Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Speaker for the Dead, chapter one, part three, in which Pipo makes a lot of bad decisions

I missed last week's post, quite unintentionally.  And now this one is late.  Holiday season; y'all know how it is.  I've also now read ahead a bit, just the next three posts or so.  I don't think that enough information came up to affect my analysis of any of this material so far.  I just know that it's going to start getting really, really bad soon.  I have previewed my horror and I can see the pain incoming again.  (I mentioned to my mother that I was reading Speaker for the first time and she tried to talk me out of it, like I had said I was going to hitchhike to Mexico.  She does care.)

Let's wrap this first sucker up.

(Content: sexism, murder.  Fun content: balloons, the human nervous system.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 20--30

It takes three days for Novinha to take the test to become the new xenobiologist of Milagre, and because she is 13 years old and a main character in a Card novel, she passes with a score better than most graduate students.  Obviously reasonable.  She starts spending most of her time in the Zenador's Station, because they have all the cool data, and Libo finds her cold condescension aggravating, especially since they're the same age and presumably both ubergeniuses but she has an adult job and he's still just apprenticing.
He was not prone to taking umbrage openly.  But Pipo knew his son and saw him burn.  After a while even Novinha, insensitive as she was, began to realize that she was provoking Libo more than any normal young man could possibly endure.  But instead of easing up on him, she began to regard it as a challenge.  How could she force some response from this unnaturally calm, gentle-spirited, beautiful boy?
*blows noisemaker*

Well done, Card.  Managed to make it to page 20 before describing a barely-pubescent boy as 'beautiful' in an explicitly romantic/sexual context.  (Of course it's romantic/sexual, and yes of course Libo and Novinha will hook up within the next few years/pages.  What kind of book do you think this is?)  Novinha snipes at him one day when she learns that Pipo and Libo have never met a female Little One and don't know anything about how the species reproduces.  (They described the concepts of male and female, and all of the Little Ones have identified themselves as male.)  Libo is quiet for a while before responding at all, and then they have this back and forth of "Obviously you should just do this" and "Well, no, that won't work because X" until finally X is "Because trying to tell them what we want their hair for would risk giving away scientific secrets that could change the course of their society and ruin everything".
Once she realized that they were excellent at their science, and that she knew almost nothing of it, she dropped her aggressive stance and went almost to the opposite extreme. [....] Politeness gradually gave way to familiarity.  Pipo and Libo began to converse openly in front of her, airing their speculations about why the pequininos had developed some of their strange behaviours, what meaning lay behind some of their strange statements, why they remained so maddeningly impenetrable.
Libo and Novinha become BFFs, making inside jokes based on their unique scientific information that no one else except Pipo could possibly understand.  And it's sort of sweet, but I also wonder why, with the galactic instant internet that's been in place for over 3000 years, none of them have, say, friends on other planets.  A hundred worlds with a total human population in the tens or hundreds of billions--shouldn't the galaxy be full of lonely supergenius teenagers looking for someone else smart enough to get them and make complicated xenobiology jokes?

Basically what I'm saying is that Card was very impressive to foresee political blogs but this is the part where he clearly did not see tumblr incoming.

So then there's a misogynistic interlude in which Libo riffs off the Little Ones' habit of naming trees and starts naming their office furniture.  Actual quote: "Don't sit on Chair!  It's her time of the month again."  And Novinha does the same, obviously, she writes "a series of mock reports on an imaginary pequenino woman called Reverend Mother, who was hilariously bitchy and demanding."

Now, maybe, maybe, these arrogant teenagers mocking the primitive aliens' noted reverence for their unseen female population are still going to accurately collect and assess and analyse all of their information, and aren't going to let their superiority affect their objective rational Sciencemastery at all.  But maybe--probably--they won't, and if that happens there will be no one to catch them, no one to call them out, because they are utterly isolated from the rest of their community and the only people who are even aware of the mockery going on in the privacy of the Zenador's Station are the three of them who are complicit in it.  Where is the oversight?  For that matter, where are the experts from the rest of the galaxy making trips to Lusitania to attempt to add insight or oversight to their work?  (Travel might be stupidly expensive, but that won't stop Ender from jetting in shortly, and no one thinks it's weird to request a Speaker to come in.)

This here is exactly how science and academia get bigotry in them and become part of the larger system of oppression--it's just a joke, and then it isn't.

But when they do ruin everything one day, it's not because of that, of course.  It starts with Rooter, alien teenage supergenius, who demands to know who it is that the humans go to war with, since he knows they only have one city.  Pipo reassures him that the humans would never kill the Little Ones, and some time later Rooter remarks--joking, but he's smart enough to know that jokes are always about the implicit truth--that the only reason Pipo is still alive is that "your women are too stupid to know that he is wise".

The weird hybrid of bloodlust and misogyny continues, until Libo finds a safe answer.
"Most women don't know him," he said. 
"Then how will they know if he should die?" asked Rooter.  Then, suddenly, he went very still and spoke very loudly.  "You are cabras!" [....] He pointed at Libo and then at Pipo.  "Your women don't choose your honor, you do!  Like in battle, but all the time!"
'Cabra' means 'goat', and they seem to be the bison or antelopes of Lusitania.  Pipo tries to explain that couples make decisions together, but the Little Ones continue shouting in distress and then haul Rooter away into the forest and forbid the humans to follow.  Pipo and Libo book it and try to figure out what happened, starting with Rooter calling human women weak and stupid.
"That's because he's never met Mayor Bosquinha.  Or your mother, for that matter."  Libo laughed, because his mother, Conceição, ruled the archives as if it were an ancient estação in the wild mato--if you entered her domain, you were utterly subject to her law.
Paraphrasing Card: "Gosh, I sure do have some strong female characters offscreen.   Hoo boy, if you could only see them!  Now then, back to making sexist jokes about primitive tribal cultures."  Also, our characterisation of Conceição now consists of knowing that she doesn't believe children are full people, she doesn't understand her husband's quiet brilliant insights into human nature, and she's iron-fistedly domineering about her library.  Top notch, Card.

The forest is loud with drumming that night, and Pipo and Libo wonder if they haven't accidentally introduced the concept of sexual equality to the Little Ones--meaning, of course, not that the revered females might have broken free of wherever they're hidden away, but that the males might have thrown off their shackles and be fighting for liberation.  I have literally no idea what these 'shackles' might consist of, but a whole lot of ideas about why the males might be keeping the females locked up and never let them meet the outsiders.  Sigh.

In the morning they find a patch of freshly cleared earth, and Rooter's corpse with a tree growing out of his chest.  It's gruesomely detailed--every organ and tissue and sinew has been carefully extracted (though not detached) and laid out in a pattern around his body.  (I keep picturing this amazing but terrifying image of the human nervous system extracted from the rest of the body.)  From the blood spread, they determine that he had to have been alive when they started to eviscerate him.  Libo has the understandable reaction that, if the non-interference law means letting this happen to a person, then the law is ignorant and wrong.

Pipo and Libo debate which of them said something to trigger this sudden violence, and Novinha interrupts:
"Do you think their world revolves around you?  As you said, the piggies did it, for whatever reason they have.  It's plain enough this isn't the first time--they were too deft at the vivisection for this to be the first time." 
Pipo took it with black humor.  "We're losing our wits, Libo.  Novinha isn't supposed to know anything about xenology."
Well done, Sherlock.  So they file their report, and the committees agree that since the Little Ones are going to meet human women sooner or later it would have been stupid for Pipo to lie about our genders, so nothing could have been done differently.  Life and research go on, although Libo is traumatised and doesn't return to the field for weeks--he grew up hearing about the Little Ones and had known Rooter by proxy for years.  I like this; for once someone's empathy for aliens seems realistic, rather than nonexistent or 'Oh my god this fanfic has changed society's entire outlook on our near-extermination'.

Libo and Novinha continue to bond more intensely, treating the Zenador's Station as their only sanctum now that the Little Ones seem just as mysterious and dangerous as other people always have.  Pipo and Libo apparently can't get over the feeling that one of them must have ruined everything, so Libo and Novinha are each other's only non-stressful companions.  Pipo goes Shakespearian, comparing the station to the island in The Tempest:
...with Pipo a loving but ever remote Prospero.  Pipo wondered: Are the pequininos like Ariel, leading the young lovers to happiness, or are they little Calibans, scarcely under control and chafing to do murder?
Or both!  I vote for 'both'.

The Little Ones don't talk about Rooter's death, and the humans don't bring it up either, lest they give away more information or trigger more violence, and so the years kind of stumble on.  By age 17, Libo and Novinha often talk about what they'll be doing together twenty years from now, and this sort of saddens me.  Don't get me wrong, I love the fantasy of people finding each other early in life and first love being truest and forever love, but I am also creeped out by the idea of people attaching to each other out of desperation and never having any consideration of other options, especially when they seem to literally have no other friends or anyone--once in a while even they are going to fight, and who are they going to talk to about those issues?  It is good to have your magical one true love to whom you can tell anything, but it is not sufficient.

Also, the romance quotient in the room is reading a solid zero.  I'm going to assume that's because I'm not supposed to be emotionally invested in their relationship and rather just take it as future backstory.
Pipo never bothered to ask them about their marriage plans.  After all, he thought, they studied biology from morning to night.  Eventually it would occur to them to explore stable and socially acceptable reproductive strategies.
Ha ha!  Social pressure to conform to traditional religious institutions regardless of whether they're appropriate to your personal goals, relationship, and preferences sure is adorable.  (Libo and Novinha apparently hypothesise endlessly on how the Little Ones reproduce, given that they only see self-identified males with no apparent mating equipment.  Again, Pipo finds this delightful.  Is this supposed to be a parallel to recommended 'courtship' practices in conservative American Christianity, with the constant chaperone?)

And then one day Novinha is examining plant cells and she finds the Descolada agent sitting in them, the same body that swept through the colony as a plague stopped only at the cost of her parents' lives.  She starts searching specifically for that and finds Descolada in every kind of cell from every kind of species she's catalogued.  She shows Pipo, who starts running the same tests himself and asks her to explain how it functions.  I don't know enough about biology to comment:
"...It attacks the genetic molecules, starting at one end and unzipping the two strands of the molecule right down the middle. [....] In humans, the DNA tries to recombine, but random proteins insert themselves so that cell after cell goes crazy.  Sometimes they go into mitosis, like cancer, and sometimes they die."
Pipo says unnecessarily vague things about how 'it's the same thing' among the cells, then grabs his coat to run outside, telling Novinha that when Libo arrives he should look at the simulation and see if he can figure it out before Pipo returns, because it's "the big one.  The answer to everything."  He says he has to go ask the Little Ones if his theory is right, and if he's not back in an hour he must have broken his leg in the forest.

Pipo would not survive in a horror movie, either.

Libo's committee meeting runs long, and then he gets groceries (where does this tiny walled colony get its food), so he doesn't arrive at the station until after dark, and Pipo hasn't returned.  They go looking for him, preparing for a long scouring of the forest, but very quickly they find him dead in the snow, eviscerated like Rooter without the tree in his chest.

This is just... I don't even know what to say.  Is there anyone who doesn't find it howlingly infuriating when a character figures out a vital secret but then refuses to tell anyone else for no good reason and then walks voluntarily into incredible danger?  Like--Pipo, you know this is a subject they kill people over and you know they're super casual about "So, will your women decide to murder the hell out of you soon?"  This isn't hard.  Write something down and take precautions.  (This would work better if he really was trying to take precautions, specifically of the 'Don't let my son come with me into this dangerous situation' variety, but that's not how the situation is sold.)

So let's hypothesise wildly based on the hints dropped.  The plague that takes apart your DNA is a vital part of this planet's life.  The Little Ones consider themselves all male and no one ever sees a female.  The females apparently evaluate the males and decide when the wisest ones should die, and they are specifically killed in a particular ceremonial and surgical manner.  Conclusion: death is part of their reproductive cycle, male Little Ones die in order to open up access to their DNA, and only the best are chosen to die in this particular way and contribute to future generations.  I'm trying to decide if it's more likely that the trees are simply ceremonial or if female Little Ones actually are trees because the whole ecosystem is interlinked somehow.  Anyway, that's why Rooter was so concerned about the humans having another village to go to war with--because war and associated death is ceremonial (or somehow mandatory) as part of their reproductive cycle.

Not sure how long I'm going to have to wait to have my guesses confirmed or rejected (I know it won't be within the next twenty pages) but I'm going to be unimpressed if Pipo worked it out in thirty seconds but his genius proteges don't catch on for decades and need Ender's help to solve the mystery.  Seriously, Pipo, write a note or something.  Don't just Fermat us.  That's a jackass move.

Speaking of jackass moves, come back next week when we catch up with Ender and endure some just really spectacularly bad theological strawmen!  And, if you can't wait for that, look for the return of Erika the blogqueen later this week!  It is about to be a new year and we are GEARING UP.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Speaker for the Dead, chapter one, part two, in which species is decided by vote

We left mid-scene last time, so not much to introduce here.  Since I no longer have a movie-related deadline to set the pace of posts, and this is the first chapter, I'm going back to smaller chunks of book and greater detail each week.  Let's draw this sucker out, eh?

(Content: religious coercion, parent/guardian negligence, identity policing.  Fun content: taking a level in science, oven-fresh science.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 8--19

We return to Dona Cristã and Pipo considering what's wrong with the orphan girl Novinha, and I am not sure about these generalisations--Pipo thinks that "There was no teacher who genuinely liked her, because she refused to reciprocate, to respond", and all I can think is that this colony world is painfully unequipped with teachers qualified to teach, for example, autistic children.  I suppose that's quite possible, even three thousand years into the future, but they have an instantaneous galactic internet and no one has maybe looked into taking a course on care for children with social/emotional disabilities, because I guess Novinha's situation is obviously impossibly unique and there are no known techniques to aid such a case?  Teachers knowing what they're doing or caring about emotionally-isolated children?  SILLINESS.

Mind you, the rest of the people in the town of Milagre are also pretty realistically terrible.  The Pope beatified Novinha's parents, and so random people keep asking her if she's ever seen any miracles related to her parents, which could justify their sainthood.  Her response was evidently a smackdown:
"She said, more or less, that if her parents were actually listening to prayers and had any influence in heaven to get them granted, then why wouldn't they have answered her prayer, for them to return from the grave?  That would be a useful miracle, she said, and there are precedents.  If Os Venerados actually had the power to grant miracles, then it must mean they did not love her enough to answer her prayer.  She preferred to believe that her parents still loved her, and simply did not have the power to act. [....] She told the Bishop that if the Pope declared her parents to be venerable, it would be the same as the Church saying that her parents hated her. The petition for canonization of her parents was proof that Lusitania despised her; if it was granted, it would be proof that the Church itself was despicable."
Not flawless logic, but damn good effort for a ten-year-old, and rather more plausible for its flaws.  The petition was sent anyway, of course, "for the good of the community", and everyone is just super awkward about Novinha.  I really hope she's going to be a misotheist, because I don't think I could handle Card writing an 'I'm-an-atheist-because-I'm-angry-at-God' character.

Dona Cristã explains that, with Novinha's emotional distance, no one really asks about her for her own sake except Pipo, thus why she's there to speak to him now.  Libo protests that Novinha does in fact have one friend, Marçao, because he was once accused of some unidentified misdeed and Novinha testified to who the real perpetrators were--Dona Cristã thinks this had less to do with liking Marçao and more Novinha's desire for justice, but Marçao apparently likes her anyway.  Libo, when asked for his opinion, thinks honestly for a moment, which impresses his dad because Pipo knows he isn't just thinking up the answer that he expects they will praise or protest the most, unlike most kids, because other people's kids are losers, I guess?  Libo says he "understood that she didn't want to be liked", and then leaves with a smirk of discretion even as Cristã is asking him to leave and be discreet, et cetera et cetera children are more mature than adults.

Novinha has applied to be a xenobiologist--not for training or apprenticeship, but to start immediately, based on the independent study she's apparently been conducting this whole time.  They note that at 13 she's not even the youngest ever; two thousand years earlier there was one who passed the test as a pre-teen.  And apparently in the whole colony there are zero other xenobiologists, so they're lacking in new plant life to improve their crops and yields.  How big is this colony?  As pointed out in last week's comments, colonisation was supposedly to help with Baía's overpopulation, but it seems like they only sent a few thousand people at best, and the incredibly important role of 'alien life scientist' has been vacant for several years now after they lost their first two.  (The plague killed about 500, which seems to have been a noteworthy chunk but not enough to wipe them out, so... I'm thinking in the 3000 range?)  Dona Cristã wants Pipo to supervise the testing:
"But believe me, my dear friend, touching her heart is like bathing in ice." 
"I imagine.  I imagine it feels like bathing in ice to the person touching her.  But how does it feel to her?  Cold as she is, it must surely burn like fire." 
"Such a poet," said Dona Cristã.  There was no irony in her voice; she meant it.  "Do the piggies understand what we've sent our very best as our ambassador?" 
"I try to tell them, but they're skeptical."
Reasonable.  Is this entire cast once again going to be made up entirely of people who are The Best At Everything?  Pipo notes that if Novinha fails, she will "have very bad problems" and if she passes he jokes that Libo will want to test for zenador and if his son passes that test then he might as well go home and die, which is apparently some kind of joke, but... this is intriguingly archaic.  Three thousand years into the future and scientific disciplines are 'the family business' and you only ever bother having one at a time because I guess there isn't enough demand for science to need two?  Like, sure, people need science, but then you just go down the street and pick up a fresh science from the sciencery and they already make enough for everyone to get all the science they need hot out of the oven so any additional science would just go to waste?

The next day, Novinha goes to confront Pipo and she is made of angry and smart.  She says she'll jump through all his pointless hoops as long as he lines them up fast enough rather than putting her off, and cites the Starways Code as giving her the right to challenge the test at any time.
Novinha saw the intense look in his eyes.  She didn't know Pipo, so she thought it was the look she had seen in so many eyes, the desire to dominate, to rule her, the desire to cut through her determination and break her independence, the desire to make her submit.
Well... it kind of is?  Pipo ended the last scene by thinking that he was going to test her for "the unmeasurable qualities of a scientist" that he sees in his son, and intends to stop her from taking the test if he isn't satisfied.  So yeah.  He's decided that he's in charge here regardless of galactic law.  Also, an old man judging the qualitative scientific aptitude of a young girl against his son; does this not set off huge sexism alarm bells?  He might not be doing it purely out of ego, but Novinha is otherwise quite right to be suspicious.

She snaps at him that the planet needs a xenobiologist and Pipo is going to make them wait just so he can feel in control longer, and she's startled that he doesn't snap back.  He makes it clear that he doesn't believe she's doing this out of altruism.
"Your own words called you a liar.  You spoke of how much they, the people of Lusitania, need you.  But you live among us.  You've lived among us all your life.  Ready to sacrifice for us, and yet you don't feel yourself to be part of this community."
I do not remotely follow how that proves that she's not doing it out of altruism, but Pipo is running with it, telling Novinha that she has withdrawn from the colony in every way she can, from the student community, from the church community, et cetera, and then he hits one of my buttons:
"[...] You are so completely detached that as far as possible you don't tough the life of this colony, you don't touch the life of the human race at any point."
And the reason I hate this is that Novinha is human and therefore her experiences are part of the life of 'the human race' even if she never met another human in her whole life.  This is the same format of thinking that allows people to marginalise and devalue the identities of any minority: to speak of, for example, 'Christians rejecting queers' itself rejects the existence of queer Christians (generally by asserting that they're not really Christians, as proven by how they're not oppressing themselves enough); to speak of how Canadians are racist towards First Nations people ignores the fact that First Nations are Canadian and legitimises the idea that the only Real Canadians are white people.  It simplifies the world, which can be useful and attractive, but it does it the wrong way.

Anyway.  Novinha is shocked that Pipo understands her isolation, and so has no defences against it; she continues to protest his stonewalling as he finally gets around to arguing that if she hates everyone, she can't want to be a xenobiologist out of altruism, therefore she must have some other motivation and some other community.  It is apparently objectively true that everyone must have a community or die.  Novinha snarks that she's obviously insane.
"Not insane.  Driven by a sense of purpose that is frightening.  If you take this test you'll pass it.  But before I let you take it I have to know: Who will you become when you pass?  What do you believe in, what are you part of, what do you care about, what do you love?"
Novinha says she loves nothing and no one understands anything, lectures him through tears that he's doing his job the wrong way because anthropology was meant for humans and xenology is doomed to fail without understanding the Little Ones through their genes and evolution.  Pipo thinks she needs to be more emotional, because as Ender's Game taught us pain always causes good things, so he prods her about her isolation, and she goes from cold crying to fury:
"You'll never understand them! But I will! [....] You're a good Catholic."
Novinha is a teenager who has read a cool book and therefore understands the truth about the entire world better than everyone else on her whole planet, and suddenly I think that this is the most realistic character Card has ever written in his life.  She read The Hive Queen and the Hegemon and imagined what it must have demanded of the anonymous author to understand those aliens, and I just want everyone to keep in mind that as far as the galaxy is concerned, HQ&H is nothing more than an Alternative Character Interpretation fanfic with zero real-world evidence.  The fact that it's taken more seriously than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is itself a premise that desperately needs justification.
"I don't know about Jesus, I listen to bishop Peregrino and I don't think there's any power in their priesthood to turn wafers into flesh or forgive a milligram of guilt.  But the Speaker for the Dead brought the hive queen back to life." 
"Then where is she?" 
"In here! In me!" [....] 
"So you chose not to be part of the bands of children who group together for the sole purpose of excluding others, and people look at you and say, poor girl, she's so isolated, but you know a secret, you know who you really are.  You are the one human being who is capable of understanding the alien mind, because you are the alien mind; you know what it is to be unhuman because there's never been any human group that gave you credentials as a bona fide homo sapiens."
This is... like, the worst possible way of saying something that's actually pretty cool.  Here, let me try:  'I think you have talents for special kinds of empathy because you won't start from the same conditioning and biases the rest of us do, and your self-knowledge makes you powerful.  By the way, kids with circles of friends suck because it's really just about declaring other people not to be your friends, and personal identity is decided by group vote.'  Oh, whoops, I made the same mistakes Card did.  I guess that's trickier than it looks.

Pipo agrees that she can take the test, and while by law she must never go out to meet the Little Ones, he will give her all his notes and let her study in his lab, in exchange for her also sharing whatever she learns from her genetic research.  They immediately start bonding, especially when Pipo reveals he had the test ready for her to start at any moment, as long as he approved of her aspirations.  The narrative informs us that Novinha is being "poisonous" when she accuses him of setting himself up as "the judge of dreams", even though that is 100% accurate.  Pipo quotes 1 Corinthians 13:13, because why not, and remarks that Novinha has in turn set herself up as judge of love.
"I lost a daughter in the Descolada.  Maria.  She would have been only a few years older than you." 
"And I remind you of her?" 
"I was thinking that she would have been nothing at all like you."
Well, that, at least is the best way that exchange can go if it must go anywhere, although Pipo strongly indicates that he hopes they will grow close as family over time.  She starts the test.

Next week: SCIENCE!  Maybe?  Or some kind of horrible incident?  Maybe a horrible scientific incident?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Speaker for the Dead, chapter one, part one, in which nothing ever changes

That hiatus went on a bit longer than intended.  November wasn't a great month.  (Parts of it were good!  The blogqueen got married and it was pretty awesome even though I didn't get to swordfight anyone as had been suggested!)  But things have calmed down again and I am in possession of a borrowed copy of Speaker for the Dead, the book whose essence was apparently so wonderful that the author wrote Ender's Game just to give Speaker its hero.  Unlike Ender's Game, I've never read this book before and I only know tiny fragments of what happens, so rather than the kind of long-view thread-picking I was doing with the last series, this is going to be a much more as-it-hits-me analysis and I may make hilariously wrong predictions or interpretations along the way.  Sound good to everyone?  Cool.  Let's roll.

(Content: colonisation, racism.  Fun content: I'm just going to link everything ever.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 1--7

The book doesn't quite start with the prologue; first there's the introduction again (which I'm skipping because it again has spoilers and because doing the Ender introduction at the end of the book was far more effective), then some family trees of Portuguese-named cast members, then some explanation of how to pronounce letters in Portuguese names, which kind of hilariously devolves into 'this is obviously all much too complicated for you readers so don't worry about it, ahah'.  Card keeps on keepin' on.  Then we get to the prologue.

The calendar was apparently reset when the Starways Congress was established, which I'm going to assume is the Space UN, so it's the year 1830 when a robot scout ship identifies a planet suitable for humanoid life and Congress gives the high-population planet Baía (that i is accented, but it's hard to tell in this font) permission to explore and thus spread out some of their excess people.  They land 56 years later, 1886, relativity being what it is, and they are all Portuguese-speaking ethnically-Brazilian Catholics, because if we can be sure of one thing it's that three* millennia into the future we will definitely still have the same nationalistic, religious, and linguistic categories that we have today.  (English has mutated into 'Stark', probably short for 'Starways Common' or something, and it is everyone's first language, obviously.  Portuguese is still Portuguese, though.)

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.

Anyway, the people of Baía aren't quite in that situation, since they presumably descended from a single Earth colony ship and spent less than 2500 years of Earth-time travelling through space, so the implication should still be that their planet is well-established and old and they're just very set in their ways.  (It occurs to me that it must be kind of hard to be Catholic when contact with the Vatican is disrupted by time dilation.)  They are so dedicated that when these Portuguese-speaking ethnically-Brazilian people land on this new planet they name it Lusitania, last used as the name of Portugal in 891 CE.  Four thousand years later they can't think of a better name for this planet they're colonising that already has native sentient life.  Well.  That seems appropriate, but probably not for the reasons that Card thinks it does.

Within five days of landing, they have found the indigenous people, whom they originally considered animals, named them porquinhos/piggies, and realised they're actually sapient and "not animals at all".
For the first time since the Xenocide of the Buggers by the monstrous Ender, humans had found intelligent alien life.  The piggies were technologically primitive, but they used tools and built houses and spoke a language.  "It is another chance God has given us," declared Archcardinal Pio of Baía.  "We can be redeemed for the destruction of the buggers."
Really, first 'buggers' and now 'piggies'?  Can I suggest humanity put someone else in charge of naming alien species?  Maybe a sociologist should hang out with these scientists to point out that dismissive and diminishing nicknames are squished right up against slurs and both already contribute to the devaluation of humans so they'll probably do a real number on our views of 'primitive' aliens?

Also, modern North Americans mostly don't give a fuck about the genocide that their ancestors and country-founders conducted on this very continent less than five hundred years ago.  Here we're given to believe that the people of the galaxy are still super-guilty about Ender's single-handed destruction of the Formics from three thousand years earlier, the only evidence for which is an anonymous biography/eulogy also from three thousand years earlier?  But at the very least this apparently plays well politically, so everyone agrees that above all else "the piggies were not to be disturbed".  Of course, the Lusitanians are still allowed to form a colony from Baía on that world, guaranteeing that sooner or later they're going to run into each other and there will be disturbance.  They're not quite in Prime Directive territory yet.  If they're that concerned, settling at all seems like a hugely unnecessary risk.  A scientific outpost at most.  Goddammit, humanity.

Chapter One: Pipo

In place of the old Featureless Dialogue of Faceless Voices, we have a fragment of a letter from Demosthenes "to the Framlings", which I understand better than I should because I've encountered the words 'raman' and 'varelse' before.
The difference between raman and varelse is not in the creature judged, but in the creature judging. When we declare an alien species to be raman, it does not mean that they have passed a threshold of moral maturity.  It means that we have.
'Raman' are beings we can understand and value in the same way that we do humanity; 'varelse' are aliens that are more foreign and so harder to empathise or interact with.  This is, broadly, a good point.  I just find it so weird coming from a sexist, racist, homophobe who named his innocent and worthy aliens 'buggers' and 'piggies'.

Despite the whole 'they are not to be disturbed' deal, we now join Pipo, who apparently meets semi-regularly with a porquinho (god, I hope we get a better name for them) called Rooter (get it, like pigs?) in a clearing somewhere and they talk, although Pipo apparently isn't allowed to ask direct questions.  Rooter is basically a rebellious teenager, but smart enough that he apparently manipulates Pipo as well--into doing what, it doesn't say.  Also, he's already learned Portuguese.  Portuguese.  Either they really, really suck at this 'no disturbing the indigenous people' law or Rooter is a linguistic genius who would put most humans to shame.
The earliest visitors to this world had started calling them [piggies] in their first reports back in '86, and by the time Lusitania Colony was founded in 1925, the name was indelible.  The xenologers scattered among the Hundred Worlds wrote of them as "Lusitanian Aborigines", though Pipo knew perfectly well that this was merely a matter of professional dignity; except in scholarly papers, xenologers no doubt called them piggies, too.  As for Pipo, he usually called them pequininos, and they seemed not to object, for now they called themselves "Little Ones."  Still, dignity or not, there was no denying it.  At moments like this, Rooter looked like a hog on its hind legs.
The correct name for a person is what they say it is.  Little Ones.  Gotcha.

Rooter has been clambering around and Pipo calls him an acrobat, from which he quickly deduces that humanity must have people whose job it is to leap and tumble for show.  Pipo sighs and curses himself because he's let loose information about humanity and that is verboten.  I'm not sure how the hell the existence of acrobats is a state secret but the existence of interstellar-venturing aliens is considered okay.  He changes the subject, but Rooter quickly gets back by asking Pipo to show off his hovercraft to Rooter's friends, trying to put Pipo in the position of either breaking the law or humiliating Rooter and showing disrespect.  Oh, and apparently Rooter speaks Stark as well as Portuguese and at least one of their own languages.  Rooter quite reasonably asserts that this is because his people are smarter than humans, and then tells Pipo to shove off, which he quickly does, picking up his teenage son/apprentice as he goes.

On the way home, Pipo muses on words in Stark (xenologer) and Portuguese (zenador) and how the ansible is the only thing keeping all of humanity speaking a common language.  He muses that without constant outside contact, the Lusitanians would probably end up speaking some fusion of Stark and Portuguese and be mutually incomprehensible with any of the other hundreds of dialects that would form across human civilisation.  And this too is weird to me, because here on our one world of Earth we've already seen English transform into potentially-incomprehensible dialects within single countries (consider, for example, AAVE) and that's with people speaking the same language in the same city, let alone across a hundred different planets.  Stellar clusters don't have variation?  Language transforms all the time.  The introduction of a specific kind of blogging interface is arguably responsible for new vernacular grammatical constructions in English that make no sense when compared to the lessons we were taught at home or school.  The ansible is, for all purposes, the galactic internet, or more accurately the infrastructure on which the galactic internet resides, and it's not going to preserve Stark any more than Pinterest has contributed to the preservation and spread of Received Pronunciation.


Pipo figures it'll be the usual long evening of making notes with Libo and reviewing each other's reports before uploading them to the ansible network for the benefit of xenologers across the galaxy.  Instead, he finds the monastic Dona Cristã waiting to talk to him.
Dona Cristã was a brilliant and engaging, perhaps even beautiful, young woman, but she was first and foremost a monk of the order of the Filhos de Mente de Crista, Children of the Mind of Christ, and she was not beautiful to behold when she was angry at ignorance and stupidity.  It was amazing the number of quite intelligent people whose ignorance and stupidity had melted somewhat in the fire of her scorn.
I'm not sure if that's supposed to mean that she unreasonably thinks everyone is stupid, or if she's so smart that she even shows smart people that they're lacking.  I'm a tiny bit surprised that we've apparently abandoned the Ender's Game tradition, ignoring women to talk about beautiful adolescent boys, in favour of the more popular tradition of women needing to be beautiful and having their looks commented upon even when their defining characteristics are completely unrelated.  But I guess there's still time.

Dona Cristã is there to talk about Novinha, orphan daughter of the genius xenobiologists who cured the Descolada plague that almost wiped out the colony eight years earlier.  The description of the plague is beyond hideous, so no quoting of that--Pipo muses on types of grief, sharing his mourning (for his lost daughter Maria) with the community in requiem mass, whereas Novinha lost her parents while the rest of the colony rejoiced because they found the cure.
After the mass she walked in bitter solitude amid the crowds of well-meaning people who cruelly told her that her parents were sure to be saints, sure to sit at the right hand of God.  What kind of comfort is that for a child?  Pipo whispered aloud to his wife, "She'll never forgive us for today." 
"Forgive?"  Conceiçāo was not one of those wives who instantly understand her husband's train of thought.  "We didn't kill her parents..." 
"But we're all rejoicing today, aren't we?  She'll never forgive us for that." 
"Nonsense.  She doesn't understand anyway; she's too young." 
She understands, Pipo thought.  Didn't Maria understand things when she was even younger than Novinha is now?
Lady roll call!  We have: the aggressive beautiful angry teacher-nun, the wife who doesn't understand her husband or respect small children's maturity and awareness, and the memory of the tragically-dead smart daughter.  Awesome.  Top marks.

I see we're also keeping the Ender's Game moral that no one appreciates children as actual people, although instead of six-year-olds to save the day we've now got Rooter, Libo, and Novinha around.  Not sure when Ender will show up (not for a couple of chapters, I think), but he should be, what, in his mid-twenties now at least, so he probably isn't a good candidate to validate and vindicate unappreciated brilliant teenagers.  I wonder if that was always an aspect of Speaker, or if it came in after Ender's Game had already been written.  Or maybe it'll be dropped entirely after this acknowledgement.  I legitimately don't know!  It's exciting.  Are you excited?  I'm excited.  Come back next week when we find out exactly what Dona "Angry Hot Nun" Cristã has to tell us about Novinha and we muse further on the alienness of aliens!


*I originally got the times wrong; I assumed that the Starways Congress was established not longer after Ender's Game, but apparently it took something like a millennium just for that.  So, three thousand years since Ender's Game.  Not for everyone, certainly not for Ender, but for Earth, it's been three thousand years.  For a sense of scale, three thousand years ago from our modern day, the Phoenicians had just invented their alphabet, South Asians invented Tamil, the Kenyans started farming, and the Philistines stole the Ark of the Covenant.  Latin hadn't been invented yet.  It's a long freaking time.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's that time of year again! The WAR ON CHRISTMAS!

Hello one and all! Erika sneaking out of hiatus early for a post! Did you miss me? I missed me you. Will should be back with the next round of Ender's Game posts next Sunday, but for today you get me! Today I want to write about something important to me, something I've written about before. Sort of. Let's talk about "The War on Christmas".

As I point out frequently, I live in Canada, and grew up in a small town. I come from a mixed background, and grew up celebrating both Catholic and Jewish holidays*. I've also had to work jobs that involve customer service. One of those was even in a boarding school cafeteria. As such, I have seen "first hand" what the war on Christmas actually looks like, even in the context of "What it's doing to our schools".

Growing up, I would see Christmas lights and Christmas decorations and signs that screamed MERRY CHRISTMAS and hear Christmas songs everywhere I went from November to January. I used to adore every minute of it, but I wondered, why were there no Hanukkah decorations? Why was half of who I was celebrated loudly and publicly, while the other half wasn't acknowledged, and even more rarely even remotely understood? Why did my teachers get nervous, and why was I mocked as a little girl by my peers (and sometimes their parents) when asking "What about Chanukah"?

I was a kid. I didn't understand things like minority oppression, I didn't understand that White Christian Straight Men were the default, I didn't understand antisemitism, bigotry, and privilege even as they all affected me. As I got older I found out the reason I saw no Hanuka decorations was because those houses tended to get vandalized. Like the synagog was several times over the years. I came to understand that being able to celebrate your culture and your religion openly was a privilege, not a right like I had thought. I realized the privileged people, on top of having no idea what sort of privilege they had, felt entitled to shoving their holiday and their tradition down everyone's throats. It's tradition, after all, and heaven forbid you mess with tradition. They would seize up and get panicky if you asked for change.

They didn't want to make room for other holidays and traditions. When token efforts were made, it was always with a smirk as they mocked the "Hernikah candle sticks" and sneered at "Jew beanies" (actual examples I have heard from adults). It wasn't safe to try to make space for our own culture in the main stream, and they didn't want to change theirs to be more safe, let alone inclusive, for us. It didn't matter what harm it did, it was their right to celebrate their own holiday in every way they wanted! They think if they say it is a right to practice and celebrate your culture and religion openly enough times, it will be true. They're willfully blind to how hostile it is for so many others. I used to believe that it was obliviousness, not willful ignorance, but when I see people get red faced and angry in discussions about it and change it back to their precious holiday being under attack so many times I no longer can. It is willful, deliberate, malicious ignorance, and nothing else.

This, by the way, is all the "War on Christmas" is. People who don't celebrate Christmas wanting to make room for their traditions that fall at the same time or year and do so safely, or people who are just exhausted of having to deal with the two month marathon of non-stop Christmas propaganda. Which is to say: there is no war on Christmas. There is a war on equality and inclusion.

Show of hands, how many among you wish people "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" for what ever your reason? Now, show of hands, how many of you, when cheerfully wishing people joy, have acidly been told "It's merry Christmas" and had people demand you change your greeting**? All the same hands, huh? Who's ever been told to wish someone happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas? Because I have never had it go the other way. I use both, because I can't safely always use "Happy Holidays" though I die a little bit every time I do. I have never seen a cashier get reamed for wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" even in a school, and I've been watching and listening and waiting for five years. Never have I seen someone get told off for saying "Merry Christmas" only "Happy Holidays". We make it hard for people to be inclusive, and sometimes make it hostile for people trying.

People feel so entitled to have their culture catered to that they fight to protect that catering. They protect it by starting fights with someone offering a simple, kind greeting that they think will threaten the status quo. They protect it by silencing people trying to speak up when their own culture is being pushed out. They protect it by making other people too scared to put a Star of David in their window at Hanukkah because someone might break the window and scare the kids. They protect it by running propaganda saying that no, they're the little guys, and all those mean old ethnic people are threatening their way of life by celebrating their holiday, too!

The war on Christmas boils down to privileged people having their privilege challenged. I get it, no one likes being told that they're blindly causing harm simply by being born into a certain group of people and it's a normal human response to get defensive and double down when you're told that. I'm white, I've been chewed up over the guilt of my own privilege before before too. I get it. But you know what? I don't care anymore. I don't care that you feel icky. I care that there are people who suffer, who are mocked, who have their homes vandalized, who feel unsafe being able to practice and celebrate their culture and holidays because there's so little room for them because Christmas takes up so much. Then they have the gall to claim there's a war on it.

*I use all Jewish holidays and examples because that is my own lived experience. I just want to acknowledge that Hanukkah isn't the only one, and I'm still talking from a position of privilege.

**I opt to smile sweetly and wish them a happy Chanukah when they do this.