Speaker for the Dead: p. 184--199
Chapter Twelve: Files
We have reached the middle of the book! (Or we`re about to, at page 191 out of 382.) We've been introduced to a wide cast of 'characters' and all the pieces have been set in motion and clearly now the actual plot will pick up and we will see people tackle their failings and grow into better individuals against a backdrop of thrilling intrigue and interrogation of what it means to be human! The incredibly slow plot, irrational and inconsistent characters, and diligent failures of worldbuilding have clearly just been setting up for a masterpiece that may now begin. (On a completely unrelated note, I'm also really looking forward to the Walking Dead season finale tonight!)
The chapter-prelude bit is a series of congressional orders revoking All The Things: Lusitania loses its Catholic License, all their files are confiscated for review and the colony is locked out of all their non-life-support systems, Ender's starship Havelok is commandeered to ship Miro and Ouanda to Trondheim for trial, a committee is struck to plan and implement the total human evacuation of the planet, and all evidence of human contact on Lusitania is to be obliterated, including any genetically modified organisms. It's not clear if that means vaporising the Little Ones who've been given new tech or if they're exempt from the 'evidence of human contact' deal.
Blissfully unaware of this, Ender finally shows some evidence of being a time-refugee, because he's having to navigate computer systems without Jane's help and he's terrible at it, so he's hired Olhado to assist him.
"Olhado, just tell me what program to run."
"I can't believe you don't know what it is. I've been doing data comparisons since I was nine years old. Everybody learns how to do it at that age."It occurs to me at this point that we have no idea what 'normal' life is like off these backwater colonies. Card writes about the miners and farmers as if they're what we think of today as stereotypical miners and farmers, but what 'data comparisons' would they be running? What do kids get taught in public schools? Do they learn how to operate software to do incredibly complicated mathematics like Ender did back in space school? Are menial jobs automated and so everyone needs to be skilled in navigating computer systems in order to operate their robot farming legions? Three thousand years in the future! Tell me what it's like, Card.
"If I knew how to do it myself, I wouldn't have had to hire you, would I? And since I'm going to be paying you in offworld funds, your services to me will make a substantial contribution to the Lusitanian economy."Not content with being terrible at science, psychology, and religion, Card has decided to loudly fail at economics as well. Lusitania has no exports and to our knowledge few or no physical imports. The only transactions they could conceivably have are ansible communications, and seeing as they're a government-mandated scientific outpost, there's no reason for their ansible not to be free (if perhaps regulated, if we're going to play along with Card's ridiculous assertion that ansible transmissions are expensive). Since they don't export anything, they can't afford to independently sustain offworld payments for the ansible anyway. There isn't even a good reason for them to pay taxes at the interplanetary level. All of their transactions are internal, which means that bringing in more money (Ender's promised offworld funds) will just lead to inflation devaluing everyone else's savings, unless Olhado just uses his paycheque to cover everyone's ansible charges for however long. (I'm assuming that Ender Forty-billion-is-a-drop-in-the-bucket Wiggin will be hilariously overpaying Olhado.)
Ender reveals that he also has no idea what his password is, and explains that this has all been automated for him for ages--Olhado calls Jane a 'slave program' and says they're illegal, but Ender just responds that it wasn't illegal for him, once again avoiding telling us whether he has tons of government pull or if he's just thinking that Jane is so unique that the law doesn't apply to her.
"I got no eyes, Speaker, but at least that wasn't my own fault. You can't do anything." Only after he said it did Olhado realize he was talking to the Speaker as brusquely as if he were another kid.
"I imagine courtesy is something they teach to thirteen-year-olds," the Speaker said. Olhado glanced at him. He was smiling. Father would have yelled at him, and then probably gone in and beaten up Mother because she didn't teach manners to her kids. But then, Olhado would never have said anything like that to Father.Ender's not a normal dad; Ender is a cool dad. I have a sinking feeling that Marcos' abuse is primarily going to be used to make Ender seem even more awesome than he already is (because he passes the unfathomably low bar of not raging and beating people), rather than exploring how it may have affected Novinha's psychology if her most constant and legally-bound companion for the last twenty years was actively hostile and blamed her for everything, including things outside of her control.
Ender eventually manages to guess his password, which is..."Ender". I'm going to be kind and assume that Jane intentionally made it something he'd be able to guess in an emergency, and not a security protocol, given that she is the internet and therefore would have the ability to simply deny access to anyone else. Olhado sees his accounts, and although Ender has no concept of what money means these days, Olhado suggests that, rather than a wage, he be paid "one thousandth of one percent [of the interest this gets during the time I work for you]. Then in a couple of weeks I can afford to buy Lusitania and ship the topsoil to another planet." Ender says that his investments must have just done well; Olhado (first jokingly, then seriously) guesses that Ender must be millennia old.
The 'data comparisons' that started all of this turn out to be comparing Pipo's and Libo's files in the weeks before their respective deaths, trying to piece together the common elements. They get nowhere, but Olhado realises that Ender didn't actually expect to get anywhere: he just wanted to see how Olhado worked the program so that he could then run his own searches in private later on. Olhado thinks this is foolish, not least because he already knows some of Andrew's secrets, like the way his "Ender" password gets him basically everywhere--for example, into the mayor's and bishop's files.
No need to keep a secret from me. You've only been here three days, but I know you well enough to like you, and I like you well enough that I'd do anything for you, as long as it didn't hurt my family. And you'd never do anything to hurt my family.I keep thinking Card will get bored of having people rhapsodise about how wonderful Ender is. I don't know why I haven't caught on yet. Aside from the Ender-worship and the worldbuilding blanks and the failure of economics, this was, however, a pretty good scene, and that's rare enough that I feel like being explicit about it or I'll just end up in a heap of despair that there's anything good in the world. (And, again, I'm bracing myself for whatever dreck the Walking Dead writers will think they're being clever about next.)
The next morning, Novinha fumes about how Ender was rooting around in her root directories all night (when I started that sentence it was just a pun and not a horrendous innuendo but this is where life has taken us) and didn't even bother to cover his digital tracks. We get, at last, some blessed relief from being told how wonderful Ender is, because his presence did not magically heal the Ribeira house: Grego has been cutting up sheets and headbutted one of his teachers in the crotch; Miro and Ela have slid back into grumpiness. On the other hand, ever-silent Quara apparently started talking loudly in class about how she met the Speaker and he's terrible like the Bishop said and he tortured her little brother, until the teacher actually had to demand she stop talking. And Olhado has obviously shifted to hero-worship, which has inspired Quim to threaten to have him exorcised.
Olhado has noticed that Ender seems to speak Stark as his native tongue, which is apparently super-weird. I find this fascinating, because if true this means that the galaxy of the future is not mostly populated by English-speakers. (Stark isn't technically English, but Ender spoke English first and obviously still does.) As much as I scorn Epcot Galaxy, it is at least different from the usual pasty anglo SF environment, to the point where English is properly recognised as a minority. Olhado wonders if Ender comes from Earth, which in turn makes me wonder two things: are the people who natively speak Stark the same demographic as the people who previously natively spoke English, or has future-English mutated into some other language while Stark actually bears a closer resemblance to 20th-centry English? Did everyone default to their non-English ancestry, so that someone like me would grow up speaking Cymraeg (Welsh) or Irish Gaelic and then learn Stark at school?
Novinha spends her whole day thinking about her family, her secrets, her illegitimate children and how she'll have to one day tell Miro about his real father to keep him from marrying Ouanda, and engages in a whole lot of internalised victim-blaming and ascribing her abuse by Marcos to the delivery of divinely-approved vengeance. Novinha has 'discovered' that she is religious after all, but she only believes in the vengeful old god and not the mercy of Christianity.
Quim shows up to say that Quara went to the Speaker's house after school, and to complain that Novinha isn't fighting him harder. They recriminate each other, with Quim varyingly accusing and apologising to her, until Novinha lashes out to strike him, and then they both crumple to the floor as she tries to comfort him. I'm tempted to call this a relatively realistic depiction of severely dysfunctional relationships in which abuse has been normalised (although apparently Novinha kept Marcos from ever attacking the kids).
They decide to go to Ender's house, though Novinha's not sure whether she wants to take Quara away from there if it's got her talking. (Their path is scattered with molted water snake skins, which is firstly a very Earthlike sort of animal to find on an alien planet and secondly why would anyone ever be okay with water snakes as their primary form of vermin that's terrifying. Although Novinha mentions that they make the riverbanks smelly with musk, so I guess these are Space Northern Water Snakes and not Space Cottonmouths, which is some relief.) Quim and Novinha argue about confrontations between good and evil, until she tells him that she's been there and he's only seen the map and so has nothing to say on the matter, and he stalks off.
Quara greets her happily and brings her inside, where Ender and Olhado are playing a video game of duelling fleets--she arrives in time to see Olhado wipe out half of Ender's ships in a moment, I assume because Ender is letting him win and apparently has no problem replaying the same game that was his life and education and religion and torment as a child, the illusion that allowed him to slaughter an entire species and define human interaction with alien life and the evolution of philosophy for three thousand years. No big.
...She certainly didn't approve of him playing games of warfare. It was so archaic and outmoded, anyway. There hadn't been any battles in space in hundreds of years, unless running fights with smugglers counted. [....] Maybe it was something evolution had bred into males of the species, the desire to blast rivals into little bits or mash them to the ground.Ah, it's been a little while since we got that evo-bio gender essentialism; I knew it had to be lying around somewhere. Predictably, Ender then wipes out Olhado's entire side in a single shot and tells him to replay the memory until he figures out how to counter it next time. (I guess Doctor Device is still considered a normal armament in space war? Or I wonder if people think that it's just a fiction of the game, and the story of how Ender destroyed the formic homeworld is blurry and rewritten.)
Ender and Novinha have a fairly predictable conversation--he lays out what he's learned so far and demands to know what Pipo learned that led to his death; Novinha says she'll never tell anyone (although she never puzzled it out herself either), Ender says that knowing will protect Miro and his sister where ignorance got Libo and Pipo killed.
"Tomorrow I'm going with them, because I can't speak Pipo's death without talking to the piggies--"
"I don't want you to speak Pipo's death."
"I don't care what you want, I'm not doing it for you. But I am begging you to let me know what Pipo knew."Soooo... apparently Speakers can't speak someone's death unless requested, but if requested it's irrevocable? I know there was that whole thing about how you can't turn a speaker back once they've left whatever world they came from, but being unable to protect your personal privacy from someone depending on the exact moment they hopped on their space yacht is distressing.
Ender then implicitly compares himself to Pipo (in that he's rescuing and healing the damaged little girl, Quara). Novinha is of course enraged and storms out, without Quara, realising as she leaves that Ender said "your son and his sister"--he knows all her kids were with Libo. Then Olhado turns accusatory, for Ender having "made a traitor out of me", using the search skills Olhado taught him to investigate his mother. Ender feels enough pain at Olhado's departure that he even attracts the Hive Queen's attention.
And he felt her touch him inwardly, touch him like the breeze in the leaves of a tree; he felt the strength and vigor of upward-thrusting wood, the firm grip of roots in earth, the gentle play of sunlight on passionate leaves.Man, can you imagine if Card just wrote poetry and not bigoted propaganda masquerading as serious philosophical literature? I mean upward-thrusting wood and passionate leaves, okay, phrasing, but these moments really stand out in the dross and I legitimately wish there were more of them. Also, I think we can take from this that the Hive Queen's new companion is indeed the consciousnesses of 'dead' Little Ones inside their trees, if there were any question left in that at all.
Ender is left with Quara, who cheerfully remarks that in a couple of days he's managed to make everyone hate him (including her), and then turns on his terminal and brings up arithmetic problems, which she invites him to watch her solve. Ender says they look hard; Quara boasts that she can solve them faster than anyone. I'm not sure what to make of Quara yet, but she's smart and cheerful and says she hates Ender, so I'm on board for now.
Next week: My conviction that the plot is actually going to happen begins to waver.