(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?