away up the hill and collapses in the grass, and Novinha's family follows.

The mayor and THE BISHOP arrive shortly before sunrise to find them all asleep in the grass.  Ender reports they have a treaty; the mayor reports that Jane has restored all their files.  Then she notices what a literally bloody mess he is, and sees Human's corpse down the hill.
"I would rather have no treaty," said Bosquinha, "than one you had to kill to get." 
"Wait before you judge," said the Bishop. "I think the night's work was more than just what we see before us."
I understand now, at last.  Bishop Peregrino is the comic relief.  Dude feared/hated the Little Ones, hated Ender until about twelve hours earlier, knows nothing about the Science Mystery, knows only the brutal aspects of Little One death rituals, and yet his dialogue (as it has been for the last few chapters) consists largely of 'I bet this Speaker guy is secretly awesome'.

The Bishop surveys the corpse/sapling:
"His name is Human," said the Speaker. 
"And so is yours," said the Bishop softly. [....] Am I the shepherd, Peregrino asked himself, or the most confused and helpless of the sheep?
Immediately bored of exploring this possible epiphany, the Bishop declares that it will soon be time for mass, and leads them all away--Novinha silently asks Ender to come along, but he asks for a moment more, hopefully to wash up.  When he does arrive at the cathedral, shortly after the beginning of mass, he quickly finds the family and takes the spot where Marcos used to sit.  The Bishop mulls a bunch of poetic facts and reversals (Ouanda isn't there, she's caring for her brother Miro; Grego is sitting happily with Ender; "Novinha, the lost one, now found", whatever he thinks that means; and the all-important fence now harmless) and concludes that it's the same miracle as transubstantiation:
How suddenly we find the flesh of God within us after all, when we thought that we were only made of dust.
Which I'm pretty sure is heretical.

Next week: A Very Special Episode of ableism with Miro and Jane.


*So it turns out there's a section of his website called "Quotes in Context" (no link, but easy to find) that is meant to explain how his completely reasonable views have been viciously misrepresented, and it's hilarious.  Like, the line "I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn" wasn't Card talking, we must see, it was Card writing a hypothetical future person who decides to overthrow and remake the government for recognising same-sex marriages without their express permission.  This is the adult bigot equivalent of blaming a broken lamp on his imaginary friend, and it cracks me up.

**It occurs to me that, while the book has treated Miro and Ouanda bringing them HQ&H and the New Testament as a big deal because of the philosophies inside, the simple introduction of the written word was a vastly bigger and altogether separate undertaking.  I mean, it takes humans years to learn to read effectively, young or old.  Miro and Ouanda only had a few hours a week to spend with them.  How did they even have time to teach them how to read?  (Stark is supposed to have gotten rid of a lot of the confusing parts of English, like silent-GH or whatever, but I'm skeptical that means they can teach them how to read a two alien biographies and Christian scripture in less time than it takes to get an online liquor handling license).

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter seventeen, part one, in which Ender is more equal than everyone

Well, that was a nice vacation.  Welcome back to the carnival of nightmares.

(Content: colonialism, ableism, misogyny, racism, dehumanization of non-parents. Fun content: hot tree sex, matriarchy, Rainbow Army.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 312--331
Chapter Seventeen: The Wives

We start with an email from the chairman of the Xenological Oversight Committee, Gobawa Ekimbo, to the director of the Congressional Security Agency, which begins:
Find out how word got out that the Evacuation Fleet is armed with the Little Doctor. That is HIGHEST PRIORITY. Then find out who this so-called Demosthenes is.
Yup.  The fleet that is supposed to show up at Lusitania in twenty-two years and remove the colony is armed with planet-busters.  This raises a lot of questions, the first batch of which are from the realm of 'hey, remember those three millennia we skipped'?
  1. In three thousand years, no one has learned how to defend against Doctor Device?
  2. In three thousand years, no one has put legal restrictions in place so that Doctor Device has to be, like, authorised by a unanimous public vote of Starways Congress before it can be pulled out of the dusty vault where it is presumably stored?
  3. In three thousand years, no one has thought of a weapon/defence that might be more useful in maintaining a 'peaceful' planetary blockade than the World Eater?  They haven't got satellite networks that could electromagnetically stun any ships that tried to take off, or interdictor fields that prevent Park shifts?  People remember that getting into space is super hard, right?  Preventing someone from getting into space is possibly the easiest task that anyone can perform.*
Because nothing else important has happened for three thousand years, the chairman (whom I guess is also the star-emperor or what have you) makes reference to having "a hundred times the responsibility of Peter the Hegemon and about a tenth of his power", and demands to know why Lusitania would rebel over two scientists.  (He can be forgiven for forgetting how important the xenologers are to the colonists, since the colonists themselves also keep forgetting that vitally important people exist, but it should be howlingly obvious why people would object to getting completely uprooted and/or blasted into component atoms by the evacuation committee.)

Gobawa's a caricature of the pragmatically-heartless politician, so he says "When it comes to war, human is human and alien is alien. All that ramen business goes up in smoke when we're talking about survival."  The Little Ones are, of course, the first real opportunity anyone's had to put Valentine's terminology into practical use, so I guess one point for realism that no one really cares about it; the weird thing continues to be that people are even talking about the Hierarchy of Exclusion while simultaneously taking so little interest in the Little Ones themselves for decades.

Back in the forest, Human leads them through the trees and leaps around drumming on trunks, and there's more dialogue-that-doesn't-actually-communicate-anything about the third life, which has something to do with Pipo and Libo's murders.  To be clear, last chapter they explained that Miro wouldn't 'sprout' if planted, and a couple of chapters before that the Little Ones were given reason to believe that Pipo and Libo had really not wanted to be eviscerated, and still when Ender asks "What is the third life?" he gets a non-answer ("The gift that Pipo kept for himself") that assumes he knows exactly what Mandachuva means ('that thing where we murder you and you turn into a tree') but somehow hasn't caught onto what it's called.

Ouanda is still boggling at the way Ender asks direct questions, because utterly transforming the Little Ones' civilisation with foreign technology is one thing but asking them to define terms (after teaching them two entire human languages and the meanings thereof) is outrageous.  Ela, who currently bears all of my hopes for real science, is wandering among the trees and actually noticing that there are as few plant species as there are animals--one tree, one vine, one kind of undergrowth.

They arrive at a clearing with a single massive tree that they think at first is crawling with worms, but they are corrected: it's the three hundred twenty "little brothers".  (At this point, my confusion of last episode has to be considered resolved, I guess--all 320 new births in the last four years are still in larval form, which means Arrow and Cups are from a previous generation, but they only received their names within the last couple of years.)

And now it's time for the kind of sexism which is practically unavoidable when you deal with societies that have incredibly strict gender roles compounded with actual physical dimorphism, and yet still manages to find new heights of gratuity through the kind of lofty analysis of cross-gender interaction usually associated with TV shows with laugh-tracks.

A wife appears, much bigger than any male they've seen--females don't reveal their names to males, but Human confides that they call her Shouter amongst themselves.  She speaks the Wives' Language so beautifully that it sounds like singing, so obviously this can't be a pile of sexist rubbish.  She agrees to meet with Ender, and to let Ela and Ouanda come with him (being ladies and thus approved), and to allow him any translator he wants as long as it's Human.

Ender sees more female Little Ones watching him from the various houses as he approaches, and asks how many there are, but only when Shouter--fuck it, her name is Star-looker; we won't find that out for a few more chapters but I'm not using a stupid nickname just because Card thinks he's clever.  Star-looker says that among the wives, the males do not speak unless spoken to, and Ender just nods, pivots, and marches away.  Human protests, but Ender states that he will deal as equals or not at all, and it may be an honor to be among the wives but it's also an honor to have a Speaker for the Dead in their presence as well.  So.  Yeah.  Ender, whom careful readers will recall is axiomatically right about everything moral, sees no value in respecting the cultures of other species; he rejects their value system and substitutes his own, which is how we know that he's enlightened.

Human says that he can't relay Ender's words, and Ouanda contributes by realising that he means it's literally impossible to say 'this male demands not to be commanded by females' in Wives' Language, so Ender asks that they conduct their discussions in Males' Language.

Kind of funny that Ender's approach, which he describes as egalitarian, involves everyone doing everything he says and zero concessions on his part.  (This is like a case study of why people who identify as 'equalist' instead of 'feminist' or 'anti-racist' are not to be trusted.)  There's much cacophony among the wives and Ouanda critiques his anthropological practice (the only rule he hasn't broken so far is 'don't kill anyone', ha ha inside-joke foreshadowing spoilers he's going to kill someone later and it'll be the Right Thing to do), but Ender says he's there as an ambassador and thus anthropological rules don't apply.  Tragically, he seems unaware of any diplomatic rules to replace them.  Ender thinks it'll all work out:
"Because I came out of the sky. Because I'm the Speaker for the Dead." 
"Don't start thinking you're a great white god," said Ouanda. "It usually doesn't work out very well."
Here we see more proof that being aware of your clichés will not protect you from playing them perfectly straight and godawful.  Jane pops up with more impossible information, because she's started working out Wives' Language and she describes it as "more archaic--closer to the roots, more old forms", despite not having any information on what Males' Language sounded like past thirty years ago.  Information comes from nowhere in this universe and it's amazing.  (Also, in Wives', female-to-male speech is automatically imperative and male-to female speech is automatically supplicative, and 'brothers' sounds a lot like 'worms'.)

At bloody last, Ender is invited to come back, "as a sister to a brother", and Star-looker speaks in Males' Language in the holy birthing place, which Arrow declares makes this a "very great day", because apparently he has also personally ditched the idea that he will not speak unless spoken to by a wife.  Star-look is still half a metre shorter than Ender, which I'm a little sad about, because I was enjoying imagining her massive, like an eight-foot-tall bear.  There's more back and forth, which is mostly about how awesome Ender is, asking Human to speak as directly as possible and put the blame on him, the "rude framling", and asking not to be described as 'holy'.

There's a bunch of drawn out exposition and "I can't say that in any language" and so I will sum up: they learn that Little One mothers don't grow to adulthood, but give birth while still quite small and their bodies are eaten by their newborns.  The mothertree cracks open so they can see the even-tinier Little Ones inside (in the meantime, Jane works out that the trees 'speak' by reshaping their wood to modulate the echoes of existing soundwaves, which is why the Father Tongue involves drumming on trunks with sticks).  The wives were sterile or never fertilised (which involves carrying them from the mothertree out to crawl around and pick up pollen from the father trees in the forest, like Rooter, which is the real reason the males have their nipply bits--they're for young mothers to cling to during the journey).

Ouanda and Ela immediately begin wondering what could be done to allow the mothers to survive (caesarean sections and the introduction of high-protein foods to the inside of the mothertree) but of course Ender shuts them down--"How dare you!"--saying that in a few centuries if the Little Ones want to do that for themselves they can (I guess points for non-colonialist principles, but revoked for insisting it can only happen in the distant future), and then this hurricane of wrong:
"...We can't begin to guess what it would do to them if suddenly as many females as males came to maturity. To do what? They can't bear more children, can they? They can't compete with the males to become fathers, can they? What are they for?"

This, of course, is the natural conclusion of Card's genetic-continuity fetish: if you can't/don't/won't have kids, you're literally useless and dangerous and we might as well mulch you into baby formula.  He says this, out loud, in the middle of the Wives' village, populated by the most revered of the Little Ones, the leaders of their society: women who didn't give birth.  The cognitive dissonance is amazing, the offence is spectacular (lucky for him Human isn't doing a live translation or the wives would have just have all heard him say that he thinks they're pointless), and come to think of it, it raises a big question which the book will never address: do the wives grow into trees when they die?  If so, it's a bit biologically weird that they aren't able to fertilise mothers themselves in that form; here in the real world, most trees have both 'male' and 'female' components and I'm pretty sure no trees have completely non-fertile forms, so why did the trees of Lusitanian spontaneously develop infertile forms just because they merged with a strictly dimorphic animal?  The kind of Salvador-Dali-inspired evolution that had to lead to plant-animal-life-stage-hybrids was obviously focused on maintaining reproduction above all else, but either the wives' trees have no genetic contribution or the male Little Ones are the only ones who actually merged with the trees and the females are still meat-creatures from start to finish.  (I mean, in a better book, there would be actual parallels drawn to the COTMOCs and the ability of infertile people to tremendously contribute to society, the idea that people have value apart from being a link to future generations, but Ender's just completely shut that whole line of thought down.)
...Ouanda was still upset. She had made the raman transition: She thought of the piggies as us instead of them. She accepted the strange behaviour that she knew about, even the murder of her father, as within the acceptable range of alienness. This meant she was actually more tolerant and accepting of the piggies than Ela could possibly be, yet it also made her more vulnerable to the discovery of cruel, bestial behaviours among her friends.
This is just arbitrary.  She's so accepting and tolerant that she can cope with them brutally murdering her father, but that makes her more vulnerable to finding out that they have violent reproductive cycles?  Why is one 'acceptably alien' and one isn't?  Ender (Card) is just stringing words together however best fits his pet framework.  Ouanda's own dissonance could be explained in a variety of ways (she has precedent for Libo's death, she's had years to convince herself that her work is not all for naught because these are civilised people whose laws they just need to understand and now she's faced with information that drives home how dissimilar they really are and revives the spectre of possibility that her father died for no meaningful reason) but nope, it's all about how she's super-tolerant of aliens and therefore aliens being weird hurts her even more.  The Xenocide has spoken.

It turns out that Human did translate a little of this exchange, but he made sure to keep his propaganda as pro-Ender as possible: he said that Ouanda wanted to make the Little Ones be more like humans and Ender said this could never happen or he'd have to put the fence back up.

If anyone's keeping score at home:

  • Introducing new technology that allows them to birth and feed hundreds of new males per generation, completely changes their diet, equips them to hunt, and enables them to prepare for global conquest: the good and right sharing of technology among equals, well done, fifty points to Gryffindor.
  • Introducing methods that could allow a few dozen females per generation to grow to adulthood and partake in society instead of being devoured in childbirth: disgusting imperialism, you are wrong and rejected, go to skeleton hell jail.

They begin negotiations with a traditional threat from Star-looker, demanding everything humans have to offer or she'll send the males to murder the colony in their sleep.  Human explains that this is traditional Little One boilerplate for negotiations, but Ender demands that she withdraw the threat or he'll give her nothing.  (Remember, respect the Little Ones and the ways they do things different from you, except when you find it personally offensive.)  Star-looker gets up, rants to the heavens a bit about how rude Ender is, then sits down again:
"She says she'll never kill any human or let any of the brothers or wives kill any of you. She says for you to remember that you're twice as tall as any of us and you know everything and we know nothing. Now has she humiliated herself enough that you'll talk to her?" [....] 
"Yes," said Ender. "Now we can begin."
Now, that's meant to be ironic, fine, but this is exactly the 'egalitarian' problem summed up.  Ender demands that he be spoken to as an equal, but Star-looker is intensely aware that they are not equals.  Humans have better science, more resources, longer recorded history, starflight, hundreds of other worlds, and ships literally on their way to Lusitania right now with death rays that could convert the entire planet to undifferentiated minerals in the space of a couple of seconds.  Trying to pretend that they are 'equals' is completely erasing the context of the situation.  Ender can and has and continues to absolutely dictate the terms of everything that happens, and he's also the one deciding what 'equal' means.  This is a pantomime that satisfies his notions of fair play despite the fact that he's the visiting team and also all of the referees.  Star-looker opens up with the way she speaks to her equals, the wives of other forests, and Ender tells her no, this is insulting, so she sarcastically (but accurately) humiliates herself and he's good to go.

I've studied a half-dozen kinds of martial arts, most of which had some form of sparring.  When you spar, you bow to your opponent, and you keep your eyes on them.  Not because you don't trust them, but because it symbolises your respect, your acknowledgement that if you don't keep your eyes on them, they have the capacity to harm you in a surprise attack, even though they'd never do it.  Ender is the kind of guy who would take offence at this and say he was being accused of being a cheater, and demand that they avert their eyes, despite everyone in the room knowing he's never lost a fight in his entire life and he loves throwing the first punch.**

To close off this week, we leave the forest and return to Miro waking up in bed, with Novinha and other siblings present.  Novinha recaps his paralysis and says that the doctor can help him recover a lot, and they manage some yes/no communication through open mouth/closed mouth sounds.  Novinha tells him that while things may be very bad for a time, he will get better and it's worth trying, but inside her head she despairs to a degree that manages to start at 'realistic' and skip rapidly over the border to 'ableist rubbish'.  Miro's paralysis is worse to her than Olhado losing his eyes, worse than Pipo or Libo or Marcos' deaths.  Yeah.  Worse grief for the paralysed son (who she says will recover) than her husband or 'true love' dying horribly.

Quim and Olhado quickly work out a communication method, using a computer terminal to let Miro pick out letters one at a time to spell messages.  (Their method is unnecessarily slow; they rotate through the entire alphabet one at a time, rather than any kind of organization that would let him skip to later letters without having to go through the first section endlessly.  No eye-tracking either.  Sure, that might be hard for a teenager to program in the middle of the night, but--it's the year five thousand; did the notion of accessible computer interfaces just not come into fashion in this galaxy?)

Miro asks about the Little Ones and gets a recap on the rebellion and Ender going off into the forest, and arduously spells out a message to be taken to Ender immediately.  Novinha squeezes Miro's hand again (he lightly squeezes back, which is only one of many, many ways that he distinguishes himself from being a corpse oh my god Novinha you used to be cool) and leaves, scrambling over the fence after Quim with difficulty.  She remarks, half-amused, that they'll have to install a new gate next to their house, and I'm wondering:

  • Why they wouldn't just tear the entire fence down for its various valuable resources
  • If she and Quim, who have never been in the forest before, really think that carrying a vital message into alien woods in the middle of the night without a map is the best way to avoid further catastrophes
  • Why she climbs the fence right there when Ender and company left the village by a completely different direction
Speaker for the Dead: forcing us to ask the hard questions, like 'what the hell' and 'why would you ever' and 'hang on but you just said oh never mind I give up'.

Next week: Ender forces the primitive savages to give up war, and literally sympathises with an imperial colonialist murderer.  Aren't you so glad I'm back?


*Although I'm curious now what happens if you Park shift while on a planet instead of floating in the vacuum of space.  Do you get shredded by the atmosphere, or is it a warp field that would take a chunk of your immediate environment with you into space?  If it's not a Star Wars scenario where planetary gravity fields inherently kill warp flight, wouldn't Park-shifted ballistic weapons be a super-cheap way to bombard a planet?  Unlike typical Star Trek warp drives or Star Wars hyperspace, all indications are that near-luminal ships in Card's galaxy really are travelling at relativistic speeds in normal space.  These are questions that I want answered much more than 'how earnestly does Ender feel guilty about the terrible things he's done?'

**Utterly random tangent: at some point in my teenage years, I had a dream in which I reread Ender's Game and there was a short section I had somehow missed in all my previous reads in which Ender and Dragon Army actually lost one of their matches.  It had various minor implications for the storyline that I don't remember now; they only part that stuck in my head was that he was defeated by Rainbow Army.  Make of that absolutely everything that you like.