(Content: sexism, invasion of privacy. Fun content: Gwen DeMarco knows what's up.)
Speaker for the Dead: p. 41--55
Chapter Three: Libo
This chapter opens with some of Pipo's working notes on the Little Ones' diet (primarily worms, with occasional leaves that might just be sort of recreational snacks), which lacks in a lot of proteins, trace elements, and calcium, leading Pipo to hypothesise about whether their bones use calcium differently from humans. The only things they know about actual physiology are from the photos of Rooter's corpse (which, as others have noted, he shouldn't have had, since it meant taking a camera beyond the perimeter). Their complicated tongues and climbing spikes also have no clear evolutionary purpose; Libo suggests maybe they evolved elsewhere and were forced to migrate by some catastrophe.
There's no competition for them. The ecological niche they occupy could be filled by opossums. Why would intelligence ever be an adaptive trait? But inventing a cataclysm to explain why the piggies have such a boring, non-nutritious diet is probably overkill. Ockham's razor cuts this to ribbons.SCIENCE MYSTERY! I don't, offhand, have any theories for this either, unless it's some kind of guided evolution by a further biological overmind force, but then we'd just have to explain where that overmind came from. 'God as first cause' is not a useful system of thought.
So now Pipo is dead and Mayor Bosquinha arrives to take charge of the situation; she's already got the bishop preparing a place in the graveyard. Libo insists he needs to be there to help photograph the body for all forensic purposes, but the mayor reminds them both that they should be writing their reports immediately, which is followed by maybe the stupidest use of the ansible ever:
The computer had already been alerted, and their reports went out by ansible even as they wrote them, mistakes and corrections and all. On all the Hundred Worlds the people most involved in xenology read each word as Libo or Novinha typed it in. Many others were given instantaneous computer-written summaries of what had happened. Twenty-two lightyears away, Andrew Wiggin learned the Xenologer João Figueira "Pipo" Alvarez had been murdered by the piggies, and told his students about it even before the men had brought Pipo's body through the gate into Milagre.For what possible reason could it make sense to literally beam these reports out letter-by-letter? I understand Card is trying to convey urgency here, like old movies where vital plot-changing messages get telegraphed out beep-by-beep, but there isn't any urgency. Everyone else in the galaxy who cares is light-years away; they could literally raise children in the time it would take to get to Lusitania. Plus you've got Libo and Novinha stumbling over words as they go, no second draft, no proofing, no double-checking with each other to see if they misremember details. The ansible is so expensive that sitcoms are a big deal, but not so expensive that they can wait for spellcheck?
Also: it occurs to me at this point to wonder who the other xenologers in the galaxy are. Of course there will be some people who spend time pouring over Pipo's reports and becoming experts on the Little Ones as well, but logically, the majority of xenologers will be students of the better-known alien species: the formics. The formics who left their cities empty of all but their bodies three thousand years ago. Why do they need this update at midnight rather than, say, the next morning when Libo and Novinha could read over their first drafts again?
His report done, Libo was at once surrounded by Authority.Not legitimate authority, like super-geniuses and generals who intuited which enemy ship to shoot first seventy years earlier, but false, harmful authority, like bishops and elected officials. Bishop Peregrino 'comforts' Libo by telling him the Little Ones are probably just soulless beasts, but by nodding along Libo manages to ditch him quickly. Dom Cristão asks questions, helping them find stability in scientific analysis, but Novinha falls silent because she knows what happened, and she's terrified that if anyone else sees the data from which Pipo got his revelation, they'll end up dead too.
The men who carried Pipo's body away return, and show a strange amount of reverence to Libo, now recognising him as Zenador. No real authority (obvs), but he's important--"his work was the whole reason for the colony's existence, wasn't it?" Which: I don't know if Card is particularly familiar with scientific outposts in remote locations here on Earth, but I don't think even half of them have their own monastery. Nothing we know about this colony is optimised for science. They only have two people actually studying the Little Ones! They have a trailer-sized Zenador's Station and no other research support staff beyond one medievalesque 'apprentice'! They have no satellites or surveillance! They went for a decade without xenobiologists! THIS COLONY WAS BADLY WRITTEN!
"We'll not harm the piggies," he said, "or even call it murder. We don't know what Father did to provoke them, I'll try to understand that later, what matters now is that whatever they did undoubtedly seemed right to them. We're the strangers here, we must have violated some--taboo, some law--but Father was always prepared for this, he always knew it was a possibility. Tell them that he died with the honor of a soldier in the field, a pilot in his ship, he died doing his job."Pretty solid woobification. Novinha has to look away, and instead meets the eyes of Marcos "Marcão" Ribeira, whom she defended from accusations of bullying (when he was the real victim) years earlier. Marcos has a pretty good 'brooding bad boy' image going, with the rain-plastered hair in his face and the mud and blood from carrying Pipo. Novinha hasn't thought of him in years, but it occurs to her that he might think of her as the only person who ever stood up for him. (For a colony of thousands, there are a remarkable number of people here who have zero social connections.)
Her action in defending Marcão meant one thing to him and something quite different to her; it was so different that it was not even the same event. Her mind connected this with the piggies' murder of Pipo, and it seemed very important, it seemed to verge on explaining what had happened, but then the thought slipped away in a flurry of conversation and activity...Novinha 'intuits' something vitally important to the thematic premise of the book, then gets distracted by shiny objects. (My guess at this point is that, as the Little Ones kill smart people in order to reproduce, and whatever Pipo said to them convinced them that they wanted his brain, so they tried to pregniscerate him.) The Arbiter (judge, it seems) explains that Libo's family is staying with him now, and takes him away, not extending the invitation to Novinha because no one likes Novinha. There're a lot of odd mental tangents for Novinha in this chapter, but some moments are good:
Now she felt the magnitude f Pipo's loss. The mutilated corpse on the hillside was not his death, it was merely his death's debris. Death itself was the empty place in her life. Pipo had been a rock in a storm, so solid and strong that she and Libo, sheltered together in his lee, had not even known the storm existed. Now he was gone, and the storm had them, would carry them whatever way it would.The mayor is still there, uploading all of Pipo's remaining data to the ansible for other xenologers to try to figure out what the hell is going on, but Novinha knows it was her data that caused it all, and she stares at the hologram of Little One DNA, trying to yank the truth from it. In time she sinks out of her analytical mindset and into guilt, accusing herself of having killed him by finding this biological anomaly. The mayor finally notices her distress and acknowledges that Pipo was "like a father" to her, but Novinha has reached that kind of self-destructive guilt where she feels she doesn't deserve to be comforted. The mayor takes her to her home, where the mayor's husband manages to coax some food into her and then gets her to bed, which I note only because it's the sole example of a nurturing man I can recall in all of Card's books I've read.
She wakes not long after, uses the Mayor's home terminal to remotely log off from the Zenador's Station, and then walks out through the early morning to the Biologista's Station, her home-on-paper, though she hasn't slept there in months, maybe years, only ever coming to use the lab. She purges the lab: destroys every sample and note on cell structures that led to Pipo's discovery and death.
Even though it had been the focus of her life, even though it had been her identity for many years, she would destroy it as she herself should be punished, destroyed, obliterated.Reason #36 why teenagers aren't generally given sole responsibility for all scientific inquiry and conduct in vitally important fields. I do think this is a realistic sort of teenager move for Novinha--but practically nothing else about her prior to now has been normal or realistic for her age, and Libo is the same age but immediately took up the mantle of merciful and responsible decision-making authority after finding the shredded body of his father, so... still actually kind of sexist here.
The computer stopped her. "Working notes on xenobiological research may not be erased," it reported. [....] The sacredness of knowledge was deeper in her soul than any catechism. She was caught in a paradox. Knowledge had killed Pipo; to erase that knowledge would kill her parents again, kill what they had left for her.(That is not a paradox oh my god Card this isn't difficult. A paradox is a statement that contradicts itself. This is just two undesirable options.)
Novinha realises that she can keep the data secret herself, remain xenobiologist but refrain from sharing the data, keep it sealed behind security systems so that no one but her eventual successor can find it.
With one exception--when she married, her husband would also have access if he could show need to know. Well, she'd never marry. It was that easy.
Just so's we're clear: scientists do not have a right to keep scientific findings secret from their spouses (I'm going to assume it's spouses and not just wives having no privacy from their husbands). No one has a problem with this? 'Need to know' is a thoroughly subjective concept, and why should a spouse have that right when apparently other scientists don't? I just--WHO WROTE THESE LAWS?!
Despairing over her bleak, lonely future stretching out ahead of her, Novinha decides even she won't think about what it is that Pipo discovered, lest she figure it out and tell someone else and get them killed. But then, for some reason, she decides that some day she does want people to know, and so she will call for a Speaker, who might arrive decades from now and determine the truth about Pipo's life and death.
See whatnapple above. Welcome back, whatnapple. You're doing an important job.
This is a scientific problem and she is a scientist but her solution is to hermit away, cut off all contact, cut off the part of her work she is most passionate about, and summon a priest to make a decades-long trek to hopefully sort out what's actually happened here. This is a terrible plan that makes no sense and even if it works it will lead to exactly the conclusion that she is supposedly purging her lab specifically to avoid ever occurring!
And though she hasn't said as much, she is doing this for Libo. She doesn't care about anyone else; she doesn't know anyone else. She was good at her job and she helped her boyfriend's father make some discovery that he was killed for understanding, so she's ditching her job and protectively ditching her boyfriend forever more to punish herself for daring to science. What am I even reading? (I suppose it could have been even worse: the revelation could have come from looking at an alien apple that the Little Ones had forbidden them to study.)
She awakens flopped over her keyboard, with Libo whispering in her ear. She thinks he's come to comfort her and gets defensive, but he remembers what she said about the simulation that spurred Pipo charging out into the night, and he wants to see it. She tries to play dumb, but he's not buying it, and accuses her of wanting credit for the discovery, but she makes it clear she doesn't care. Libo is furious, but all she will say is that she doesn't want him to die.
She saw comprehension come into his eyes. Yes, that's right, Libo, it's because I love you, because if you know the secret, then the piggies will kill you, too. I don't care about science, I don't care about the Hundred Worlds or relations between humanity and an alien race. I don't care anything at all as long as you're alive.Well, that sort of makes what I said earlier redundant. Okay then. Anyway, he's an emotional mess, so she takes him to her bedroom, half-disrobes him, tucks him in, and lies with him while he falls asleep. And then--oh fuck, Card went there after all.
She might have been thrust out of the garden because of her ignorant sin, like Eva. But, again like Eva, she could bear it, for she still had Libo, her Adão.And then she realises again that she can't marry him or he'd have access to her data whether she approved it or not: "The Starways Code declared it. Married people were virtually the same person in the eyes of the law." This isn't even some kind of hardcore-Space-Catholic oddity, this is secular interstellar law. Card is playing this like a soap opera when it's screaming to be a dystopia. "Oh no, I mustn't marry my true love or I fear his sciencelust will lead him to his doom! Also we aren't allowed to live together unless we get married if we get married I literally have no right to privacy because I'm only half a person!"
Now, I'm not an engineer, so I can't be sure what kind of storage media they're using, but if she's counting on a Speaker to one day come and solve all the mysteries, why not ansible out all her data to the Speaker Index or whatever repository lets her request one to come to Lusitania, and/or beam it all out to some secret dropbox with tons of security where no one will ever think to look for it, and then--stay with me here, because this is where it gets technical--delete all the local copies of that information by crushing them with a hammer? (The best kind of hacker is the kind that brings their own axe.) If she can't bear to destroy all the data but doesn't dare let Libo have it, why not give it to someone else? You're already planning to do that, Novinha, so this would just speed the process up. No? You're a female character in a Card novel and required to make bad decisions? Okay then. Sorry to hear about that. Let me know if I can get you anything.
Next week: Ender's girlfriend is literally the internet, because he's the only person special enough to deserve her. No, really. This is my serious face.
And come back Thursday for Lullaby, chapter one!