Sunday, January 19, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter four, in which Ender only has secret friends

The vagaries of an uncaring universe are such that there was not a Lullaby post on Thursday after all.  Look to the future Thursday the 23rd, when the blogqueen's majesty may shine forth.

(Content: discussion of Transatlantic slavery, racism.  Fun content: Space math, Spanish is newer than you think.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 56--70
Chapter Four: Ender

More of Pipo's notes, this time discussing languages, and they're especially whatnappley this week.  The Little Ones apparently have four of their own, the common Males' Language, the less-common Wives' Language used to speak with females ("how's that for sexual differentiation!" Pipo notes, because he's a tool, and also doesn't seem interested in how the females speak to each other), the Tree Language used for prayers to totem trees, and the Father Tongue, drumming sticks together.  Pipo offhandedly notes that they believe the trees contain the spirits of their ancestors, which I'm sure isn't a massive hint about the secret life-cycle of aliens.  (Also, females are only "wives", never sisters or daughters, and "fathers" is only used for ancestor trees.  Foreshadow foreshadow!)

He acknowledges that the Little Ones are incredibly good at learning human languages, much better than humans are at learning theirs, and they speak Stark or Portuguese most of them time when humans are around and maybe even when they're not.  
Language contamination is regrettable, but perhaps was unavoidable if we were to communicate with them at all.
Actually, yeah, if they're so petrified about cultural contamination, why did they teach the Little Ones human languages at all?  Why didn't they devote themselves to speaking Males' or something?  ...What's that?  Because it would be inconvenient for the other characters and also this book is hilariously colonialist?  Well, I'm pretty sure they could still let Ender take part by having himself spend a week becoming a fluent poet in all four Little One languages, but... if you say so, voice of the bloody obvious.

Pipo notes that the Little Ones also named themselves, things like Rooter or Chupaćeu ("Sky-sucker") as they learned human vocabulary, and so he doesn't know if those are translations of their native names or nicknames or what, and Buddha only knows why he hasn't asked.  This contamination thing is so inconsistent I can barely care enough to try to sort it out.  Like: apparently they've already also learned Demosthenes' Hierarchy of Exclusion, which we know was published maybe a month ago, so what the hell, did Pipo bring them reading materials?  Does he typically keep them up to date on linguistic fads from around the galaxy?  But this is really an excuse for Card to indulge himself: the Little Ones consider us framlings, and--
Oddly, though, they refer to themselves as ramen, showing that they either misunderstand the hierarchy or view themselves from the human perspective!  And--quite an amazing turn--they have several times referred to the females as varelse!
ARE YOU NOT ALLOWED TO ASK THE QUESTION "WHY", PIPO?  What is your job, man!?  How do you--why would--

The brilliance of writing these things as notes at the beginning of chapters instead of actually writing the scenes with Pipo is not just that it lets him spread worldbuilding infodumps out over the course of the book, but also that the book quickly moves on to other scenes before the reader has the chance to realise that there is no conceivable plausible way these xenologer conversations could ever have happened.  Pipo taught them Stark and Portuguese and raman and varelse on purpose but can't say "That's not how I would use the term 'raman'; what do you mean to convey?"  If he's not able to say "I think you're misusing that word", how did he teach them languages in the first place?!

I've reached some kind of threshold where the terrible writing in this book is actually soothing: it is my rock, a constant anchor in the storm of an uncertain life.  Let's get back to Ender.

Ender is of course in his apartment in the fjord, and he's enjoying his window, having grown up in the Battle School where there were no windows or scenery.  (You know, they spent a bajillion dollars building it, it's got forcefield doors in the gym for no apparent reason, and no one considered putting wallscreens around the school to show images of home and remind the kids of what they're supposed to grow up to protect?)

As soon as he gets back, Jane whispers in his ear.  Jane is the internet.  Skipping ahead briefly:
Jane first found herself between the stars, her thoughts playing among the vibrations of the philotic strands of the ansible net.  The computers of the Hundred Worlds were hands and feet, eyes and ears to her. She spoke every language that had ever been committed to computers, and read every book in every library on every world.  She learned that human beings had long been afraid that someone like her would come to exist; in all the stories she was hated, and her coming meant either her certain murder or the destruction of mankind.  Even before she was born human beings had imagined her, and, imagining her, slain her a thousand times.
Jane sees Skynet as a cautionary tale from the other side, and I think this is the first idea I've actually liked in his book.  And then, naturally, she kept herself secret until she found The Hive Queen and the Hegemon and traced it back to Ender, the one person she trusted enough to reveal herself.  (She's made a holographic avatar as well, of course, an immortal child.  Ender's probably not supposed to be creepy in appreciating that.)

Jane gives Ender holographic hypotheticals about how Pipo died--she might be the first person to imagine it might have been a lone killer and not a tribe-approved execution.  She's a bit crude and immature, provoking Ender by sarcastically calling the worm-munching Little Ones an advanced civilisation, so Ender can point out that "Many a moral imbecile has good table manners".  Ender declares that the situation is "worse than it ever was with the buggers", because all of those videos showed cleaner kills, and I'd just like to point out that the first formic attack on Earth apparently burned down China just for starters, so maybe Ender is a little hypoerbolic here.  I mean, I'm sure he means 'it's going to be hard to convince people to empathise with these aliens after seeing this kind of murder', but it's not like humans have a good track record of empathising with other humans after a war (or anything remotely resembling war), so this just feels like "Oh golly, this season's villain is way scarier than last season's villain".
"Another incident like this, and there'll be an outcry for quarantine.  For replacing Milagre with a military garrison whose sole purpose is to keep the piggies ever from acquiring a technology to let them get off the planet."
Won't the military garrison be equipped with technology that would let them get off the planet?  I'm pretty sure I've seen that movie before.  Or those books.  Animorphs.  Other people read Animorphs, right?  Seerow's Kindness?  Jane, tell him about Seerow's Kindness.  This is another case where spy satellites would do a much better job than people.
"And the new xenologer is only a boy.  Pipo's son.  Libo.  Short for Liberdade Graças a Deus Figueira de Medici." 
"Liberdade.  Liberty?" 
"I didn't know you spoke Portuguese." 
"It's like Spanish.  I spoke the deaths of Zacatecas and San Angelo, remember?" 
"On the planet Moctezuma.  That was two thousand years ago."
Fun fact: Spanish isn't much more than a thousand years old; it split off from Latin sometime in the 700s.  Good thing language stopped evolving as soon as humanity developed spaceflight, eh?  (Except for Stark; we invented Stark, and then it stopped evolving too.)

Ender can tell Jane is trying to get him to go to Lusitania, and half-heartedly arguing he needs to settle down--apparently Valentine got married and pregnant.  Jane tempts him with some Biblical allusions, Satan offering Jesus rulership of the world, but she quickly moves on to the real temptation: to restore the name of Ender Wiggin to love and honor instead of hatred as the Xenocide.  Ender is still focused on the egg.
"I had hoped it would be here," said Ender.  "A wasteland, except at the equator, permanently underpopulated.  She's willing to try, too." 
"But you aren't?" 
"I don't think the buggers could survive the winter here.  Not without an energy source, and that would alert the government.  It wouldn't work."
Jane says that Ender has now lived on twenty-four of the Hundred Worlds and sees now that the formics wouldn't be safe on any of them*.  Ender says the formics can't live on Lusitania, insists that the Little Ones would be even more terrified of them than us, because they're more advanced than humans, and I feel like Ender is forgetting the formics aren't going to hatch strapped to fusion reactors and Ecstatic Shields, but sure, let's just go with the genius primitives being inherently afraid of smart people.
"How can you or anyone say what the pequeninos can deal with?  Until you go to them, learn who they are.  If they are varelse, Ender, then let the buggers use up their habitat, and it will mean no more to you than the displacement of anthills or cattle herds to make way for cities."
I feel like I'm missing something colossal here where people think that something being foreign is different from it being sapient or valuable.  The 'varelse' excuse made some sense for the formics--they didn't understand they were killing people and so didn't think it was any more immoral than humans would think of breaking an enemy's weapon.  But that wasn't about foreignness except to the extent that foreignness prevented understanding.  "I don't understand you, so I don't understand why this is wrong" is enormously different from "I don't understand you, therefore this isn't wrong".

The terrifying thing here is that this is now getting really fucking close to slavery apologetics.  When Europeans built the entire industry of North America on the genocide of indigenous peoples here and the chattel slavery of Africans, they put a metric fuckton of effort into pseudoscientific papers and theology and literature all designed to explain that the brown people were not really human, they just looked like it.  The case, essentially, was that because they were only mimicking humanity, it wasn't immoral to slaughter them at will.  And the case that the orders of foreignness apparently makes is that this means genocide and slavery weren't immoral as long as they were conducted by people who truly believed that propaganda.  And here's Jane, telling Ender that if the Little Ones are varelse, and not people we can relate to, then there is no immorality in wiping them out to make room for the formics.

But Ender is our compassionate hero, right?  Ender will have the comeback here, explaining to Jane that to meet a varelse is to lack certainty about what is moral and what is not--it is not simply a license to assume that they are automatons incapable of relating to our morality.  The formics were considered varelse as well, and now they're thought of as ramen.  Transition is possible and therefore desirable.  Varelse means be careful, not careless.
"They are ramen," said Ender.
Fuck you, Ender.

He goes on to insist that Pipo's death wasn't torture--it was too careful, too sacred, like they were trying to save his life, not kill him.  Jane is relentless, and finally someone points out that Ender's sole qualification to understanding everyone everywhere is that he "wrote a bestseller".
"I can only trust my intuition, Jane, the judgment that comes without analysis."
First principles!  Geniuses in sealed boxes!  (Though, as I think this blog shows, Card has good reason to hate analytical perspectives.)

Jane says she's got him cornered, that he either has to go to understand the Little Ones or to settle the formics, but both personal and altruistic goals point to Lusitania, and he's allowed to go, despite the Catholic License, because Novinha has requested a Speaker.  Ender looks at her holographic face, recognises the same weary pain that he saw in himself when he realised he had committed xenocide, and wonders what she's done to bring that on.  Speaker Scanner activated!
...His genius--or his curse--was his ability to conceive events as someone else saw them.  It had made him a brilliant military commander, both in leading his own men--boys, really-and in outguessing the enemy.  It also meant that from the cold facts of Novinha's life he was able to guess--no, not guess, to know--how her parents' death and virtual sainthood had isolated Novinha, how she had reinforced her loneliness by throwing herself into her parents' work. [....] There was no living soul on Lusitania who really knew Novinha.  But in this cave in Reyjavik, on the icy world of Trondheim, Ender Wiggin knew her, and loved her, and his eyes filled with tears for her.
I am distressed by the proportion of the Ender chapters so far which have been devoted entirely to telling us how awesome Ender is.  Even Ender's Game wasn't this egregious.  But at last he decides to go, if for no other reason than to help Novinha, even though she'll be thirty-nine by the time he arrives.  He wants to leave tomorrow.  In a flash of realism, Jane points out that starships take time to schedule.  The only one in orbit is a cargo ship intended to delivery high-priced skrika (it's a food and jewelry--really) to Cyrillia.
"I've never asked you how rich I am." 
"I've handled your investments rather well over the years." 
"Buy the ship and cargo for me." [....] 
"[The owner] has accepted your offer of forty billions dollars for the ship and its cargo." 
"Forty billion!  Does that bankrupt me?" 
"A drop in the bucket."
Jane has also nullified all the crew's contracts and bought them passage on other ships, since she can pilot the Havelok herself.  Let's just note that Ender won't arrive on Lusitania for twenty-two years, so it makes basically no difference whether he leaves tomorrow or weeks or months from now, so this whole thing is just an exercise in Ender being super-privileged and wealthy and his whims becoming fact.

Ender realises that Valentine won't come with him, and doesn't even intend to ask--she's married to a guy named Jakt, "lord of a hundred fishing vessels", expecting a baby, and they apparently have great conversations every day and love the ice floes.  How long have they been on Trondheim?  Ten years/three millennia travelling the galaxy and in a handful of months she met a guy, got married, and got pregnant?  Better than fridging her, but... really, Card?

The queen in her egg has been listening in this whole time as well, permanently psychically linked to Ender, and realises that leaving Valentine behind will cost him.  They discuss whether it's possible that the formics could settle on Lusitania, and Ender finally gets around to saying he won't destroy the Little Ones for the sake of the formics (though it's not clear to me if he would if he thought they were varelse).

In another fit of terrible science, the queen asserts that she experiences time objectively because of her philotic attunement, and so from her perspective it has been three thousand years that Ender has been on his quest--how does Ender not know that?  She didn't think it was worth mentioning after the first two millennia?  But she urges him faster, and Ender says that while people condemn the Xenocide publicly, not that many people really believe his book is true.  (Consistency, what?)
< In all our life, you are the first person we've known who wasn't ourself.  We never had to be understanding because we always understood.  Now that we are just this single self, you are the only eyes and arms and legs we have.  Forgive us if we are impatient. [....] We know who killed us, and it wasn't you.> 
It was me. 
<You were a tool.> 
It was me. 
<We forgive you.> 
When you walk on the face of a world again, then I can be forgiven.
I want to like this, I really do, mechanically I love the writing sometimes, but seriously, I don't care if Ender forgives himself or not.  He didn't know he was killing them all, but he never questioned the war, he never questioned murder as a solution, and I don't see any indication that he thinks he did anything wrong now.  His regrets are based in irrationality--he doesn't think "I wish I could go back and challenge the need for the invasion", he just wishes he hadn't been involved, that things had magically worked out differently.  Sorrow without any need to change.  It's a great excuse to have everyone tell your angsty protagonist how wonderful he is over and over again, but I got more of that than I needed from fanfiction as a teenager, thanks.

Next week: Valentine again at last!  Grand farewell?  The last bit of reasonable perspective we'll get?  We'll find out!


*So Ender has lived on twenty-four of the Hundred Worlds.  Let's be generous and assume that doesn't include Earth, since Earth was presumably not in the running for the new formic colony.  The latest is Trondheim.  The first was whichever world he found her on.  That means twenty-three interstellar flights of indeterminate length, adding up to about 3058 years, which means about 133 years skipped per flight.  Twenty-four worlds in ten years also means a new world every five months, including travel time (and Ender mentioned earlier he's never spent more than six months on a world, so Card must have done that much math at least).  I don't think we have enough information to determine the probable parameters of flight lengths, so I'm going to be lazy and assume an average of three months in space.  The velocity necessary for a time dilation of 133 years in 3 months means... 99.99982-ish % the speed of light.  Average.  (99.99968% if it's a four-month flight from Ender's perspective.)  Again, that's average, which means incorporating acceleration and deceleration requires the peak speed to be way, way faster, but I admit I'm honestly impressed/startled Card fit the story to these calculations.  This is the most care he's shown in anything so far.  (I haven't done the math to determine what happens if some of these flights are longer, or what happens if he stays on more than a few planets for 5-6 months each, or if planets are more or less than 133 light-years away.  Moctezuma was 2000 years ago and 15 worlds ago, if anyone wants to math harder.)


  1. in all the stories she was hated, and her coming meant either her certain murder or the destruction of mankind.

    There are non-evil AI stories that predate 1986. I'm not sure there are quite the sort of AIs Jane's meant to be (more robots and the like), but Card should still have realized that if people were sitting down to dinner to watch a show about a heroic sapient AI car while he was working on his novel, sometime in the next 3000+ years, there would be positive portrayals even of sapient AI computer nets. He should really have made that "most" or "many."

    "I don't think the buggers could survive the winter here. Not without an energy source, and that would alert the government. It wouldn't work."

    He wants to SECRETLY repopulate the Formics? Does he want them to get exterminated again!? Ender, use your supposed supergenius brain for a moment. That is the stupidest idea in the history of stupid ideas. The only way that could maybe work is if you repopulated them somewhere humanity was guaranteed not to go. And we all know how well that kind of thing works.

    And oh good fuck I'm right about how they view varelse. Only I didn't think evil enough. It's not about sapience, not really, it's just about whether or not you can fucking slaughter them wholesale without getting Dark Side points. *flips tables*

    He goes on to insist that Pipo's death wasn't torture--it was too careful, too sacred, like they were trying to save his life, not kill him.

    Whut. How does carefulness, sacredness, or trying to keep the victim alive make the act not torture!? AUGH, this book!

    There was no living soul on Lusitania who really knew Novinha. But in this cave in Reyjavik, on the icy world of Trondheim, Ender Wiggin knew her, and loved her, and his eyes filled with tears for her.

    Ohforfuckssake. Why is this shit brilliant when Card types it and shit when romance novelists do. You are not magic, Ender. Shut the fuck up.

    And he's rich. Of course.

    And if he were really sorry - for the Formics, not himself - he'd figure out how to repopulate them safely not run around the galaxy as high priest of his own religion. Asshat.

  2. The whole "Ender's really really incredibly rich!" thing is based - as far as I can tell - on two things:

    One, Ender's entire wealth is invested in some amazingly stable banks using compound interest, so when he flips off on another hundred-year-plus spaceflight, he lands at the other end and - thanks to ansible banking! - he can access all the lovely dosh that's piled up for him in over a century during which he's had 4 months living expenses.

    Two, Jane is in charge of Ender's investments, and every time Ender is living aboard a ship for four months his time/133 years objective time, Jane plays the Hundred Worlds stock market.

    Or some combination of both, of course - Ender keeps huge amounts of cash in interest-bearing accounts, and Jane helpfully plays the stockmarket for him. This would explain why Ender is vastly richer than Valentine (unless Card didn't like to emphasise too much the fact that Valentine has far more wealth than her new husband Jakt).

    There are some really very huge problems with this.

    The Compound-Interest thing is Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy economics. In the real world, banks don't like dormant 133-year-old accounts - and: I cannot imagine a multi-world banking system where only information travels instantaneously: it doesn't work. Money represents wealth. What we're being asked to imagine is a system in which the economies of entire planets could go kablooie because some individual billionaire left from one world to go to another and sucked all his wealth out of one planet's economy into the next. If each world's government has any power at all, they wouldn't let that happen. If Card is vaguely imagining some multi-world single currency, the Eurozone has enough financial problems and that's one section of one planet: the thought of the economic imbalances that could build up across entire worlds is just unbelievable. Besides, the existence of a multi-world single currency has implications for a multi-world economy that simply don't exist in the universe of Speaker. To work at all, all of the worlds would have to be linked into a trading net - whether they wanted to or not, they'd have to have exports and imports from offworld.

    The Jane-plays-the-stock-market thing falls over because a multi-world stock market system is just as unbelievable as a multi-world bank or a multi-world single currency. But also, because if a multi-world stock market existed and there was one player who was persistently making a fortune for one individual over centuries, it is flat unbelievable that someone wouldn't notice. This is the kind of trend that stock market analysts today can do, and write proprietary software to ensure that it can't be monitored.

    And what both the idea of a bank or a stock market that Ender is making a huge fortune from fall down completely, is that neither banks nor stock markets are immortal. The oldest surviving bank in the world is the Monte dei Paschi di Siena, founded 1472. There are quite a few English banks founded in the 17th century and still going - Barclays is probably the biggest, though Coutts is probably the one with the most powerful customers you never heard of it. The oldest stock exchange in the world is in Amsterdam, founded 1602. No institution is immortal. Even with Jane's help, even supposing Ender always got his wealth away somehow from the dying instutions - that too would be a bit obvious after a few centuries.

    None of this adds up...

  3. If the invest-and-travel thing works, the best jobs in the universe would be the service staff on starships, right? Work, get paid, invest, work, get paid, invest. Millionaire in a decade (a decade lived. more time in realtime) I'd kind of love to see what a word looks like when the children of the rich are in a tooth and claw battle to land the most desired position as... poop scooper on a livestock starfreighter.

  4. "too careful, too sacred"
    Should we try to list all the ways that we've seen torture and killing in religion? "Sacred" does not negate torture. I bet we could get an impressive list going here :)

  5. That's basically what Jane says, and Ender counters that it's only partly sacred, partly medical, but if I quoted all of their back-and-forth we'd be here all day. Suffice to say that Ender just magically intuits the truth about everyone he meets.

  6. Yes, no such thing as medical torture...

    But Ender knows all. Oy. Perhaps super special creator's pet characters who are always right should be called "Enders." :P

  7. The meaning of varelse has always confused me. Theoretically, it means “those who are so alien we cannot communicate with them”, but in practice it usually seems to mean “those which are so alien we have no moral obligations to them at all” or “those we are justified in treating as mere things”, which is a whole nother level of othering!

    BTW I believe the Hive Queen’s line was “<You were a tool.>”, rather than “a fool”.

  8. Maybe it's Ender narrating the Narnia books

  9. That's what makes the whole thing so creepy. The categories are presented as this enlightened thing (as far as I can tell), but it seems to be exactly the reverse of enlightened. And I'm going to side-eye very hard any civilization that comes up with special terms for non-personing people.

  10. Yeah. And that is why I bet all banks everywhere in Card's universe have a system to prevent people who work on intersystem space ships benefiting from compound interest.

  11. But Ender's vast wealth would affect the financial system of any world he visited and every world he left in real-world ways that Jane could not disguise adequately. (Mind you, so would Demosthenes' histories, as you noted earlier.)

    Unless, of course, Jane is lying to Ender about his vast wealth: she just steals whatever he needs, and pretends to him that he is rich beyond the dreams of avarice?

  12. More funny Swedish. Valentine's new husband, "Jakt", means "Hunt".

  13. Well, there's already a quasi-technical term for them. It's "Mary Sue," and it's considered a mark of really shitty writing.

  14. "Actually, yeah, if they're so petrified about cultural contamination, why did they teach the Little Ones human languages at all?"
    Someone else brought this up in an earlier thread, but I'm going to to hit this point again (because it deserves to hit over and over again). If they're this worried about contamination, why is there a human settlement here at all? We're told in this chapter humans have a hundred worlds. There's plenty of room somewhere else for the few thousand people on this planet. And what if the humans leave the little ones alone and they turn out to be a threat? Well some quick math here:
    Humans: 99 worlds of population/resources

    Little Ones: 1 world

  15. So Ender is trying to put the Formic queen on a human-inhabited planet? And has no plan B? He never thought of "As Speaker for the Dead with the respect of everyone and a gratuitous infinite bank account, I'm going to mount an expedition to the center of the galaxy or some other unimaginably distant place, find an inhabitable world, and leave her there?"
    Ender, especially for an uber-genius, you're really, really stupid.

  16. I'll have to double-check, but I think Jane said Ender was 'rich enough to build a planet'. I assume that's hyperbole, but I hope she's hinting at him, like "Yo, have you considered just getting your own place?" (But she wants him to solve the problems on Lusitania first, because she thinks Ender needs more practice before she trusts him to reveal her existence to the rest of humanity--that's been stated outright.)

  17. Awesome. Are any of these words ever used as names? Google is suggesting to me that they are not, and Card just flipped around in a Swedish-English dictionary to name his minor characters.

  18. Yes, basically the first statement by anybody in this book that I would have to completely agree with.
    Also, note that preserving the environment does not appear to be much of a concern.
    I have just been rereading "Folk of the Fringe" by Card for some reason, which basically is about how Mormons will rebuild the post-apocalyptic world. It is deeply silly.

  19. My current theory is that the 'female' Little Ones are some entirely different (non-humanoid) creature, but because of the way Descolada works they still complement each other reproductively.

  20. There are non-evil AI stories that predate 1986. I'm not sure there are quite the sort of AIs Jane's meant to be (more robots and the like), but Card should still have realized that if people were sitting down to dinner to watch a show about a heroic sapient AI car while he was working on his novel, sometime in the next 3000+ years, there would be positive portrayals even of sapient AI computer nets.

    I don't think it's 'sapient AIs' so much as 'AIs that arise organically instead of being constructed'. We write stories about friendly robots that we've built, but 'something unexpected happened and the machine gained consciousness' I think has pretty frequently been treated as a scenario of doom. There should be variants written over the course of 3000 years, but lots of things should have happened and plainly haven't, so this is just one more thing on the pile.

  21. 'Mary Sue' as a term has gotten really watered down, to the point where it's used to describe basically any character a reader doesn't like, and it's kind of bogged down in sexism (as well-detailed in this here post) so there's definitely room for new terms. Though, given the popular view of Ender as a wonderful compassionate hero, I can't see his name catching on either as anything but praise.

  22. No, Google suggests correctly. All of Card's Swedish "names" sound deeply silly. :)

  23. (Minor spoiler): Humans can’t forget that they wiped out the Buggers when they only had a single world and the Buggers had many.

  24. Maybe we can call them 'Richard Rahls' or something else that refers to the Sword of Truth books, because holy hell I think those books may actually be even worse than Card's work. I'd love to see them deconstructed at some point, but you'd really need a whole team of people, because the series is so long and soooo full of awful.

  25. Unless Wikipedia is lying to me, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966) had an organically arising friendly sapient AI. (Well, friendly to the book's protagonists, anyway. But given that Card specializes in protagonist centered everything...)

    And I can't believe that's the only example even up to now. Though trying to ascertain whether various sapient AIs in fiction were intentional or oopsies by looking through Wikipedia isn't that easy. Though the famous evil AIs I can think of were intentionally created (Skynet and HAL come to mind there.) which is why KITT and the like seemed like more or less fair counter examples.

  26. [i]the queen asserts that she experiences time objectively because of her philotic attunement, and so from her perspective it has been three thousand years that Ender has been on his quest[/i]

    "Objectively", huh. The queen "objectively" experiences time, so for her, it's been three thousand years. I really can't even begin to count how absurd that statement is, even within the confines of its own cheap science. The word "objective" is nonsensical in relation to time; even then, there's no reason for her to arbitrarily experience 3000 years of it during Ender's travels; even then, her sole link outside her egg is Ender, so only his time really means anything to her; even then, if the formics are accustomed to experiencing time differently while being a pan-galactic consciousness, there's no reason Ender's 3000 years would be particularly noteworthy or troublesome for her...

    Card is always so eager to wax lyrical about difficult concepts like Ender's incredible empathy or the formics' odd perception or the difficulties of researching the Little Ones without cultural contamination, when it always, [i] always [/i] boils down to yet more excuses to ignore consistency in favour of authorial convenience.

  27. 'Objectively' was my word, because the queen speaks in a semipoetic form--she calls Ender's mind 'linear', which is also nonsense, and states that she is fully aware of the passage of time regardless of the spaceflights. I still can't figure out what this is supposed to mean. Does she never talk to Ender during those months in flight? Does she have to spend weeks drawing out a single sentence so that he'll find it intelligible, or do her messages arrive instantly and then she hears his response stretch out over months as his mind drags along? Either way, she should be intensely aware that Ender doesn't function the way she does--this is clunkier than the original Spock's exclamation of "Oh, yes, one of your Earth emotions".

  28. Mm, whether Card used that word specifically or not, it's certainly the same concept, and the same misconception. Saying the queen is aware of the passage of time regardless of spaceflights is nonsensical in exactly the same way; time dilation isn't some mysterious property of space travel, it's a mysterious property of time itself. Card writes about Ender as if he's skipping through time, when he's just passing through less of it compared to people who spend most of their time attached to planets. If the queen experiences time consistently, unaffected by speed or proximity to spacetime wells like stars or planets, then Ender's protracted life in transit should make more sense to her, not less. There's no reason at all for her sense of time to be arbitrarily bound to a planetary scale.

  29. But it's Totally Not Racist At All to take parts of a language he doesn't speak and cram it into a culture he doesn't understand!! It's the future! Maybe they are names in the future, right? Even though nothing else about society or language changes at all.

  30. So, Ender now has the personification of the Internet and the last remaining Formic queen in his party of super-special unique protagonists. At this point, Jane and the queen should probably ditch Ender and use their combined power to find an appropriate world for the Formics to repopulate themselves. That way, they'll stay out of the way and then wait until it's time to join the Federation.

    Also, what sort of contrivance has Ender, at least two decades away, as the Speaker that will come? Is he the closest? Because I would think that a cult that has managed to survive for three thousand years would have clerics and practitioners scattered everywhere, including possibly accompanying colonists to new worlds.

    Also, still treating Little Ones like they are animals and non-sentients. Without explanation.

  31. HAL wasn't particularly evil; he was just willing to kill a few people if it helped him preserve his own life and continue his (mutually semi-contradictory) missions. In the film version, I'm not sure he even planned to kill anyone until he realized that the humans were going to disconnect him. In the later books, he's instrumental in saving both Earth and Europa.

  32. True. I was thinking more in terms of popular consciousness. Poor HAL, memetically evil.

    Which just goes further to show that Card's idea that Jane's knowledge of all fiction ever would show her only evil AIs is bunk. And he should've known it was bunk.

  33. I just meant that acceleration itself causes time dilation, as I understand it, beyond what you would calculate with special relativity by just noting the dilation factor from the instantaneous velocity. That's how you resolve the twin paradox: the spacegoing twin accelerates and decelerates, while the earthbound twin does not, and so the spacegoing twin gets time dilated as a net result.

  34. Ah, I see what you're saying--but no, that's not quite what the resolution of the paradox means. It isn't that acceleration causes time dilation (as that page notes, the physicists solving the problem tended to eliminate the acceleration step and just assume instant velocity gained) but that time dilation will be experienced by the body that also experiences acceleration (multiple inertial reference frames). Otherwise there's a paradox because from the frame of the accelerating twin, the 'stationary' twin appears to be the one who travels at lightspeed, yet they don't experience time dilation. But once we say dilation only occurs for the twin who experiences multiple reference frames (stationary and travelling) it all sorts out again.

  35. On another note,

    The formics were considered varelse as well, and now they're thought of as ramen.

    Even the formics weren't really considered varelse, were they? We thought we did understand their motivation--they were genocidal jerks who wanted to colonize Earth and didn't value human lives. We understood something about their intellectual capabilities, since they had spaceships and shit. Communication and further understanding was clearly extremely difficult as a practical matter, and was less of a priority than wiping them out before they could do the same to us. But it's not like they were abstract Lovecraftian horrors whose mere contemplation would drive humans to madness.

    I mean, this "varelse" category is frigging useless. Human scientists try to communicate with bacteria. Humans empathize, albeit imperfectly, with a fly stuck in a spiderweb. Humans talk to their pet rocks. If a creature shows any hint of intelligent, complex behavior in the first place, it doesn't matter how weird it is--some people are going to try to figure it out and some people are going to try to exploit it and some people are going to try to be nice to it. Even if Demosthenes tells them not to bother.

    (And while I'm grumbling, why are "Framlings" automatically ranked as more foreign than "Utlannings?" Half of Card's planets are clones of some Earthly culture. Norwegians have way more in common with Trondheimers than they do with Bushmen.)

  36. I like to think that Valentine always uses that when she addresses him: "Would the lord of a hundred fishing vessels mind putting his dirty socks in the hamper?" "Move over, lord of a hundred fishing vessels; you are hogging the blankets." "The lord of a hundred fishing vessels has spinach between his teeth."

  37. Props for the Animorphs reference!

    My biggest problem so far is every time I see aliens described as ramen, it makes me think of the noodles. Aliens shouldn't be food. Also, Stark just makes me wonder if Iron Man invented the language. Inventing a language and naming it after himself is the sort of thing Tony Stark would do.

    As you can see, I have nothing useful to add to this conversation, but I am enjoying this.

  38. Someone gets the Animorphs reference!

  39. Oh, no, the varelse category is greatly useful. At least if your aim is to depersonalize the enemy. That is, however, the only possible use I can think of for such a category, at least as it's being demonstrated in this book. Could I imagine Starfleet having a category for "alien we're pretty sure is sapient, but hell if we can figure out how to communicate with it, so we're going to ponder that and not mess with them in the meantime"? Sure. That is pretty clearly not even remotely how Card's interstellar whazit operates.

  40. Spider Robinson has an unplanned AI (with an explicit shout-out to Heinlein). I wouldn't call that a counterexample because A. I think it postdates this book, and B. the story is about SF readers fearing AI.

  41. So remind me how the formics lost the war, again? Because their queens
    are obviously insanely superintelligent,* what with the ability to
    individually pilot thousands of mindless workers through complex group
    tasks like agriculture and starship-building. Now they're mentally
    immune to time dilation too?


  42. I think Jane runs and effectively controls quite a lot of Hundred Worlds Online. (The counter-evidence from later books seems to reflect Card's confusion about how computers work.)

    In general, the first four books make more sense if humans at the beginning had already surrendered most of their judgement to programs that became part of Jane's intelligence. This allows the Hive Queen to be telling the plain truth - adults abused and manipulated Ender - while still allowing them to need him - they could have used their own native intelligence, but they somehow forgot it existed. Everything they did stemmed from the computerized answer to a badly-phrased question or three. But this comes close to contradicting everyone's glorification of Ender in the present book. And we'd better outright ignore the claim that the Hive Queen thinks faster than light, or she could be dumber than humans on a per-thought basis and still kick Ender's ass. Though I guess she did out-think him in a sense?

  43. Ender is indeed the closest. There are no Speakers on Lusitania itself, and Trondheim is the nearest inhabited planet to Lusitania.
    Also, still treating Little Ones like they are animals and non-sentients.
    Va snpg, gur Yhfvgnavnaf ner nyy gerngvat gur crdhravabf nf ineryfr. Naq gurl xrrc qbvat fb hagvy n pregnva irel fcrpvny fbzrbar grnpurf gurz gung gurl fubhyq abg.

  44. Regarding the Cthulhu summoning...

    *flips more tables*

    The Little Ones fit none of the requirements of varelse. NONE!

    From the Enderverse wiki, presumably from this book, since our kind host quoted the first sentence. "the true alien, which includes all of the animals, for with them no conversation is possible. They live, but we cannot guess what purpose or causes make them act. They might be intelligent, they might be self-aware, but we cannot know it."

    People talk to the Little Ones. At least one Little One has learned human languages. That is conversation. That also proves intelligence. They're also clearly self-aware. Okay, maybe the people who've never interacted with them could - if they're being misled by the ones who have - innocently believe this, but there is no fraking way that Pipo innocently believes that. There's no way he can actually believe that at all. It requires willfully ignoring all the data he's collected.

    (And that middle sentence is an overly wordy way of saying "we don't know why they do what they do" which applies to, oh, any freaking person or culture you haven't bothered to get to know. Guess everyone's varelse. Let the slaughter begin. *rolls eyes*)

  45. Half of Card's planets are clones of some Earthly culture. The only one I can think of that isn’t is the planet where Ender was governor. This book has a Norwegian planet and a Brazilian planet; the next one has a Chinese planet; the one after that has a Samoan planet. And Ender in Exile ends on an Indian planet. What’s more, all these cultures seem to have reverted to an archaic form, centuries in our past!

  46. I think it's Shadow of the Giant that finally makes it explicit that each colony ship is filled with people only of a single demographic slice, like Portuguese Brazilian Catholics, or Han Chinese (no religion filter for that one), or what have you. The Ministry of Colonization apparently decided this would reduce tensions on the far side, having subscribed to the belief that the primary cause of racism is diversity, and not, as some would have you believe, racists.


  47. I got it too! I just reread the Animorphs series last year and was impressed anew by how good a series it is and how much moral complexity they manage to fit in books that are barely over 100 pages each. That series needs more love.

    I want to discuss what's going on in Speaker, but honestly, all I can come up with "WHAT" with the Whatnapple repeated many times in my mind. Plus general confusion as to how I missed any of this when I read these books in college. I'm usually good at picking out inconsistencies! How did I miss the fact that NONE of this book makes sense?? I'm just shocked at Past Me's total fail on this one.

  48. I don't know, why were two teenagers so incredibly persuasive that they conquered the entire Internet and then one of them was elected President of the World? Why did Ender's anonymous fanfiction about the Hive Queen become the One True Religion of the settled human planets? All the Wiggins kids are just magic, you can't question WHY what they do works. It's magic!

  49. OK, so maybe in the Enderverse Einstein's theory is wrong, and maybe the Spaceways Congress people have come to realize it in the course of their star-travels. But that isn't what these passages suggest; what they suggest, more than anything, are those Fridge Horror Moments which happen when a popular-culture consumer realizes that thus-and-such a character was awake the whole time. (Eeeeeeeeeeeeekkkk!!)

    Ya think?

  50. "Because if you're a non-human intelligence worried about humans killing you in self-defense, Ender is obviously the person you most want to hang out with. He's so good at not killing things!"

    Yeah, but he's real persuadable. Maybe that's what Jane glommed on to.

  51. There are a good many of these books I haven't read, with the result that when I'm discussing them, it frequently occurs that I don't know what I'm talking about. So this is just an idea of mine which has nothing that I know of to do with anything in the Ender series: maybe the Ministry presides over a united, monoglot, hybridized world in which fewer and fewer people have a stake in or emerge from a distinctive culture of their own as opposed to the catch-all composite "general" planetary culture, but in which the few people who do so emerge treasure the differences which set them apart from the wider population and seek to emphasize those differences whenever possible. This causes the Ministry to scent potential trouble and to wish the niche-culture types off the Earth. Luckily for the Ministry, the Ministry has the means of sending them off the Earth (yay) — these are the people whom the Ministry incentivizes by encouraging them to colonize one-culture worlds of their own. They can do their own thing to their hearts' content if only they do it as many lightyears away from home as it takes. The great durations involved in space-travel will prevent their return for the foreseeable future — problem solved.