Sunday, February 16, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter seven, in which Ender is a magical social worker

This is a long one and I am burnt.  Also still gotta make sure I'm ready to GM tomorrow.  Enjoy, insofar as that is possible in this context.

(Content: familial/ partner abuse. Fun content: OSC writing an atheist talking about scripture.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 108--122
Chapter Seven: The Ribeira House

Last time, Miro mentioned that he likes the Little One named Human, and this time we start with Ouanda's notes giving us some information about him and their slow puzzling-out of how to make babies.  Ouanda mentions that she saw Miro talking to Human "before you took off for the Questionable Activity", which I normally wouldn't turn into a masturbation joke except that these two are barely-abstinent teens and I was at a house party last night with people who are terrible (in a good way).

Another Little One named Mandachuva then mentioned that Human is really smart, already talking by the time he could walk, and gestured about ten centimetres off the ground.  Ouanda is apparently eighty times smarter than any of the previous xenologers, as she deduces this means they start walking at that height, smaller than they've ever seen one.  Mandachuva also conspiratorially added that Pipo knew Human's father: Rooter.  Ouanda proves her aptitude again by coming up with more than one theory that could explain this: it could be a 'spiritual' fatherhood, it could be that Little Ones gestate for twenty-four years, or have a twenty-four-year childhood hidden away somewhere, or they might just have some way of saving genetic material.  (She half-jokingly suggests they've saved Rooter's sperm in a jar, for which I dock her a couple of points since as yet they completely lack evidence that Little One reproduction involves human-analogue gametes.)

She also notes that this means Rooter, despite apparently being an executed criminal, was named as a father, and in turn that means that this group isn't a bunch of ostracised failures, but potential fathers, and since Human is so special and hangs out with them too, this group must actually have some prestige after all.  That's probably going a little far--high-prestige human men continue to be cared for by oppressed and denigrated human women--but Ouanda is still the first competent xenologer yet.  She concludes with some notes asking Miro to wake her up for a kiss when he gets home, which is going to get awkward next chapter.

The stinger to all this is that these notes are excerpted "from Lusitanian files by Congressional order and introduced as evidence in the Trial In Absentia of the Xenologers of Lusitania on Charges of Treason and Malfeasance". I would be worried more if only the last book hadn't acquitted all the protagonists of abuse, neglect, murder, and genocide after we spent three hundred pages watching them do exactly those things.

Back to Ender.  He arrives at the Ribeira's patchwork house--all houses are a bit patchwork, since new couples get one built for them by friends and family, and they then expand it as they pump out more and more children.  Theirs varies from simple plastic sheets in the old parts to proper bricks and plumbing for the more recent rooms.  Ender notes that Lusitania's economy is completely controlled and so there is no poverty: "The lack of decoration, of individuality, showed the family's contempt for their own house; to Ender this bespoke contempt for themselves as well."  I'm not sure that's a natural conclusion for Ender to reach after a formative childhood in which everything was regulation-made for practical purposes and individuality was largely suppressed, but I suppose he must have had some kind of character growth in the last couple of decades.  Eventually we might even see it!

Olhado and Quara ventured right in, and Ender asks Quara (who settles in a slump against the wall, blank-faced) if he can enter, but she doesn't respond at all. Ender muses again on how there's a disease in the house.  There's a lot of that going around.  The plague and the dysfunctional families and the stuff we're going to find out killed Marcos--disease appears to be the big theme we're running with for this book.

Another boy (Grego) shows up at a sprint, six years old to Quara's seven, and "unlike Quara, his face showed plenty of understanding.  Along with a feral hunger."  Boy's got a kitchen knife taped to his leg, which he draws, and lunges at Ender for a crotch stab.
A moment later Ender had the boy tucked under his arm and the knife jammed into the ceiling. Ender had to use both hands to control his limns; the boy ended up dangling in front of him by his hands and feet, for all the world like a calf roped for branding. 
Ender looked steadily at Quara.  "If you don't go right now and get whoever is in charge in this house, I'm going to take this animal home and serve it for supper."
Apparently Ender is still a ninja after all these years, despite no mention of training. Quick reminder, since I keep forgetting myself: Ender is the only white guy on this planet; everyone else is some substantial degree of black.  Because this whole barging-in-and-taking-charge-of-the-broken-home would be freaky enough if it were just the usual 'social worker tames the underclass' type of thing we've seen before, but at least in those situations I think the tradition is the Magical Negro rather than Mighty Whitey.  We're not even taking the 102-level problematic trope here; we've just got straight up racist overtones.

Quara flees and fetches Ela, who is briefly apologetic, then panics when she realises he's the Speaker she called, then apologetic again when he mentions the knife attack.
"Grego," she said to the boy, "it's wrong to poke at people with the knife." 
Grego growled in his throat. 
"His father dying, you see." 
"They were that close?" 
A look of bitter amusement passed across her face. "Hardly. He's always been a thief, Grego has, ever since he was old enough to hold something and walk at the same time. But this thing for hurting people, that's new. Please, let him go."
Ender refuses to let him go until he's satisfied that he won't be attacked again, and Ela gets rightfully angry about this strange dude who's barged into her house and is essentially holding her brother ransom.  Ender brushes this off by asking for a chair, and then ninjas his way into it by hurling Grego into the air, sitting down, and catching him again and locking him down in his lap.  Grego hammers his heels ineffectually into Enders shins as they all exchange names.  Ela suggests that Ender should come back tomorrow, and she gets backed up by another older boy (Quim):
"Didn't you hear my sister?  You aren't wanted here!" 
"You show me too much kindness," Ender said. "But I came to see your mother, and I'll wait here until she comes home from work."
Ender's passive-aggression kung fu also remains strong, but I suspect he's had plenty of time to practice that over the last twenty years.  They all fall silent at the mention of their mother, and Ender takes the opportunity to Bible-banter with Quim, so forgive me if I indulge my love for Christian authors trying to write atheists discussing scripture, because it is always comedy gold:
"You must be Estevão Rei Ribeira. Named for St. Stephen the Martyr, who saw Jesus sitting at the right hand of God." 
"What do you know of such things, atheist!" 
"As I recall, St. Paul stood by and held the coats of the men who were stoning him. Apparently he wasn't a believer at the time. In fact, I think he was regarded as the most terrible enemy of the church. And yet he later repented, didn't he? So I suggest you think of me, not as the enemy of God, but as an apostle who has not yet been stopped on the road to Damascus."
You know Ender down with the rad jive lingo. Scriptural metaphor is definitely the best way to earn the trust of an angry fifteen-year-old, and not just seem like yet another pompous authority figure on a world literally populated by pompous authority figures who make scriptural metaphors.  Fortunately, Ender is a level 25 Protagonist and so gets a +30 bonus to his Diplomacy rolls.  Ender calls himself "apostle to the piggies" and Miro arrives.
Miro was young--surely not yet twenty. But his face and bearing carried the weight of responsibility and suffering far beyond his years. [Does anyone not, in this family?] Ender saw how all of them made space for him. It was not that the backed away from him the way they might retreat from someone they feared. Rather, they oriented themselves to him, walking parabolas around him, as if he were the center of gravity in the room and everything else was moved by the force of his presence.
How does that even--no one is walking anywhere; where do these parabolas go?  This is what comes of telling rather than showing.  For the rest of the book I'm just going to imagine that every time Miro enters the room, rather than getting a leitmotif, everyone else just does a ten-second ballet routine around him.  (Ender is of course the centre of his own universe, and so pirouettes in place.)

Miro also calls for Grego's release, and Ela tries to explain the situation, indicating that everything's okay, but Grego claims he's being tortured.
"I am hurting him," said Ender. He had found that the best way to earn trust was to tell the truth. "Every time he struggles to get free, it causes him quite a bit of discomfort. And he hasn't stopped struggling yet."
First: what does it say about Ender's concept of 'truth' that he opens with a misleading statement, given that he's largely not responsible for Grego's discomfort and yet can't resist setting up a 'gotcha'?  Second: how does he know when Grego is or isn't in pain?  He's apparently keeping nigh-absolutely still, since it seems no one else can tell that Grego is still trying to break free.  Bah.  Miro's good with this and tells Grego he's not saving him this time.  Quim is disgusted, and Miro remarks that people starting calling him Quim (pronounced much like 'king') because his middle name is Rei, but "now it's because he thinks he rules by divine right".  So, Miro the Centre of Ribeiran Gravity has arrived and his first three actions are to declare that he might defy the law and let an offworld stranger meet the Little Ones, abandon his six-year-old brother to said strange adult, and mock his younger brother to said adult.  Maybe this is supposed to be because he instantly and flawlessly assessed Ender's quality and so decided to treat him as a confidante, but mostly he looks like a massive suck-up to me.

Miro asks why Ender is there, and is deeply relieved to hear he's looking for Novinha (not for Miro himself, since he called a speaker for Libo). She's of course in her lab, "trying to develop a strain of potato that can compete with the grass here". Wait, I thought they controlled the spread of plants via herbicide.  They can't seal a field off to keep out the grass?  Has it occurred to anyone that the xenobiologist's job would be like 90% easier and the risk of introducing an invasive species to the rest of the world would be slashed if they just built a goddamn greenhouse?  Hey, if they made the entire colony a greenhouse dome, they would have a much easier time keeping people from looking in by climbing a nearby hill, too!  I wonder if that could have some benefits!

(Miro adds that the potato breakthrough is in high demand, as the miners and farmers have made vodka into the stuff of dream and legend.  It would be those blue-collar types and not any of the hundreds of scientists who presumably spend so much time studying other aspects of Lusitania. (Yes, I continue to refuse to believe that this colony of 3000 exists purely to support two teenage xenologers.))

Miro's smile is literally compared to sunlight coming into a cave, and everyone relaxes.  Grego relaxes most of all: he stops fighting and instead enthusiastically wets himself.  Ender mentally notes that his reflexes are under conscious control--he can toggle them on and off--and so doesn't flinch, although everyone else is shocked.  Ender just says it's a meaningful gift and he'll never let him go.
"Why are you doing this!" said Ela. 
"He's expecting Grego to act like a human being," said Miro. "It needs doing, and nobody else has bothered to try." 
"I've tried," said Ela. [....] 
"We're not a very happy home," said Miro.
(I am 95% sure we're never going to find out how Ela has tried to engage Grego or why she failed where Ender will succeed, but I'm going to go ahead and guess that it's got a lot to do with Ela being a mere eighteen-year-old girl and Ender being a manly white Protagonist whose empathy is indistinguishable from overwhelming physical force.)

They finally start discussing Marcos' recent death, and it's obvious to Ender that most everyone is pretty happy about his death, but Quim gets furious whenever anyone hints at their family's problems.  When Ender asks if Macros beat them, Ela says no, but Miro decides he's had enough too, and there is much shouting and disagreement, especially once Ela lets slip that she called Ender to speak their father's death.  She counters by launching into a rant, how everyone in town is so understanding, they overlook Grego's thieving and Quara's silence and pretend the family is okay, brilliant grandchildren of Os Venerados, and ignore the way Marcos would come home drunk, brutally beat their mother, and verbally abuse Miro until he fled the house.  Quim is still upset that this is all being revealed, and Olhado finally snaps and plugs his eye into the computer, revealing that he secretly recorded the assaults.

Seeing Olhado jam a cable into his 'eye' sends Ender into a flashback to the Giant's Drink, the nightmares of which the formic queens used to anchor a philotic connection to his head, linking him to the hive-queen, infodump infodump.  Jane snaps him out of it by quietly remarking that while Olhado is plugged in, she's copying all of his other recorded vision, because, as y'all will recall, in the Enderverse it is legally mandatory to violate privacy at every possible opportunity.

The holoprojector shows Marcos shouting Miro away (Grego clinging to his father's leg, shouting along) and then attacking Novinha.  Ender notes that the real Grego is just shaking now.  More outbursts: Quim reveals that he prayed for their father to die, prayed to Mary and Jesus and his own grandparents, so he now believes he's going to hell and he's not sorry.
"Well, another certified miracle to the credit of Os Venerados," said Miro. "Sainthood is assured." [....] 
"Papa, papa, papa," whispered Grego. His trembling had given way to great shudders, almost convulsive in their violence. [....] 
"Papa's gone now," said Miro comfortingly. "You don't have to worry now." 
Ender shook his head. "Miro," he said, "didn't you watch Olhado's memory? Little boys don't judge their fathers, they love them. Grego was trying as hard as he could to be just like Marcos Ribeira."
The siblings are all shocked and horrified that they failed to understand Grego's turn for violence was in response to Marcos' death, which is weird, since you'll note that a bit up the page I quoted Ela explaining Grego's violence by noting that his father just died.  So... yeah, no, she totally got that.  The only thing she didn't apparently grasp was that Grego liked their father, despite, you know living with him*.  Forget Olhado's Steadicam eyes**; Miro was literally there when those events occurred, again and again.  No one noticed that Grego was attached to their father?  No one noticed that, presumably, their father was relatively kind to Grego rather than abusing him like his wife and eldest son?  (If he did verbally or emotionally abuse Grego or anyone else the way he did Miro, we don't hear about it.)

Ender says it's the type of thing it takes a stranger to see, which is at least a kind way of excusing his protagonist powers, and explains that Grego couldn't confide in any of them because he heard what they said about their father and so thought they hated him by extension.  Grego spins and hugs Ender around the neck, sobbing.  Jane congratulates Ender in his ear for "the way you turn people into plasma", which... I'm going to need someone to explain the analogy to me.
Ender couldn't answer her, and she wouldn't believe him anyway. He hadn't planned this, he had played it by ear.  How could he have guessed that Olhado would have a recording[...]? His only real insight was with Grego, and even that was instinctive, a sense that Grego was desperately hungry for someone to have authority over him [...].
Quara tells Ender he stinks and marches out of the room.  Olhado says this is impressive; the most she's said to anyone outside the family in months, and Ender thinks: "Didn't you notice?  I'm in the family now, whether you like it or not. Whether I like it or not."  I... am at a loss on that one.  How long is this conversation--twenty minutes?  Thirty?  He figures out that Grego's concept of a loving father figure has been fucked up by an abusive environment and suddenly he's convinced (despite no one in the family saying so) that he's part of the family now?  These people might be terrible colonists, but at least they've got colonialism down solid.

Grego cries himself out, then falls asleep, and Ela takes him away to clean him up and put him to bed.  Miro offers a pair of his own pants to wear while they clean Ender's, which Ender accepts though his own have "long since dried", reminding us all again that this author has no concept of the passage of linear time.  I stepped in a tiny puddle yesterday and my sock was damp for a couple of hours; there is no way Grego let loose on Ender half an hour ago and he's been dry for ages already.  Whatever.  Miro says Ender can stay until their mother arrives in another hour, and that's it for now with Ender Wiggin, Patriarchal White Social Worker.  Next week, he goes back into detective mode, though his jackwagonry remains the same.  Obvs.

---

*Also, can I just note that I had definitely transitioned into judging my father before age ten?  Not viciously judging, and not by age six, admittedly, but my father was also never awful on this scale, and not physically abusive.  I'm just saying that the whole Fight Clubby 'our fathers are our models for God' thing never resonated with me at all.  (Of course, I also wasn't raised religious, so there are a few factors at play there, I guess.)

**Incidentally, we're told the hologram is in "bas relief" since it was recorded from a single individual's perspective, not true 3D, but there's still no explanation of how Olhado has any real depth perception.  I guess he could have a certain amount of parallax if he had multiple optics all slightly apart, but wouldn't it be way simpler and cooler if he had echolocation?  His eye could have one camera and one echolocator and then combine the data to figure out which parts of the image should be perceived closer than others, like turning a map topographical.  I would demand Bat-eyes, in his position.

36 comments:

  1. This book is breaking my brain. It's a rotting onion of fractally wrong terribleness and it's difficult to pick out any bits that actually make sense, but on top of all that, each chapter seems to be taking place in a different reality with different people who just happen to have the same names as the people in the last chapter. I'm beginning to actually wonder if Card was engaging in recreational pharmaceuticals while writing this. I just... this... Round robin stories told by drunk college students and sleep deprived grade schoolers make more sense than this and are more coherent!


    This colony is so advanced that Olhado has robot eyes! This colony is such a shithole that people have homes that sound like modern American homeless camps and six year olds run around stabbing people with knives!


    "He's expecting Grego to act like a human being," said Miro. "It needs doing, and nobody else has bothered to try."



    So why didn't you, Miro?


    I understanding nothing of this family. And I find it almost impossible to believe that an abuser would allow anyone - even (or maybe especially) their own kid - to record their abuse. The only way this even remotely seems plausible is if there is no law at all in this colony or at least no law against spousal abuse or child abuse.


    Minor oddness:


    gestured about ten centimetres off the ground



    O_o How tiny are Little Ones?


    And (regarding the religion stuff), why hasn't Christianity changed any in 3,000 years? It's changed a lot from its beginnings to now, why wouldn't the sects of Christianity 3,000+ years from now be vastly different, too? (Also, is Ender telling them to convert him? Because that's what it sounds like to me. And that's just flat out weird.)

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  2. So why didn't you, Miro?

    I suspect the idea is that Miro has, from observing Ender and his successes with Grego right there, suddenly 'clued in' that everyone has been failing to treat Grego like a person (this does seem to be a popular 'failure' in this book, since that's basically what Ender is/will imply they're doing to the Little Ones). Apparently whatever Ela says she's been doing doesn't count. I dunno.

    How tiny are Little Ones?



    They've never seen one that small; I get the impression they're maybe three or four feet tall at adult height and that's the only height they've ever seen one at. Thus Ouanda boggling over whether Human might have been growing for the last 24 years to get from 10cm to full height, and wondering about gestation and development time.

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  3. Except when Miro says that, Ender hasn't been successful with Grego. All he's done is pin him and refuse to let him go. I'm not quite sure how that would clue Miro in to what Grego needs, but this whole chapter is really bizarre, even by the standards of the previous chapters. (And expecting someone to act like a human being is not at all the same thing as treating people like people. Though Card might well think they're the same.)


    The height thing stands out so much because 10cm is roughly 4 inches tall. That seems very, very tiny for the toddler even of a species that's three feet tall as adults. I guess it's supposed to be boggling, but it kind of comes off as "Does Card know the metric system?"

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  4. This sequence makes no sense. Child randomly attacks stranger, is surprised to find he's a ninja, is placed in a stress position for multiple minutes, voids himself on his attacker to no effect, and then the family discusses him and the end result is that the child converts to loving the attacker, and the family apparently is given an insight they hadn't considered. I assume Stockholm Syndrome takes longer than that. And that Ender is not somehow a walking Room 101.

    Yeah, that's not even close to good or realistic. Also, a kid that feral or stressed will probably try to bite.

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  5. This is exactly how attachment therapy is supposed to work, amazingly. To quote from the Wiki,

    The common form of attachment therapy is holding therapy, in which a child is firmly held (or lain upon) by therapists or parents. Through this process of restraint and confrontation, therapists seek to produce in the child a range of responses such as rage and despair with the goal of achieving catharsis. In theory, when the child's resistance is overcome and the rage is released, the child is reduced to an infantile state in which he or she can be "re-parented" by methods such as cradling, rocking, bottle feeding and enforced eye contact. The aim is to promote attachment with the new caregivers. Control over the children is usually considered essential and the therapy is often accompanied by parenting techniques which emphasize obedience....
    It has been described as a potentially abusive and pseudoscientific intervention that has resulted in tragic outcomes for children, including at least six documented child fatalities.[8]


    See also Focus on the Family's James Dobson and the need to conquer
    both your children and your miniature dachshunds.

    Many put-upon parents will, at some point, have an urge to just break the little bastard's will and make them listen for once, no matter what it takes. There's always a market for pseudoscientific or religious justifications of that urge. And it kills kids.

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  6. Don't they use invisible laser beams for those motion detector sensors? That's what Mythbusters told me.

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  7. For the rest of the book I'm just going to imagine that every time Miro
    enters the room, rather than getting a leitmotif, everyone else just
    does a ten-second ballet routine around him. (Ender is of course the
    centre of his own universe, and so pirouettes in place.


    I LOL'd.

    Also, I now want to see this ballet.

    The siblings are all shocked and horrified that they failed to
    understand Grego's turn for violence was in response to Marcos' death,
    which is weird, since you'll note that a bit up the page I quoted Ela
    explaining Grego's violence by noting that his father just died. So...
    yeah, no, she totally got that.


    This would be the SOP for meetings, though. A woman says something. Nobody seems to hear, the meeting proceeds as if she had said nothing. A few minutes later, a man says what the woman just said. Suddenly, it's a good idea, and everyone reacts, congratulating / reacting to what has just become the man's idea.

    which Ender accepts though his own have "long since dried", reminding us all again that this author has no concept of the passage of linear time.

    ...or Card invented magical quick-drying fabric and just forgot to mention it?

    A fabric that was as sturdy as denim or wool, that could be produced on a tiny colony without room for wool-bearing herds or cotton fields (and where DOES the colony get the material to make their clothing?) but that was as fast-drying as human skin, would be extremely useful. Perhaps a woman developed it, so everyone in Enderverse promptly forgot about her.

    sitting down, and catching him again and locking him down in his lap.
    Grego hammers his heels ineffectually into Enders shins as they all
    exchange names. ... Grego cries himself out, then falls asleep


    Okay, here's what works (and doesn't work) for me about this bit. I used to work as a childminder. I have looked after a lot of small children, none (as far as I know) from abusive homes like Grego's, certainly none quite as violent as Grego, but I have dealt with children who are old enough to deliver quite painful blows if you let them, who are having a meltdown and who will damage themselves, you, other children, the room they're in, if you let them. What Ender did is what I might have done - sit down somewhere solid (I would have gone for the floor, not a chair, but whatever), restrain the kid with my arms, and let the kid kick at my legs. Doing this isn't exactly painless for the kid (and certainly not for you, if the kid's wearing shoes!) but it's not seriously painful and the kid can't damage themselves (or do serious damage to you, or hurt anyone else). And then I hold on until the kid has finished having the meltdown. I would not have displayed anger and I would have continued to talk calmly, making clear I was not angry and was not threatening anger. So far, so good.

    But you can't do that to a kid unless there's some initial trust in the first place. With a very little kid, if you've been presented to them as a safe adult with authority, it takes scarily little to create that trust, but there has to be some, or the kid is just going to get more scared. That's what's disturbing - not so much Ender's ninja childminding skills, but the fact that he finds it appropriate to use them on a strange child who has absolutely no reason to trust him.

    Except of course that Ender is So Wonderful that EVERYONE trusts him, which is of course the point, duh. Excuse me, what was I thinking of?

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  8. And Miro hasn't bothered to try because? The nuns haven't bothered to
    try because? Any adult who might be kind of inconvenienced by being
    stabbed in the crotch hasn't bothered to try because?



    Well, if every time Miro comes home he gets abused by his parents I'm not really surprised he hasn't been able to help his little brother.



    The nuns haven't bothered to try because, as we saw in earlier chapters, they're completely indifferent to the welfare of the children of female scientists. Grego's mother is a scientist, therefore the nuns don't care. Other adults let Grego run feral for the same reason Novinha was let to run feral: nobody cared.



    Also, I suppose, Novinha, let run feral, taught herself post-grad level biology between 7 and 14, so presumably Grego is readying himself for his degree in physics.

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  9. Also, I suppose, Novinha, let run feral, taught herself post-grad level biology between 7 and 14, so presumably Grego is readying himself for his degree in physics.


    *sporfle*


    Sounds right. Six years old, compulsive thief, violent outbursts, and halfway through pre-med.

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  10. This would be the SOP for meetings, though. A woman says something. Nobody seems to hear, the meeting proceeds as if she had said nothing. A few minutes later, a man says what the woman just said. Suddenly, it's a good idea, and everyone reacts, congratulating / reacting to what has just become the man's idea.


    Oh, of course. I mean, I'm sure that's not what Card intended to show, but I totally believe that he didn't consider what Ela said relevant for precisely that reason.


    As far as his handling of Grego, I think there's another important difference, contrasting restraining a child (to keep them from harming themselves/others) and the way Ender is implicitly 'fixing' Grego in the style of attachment therapy described below (which had existed for a few years at the time of this book but hadn't yet had its big discrediting scandals). That may not be what Card was literally trying to promote, but he does seem to be working from the same sort of break-the-child-down-and-remake-him premise.

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  11. Just a thought on the 10 cm gesture....that could have been nothing related to the actual height. People (although not anyone I know) might say stuff like, "I was knee-high to a grasshopper..." and we wouldn't take that literally.

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  12. Are there any native fauna on Lusitania other than the Little Ones? I mean, given that all animals on the planet presumably share a common ancestry, they ought to be able to figure out a lot about the Little Ones by comparative anatomical analysis of other, nonsentient, species.

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  13. Yes, that would be a wise avenue of investigation, wouldn't it?

    Pet-peeve nitpick: 'sentient', 'has senses'. 'sapient', 'has wisdom'. The two words are not synonymous no matter how often they're used synonymously. I'm pretty sure humans are the only sapient species on Earth, though there are arguments in favor of a variety of others, but we are far from the only sentient species. I realize this is probably an argument where the dictionary does or will agree with my opponents a la literally/figuratively, but.

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  14. I just... this... Round robin stories told by drunk college students
    and sleep deprived grade schoolers make more sense than this and are
    more coherent!


    I got to play a lengthy round of "No, Really, This is What Happens" about this book with my roommate the other day. She had read Ender's Game, but not Speaker or any of the other books, and out of morbid curiosity last week I ended up skimming and re-reading through the rest of the book. I ended up going on at length about just how bad this book is, and how astonished I am that I didn't notice this fact before. As I described all the various plot points, her only reaction was pretty much "What. What? WHAT?!" She could not believe how utterly nonsensical the worldbuilding was and how unbelievable the characters' actions were.

    As a history major herself, though, she was most outraged/baffled/insulted about the whole "Demosthenes/Valentine writes the definitive history of every planet they visit in six months" bit. We eventually came up with the headcanon that what Demosthenes is really writing is basically the extended Wikipedia page on each planet, full of broad stereotypes and general facts, that everyone else (including all the REAL historians) eagerly awaits the release of so they can laugh at how woefully incomplete it is. Because that is the only kind of history you are going to pull off in six months about colonies that are a minimum of 100-200 years old and possibly up to 3000 years old.



    As she pointed out: people today write entire books on one event or person, or one small group of events or people, or one short 10-20 year period in history, and those books are hundreds of pages long and take years to research and years more to write. Valentine is supposedly writing an equivalent of The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire in six months. While also teaching/lecturing. WTF?

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  15. there's still no explanation of how Olhado has any real depth perception. I guess he could have a certain amount of parallax if he had multiple optics all slightly apart

    Binocular vision is only one way of having depth perception; other methods can be achieved with only one eye, like Olhado has. I know chameleons and jumping spiders have depth perception without binocular vision. But then there's all sorts of questions that could raise: how does Olhado handle that? Does the eye "translate" the feed to stereo and send the information to his nerves? Has his brain just adapted to the sensory input the eye sends him so that he can understand depth in this new way? If the latter, then how does his camcorder-vision actually appear to other people? I'm going to assume that Card neither thought of nor answered any of these questions.

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  16. Woof. Seems like the only thing being taught there is that people who are bigger and stronger than you are will insist you obey them and physically restrain you until you do. Which is what bullies and bosses want - obey us because we have power.

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  17. There are only a handful of other species: the cabras, the watersnakes, the macios, the suckflies, the puladors, and not many besides. (This turns out to be significant later.)

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  18. WTF is wrong with these people?! Or Card, since it's all his fault.
    Given that Ela doesn't seem surprised AT ALL that Grego not only has a knife but tried to use it on someone, Grego must have done this, or something very similar, at least once before. It is not that hard to prevent 6 year olds from accessing knives! As a last resort, you remove the knives from the home. Also, it doesn't take long for news of a 6 year old knife wielder to get around and for people to stop letting said 6 year old into their homes. So he shouldn't have access to other people's knives either.
    Oh wait, that would require anyone to give a crap either about the 6 year old's serious issues or their own safety. Plus, it would require an actual action, which, as far as I can tell, is not something anyone in this family is willing to do.

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  19. Both the "no decorations=contempt for themselves" and "we need potatoes for Vodka"! details strike me as things *Card* found interesting in his mission trip (which this colony is largely based upon) and drew his own conclusions which are batshit wrong. I did Peace Corps for two years, and the general lack of decor, in the Western sense of framed, hung photographs and art, struck me as very odd the first few months. Then I realized that in my host culture, the floor-length curtains and/or carpets and tapestries hung against one wall, leaving the others blank, was considered quite well-decorated and proper. I wouldn't be surprise if Card's host culture had similarly different attitudes toward home decor that Card chauvinistically assumed to imply that no one there had any taste.

    Similarly, the detail that it is *farmers and miners* who want vodka, something they've never drank, only heard about, is also quite classist and obviously an outsider observation. First, *of course* the sophisticated sciencey-types (I feign to call Card's characters "scientists", since they are all presented as incompetent autodidact amateurs) aren't into a new source of alcohol. Second, I refuse to believe that no one on Lusitania is currently distilling *anything*, if only for medical and laboratory cleaning purposes (or has Card's "future tech" eliminated the need for rubbing alcohol?) Third, this is again an American colonialist observing a cultural preference for "exotic" alcohol and attributing it to some kind of vague moral failing. I suppose Card's being culturally Mormon means he hasn't experienced much of US drinking culture (or didn't prior to his mission), but considering every major social interaction or event of any kind in this country is always supplied with if not founded upon the consumption of wine, beer or spirits, it seems very pot-kettle-shade-judging.

    Finally, most modern vodka isn't distilled from potatoes, which are more expensive than grains. Russians didn't even have wide access to potatoes until well into the 1800s. Again, even given that this book was written prior to Google, it doesn't excuse the extreme laziness of research and constant reversion to stereotype behind every "look at my WorldBuilding!" detail Card pulls out of his ass.

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  20. Do not attempt to understand the logic of the Ender. That is impossible. Merely realize the truth: There is no logic.

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  21. Well, if every time Miro comes home he gets abused by his parents I'm not really surprised he hasn't been able to help his little brother.

    Right, but their dad's been been dead for six weeks (or possibly three weeks, I think there's a dating inconsistency the editors didn't catch) at this point, and Novinha's off being an absentee mom. It just seems like Grego's family members would at some point attempt a strategy other than "When he comes at us with the knife, dodge." Just in their own self-interest.

    Grego's mother is a scientist, therefore the nuns don't care.

    But the nuns do care. I mean, not necessarily in any altruistic way, but we saw that at least one nun was willing to use physical force to stop Grego from defacing church property. Again, Grego is sufficiently obnoxious--he's kicking adults in the face in church--that even lazy and uncompassionate people ought to be intervening, just to make their own lives easier.

    Also, I suppose, Novinha, let run feral, taught herself post-grad level
    biology between 7 and 14, so presumably Grego is readying himself for
    his degree in physics.


    Now that makes sense. He only stole the screwdriver to get his FTL drive started!

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  22. I wouldn't be surprise if Card's host culture had similarly different attitudes toward home decor that Card chauvinistically assumed to imply that no one there had any taste.

    That seems very plausible. And there are so many options Ender's just ignoring here. Maybe it's cultural. Maybe they recently took down a bunch of the decorations to express mourning over Marcão's death, or maybe it's currently too hard to keep looking at the artwork he chose/created/loved. Maybe Grego's been stealing stuff and hoarding it. Maybe none of them really care about the house that much, since most of the people in the household have centered their lives around the Little One research station or the church or chatroulette.com (or wherever Olhado does whatever the hell he does with the "semi-virgins") instead. But, nope, Ender just intuits his way to the obvious conclusion that they're all mired in self-hatred.

    Similarly, the detail that it is *farmers and miners* who want vodka, something they've never drank, only heard about, is also quite classist and obviously an outsider observation. First, *of course* the sophisticated sciencey-types (I feign to call Card's characters "scientists", since they are all presented as incompetent autodidact amateurs) aren't into a new source of alcohol.

    Yup. Meanwhile, exactly the opposite is true in real life. Vodka's currently becoming more popular in Brazil among the urban, clubgoing middle class, but the rural "common man" still tends to prefer cachaça. In fact, many rural Brazilians have this odd thing called "national pride" and feel like consuming and promoting Brazil's signature products is a good thing! Bizarre, I know.

    And it just hit me--"miners?" There's an ongoing, large-scale mining industry in this colony? They're digging big-ass holes in the ground and removing Lusitania's non-renewable resources? How is that minimizing ecological impact and leaving Lusitania to the Little Ones? Argh. Swear to god, we're going to discover that they've been sewing their boots out of space pig leather or something. "We weren't trying to interfere with the Piggies, honest! We just thought they...wouldn't miss their skin very much! We tried to remove it quietly!"


    Second, I refuse to believe that no one on Lusitania is currently distilling *anything*, if only for medical and laboratory cleaning purposes (or has Card's "future tech" eliminated the need for rubbing alcohol?)

    Apparently they tried brewing with the amaranth, but it "doesn't ferment into a very good beverage". Which, aside from being factually false, is kind of irrelevant if your goal is to make distilled alcohol. The whole point of distillation is that it makes "not very good" beverages better by amping the alcohol content and removing impurities.

    Anyway, instead of trying to improve the distillation process or adding additional flavorings or doing any of the stuff human beings have done for all of recorded history in order to develop regional specialty drinks from the local foodstuffs, they've just given up. Because Brazilians hate developing regional specialty drinks. Apparently it makes far more sense to engineer an entirely new food crop to cope with Lusitania's death viruses, then use it to make Card-approved potato vodka instead.

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  23. Why do they take him to church? I mean, if your kid is kicking adults in the face, I don't think they'll miss him too much.

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  24. Does anyone know if "Quim" is a usual sort of nickname in Portuguese? I would really rather not try to google it, and I feel sort of awful for having to stifle giggles every time I see his name.

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  25. Ledasmom: I see that you are acquainted with Elizabethan English too!

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  26. Well, you see the issue with googling it. Linguistics is not likely to feature prominently.

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  27. Well, Wikipedia indicates the existence of a couple of Portuguese soccer players who are named Joaquim and called Quim, so he's at least doing better than the fake Scandanavian names.

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  28. "Miro offers a pair of his own pants to wear while they clean Ender's, which Ender accepts though his own have 'long since dried', reminding us all again that this author has no concept of the passage of linear time. I stepped in a tiny puddle yesterday and my sock was damp for a couple of hours; there is no way Grego let loose on Ender half an hour ago and he's been dry for ages already."

    Miracle futuristic textile synthetic. Unnatural fibers on steroids. Of course Ender wears polyester pants to Lusitania, like the Englishman at the outstation who always dressed for dinner, and of course his synthy fibers are the absolute synthiest of all. No other unnatural fibers can match them for sheer synthiness. On Trondheim he wore fake fur. That's how intense he is about these things.

    "Incidentally, we're told the hologram is in 'bas relief' since it was recorded from a single individual's perspective, not true 3D, but there's still no explanation of how Olhado has any real depth perception."



    Olhado doesn't have depth perception; his machinery does (or is sophisticated enough to produce an impression of depth perception in anyone who views an Olhado recording). Just another example of how a well-drawn character's Powers are more interesting than the character him-or-herself. JMO.

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  29. Ender is quick-drying like his pants.

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  30. I think that since it's emphasized that the pequeninos have no metallurgy themselves, they have no moral claim to the metals on their planet. They aren't using the metals on their planet, at least not in any way the human colonists can recognize, they haven't declared ownership over the metals on their planet, they've got no idea of the value of the metals on their planet, so possibly in the view of the Starways society the field is open and the rush is (justifiably) on. There are quite a few people (Ayn Rand was one) who have argued that the American Natives had no claim to their territory because their culture deprived them of the means of formulating that kind of claim.

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  31. That's an entirely plausible attitude for a colonialist power to take. It just doesn't seem to jibe with Starways Congress' naively tolerant "don't displace the piggies or mess with them in any way" policy. I mean, Ayn Rand wouldn't (I think) bother to pretend that the Native Americans were still the rightful occupants and managers of their own lands.


    If Starways Congress were supposed to be expansionist, exploitative assholes who were hypocritically pretending to be tolerant for PR purposes, it would be different. But it doesn't seem like Card's going that direction.

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  32. Who cares if the pee on your pants has dried? If your pants have pee on them, the correct response is 'thank you, I would like to change into a different pair.' Not 'thank goodness I wore quick dry polyester today!'

    Ender is gross.

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  33. FWIW, and not to be overly pernickety, I think this passage mirrors something we see in most of Card's fiction and in the Ender books specifically. What it is, is that Card's protagonists can never be in a particle of debt to anyone, for anything, ever. Where there's a pattern of giving versus receiving, Ender always has to be on the giving end (and this holds true for most other Card protagonists although Ender is an exceptionally pure example). IMO that's why Card repeatedly makes the point that Ender's mere physical presence on-scene (in whatever scene he's in) is such an inestimable gift that those who receive it can never hope to pay it back, and it's why Card goes to the extant of having Ender (hilariously) flee outright from a grad student on Trondheim whom he (Ender) fears wants a piece of him. "She will steal from the mana of my glorious presence and I shall derive nothing worthwhile in return!!" Now in terms of mere mortal humanity that's pretty silly, but in terms of Enderics it's supposed to make sense.

    So here we have a scene in which, in basic common-sensical terms, Ender is indeed in need of something (dry pants) which Miro is perfectly willing to provide. What's more Ender's need is predicated partly on Ender's previous actions — Ender decided to hold Grego on his lap until Grego wet himself, nobody forced Ender to do that. So Ender is in a quandary which he owes, partly, to his own decisions; therefore he owes a bit of gratitude, in a minor way, to Miro, who is willing to help him out of his scrape. But Card can't leave it there because that puts Ender in the position of someone who owes a favor rather than in the position of the person to whom a favor is owed. Consequently Miro has to be put in the position of being willing to do a favor for a dude who doesn't need one — he ends up offering a pair of dry pants to a visiting creepy uncle outworlder whose pants are mysteriously already dry. (Meaning that Ender can accept the favor, but only if he doesn't really need it.)

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  34. Demosthenes: "Mostly harmless."

    The masses: "Brilliant!"

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  35. Why the hell would he even WANT to be a part of this dysfunctional family anyway? GRRRR

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