(Content: colonialism, incest, genocide. Fun content: CAN WE FIX IT? No, we can't, because this book was published 28 years ago and the damage is done and it somehow won the Hugo and the Nebula.)
Speaker for the Dead:. p. 289--311
Y'all will recall that we left Miro at the fence, which he can't turn off anymore, hooting for the Little Ones and hoping that narrative fiat is on his side. It is, obviously, and so a passel of them arrive--"Arrow,Human, Mandachuva, Leaf-eater, Cups"--stomping through the grass instead of moving silently like they do in the forest. They stay still and absolutely silent, which Miro translates as anxious body language, and he says he can't come to them anymore because he got caught. He blames Ender, but the Little Ones report that the hive queen said it was the satellites, and suggest what they might have spotted: the hunt, the amaranth crops, the cabra-shearing, orrrrr maybe the three hundred and twenty baby Little Ones born since the first amaranth harvest.
Once again, I'm having some trouble with timelines. (Bonzooooooo--) Libo is the one who gave them the amaranth (I don't know if we've had that stated outright yet, but it's why they honored/murdered him), meaning that was four years ago, and we also know that was the first time they shared human technology (spurred by the famine). All the other tech that Miro and Ouanda have shared with them has to have been in those intervening four years. Obviously it takes some time to go from conception to adult, but we've already got Arrow and Calendar and Cups running around, meaning none of them can be older than four years. Supposedly the mass birthing started as soon as possible after Libo's death, but somehow no one has noticed the massive upswing in population, not Miro, not Ouanda, and most questionably not Jane, who literally satellite-scoured the entire planet like four days ago and reported to Ender that "every forest like this one carries just about all the population that a hunter-gatherer culture can sustain" back in chapter six. Possible conclusions: either the masses of new births actually got delayed a few years, or the Little Ones are actively hiding most of their new generation, or this alien baby boom didn't exist four chapters ago because it wasn't relevant to the plot yet. Place your bets!
Also, as an aside, I hadn't considered until now that this timeline means that Libo gave the Little Ones new tech, the Little Ones inexplicably eviscerated him for it, and Miro and Ouanda responded by massively ramping up the technology-sharing. Because that makes sense both from an emotional point of view ("My name is Ouanda Figueira. You killed my father. Prepare to be taught how to bake and sculpt basic pottery".) and from a survival point of view ("Huh, the boss gave them agriculture and they murdered him; I wonder what they'll do if we give them ranged weapons.").
Where were we? Right, savage primitives. Miro demands to know what's with the baby boom and the Little Ones explain that, with their new amazing food source, they can hugely increase their tribe size, conquer all the surrounding tribes, plant mothertrees in their forests, and TAKE OVER THE WORLD. Miro is a professional, so he doesn't protest their megalomania; he just asks where the new generation is, and Human says they're busy learning with the other brother-houses. Which is again rubbish, since we were told back in chapter six again that all the males in the forest lived together in one big log house. (Although, if the satellites can see through the trees well enough to figure that out, why can't they see the Wives' settlement? And if they can't see the Wives or these other possible brother-houses, how can they be estimating the populations in any of the forests anywhere on the planet?)
Miro gets around to explaining that he's to be taken offworld. The Little Ones (who have been assuring him that Ender will fix everything) offer to hide him, and he points out the impassable agony fence, they tell him to chew grass.
Finally Mandachuva tore off a blade of capim near the ground, folded it carefully into a thick wad, and put it in his mouth to chew it. He say down after a while. The others began teasing him, poking him with their fingers, pinching him. He showed no sign of noticing. [....] Mandachuva stood up, a bit shaky for a moment. Then he ran at the fence and scrambled to the top, flipped over, and landed on all fours on the same side as Miro.It turns out the Little Ones have been hopping over the fence at night and strolling around town for years now. Not going to lie, I cracked up a little at this part. I mean, it makes no sense or difference--they haven't learned anything in town that impacts the plot, and they've never been spotted because the Starways Panopticon doesn't believe in security cameras--but the level of "Oh, yeah, by the way, your technology is less than useless" is hilarious in its excess.
Miro says the grass is an anesthetic, and they correct him, saying they feel the pain--worse than dying--but "it's happening to your animal self. But your tree self doesn't care. It makes you be your tree self." Miro recalls Libo's corpse with a mass of grass in its mouth. Mandachuva says he'll go find Ouanda, since he's been in the village a few dozen times now and knows where everyone lives. Which of course means that there's no one to pinch Miro and help him test his pain sensitivity as he starts chewing grass. Well:
He pinched himself. As the piggies said, he felt the pain, but he didn't cared. All he cared about was that this was a way out, a way to stay on Lusitania. To stay, perhaps, with Ouanda.Yes, dear reader, Our Hero is desperately seeking a way to take his half-sister away into the forest to "raise a family of humans who had completely new values, learned from the piggies". You may commence retching; I'll still be here when you're done.
He ran at the fence and seized it with both hands. The pain was no less than before, but now he didn't care, he scrambled up to the top. But with each new handhold the pain grew more intense, and he began to care, he began to care very much about the pain, he began to realize that the capim had no anesthetic effect on him at all, but by this time he was already at the top of the fence. [...] Momentum carried him above the top and as he balanced there his head passed through the vertical field of the fence.Mandachuva returns in time to haul himself up the fence and shove Miro over to the other side. They argue about planting him immediately before he dies, but Human insists the pain is just an illusion and he'll recover, though he shows no signs. Mandachuva runs off again to find Ouanda.
We cut back to Ender meeting with all the important people. Novinha arrives:
He noticed that her hair was down and windblown, and for the first time since he came to Lusitania, Ender saw in her face a clear image of the girl who in her anguish had summoned him less than two weeks, more than twenty years ago.So... wait, she's finally free and at ease, and so she looks more than ever like the isolated, self-loathing, desperate heretic teenager acting out of self-sabotaging panic?
Ender explains that he's gathered them to decide whether to rebel against the congressional order. They say they have no choice, but Ender says all of congress' power and threats depends on the ansible. THE BISHOP says they can't cut off the ansible or they'd lose contact with the Vatican, but Ender (without asking her first, obvs), reveals Jane's power:
"I have a friend whose control over ansible communications among all the Hundred Worlds is complete--and completely unsuspected [....] And she has told me that when I ask her to, she can make it seem to all the framlings that we here on Lusitania have cut off our ansible connection. [....] In sohrt, we will have eyes and they will be blind."The mayor calls this out as the act of rebellion/war that it would be considered, but Ender can intuit that she likes the idea even as she tries to resist it, which is also creepy as hell--her mouth says no but her eyes say insurrection. THE BISHOP of course continues to argue, saying that evacuation may suck:
"But a law was broken, and the penalty must be paid."
"What if the law was based on a misunderstanding, and the penalty is far out of proportion to the sin?"Lest we lose track, the law here was based on the possibility that introducing human culture and technology to the Little Ones might cause them harm, and about ten pages ago we were informed that the Little Ones currently intend to use their new tech to wage a war of conquest across their entire planet. That's not a misunderstanding, that's prescient. The penalty is foolish (as if intervening in twenty years will help), but Ender's counterargument boils down to "I can fix it", which is only going to get you an acquittal if your judge is The Honorable Mr Justice Bob the Builder.
Ender says that if they do what congress says, then they are approving of the law and the punishment*, and they shouldn't do that until they know everything. There's some more ego-stroking; Ender says they all have to decide together,"the civil and religious and intellectual leadership of Lusitania", or they can't rebel, and the Bishop calls Ender a fourth power, "as dangerous as Satan", yet submitting to them. Ender says he wants to be one of them.
"As a speaker for the dead?" asked the Bishop.
"As Andrew Wiggin. I have some other skills that might be useful. Particularly if you rebel. And I have other work to do that can't be done if humans are taken from Lusitania."First: skills useful for rebellion? Like, what, tactically? Ender doesn't have a fleet to destroy the rest of humanity with. Second: I'm like 150% sure that Ender's work restoring the hive queen would actually be a jillion times easier if he didn't have to worry about humans next door.
Ender recaps for them: he went into the woods, the Little Ones have read HQ&H and the Bible, they want to travel the galaxy and fear human colonisation, humans only advanced so far because we found formic technology and ran with it and now we fear that the Little Ones will do the same if we give them anything. Libo started meddling because the xenologers have never thought the Little Ones were just savages (Ender says this after literally accusing Miro and Ouanda of thinking of the Little Ones as beastly primitives two chapters ago), and they killed him "exactly the way they put to death their own most honored citizens" (I'm not sure what he's basing that conclusion on). Then it's time for more theology:
"If you really believed that someone was perfect in heart, bishop, so righteous that to live another day could only cause them to be less perfect, then wouldn't it be a good thing for them if they were killed and taken directly into heaven?"I would love to dive into this, except that is' one of Fred Clark's best-tread wheelhouses. Suffice to say that this logic only works if you first assume that the sole point is to go to heaven as assuredly and quickly as possible, and not, for example, to do anything in particular on Earth with your perfection and holiness. Screw the plebes, you got yours and if they deserved your help they should have offered you paradise first. (Spoiler: we'll never find out if or how Little Ones die of old age, or what the consequences are for their tree phase.)
Anyway, Ender recaps the tree-splitting ritual, and explains that the Little Ones and the trees are the same species now, despite this being practically impossible.
Novinha interrupts the hubbub to point out that, if congress copied all their files, then they've got her parents' research on Descolada now. (Apparently no one in the last thirty years has bothered to research any aspect of this ultimate plague, because this is the galaxy of terrible science.) This means they won't evacuate the planet after all, because while the Descolada is controlled, it's still lying dormant in their bodies.
Bosquinha was appalled. "So anywhere we go--"
"We can trigger the complete destruction of the biosphere."
"And you kept this a secret?" asked Dom Cristão.
"There was no need to tell it. No one had ever left Lusitania, and no one was planning to go."I can only say 'worst scientists ever' so many times.
But with Ela and Ender's discoveries, Novinha has figured out Pipo's last discovery, that Descolada is part of the reproductive process, and thus she's 'figured out' that every animal on the planet has a plant counterpart. The river grass hatches watersnakes. The capim fertilises the cabra. No, don't ask how she made that leap based on no more evidence than we've been given. She is senior scientist and her intuition is fact.
The Bishop says this must mean they won't evacuate the colony after all, and Ye Must Love Reapers says they'll be put under quarantine and so they have no reason to submit to the congressional order anyway. The Bishop finally points out that if Little Ones pose the same threat to the galaxy, and so their dreams of spaceflight must be equally impossible. Ela thinks they could learn to fully control it one day, but Ender says congress will see this as another formic war, only this time the retroactive tragedy is averted: they'll obliterate Milagre and all of the Little Ones who've had human contact, and keep a compassionate blockade over the planet, no xenocide needed.
"You were there," said the Bishop. "You were there the first time, weren't you. When the buggers were destroyed."I kind of love the way the Bishop just keeps grabbing historical facts out of intuition in order to make the situation sound more serious. HEY READERS, REMEMBER HOW IMPORTANT ENDER IS?
Ouanda bursts in, Bosquinha tries to casually arrest her, and she blurts out that Miro's gone over the fence. They scramble to call Dr Navio, but Ouanda says they can't get through the fence unless they shut it off, and congress has that control now. Mandachuva strolls in and asks if this means they should
"Tell me, Speaker [...] if we rebelled against Starways Congress, would all the rules about contact with the piggies be ended?"
"I hope so," said Ender. [....]
"Then," said the Bishop, "we'd be able to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Little Ones, wouldn't we? There'd be no rule against it."First priority: convert the heathens. I feel like there are a lot of other theological questions to be addressed here first, such as "why" and "are we sure God wants humans to convert aliens" and "have you ever heard of the crusades", but given how we've had the Bishop characterised so far, I suppose his top concern is building his own authority by getting more laypeople under him. I'm not a fan of proselytising for a variety of reasons, though I do figure it should be allowed (all else equal), but maybe we could spare like five minutes to think about power differentials and coercion and unequal access to information.
When they arrive at the fence, Novinha has already tried to climb it and Ela is holding her back from a second attempt. Ela recaps the recap, that Miro tried and failed to numb himself with capim. Ender talks to human, and says he'll bring down the fence and rebel against congress and bring them the hive queen, but only if they let him meet with the Wives to write a treaty first. He gets a consensus, although Leaf-eater snarks at Human and Novinha is horrified that they're putting everyone in danger of evisceration like Pipo and Libo, and the Bishop's agreement is contigent on getting to preach to the Little Ones.
"Jane," murmured Ender.
"That's why I love you," said Jane. "You can do anything, as long as I set up the circumstances just right."Oh my god Jane Ender hasn't done anything. Everyone reported the facts to each other: Ela's research, Novinha's conclusions, Miro and Ouanda's observation of the tree ritual, Reaper's understanding of how congress would react, the Bishop's desire to convert the Little Ones, all due to the crisis that you personally engineered. I've played visual novels that were more demanding than Ender's role in this.
Jane 'cuts' the ansible, Ender climbs the fence and hauls Miro back over just as the doctor arrives, and Ouanda follows him over, saying she'll need his help if he's meeting with the Wives. Ela does the same, and they take off into the woods.
Now, obviously they were going to rebel anyway, but:
1) Literally the only way anyone can think of to cross the agony fence is to declare planetary rebellion? You till fields! You mine! You work steel! You're supposedly advanced scientists! Run a tractor through it, dynamite it, swing an axe through its power cables, literally any of the many techniques humanity can bring to bear against fence technology!
2) How the hell does this agony fence work? It's a physical fence, clambered over like it's chain link, but its agony field not only radiates from the metal but in a vertical field projected upwards? Does this not result in hundreds of bird corpses piling up on either side year after year as the more reckless of each generation misjudge how high the field is projected, or try to land on it? Is there no safety suit or lead blanket that could be thrown over the top to make a safe passage? Does the agony field pierce literally every known form of matter?
3) Why a fence? Ostensibly it's to keep out the Little Ones, and they must not be allowed to see human technology (remember, Pipo was forbidden to use a ballpoint pen in their sight) but Miro and the Little Ones can see each other and converse through it, and it's structured so that an immune creature (or a robot, perhaps, given the AIs that humanity should be programming) can easily get handholds in the links? You know what would have been literally a billion times more effective, if you were going to use a huge power-draining fence anyway? A forcefield, like the ones used in Battle School. Impassable by any force we're aware of save the Doctor Device, absolutely opaque, absolutely frictionless, and cheap enough to operate that they're used as doors on a space station. Harder to climb over, but no chance for colossal neural damage in case of an accident! (Miro's been damaged because he went over the top, but would the same thing not have happened if he tripped and fell face-first against the side of the fence one day?)
Next week: even when women are infertile, they're characterised as loud harridans with full responsibility for raising children.
*This is one of Card's things, the same principle that inspired him to say he was compelled to try to destroy any government that would dare attempt to enforce anything as society-ruining as same-sex marriage. As yet, I haven't heard about him getting arrested for plotting his own insurrection, so I have to assume that he's either a hypocrite or he's changed his mind and he fully endorses marriage equality. NO, CARD, PICK A SIDE OF MY FALSE DICHOTOMY AND LIKE IT.