(Content: ableism, incest, sexualisation of minors, misogyny. Fun content: Stephen Hawking's wikipedia biography tells this book's story better than it does.)
Speaker for the Dead: p. 356--382
Chapter Eighteen: The Hive Queen
The final intro-excerpt is from the Speaker for the Dead's latest publication, The Life of Human. It's a fairly straightforward depiction of life inside the mothertree, drinking sap and occasionally making a dash for the light when the tree opens, until one day he's fast enough to make it through and discovers there is an entire new world out there, transitioning from the first life to the second life. There's nothing particularly super-empath about this section, so I assume the magic words have to come in later (unless this is another case of Ender just intuiting information rather than asking the Little Ones what it's like inside the mothertree, or asking them to relay the words of Human's tree).
What does get me is that this is another case of a Miraculously Brilliant and Heartbreaking publication from someone only naming themselves Speaker for the Dead, and it's got to be a matter of public record that the only Speaker on Lusitania is Andrew Wiggin, and maybe someone might take another crack at piecing together the way all three of the great Speaker texts were anonymously published on planets where a guy named Andrew Wiggin lived, and the first such Andrew Wiggins were the brother of Peter the Hegemon and of Valentine who was Demosthenes and maybe could a historian connect some dots please. (It's presumably a retcon, but according to the Shadow series, everyone found out who Locke and Demosthenes were within a couple of years of Ender and Valentine leaving Earth.)
We return to Miro, whose malice towards science has been turned back around on him, because he rapidly heals from all temporary damage but also rapidly runs into a layer of permanent damage that Dr Navio can do nothing to address, presumably because he's run out of anti-witch salt. So, in three days Miro can sort of walk, sort of talk, like "a very healthy man who is a hundred years old", but he's going to stay that way forever. Science. (I'm not sure who Navio's reference point is; my grandmother is ninety-nine (and a half) and while she won't be running any marathons, she likes going for walks, she's as sharp-minded and articulate as anyone I've ever met, and for her birthday her friends got her a personalised billiard cue because she's a pool shark. So his idea of 'very healthy for 100' seems off, to me.)
There's a nice big heap of disability tragedy porn as everyone thinks about how lucky he is not to be bedridden for the rest of his life, how awful he feels listening to his own voice slurring, how he understands why none of them want to stay home with him now that he doesn't need constant attention, and he doesn't want them to stay either; he wants to be out asking the Little Ones direct questions at last. There's no actual explanation for why he can't do that--he's at least partly mobile, and they should be able to create some sweet mechanised wheelchairs in the future, not to mention speech-generating devices that could help with his intelligibility (he could probably even use his own voice, given all the audio notes they've saved).
Speaker was written and published in the mid-1980s, pretty much exactly the same time that Stephen Hawking was publishing A Brief History of Time and also got his first speech-generator equipment. (I strongly recommend reading up on Hawking; his life story hits a lot of the themes that this book goes for, loss and recovery and incomparable brilliance and bringing enlightenment to the masses and complicated marriage dynamics, but without the huge shovelfuls of racism and colonialist apologism.) I don't know if Card was making any intentional reference, or if he had any particular interest in Hawking's work, but I feel like the publication of mass-market science by a man with significant motor and verbal disabilities should probably have made it easy to find out what the cutting edge of assistive devices looks like and try extrapolating that three thousand years into the future. My point is that Miro's life here doesn't suck because he's disabled now; Miro's life sucks because Card and all of his characters have no interest in helping Miro maintain any connections to his family, job, or lifestyle.
Card is at least upfront about some of this--Miro relays questions to Ouanda for her to ask the Little Ones, but apparently Ouanda doesn't value her colleague now that they're not going to bang, soshe gets direct answers to his questions and leaves them at that rather than ask follow-ups or probe issues. For that matter, the Little Ones have been running around Milagre for years even when it was illegal; why aren't any of them just coming to see Miro at home and chat for a few hours?
Miro is still creepy as hell himself, since privately in his own mind he still wants to run away with Ouanda and live in the woods and Lannister it up, but he knows that she is "a believer, a belonger. She couldn't possibly violate the only universal human law." I am deeply distressed that Miro casts 'not wanting to bone your sibling' as the product only of bowing to popular belief and not, like, a reasonable reaction to a messed-up hypothetical. I don't think peer pressure is the issue here. (I'm always unsettled when people talk about morality like it's the result of popular vote or only external sources, as in that old favourite 'how can you be moral without God', and I'm just saying that the main places I hear this concept come from are conservative Christians and that Miro is our only confirmed atheist in the cast.)
In a neapolitan twist of horror, Miro compares his situation to that of his mother, since Novinha and Libo boned even though it was against the rules (extramarital affairs are apparently just like incest), but concedes that there is a difference (yay) because Libo was able-bodied and "not this useless carcass" (goddammit).
Enough of Miro. Ouanda's helping the Little Ones develop phonetic alphabets for Males' and Wives' languages,Quim is trying to figure out how to translate the gospels, and Ender and some construction workers are colonising the hell out of them by installing plumbing, computers, teaching them more agriculture, and trying to domesticate cabra to pull plows. (Apparently they can have a computer terminal with full galactic library access but a mechanical plow is out of the question.)
At the same time, Ender was trying to keep them self-sufficient, inventive, resourceful. The dazlle of electricity would make myths that would spread through the world from tribe to tribe, but it would be no more than rumor for many, many years. It was the wooden plow, the scythe, the harrow, the amaranth seed that would make the real changes, that would allow piggy population to increase tenfold wherever they went.Misogyny Update: medical intervention to allow mothers to survive to adulthood is disgusting colonialist meddling that might completely overturn their society in unpredictable ways, but technological intervention to increase their total population by 1000% is just neighbourly.
Ela is frankensteining away in her lab, creating anti-Descolada plants, animals, and insects from Earth roots, because clearly what this fragile ecosystem characterised by unprecedentedly weird and unspeakably fast mutation really needs is a bunch of foreign species introduced in rapid succession--I mean, they managed to dodge that amaranth had the potential to choke out literally all other vegetation on the planet, so clearly there's no risk making dozens of new species intended to neutralise the infection that is the foundation of all plant, animal, and insect reproduction in the world. Novinha, for her part, is working specifically on creating something to let the hive queen and the formics resist the Descolada, which sounds borderline impossible, so I'm going to guess it'll take seven weeks.
More disgusting ableism through Miro, who considers himself "less human than the piggies were [....] he was varelse now". Remember when this book started and I thought the Hierarchy of Exclusion was sort of adorably gratuitous and illustrative of Card's ego? I hate it. I hate it so much. It has never once been actually used to bring someone closer together, to say 'you think these people are incomprehensible but you just don't understand them'; its sole purpose is voting people out of personhood.
One day Miro finds that he's accidentally somehow cut through multiple layers of security into Ouanda's confidential science files, but rather than admit it, he just steers the conversation towards the same subjects, and they talk a little more like old times, about actual science. Then the computer starts feeding him everyone's files (except Ender), and becomes intuitive to his commands rather than needing exact typing every time. When he tries to tell the mayor, Ender shows up instead and says it's not a program helping him, but a person, an impossibly fast person with very few friends.
"Not human," said Miro.
"Raman," said Ender. "More human than most humans."What the hell does that mean? How are we grading humanness in this galaxy? By my tally, here is our current in-universe ranking of humanity from most-human to least:
- Ender Wiggin
- People Ender Wiggin likes and/or has claimed ownership of
- The immortal consciousness of the internet
- Practically everyone else
- Pig-shaped alien genius-savages who turn into trees when you cut them open (or are devoured by their young)
- Bug-shaped alien psychics with absolute control over billions of drone-bodies they birthed themselves
- People with disabilities
Miro snarks that he doesn't want a companion or a pet, Ender snaps at him not to be a jackass and to show her absolute trust and loyalty, because her only other friend once showed her an hour's thoughtless disloyalty and things were never the same again after that. Miro realises that Ender is passing a dear friend over to him, and suddenly the whole thing gains a new level of creepy; a man giving ownership of a woman to another, younger man. Not sold on the creepy? Miro turns back to the terminal when Ender leaves, and there's a hologram:
She was small, sitting on a stool, leaning against a holographic wall. She was not beautiful. Not ugly, either. Her face had character. Her eyes were haunting, innocent, sad. Her mouth delicate, about to smile, about to weep. Her clothing seemed veil-like, insubstantial, and yet instead of being provocative, it revealed a sort of innocence, a girlish, small-breasted body, the hands clasped lightly in her lap, her legs childishly parted with the toes pointing inward. She could have been sitting on a teeter-totter in a playground. Or on the edge of her lover's bed.
Jane is smart enough to first make it clear that she's ungropeable, and Miro pauses to think about how no one will ever sleep with him because he's gross now. She goes on about all she sees and hears in the galaxy, and Miro admits that he wants to leave Lusitania, and there's a bunch of ironic flirtation because I guess that's the only way a boy and a three-thousand-year-old philotic consciousness containing the knowledge of all humanity which is currently projecting itself in the ghostly holographic shape of a girl can really get to know each other.
Elsewhere, Ender and Olhado go exploring--he lets Olhado drive the shuttle, presumably because there are no pilots on Lusitania and also Card was exhausted after naming all those other characters. (Plus Olhado can plug his eye into the computer and, I don't know, pilot with his mind or something; it's not clear.) They're surveying for a spot to release the hive queen. We get a quick breakdown of Ela's findings, which all just validate her initial guesses: land life on Lusitania consists of reeds/flies, riverbank grass/snakes, grass/goats, vines/birds, vines/worms, bushes/bugs, and trees/Little Ones.
That was the list, the whole list of surface animals and plants of Lusitania. Under water there were many, many more. But the Descolada had left Lusitania monotonous. [....] Lusitania, like Trondheim, was one of the rare worlds that was dominated by a single motif instead of displaying the whole symphony of possibility. [....] Lusitania's climate and soil cried out a welcome to the oncoming plow, the excavator's pick, the mason's trowel. Bring me to life, it said.I don't even know what to say to that; apparently bringing landscape to life means plowing fields clear, digging up the rocks you like best, stacking them into huge buildings, and letting loose a scourge of your favourite alien critters that have been genetically engineered to kill the molecular symbiote of the entire world.
Ender did not understand that he loved this place because it was as devastated and barren as his own life, stripped and distorted in his childhood by events every bit as terrible, on a small scale, as the Descolada had been to this world. [....] He fit this place as if he had planned it. The boy who walked beside him through the grama felt like his true son, as if he had known the boy from infancy.Ender's really an excellent poster boy for appropriation and colonisation; all he has to do is assert how strongly he feels something and suddenly 'I was severely bullied' is indistinguishable from 'mass extinction-level event', and 'I really like this kid I've hung out with for a few weeks' means he can just assert legitimate fatherhood (without asking Olhado). I don't mean to suggest that bullying is a minor issue, or that it's not wonderful to find a person and immediately feel a comfortable, trusting bond, but the parade of Ender declaring his personal experiences and feeling equal to everything and everyone else he meets is goddamn exhausting.
They find a spot for the hive queen, and Jane reports (businesslike) that Novinha's ready with daisies that the formics can drink from to ward off the Descolada. Ender is sad that she doesn't joke with him anymore, but reflects instead on his new family and how much he loves his almost-kids and how sad he is that Miro's life is irrevocably stolen from him and no one can do anything to help. Olhado comes up with a solution: literally ship him away for a while, Mazer-Rackham-style, to bring him back in time for the Evacuation Fleet to arrive. (Olhado says Rackham only experienced two years, while Ender's Game said eight, but, again, Card fucking hates calendars.)
"Miro's the smartest person in Lusitania, and the best. He doesn't get mad, you know. Even in the worst of times with Father. Marcão. Sorry, I still call him Father."
"That's all right. In many ways he was."Card's genetic-continuity fetish also means that it's magnanimous to declare that the person who was actually around his kids and to some degree helped raise them might have some claim to fatherhood comparable to the man who secretly provided a gamete and then never spoke to them again if he could avoid it. Also, the kid whose most noteworthy recent decision was to cross an agony field with only the protection of alien grasses because he was afraid he wasn't going to be allowed to marry his sister--this is the guy you want making decisions in thirty years, but you also want to make sure he only has a couple of years' time to reflect and mature before he gets those responsibilities? This sounds like a good idea... why?
As they return home, Ender admits that he is the Xenocide, and Olhado is amused because, in his estimation, saying the Speaker was the Devil made for good sermons, but if The BISHOP had said Ender was the Xenocide the people of Lusitania would have murdered him on the spot.
"Why don't you now?"
"We know you now. That makes all the difference, doesn't it? Even Quim doesn't hate you now. When you really know somebody, you can't hate them."Apparently, when you really know somebody, anything terrible they say and do ceases to be terrible?
"Or maybe it's just that you can't really know them until you stop hating them."
"Is that a circular paradox? Dom Cristão says that most truth can only be expressed in circular paradoxes."This chapter was written specifically to cause me pain.
"It's just cause and effect. We never can sort them out. Science refuses to admit any cause except first cause--knock down one domino, the one next to it also falls. But when it comes to human beings, the only type of cause that matters is final cause, the purpose. What a person had in mind. Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart."This would be a vastly more compelling argument to me if I felt that I had to be absolutely pure in order to draw any kind of moral conclusion. Suffice to say that I don't. I mean, I don't think hatred is inherently productive or valuable either, but I don't feel any particular need to try to identify with the perspective of people who hate me for whatever reason, philosophy or politics or religion or orientation. And as I think we've seen, the stuff that Ender thinks is a universal desire includes 'expanding to engulf the whole of existence', so I don't think he's a good source on universal human nature either.
(As a side note, Ender states that even if he had known what he was doing in the final battle, he would still have destroyed the formic homeworld, thus undermining the central conceit of the book and all the vast secrecy around his training. Olhado asks if she might not now get revenge; Ender says he's as sure of it as he is of everything, and admits he's gambling everyone's lives on it without so much as asking them.)
The next day, Valentine calls, twenty-two years older than when Ender last saw her. She's coming to Lusitania--in the face of panic and anti-Little-One propaganda and the threat of the Descolada, she's revived Demosthenes, found out the fleet has Doctor Device, and they're leaving now, with all their electronic tracks covered by someone called Jane. She, and Jakt, and their three kids, and Plikt. Ender volunteers to send Miro to meet them and "make the last week of your voyage very educational", because apparently he figures Miro's two-decades-out-of-date information will be more valuable than, say, stopping to pick up an ansible transmission with a few years' worth of scientific notes and journal updates from the entire family? He doesn't bother to ask Miro; Jane has already convinced him, and showed him the recording of Ender and Valentine's discussion, because privacy is still forbidden. Ender is unsettled just to realise that Jane is now Miro's bestie more than his own, which is at least a taste of actually empathising with all the people whose privacy Ender has trampled every day for the last couple of decades.
Before he goes, Miro wants to know properly why Pipo and Libo died. Ender says that it was an honor, but more to honor Leaf-eater and Mandachuva, and the only reason that the humans died instead was the Little One's I-kill-you-or-you-kill-me honor system. Libo brought them the amaranth, but Leaf-eater convinced the Wives to allow a huge generation to be born, gambling that there would be food waiting for them when they left the tree. (In this description, the amaranth wasn't the first technology that the xenologers gave the Little Ones--from flipping back through the book, it is possible that the first thing was the process for neutralising the cyanide in merdona root, then a bunch of other stuff like bows and arrows, then amaranth, then they killed him.) For advocating this and being proven right, Leaf-eater was given the honor of getting sliced, but Libo refused. Okay. Sure.
But then we go back to Pipo and it's worse than ever. Ender reports that Pipo's great discovery was that the plague that killed humans was naturally part of the Little Ones, "that their bodies could handle transformations that killed us". Mandachuva's great achievement was concluding that humans were not gods, just an older and more experienced race with advanced tech. So he was granted slicing, and asked Pipo to do it, and when he refused, tried to make Pipo's body undergo a transformation which they had literally just been told was fatal to humans.
God, I'm glad this book is almost over.
"There are worse reasons to die [...] than to die because you cannot bear to kill."
"What about someone," said Miro, "who can't kill, and can't die, and can't live, either?"
"Don't deceive yourself," said Ender. "You'll do all three someday."How the hell is 'you'll kill someone someday' supposed to be heartening?
Miro leaves the next day, and no one likes hanging around at home for some weeks because they feel his absence. Ender reflects on his own parents and suspects that they didn't hurt so much when he left, or want him back.
He already loved another man's children more than his parents had loved their own child. Well, he'd get fit revenge for their neglect of him. He'd show them, three thousand years later, how a father should behave. Bishop Peregrino married them in his chambers.Not included: 'But Ender did not feel any hatred toward his parents, because deep inside he could find his own desire to abandon his children to a brutal military school and never see them again'.
Having reviewed all the science available, Ender lived with the Little Ones for a week while writing the Life of Human, and got reviews and input from Leaf-eater and Mandachuva (and they were to be planted within "a hand of hands of days" from Human's planting, so apparently all of this has happened in less than 25 or so days, unless the Little Ones have more than five fingers, meaning Novinha solved the Descolada for the formics in maybe two weeks, as opposed to my estimate of seven). He invites everyone he likes out to Human's sapling, now three metres tall, and reads it to them--it takes less than an hour, and I wonder what all he has to say after the first five pages of larval form--a lot of interactions with the xenologers and blazed-out stumbling around Milagre in the middle of the night, I guess?
"Speaker," said the Bishop, "almost thou persuadest me to become a humanist."I still don't get this. First, why would understanding biology and alien cultures cause the Bishop (living next to aliens for decades) to abandon Catholicism in favour of a label that specifically excludes aliens? Is he taking a subtle shot at Ender? I think he's taking a shot at Ender and no one else is catching on. I love meta-Bishop.
"This was why I called you here," said Novinha. "I dreamed once of writing this book. But you had to write it."Ender says she was important, both her scientific work and the way her family 'made him whole', thus making it appropriately clear that women support men who are responsible for actually achieving the things women aspire to.
Jane spams the galaxy with the book, and with the text of the treaty, and the images of Human being converted into a tree. Most people think it's some kind of fake, or believe it but still think the Little Ones are too alien and terrible, but some buy into it completely and start protesting, start calling the fleet a Second Xenocide, and trouble spreads across the galaxy. I wonder if maybe they should have tried doing that before they launched Miro into space in a time-dilation process that everyone compares to death.
And then they place the hive queen's cocoon in the ground in the spot Ender chose, next to some anti-Descolada daisies and a dead cabra, and fly off, and Ender sobs in his seat as he picks up on the philotic overflow of the queen's joy as she breaks free of the cocoon, feeds, lays the first dozen eggs, and starts to grow.
Next week: We interrogate the introduction to figure out what the hell was up with this book.