Sunday, June 8, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter seventeen, part one, in which Ender is more equal than everyone

Well, that was a nice vacation.  Welcome back to the carnival of nightmares.

(Content: colonialism, ableism, misogyny, racism, dehumanization of non-parents. Fun content: hot tree sex, matriarchy, Rainbow Army.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 312--331
Chapter Seventeen: The Wives

We start with an email from the chairman of the Xenological Oversight Committee, Gobawa Ekimbo, to the director of the Congressional Security Agency, which begins:
Find out how word got out that the Evacuation Fleet is armed with the Little Doctor. That is HIGHEST PRIORITY. Then find out who this so-called Demosthenes is.
Yup.  The fleet that is supposed to show up at Lusitania in twenty-two years and remove the colony is armed with planet-busters.  This raises a lot of questions, the first batch of which are from the realm of 'hey, remember those three millennia we skipped'?
  1. In three thousand years, no one has learned how to defend against Doctor Device?
  2. In three thousand years, no one has put legal restrictions in place so that Doctor Device has to be, like, authorised by a unanimous public vote of Starways Congress before it can be pulled out of the dusty vault where it is presumably stored?
  3. In three thousand years, no one has thought of a weapon/defence that might be more useful in maintaining a 'peaceful' planetary blockade than the World Eater?  They haven't got satellite networks that could electromagnetically stun any ships that tried to take off, or interdictor fields that prevent Park shifts?  People remember that getting into space is super hard, right?  Preventing someone from getting into space is possibly the easiest task that anyone can perform.*
Because nothing else important has happened for three thousand years, the chairman (whom I guess is also the star-emperor or what have you) makes reference to having "a hundred times the responsibility of Peter the Hegemon and about a tenth of his power", and demands to know why Lusitania would rebel over two scientists.  (He can be forgiven for forgetting how important the xenologers are to the colonists, since the colonists themselves also keep forgetting that vitally important people exist, but it should be howlingly obvious why people would object to getting completely uprooted and/or blasted into component atoms by the evacuation committee.)

Gobawa's a caricature of the pragmatically-heartless politician, so he says "When it comes to war, human is human and alien is alien. All that ramen business goes up in smoke when we're talking about survival."  The Little Ones are, of course, the first real opportunity anyone's had to put Valentine's terminology into practical use, so I guess one point for realism that no one really cares about it; the weird thing continues to be that people are even talking about the Hierarchy of Exclusion while simultaneously taking so little interest in the Little Ones themselves for decades.

Back in the forest, Human leads them through the trees and leaps around drumming on trunks, and there's more dialogue-that-doesn't-actually-communicate-anything about the third life, which has something to do with Pipo and Libo's murders.  To be clear, last chapter they explained that Miro wouldn't 'sprout' if planted, and a couple of chapters before that the Little Ones were given reason to believe that Pipo and Libo had really not wanted to be eviscerated, and still when Ender asks "What is the third life?" he gets a non-answer ("The gift that Pipo kept for himself") that assumes he knows exactly what Mandachuva means ('that thing where we murder you and you turn into a tree') but somehow hasn't caught onto what it's called.

Ouanda is still boggling at the way Ender asks direct questions, because utterly transforming the Little Ones' civilisation with foreign technology is one thing but asking them to define terms (after teaching them two entire human languages and the meanings thereof) is outrageous.  Ela, who currently bears all of my hopes for real science, is wandering among the trees and actually noticing that there are as few plant species as there are animals--one tree, one vine, one kind of undergrowth.

They arrive at a clearing with a single massive tree that they think at first is crawling with worms, but they are corrected: it's the three hundred twenty "little brothers".  (At this point, my confusion of last episode has to be considered resolved, I guess--all 320 new births in the last four years are still in larval form, which means Arrow and Cups are from a previous generation, but they only received their names within the last couple of years.)

And now it's time for the kind of sexism which is practically unavoidable when you deal with societies that have incredibly strict gender roles compounded with actual physical dimorphism, and yet still manages to find new heights of gratuity through the kind of lofty analysis of cross-gender interaction usually associated with TV shows with laugh-tracks.

A wife appears, much bigger than any male they've seen--females don't reveal their names to males, but Human confides that they call her Shouter amongst themselves.  She speaks the Wives' Language so beautifully that it sounds like singing, so obviously this can't be a pile of sexist rubbish.  She agrees to meet with Ender, and to let Ela and Ouanda come with him (being ladies and thus approved), and to allow him any translator he wants as long as it's Human.

Ender sees more female Little Ones watching him from the various houses as he approaches, and asks how many there are, but only when Shouter--fuck it, her name is Star-looker; we won't find that out for a few more chapters but I'm not using a stupid nickname just because Card thinks he's clever.  Star-looker says that among the wives, the males do not speak unless spoken to, and Ender just nods, pivots, and marches away.  Human protests, but Ender states that he will deal as equals or not at all, and it may be an honor to be among the wives but it's also an honor to have a Speaker for the Dead in their presence as well.  So.  Yeah.  Ender, whom careful readers will recall is axiomatically right about everything moral, sees no value in respecting the cultures of other species; he rejects their value system and substitutes his own, which is how we know that he's enlightened.

Human says that he can't relay Ender's words, and Ouanda contributes by realising that he means it's literally impossible to say 'this male demands not to be commanded by females' in Wives' Language, so Ender asks that they conduct their discussions in Males' Language.

Kind of funny that Ender's approach, which he describes as egalitarian, involves everyone doing everything he says and zero concessions on his part.  (This is like a case study of why people who identify as 'equalist' instead of 'feminist' or 'anti-racist' are not to be trusted.)  There's much cacophony among the wives and Ouanda critiques his anthropological practice (the only rule he hasn't broken so far is 'don't kill anyone', ha ha inside-joke foreshadowing spoilers he's going to kill someone later and it'll be the Right Thing to do), but Ender says he's there as an ambassador and thus anthropological rules don't apply.  Tragically, he seems unaware of any diplomatic rules to replace them.  Ender thinks it'll all work out:
"Because I came out of the sky. Because I'm the Speaker for the Dead." 
"Don't start thinking you're a great white god," said Ouanda. "It usually doesn't work out very well."
Here we see more proof that being aware of your clich√©s will not protect you from playing them perfectly straight and godawful.  Jane pops up with more impossible information, because she's started working out Wives' Language and she describes it as "more archaic--closer to the roots, more old forms", despite not having any information on what Males' Language sounded like past thirty years ago.  Information comes from nowhere in this universe and it's amazing.  (Also, in Wives', female-to-male speech is automatically imperative and male-to female speech is automatically supplicative, and 'brothers' sounds a lot like 'worms'.)


At bloody last, Ender is invited to come back, "as a sister to a brother", and Star-looker speaks in Males' Language in the holy birthing place, which Arrow declares makes this a "very great day", because apparently he has also personally ditched the idea that he will not speak unless spoken to by a wife.  Star-look is still half a metre shorter than Ender, which I'm a little sad about, because I was enjoying imagining her massive, like an eight-foot-tall bear.  There's more back and forth, which is mostly about how awesome Ender is, asking Human to speak as directly as possible and put the blame on him, the "rude framling", and asking not to be described as 'holy'.

There's a bunch of drawn out exposition and "I can't say that in any language" and so I will sum up: they learn that Little One mothers don't grow to adulthood, but give birth while still quite small and their bodies are eaten by their newborns.  The mothertree cracks open so they can see the even-tinier Little Ones inside (in the meantime, Jane works out that the trees 'speak' by reshaping their wood to modulate the echoes of existing soundwaves, which is why the Father Tongue involves drumming on trunks with sticks).  The wives were sterile or never fertilised (which involves carrying them from the mothertree out to crawl around and pick up pollen from the father trees in the forest, like Rooter, which is the real reason the males have their nipply bits--they're for young mothers to cling to during the journey).

Ouanda and Ela immediately begin wondering what could be done to allow the mothers to survive (caesarean sections and the introduction of high-protein foods to the inside of the mothertree) but of course Ender shuts them down--"How dare you!"--saying that in a few centuries if the Little Ones want to do that for themselves they can (I guess points for non-colonialist principles, but revoked for insisting it can only happen in the distant future), and then this hurricane of wrong:
"...We can't begin to guess what it would do to them if suddenly as many females as males came to maturity. To do what? They can't bear more children, can they? They can't compete with the males to become fathers, can they? What are they for?"

This, of course, is the natural conclusion of Card's genetic-continuity fetish: if you can't/don't/won't have kids, you're literally useless and dangerous and we might as well mulch you into baby formula.  He says this, out loud, in the middle of the Wives' village, populated by the most revered of the Little Ones, the leaders of their society: women who didn't give birth.  The cognitive dissonance is amazing, the offence is spectacular (lucky for him Human isn't doing a live translation or the wives would have just have all heard him say that he thinks they're pointless), and come to think of it, it raises a big question which the book will never address: do the wives grow into trees when they die?  If so, it's a bit biologically weird that they aren't able to fertilise mothers themselves in that form; here in the real world, most trees have both 'male' and 'female' components and I'm pretty sure no trees have completely non-fertile forms, so why did the trees of Lusitanian spontaneously develop infertile forms just because they merged with a strictly dimorphic animal?  The kind of Salvador-Dali-inspired evolution that had to lead to plant-animal-life-stage-hybrids was obviously focused on maintaining reproduction above all else, but either the wives' trees have no genetic contribution or the male Little Ones are the only ones who actually merged with the trees and the females are still meat-creatures from start to finish.  (I mean, in a better book, there would be actual parallels drawn to the COTMOCs and the ability of infertile people to tremendously contribute to society, the idea that people have value apart from being a link to future generations, but Ender's just completely shut that whole line of thought down.)
...Ouanda was still upset. She had made the raman transition: She thought of the piggies as us instead of them. She accepted the strange behaviour that she knew about, even the murder of her father, as within the acceptable range of alienness. This meant she was actually more tolerant and accepting of the piggies than Ela could possibly be, yet it also made her more vulnerable to the discovery of cruel, bestial behaviours among her friends.
This is just arbitrary.  She's so accepting and tolerant that she can cope with them brutally murdering her father, but that makes her more vulnerable to finding out that they have violent reproductive cycles?  Why is one 'acceptably alien' and one isn't?  Ender (Card) is just stringing words together however best fits his pet framework.  Ouanda's own dissonance could be explained in a variety of ways (she has precedent for Libo's death, she's had years to convince herself that her work is not all for naught because these are civilised people whose laws they just need to understand and now she's faced with information that drives home how dissimilar they really are and revives the spectre of possibility that her father died for no meaningful reason) but nope, it's all about how she's super-tolerant of aliens and therefore aliens being weird hurts her even more.  The Xenocide has spoken.

It turns out that Human did translate a little of this exchange, but he made sure to keep his propaganda as pro-Ender as possible: he said that Ouanda wanted to make the Little Ones be more like humans and Ender said this could never happen or he'd have to put the fence back up.

If anyone's keeping score at home:

  • Introducing new technology that allows them to birth and feed hundreds of new males per generation, completely changes their diet, equips them to hunt, and enables them to prepare for global conquest: the good and right sharing of technology among equals, well done, fifty points to Gryffindor.
  • Introducing methods that could allow a few dozen females per generation to grow to adulthood and partake in society instead of being devoured in childbirth: disgusting imperialism, you are wrong and rejected, go to skeleton hell jail.

They begin negotiations with a traditional threat from Star-looker, demanding everything humans have to offer or she'll send the males to murder the colony in their sleep.  Human explains that this is traditional Little One boilerplate for negotiations, but Ender demands that she withdraw the threat or he'll give her nothing.  (Remember, respect the Little Ones and the ways they do things different from you, except when you find it personally offensive.)  Star-looker gets up, rants to the heavens a bit about how rude Ender is, then sits down again:
"She says she'll never kill any human or let any of the brothers or wives kill any of you. She says for you to remember that you're twice as tall as any of us and you know everything and we know nothing. Now has she humiliated herself enough that you'll talk to her?" [....] 
"Yes," said Ender. "Now we can begin."
Now, that's meant to be ironic, fine, but this is exactly the 'egalitarian' problem summed up.  Ender demands that he be spoken to as an equal, but Star-looker is intensely aware that they are not equals.  Humans have better science, more resources, longer recorded history, starflight, hundreds of other worlds, and ships literally on their way to Lusitania right now with death rays that could convert the entire planet to undifferentiated minerals in the space of a couple of seconds.  Trying to pretend that they are 'equals' is completely erasing the context of the situation.  Ender can and has and continues to absolutely dictate the terms of everything that happens, and he's also the one deciding what 'equal' means.  This is a pantomime that satisfies his notions of fair play despite the fact that he's the visiting team and also all of the referees.  Star-looker opens up with the way she speaks to her equals, the wives of other forests, and Ender tells her no, this is insulting, so she sarcastically (but accurately) humiliates herself and he's good to go.

I've studied a half-dozen kinds of martial arts, most of which had some form of sparring.  When you spar, you bow to your opponent, and you keep your eyes on them.  Not because you don't trust them, but because it symbolises your respect, your acknowledgement that if you don't keep your eyes on them, they have the capacity to harm you in a surprise attack, even though they'd never do it.  Ender is the kind of guy who would take offence at this and say he was being accused of being a cheater, and demand that they avert their eyes, despite everyone in the room knowing he's never lost a fight in his entire life and he loves throwing the first punch.**

To close off this week, we leave the forest and return to Miro waking up in bed, with Novinha and other siblings present.  Novinha recaps his paralysis and says that the doctor can help him recover a lot, and they manage some yes/no communication through open mouth/closed mouth sounds.  Novinha tells him that while things may be very bad for a time, he will get better and it's worth trying, but inside her head she despairs to a degree that manages to start at 'realistic' and skip rapidly over the border to 'ableist rubbish'.  Miro's paralysis is worse to her than Olhado losing his eyes, worse than Pipo or Libo or Marcos' deaths.  Yeah.  Worse grief for the paralysed son (who she says will recover) than her husband or 'true love' dying horribly.

Quim and Olhado quickly work out a communication method, using a computer terminal to let Miro pick out letters one at a time to spell messages.  (Their method is unnecessarily slow; they rotate through the entire alphabet one at a time, rather than any kind of organization that would let him skip to later letters without having to go through the first section endlessly.  No eye-tracking either.  Sure, that might be hard for a teenager to program in the middle of the night, but--it's the year five thousand; did the notion of accessible computer interfaces just not come into fashion in this galaxy?)

Miro asks about the Little Ones and gets a recap on the rebellion and Ender going off into the forest, and arduously spells out a message to be taken to Ender immediately.  Novinha squeezes Miro's hand again (he lightly squeezes back, which is only one of many, many ways that he distinguishes himself from being a corpse oh my god Novinha you used to be cool) and leaves, scrambling over the fence after Quim with difficulty.  She remarks, half-amused, that they'll have to install a new gate next to their house, and I'm wondering:

  • Why they wouldn't just tear the entire fence down for its various valuable resources
  • If she and Quim, who have never been in the forest before, really think that carrying a vital message into alien woods in the middle of the night without a map is the best way to avoid further catastrophes
  • Why she climbs the fence right there when Ender and company left the village by a completely different direction
Speaker for the Dead: forcing us to ask the hard questions, like 'what the hell' and 'why would you ever' and 'hang on but you just said oh never mind I give up'.

Next week: Ender forces the primitive savages to give up war, and literally sympathises with an imperial colonialist murderer.  Aren't you so glad I'm back?


---

*Although I'm curious now what happens if you Park shift while on a planet instead of floating in the vacuum of space.  Do you get shredded by the atmosphere, or is it a warp field that would take a chunk of your immediate environment with you into space?  If it's not a Star Wars scenario where planetary gravity fields inherently kill warp flight, wouldn't Park-shifted ballistic weapons be a super-cheap way to bombard a planet?  Unlike typical Star Trek warp drives or Star Wars hyperspace, all indications are that near-luminal ships in Card's galaxy really are travelling at relativistic speeds in normal space.  These are questions that I want answered much more than 'how earnestly does Ender feel guilty about the terrible things he's done?'

**Utterly random tangent: at some point in my teenage years, I had a dream in which I reread Ender's Game and there was a short section I had somehow missed in all my previous reads in which Ender and Dragon Army actually lost one of their matches.  It had various minor implications for the storyline that I don't remember now; they only part that stuck in my head was that he was defeated by Rainbow Army.  Make of that absolutely everything that you like.

42 comments:

  1. In three thousand years, no one has thought of a weapon/defence that
    might be more useful in maintaining a 'peaceful' planetary blockade than
    the World Eater?


    Who said anything about a peaceful blockade? They know about the Funky disease now. As is apparently traditional, they just haven't acknowledged what they want to happen.

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  2. Content note (or, perhaps, fun content): theoretical Ender-type ambassador being eaten by thing with lots of teeth

    Ow, my brain.

    Setting aside that humanity has apparently spent three thousand years accomplishing absolutely nothing, why is the Evacuation Fleet armed with the Little Doctor? Is it actually an Extermination Fleet? If so, why? If not, what the everlivin' fuck?

    "When it comes to war, human is human and alien is alien. All that ramen business goes up in smoke when we're talking about survival."

    Survival? What? So the plan is to nuke the planet because the Little Ones exist, and somehow that makes them a danger to humanity now. Even though they've known about the existence of the Little Ones for some indeterminate amount of time. And even though supposedly the bad thing was the universe's worst scientists telling the Little Ones things they shouldn't have been telling them. Well, that, followed by the colony flipping off the government.

    Or is this because they actually are smart enough to realize they can't evacuate the colony, so their going to zap the planet because of the Descolada? And the Little Ones are just collateral damage. Figuring out why anyone is doing anything, or even what they're trying to do is so freaking hard in this story.

    Ender states that he will deal as equals or not at all

    And yet he has no problem treating fellow humans as less than himself. Also, does he pull this shit with human groups? Oh, wait, it's Ender. Yes he probably does. He is a universal jackass.

    Ender says he's there as an ambassador and thus anthropological rules don't apply.

    So...what Card is saying here is that he really, really, desperately wants an Enderverse/Retief crossover in which Ender plays the part of the too-stupid-to-live ambassador? Yes? Because this kind of attitude does not normally work well in sci-fi. (or much of anything else) It tends to either result in someone who actually has a tiny modicum of tact, wisdom, and basic human decency spending the story fishing the Ass in Ambassador out of disaster after disaster, OR the Ass in Ambassador is promptly eaten by something with lots of teeth because anthropological rules do, strangely enough, apply. And telling the thing with lots of teeth that you are the Speaker for the Dead generally ends up being more like "You can't do that, I'm the Speaker for the aaaah! My leg! Aaaah! My arm! Aaaah! My other arm! My ahhhhgk!"

    "What are they for?



    Says the character who has had roughly zero children in the past three centuries.


    *continues reading*


    I withdraw my idea that an Enderverse/Retief crossover would help. Retief wouldn't let Ender get eaten by something nasty with lots of teeth and, really, what Ender deserves so very richly is to be eaten by something nasty with lots of teeth. He isn't just terrible at being an ambassador, he's a terrible, terrible person.


    And the whiplash from Ender's opposition to trying to save the mothers to his offense at standard Little One etiquette is incredible. He really is a comedy terrible ambassador being played dead serious. What the actual fuck.


    Do I even want to know how Miro is supposed to have been paralyzed (except apparently not actually if he's squeezing people's hands, however lightly) by the pain fence? Or should I just assume a wizard did it and move on?

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  3. Is there some reason to suppose that the colony never mentioned the Descolada until now? I was under the impression that the government knew about it when it first became active. Surely the colony would've called for help or at least attempted to record what was going on and warn people.


    Oh, wait, that's what people do in works of fiction where people actually act like people. That is, anything except these books.

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  4. Isn't this just what civilized societies do, forcing Klingon representatives to be polite all the time? (No. I only got as far as the letter "s" before Google asked me if I meant "picard swears in klingon".)

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  5. Its seems similar to how Ender trolled the Bishop so I guess he does treat human groups this way.


    But why does he think being "Speaker for the Dead" gives him any status? So, ok, he's someone who speaks at funerals. That gives him authority... how? Also he came out of the sky... more recently than the rest of the colony. That's nice, but he doesn't represent any of the people in the sky, and in particular he has no authority over the planet-busting fleet that's on its way.


    I think instead of "Speaker for the Dead" he really meant "I'm the Xenocide". As in, you aliens better not give me any lip because you wouldn't be the first ones I've exterminated. Now say I'm egalitarian or you'll be next.

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  6. That would make more sense.


    Doesn't make him any better of a person, of course. But as it stands, he's making a call to authority that doesn't apply. As well as claiming randomly to be an ambassador. Can't someone just shout "This. Is. Lusitania!" and punt him off a cliff?

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  7. My reading of Ender's "What are they for?" is a bit more sympathetic because from an evolutionary perspective the Wives are anomalous. If they don't directly perform a reproductive function, they should do something that allows reproduction to work better and afaik they don't. Even if they fulfill a cultural role, there still needs to be an evolutionary reason for them to have existed to be able to fulfill that role in the first place.

    Except, of course, that Lusitanian biology is completely screwy because Descolada. But maybe Ender doesn't know that yet.

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  8. Spoilers for Xenocide

    Nf jr svaq bhg va Krabpvqr, zbguregerrf pna bayl tebj sebz gur ivivfrpgvba bs bar bs gur Jvirf. Phfgbznevyl (nccneragyl) gurer vf bayl bar zbguregerr va rnpu sberfg, ohg vg jbhyqnccrne (gubhtu jr arire frr guvf, naq V'z whfg rkgencbyngvat Pneq ybtvpnyyl, juvpu vf hfhnyyl n zvfgnxr) gung n sberfg orpbzrf gur pbadhrerq cebcregl bs gur vainqvat oebguref jura gur byq zbguregerr vf qrfgeblrq naq n arj zbguregerr cynagrq. Rnpu Jvsr jub qvrf gb orp zr n zbguregerr guhf orpbzrf gur trargvp cnerag bs nyy gur oebguref naq arj snguregerrf va gur arj sberfg. V unir ab vqrn jul gurl'q bayl unir bar zbguregerr cre sberfg, gubhtu, orpnhfr vg jbhyq frrz zhpu zber frafvoyr gb unir frireny - uneqre gb pbadhre naq zber trargvp qvirefvgl.

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  9. " they should do something that allows reproduction to work better and afaik they don't."

    I would guess that besides (spoilers for Xenocide, below) they also provide the "menopausal grandmother" function: it would appear that the menopause is an evolutionary advantage because women who stop giving birth and thus become grandmothers with no young babies of their own, have more surviving grandchildren due to their providing a knowledge-bank of skill and being an immediate resource for experienced childcare.

    Wives may not have children, but they help more children to survive.

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  10. Except it's not him just pondering that over the existence of the Wives, it's him using that as part of his argument against making sure more of the female Little Ones survive. If it were just him going "Wait, why did they evolve like this?" it would be a lot more sympathetic.


    And, as far as I can tell, trying to make scientific sense out of anything in these books is a quick route to a headache.

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  11. I hate when Ender lectures about wanting the mothers to lead a long happy life like us. What's so bad about that? What an asshole.

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  12. "Setting aside that humanity has apparently spent three thousand years accomplishing absolutely nothing, why is the Evacuation Fleet armed with the Little Doctor? Is it actually an Extermination Fleet?"

    Maybe this is why the Starways Congress society has set up (what looks to me like) so few colonies (about one per century). Maybe there were actually more, but they went in directions the Known or Unknown Superiors didn't like, and consequently were destroyed. Secretly, of course, since this society sets so high a premium on secrecy.

    Maybe all that guilt about using the Little Doctor on the Buggers has a reason which is closer to home.

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  13. Once again, we have situation that had potential. This could have been an interesting science mystery, if Card wasn't such a shitty writer and we didn't stop to kiss Ender's ass every paragraph.

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  14. I'm beginning to think that when his sister was begging him to stick around until her child was born, she wasn't entirely serious.

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  15. Wait, so the Congress has decided to atomize the planet, and they send a fleet of ships armed with the Doc Device? Are they expecting Lusitania to sprout orbital defense systems? One ship would be enough.

    Also, Ender should not have been let out into the civilized... Oh, who am I kidding, this whole universe probably needs the Doctor Device.

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  16. There's no indication that they've been ordered to use Doctor Device; they've been equipped with it basically 'in case of emergency'. ('The fleet is armed' could also just mean 'we have a fleet of evacuation ships, one of which also carries the Device'.) The fact that Congress is capable of getting even one World Eater onto a ship without having to have any kind of major public vote, when they're not actually going to reach Lusitania for decades, is the part that I think most boggles me right now. They haven't voted to go to war; Lusitania hadn't even rebelled when they gave the order. The chairman can just ask for one of those to be quietly attached, literally in the space of half a day, and no one in the chain of command (except whoever informed Valentine) resists at all?

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  17. Someone who knew enough about science in general and evolutionary biology in particular could build a great story on these bones, as scientists unravel a truly alien biology and figure out how it got that way.
    Of course, you'd need to chuck the soap opera crap, and the galaxy-scale soap opera crap (I was going to say "political crap," but all the politics is just more soap opera with bigger consequences), and most importantly the woe-is-me-for-I-the-xenocide-can-never-sit-down-because-of-the-constant-stream-of-people-demanding-to-kiss-my-ass crap.

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  18. I imagine Jane informed Valentine.

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  19. Lusitania hadn't even rebelled when they gave the order.



    Are we sure the chairman isn't related to Ender? Did Card forget his timeline (as well as travel times)? I'm not sure what we're supposed to make of this. Sure, Card threw it in to raise the stakes (OMG! They're gonna destroy the planet! ... In a decade. And Jane is sure to tell supergenius and author's pet Ender, who will undoubtedly invent the anti-Doctor. Yep, sure raised the stakes.)

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  20. I suspect that the Starways Congress is actually still the military dictatorship of Terra, just with a better title - the ability to add a world-destroyer, the reference to Peter, all of this seems to be pointing at the idea that the democratic process is, at best, for show.

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  21. Did you know there's a graphic novel of this book? I didn't either until it crossed my path tonight at the library. I am checking it out out of morbid curiousity. Will it be better (as the manga of Twilight marginally is)? Worse? I just have to find out.

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  22. I did not know, although I've seen the graphic novel of Ender's Game, which completely omits the last chapter (and thus the condemnation of xenocide, the explanation of the formics' actions, and essentially all hope of redemption), so my expectations are low. Report back if you make it through unharmed.

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  23. The graphic novel condenses the story, which spares us Trondheim. But other changes are odd, like calling Milagre a village, but showing a city. And, of course, seeing some things - like the wall, make their ludicrousness blatantly obvious. (Also, it isn't clear what harms Miro - the doctor says that "nobody covered this in medical school," which seems to eliminate electrocution and falling off the fence, so I think the graphic novel is implying that it was the grass? I don't know.) It also drops Jane informing on the colony.

    It also does some weird stuff with apparent ethnicity. I'd call it whitewashing, except that real Brazilians come in all colors. But the vast majority of characters appear white - no darker than Ender, and with no other hints at any different ethnicity. Then it gets really disturbing: Novinha is white - fair skin, reddish hair, green eyes. Marco...appears to be black - dark skin, short kinky hair, larger facial features.

    Over all, it replicates the incoherent mess that is the book. But you can give yourself brain cramp in half the time!

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  24. Oh my god, Novinha gets to be a pasty ginger and Marcos gets to be the blackest man on the planet? That's even more outstanding than I expected. (Is Libo black? What about their kids?) It's like someone decided to address the implicit racism in the books by not making Lusitania an all-black planet that needs to be saved by Ender, but then decided there still needed to be some black people, so they left the ones they didn't like. How spectacularly appalling.

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  25. The mayor is black, and there are a few people in crowd scenes. Other people colored (slightly) darker than Ender: Pipo and Dr. Navio. So much for Ender standing out because of his pasty whiteness.


    I mean, at least it makes the mayor seem a reasonable person, so it's not all racism. Just... enough of it. And in clarifying and condensing the story, it really underlines how messed up everything is.


    The wall/fence thing is labeled an electric fence, though the pain factor gets mentioned a couple of times. It is drawn as a chainlink fence and two to three people high, yet Pipo and Libo still have a conversation about "oh noes, the Little Ones saw a shuttle." The word "duh" comes to mind. Not to mention all this talk about not revealing any science or technology to the Little Ones is just patently absurd when there's a frickin' city behind the "wall" (complete with cars and, in some shots, skyscrapers) and the xenologers wear clothes and the frickin' wall itself (never mind that they've taught the Little Ones a language). Some of that might slide by in a book, but when you can see it?


    Other things even more ridiculous in the graphic novel: Pipo, the xenologer, takes one look at Novinha's DNA images and instantly figures out the "mystery". Despite the fact that, you know, she's the xenobiologist.


    Also, Novhina's freak out is unintentionally hilarious - she goes from "noes, if I marry Libo, he can access my files" to "how do I get a Speaker for the Dead?" on the same page.


    Likewise, the Hive Queen (in a dream) tells Ender that Lusitania is perfect: "Room to flourish. Safe from human beings." With a backdrop of the city of Milagre.


    The mayor outright says that Congress will destroy them because of the Descolada, but "severing" the Ansible, even though it's an act of war, is treated as protecting the colony. (Because Ender and all will have time to figure out the Descolada before action can be taken against them.) And the final decision to do so is based on saving Miro.


    Ender's jackassery of being an ambassador is toned down and his actions are stated to be to get a treaty between the Little Ones and Milagre to protect everyone. Also, no mention is made of helping the Mothers to live. (Though Ela just sciences without equipment, which is remarkable.)


    The characters are more likable in the graphic novel, but it doesn't take much to improve on the book there. Everything else is just condensed WTF.

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  26. The wall/fence thing is labeled an electric fence, though the pain factor gets mentioned a couple of times.

    Awesome. So it's arguably not even some kind of high-tech agony field any more, and there's zero explanation for Miro's very specific kind of irreparable neural damage. (Three thousand years' advancement has also passed medicine right by.)

    Ender's jackassery of being an ambassador is toned down and his actions are stated to be to get a treaty between the Little Ones and Milagre to protect everyone.

    He'll be doing that shortly in the book as well, after he's finished his one-step program for civilising savage primitives.

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  27. Yeah, weird as it is in the book for them not to know how to treat agony field injuries, in the graphic novel, he's electrocuted and falls off the fence. Actually, it's not even clear it's electrocution - he's all "Argh the pain is too much" (or words to that effect - I didn't bring it with me to work) and just freezes at the top. I think we're supposed to infer he's stuck due to the electricity (muscle contractions)...though that raises the question of why it isn't a problem for the Little Ones. But maybe their physiology is just that different. Or maybe his clothes are supposed to have caught - there is a panel of his pants leg ripping when the Little Ones tip him off the fence. (And he appears to land so that he might have gotten spinal injuries...but if it's supposed to be that, then being hauled over the fence by Ender later seems wildly irresponsible of Ender.)


    But a doctor shouldn't be all "nobody covered this in medical school" about either spinal injuries or electrocution. Especially not three thousand years in the future. (I think that lines a left over from the book, but it didn't make a hell of a lot of sense there, either.)

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  28. How can the *military* not know who Demosthenes is? She exists because they commissioned her, and her brother, to destroy their last alien problem. The High Command in Ender's training days received a direct report on Locke and Demosthenes, their identities, goals and capabilities. And this Demosthenes has been writing such fruitful and insightful studies on each planet they have visited that their terminology is now the universal framework in approaching alien species by academics and lay-people everywhere. And they *forgot who she was*? Really? Three thousand years later or not, that is some sloppy-ass intelligence work. I remember thinking the very first time I read Ender's Game at about age 15 that it was patently idiotic that the military sought out and commissioned three genius-level intellect children to kill an entire species, and just let the first two go off into gen-pop when they weren't precisely what was wanted. The first was ineligible *because* he was such a sadistic killer (who never actually killed *anyone*)! Any responsible intelligence service would have kept those kids under *very close observation*, especially an intelligence service of a government so powerful they can compel their citizens to reproduce and confiscate their children for military training.


    Also, Card really doesn't seem to get that evolution is evolution of *groups*, not individuals. Non-reproductive members of species are seen all across our biome, most notably in hive species like ants and bees. The sterile worker drones are not disposable because they cannot reproduce, they are *essential* to the survival of the species. If the Wives are non-reproductive female Little Ones, they clearly have (or had) some evolutionary function, or there wouldn't be a class of them, rather than one or two outliers. Admittedly genetically functionally sterile individuals a la worker bees are not seen in primates, but, for example, there is some evidence that human female family members of gay males are more fecund, implying some kind of evolutionary benefit from having gay family members, tho the link is not well understood. And, as EdinburghEye noted, a sterile period is built in to female humans later in life, again for reasons not totally understood, but by Card's logic, all menopausal women are a waste of space and resources. (Unlike those virile males, who can reproduce throughout their lifespan for the most part. Or is Card also arguing for the uselessness of any impotent man?)

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  29. I love basically everything about this comment, and have little to add.

    Or is Card also arguing for the uselessness of any impotent man?



    Not quite--for humans, he allows the possibility that we can contribute to future generations without reproducing as long as we otherwise improve them and possibly own some indirectly. We've seen the COTMOCs, and when we get to Ender's Shadow, we'll meet the gay scientist who figured out how to genetically engineer min-maxed infant supergeniuses like Bean. (Said gay scientist ends up marrying a woman, not because he's bi or has any secret desire to sleep with her, but because they get along well and he has at last been struck with the Innate Human Need For Grandchildren.)

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  30. That'd make some kinda adaptive sense...if not for the fact that the males are bipedal and have hands. The mothers don't need to hang precariously from their nipples. The males can just carry them wherever they need to go, far more safely. Evolutionary theory is weeping into its drink at the end of the bar at this point.


    I'm trying desperately-but-reluctantly to imagine how Little Ones reproduced pre-Descolada. I was going to say that maybe the EZ-Grip Nipples were an evolutionary advantage back when there were predators on Lusitania, and the males would need their hands free to climb between trees to transport the mothers, except that they wouldn't have been carrying them to trees back then because the trees were a separate species. If they didn't have trees to pollinate them, they must have fertilised females in some other way, but none of them have genitalia now, and if they had it before, why in the world would the females lose their birth canal in response to merging with trees? So pre-Descolada maybe the mothers clung to the nipples and that was how they picked up 'pollen' from the males, and it was a prolonged process so it was best if the males had their hands free? (But then we have to address why the males lost their ability to fertilise mothers before growing into trees, which also sounds like an evolutionary loss.) All of this seems to point to the idea that the Little Ones always have had some kind of 'third life' stage in which males reached sexual maturity, and the only difference that Descolada introduced was that they became trees instead of meat.


    What a gong show this is.

    Heck, forget weapons; if the Park shift accelerates objects to near-lightspeed and grants them the appropriate kinetic energy and momentum, you don't need the plural. A single Park-shifted hamster could kill a world.

    I don't think it's quite that bad; by my math, 100g travelling near lightspeed would be about 4.4 petajoules, which is still a couple orders of magnitude below Tsar Bomba.

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  31. Man, can you imagine how confused the Lusitanian wildlife must have been after the Descolada scrambled their reproductive patterns?



    This seems like a major problem with the Descolada. It's movie mad science, only it's a virus. The more one tries to figure out how the species of Lusitania work, the more it just all seems somewhere between staggeringly unlikely and impossible that anything survived. (Granted, only a handful of species out of a whole planet did survive, so maybe that's about right. But the how of their survival still makes my brain hurt.)

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  32. The part for Ouanda "it also made her more vulnerable to the discovery of cruel, bestial behaviours among her friends," that's from Ender's perspective, right? So all he really knows is that she is upset. I will choose to believe that she is upset because the "cruel, bestial behavious among her friends" is that Ender thinks non-reproducing women are worthless. She is faced with the unavoidable truth that this person with a great deal of power is very clearly not going to support women in any way that does not directly benefit him. I can see how that would be upsetting.

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  33. only a handful of species out of a whole planet did survive

    On land. Apparently lots more aquatic critters survived. Because...Descolada can't cross running water? It's made of tiny vampires? Mad science, I dunno.

    (It follows that if the humans had established their colony on the coast, or on a natural or artificial island, then they'd have a much greater diversity of native life forms to exploit, and they'd be less likely to run into the Little Ones while doing so. Why didn't they? I dunno.)

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  34. It follows that if the humans had established their colony on the coast,
    or on a natural or artificial island, then they'd have a much greater
    diversity of native life forms to exploit, and they'd be less likely to run into the Little Ones while doing so.

    Hey, maybe that's why the scout ship didn't detect the Little Ones--they were the only vaguely sensible people in this universe and stuck around the coastlines, especially after they realized that's where all the life was.

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  35. I don't know if Card realized this, but since the doctor's a native-born Lusitanian, it's pretty much impossible for him to have gone to medical school. At best, he took some kind of online correspondence course--probably didn't even involve realtime video chat with the instructor, given the inexplicable expense of ansible communication.

    So what the doctor means is "Spinal injuries and electrocution weren't mentioned on that one webpage I had to read, before printing out my degree from the DeVry School of Future Medicine, Chiropractic and Bonsai Gardening."

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  36. Presumably he was also taught by one or both of his parents, original colonists and members of good standing in the Guild of Bevellers and Neurosurgeons.

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  37. That explains rather a lot.

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  38. "We'll trepan anything, no questions asked"

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  39. that the democratic process is, at best, for show.

    You would think, but the chairman is currently losing her shit over "how word got out," so apparently there is still some sort of Public whose Opinion is Relevant to her. Maybe she's worried that the hevolts will revolt and her space-chamber pot will go unemptied, I dunno.

    I imagine all the authority figures in this universe engaged in a hushed, horrified colloquy over how they can possibly reveal to the resentful masses that the supreme being is Orson Scott Card. It's not their fault! They didn't choose to be written by him! They're trying to go meta but there's just no scrap of characterization to work with here!

    That's the sort of cosmic revelation that would make Lovecraft start crying for his aunts.

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  40. Word getting out might have been referring to junior officers, who might have Opinions about the use of a planet-killer in this way. Dissention in the ranks would not be something to encourage or tolerate. In any case, there still seems to be an awful lot of power vested in the chair.

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  41. a hundred times the responsibility of Peter the Hegemon and about a tenth of his power
    So can we take it that there really are only about a hundred inhabited worlds?

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