(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."
"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.)