(Content: authoritarian government, anti-Catholic caricature, hypothetical incest. Fun content: Police Chief Broomley Fermentington.)
Speaker for the Dead: p. 247--256
(Chapter Fifteen from the start to the Speaking)
The opening dialogue extract is about the fence, and there are several layers to examine in just a few sentences. Human is asking why the other humans never come to see the Little Ones, and when Miro says no one else is allowed through the Fence of Pain, Human refuses to say whether he's ever touched it, but does say this this is stupid because there's grass on both sides, and that's all we get. Miro doesn't ask what the grass has to do with it, because that would be plot-relevant, basically. I still don't understand the rules about what he can and can't say. He can say that he's the only one allowed through the fence, but not that the others are barred by law, or that they're afraid, or that the interactions between humans and Little Ones are considered very special to humans and so only the Zenadors can meet with them, in the same way that only certain people are allowed to meet the Wives. What in the world could he possibly reveal about humanity's secrets by saying "What's so special about the grass?" except that we don't know what's so special about the grass? And on Human's side, after a couple of decades of human-Little One interaction, he must realise that the fence was put there intentionally by humans and they stay inside voluntarily, not because they're caged. He already thought the humans knew what the grass does (Little Ones use it as an anesthetic) so what harm does he think there would be in explaining that to Miro and seeing what they do? Gnar.
The chapter proper starts an hour before sunset, when Mayor Bosquinha arrives at THE BISHOP's office and finds the chief COTMOCs, whose titles I will continue to translate as the properly terrifying Reaper and Harrow, already there. There's some reflection on how much the Bishop sucks, because he thinks of himself as the master of the colony just because they're all gathered in his office, even though the mayor called the meeting. No one forgot we're supposed to hate the bishop, right? Cool.
The mayor calls up a holographic projection of a mess of cubes, vaguely pyramidally stacked, mostly red and some blue, which the COTMOCs immediately take as a dire indication even though we'll never actually be told what the colour-coding means. The Bishop remains confused, and time is short, so the Mayor only takes two full pages to get to the point. First, we need to discuss chauvinism as a virtue!
"I was very young when I was appointed to be Governor of the new Lusitania Colony. [Young? I am shocked.] It was a great honor to be chosen, a great trust [....] What the committee apparently overlooked was the fact that I was already suspicious, deceptive, and chauvinistic."
"These are virtues of yours that we have all come to admire," said Bishop Peregrino.
Bosquinha smiled. "My chauvinism meant that as soon as Lusitania Colony was mine, I became more loyal to the interests of Lusitania than to the interests of the Hundred Worlds or Starways Congress. [....] We are not a colony [...] We are an experiment. I examined our charter and license and all the Congressional Orders pertaining to us, and I discovered that the normal privacy laws did not apply to us."You guys, I laughed so hard when I read this the first time. Normal privacy laws?! All one-and-a-half of them? The only thing that surprises me about privacy laws in this universe is that there isn't an executive mandate requiring all teenagers' journals to be broadcast over billboards in a constant stream of awkward earnestness. Also, it hadn't occurred to me until now, but I note that Lusitania has no democracy whatsoever. The GoverMayor was appointed by congress and the bureaucracy is run by the church. This system is begging to fill with corruption until it's pouring out of every window.
The Mayor went on to put a program in place to monitor intrusions, of which she says there have been few over the years, except some predictable spying after Pipo and Libo's deaths. (Hey, does this mean that Congress grabbed the Descolada files after all, in spite of Novinha's protections, and they've got secret labs around the galaxy researching this doom plague under maximum classification? Oh, look, it's another premise that would be way more exciting than anything else going on right now: the quest to find the government's labs before someone weaponises this wicked alien DNA-eater.) The other two incidents have been recent, starting three days earlier:
"When the Speaker for the Dead arrived," said Bishop Peregrino.
Bosquinha was amused that the Bishop obviously regarded the Speaker's arrival as such a landmark date that he instantly made such a connection.Ender's the first outsider to come to the colony in a century and the Bishop publicly declared that he is the servant of the devil; of course he considers it a landmark date. What the hell else could this possibly mean? Does the privacy override mean that Bosquina has seen his STAY OUT--BISHOPS ONLY folders where he's photoshopped Ender's face over Jesus and scrawled a big heart with an arrow through it around the border?
There have been two scans since then. One was obviously Jane, browsing everything relate to the xenologers and xenobiologists at blitzing speed, walking through all security protocols like nothing. They mull what congressional pull Ender might have.
Dom Crisão nodded wisely. "San Angelo once wrote--in his private journals, which no one but the Children of the Mind ever read--"
The Bishop turned on him with glee. "So the Children of the Mind do have secret writings of San Angelo!"
"Not secret," said Dona Cristã. "Merely boring. Anyone can read the journals, but we're the only ones who bother."I feel like a solid 60% of this book could be summed up with 'fucking Catholics, amirite?' and Card would still have made about the same quality argument.
"What he wrote," said Dom Cristão, "was that Speaker Andrew is older than we know. Older than Starways Congress, and in his own way perhaps more powerful."
Bishop Peregrino snorted. "He's boy. Can't be forty years old yet."I am questioning all of the life choices that led to me reading this book. Also, oh my god, there has been a religious order of monks reading about the myth of the ancient Speaker Andrew for two thousand years and none of them have bothered conducting the research that it would take to find out that he's Ender Wiggin, which Plikt managed to do in four years based on a hunch while maintaining a full time job as a grad student.
The Mayor calls them out on their derails and explains that there's a scan happening at that very moment, apparently copying all Lusitanian files offworld and priming to delete everything on the colony as soon as it's done. The Bishop sputters about how this is something Congress would do to worlds "in rebellion", and I wonder what that even means in a galaxy where communications are instant, ships take decades to travel between worlds, and a single yacht with a double-barrelled raygun can destroy a planet in five seconds. Do they refuse to pay taxes? What possible use could there be for interplanetary taxes?
The COTMOCs already noticed the intrusion, transferred all their records to other COTMOC monasteries "at great expense" (how, how does the ansible cost anything and how do they get the money to pay for it), but they realise that Congress will probably not allow a digital restoration, so they're now furiously printing hardcopies of the most important stuff. I wonder what that is, on this tiny single-purpose colony. We'll never find out, obviously. The Bishop is furious that he wasn't informed and so couldn't start printing things himself, but the Mayor insists:
"[...] even if we began this morning, when the intrusion started, we could not have printed out more than a hundredth of one percent of the files that we access every day."What in blazes are they doing on this planet?! My day job involves cross-comparisons of documentation relating to government programs totalling millions of dollars of resources in action and I could print out all the documents I need to access in the average month in, at best, a morning. I know printer technology has advanced a lot in the thirty years since this book was published, but these people are three or four millennia ahead of us.
Bosquinha noticed something else important: Ender is invisible; he has no files in Lusitanian memory and so would be immune to congressional action. The Bishop furiously demands if they're suggesting they email Ender all of their files, and the Mayor says she's already done so:
"It was a high priority transfer, at local speeds, so it runs much faster than the Congressional copying. I am offering you a chance to make a similar transfer, using my highest priority so that it takes precedence over all other local computer usage."What exactly does "local speeds" mean when interplanetary computer communications are literally instantaneous? Is it a bandwidth thing? But they've already said that Ender's files aren't part of Lusitanian memory, so must that not mean that they aren't local and they still have to be beamed offworld? Or does she just mean that Jane moves all his files to wherever he is but keeps them invisible in local memory? I'm just saying, Doctor Who has more robust explanations of computer science, and they have clockwork robots.
Reaper excitedly accepts and Harrow sets about queuing emails up via the Mayor's login on the Bishop's terminal, and I'm briefly reminded of the many Dramatic Conference Calls of the Left Behind novels. Telecommunications are the stuff of real narrative action. The Bishop also accepts and snarks at anyone who thought that he would put his pride over taking "the only way God has opened for us to preserve the vital records of the Church", so I guess this is the turning point Jane was aiming for where everyone bands together against evil congress, and we realise the Bishop (who keeps leatherbound copies of the Bible so congress can never steal the word of God from him) is actually not necessarily such a bad guy after all.
He smiled. Maliciously, of course.
Enough of this scene. There's more dramatic organising and prioritising of spreadsheets, then the Mayor mentions that Ender plans to speak Marcos' death that evening, in just a few minutes. Reaper says he wants to hear the man who spoke San Angelo's death, and the Bishop snarks that he'll send a representative (though as we know from last week he'll actually show up in person). They leave, and the Mayor, walking alone, wonders what Miro and Ouanda must have done to trigger this kind of action. She's sharp enough to realise that it has to have been their doing (she sadly misses the possibility that it's a flailing attempt to capture Ender now that he's been lured into a dead end*) but she can't imagine what they've done.
It was a very good thing that governments under the Starways Code were forbidden to own any instruments of punishment that might be used for torture. For the first time in her life, Bosquinha felt such fury that she might use such instruments, if she had them.Moral response: you haven't even asked them yet woman why are you thinking about torture before you've even had a chance to say 'we're in trouble what have you done' you are not fit to lead a samba let alone a colony.
Practical response: Mayor, I don't know if anyone's told you, but your entire village is surrounded by a fence that projects some kind of electromagnetic agony field. You literally live inside an instrument "that might be used for torture".
Speaking of torture and speaking, next is the part where Ender forces the entire colony listen to him be terrible for fifteen pages. Skipping ahead:
Speaker for the Dead: p. 270--276
In the aftermath of Ender's echoing jackwagonry, Novinha's children cluster around her (Olhado, Ela, Quara, and Grego wailing that "all my papas are dead").
Ender stood behind the platform, looking at Novinha's family, wishing he could do something to ease their pain. There was always pain after a speaking, because a speaker for the dead did nothing to soften the truth.Don't blame him; he's just being honest!
Ender knew from the faces that looked up at him as he spoke that he had caused great pain today. He had felt it all himself, as if they had passed their suffering to him.You know, as much as I love the X-Wing series and the Thrawn books and especially Traitor, I'm generally pretty critical of the Star Wars novels, especially the later series, especially Legacy of the Force, which took everything brilliant about Traitor and burned it down out of panic and reactionary cries for simplistic, objective moral binarism. Traitor made the New Jedi Order salvageable, and Legacy of the Force made made it irredeemable again. But even then, in the midst of ruining all that prior authors had earned, there was something they did right: there was a character who thought that he was so empathetic, that he felt other people's pain so intensely, that he was allowed to inflict harm on the innocent and still be the hero. And that guy was the evil wretch who almost destroyed galactic civilisation, moping all the way about how hard it was and how much he suffered when he hurt people. The worst dross of Star Wars pulp novels has a sturdier and more nuanced moral core than this award-winning classic.
What I'm saying, Ender, is that if they had "passed their suffering" to you, they wouldn't be getting crushed by it right now. What you're feeling is what normal humans call 'compassion', and it means nothing unless it drives you to action.
The Mayor comes to meet him, "extremely upset, barely under control at all", to report that his starship has been commandeered by Congress. Ender immediately guesses that Congress is responding to something Miro and Ouanda have done, and says he won't let them go.
"Let me tell you why you will let them go, why we'll all let them go to stand trial. Because Congress has stripped our files. The computer memory is empty except for the most rudimentary programs that control our power supply, our water, our sewer. Tomorrow now work can be done because we haven't enough power to run any of the factories, to work in the mines, to power the tractors. I have been removed from office. I am now nothing more than the deputy chief of police, to see that the directives of the Lusitanian Evacuation Committee are carried out."Not to miss the point, but shouldn't the actual chief of police be involved in this conversation as well? Or, given how excellently they apparently enforce the law on this planet and conduct investigations, is the chief of police's schedule full because the chief is a burlap sack full of inedible grains wearing a cowboy hat and a monocle?
Ender is a bit surprised at the evacuation, and the Mayor explains that the colony is being revoked, and I can't tell if anyone remembers that it'll probably take thirty years or more for ships to arrive (unless Trondheim just happens to have ships on hand to move a few thousand people and their stuff). Apparently once Miro and Ouanda are en route to Trondheim, Congress will restore access to their necessities. Ender cracks up hearing that they saved their key files by emailing them to him. He suggests that, the instant they restore their files from his access, they cut off the ansibles.
"Then we really would be in rebellion. And for what?"
"For the chance to make Lusitania the best and most important of the Hundred Worlds. [....] Please,this place is too important for the chance to be missed."
"The chance for what?"
"To undo what Ender did in the Xenocide three thousand years ago."'Undo' will remain an overly strong word until such time as Ender learns how to literally resurrect the dead queens. There's a lot else to say here, but I've said all of it long ago when first asking why Ender didn't just take the hive queen away to an uninhabited planet far from human cities or any other creatures. The Mayor agrees to try to convince the COTMOCs and the Bishop to properly rebel, and runs off. Then, briefly, Jane:
"Don't let them sever the ansible connection. [....] I can make them think you've cut off your ansible, but if you really do it then I won't be able to help you."Ender first accuses her of setting all this in motion, then starts trying to apologise for cutting her off, promising to never do it again, but she doesn't speak again. He thinks it's enough to know she's still there, still listening.
Ender was surprised to find tears on his cheeks. Tears of relief, he decided. Catharsis. A speaking, a crisis, people's lives in tatters, the future of the colony in doubt. And I cry in relief because an overblown computer program is speaking to me again.Huh, yeah. That's true, Ender. It's almost as if other people's enormous pain doesn't actually impact you half as much as you like to tell yourself it does, but you're extremely concerned with whether special individuals still think you're the most important being in the galaxy. How curious and inexplicable.
Ela is waiting for Ender in his shack. She's predictably shocked; she thought she had guessed all of her mother's important secrets. She's especially pained for Miro and Ouanda; Ender says the cruelty was their not knowing for so long, and now they can solve it themselves; Ela grimly suggests that, as an even worse sequel to their mother, her brother will secretly bang his half-sister for the rest of their lives.
Ender asks for help, saying he needs to know immediately how the Descolada works, and so needs Ela to convince Novinha to help him. He demonstrates that Congress has enacted a computer lockdown, reveals the charges against Miro and Ouanda, and his plan for rebellion. Though at first Ela said that Novinha wouldn't speak to him, she assures Ender that, for her children, for Miro, she would in fact do anything.
For a moment she sat still. Then a synapse connected somewhere, and she stood up and hurried toward the door.
She stopped. She came back, embraced him, kissed him on the cheek. "I'm glad you told it all," she said. "I'm glad to know it."
He kissed her forehead and sent her on her way.I prefer to think that Ela realised that she had dropped character for a moment and so had to quickly recover by acting like she had, as usual, instantly forgiven him and has no plans to extract recompense for his cruelty. Ender then flops on his bed and thinks about how he would trade Novinha all her pain in exchange for a child who trusted him as much as Ela trusts her mother to do the right thing. Ender's making a powerful bid to have his signature move changed from 'Murder everyone who displeases me' to 'Wallow in how awesome I am because I know how much other people overestimate the significance of their pain'.
Next week: Literally everyone forgets how fences work.
*Oh my god, how great would it be if the Little Ones were actually genetically-engineered and everything on Lusitania was actually a century-long hoax intended to trap the invisible untouchable vagabond Xenocide? Put him on a planet without the manufacturing capacity to build starships, infect it with a plague that means no one can ever leave lest they kill whole worlds, cut off its ansibles for rebelling, and that goddamn Speaker for the Dead is safely defused with the full support of the general public.