Sunday, April 13, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter fourteen, part one, in which Ender is Right at people

Unrelated to anything: there is no good reason that the first button that gets highlighted after you've written a blog post's title should be 'Publish'.

(Content: cultural supremacy, genocide, ritual murder. Fun content: I will never get tired of the graffiti of Pompeii.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 220--232
Chapter Fourteen: Renegades

This chapter is so long that I think something has to happen, but that also means it gets split over two weeks so we can really soak up all of the ways in which this is a terrible book.  Let's start with this opening exchange from one of Ouanda's transcripts:
LEAF-EATER: Human says that when your brothers die, you bury them in the dirt, and then make your houses out of that dirt. (Laughs.) 
MIRO: No. We never dig where people are buried. 
LEAF-EATER: (becomes rigid with agitation): Then your dead don't do you any good at all!
I have some vague hope that we're about to solve the Science Mystery, so Card is throwing the most blatant possible indications at us that the trees are literally 'dead' Little Ones.  What interests me more is this cliche where the 'primitive tribe' is always presented as vastly more horrified by outsiders not following the same rituals or values, compared to the wise outsiders who know everyone has different practices and remain utterly mellow about it.  I'm hoping that we're about to get a little reversal of that, when humanity finally figures out what the Little Ones' deal is and they get to be shocked and horrified at the Truth About War, but I don't expect we're ever going to get the Little Ones being all mellow and "Huh, so that's what humans do; interesting".  Their reactions always have to be overwhelmingly emotional, either raucous laughter or revulsion and knives, because that is how we always characterise 'primitive tribes'.

Mind you, the Lusitanians are themselves also a tiny monoculture settlement largely isolated from any other concepts of societal structure, and we've been seeing a whole lot of how that limits their capacity to understand things (e.g., bad definitions of male/female, sex and gender, social hierarchies, and restrictive expectations of alien biology in general), but I'm still waiting to see that acknowledged and not just presented in the form of "All of our science cannot fathom these strange creatures!"

Anyway.  Miro and Ouanda have zero problem getting Ender through the village fence, because no one likes acknowledging that the fence is there and no one watches it.  Miro and Ouanda might be the only people whose palmprints can open the door, but... security cameras?  Surely this privacy-exploding settlement has space for a monk or two who spend all their time hidden away with rosary beads and a wall of TVs showing key security points around the colony?

They pause by Rooter's tree for Ouanda to exposit about how they've relied on Rooter for most of their spiritual advice over the last seven years, which they get by drumming rituals that they've heard but never seen, using fallen wood sticks.  Ender thinks they would have done well in Battle School--Miro's total emotional control, Ouanda's sense of responsibility--but still quickly acts to assert his authority over these teenagers by demonstrating that he knows about Rooter and interrogates them about the trees (never planted anywhere except in corpses, no saplings elsewhere in the woods).  He works out that Miro's worry is that there's a Little One in danger of getting murdered that night, but rather than hurry, he decides he can let Ouanda question him now.

He leans back against the tree, appreciating the view up through the leaves, and is struck by sudden déjà vu, though all he can think is that he's never seen a tree like this before.  (He does not, for example, connect it to the last blast of imagery he got via the Hive Queen.)

Miro and Ouanda begin telling him about the "Questionable Activities", which is not a sexual euphemism (yet!) but refers to the technological meddling they've started.  Ender does take a moment to think about how obvious it is that they're in love [HINT: IT IS NOT OBVIOUS] and be sad that they will hate him when he soon speaks Marcos' death and "drive[s] the wedge of the incest tabu between you".  Which is a weird phrasing, to me.  Like... he's not making the tabu up or anything.  They are half-siblings and it would be a bad idea for them to reproduce.  Focusing on 'tabu' makes it sound like he's sorry more about the social pressure they'll feel to not hook up, like it's some kind of arbitrary old tradition.  Maybe I'm reading too much into what's just supposed to somehow be formal prose.

This next chunk is difficult to figure out how to approach, because on the one hand this is obviously the Turning Point where everything changes, but first Card needs everyone to lay out their philosophies so that Ender can explain to us what is True and what is Stupid.  And I feel like being fair to the book means giving those chunks some attention, but on the other hand it's just so boring.

The meddling all started when the Little Ones were running low on grubs and starvation was imminent, so they expected there would be a war and they would all die.  They were weirdly cheerful about this, but Libo decided he had to save them, so he showed them how to sun-bake merdona root to neutralise its poisonous enzymes.  Ouanda and Miro furiously defend their actions, saying they can't be dispassionate about the lives of the Little Ones the way they would about animals.
Miro struggled for words. "It's as if you could go back, to old Earth, back before the Xenocide, before star travel, and you said to them, You can travel among the stars, you can live on other worlds. And then showed them a thousand little miracles. Lights that turn on from switches. Steel. Even simple things--pots to hold water. Agriculture. They see you, they know what you are, they know that they can become what you are, do all the things that you do. What do they say--take this away, don't show us, let us live out our nasty, short, brutish little lives, let evolution take its course? No. They say, Give us, teach us, help us. [....] And the longer we stay, the more they try to learn, and the more they learn, the more we see how learning helps them, and if you have any kind of compassion, if you understand that they're--they're--" 
"Ramen, anyway. They're our children, do you understand that?"
I absolutely understand why this would be Miro's perspective on things, but this seems to be the part that Ender agrees with, so we're supposed to take it as fundamentally right, if condescending, since he characterises the Little Ones as immature--children--simply because their tech levels are lower.  Maybe the most powerful single thing I've ever read about ancient history is records of the graffiti of Pompeii, because you can only read things like "Marcus loves Spendusa", "I have buggered men", and "If anyone sits here, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants a screw, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii" so many times before you realise that humans, on a fundamental level, have pretty much been the same for untold millennia, regardless of our technological sophistication.  What gets me is that Card isn't going to stop presenting the Little Ones as being chaotic and childlike, which clashes with the apparent implication that it's a terrible mistake to think of them as anything lesser than full responsible individuals.

Miro notes as well that the Little Ones insist Ender ('Andrew', still) is the original Speaker, the author of HQ&H, and they claim that the Hive Queen speaks to them and has promised to bring them endless gifts of technology.  Ender realises that the Hive Queen is somehow in contact with them, and specifically learns that she's talking to a mind inside Rooter's tree, which Miro and Ouanda pretend to believe.
"How condescending of you," said Ender [inexplicably not struck down by a righteous deity of hypocrisy]. 
"It's standard anthropological practice," said Miro. 
"You're so busy pretending to believe them, there isn't a chance in the world you could learn anything from them."
I'm not sure how he reached that conclusion, since this is literally the first he's heard of it, five seconds ago, but I guess he is drawing a line from that 'they're like our children' bit earlier.
"You're cultural supremacists to the core.  You'll perform your Questionable Activities to help out the poor little piggies, but there isn't a chance in the world you'll notice when they have something to teach you."
I realise I've levelled this same accusation at Miro and Ouanda myself, but I have the advantage of knowing that they've been getting accurate information from Rooter for several years, whereas the only thing Ender knows they've been told is something spectacularly implausible for which they have zero evidence (that the secret Main Character of the Universe has arrived, bringing with him literally every plot-important aspect of history in the last three thousand years).

Ender continues to attack their hypocrisy, apparently daring karma to strike him down on the spot, by pointing out that they have treated Pipo and Libo's deaths as the inexplicable, unjustifiable actions of senseless animals, even as they claim to recognise the Little Ones as ramen/human.  And, well, look--he's not wrong that it has been one long atrocious decision to never ask the Little Ones about why they killed Pipo and Libo, but I'm not seeing how it's valuable to cram that into his sister's special pseudo-Nordic Framework of Who Counts As People.  Here on backwards pre-star-travel Earth, we're also capable of recognising individuals who aren't equipped to be held fully accountable for their actions--usually children, but also people under particular types of stress or mental illness.  There are a lot of analogies that could be drawn here.  Really, sticking with the 'children' thing would probably work better, because then instead of constantly shifting what we mean by 'species' (Miro says the Little Ones are 'human'; Ender makes reference to humanity having 'kicked him out'), we could continue to consider how children who are never taught about the consequences of particular harmful actions may keep doing those harmful things without caring.  A toddler who is too rough with a pet isn't an alien incapable of ever understanding what empathy means.  They're ignorant about animals.  Little Ones are ignorant about humans and how much we don't like to be eviscerated.  Adults are responsible for fixing toddlers' ignorance.  Here on Lusitania, humans are responsible for fixing the Little Ones' ignorance.  Ender says that ramen bear responsibility for their actions, but no one considers the idea that people take responsibility for educating themselves, either.  Humans, adults, whatever our shorthand term is for 'sapient being considered worthy, independent, and accountable', are capable of asking questions and solving their own problems and not just sitting around waiting for the Main Character to explain the ways of the world to them.  Yet, somehow, in all of this reminding us that the Little Ones are people, Card forgot to have the Little Ones investigate the humans, ask why Pipo didn't grow a tree, ask how humans reproduce, or make any substantial effort to solve the Science Mystery from the other direction.  They've been too busy shouting that humans are 'like cabras' (which is apparently not true, given what we've heard about cabras?) and alternately revering and shunning Ouanda.  The whole 'Little Ones are not like children' message is kind of undercut when the author presents them as needing to be saved from their ignorance by a sensible human.

Ender hints that he really is the first Speaker, but before that can go much further, they find Leaf-Eater.  He immediately recognises the Speaker and then retreats into the woods again, and there's more hostility between Ender and Ouanda as he questions whether they actually know how to read Little One body language, she admits they don't always but also that he can't possibly to learn all they know in ten minutes, and Ender says he doesn't need to since he's got them there assisting.  Ender really can't decide whether he's got any respect for these two.  Miro not-very-reluctantly admits that Ender is right, they've been making lots of foolish assumptions, but then Ender goes back to 'but that's impossible!' thoughts himself when he hears about the bread.

In the face of starvation, Libo taught the Little Ones how to make merdona safe, how to make bread, and then as soon as the first loaves had been delivered to the Wives, Libo was killed.  Ender thinks it's completely unthinkable that the Little Ones would murder somebody who helped them so much, but then, I kid you not, he compares it to Miro and Ouanda: despite them being "better and wiser" than Congress, they'll be hauled off for trial and prison if they're ever caught.  Yes.  Murdering someone who teaches you how to bake is definitely similar to enacting judicial measures against people who break galactic law to completely reshape the development of the only known sapient aliens.  Ender, however, thinks that this would only make sense"if you viewed humans as a single community, and the piggies as their enemies; if you thought that anything that helped the piggies survive was somehow a menace to humanity. Then the punishment of people who enhanced the piggies' culture would be designed, not to protect the piggies, but to keep the piggies from developing."

I haven't said much thus far about cultural contamination, because human history again tends to show that when we meet strangers with cool toys, we want to make with the sharing.  Even in the most atrocious cases, in genocides like the European colonisation of the Americas, the Aboriginal peoples did like the idea of steel and horses and trading, and Europe just about fell over itself when it came to flora, fauna, and that all-important 'How Not To Die In Canadian Winter' knowledge.  (Or, if you're more into Asian history, one of the reasons the Mongol Empire was a lot better than it gets credit for is that they worked that scientific exchange like mad, spreading Chinese medicine west and Arabian metallurgy east, leading to a mess of new inventions.)  So my default assumption about humans, at least, is that while we'd really prefer not to have our culture stolen or dictated to us, we do love us new technology a lot of the time.  The goal should probably be to allow that while not allowing one side to take control of the other's way of life.

But, personally, I think Ender is missing the even-more-obvious conclusion, which is not that humanity sees itself as one community and the Little Ones as the Other, but that humanity sees itself as a bunch of communities and the Little Ones as a political football that they can cheerfully toss around in order to enable themselves to make statements about morality and virtue and protecting the weak, thus gaining credibility and public favour over their opponents.  Y'know, just like current politicians and literally every marginalised population slice (like women, POC, queer folk, people with disabilities, or some kind of impossible individual who is more than one of these things).  Ender has, for no apparent reason, concluded that people really care what happens to the Little Ones, because they are potentially a super-dangerous enemy, while also viewing them as primitive child-animals incapable of real understanding.

Ender makes a really blatant title-drop, quietly mulling over how, in his theoretical framework, Miro and Ouanda would be seen as traitors to their species.
"Renegades," he said aloud. 
"What?" said Miro.  "What did you say?" 
"Renegades. Those who have denied their own people, and claimed the enemy as their own." 
"Ah," said Miro.
The Hugo award and the Nebula, folks.  Like... both.

Ouanda objects to this, but Miro says that according to the bishop, they denied their humanity a long time ago (I legitimately have no idea what he means by that), and Ender explains that they are renegades when they treat the Little Ones like people, but when they treat them according to congressional law, they treat them like animals.
"And you?" said Miro. "Why are you a renegade?" 
"Oh, the human race kicked me out a long time ago. That's how I got to be a speaker for the dead."
I'm not a historian, but I'm pretty sure Ender got to be a speaker when he discovered that he hadn't actually killed every formic and decided to relay their history, and I'm pretty sure he got kicked out when he prosecuted one of his pseudonyms under the other (Andrew Wiggin used the Speaker for the Dead to explain the consequences of the work of Ender the Xenocide).  I'm reminded that Ender was actually prosecuted by proxy, right after the war, and was righteously acquitted.  The best way I can read this is that he thinks humanity kicked him out when they made him their general, turned him from a child into a weapon and a celebrity, untouchable by mere legal systems, which in turn necessitated that he create another larger-than-life-persona to make sure that his memory (but not him personally) suffer some conviction.  The only person who could make everyone hate Ender was Ender himself, and as soon as he realised that, he realised that he was not really human anymore, but some kind of mortal god, a force majeure.  But if that's how Card wants me to read that line, he's going to need to do a little more of the heavy lifting himself.

Next week: a brief and unnecessary interlude in the Ribeira house, and then, yes, it's finally here: plot happens.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter thirteen, in which science washes its hands of sci fi

(Content: transphobia, familial abuse, mental ableism. Fun content: that depends on how obsessed you are with dicks.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 199--219
Chapter Thirteen: Ela

We open with A Day In The Life Of The Worst Scientists.
MIRO: The piggies call themselves males, but we're only taking their word for it. 
OUANDA: Why would they lie?
Good goddamn question, Ouanda.  I mean, I realise this is part of the Science Mystery and all, but here on Earth basically every culture has had some type of recognition of gender identity distinct from obvious biological sex indicators.  People who can't imagine how asking someone about their gender and getting an answer that doesn't jive with the assumptions about their physiology have no business being anthropologists, let alone alien anthropologists.  And in the meantime, back here on Earth, if for some reason you need to ask someone what their gender is, decent folks follow the same rule as census-takers: call people what they tell you they are.  Transphobes will of course have you believe that the only reason anyone would identify with a gender other than that assigned to them at birth is to evilly infiltrate another gender and, I don't know, shut down the planetary shields or something.  Look, don't ask me; it's their bigoted fantasy.

But of course, as a young man in a Card novel, Miro's primary concern is that when he looks around he's not seeing the legions of penises he expects, but he has a theory.  A few days earlier he saw Pots caressing the bumps on Leaf-eater's chest (which Ouanda insists are obviously vestigial nipples) and Leaf-eater was apparently really enjoying, and--I am not making this up--his chest was incredibly moist.  He figures that if none of the Little Ones are fathers, their wives obviously aren't doing anything sexual with them, because--lest we forget--Miro is the Worst Scientist and can't imagine people having sex that doesn't result in children unless it's moist man-on-man action in the woods.

The only reason that this 'confusion' is possible, and the only reason this aspect of the Science Mystery has been dragged out this long, is that we've never actually been told how Pipo (or his predecessor) explained the concepts of 'male' and 'female' to the Little Ones.  He obviously didn't reference genitals, since the Little Ones lack humanoid parts like that.  Did he actually use the small-gamete/large-gamete dichotomy that would be most appropriate to essential Earth biology?  (If so, how did he avoid describing human reproduction, since Rooter was apparently shocked to discover we were 'like cabras' in that respect?)  Did he use stereotypical roles like 'males fight and defend, females nurture and clean'?  Did he inquire how they define their identities, to determine if they even have genders/sexes that can map to human norms, or did he say "Hey, I bet you're all dudes, am I right?"  If we knew how that conversation went down, we'd have found whatever the loopholes were a long time ago.  (Hey, if they have comprehensive notes on everything, shouldn't there be some record of that conversation on gender in the old notes?  Isn't that something that Miro might want to read and reread exhaustively as he tries to puzzle out the Enigma of the Absent Dicks?)

We leave the recording of Miro and Ouanda to find the actual Miro and Ouanda in the Little Ones' village, where everyone is extremely still and quiet as Human approaches them accusingly.  The back-and-forth is really boring unless you never get tired of "But by my exact words I wasn't lying", so I'll summarise: they want Miro and Ouanda to bring Ender to them, and they are angry that they implied he wouldn't come when they know that he does want to, because they heard it from Rooter, who heard it from the Hive Queen.  Miro cannot believe the lengths these people will go to, insisting that their silly tree-worshiping-religion somehow lets them contact obviously-dead people, just because they have rituals where they commune with the trees that grew out of the corpses of their ancestors (with an unexplained reproductive system) and these rituals keep giving them accurate information out of nowhere.

(Miro continues to think occasionally about the efforts they've had to go into to keep from giving away information, which confuses me enormously because: they've been intentionally interfering for several years now, so why do they care about secrecy?  They've decided that the Little Ones must know some things but no others?  They've established themselves as arbiters of Little One technology?  It's so weird.)

Anyway, Miro and Ouanda have continued to disagree on whether they should bring Ender, and now the Little Ones are demanding he come.  Ouanda says no, but Human is a tribal primitive, so he takes a callback quote out of context and 'accidentally' produces wisdom:
"Pipo told us that women do not say. Pipo told us that human men and women decide together. So you can't say no unless he says no, too." He looked at Miro. "Do you say no?"
For the record, Pipo said this in regards to human reproduction, which the Little Ones for some Mysterious reason associate with ritual killings, so if Miro and Ouanda had actually done their research, this would be skeleton-freezingly terrifying.  Miro stays silent, until Ouanda can't bear the tension anymore and declares that he says 'yes', which gives Human the all-important opportunity to tell a woman she's terrible.
"He says yes, but for you he stays silent. You say no,but you don't stay silent for him." Human scooped thick mucus out of his mouth with one finger and flipped it onto the ground. "You are nothing."
Then he backflips out (I kid you not) and the Little Ones leave en masse, pausing only for a brief confrontation between Leaf-eater and Human, which Miro and Ouanda interpret to mean that if they don't bring Ender by the end of the day, Human 'loses' and will probably get sapling-murdered.  They argue more, Ouanda says that Miro should have followed her lead because Libo's rules say they must never present disagreement and--she cuts herself off before she can say she's in charge, but Miro figures it out anyway, and chastises her for thinking of him as her apprentice and blaming him for a 'yes' that she ascribed to him.  They continue to be terrible to each other (Ouanda implies that she is "zenador by blood right", and Miro twists that to mean that he is an abusive alcoholic by blood right) and it occurs to me that I have no idea why these two are attracted to each other.  Miro's personality consists mostly of hating his parents and being an inept, horny scientist; Ouanda's barely had anything going on that wasn't "let's meddle in alien societies as much as we can before people catch on".  I understand that shared secrets and isolation from the rest of the world can lead to intense relationships between people, but shouldn't they at least have, like, one virtue each?

After more passive- and active-aggressive accusations, they apologise to each other ( and agree that if they get Ender to the Little Ones before sundown, Human probably won't get eviscerated.  Is the plot on?  Are things going to start happening now?

Before plot can accidentally happen, we skip to Ela sitting on a rock in the river just barely inside the colony's fence, waiting for Ender.  No one comes near the fence unless they have to, so it's apparently a great secret meeting place and not, for example, a hangout for horny teenagers.  (Where the hell are all the other teenagers on this planet, anyway?  Miro obviously doesn't have friends, because of the Ribeira Isolation Field, but surely Ouanda should know other people?

Ender arrives, rowing flawlessly up the river because of course he's good at everything (he says on Trondheim it would be worse to be unable to walk than row) and Ela takes a moment to appreciate his White Beefcake Shoulders in the creepiest possible way.
The skin of his back was shockingly white; even the few Lusos who were light-complected enough to be called loiros were much darker-skinned. His whiteness made him seem weak and slight. But then she saw how quickly the boat moved against the current [...] how tightly wrapped in skin his muscles were. She felt a moment's stab of grief, and then realized that it was grief for her father, despite the depth of her hatred for him [...] she grieved for the strength of his shoulders and back, for the sweat that made his brown skin dazzle like glass in the sunlight.
It should, by rights, be possible to find a way to talk about aesthetics and phenotypes without sounding weirdly racist, but Card struggles to find that ground.

Ela reports that Novinha and Olhado are still furious with Ender for his deception.  She keeps levelling accusations even though she means to express appreciation and sympathy, so Ender continues with his whole I'm Just Being Honest defence, the standard excuse of malevolent narcissists.
"I'm a speaker for the dead. I tell the truth, when I speak at all, and I don't keep away from other people's secrets."
Ela reveals that, despite being the apprentice xenobiologist, she's locked out of her mother's files as well, and Novinha has held her back from completing the guild tests to graduate from apprentice, because that would mean she could bypass the locks too, because, lest we forget, privacy law in this galaxy was invented by a literal clown who had just marathoned the complete written works of Franz Kafka.  Ela thinks she's being ungrateful; Ender (badly, all of their communications are inexplicably backhanded and hostile) praises her for holding the family together for so long while her parents were busy being terrible.

Then it's time for some casual ableism as Ela says her mother is "crazy" and Ender says that "whatever else Novinha is, Ela, she is not crazy", because heavens forbid anyone entertain the shocking idea that a person raised in a series of deprived and abusive environments be accused to having suffered any kind of psychological damage when all of her decisions can just be explained by her choosing to be an arrogant megalomaniac.  I mean to say: it's one thing to say 'don't dismiss a person by accusing them of a compromised mental state' and another to say 'don't imply that this person has anything so distasteful as a mental disability.

(I'm reminded of an incident in high school--I don't remember what the class was talking about, but a fat girl made some comment about a type of negative treatment she got because she was fat, and a well-meaning classmate responded by expanding on the main point being made and then finished by saying to the first girl "Also, you're not fat".  Now, what she meant was obviously "You don't deserve that kind of terrible negative treatment, please have positive self-image", but what she said was "I will deny the reality that we are both aware of because I can't conceive of a world where your body fat isn't considered deserving of hatred and shame".  Cognitive dissonance: it's what's for brunch.)

Ela instead insists her mother is "boba", which I'm having trouble getting a good translation for, but is obviously a synonym or euphemism for 'crazy', so Ender asks for the evidence.  Ela reveals that Novinha has somehow locked away all of the Descolada files.  All of them.  ALL OF THEM.  Did they never send their information on Descolada out to the rest of the galaxy, even while people were dying by the hundreds forty years ago?  In all the time since then, has no one ever had any interest in studying those files?  Xenologers across the galaxy are hanging off Pipo/Libo/Miro/Ouanda's every word, but no one's ever had any further interest in understanding how or why Descolada works, even as a thought exercise?  (Ela rightly points out that Descolada adapted to affect humans in less than a decade, and there's no reason it couldn't adapt again.  Also, apparently it never goes away--if you get it in your body, you have to take supplements for the rest of your life or start growing extra arms out of your nose.)  It's ever-clearer to me why science hasn't advanced in three thousand years.

Second, Novinha forbids Ela to do any theoretical research, like developing evolutionary models.  The reason for this isn't clear to me, since she doesn't actually know what the 'secret' of Descolada is and so has no apparent reason to forbid this theorising.  Lastly, she won't exchange any information with the xenologers, and even deletes any data they send her.  Ela chalks this up to her hatred of Libo, and explains that this means the xenobiologists have no materials to work with except those they enclosed within the fence decades ago: grasses, a herd of cabra, river plants, and water snakes.  No trees, since that would obviously also solve the Science Mystery (which, again, has already been solved by Pipo and now Jane, and made irrelevant by Miro and Ouanda's meddling).

There is a long aside about how much Novinha hated Libo, how she stopped feeding Miro when he became apprentice xenologer: every night, he would come home, sit at the table, she'd take away his plate and cutlery, and he would sit there staring at her in silence until Marcos shouted at him to leave, gleeful that his wife finally hated Miro as much as he did.  She started feeding him again when Libo died.  That night, Ela heard Libo sobbing and vomiting in the bathroom (not clear if this was guilt-based purging because he ate the food provided by his Devil Mother, or general distress), and she says she should have gone to comfort him.  Ender agrees.
The Speaker agreed with her that she had made a mistake that night, and she knew when he said the words that it was true, that his judgment was correct. And yet she felt strangely healed, as if simply speaking her mistake were enough to purge some of the pain of it. For the first time, then, she caught a glimpse of what the power of speaking might be. It wasn't a matter of confession, penance, and absolution, like the priests offered. It was something else entirely. Telling the story of who she was, and then realizing that she was no longer the same person [....] she had become someone else, someone less afraid, someone more compassionate.
The nicest thing I can say about this is that it's a step up from the Ender's Game incident of "Ender had a conversation with Dink Meeker and it made him wise and more likely to question things, although we'll never actually see him do so for the rest of the book".  Instead of that forward-looking tell-and-then-never-show, we've got a retrospective I-used-to-be-a-worse-person, and assurances that this confession-and-judgment is somehow radically different from confession-and-forgiveness.  I do think that reflection and admission of guilt can be very important and healing, but the fact that it can only happen with Ender's magical aura is... predictably tiresome, and vice-versa.
"Miro says the framling xenologers are always pestering him and Ouanda for more information, more data, and yet the law forbids them from learning anything more. And yet not a single framling xenobiologist has ever asked us for any information. They all just study the biosphere on their own planets and don't ask Mother a single question."
Trillions of people in the galaxy and not one scientist is remotely curious about the biology of the only world with known sapient aliens.  Who's running science in this place?  God, I bet the ansibles are all wood-fired.

The next plot twist Ela brings up is another chunk of the Science Mystery: there's a herd of cabras inside the colony fence, and her observations have found that they've all given birth in the last five years and they're all "female", not "male" and not "hermaphrodites", so I guess this is the part where I just give up on any hope that the biology of the universe is ever going to be remotely not-Earth-like.  The vagina is a galactic constant.  (Didn't expect to say that a second time today.)  The offspring aren't identical to the parents, from which Ela determines that they must be managing a genetic exchange in the herd anyway, and I'm a pedant so I'm back to wondering how we define biological sex in Card's universe.  Ender, Genius of Ages, just makes a joke about "theological implications".  Ela goes on about the water snakes, which hatch, grow, and breed on land before they ever get into the river, and then never come back out again--she questions why they're so completely adapted for the water if it's not related to any part of their life cycle before the end.  The only eggs she's ever found in the water are just gametes, not embryos.  She almost but doesn't quite get to the point of suggesting that the riverside grass, "grama", is actually their larval form or something.

Finally, she gets around to saying that the biodiversity is unnaturally small: there's only one kind of bird they've seen, one kind of fly, one kind of cabra, one kind of tree, one kind of prairie grass, no predators (although the cabra do have predator-avoidance instincts).  Ender guesses that the only explanation is that some disaster wiped out all but a handful of highly adaptive species, and Ela says it has to have been a disease, specifically Descolada, because something like a meteor would have killed the big animals and left all the tiny creatures.  I'm wondering what Card thinks happens to prey animals if their predator vanish for a hundred thousand years like Ela is guessing--shouldn't they have multiplied until their food supply was stretched thin and starvation put a limit on it?  This is standard Malthusian economics.

Anyway, Ender and Ela together realise that Novinha locked away all the Descolada files and all of her other Secret Files at the same time (no one caught onto that before?) and thus must have determined that the Descolada is somehow key to the Science Mystery too.  I... legitimately hadn't realised that they hadn't caught onto that yet.  The Descolada files and some other files are all locked away by the same secret-keeping person and no one suspected a connection?  Forget Sherlock; someone get me Irene Adler, I need a critical thinker who gets things done.

Ender says, at Ela's urging, that he'll speak Marcos' death as soon as possible, but he can't possibly do so until he meets the Little Ones.  Ela says that's impossible; Ender says "That's why it's going to be hard", (phrasing, boom).  Ela says she wants every secret revealed as soon as possible; Ender says that she doesn't know how big it's going to be and he fears she will feel he has betrayed her in the end, like Olhado does.  She assures Ender that they are BFFFFs and he should go fix/reveal everything.  (There's literally nothing stopping him from telling her or anyone else what he's learned about Novinha and Libo's affair, unless he thinks that she would somehow ruin his plans.  I'll be watching to see if there's an explanation for that or if he's just waiting to spring it on the whole town at once.)

And then Ela skips afternoon work and goes home to start making dinner alone and feel cheerful for the rest of the day, and Miro shows up in a panic trying to find the Speaker.  He won't say what for, and Ela admits to having talked with him by the river but won't say why, and I can't decide if this is a realistic portrayal of people who have been raised in an isolated and secretive household, or if it's just more 'People don't tell each other things in order to prolong the plot'.  Miro runs off again, puzzled as to why Ender wouldn't answer his ear-bling-email, and Ela starts having panicked mental images of finding Ender splayed open dead just like Pipo and Libo.  I would hope she's right, except that would just drag things out even more.

Jane, you're still my favourite character, but I don't think I'm going to forgive you for making us sit through all of this.

Next week: Miro and Ouanda reveal their meddling and I probably spend half the post discussing technological revolution and its effect on human societies.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter twelve, in which there are okay bits

(Content: family abuse, violation of privacy. Fun content: cool dads, space water snakes, and borderline tree erotica.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 184--199
Chapter Twelve: Files

We have reached the middle of the book!  (Or we`re about to, at page 191 out of 382.)  We've been introduced to a wide cast of  'characters' and all the pieces have been set in motion and clearly now the actual plot will pick up and we will see people tackle their failings and grow into better individuals against a backdrop of thrilling intrigue and interrogation of what it means to be human!  The incredibly slow plot, irrational and inconsistent characters, and diligent failures of worldbuilding have clearly just been setting up for a masterpiece that may now begin.  (On a completely unrelated note, I'm also really looking forward to the Walking Dead season finale tonight!)

The chapter-prelude bit is a series of congressional orders revoking All The Things: Lusitania loses its Catholic License, all their files are confiscated for review and the colony is locked out of all their non-life-support systems, Ender's starship Havelok is commandeered to ship Miro and Ouanda to Trondheim for trial, a committee is struck to plan and implement the total human evacuation of the planet, and all evidence of human contact on Lusitania is to be obliterated, including any genetically modified organisms.  It's not clear if that means vaporising the Little Ones who've been given new tech or if they're exempt from the 'evidence of human contact' deal.

Blissfully unaware of this, Ender finally shows some evidence of being a time-refugee, because he's having to navigate computer systems without Jane's help and he's terrible at it, so he's hired Olhado to assist him.
"Olhado, just tell me what program to run." 
"I can't believe you don't know what it is. I've been doing data comparisons since I was nine years old. Everybody learns how to do it at that age."
It occurs to me at this point that we have no idea what 'normal' life is like off these backwater colonies.  Card writes about the miners and farmers as if they're what we think of today as stereotypical miners and farmers, but what 'data comparisons' would they be running? What do kids get taught in public schools? Do they learn how to operate software to do incredibly complicated mathematics like Ender did back in space school?  Are menial jobs automated and so everyone needs to be skilled in navigating computer systems in order to operate their robot farming legions?  Three thousand years in the future!  Tell me what it's like, Card.
"If I knew how to do it myself, I wouldn't have had to hire you, would I? And since I'm going to be paying you in offworld funds, your services to me will make a substantial contribution to the Lusitanian economy."
Not content with being terrible at science, psychology, and religion, Card has decided to loudly fail at economics as well.  Lusitania has no exports and to our knowledge few or no physical imports.  The only transactions they could conceivably have are ansible communications, and seeing as they're a government-mandated scientific outpost, there's no reason for their ansible not to be free (if perhaps regulated, if we're going to play along with Card's ridiculous assertion that ansible transmissions are expensive). Since they don't export anything, they can't afford to independently sustain offworld payments for the ansible anyway.  There isn't even a good reason for them to pay taxes at the interplanetary level.  All of their transactions are internal, which means that bringing in more money (Ender's promised offworld funds) will just lead to inflation devaluing everyone else's savings, unless Olhado just uses his paycheque to cover everyone's ansible charges for however long.  (I'm assuming that Ender Forty-billion-is-a-drop-in-the-bucket Wiggin will be hilariously overpaying Olhado.)

Ender reveals that he also has no idea what his password is, and explains that this has all been automated for him for ages--Olhado calls Jane a 'slave program' and says they're illegal, but Ender just responds that it wasn't illegal for him, once again avoiding telling us whether he has tons of government pull or if he's just thinking that Jane is so unique that the law doesn't apply to her.
"I got no eyes, Speaker, but at least that wasn't my own fault. You can't do anything." Only after he said it did Olhado realize he was talking to the Speaker as brusquely as if he were another kid. 
"I imagine courtesy is something they teach to thirteen-year-olds," the Speaker said. Olhado glanced at him. He was smiling. Father would have yelled at him, and then probably gone in and beaten up Mother because she didn't teach manners to her kids. But then, Olhado would never have said anything like that to Father.
Ender's not a normal dad; Ender is a cool dad.  I have a sinking feeling that Marcos' abuse is primarily going to be used to make Ender seem even more awesome than he already is (because he passes the unfathomably low bar of not raging and beating people), rather than exploring how it may have affected Novinha's psychology if her most constant and legally-bound companion for the last twenty years was actively hostile and blamed her for everything, including things outside of her control.

Ender eventually manages to guess his password, which is..."Ender".  I'm going to be kind and assume that Jane intentionally made it something he'd be able to guess in an emergency, and not a security protocol, given that she is the internet and therefore would have the ability to simply deny access to anyone else.  Olhado sees his accounts, and although Ender has no concept of what money means these days, Olhado suggests that, rather than a wage, he be paid "one thousandth of one percent [of the interest this gets during the time I work for you]. Then in a couple of weeks I can afford to buy Lusitania and ship the topsoil to another planet." Ender says that his investments must have just done well; Olhado (first jokingly, then seriously) guesses that Ender must be millennia old.

The 'data comparisons' that started all of this turn out to be comparing Pipo's and Libo's files in the weeks before their respective deaths, trying to piece together the common elements. They get nowhere, but Olhado realises that Ender didn't actually expect to get anywhere: he just wanted to see how Olhado worked the program so that he could then run his own searches in private later on.  Olhado thinks this is foolish, not least because he already knows some of Andrew's secrets, like the way his "Ender" password gets him basically everywhere--for example, into the mayor's and bishop's files.
No need to keep a secret from me. You've only been here three days, but I know you well enough to like you, and I like you well enough that I'd do anything for you, as long as it didn't hurt my family. And you'd never do anything to hurt my family.
I keep thinking Card will get bored of having people rhapsodise about how wonderful Ender is.  I don't know why I haven't caught on yet.  Aside from the Ender-worship and the worldbuilding blanks and the failure of economics, this was, however, a pretty good scene, and that's rare enough that I feel like being explicit about it or I'll just end up in a heap of despair that there's anything good in the world.  (And, again, I'm bracing myself for whatever dreck the Walking Dead writers will think they're being clever about next.)

The next morning, Novinha fumes about how Ender was rooting around in her root directories all night (when I started that sentence it was just a pun and not a horrendous innuendo but this is where life has taken us) and didn't even bother to cover his digital tracks.  We get, at last, some blessed relief from being told how wonderful Ender is, because his presence did not magically heal the Ribeira house: Grego has been cutting up sheets and headbutted one of his teachers in the crotch; Miro and Ela have slid back into grumpiness.  On the other hand, ever-silent Quara apparently started talking loudly in class about how she met the Speaker and he's terrible like the Bishop said and he tortured her little brother, until the teacher actually had to demand she stop talking.  And Olhado has obviously shifted to hero-worship, which has inspired Quim to threaten to have him exorcised.

Olhado has noticed that Ender seems to speak Stark as his native tongue, which is apparently super-weird.  I find this fascinating, because if true this means that the galaxy of the future is not mostly populated by English-speakers.  (Stark isn't technically English, but Ender spoke English first and obviously still does.)  As much as I scorn Epcot Galaxy, it is at least different from the usual pasty anglo SF environment, to the point where English is properly recognised as a minority. Olhado wonders if Ender comes from Earth, which in turn makes me wonder two things: are the people who natively speak Stark the same demographic as the people who previously natively spoke English, or has future-English mutated into some other language while Stark actually bears a closer resemblance to 20th-centry English?  Did everyone default to their non-English ancestry, so that someone like me would grow up speaking Cymraeg (Welsh) or Irish Gaelic and then learn Stark at school?

Novinha spends her whole day thinking about her family, her secrets, her illegitimate children and how she'll have to one day tell Miro about his real father to keep him from marrying Ouanda, and engages in a whole lot of internalised victim-blaming and ascribing her abuse by Marcos to the delivery of divinely-approved vengeance. Novinha has 'discovered' that she is religious after all, but she only believes in the vengeful old god and not the mercy of Christianity.

Quim shows up to say that Quara went to the Speaker's house after school, and to complain that Novinha isn't fighting him harder. They recriminate each other, with Quim varyingly accusing and apologising to her, until Novinha lashes out to strike him, and then they both crumple to the floor as she tries to comfort him. I'm tempted to call this a relatively realistic depiction of severely dysfunctional relationships in which abuse has been normalised (although apparently Novinha kept Marcos from ever attacking the kids).

They decide to go to Ender's house, though Novinha's not sure whether she wants to take Quara away from there if it's got her talking.  (Their path is scattered with molted water snake skins, which is firstly a very Earthlike sort of animal to find on an alien planet and secondly why would anyone ever be okay with water snakes as their primary form of vermin that's terrifying.  Although Novinha mentions that they make the riverbanks smelly with musk, so I guess these are Space Northern Water Snakes and not Space Cottonmouths, which is some relief.)  Quim and Novinha argue about confrontations between good and evil, until she tells him that she's been there and he's only seen the map and so has nothing to say on the matter, and he stalks off.

Quara greets her happily and brings her inside, where Ender and Olhado are playing a video game of duelling fleets--she arrives in time to see Olhado wipe out half of Ender's ships in a moment, I assume because Ender is letting him win and apparently has no problem replaying the same game that was his life and education and religion and torment as a child, the illusion that allowed him to slaughter an entire species and define human interaction with alien life and the evolution of philosophy for three thousand years.  No big.
...She certainly didn't approve of him playing games of warfare. It was so archaic and outmoded, anyway. There hadn't been any battles in space in hundreds of years, unless running fights with smugglers counted. [....] Maybe it was something evolution had bred into males of the species, the desire to blast rivals into little bits or mash them to the ground.
Ah, it's been a little while since we got that evo-bio gender essentialism; I knew it had to be lying around somewhere.  Predictably, Ender then wipes out Olhado's entire side in a single shot and tells him to replay the memory until he figures out how to counter it next time. (I guess Doctor Device is still considered a normal armament in space war?  Or I wonder if people think that it's just a fiction of the game, and the story of how Ender destroyed the formic homeworld is blurry and rewritten.)

Ender and Novinha have a fairly predictable conversation--he lays out what he's learned so far and demands to know what Pipo learned that led to his death; Novinha says she'll never tell anyone (although she never puzzled it out herself either), Ender says that knowing will protect Miro and his sister where ignorance got Libo and Pipo killed.
"Tomorrow I'm going with them, because I can't speak Pipo's death without talking to the piggies--" 
"I don't want you to speak Pipo's death." 
"I don't care what you want, I'm not doing it for you. But I am begging you to let me know what Pipo knew."
Soooo... apparently Speakers can't speak someone's death unless requested, but if requested it's irrevocable?  I know there was that whole thing about how you can't turn a speaker back once they've left whatever world they came from, but being unable to protect your personal privacy from someone depending on the exact moment they hopped on their space yacht is distressing.

Ender then implicitly compares himself to Pipo (in that he's rescuing and healing the damaged little girl, Quara). Novinha is of course enraged and storms out, without Quara, realising as she leaves that Ender said "your son and his sister"--he knows all her kids were with Libo.  Then Olhado turns accusatory, for Ender having "made a traitor out of me", using the search skills Olhado taught him to investigate his mother.  Ender feels enough pain at Olhado's departure that he even attracts the Hive Queen's attention.
And he felt her touch him inwardly, touch him like the breeze in the leaves of a tree; he felt the strength and vigor of upward-thrusting wood, the firm grip of roots in earth, the gentle play of sunlight on passionate leaves.
Man, can you imagine if Card just wrote poetry and not bigoted propaganda masquerading as serious philosophical literature? I mean upward-thrusting wood and passionate leaves, okay, phrasing, but these moments really stand out in the dross and I legitimately wish there were more of them.  Also, I think we can take from this that the Hive Queen's new companion is indeed the consciousnesses of 'dead' Little Ones inside their trees, if there were any question left in that at all.

Ender is left with Quara, who cheerfully remarks that in a couple of days he's managed to make everyone hate him (including her), and then turns on his terminal and brings up arithmetic problems, which she invites him to watch her solve.  Ender says they look hard; Quara boasts that she can solve them faster than anyone.  I'm not sure what to make of Quara yet, but she's smart and cheerful and says she hates Ender, so I'm on board for now.

Next week: My conviction that the plot is actually going to happen begins to waver.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter eleven, in which Jane does all right

(Fun content: Ender isn't in this chapter.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 172--184
Chapter 11: Jane

This chapter is short and incredibly easy to summarise, so I guess extra-short post this week.  The opening notes are borderline nonsensical at times, but the gist of it is that Starways Congress has maintained absolute peace in the galaxy for two thousand years, not merely between planets but between nations on planets, because they control the internet and no one wants to get cut off.  The engineers of the future are apparently deeply unambitious, and no one has ever been like "Hey, if we could build a pirate connection to the ansibles, Congress would lose all control over us and we could then conquer our entire world with a small array of butter knives and no one in the galaxy could even get here to do anything about it for like forty years, at which point our orbital Doctor Device platforms will be complete".

And then, at long last, we come to Jane.  Shocking no one, my hopes were dashed, because Jane, goddess of knowledge, conscious mind of human civilisation, keeper of every secret word uttered for the last three thousand years, finds everything boring except Ender.  There's about a page of exposition about how fast she thinks, a hundred million computerised actions semi-consciously taken every second (she is the force that lifts up your email and carries it to its recipients and reads it and double-checks your spelling, every single time, for everyone).  It still took her three full seconds to grasp that Ender had intentionally and voluntarily cut her off.
Compared to the speed at which the human brain was able to experience life, Jane had lived half a trillion human lifeyears since she came to be. 
And with all that vast activity, her unimaginable speed, the breadth and depth of her experience, fully half of the top ten levels of her attention were always, always devoted to what came in through the jewel in Ender Wiggin's ear. 
[....] When she tried to observe other human lives to pass the time, she became annoyed with their emptiness and lack of purpose [....] He always came back, always took her into the heart of human life, into the tensions between people bound together by pain and need, helping her see nobility in their suffering and anguish in their love. [....] He taught her what it meant to be alive.
Two full pages of this, y'all.  We've finally come to the chapter where we find out what the godlike AI thinks about, and it's still just another excuse to tell us how magical Ender is.  Trillions of people in the galaxy and the only one who can create the impression that any of their lives have any meaning at all is Ender.  It's just canonical fact: Ender is the Best Person.  Jane has checked literally everyone for three thousand years and no one else measures up.  My god.

We get Jane's origin story, which is at first generic: she spontaneously came into existence among clusters of data beaming around in the early ansible networks, and quickly latched onto a program with greater complexity than her own.  I'm going to take this as the explanation for why she's so obsessed with Ender's mind and his perspective on things, and if Card is lucky he meant it to be this kind of duck-like imprinting and not just objective fact, because Jane built her first self out of the Battle School fantasy puzzle game.

We're told once again that Ender completely set himself apart from the rest of the students by attacking the Giant's eye, because clearly it's "completely irrational and murderous" for a boy in a military school dealing with an imaginary and incredibly hostile threat to think "Hm, pre-emptive strike?"  But then, since Ender had beaten the Giant, the game had to invent Fairyland, which it did on the spot, based on intensive personalised psychological analysis.

So, it's not unreasonable after all to say that Ender's solutions in the game ("Burrow Into Eye", "Dissolve Wolf-Child", "Make Out With Snake") were in fact improvised cases of the game guessing what Ender wanted to do, or what would be most meaningful to him, or just saying "This is boring and I want to see what you'll think if you win now," rather than legitimate commands he input.  And then Jane's continued obsession with Ender, and her conviction that only his perspective makes the world interesting, is explained by the fact that, when she first absorbed the game, "the program devoted more than half of its available memory to containing Ender Wiggin's fantasy world".

And then it's River Song all over again, because, having been imprinted with memories of Ender Wiggin's magnificence, Jane went on a quest to find him again.  Being a super-genius, of course, it didn't take her long to read his books, figure out he was the Speaker for the Dead, find him on the first planet he visited after writing HQ&H, and quickly convince him they should be partners.  Sadly unlike River Song, she didn't then immediately murder him.
So when he reached up to his ear and turned off the interface for the first time since he had implanted it, Jane did not feel it as the meaningless switch-off of a trivial communications device.  She felt it as her dearest and only friend, her lover, her husband, her brother, her father, her child--all telling her, abruptly, inexplicably, that she should cease to exist.
Creepy slightly-incestuous tones aside, I'd like to note that this is yet another example of Ender canonically failing as hard as humanly possible at empathy.  He's spent twenty years with Jane as his constant companion (save for a couple of weeks here and there when he jumps between worlds) and it didn't occur to him, ever, however briefly, what Jane's perspective on the world might be.  In two decades, in which he's apparently never voluntarily turned off his implant before, he hasn't considered what that could mean to her, doesn't begin to understand her needs or motivations at all.  He's only had two companions for most of his life and he barely bothered to acknowledge either of them.  It's almost impressive.

Jane immediately settles into realising that Ender didn't mean to hurt her, and immediately comes up with a list of possible reasons that he's too emotionally compromised to think about her right now: his loss of Valentine, his longing for a family life he never had, his identification with Novinha's pain and instinctive fatherly role with her children, his need to settle with hive queen and to understand the Little Ones, and lastly:
...They made him face his own celibacy and realize that he had no good reason for it. For the first time in years he was admitting to himself the inborn hunger of every living organism to reproduce itself.
If it's truly the inborn hunger of every living being to reproduce, I wonder why Card has to keep telling us so.

Jane concludes that her joke was ill-timed but she is innocent of wrongdoing, and Ender has hurt her but had no malicious intent, and so they will just forgive each other.  But then, in a shocking twist, something happens that I like.  Jane is sufficiently rattled by her moment of vexation that it disrupts her program, and so she decides to remake herself.  She rereads the entire library of humanity, observes a few trillion* of the other humans out there, and rebuilds her own damaged pathways into a being that loves but is not dependent on Ender.  It takes her a few hours, what she estimates would take a human fifty thousand years, and then she comes back, finds the apology Ender wrote, and rewrites the file to say "Of course I forgive you".  But, to see what he'll do next without her, she doesn't approach him, she just goes back to silently observing.  She's certain that he'll turn to Novinha again, having fallen in love with her via biography before he left Trondheim.

In the meantime, she waltzes through Novinha's security, reconstructs all of the old files, manages through relentless analysis to figure out what Pipo did, and figures out why Pipo and then Libo died.  So... book over?  Nope.  Jane wants to watch Ender in action, so she resolves not to intervene unless she needs to protect someone from harm.  In the meantime, she decides that Ender needs to be friends with the church in order to save the day, and so she'll give them a common enemy.

She scans the satellite data until she finds evidence of the Little Ones farming and shearing/slaughtering cabras, leaves the data and a "Check this out!" note on the computer of some random xenologer somewhere in the galaxy (a person she's determined has a habit of taking credit for others' work already), and then shepherds his report to the attention of key journals and experts, having rewritten the last paragraph herself to point out that the sudden ramp-up of technology and their population explosion following the appearance of a Little-One-appropriate strain of amaranth strongly indicates humans have been mucking about with them.

First question: if there are satellites, and there are hundreds of xenologers out there constantly analysing every word Pipo/Novinha/Libo/Miro/Ouanda write, why isn't anyone else constantly monitoring their activities by satellite too?  No one has noticed in eight years that they've started farming and making bows and arrows?  No one has wondered why their population has skyrocketed?  Everyone in this galaxy is fired.

Secondly, I'm not at all sure why Jane felt she needed a human to get involved in this, given that Ender and Valentine are three millennia of proof that this galaxy freaking loves anonymous geniuses.  She could doubtless have written the whole report herself in a second and delivered it herself rather than wait for random dude to submit to an obscure journal requiring her intervention anyway.  Jane's terrified of being discovered, obviously, but she is the internet; I think she can figure out a cover story.

Anyway, Jane's plan works flawlessly, because the chairman (who is a woman, but I expect Card would eat his own hand rather than write 'chairwoman') of the Xenological Oversight Committee gets the report and immediately recommends that Lusitania Colony be terminated.
There, thought Jane.  That ought to stir things up a bit.
And that's the chapter.  Honestly, it turned out way better than I thought it was going to, from the start.  Jane remains the best character, and she actually got to be the one person whose character growth takes the form of deciding Ender Wiggin isn't actually as big a deal as his fans would have you believe.

Next chapter, I think a plot might actually form.  And we're only halfway through the book!


*If 'Hundred Worlds' is at all accurate, then in order for there to be even one trillion people in the galaxy, each planet would need an average population of ten billion people.  Five trillion people in the galaxy, average fifty billion people per planet.  I'm going to keep running with the idea that 'Hundred Worlds' is an old and deeply inaccurate name, because that's way more plausible.  Also, Jane noted earlier in the chapter that even the original wave of colonisation reached out to "more than seventy habitable planets" previously occupied by formics.  So, how many more do we figure they've found in three millennia since then?  Who gets to be in the Hundred?  Is it an official status?  Are there privileges, or is it just a quaint status symbol?  All of these questions are more interesting to me than Ender's feelings.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter ten, part two, in which Ender is all of his own exceptions

(Content: religious prejudice, violation of privacy.  Fun content: language, reapers, and BONES.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 158--171
Not since he was a child in the military had Ender felt so clearly that he was in enemy territory.
This is an interesting point to start with, because the whole purpose of the deceptive rigmarole that was "Ender's Game" was to prevent him from every knowing he was in enemy territory, while still trying to get him to act like he was in enemy territory.  It was all games, false enemies, which is a bit strange: 'not since he had played laser tag in which other children pretended to be his mortal enemies had Ender felt so much like he was surrounded by mortal enemies' doesn't quite have the same impact.  The actual enemies came in two camps: children who actually wanted to cause him harm, like Bonzo, who didn't actually have any of their own 'territory', and adults who intended to abuse Ender into sprouting superpowers, whose territory he never left for even a second between the ages of six and twelve.  I'm not sure which of these kinds of enemies Ender is supposed to be imagining the Lusitanians are.  That whole 'empathy' deal he supposedly specialises in might prod him to consider whether these villagers have more in common with Badger Army (they bear him no actual ill will, but have been commanded to act like it by their leader), Bonzo (they will murder him as soon as they think they can get away with it), Graff (they will find a use for him if they can, and won't care how much harm it causes), or the formics (they have no goddamn clue what he's doing there but they can't imagine how to negotiate peace with him and so will defend themselves as best they can).  That seems like an important distinction, in terms of types of enemies Ender is familiar with.

Ah, but it's not all the Lusitanians he has in mind, just the Church, as he's climbed the hill to their terraces and there are priests and deacons glaring at him as they pass on the paths.  I'm curious how many priests and deacons there can be--Milagre is a very small town, three or five thousand at best, supposedly scratching out a rather limited existence, all for the sake of a couple of xenologers and xenobiologists.  How many churches could they need?  How many churches can they support?
...Priests and deacons, their eyes malevolent with authority under threat. What do I steal from you be coming here? Ender asked them silently. But he knew that their hatred was not undeserved. He was a wild herb growing in the well-tended garden; wherever he stepped, disorder threatened,and many lovely flowers would die if he took root and sucked the life from their soil.
I was going to say that this book must have been some kind of huge pressure valve on Card's issues with the Catholic church, and then I remembered that this is science fiction, a genre beloved by people who consider themselves far too enlightened to bother with any of that religion nonsense, and I wondered if the unrelenting irrational church-bashing isn't actually one of the book's marketing points.

Jane is trolling Ender by trying to get him to talk out loud when no one else can hear her.  Oh, my sweet Jane, you understand:
"How many priests can this community support, Ender?"
He doesn't answer aloud, not least because Jane has all the data anyway, but he silently thinks on Valentine's history of Zanzibar, where she argued that a "rigid hierarchy always emerged as the conservative force in a community [....] if there were no powerful advocate of orthodoxy, the community would inevitably disintegrate".  Then there's a metaphor about how bones are dead and stony but allow flesh to take action, and I wonder if Valentine ever bothered to learn anything about bones, because between marrow, endosteum, periosteum, nerves, blood vessels and cartilage, bones are anything but dead.  Hell, even osseous tissue isn't 'dead', and that's the hard white part that 'bone' usually means.

Jane starts quoting Valentine's essay in Ender's ear, in Valentine's own voice, reminding Ender that he's so very, very alone--if only he had some kind of direct link-up to the instantaneous galactic communication network that would literally allow him to Skype with her at this exact second if he felt like it.  I know there are various reasons why he's not doing that, but Ender's solitude is self-imposed, let's not forget, eh?  Anyway, the lack of Valentine is why, apparently, he's so aware of the priests' hostility, so much worse than all the other religions he's faced:
He had bearded the Calvinist lion in its den, he had walked philosophically naked among the burning coals of Islam, and Shinto fanatics had sung death threats outside his window in Kyoto.

First: Why do all of these people hate speakers so much?  Speakers don't preach any tenets that conflict with these religions!  Speakers don't preach tenets at all.  There is no conversion process, there are no vows, there are no congregations or tithes or excommunications!  Speaking is 100% compatible with all of these religions!  (My working theory at this point is that every other Speaker in the galaxy goes around having a perfectly pleasant time, whereas people constantly try to tell Ender what a colossal jackwagon he personally is and he's just "Pfft, religious oppressors!" and slouches away into the sunset.)

Second: "bearded the Calvinist lion"?  For starters, Card, that sounds way gayer than you think it does.  ("For the last time, mom, the lion is just my roommate!")  Second, that implies that Ender actually, you know, defeated Calvinism, and I'm reasonably certain the record will show that he had zero effect except in using his institionally-granted authority to berate a student into shutting up instead of responding to his arguments.

Third: Shinto, Islam, Calvinist protestant Christianity, and now the Catholic Church?  Has Ender been level-grinding this whole time?  Is Catholicism the final boss?!

Ender proceeds to the monastery (seriously how many priests does this colony town have) on a hill overlooking the Zenador's Station.  There's about a page of exposition on the titles the COTMOCs use: Dom Cristão just means "Sir Christian", and is an intentional humblebrag because San Angelo thought it would be hilarious to make people choose between calling his abbots 'lord commoner' or using their long Ye-Must-Love-Dogs prayer names, such that "a sermon comes from their own lips".  All the other COTMOCs have agriculturally-themed names in Portuguese, such that teachers are 'sowers', principals are 'plowmen', and the abbot, Sir Christian, Ye Must Love Dogs, is also called ceifeiro, 'reaper'.  REAPER.  You know that thing where people get on a roll and then take it one step too far?  We've just passed it.

(It's also a rule that, in the highest-ranking couple of COTMOCs on a planet, the husband runs the monastery and his wife runs the schools, thus the Dona Cristã we met a couple of chapters and thirty years ago.  Dunno if it's the same one now.  The dramatis personae Some People of Lusitania Colony informs me that her name is Detestai O Pecado E Fazei O Direito; draw your own conclusions about how much fun she is as a teacher.)

Ender and Ye Must Love Reapers banter insufferably about repentance; Reaper asks if it's true Ender knew San Angelo; Ender proves that he did by commenting on how Angelo, Patron Saint of Passive Aggression, would have loved the messy weeds that Reaper allows to grow over the wall where they'll irritate Bishop Peregrino.  (We also finally get confirmation that Ender lived on Trondheim for a year and a half.  Valentine did not meet, marry, and get pregnant in three weeks like it originally seemed.)

They tour the grounds for the rest of the afternoon, until they join his wife, who at least also gets a pretty badass name as the Aradora, 'Harrow'.  (I assume, since they're Catholic, that it's also meant to be a reference to that incident in Catholic fanon where Jesus burst into Hell like the Kool-Aid man to rescue the righteous heathens.  I like that bit.)  More discussion of language, since Reaper's name is shortened to Amai, while hers is Detestai, making them "Love and Loathing"; Ender says he could call her 'Beleza' (beautiful) but she jokes her husband would call her 'Beladona' for the poison subtext, et cetera et cetera.  Ender, who shares the conservative obsession with other people's bedroom arrangements, notices that they have separate beds despite San Angelo saying they should sleep together, and Amai insists that their self-control isn't that good and by the way he's totally into women what are you implying.  Ender says Angelo hoped that all the COTMOCs would eventually choose to have children, because, again, San Angelo was a huge troll.

Ender thinks of Valentine, "as close and loving as a wife, and yet chaste as a sister".  He is overcome with sorrow and talks about losing her, and Loathing sympathetically acknowledges that he too is chaste "and now widowed as well", which Ender doesn't find weird, which is okay because I'm creeped out enough for eight people.  Jane taunts Ender a bit about how he's losing control in front of them; Ender says he feels like things have completely reversed from the Ribeira house and he's helpless in the care of these monks, as if he were Grego.  They've barely said a word to Ender except to acknowledge that loneliness sucks, which is hardly the most inscrutable insight, so I can only buy this scene by assuming that this is all Ender imploding and not meant to actually indicate super-empathy on the part of Reaper and Harrow.

Seeing him crack, Reaper and Harrow declare that they now trust that he will not voluntarily harm anyone in the colony, and Jane teases that she now understands how this was all part of Ender's scheme, prompting him to turn off the wifi in his ear-bling, thus cutting her off.  Reaper and Harrow recognise this as a Serious Action, even though Jane is completely unique and secret and so they can have no possible way of knowing what Ender did other than turn off his live news feed.  That just seems polite, to me.  They sit out on the hill under the stars and exposit for a while to him.
Novinha never knew of the discussions that took place concerning her. The sorrows of mmost children might not have warranted meetings in the Bishop's chambers, conversations in the monastery among her teachers, endless speculations in the Mayor's office. Most children, after all, were not the daughters of Os Venerados; most were not their planet's only xenobiologist.
And the net result of these conversations was that... nothing happened?  Like, they literally did nothing.  We don't even have any indication that she had a legal guardian after age five.  No one even told her that they cared whether she lived or died.  Talking in secret about how much you'd like to support someone is not the same thing as actually supporting them.  They say that Novinha acted cheerful, but was dead inside, and the only exception was Libo, who only got rage and banishment from her.  They lick some funky-tasting local plant life (that's not a euphemism) and Reaper makes an analogy:
"...I think Novinha tasted something not at all pleasant, but so strong it overcame her, and she could never let go of the flavour [....] The pride of universal guilt. It's a form of vanity and egomania. She holds herself responsible for things that could not possibly be her fault."
Again: I wonder if maybe anyone could have made some progress if they'd, for example, ever spoken to her about any of this.  Everyone in this colony is apparently a therapist except the actual therapists. But, more importantly to Our Heroes, Reaper actually puzzled out that Novinha's hiding something (for which she takes the blame for Pipo's death), because she wasn't able to lock away the recording of that very first argument in which Libo demanded to see what Pipo had been working on right before he got murdered.  (Apparently, yes, everything that happens inside the scientific stations really is just voice-recorded 100% of the time and the abbot has access to those recordings?  They are, in fact, shocked that Novinha has locked up most of her work so tightly that even the Mayor isn't allowed to waltz in and peruse the permanent automatic logs of everything Novinha does on the computers, like she can for anyone else.  HOW DOES PRIVACY WORK IN THE FUTURE.)
"It was an outrageous thing for her to do. Of course the Mayor could have used emergency override powers, but what was the emergency? We'd have to hold a public hearing, and we didn't have any legal justification. Just concern for her, and the law has no respect for people who pry for someone else's good."
I just can't with these people anymore.

They go on to theorise that she married Marcos specifically to punish herself, and Ender resists the urge to check his cellphone turn his ansible stud back on and put Jane on the case, but he spares some time to judge Novinha for having still apparently felt she deserved to sleep with Libo even if she didn't marry him.
"If you really intend to speak Marcos Ribeira's death, somehow you'll have to answer that question--why did she marry him? And to answer that, you have to figure out why Pipo died. And ten thousand of the finest minds in the Hundred Worlds have been working on that for more than twenty years." 
"But I have an advantage over all those finest minds," said Ender. [....] "I have the help of people who love Novinha."
Man, I was going to say it was that he didn't go to Clown College, but I guess that's a fair answer, if we interpret 'love' to mean 'patronisingly obsess over and attempt to violate the privacy of an individual while never actually engaging them in an honest discussion about their emotional state'.  Ender, being a super-genius, has already worked out that Novinha refused to marry Libo because he would have had access to her files, although Reaper and Harrow maintain that it was all about punishing herself.

Ender returns 'home' and tries to apologise to Jane for cutting her off, but she doesn't respond when he speaks to her or types into the terminal: "Forgive me [...] I miss you."  It belatedly occurs to Ender that forcibly separating Jane from the only mind in the universe that knows she exists might have been a harsher action than he realised.  The hive queen doesn't respond to him either, except to ask, wordlessly, if it's time to hatch yet.  He beams another message out into the galactic internet ether:
"Come back to me, Jane [...] I love you." [....] Someone in the Mayor's office would read it, as all open ansible messages were read; no doubt by the Mayor, the Bishop, and Dom Cristão would all know about it by morning.
Ender, who just made two new friends roughly his own age who immediately got him to open up about his inner weaknesses and feelings and then provided him with vital information that will directly lead to cracking open this mystery, declares that "for the first time in twenty years he was utterly alone".  He says this despite having literally compared himself to Grego and Quara, whom he also declared were now his family whether they liked it or not after undergoing a substantially less helpful and more aggressive bonding experience.  Have I repeated myself too much if I just shout THERAPY FOR EVERYONE again?  Because... that.

Next week: Jane's backstory!  For the first time ever, I am legitimately excited about what's next.  Let's see if that joy betrays me.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter ten, part one, in which that which is not forbidden is mandatory

(Content: marriage coercion, homophobia, slavery, declaration of intent to revolt, and some incidental fat hatred.  Fun content: definitions of adulthood and marriage, and THE BISHOP!)

Speaker for the Dead: pp. 152--158
Chapter Ten: Children of the Mind

This time we open with a delightful Q&A with San Angelo, that not-quite-heretic saint whom I assume is made of wisdom and unicorn giggles since he got Ender’s stamp of approval.  San Angelo founded the Children of the Mind of Christ, and while Rule Two is that you don’t talk about Christ Club, Rule One is that Y’ALL GOTS TO BE MARRIED.  You’re not allowed in the order unless you’re married, but you also must not ever have sex with your spouse to whom you are bonded in holy chains.  (Or anyone else, obvs.)  And the explanation for this is hilarious when you consider the kinds of arguments Card has made against marriage equality.
Question 1: Why is marriage necessary for anyone? 
Fools say, Why should we marry?  Love is the only bond my lover and I need.  To them I say, Marriage is not a covenant between a man and a woman; even the beasts cleave together and produce their young.  Marriage is a covenant between a man and woman on the one side and their community on the other.  To marry according to the law of the community is to become a full citizen; to refuse marriage is to be a stranger, a child, an outlaw, a slave, or a traitor.  The one constant in every society of humankind is that only those who obey the laws, tabus, and customs of marriage are true adults.
 Let's get the obvious point out of the way:

There's so much here I barely know where to start.  I mean, Card's views on same-sex marriage are thoroughly documented and helpfully summarised by GLAAD, so it's kind of hilarious to read him here arguing (through the voice of a literal saint who was a personal friend of Ender Wiggin) that marriage is not about children or even about consecrated hetero fucking, but purely about position in the community.  From this perspective, where marriage is thoroughly detached from sex and signifies only your commitment to maintaining the community, it would seem like we should want everyone to get married, because that represents them stepping up to responsibility.  But then we get to the "laws, tabus, and customs" line and it becomes clear that what Card is arguing for is pure circular privilege.  Male/female couples (I don't say 'different-gender' here simply because there's no way Card thinks there are any other genders) get special privilege because they follow the Marriage Rules, and they should follow the Marriage Rules because they will get special privilege.  It's amazing; he might as well be saying that you're a traitor to the state unless your favourite colour is red, and if your favourite colour isn't red it's obviously because you have willfully chosen to tear down civilisation if it's the last thing you do with the final sinews of your flesh and shards of your bone.  So obviously you couldn't have ever been trusted with the privilege the proper Red-Appreciators have.

(I can't in good conscience recommend that anyone spend their time reading things Orson Scott Card has said, but if you did click on that link there, you'll find the quote where he literally states that marriage equality does nothing to elevate same-sex couples but steals the rightfully-earned privilege of male/female couples.)

I have said all of this without touching on the other patently stupid things that Card asserts in there, like saying that in every culture 'true adults' are the ones who follow the laws of marriage, as if child marriage isn't a thing that has always existed and still exists, as if the Mosuo don't exist, as if the definition of adults haven't been written and rewritten a million times in every different culture.  As if it's meaningful to declare that 'not getting married' defines someone as an outlaw, when the privileges of marriage have been denied to so many people so many times specifically for the purpose of declaring them less-adult, less-human than the people in charge.  (Marriage for enslaved people in the USA's so-recent past leaps to mind.)

It's so, so appropriate that we get this howlingly stupid monastic law in the same book that gives us the Hierarchy of Exclusion, which is supposedly about empathy but is demonstrated to mostly serve to let people say "I don't understand you, so you're not a person".  Card declares groups of people to be traitors and outlaws, then establishes laws that they are forbidden to follow, then declares it's obvious that they're outlaws because they won't follow his laws.  It's like watching a particularly malicious six-year-old inventing new rules halfway through a board game, only it results in couples being denied visitation rights in hospital or being deported.

Anyway.  I'm like 30% sure this blog is actually about eviscerating terrible books.  Don't I have one of those around here?  Hey, look, it's Speaker for the Dead!
Question 2: Why then is celibacy ordained for priests and nuns? 
To separate them from the community.  The priests are servants, not citizens.  They minister to the Church, but they are not the Church.  Mother Church is the bride, and Christ is the bridegroom; the priests and nuns are merely guests at the wedding, for they have rejected citizenship in the community of Christ in order to serve it.
Again, not a Catholic myself, but I'm pretty sure nuns are considered 'married to Christ', even if it's only spiritual and not legal.  (Card is on record that "regardless of law, marriage has only one definition", but apparently changing the definition of 'Catholic nun' is a-okay.)  But now it's time for the best part: Card's obsession with genetic lineage to the exclusion of all other meaning in life, to the point where it requires a special monastic order just to get a footnote.
Question 3: Why then do the Children of the Mind of Christ marry?  Do we not also serve the church? 
We do not serve the Church, except as all women and men serve it through their marriages.  The difference is that where they pass on their genes to the next generation, we pass on our knowledge; their legacy is found in the genetic molecules of generations to come, while we live on in their minds.  Memories are the offspring of our marriages, and they are neither more or less worthy than the flesh-and-blood children conceived in sacramental love.
But by God the only acceptable form of non-child-bearing marriage is a sexless union of woman and man and if the state tries to allow any other kind of legal marriage then Card has literally declared that he will devote himself to destroying that government and re-instituting privilege for himself and his kind.  (Note: making a lifelong loving commitment to someone you're not allowed to marry makes you a disgusting outlaw traitor who wants to destroy society, but living in a society in which marriage is open to all adults requires that you become an outlaw and destroy society.  Don't get those two confused, because they're obviouslly completely different.)

So I'm not sure if the best part of this is the bit where reproductive couples apparently only contribute via genetics, and their intellectual legacy is irrelevant, or if it's the way this whole thing has managed to extensively examine who is not allowed to have sex without actually ever explaining why.  Like, you'd think in a page-long dissertation on priests being forbidden to marry or have sex and the COTMOC being required to marry but not have sex, they might get around to the rationale, but nope.  I wonder at this point vaguely if this is Card trying to be generous (from his perspective) by presenting gay and lesbian people with a socially-acceptable sexless marriage, since remaining unmarried is also considered literal treason.  Speaker is of course almost three decades old; it was published years before his first famous homophobic rants, and he used to occasionally throw a patronising nod in the direction of us queers.  Lacking any indication otherwise, I'm just going to assume that every COTMOC we meet is 100% homosexual.

And that's all I can take of discussing Card's views on marriage, so let's move on to the actual chapter.  We open with some passive-aggression between a priest and Dom Cristão the COTMOC abbot and school principal, which is too boring to detail; the point is that the bishop wants to talk to him.  Dom Cristão follows instantly and obediently, silently predicting what stupid decisions the bishop will have made in response to the rumours about Andrew Wiggin and repeating his monastic name, "Amai a Tudomundo Para Que Deus Vos Ame. Ye Must Love Everyone So That God Will Love You."  It's a tradition to name yourself as a warning against your failings, and Dom Cristão hates stupid people.  That's not a joke; that's the canonical explanation.  Now, don't get me wrong, stupid people frustrate me too, so at first I was going to be totally on-board with this guy, but it turns out he's a colossal jackass

The bishop is waiting with Navio the doctor, whom we are told got fat because he was lazy and is now lazy because he's fat, because fuck you Card, and there is more passive aggression et cetera et cetera.  Navio angrily reports on Ender's threats, and Ye Must Love Dogs silently judges him for his hypocrisy when he won't go to mass every week but he gets so incensed about little things like a total stranger threatening to destabilise the entire colonial government and religious contract resulting in forced deportation of its community.  No priorities, this guy.  Ye Must Love Dogs also doesn't apparently care that Ender literally opened with threats of inquisition, and blames Navio for provoking him and making him more dangerous.  Ye Must Love Dogs says that they should strike first to neutralise the threat, pleasantly surprising the bishop.
"The Filhos are as ardent as any unordained Christian could hope to be," said Dom Cristão. "But since we have no priesthood, we have to make do with reason and logic as poor substitutes for authority." 
Bishop Peregrino suspected irony from time to time, but was never quite able to pin it down.
Oh, please, a stunned duck could spot that insult.  To an ever-increasing degree, I appreciate that Ender's Shadow has an antagonist who's actually as smart as the hero and more charismatic.  The parade of stupid evil people opposing Our Heroes in these books are exhausting.

Of course, Ye Must Love Dogs' secret plan to neutralise the threat from Ender is to do exactly what he says so that he can't call an inquisition.  The bishop is furious and asks if he doesn't see how dangerous Ender is, and Ye Must Love Dogs counters that he does, of course, since COTMOC was founded "precisely because the telling of truth is such a powerful act".  They note how the speakers have cleverly made themselves seem like they aren't a religion, by having no organisation, not performing sacraments, and denying that HQ&H is scripture.  Almost as if they bear no similarity to Catholicism or most religions at all, and calling it a religion is a weird affectation on Card's part.

They discuss the consequences if there was an inquisition and their Catholic License were revoked: immediate recolonisation by twice as many non-Catholics and immediate deportation of a large part of the Catholic population in order to keep the planetary population below the maximum.  There have always been shuttles in orbit ready to cart excess people away, as they expected to start doing in a couple of generations.
"They wouldn't." 
"Starways Congress was formed to stop the jihads and pogroms that were going on in half a dozen places all the time.  An invocation of the religious persecution laws is a serious matter."
Wait, really?  Is the primary purpose of Space Congress supposed to be secular mediation of sectarian violence?  How have there ever been "jihads and pogroms" in this galaxy when every planet has been colonised by a single demographic and official religions are allowed?  Is this book telling me that even thousands of years in the future, when whole planets are up for grabs and colonisation is specifically planned in order to homogenise populations, there is still a Jewish diaspora minority?  (I know 'pogrom' doesn't have to refer to persecuting Jews, but 'jihad' just means 'struggle' and refers to the conflict inherent in trying to balance the practicalities of life with religious duties and virtues, so let's not pretend this isn't racialised and bordering on racist already.)

Ye Must Love Dogs says that no matter how much it sucks, Congress has all the guns, so they've got to do what they say.  He suggests that the bishop, rather than retract his remarks, announce that he has delegated the task of handling the speaker to the COTMOC, so that the rest of the town can go on ignoring him and Card doesn't have to keep coming up with clever name puns in Portuguese.
"In other words," said Peregrino dryly, "the monks of your order will become servants of the infidel." 
Dom Cristão silently chanted his name three times.
I increasingly suspect that Starways Congress has carefully orchestrated the colonisation of Lusitania to put all of their most terrible and incompetent people on one planet and then lock it down forever.  Getting Ender Wiggin in there was a stroke of luck they could never have hoped for, and even now they're preparing the EMP to burn out all of their shuttles.

This is shorter than usual, but that's all I can handle for this week.  Next week Ender meets Ye Must Love Dogs, but it's from Ender's perspective, so we don't get to find out if I'm right that he instantly sees in Ender all of the flawless manly beauty that he joined the COTMOC to get away from.