(Content: colonisation, racism. Fun content: I'm just going to link everything ever.)
Speaker for the Dead: p. 1--7
The book doesn't quite start with the prologue; first there's the introduction again (which I'm skipping because it again has spoilers and because doing the Ender introduction at the end of the book was far more effective), then some family trees of Portuguese-named cast members, then some explanation of how to pronounce letters in Portuguese names, which kind of hilariously devolves into 'this is obviously all much too complicated for you readers so don't worry about it, ahah'. Card keeps on keepin' on. Then we get to the prologue.
The calendar was apparently reset when the Starways Congress was established, which I'm going to assume is the Space UN, so it's the year 1830 when a robot scout ship identifies a planet suitable for humanoid life and Congress gives the high-population planet Baía (that i is accented, but it's hard to tell in this font) permission to explore and thus spread out some of their excess people. They land 56 years later, 1886, relativity being what it is, and they are all Portuguese-speaking ethnically-Brazilian Catholics, because if we can be sure of one thing it's that three* millennia into the future we will definitely still have the same nationalistic, religious, and linguistic categories that we have today. (English has mutated into 'Stark', probably short for 'Starways Common' or something, and it is everyone's first language, obviously. Portuguese is still Portuguese, though.)
I suppose from their perspective it's been less than three millennia by some degree, since people keep losing decades whenever they travel, which should lead to interesting situations for some people and terrifying transformations of the universe from the perspective of others. I mean, imagine that back in 1900 CE we were all in contact by magic instant radio with England, and they're all "Oi, Germany seems like it could be the centre of some big trouble, want to pop over and help keep an eye on things" and we're all "Hell yeah,let me get in my relativistic boat", and then we arrive a century later and now they're all "No worries, nothing a couple of world wars and the devastation of Russia couldn't solve, too bad you missed the Beatles, but have you heard of One Direction" and in a panic we radio home and Canada is like "We're still super-racist to First Nations and Inuit but check out this marriage equality" and then the USA busts in with "Check out mah nukes I'VE BEEN TO THE MOON" and this is happening all over the galaxy all the time. You might as well have Leifr Eiríksson trying to make conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson. The idea of 'history' becomes a complete mess. God, I hope that's what this book is about.
Anyway, the people of Baía aren't quite in that situation, since they presumably descended from a single Earth colony ship and spent less than 2500 years of Earth-time travelling through space, so the implication should still be that their planet is well-established and old and they're just very set in their ways. (It occurs to me that it must be kind of hard to be Catholic when contact with the Vatican is disrupted by time dilation.) They are so dedicated that when these Portuguese-speaking ethnically-Brazilian people land on this new planet they name it Lusitania, last used as the name of Portugal in 891 CE. Four thousand years later they can't think of a better name for this planet they're colonising that already has native sentient life. Well. That seems appropriate, but probably not for the reasons that Card thinks it does.
Within five days of landing, they have found the indigenous people, whom they originally considered animals, named them porquinhos/piggies, and realised they're actually sapient and "not animals at all".
For the first time since the Xenocide of the Buggers by the monstrous Ender, humans had found intelligent alien life. The piggies were technologically primitive, but they used tools and built houses and spoke a language. "It is another chance God has given us," declared Archcardinal Pio of Baía. "We can be redeemed for the destruction of the buggers."Really, first 'buggers' and now 'piggies'? Can I suggest humanity put someone else in charge of naming alien species? Maybe a sociologist should hang out with these scientists to point out that dismissive and diminishing nicknames are squished right up against slurs and both already contribute to the devaluation of humans so they'll probably do a real number on our views of 'primitive' aliens?
Also, modern North Americans mostly don't give a fuck about the genocide that their ancestors and country-founders conducted on this very continent less than five hundred years ago. Here we're given to believe that the people of the galaxy are still super-guilty about Ender's single-handed destruction of the Formics from three thousand years earlier, the only evidence for which is an anonymous biography/eulogy also from three thousand years earlier? But at the very least this apparently plays well politically, so everyone agrees that above all else "the piggies were not to be disturbed". Of course, the Lusitanians are still allowed to form a colony from Baía on that world, guaranteeing that sooner or later they're going to run into each other and there will be disturbance. They're not quite in Prime Directive territory yet. If they're that concerned, settling at all seems like a hugely unnecessary risk. A scientific outpost at most. Goddammit, humanity.
Chapter One: Pipo
In place of the old Featureless Dialogue of Faceless Voices, we have a fragment of a letter from Demosthenes "to the Framlings", which I understand better than I should because I've encountered the words 'raman' and 'varelse' before.
The difference between raman and varelse is not in the creature judged, but in the creature judging. When we declare an alien species to be raman, it does not mean that they have passed a threshold of moral maturity. It means that we have.'Raman' are beings we can understand and value in the same way that we do humanity; 'varelse' are aliens that are more foreign and so harder to empathise or interact with. This is, broadly, a good point. I just find it so weird coming from a sexist, racist, homophobe who named his innocent and worthy aliens 'buggers' and 'piggies'.
Despite the whole 'they are not to be disturbed' deal, we now join Pipo, who apparently meets semi-regularly with a porquinho (god, I hope we get a better name for them) called Rooter (get it, like pigs?) in a clearing somewhere and they talk, although Pipo apparently isn't allowed to ask direct questions. Rooter is basically a rebellious teenager, but smart enough that he apparently manipulates Pipo as well--into doing what, it doesn't say. Also, he's already learned Portuguese. Portuguese. Either they really, really suck at this 'no disturbing the indigenous people' law or Rooter is a linguistic genius who would put most humans to shame.
The earliest visitors to this world had started calling them [piggies] in their first reports back in '86, and by the time Lusitania Colony was founded in 1925, the name was indelible. The xenologers scattered among the Hundred Worlds wrote of them as "Lusitanian Aborigines", though Pipo knew perfectly well that this was merely a matter of professional dignity; except in scholarly papers, xenologers no doubt called them piggies, too. As for Pipo, he usually called them pequininos, and they seemed not to object, for now they called themselves "Little Ones." Still, dignity or not, there was no denying it. At moments like this, Rooter looked like a hog on its hind legs.The correct name for a person is what they say it is. Little Ones. Gotcha.
Rooter has been clambering around and Pipo calls him an acrobat, from which he quickly deduces that humanity must have people whose job it is to leap and tumble for show. Pipo sighs and curses himself because he's let loose information about humanity and that is verboten. I'm not sure how the hell the existence of acrobats is a state secret but the existence of interstellar-venturing aliens is considered okay. He changes the subject, but Rooter quickly gets back by asking Pipo to show off his hovercraft to Rooter's friends, trying to put Pipo in the position of either breaking the law or humiliating Rooter and showing disrespect. Oh, and apparently Rooter speaks Stark as well as Portuguese and at least one of their own languages. Rooter quite reasonably asserts that this is because his people are smarter than humans, and then tells Pipo to shove off, which he quickly does, picking up his teenage son/apprentice as he goes.
On the way home, Pipo muses on words in Stark (xenologer) and Portuguese (zenador) and how the ansible is the only thing keeping all of humanity speaking a common language. He muses that without constant outside contact, the Lusitanians would probably end up speaking some fusion of Stark and Portuguese and be mutually incomprehensible with any of the other hundreds of dialects that would form across human civilisation. And this too is weird to me, because here on our one world of Earth we've already seen English transform into potentially-incomprehensible dialects within single countries (consider, for example, AAVE) and that's with people speaking the same language in the same city, let alone across a hundred different planets. Stellar clusters don't have variation? Language transforms all the time. The introduction of a specific kind of blogging interface is arguably responsible for new vernacular grammatical constructions in English that make no sense when compared to the lessons we were taught at home or school. The ansible is, for all purposes, the galactic internet, or more accurately the infrastructure on which the galactic internet resides, and it's not going to preserve Stark any more than Pinterest has contributed to the preservation and spread of Received Pronunciation.
Pipo figures it'll be the usual long evening of making notes with Libo and reviewing each other's reports before uploading them to the ansible network for the benefit of xenologers across the galaxy. Instead, he finds the monastic Dona Cristã waiting to talk to him.
Dona Cristã was a brilliant and engaging, perhaps even beautiful, young woman, but she was first and foremost a monk of the order of the Filhos de Mente de Crista, Children of the Mind of Christ, and she was not beautiful to behold when she was angry at ignorance and stupidity. It was amazing the number of quite intelligent people whose ignorance and stupidity had melted somewhat in the fire of her scorn.I'm not sure if that's supposed to mean that she unreasonably thinks everyone is stupid, or if she's so smart that she even shows smart people that they're lacking. I'm a tiny bit surprised that we've apparently abandoned the Ender's Game tradition, ignoring women to talk about beautiful adolescent boys, in favour of the more popular tradition of women needing to be beautiful and having their looks commented upon even when their defining characteristics are completely unrelated. But I guess there's still time.
Dona Cristã is there to talk about Novinha, orphan daughter of the genius xenobiologists who cured the Descolada plague that almost wiped out the colony eight years earlier. The description of the plague is beyond hideous, so no quoting of that--Pipo muses on types of grief, sharing his mourning (for his lost daughter Maria) with the community in requiem mass, whereas Novinha lost her parents while the rest of the colony rejoiced because they found the cure.
After the mass she walked in bitter solitude amid the crowds of well-meaning people who cruelly told her that her parents were sure to be saints, sure to sit at the right hand of God. What kind of comfort is that for a child? Pipo whispered aloud to his wife, "She'll never forgive us for today."
"Forgive?" Conceiçāo was not one of those wives who instantly understand her husband's train of thought. "We didn't kill her parents..."
"But we're all rejoicing today, aren't we? She'll never forgive us for that."
"Nonsense. She doesn't understand anyway; she's too young."
She understands, Pipo thought. Didn't Maria understand things when she was even younger than Novinha is now?Lady roll call! We have: the aggressive beautiful angry teacher-nun, the wife who doesn't understand her husband or respect small children's maturity and awareness, and the memory of the tragically-dead smart daughter. Awesome. Top marks.
I see we're also keeping the Ender's Game moral that no one appreciates children as actual people, although instead of six-year-olds to save the day we've now got Rooter, Libo, and Novinha around. Not sure when Ender will show up (not for a couple of chapters, I think), but he should be, what, in his mid-twenties now at least, so he probably isn't a good candidate to validate and vindicate unappreciated brilliant teenagers. I wonder if that was always an aspect of Speaker, or if it came in after Ender's Game had already been written. Or maybe it'll be dropped entirely after this acknowledgement. I legitimately don't know! It's exciting. Are you excited? I'm excited. Come back next week when we find out exactly what Dona "Angry Hot Nun" Cristã has to tell us about Novinha and we muse further on the alienness of aliens!
*I originally got the times wrong; I assumed that the Starways Congress was established not longer after Ender's Game, but apparently it took something like a millennium just for that. So, three thousand years since Ender's Game. Not for everyone, certainly not for Ender, but for Earth, it's been three thousand years. For a sense of scale, three thousand years ago from our modern day, the Phoenicians had just invented their alphabet, South Asians invented Tamil, the Kenyans started farming, and the Philistines stole the Ark of the Covenant. Latin hadn't been invented yet. It's a long freaking time.