Sunday, May 4, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter fifteen, part two, in which Ender is accidentally honest

It's been a week and still I am continually struck by new layers or wrong and terrible in Ender's Speaking.  If, perchance, you are an avid reader but you haven't delved into all the comments on last Sunday's post, enrich yourself by doing so now, because this book is fractally bad and its depths are worth exploring.  (I'll also take a moment to thank all my readers, commenters and silent alike.  Y'all provide me with the drive to keep at this.)  It got to the point where I grabbed Ender's Shadow off the shelf and started flipping through it again, because Shadow has always been my favourite and I've always planned to proceed to it after Speaker for the sake of ending on a high note, but... Card's work is so wretched that I'm struggling with how much more time I want to spend with his creations.  Shadow benefits enormously from its unreliable narrator, because that means that when Bean is being a jackass, the odds are that we're supposed to judge him harshly for it, and when he thinks someone is useless, odds are that he's going to recant later when he grasps their value.  On the other hand, Card has continually proven unworthy of the benefit of the doubt.  A matter to keep considering.

(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.


  1. I want to think Card is criticizing a future civilization that depends on automation for everything. They'll cease to exist as a colony if they don't have these programs, and nobody even thought to make a backup. (Also, maybe they have a buggy automated justice system somewhere, and the word "police" has come to mean a community clown troupe?) This would fit with Jane's apparent ability to do anything she wants, as long as it doesn't involve humans taking the initiative.

    But this would make the Bishop look good for remembering that paper exists. So probably not.

  2. a speaker for the dead did nothing to soften the truth.

    This is still some narrow meaning of the word "truth" that I was not previously aware of.

  3. "I am questioning all of the life choices that led to me reading this book."

    well, the best empathic response I can come up with is "better you than me" so, yeah, sorry :-)

  4. "We need to print off every file we've got! Quick, go to the piggies' forest and cut down as many trees as possible and pulp them into paper!"

  5. Exactly, Skemono, where the hell are they getting paper?
    I've finally gotten frustrated enough with wondering just how big this colony is to do a little research: as long as you aren't going for any grains or livestock bigger than a goat, you can grow enough food on one acre to feed 1 person. This assumes good fertile land with an appropriate climate and lots of bugs for the chickens to eat (which would be a problem on this planet unless the colonists brought their own). 1 cow with calf takes 3-4 acres of good grazing. So assuming no grazing, this small town of 1000? needs at least 1000 acres (about 1.5 square miles) of cultivated land. That doesn't include houses, roads, schools, monastaries, science offices, etc. Plus, no bread and no steak. If you want an occasional pancake or some corn, you have to add a second acre per person. Add in beef and we are looking at 7.5 to 8 square miles per 1000 people. This still doesn't include any mining. Nor does it include a timber industry or even a wood lot.
    I'd also like to point out that really good farmland and highly productive mining country generally ARE NOT IN THE SAME PLACE. The most likely scenario for that combination is in a mountain valley with a nice flat floor that used to be a floodplain but isn't anymore. Of course clearing said valley floor of the original vegetation frequently has some unpleasant side effects, like oceans of mud, erosion, etc.
    I'm focusing on all of this because I can't even with the rest of this book.

  6. Apologies, there will be some ranting here.
    And OSC's work continues to crazily veer between "Ender is so insignificant no one knows anything about him" and "Ender is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WHOLE GODDAMNED UNIVERSE." As well as between "Oh, poor Ender, doesn't he SUFFER SO MUCH? DOESN'T HE DESERVE ALL THE SYMPATHY IN THE UNIVERSE?" and "all right, everybody line up to KISS ENDER'S GODDAMNED ASS AND CALL IT TOUCHING THE FACE OF GOD."

  7. You can’t expect them to know about things like relativistic time dilation, just because the parents or grandparents of the entire colony came here that way.

    Being a contrarian, I insist on interpreting this as the Bishop saying "Oh save me Jesus he's not special just because he was born a long time ago WE'VE ALL BEEN TIME-DILATED he's like twelve get over yourselves".

    And the truth is never reassuring or comforting or inspiring? The audience is never happy to learn that the deceased was actually an amazingly charitable, awesome person who lived a full and rewarding life? Either you’re speaking for the wrong dead people, Ender, or you’re speaking about them the wrong way.

    Hey look it's one of my favourite songs.

  8. And also, Bishop has a point. Just because in non-dilated time you've existed for 3,000 years doesn't actually mean you have 3,000 years of experience. Ender has 35 years of experience! It's established that when you're in time dilation you can't talk to the outside world, so every time he comes out of it he has to play catch up to figure out what's going on, too. The only way this even works at all is because technology doesn't develop at ALL in this universe.

    I mean in the time that he takes getting to Lusitania from Trondheim, it would be like he came off the ship all ready to share these sweet new Betamax tapes with the Lusitanians, only for them to go "geez Grandpa get an iPod already." And that doesn't happen Because The Plot Said So, but like, realistically you have this 35-year-old dude from the time of ancient Egypt who has just poked his head in on history a handful of times, and should have no real concept of what modern culture is like.

    "What do you mean, no one gets mummified any more?"

    "Wait what about that whole Black Plague thing, did we ever fix that?"

    "So... Vikings are no longer an issue, then?"

    "What's germ theory?"

    "Holy shit a railroad!"

    "You mean slavery is bad now?"

    "So I missed two wars that engulfed all of Europe and a genocide of millions of people? How do you even kill that many people? What's nook-you-lar-fizz-icks?"

  9. Ender was surprised to find ears on his cheeks.
    Either that was the best typo I’ve seen in a good while, or Ender is coming down with the Descolada. <ducks and runs>

  10. Technology doesn't develop, societies don't change, languages don't change, power structures don't change. This goes back to the problem of how in hell Ender can have special power due to his connections to the Starways Congress (unless, as theorized, he doesn't and Jane just told him that and is responsible for his "power").

    I'm just amazed at backwards Card's worldbuilding all is. While it's not uncommon for people to build a world as a background for their stories, making sure it includes what's necessary for what they've got in mind to tell, that normally means things like FTL travel, instantaneous interstellar communication, and the like...not...not everything about the world. It's all backfill. He keeps spackling on "worldbuilding" to allow his plot to happen, but its nearly 100% Voodoo Sharks (TV Trope for when an attempt to fix a plot-necessary plot hole makes things worse.). Actually, whole damn book is a Voodoo Shark convention.

    Worse, a lot of the spackling suggests the possibilities of far more interesting stories than the one we're reading. What would it be like to keep missing 30 (or more) year chunks of time? How would a society that had instantaneous communication but relativistic space travel work? (I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have some of the things Card mentions as throwaways.) What if Ender showed up and discovered that Speaking was no longer a thing and he had no authority? What would Catholicism look like 3000 years in the future? (Assuming it even still existed.) What if the interstellar communication computer became sapient? The race to save people from the Descolada. The exploration of a world with only a handful of species who reproduce in ways very different from earth species. FIrst contact with the Little Ones without everyone having been handed Idiot Balls. Even Speaking as a concept, but without Ender's magic powers - sounds like a great space mystery series premise. Or space political intrigue. Or both.

  11. I'm going to be a huge narcissist and link to my blog in my own comment on my own blog, but it was so long ago that I forgot how much we talked about this even back in the very first Speaker post:

    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.

  12. I am not an expert in farming OR ecology, but everything about this ecosystem seems flatly impossible. From what we're told about the Descolada, it sounds like any Earth plants/animals the colonists brought with them died off in the initial plague. So the only thing they should have to eat is genetically-modified variants of existing Lusitanian species, unless they're eating watersnakes and cabra meat, which doesn't seem to be the case. It sounds like maybe they managed to salvage some Earth plant species enough to modify those (maybe on the shuttles chilling in space?) but they don't seem to have any livestock.

    Even the plants are a problem, because unless the Descolada spared all the other microbes... what is breaking down dead plants and animals into usable soil? The dead Little Ones turn into trees, but what happens to all the other dead creatures? Do their corpses just pile up everywhere? Also, there don't seem to be ANY predators or scavengers in this world... nothing that would come along and eat dead cabras or watersnakes. Hell, without predators, what is keeping the various populations in check? If the Descolada managed to wipe out most of the extant species on Lusitania, including other bacteria and viruses... what's to stop some of the microbes that humans brought along from going wild and taking over, with all kinds of unknown effects?

    I guess theoretically the colonists could be doing some fancy hydroponics to grow their food without soil, since any traditional agriculture would quickly deplete soil of any nutrition... but there's no mention of that kind of thing, only mention of the labs where the genetic engineering happens.

    Ugh, this book. WTF.

  13. Hell, without predators, what is keeping the various populations in check?

    Card could really have done with some basic ecosystem research before trying to design this planet. He makes it as explicit as possible that, for example, the cabras used to have predators but those all died off a millennium ago, but he doesn't address the way the cabra population should have then exploded after they adapted to Descolada. He talks about environments sustaining 'the maximum possible population' without anyone knowing what the constraints are, like how they determined that every forest has as many Little Ones as it can feed, even though they don't know what the nutritional requirements of a Little One are.

  14. 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

    Does this ever get explained? Because I fail to see how an anesthetic growing on both sides of the fence would help when the fence apparently causes serious damage to people. Or does it not cause more than pain to Little Ones? (Their physiology is very different.)

    "We are an experiment." ....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.

    First off, an experiment by whom for what purpose? Second, whoever it is does science just like everyone else in the book, since if the colony were an experiment it would be continuously monitored.

    "Older than Starways Congress, and in his own way perhaps more powerful."

    HOW is Ender powerful? Jane, yes. Ender???? His powers are purely the fact that he's more of a Mary Sue than any fanfic character ever. At least fanficers would actually give their character magic powers. Ender's powers come purely from having a direct line to the author who warps everything beyond all recognition to make him the most specialist person evaaar.

    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.

    Not only that, but it suggests that worlds have rebelled before. Against what? For what reason? I have less of a grasp on how the government/society/universe here works than I do of how the Galactic Republic of the Star Wars prequels and Clone Wars works. (And that makes painfully little sense.) The colonies depend on the Starways Congress for their communications (and to not atomize their 30+ years), but what is the Starways Congress getting in return? On Earth, places were colonized for commodities, but when it's 30+ years to transport things, that seems rather implausible. (As we've all discussed before.) Card's universe would've made a wee bit more sense if he had included FTL travel. Interstellar government might be plausible without it (in someone else's hands) but here it's just making my brain hurt.

    "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."

    On top of everything else weird about this, that has got to be the most bizarre way of outlawing cruel and unusual punishment I've ever encountered. It's like instead of outlawing it because hurting people is bad, y'all, they outlawed it because people might use it to get information out of people. Whut.

    Also, three thousand years in the future and people still think torture works!? Oh, wait, in this universe it probably does. :\

    "There was always pain after a speaking, because a speaker for the dead did nothing to soften the truth."

    You mean the shit you pulled out of your ass that turned out to be true because you're the author's pet. Also, how did Speaking ever become a thing????

  15. We know the factories aren't entirely automated, or Marcos' great strength wouldn't have been so special and useful there.

    New question: does Card know how anything works?

  16. The logical thing to conclude is that Starways Congress exists to keep tabs on its member worlds and make sure none of them decide the rest of the galaxy needs some ethnic cleansing and load a bunch of ships with Doctor Device to send against their neighbors.

  17. Which doesn't really explain why they have mono-culture colonies (which seem more likely to do that) or why they've pulled this colony's license. (Never mind why it existed in the first place.)

    Card seems to be using a lot of Space is an Ocean a setting without FTL travel, which makes the whole thing really weird.

  18. God, I hope that's what this book is about.

    Looks like, LOL NOPE!!!!111!!!1!1!

    But yeah you were (are) right, like even a relatively short time dilation should be confusing as fuck unless cultures are completely static and nothing ever happens, ever.

    Man, I've had friends mention to me that this book was "really good" and after reading these deconstructions I'm left wondering what the hell they're thinking.

  19. If I'm remembering my basic ecology right, if you remove the predators, prey species like cabras should explode in population until they run out of food, at which point large numbers of them would die off until the food source replenishes enough to sustain higher numbers again. So if there is the "maximum population" of cabras, there should be a LOT of cabras around. Which really makes me question why the humans are not eating them. Unless there is something about cabra meat that is somehow toxic to humans, the usual reaction of humans to seemingly endless numbers of animals is to eat them like it's going out of style. (ie, passenger pigeons)

  20. We were told earlier that cabra meat has no nutritional value for humans, but yeah, the plains of Lusitania are not apparently brimming with the oceanic herds of space goats that we should expect, unless they're currently in a grass-famine and most of the plains are barren (which you'd think would come up in a description somewhere).

  21. I am evil so I want him to do Xenocide and Children of the Mind because... OMG THE RACISM! The FAIL! I read it recently and was amazed by it.

  22. I'm waffling on how much I'll do of Ender's Shadow. I don't think there's any way I'm willing to spend enough of my life reading Xenocide and Children of the Mind for an in-depth series like this. (Shadow is at least chopped up into blocks of chapters; I might do a post per one of those instead of one for every 10-15 pages. I need more books in my life that aren't terrible. The grim clouds must pass.)

  23. Whether you end up doing any of those terrible books eventually or not, you should take apart something you like next, I think. Just for a break. For everyone.

  24. Another question occurred to me on the way to work - these factories, what are they making? And for whom? The colonists? We know there's nothing being sent off least I think we do. It's very hard to keep track of what we've been told about the colony because most of it is well into "But that doesn't make any sense!" territory.

    Likewise, the mining. What are they mining? Why? For the factories? Again we're back to what is being produced and why. I can't imagine what multiple factories would be needed for in a colony of, what was it, a thousand people? Modern factories go with commerce and large populations, neither of which are present on Lusitania.

    If it is being shipped off world, it's surprising that the colony would be cut off like this. If it's not...WTF?

  25. I think the wrong here has been covered in extra-super-awesome detail, so no new WTF from me. Just... it boggles how much has to have been Chaotic Stupid for things to get to this point.

  26. But wait, there's more! (Seriously, this book is the never ending fountain of WTF)

    What happened to Ender's supposed power/influence with the Congress? True, it may be easier to get a colony revoked than to explain why it shouldn't be. (Though in this case, not only should it be, it should never have existed in the first place.) And Ender may not have any reason to take the colony's side...

    Except he sort of does, inexplicably. I guess. Actually, I have no idea what in frik he's doing.

    "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."

    Is this about the Hive Queen taking the planet over? Making sure the Starways Congress doesn't blast the planet off the starcharts because the Little Ones have mistakenly killed people? What does he think he's doing that will "undo" what he did before? How would his actions make Lusitania the "best" of the Hundred Worlds - what would being "best" even mean in this incoherent culture/government?

    I can kind of see "most important" if I squint and turn my head just right. The planet of the first non-human sapient life that humans had peaceful (more or less) contact with would be very important to a galactic civilization.

    Not that that explains why Ender and the Hive Queen want to take over the planet.

  27. How would his actions make Lusitania the "best" of the Hundred Worlds -
    what would being "best" even mean in this incoherent culture/government?

    "Best" meaning the one where Ender chooses to live, I think.

  28. XXXXXXactly. Ender is offering to make Lusitania the planet where humans, Little Ones, Formics and ENDER!!!!! all live, and therefore the most awesomest place in the universe. Clearly this would undo Ender's klling all those other Formics three thousand years ago, because sentient beings are interchangeable under his moral calculus. Similarly, if I murder six people but then recruit my sister to a Quiverfull community, it's a wash!

  29. 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

    And I bet the Hive Queen's in on it, too. Work with us, Starways said, and you can have your own planet with the Xenocide living on it and then you can do whatever you want to him for killing your people.

    Speaking of which, does Ender not find it really fricking disturbing that the Hive Queen is planning to uplift the Little Ones into a spacefaring culture right now? They're expansionist Stone Age warriors who solve every resource dispute with a massacre, and have no experience coordinating communities of more than a few hundred members. And here comes the super-bug who barely comprehends the idea of individual minds, with a grudge against the entire human race, planning to become the techno-goddess (and therefore de facto ruler) of the Little Ones. She's gonna arm them with spaceships and lasers and send them out into the galaxy, obsessed with colonization, and oh yeah, carrying a disease that's uniformly lethal to Earth biology.

    This is not a cheerful prospect. This is the prologue to "A Complete History of the First through Tenth Cosmic Crusades of the Formico-Porcine Collective, and the Ensuing Annihilation of Humanity."

  30. I do agree. The ablism alone in those books is painful. Urg. The ABLISM. It's in this book too but it's even worse and then Valentine comes along being OSC in drag so that is a lot of fun. -_-
    But yes, sooner or later someone needs good books! Like Daughter of Smoke and Bone is good, I think :D

  31. oh yeah, carrying a disease that's uniformly lethal to Earth biology

    That reminds me... Ender seems dead set on setting up the Hive Queen here, which is stupid for so many reasons. In addition to your scenario, there's all the conflicts that could arise with three completely different species competing for space and resources on this one planet, plus the fact that Ender is obviously preparing to act on his own, without bothering to consult the humans or the Little Ones about introducing the formics to this planet. Though the opinions of the Little Ones shouldn't matter, since given how the Hive Queen has acted so far, colonized peoples of color I mean aliens... yeah, aliens... exist to welcome colonizing peoples onto their lands with open arms and say that they forgive all the genocide and let's let bygones be bygones. And since she philotically (whatever the hell that means) has all the information that the formics possessed, Card doesn't even have to try writing the effects of having one's culture and history stamped out and erased, although given what we've seen of the Little Ones, they'd probably embrace that, too.

    But there was yet a new problem that occurred to me last night: the Descolada. Not only did it eradicate most species on this planet, but it clearly isn't picky about your origins and can affect creatures from other planets. It wiped out most of the human community before they found a way to stop it from melting them.

    Has Ender given any thought to how the Descolada will affect the Hive Queen? Or is this him trying to complete his "innocent genocide" by "coincidentally" putting the last surviving formic on a planet with a deadly space plague that will kill her in short order? "I intended for her to resurrect her species, which would redeem all of humanity (except for me, obviously, I don't need redeeming). But oh, that pesky Descolada! Who could have predicted it could kill off-world species? Welp, my intentions were good, so I'm totes still morally pure."

    ...or is the Descolada going to let the formics merge with some native species so that they can actually mate with things, thereby getting around the fact that a single genetic line isn't enough for a species to survive? Enh, I expect that it just won't be addressed at all, because... philotic.

  32. These are all good points, although Card leaves zero room for ambiguity about what any nonhumans want--the hive queen decides that she wants to settle on the planet the instant they reach orbit, and she's spent so much time philotically talking to trees that by the time Ender met the Little Ones (last chapter) they immediately insisted that he let the hive queen settle there to teach them how to become spacefarers. (Ender, however, is the one who'll have to 'teach' them about non-expansionist mindsets, because the hive queen apparently didn't bring that up, despite the history of the formics having, as its great turning point, the peace among the hive queens that ended their constant wars and resulted in a galactic empire.)

    They will get around to addressing the Descolada as well, but the fact that they all seem to realise it's a non-issue that will get sorted out in due time does nothing for narrative tension.

  33. I've been assuming that Ender was lying about his power, and Jane really did everything. Now, I don't actually know Card's position on lying to protect someone who (theoretically) fears extermination at the hands of known killers (humanity). Assuming rational beliefs and shared values from Card has burned me before. But looking back, Ender only says he has "a very good reputation with the Starways Congress," and this would suffice to let him hurt the colony. He doesn't claim his reputation has any connection to the truth. Probably they have electronic files on him, and Jane set his 'reputation' or Leadership score to maximum.

  34. Ah, but Ender can't be the God of Job! That God is a dick, but he's actually fairly proud of the diverse creatures living on his planet. Do you think Ender bothers to contemplate the behavior of ostriches?

  35. In Lovecraft’s The Shadow out of Time,, an inquisitive alien race exchanges minds with beings from all over the solar system, past, present and future. And as soon as these minds get over the initial shock of “OMG I’m temporarily trapped in the body of an alien horror,” what they want to do is talk to each other. History has essentially collapsed—they have the opportunity to learn about every era simultaneously. Who could turn that down? And this is HPL, who spent pretty much his whole life convinced that 95% of humanity are worthless mongrel proles. Even his middle-aged Anglo protagonist is dying to talk to, say, a black military officer from 10,000 years in the future.

    Whereas the Enderverse characters are constantly arriving in an unknown future and being utterly incurious about the new state of the world, and the inhabitatns of that future are utterly incurious about what these immigrants can reveal of life in an earlier generation. Card’s characters care less about the experiences of their fellow humans than Lovecraft’s characters. That’s just sad.

  36. Oh, well, I'm sure we won't have to worry about complicated things like cabra population dynamics for much longer. After all, some bunch of idiots started farming with super-invasive transgenic amaranth, and then some other bunch of even bigger idiots actually gave it to the Little Ones, neglecting to mention, "You gotta surround this with a flood of herbicide or it'll take over your whole planet." (Not that that would help, because the Little Ones probably don't have any concept of herbicides or ecological shifts. They may not even know they live on a planet.)

    So the amaranth will soon choke out all the native grasses, and then there won't be any more cabra, since the grass is not only their staple food, it's them in another phase of their reproductive biology. Presumably these radical changes will affect the climate and the soil quality and erosion patterns, leading to localized deforestation, which on Lusitania is literal mass murder. That'll be fantastic for the Little Ones living a thousand miles away from the colony, whose whole world is about to collapse thanks to an invasive weed they didn't even ask for and don't know how to farm with. With any luck, they'll endure starvation just long enough to get exterminated when Rooter's clan rolls in with its new superweapons.

  37. the grass is not only their staple food, it's them in another phase of their reproductive cycle.

    Wait, what?? Does the grass spawn not only new cabras, but also new grass? Like, a lot of new grass, constantly? Because if not, I don't see how that could really be sustainable. The cabras should have to eat more grass than they can turn into in order to fuel themselves, so each generation should be smaller and smaller until they go extinct (I think--not an ecologist). Given how recent the Descolada was, I suppose it's possible this has been happening, and could explain why the cabra population boom never happened.

    Or the cabras, like the Little Ones themselves, have a diet that doesn't actually meet the nutritional needs they should have, so this isn't a problem. I dunno, if they're part plant, maybe they also conduct photosynthesis in their animal forms?

  38. Was the Descolada recent? The Little Ones culture suggests that it's been many, many generations for them. In fact, if we didn't know from some other book that it's not a native thing that evolved along with all the other wacky life on the planet, I think we'd probably assume it was.

  39. I'm not sure, but I thought it was about a thousand years ago. That could be many, many generations to the Little Ones, but I'd still consider that "recent" in terms of how long it might take the cabras to go extinct.

  40. Does the grass spawn not only new cabras, but also new grass?

    I think so. The grass can reproduce on its own, or at least grow vegetatively. It also produces pollen that fertilizes the cabra, who then bear live offspring.

    I'm not sure the cabra do anything for the grass, although their dung probably fertilizes it.

  41. Every single crop they use now was developed by Novinha, I believe. So she knows how to make stuff that can grow in Lusitanian soil and resist the descolada. She just won't tell anybody else how it works--and they're Card characters, so no one except Ela bothers to ask.

  42. How in frik did anyone hybridize Lusitanian plants and Earth plants without finding out that they're living on some kind of bizarre science experiment?

  43. I don't think there was any actual hybridization; Novinha's parents just pulled a formula for a Descolada blocker out of their ass, and then Novinha engineered all the plants to synthesize it internally. No, this doesn't answer your basic question.

  44. ... Card really, truly has no idea how anything works. The mind boggles.

    Did the man never have a science class in his life? Never garden? Grow house plants? I ??????

  45. How is there Lusitanian soil??? Does the Descolada do the job of every microrganism?

    I think the average MST3K movie has better science than this!

  46. The fence does no more to the pequeninos than cause pain; what’s more, nobody knew it would do anything more to a human who passed over it, because no one had ever done so! Everybody believed the pain made that completely impossible.

  47. ...
    *bangs head on desk*
    That's it, can we just write a big red "F" on the cover of this book. It fails everything. In every way imaginable. The only way it could fail harder is if it somehow spontaneously combusted when you tried to read it. ... No, wait, that would be an improvement.

  48. So they built a technology that causes horrible suffering to any sentient life form, but they were pretty sure that it wouldn't do any actual damage to them, because that's how biology works and nobody's ever been injured by pepper spray or a taser. And they assume all this applies to the Little Ones, because they know so much about piggy nervous systems. And nobody ever bothered to confirm this by putting up security cameras so they could actually see what happened when a Little One approached the fence.

    (Which, I mean...even if they were totally right about what the fence does, what happens if a Little One approaches it and then happens to twist their ankle or faint or something so they can't get away? Without security cameras, nobody would even know! Do they just lay there in agony for the next few days until a xenologer wanders by? That's going to be fantastic for interspecies relations.)

  49. Security cameras?! What do you think this is, some kind of totalitarian panopticon?! What about a little civilian privacy, thankyouverymuch.

  50. "Privacy"--an ancient Czech word meaning "we'll snoop in all your stuff if we might find something that benefits us, but ignore you if you might actually need help"