Sunday, February 2, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter six, part one, in which I no longer know what is going on

Totally unrelated news: some very talented friends of mine have produced a web series called YouStar, about a trio of siblings who join forces to win an online music video competition by appealing to the disturbing romantic trends of our time.  It's pretty great and everyone involved is brilliant, and as a bonus, I have some cameo scenes, so if you'd like a mental image and voice to put these Ender posts to, you should definitely watch all of them.

The first three episodes can be found here, and new ones go up on Thursdays.  (My first appearance is episode 3, but start from the beginning or you won't have any idea what's going on and you'll be missing out on their brilliance.  You'll know it's me when you see a low-quality video of a guy in a bowtie spewing the most ridiculously pseudo-academic jargon he can improvise.  They say to write what you know.)

(Content: death, terminal disease, discussed rape of prisoners.  Fun content: did you see that YouStar link?)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 84--97
Chapter Six: Olhado

We have left behind Pipo's incredibly bad science notes in favour of grown-up Libo's notes.  Unfortunately, these are no less awful.  Libo writes of the Little Ones' storytelling, which is almost always about war, and how war seems to be their only form of interaction with other tribes.  Everyone dies, and bafflingly they never seem to have any interest in enemy women "either for rape, murder, or slavery, the traditional human treatment of the wives of fallen soldiers".  It might be three thousand years in the future and humanity might have all but forgotten the concept of war, but that's no reason to stop defaulting to ancient sexism and rape culture-derived assumptions!
Does this mean that there is no genetic exchange between tribes?  Not at all.  The genetic exchanges may be conducted by the females, who may have some system of trading genetic favors.  Given the apparent subservience of the males to the females in piggy society, this could easily be going on without the males having any idea; or it might cause them such shame that they just won't tell us about it.
How could you have 'genetic exchange' that the males don't know about, given that males are presumably the people being exchanged?  I think they're going to notice getting traded.  Is he hypothesising that the women just trade men for an afternoon sometimes, or keep harems, and/or that the 'traded' men are then killed?  Has Libo considered that maybe the reason the Little Ones are so enthusiastic about war is that they consider it the vastly superior alternative to slavery and rape?  That maybe they glorify death in battle because it always carries the implicit notion of "He got honor, and then he got out before the worst could happen"?  (I mean, I'm sure that we're going to find out war is actually part of their reproductive process, but if Libo's not going to go near that idea, he could at least try harder with the theories he has got.  ...Wait, if war does turn out to be part of reproduction, does that mean that all their tales of battle are basically porn?)

Does he know of anything yet that the Little Ones have indicated shame about?  For all that the error of the Lusitanians is supposed to be that they're treating ramen like varelse, it seems to me that their actual mistake here is that they're treating aliens like humans and then aggressively rejecting any motivations that don't come from stereotypes about ancient humanity.

Libo's apprentice is his daughter Ouanda, who apparently took notes on a storytelling session (I guess from memory, since they're not allowed to write things down?) by one warrior speaking of another who brutally slew several of the first one's allies before getting killed himself.  There are various remarks that I suspect might be hints, like the storyteller showing his enemy a handful of grass, and singing a song "of the far country", and then the whole group breaking out into a chant in the Wives' Language, despite there being no women present.  The Little Ones also speak Stark most of the time and slip into Portuguese for emphasis, a pattern they apparently picked up from Libo.  (Why, again, did they teach the aliens two languages when they're trying to avoid contamination--never mind, we're all bored now.)

Ender's in space again and hasn't got much to do.  I actually kind of like their warp drive, if only because it's so bizarre--the ship makes an instantaneous "Park shift" to high speed, but apparently can't predict how high, so once it's in motion it figures out its velocity and then sets a timer for the appropriate moment to downshift back to normal speeds.  I think that's the first bit of SF I've liked in this book.

He starts from Spanish (he's fluent, obviously) and learns Portuguese, but talking to the ship gets boring after a couple of hours every day.  Apparently Jane can't talk to him while he's in flight, nor can the hive queen, due to the sixteen-hours-per-minute time dilation, which you will recall he only had explained to him yesterday despite this being the twenty-fourth time he's done this exact thing.  After eight days, he's functional in Portuguese and "desperate for human company--he would have been glad to discuss religion with a Calvinist, just to have somebody smarter than the ship's computer to talk to."  Gettin' tired of your Super Bowl Day WOO SUCK IT CALVINISTS routine here, Card.
The starship performed the Park shift; in an immeasurable moment its velocity changed relative to the rest of the universe.  Or, rather, the theory had it that in fact the velocity of the rest of the universe changed, while the starship remained truly motionless.  No one could be sure, because there was nowhere to stand to observe the phenomenon.  It was anybody's guess, since nobody understood why philotic effects worked anyway[....].  Someday a scientist would discover why the Park shift took almost no energy.  Somewhere, Ender was certain, a terrible price was being paid for human starflight.
If the starship is remaining motionless and moving the universe around it, Futurama-style, wouldn't that prevent two starships from moving at the same time, since each would gain velocity relative to the other one?  Or am I being too Newtonian here?  Someone who understands real physics better than I do, please let me know if this is less stupid than it sounds.  (Not the part about Ender's intuition and his nightmares that every Park jump is fuelled by the death of a distant star--I'm sure that's stupid.  And prescient, somehow.)

Jane explains that Lusitania has no landing authority, just an automated shuttle that takes people down to the surface when needed.  It might not fly often, but do the Little Ones not notice the huge metal sky-boat rocketing out of the clouds when it does come?  We've discussed before how humanity must not have cloaking technology, or else they'd never be so stupid as to approach aliens like they have.  Jane also notes that, since Ender is the Speaker, he literally can't be refused access to the planet, which sounds like a terrible idea, given that there are literally no background checks or overseeing authorities to become a speaker.  Are they even going to check his bags?

Plot twist: Novinha cancelled her call for a speaker five days after she sent it--from Ender's perspective, about six minutes after he went to warp speed.  Starways Code says that you can't cancel a speaker once they're in transit, probably because, to quote Anton Mates a couple of weeks back: "How often do you think Speakers set out for distant planets, and then about seven years into their voyage they get a message saying that they're no longer needed, thanks, the police finally figured out that Mr. Jones was poisoned by his ex-wife because she despised his politics, and a poet in another star system did a really nice eulogy over the ansible for him?" 

But, as a bonus, Novinha's kids Miro and Ela also called for a speaker.  Ela, just a few weeks ago, to speak the death of their father Marcão after he died of some terminal disease.  Miro, four years ago, to speak the death of Libo, who was apparently killed by the Little Ones in exactly the same style as his father.  (Bets that the book will 100% blame Novinha's secrecy for Libo's death in the end?  Ha ha of course it will.)  Officially, contact with the Little Ones is now forbidden, but Ouanda refuses and no one is willing to stop her; they're just going to wait thirty-three years for the scientists from Calicut to arrive and take over.  Y'all, this galaxy is weird.  You could literally train multiple replacements in the time it takes for an expert to fly in to deal with your problem, but they do it anyway.

Bonus plot twist: the hive queen detects another philotic mind on the planet.  Ender seems bizarrely disinterested in this.  It's not the Little Ones, but it knows of them.  She's also super in favour of settling there; it looks totally sweet and woodsy.

We skip over to Ela in church, watching her little brother Grego use a screwdriver to pry rivets out of the plastic pews during the homily, and reflecting on what the consequences would have been when their father was alive, how he would have ultimately put all the blame on Miro.  Grego is a little monster; when a nun tries to stop him from destroying the bench, he tricks her, knees her in the mouth, and she flees, bleeding.  Ela, being a viewpoint character, obviously has darkly poetic thoughts about how the physical sickness that killed their father (weird organ mutations that I'm guessing are another variant on Descolada) lives on as a spiritual sickness in his children, because sure, let's assign a moral value to being afflicted by disease, that's not stupid and terrible.

Ela notes that her mother (Novinha) doesn't help at all by being so obsessed with work and inventing new cereals.  I'm trying to think of any career-focused women in any of the Ender/Shadow novels who aren't chastised for failing to focus on their family, and I'm not coming up with anyone.

Bishop Peregrino starts ranting against the coming Speaker for the Dead ("give him your smiles, but hold back your hearts"), which freaks Ela out because she think he's somehow found out about her request, but her brother Quim (it's short for Joaquim and that'll have to do) explains that someone called a speaker for Pipo decades ago and he arrives that afternoon.  Ela panics further, because she thinks it's too soon for Marcão's death to be spoken and his awfulness to be revealed.  I dunno.

Her other brother Olhado must be important, since the chapter is named for him.  He has electronic eyes, and when he's bored or hiding from reality he switches them off or replays old memories, but to leave church:
Olhado switched his eyes back on and took care of himself, winking metallically at whatever fifteen-year-old semi-virgin he was hoping to horrify today.
I'm not sure I even want to know what Card means by 'semi-virgin'.

Ender and Mayor Bosquinha ride in a hovercar over the grasslands toward Milagre, and I wonder again what happened to the ban on ever letting the Little Ones see human technology. "Good god, man, do you really think that just because we launch shuttles in and out of orbit and sending anti-gravity cars cruising over the hills that you can just go and use a pen in front of them?  We have no choice about the cars; are they supposed to walk the whole afternoon?!"  That's basically how I figure that went down.

Bosquinha doesn't want to talk about the Little Ones, and manages to indicate (intentionally?) that the Bishop has named Ender a "dangerous agent of agnosticism", but notes that the cargo ship full of skrika probably won him friends, as "you'll see plenty of vain women wearing the pelts in the months to come."  I'm now trying to tally any women in any of these books who aren't criticised for some intensely feminine-coded flaw.  I can think of two candidates: Petra, who is of course too masculine, and one in the Shadow books who spends all her time supporting Bean and ends up getting fridged to make him sad.

The mayor instead talks to Ender about local life, such as the useless native grass that can't be turned to thatch because it dissolves in the rain once cut, and the herd animals whose meat has no nutritional value.  But then there's an important moment:
The tone of her voice was heavy with concealed emotion.  Ender knew, then, that the fear of the piggies ran deep. 
"Speaker, I know you're thinking that we're afraid of the piggies.  And perhaps some of us are.  But the feeling most of us have, most of the time, isn't fear at all.  It's hatred.  Loathing."
Ender intuited something, knew it, and was then immediately told he was wrong.  Glory hallelujah praise be to Zalgo.  It's moments like this that make me wonder if our third-person-omniscient narrator is supposed to be unreliable and Ender isn't half as smart or right as he thinks he is.  Wouldn't that be awesome?

Bosquinha goes on about the bishop's theologising and whether the Little Ones are morally vacuous or simply unfallen, but then apologises because she's sure she sounds ridiculous to a speaker.  Ender says nothing, just thinks to himself that religious people always think they sound absurd to nonbelievers, which, in my experience, is also incredibly not true, and then congratulates himself for appreciating sacredness in many forms and how the mayor will have to slowly learn to see the truth about people instead of her assumptions.

He starts by mentioning the local religious order, the Children of the Mind of Christ, and explains that he's heard of them before, when he spoke the death of San Angelo on Moctezuma.  The mayor is shocked, not because Ender has just revealed he's been a speaker for more than two thousand years, but because it's supposed to be a heretical story that the now-sainted man asked for a speaker on his deathbed, afraid people were going to claimed he had performed miracles.  Ender, however, attested the miracles himself, and San Angelo was canonised within a century.

...What?  There had better be more backstory coming, because so far this makes no sense at all.  Speakers are required to tell the truth, so if Ender attested to miracles he must have believed they were real, but Bosquinha implies that he thus "meddle[d] in the affairs of the Church".  Ender just says that "where the followers of San Angelo are, the truth has friends", even though Angelo apparently called Ender to speak his death specifically to refute these miracles.  So either Ender lied or Angelo wanted him to lie, and either way I'm not sure how these people are supposed to be truth's best friends.
Bosquinha sniffed and started the car again.  As Ender intended, her preconceived notions of a speaker for the dead were now shattered.
On the plus side, for once a religious author is writing a religious character being startled that their assumptions about an agnostic were wrong, rather than the reverse.  On the downside, Card is no better equipped to write an agnostic than most fundamentalist Christians are to write an atheist.

Bosquinha's complete non-reaction to Ender saying he was there on Moctezuma two thousand years ago indicates to me that, as we've all been saying, incredibly 'old' people should be very common in this galaxy, so I'm even less sure why Ender's ancientness is still treated as such a big deal, and why it took Plikt four years to work out that Andrew Wiggin is Andrew Wiggin.

That's all I can take for this post; come back next week for Ender's detective work and Olhado's sweet robot eyes.

47 comments:

  1. Once again it strikes me that nobody ever even considers that male and female may not mean the same thing to the Little Ones as it does to humans. This is stupid.
    It strikes me that every Card bit of writing I've read is a combination of decent world-building and large blank spots of no world-building whatsoever that you are expected to just not see. It's as if he just doesn't bother to work out the entire implications of what he's written, just the bits that he likes or that make some particular point for him; all else is unimportant. And how can Ender be interesting when Card doesn't allow him to be flawed?
    I mean, it just became clear to me that there's a limited number of xenobiologists, or at least a limited number with full access to information about Lusitania, just so Ender can step in and be all brilliant. It's not about making sense. It's about glorifying Ender.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, we have no idea how it is that the xenologers defined 'male' and 'female' for the Little Ones to begin with, which makes a huge difference in understanding how they're applying the terms. I really wish that exchange had been included at some point, and if nothing else it would be another opportunity for foreshadowing, depending on the exact words used. I think I said once before that this would all fit pretty easily if, say, Pipo had defined 'male' as 'the stronger ones who go to war' and female as 'the weaker ones who look after the home' and the Little Ones interpreted this as social castes with no biological grounding. But Card seems to hope we just won't wonder.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "How could you have 'genetic exchange' that the males don't know about, given that males are presumably the people being exchanged? I think they're going to notice getting traded. Is he hypothesising that the women just trade men for an afternoon sometimes, or keep harems, and/or that the 'traded' men are then killed?"



    I think Libo thinks that the males of the defeated tribe are appropriated sexually by the females of the victorious tribe and killed afterwards (afterwards being when a "wife" turns out to be "pregnant", so that the genetic exchange has demonstrably been accomplished — it wouldn't do to kill the losers until after their genes have been reaped). I also think Libo thinks that the males of the defeated tribe are killed in some kind of ritualistic solemn manner, the way his father was killed, or if not that exact same manner, in a similar way. Afterwards, the victors plant a tree on the grave of the defeated male as an acknowledgement of his contribution to their tribe.


    At the time he's writing these notes, Libo is wrong, but some of his ideas aren't too far off the mark of the way pequenino reproduction actually turns out to work {spoiler}. What we see in the notes is Libo puttering around and putting the pieces of the puzzle together; eventually he gets about half of the picture complete and then he meets his fate.

    ReplyDelete
  4. ...Wait, if war does turn out to be part of reproduction, does that mean that all their tales of battle are basically porn?

    *cracks up laughing*

    ReplyDelete
  5. After eight days, he's functional in Portuguese and "desperate for human company


    That'll teach you to kick the entire crew off the ship and let them make their own way home, Ender.

    ReplyDelete
  6. How could you have 'genetic exchange' that the males don't know about,
    given that males are presumably the people being exchanged?


    I suspect he's referring to the possibility of them trading some kind of sperm packets or something, not that that doesn't go against last chapter's assumption that pequininos are totally mammalian. Of course, I'm also assuming that Card doesn't think female rape of males is a possible thing, just based on his general attitudes.

    Gettin' tired of your Super Bowl Day WOO SUCK IT CALVINISTS routine here, Card.

    Especially since it's an example of his complete fail at Comparative Religion (more on that in later chapters), as Calvinism isn't really a thing the way he seems to think it is. I mean, I would assume that it's some sort of recent religious development, but we've already seen what Card thinks of cultural shift.

    Jane also notes that, since Ender is the Speaker, he literally can't be refused access to the planet, which sounds like a terrible idea, given that there are literally no background checks or overseeing authorities to become a speaker.

    Actually, I think there might be historical precedent for that, assuming it extends to all religious figures--several cultures have old stories--historical and mythical--about tricksters impersonating priests for various purposes. Of course, background checks have gotten a lot easier since then...but maybe Card wants us to think that the normal ansible bandwidth limitations would make that unreasonably time-consuming and/or expensive.

    You could literally train multiple replacements in the time it takes for an expert to fly in to deal with your problem, but they do it anyway.

    To be fair, it sounds like the existing population here couldn't entirely support the boatload of experts you'd think you want for this situation, given that so many of the kids on Lusitania have to train to replace their parents as bakers and farmers and what have you.

    because sure, let's assign a moral value to being afflicted by disease, that's not stupid and terrible.

    I think that's supposed to be somehow kinder than thinking what a douche your own Dad was. Oh wait, is that spoilers? Don't worry, people will go on and on about it shortly.

    I'm not sure I even want to know what Card means by 'semi-virgin'.

    Possibly what we might call "technical virgin?" Or maybe it's just a really derisive way of saying, "inexperienced."

    It's moments like this that make me wonder if our third-person-omniscient narrator is supposed to be unreliable and Ender isn't half as smart or right as he thinks he is.

    It would explain a lot, anyway. Hell, that argument between Ender and Valentine last chapter would've made perfect sense from the screwed-up, codependent, developmentally-arrested people they should, by all rights be, it's just the constant narrative descriptions of them as enlightened and empathetic that it clashes with.

    So either Ender lied or Angelo wanted him to lie, and either way I'm not sure how these people are supposed to be truth's best friends.


    He might've said Angelo performed miracles and meant it in a metaphorical sense, though that is really a splitting-hairs viewpoint on relative honesty.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Re: the miracles, most likely it would be something like Ender honestly attesting to seeing things he couldn't explain, but which the overly humble (we assume, based on founding a monastic order and all) Angelo would write off as not his doing or not certainly divine, but the Catholic hierarchy then ascribed to him after all.

    ReplyDelete
  8. It makes no sense at all that Jane can't talk to Ender during flight. Not only does she already deal with relativistic differences between thousands of worlds, but she spends 99% of her time in any conversation waiting for the meatbags to finish speaking enough of a sentence to guess their meaning. Pausing the conversation app for a few thousand extra processor cycles is barely an inconvenience. Also, isn't she supposed to be flying the ship?

    The Park Shift reminds me of the NAFAL drive used by Le Guin, in that it very rapidly and for low energy boosts a ship up to nearly lightspeed. The waffleing about 'accelerating the universe' is a bunch of nonsense. The entire point of relativity is that there's no absolute frame of reference, although acceleration makes it a little different. The logical thing to do is throw in some handwaving about how this is based on inertial modification, mass lightening, or something like that, which would conveniently cover both the 'where does the energy come from' question and the 'every starship is a planet-cracker, why can some random loser like Ender buy one at the drop of a hat' problem.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I mean, I'm sure that we're going to find out war is actually part of their reproductive process
    But – (gasp!) &ndash that would mean you’ve worked out more about the pequeninos in a few months of reading than three generations of scientific geniuses did in over twenty years! How, how could that be? Only Ender does things like that!
    If the starship is remaining motionless and moving the universe around it, Futurama-style, wouldn't that prevent two starships from moving at the same time, since each would gain velocity relative to the other one? Or am I being too Newtonian here? Someone who understands real physics better than I do, please let me know if this is less stupid than it sounds. (Not the part about Ender's intuition and his nightmares that every Park jump is fuelled by the death of a distant star--I'm sure that's stupid. And prescient, somehow.)
    It is as stupid as it sounds. But then, the very existence of the ansible violates relativity in at least two ways – it means information can be propagated faster than light, and it means that there is an absolute concept of simultaneity. So I suppose we have to assume some sort of post-relativistic physics which nonetheless retains the time dilation effect. (And now that i come to think of it, I don’t remember any followup to Ender fearing the Park shift has some hidden cost, not even in the sequels.)
    Plot twist: Novinha cancelled her call for a speaker five days after she sent it--from Ender's perspective, about six minutes after he went to warp speed. Starways Code says that you can't cancel a speaker once they're in transit, probably because, to quote Anton Mates a couple of weeks back: "How often do you think Speakers set out for distant planets, and then about seven years into their voyage they get a message saying that they're no longer needed, thanks, the police finally figured out that Mr. Jones was poisoned by his ex-wife because she despised his politics, and a poet in another star system did a really nice eulogy over the ansible for him?"
    Which was why I asked Anton Mates “Have you read this book before?” last week, even more than the joke about Ender learning Portuguese in a week! What really happens is even more ludicrous than the satire.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sorry for the blockquote and HTML-entity fail! That post would have looked better if preview were available.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Re plot twist: Seriously. Although the Anton Mates explanation doesn't explain why Starways code has a law against canceling spacefaring speakers, but not, say, skrika importers. "Ooh, the skrika bubble burst just seven years after we made that order, and nobody wants skrika anymore. Can you tell that dude you sent we said nevermind, and we're sorry everyone he knows is dead now?"

    ReplyDelete
  12. the mayor will have to slowly learn to see the truth about people instead of her assumptions.

    Wait, Ender thought that about someone else? Ahahahahahahaha!! Oh, the irony, it burns.

    ReplyDelete
  13. No worries, I fixed it. A preview option would be great, but Disqus doesn't like happiness.

    ReplyDelete
  14. This explains why Ender was so hell-bent on leaving Ice-Planet Trondheim during the last chapter, though-- if he'd waited until end of term / Valentine's kid being born, the request for a Speaker would have been cancelled. And SFtD would have been a much shorter book.

    Ender was just moving at the speed of plot, after all.

    ReplyDelete
  15. He certainly didn't define it by genitalia, given that the Little Ones apparently don't have any as we understand the term.


    There are two large problems with this tidbit. One, that suggests rather strongly that the Little Ones are not using the terms "male" and "female" as a human would. (In fact, it seems to render that possibility, er, impossible.) Two, how in blazes would the xenologers know this??? Did we just miss the scene in which they drop their pants and compare? I mean, no part of what the xenologers know and don't know makes any sense, but really?


    I mean, sex and gender get a hell of a lot more complicated than Card is probably aware of (or would want to acknowledge), but scientifically - so far as I know - when dealing with organisms at the large scale, the question "do members of the group have genitalia" is kind of important for determining things like, oh, whether or not that species reproduces sexually. And if they don't reproduce sexually, they don't have sexes. (Hell, there are ways organisms reproduce sexually and still don't have sexes. Perhaps the Little Ones are plants. That might explain why their diet doesn't seem sufficient, too.)


    But then this whole book is the prose equivalent of Vogon poetry anyway. I can't think about more than tiny parts of what you post without my brain trying to escape in self defense.

    ReplyDelete
  16. So, um... we're in Chapter Six now... is this the plot? Tepid soap opera, some gratuitous ass-kissing of Ender Wiggins, and rediscovering the little ones' secret, which somebody already figured out, but decided not to write down or tell anyone before he got himself killed?

    ReplyDelete
  17. It's worse than that. He wrote it down, but Novinha hid it...and then called for a Speaker. Because that makes eversomuch sense.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I wonder what happens when a ship drops out of warp prematurely, because it seems like Speaker requests would be canceled regularly when it takes decades to get one out to you. Or whether said ships can turn around mid-flight. Once again, I wonder how the cult of the Speakers managed to survive three thousand years, if it takes that long for someone to get to you.

    Also, these updates of ritual killings and the changed mood of the colony are getting to Ender, aren't they? Since he can learn Portuguese so quickly, surely he can collect information and assimilate it on his journey. Unless, for some reason, the ansible doesn't work at warp. Which would mean things suck for those at warp.

    Finally, add had been noted by the luminary Agent K, humans are dumb panicky creatures. Too much dying and/or negative interaction with the Little Ones and the colonists would get to find out why they talk about and sing songs regarding war. And probably limp home after the Little Ones beat them soundly.

    ReplyDelete
  19. You think that's bad, consider the fact that Pipo writes:

    

They refer to each other as brothers. The females are always called wives, never sisters or mothers. They sometimes refer to fathers, but inevitably this term is used to refer to ancestral totem trees.

    Now try to reconstruct a conversation in which Pipo manages to accurately convey the distinction between "wife," "sister" and "mother", and the Little Ones manage to explain that all their females are wives, despite the fact that each species is totally ignorant of the other species' reproductive biology. It's ludicrous.

    My best explanation is that the Little Ones have no clue what any of these words mean, but invent fine linguistic distinctions at random just to screw with the researchers.

    Pipo: "Now, I don't want to ask any leading questions, but if you had to choose, would you say that your younger females function more as governesses, or as au pairs? Hypothetically?"
    Little Ones: "What?"
    Pipo: "Well, I really shouldn't be revealing this to you, but--" *spends an hour reading excerpts of Agatha Christie and Jane Austen*
    Little Ones: "Oh. Well, uh, the first one. Guhvahemhem."
    Pipo: "Governesses."
    Little Ones: "Yeah, that one. We, like, hate it when someone calls our female an, um..."
    Pipo: "Au pair." *Holds up French maid outfit helpfully*
    Little Ones: "Right, that one. It's a terrible insult. Anybody said that, we'd stake them down and butcher them while they were still alive and plant a tree in their guts!"
    Pipo: "Interesting! That's the exact same punishment you said happens if people refer to space-marmalade as space-chutney! And those who confuse direct cinema and cinéma vérité to be equivalent are set on fire and then bludgeoned to death with sticks that are also on fire! Haha, it's almost as if you want to find out how many arbitrary linguistic rules I can remember! But I'll be sure to only describe your females as au pairs from now on, wait, no, I meant--"
    Little Ones: "No takebacks!" *knives*

    ReplyDelete
  20. Unless, for some reason, the ansible doesn't work at warp.

    I'm 80% sure Ender's Game said the ansible does work at warp, as long as the ship is prepared to send/receive information at the dilated rate. But that could of course have been retconned.

    Once again, I wonder how the cult of the Speakers managed to survive three thousand years, if it takes that long for someone to get to you.



    When I read Ender's Game, I always took the line about 'sometimes when someone died a person who come out of the crowd to tell the truth about their life' to mean that speakers were normally local, and that Ender was weird for being itinerant. If it's such an important religion and the only qualification process is an online self-led course, you'd think every planet would have plenty. Lusitania might still be an exception, as a small world with an official religion, but how Ender ever gets to anyone else's bedside before a local, I cannot imagine.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Also, is there some kind of Speaker database that tracks who, if anyone, has responded to a request for a Speaker, thus avoiding 20+ speakers showing up for one person and bunches of other people left hanging.

    Yup!

    Also, didn't anyone let them know that a speaker was coming however many years ago the request was made?

    Nope!

    It seems rather cruel to leave the people who made requests live for years uncertain as to whether or not a speaker is ever going to show up. What if the person who made the request dies never knowing. That's pretty awful.

    Yup!

    Seriously, the entire speaker system and the idea of itinerant speakers is completely impractical and badly run. The vast majority of planets should have tons of speakers, given how easy it is to become qualified and how important HQ&H is supposed to be, so how many roaming speakers could a hundred planets even need? Ender should basically never get called to anything except tiny backwaters, the equivalent of rural towns that only have a crossroads. And other speakers are informed that someone's coming, but not the person who made the request, to maximise stress and unpreparedness. Actually, I'm not even sure how the Lusitanians heard about Ender, since he apparently didn't respond directly to Novinha but the bishop still had time to give a speech warning everyone not to be helpful a bit before he arrived.

    I bet she discourages her children from any interest in science.



    Another nope--her son is a xenologer and her daughter is a xenobiologist. I have no idea if that's going to get explained.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Yeah, forgot that. Man, it's like a Jeeves and Wooster story, except that it's supposed to be drama instead of comedy, and these people are supposed to be super-geniuses instead of neurotic twits.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I'm fairly certain that Bertie Wooster could run rings around these people.
    Which is -really- sad.

    ReplyDelete
  24. How does this book qualify as science fiction??? (Sure, under the BIG umbrella, the one that includes Star Wars and such, but actual science fiction?) Every line of world building seems to serve to make the plot and the universe and everyone in it make -less- sense. That's a truly remarkable achivement.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Once again, I wonder how the cult of the Speakers managed to survive
    three thousand years, if it takes that long for someone to get to you.


    Maybe that's why there only seems to be a couple handfuls of itinerant Speakers in existance--oh, the religion is known everywhere, and generally accepted, but maybe most people just regard it as good, every-few-decades' circus, instead of as something serious.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I don't get it, either. Ender, as The Speaker, should probably have been forced into staying near Terra so that he could be called in to speak for important political figures. Or because he became the patriarch of an institution that dispatches and maintains locations around the known worlds. There should be no reason for him to be able to get there before a local, and no reason to send him instead of someone lower-ranking.

    ReplyDelete
  27. That makes a strong case for telepresence as the way to do things between worlds. If the ansible works at relatively-realtime rates, then it shouldn't be difficult to activate an ansible-connected robot on the destination world, let it do the investigation or the eulogy, and then deactivate when finished. Speaker-types could only be activated and deactivated remotely by Starways decree, or something. And wouldn't it be better to have a droid destroyed than The Speaker if the natives do get violent because the secret is once again discovered?

    ReplyDelete
  28. Quite possibly, but that would mean that Ender Wiggin, Destroyer Of Worlds, would have done something that the universe itself does not consider to be a stunning work of genius. That would be clearly unacceptable to the author, so that can't be it.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Now I'm thinking about how weird it is that there seem to be no robots at all in the Ender-verse. Really? Three thousand years exploring space and nobody thinks that it might be more useful to automate things and send out probe droids first instead of immediately sending humans? Or use them for the zillion other things robots are useful for within the colonies themselves? If sci-fi featuring robots/AI clearly exists in the Enderverse (and we know it does because Jane has apparently watched enough to distrust humans' reactions) how is it that nobody decided to try building robots for real?

    ReplyDelete
  30. Oh, absolutely--but, at this point, I'm just trying to get this universe to work in my head, as a sort of thought exercise, instead of attempting to figure out how Card thinks this all hangs together. I don't have nearly the alcohol on hand to attempt the latter.

    And remember kids, this is considered one of the better-written books in this series.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Well, robots can't marry, reproduce biologically, angst about stuff, and OSC probably thinks even AIs don't have souls and so aren't relevant to religion. So basically, they would serve no purpose in Card's "plot" (and yes, I totally air-quoted that).

    ReplyDelete
  32. "Plot" definitely deserves air quotes on this one. Though it still has nothing on the "plot" of Xenocide. I was reading the wikipedia summary on that one recently (because all I remembered was the character with OCD on Planet China) and wow. It was even more convoluted and nonsensical than I remembered. It is impressively WTF.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I'd normally say that robots aren't because population explosion of Ender's Game after limiters are removed, but definitely not that way for three thousand plus years. Robots should be here somewhere, including AI-enabled ones, but that conflicts with the desire to go back to first principles on a primitive backwoods world with savage natives that Card appears to insist is totally possible in future society that is connected by ansible.

    ReplyDelete
  34. It was a "robot scout ship" that discovered Lusitania and identified it as habitable, actually. It's just that AIs in this universe aren't smart enough to do more than say "PLANET HAS OXYGEN STOP MIGHT BE SOME PLANTS AND CRITTERS TOO STOP COME CHECK IT OUT STOP" and then humans have to go do everything useful.
    Well, except that they built the Mind Game 3000 years ago, and that was a frigging genius of psychoanalysis, and then it spontaneously evolved into Jane, smartest thing evar. So...I don't know how that works. AIs are either really dumb or really brilliant, apparently.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Star Wars has *vastly* better worldbuilding, though... hell, even 40k has better worldbuilding.


    But yeah. Everything you learn is dumber than the last thing...

    ReplyDelete
  36. I missed that detail (I can't bring myself to actually read this book again, only the reviews), but honestly, if they have robot scouts or probes... I'd expect a lot more mention of robots doing menial labor or mechanized tasks or, I don't know, any of the zillion things we are developing robots to do. Obviously a lot of robot developments weren't around when Card was writing this in the 80's, but robots are a staple of sci-fi; I'm really surprised a far-future society has barely any mention of them. As has already been pointed out-- if the humans really wanted to learn about the Little Ones without interfering, they'd be better off using hidden cameras or probe bots, not blundering about in person and failing at science.

    Nothing in this universe makes any sense. >_<

    ReplyDelete
  37. Wait, Novinha got married after all? To someone other than Libo? And had children? And Libo is dead?

    1, I think I'm going to need to make a flowchart or something.

    2, I feel like this book breaks the Vonnegut rule of starting as close as possible to the ending. Why not start the book with Ender landing here, ready to Speak? Makes sense in MY head, anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Pipo: "Now, I don't want to ask any leading questions, but if you had to choose, would you say that your younger females function more as governesses, or as au pairs? Hypothetically?"

    ...*Holds up French maid outfit helpfully*


    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

    ReplyDelete
  39. The start of the book does in fact have a few family trees at the beginning, to keep track of whose kids are whose, but (spoiler!) I've read ahead a couple of chapters and it turns out those trees are wrong anyway, so good luck with that. Trust me, it's not going to make any more sense later, even once the genealogy is sorted out.


    It's hard to say whether the story is starting as close as possible to the ending, because I have no idea where it will actually end. I doubt that it's going to take the whole book for Ender to solve all the mysteries, but then what's left over? Currently, everything on Trondheim except Ender and Valentine's final conversation feels unnecessary, but it's hard to tell.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Right, like, ALL of Trondheim (to me) feels like Ender Wiggin fanfic and not anything that is necessary to any kind of STORY happening here. Maybe if/when Valentine's child shows up to help, but how could she POSSIBLY be relevant when it would take her 22 years to get to Ender or something.


    (Ye gods, someone reassure me that Ender and his Adult Space Niece don't hook up to make Super Genius Wiggin Children. I don't put ANYTHING past Card anymore.)


    I'm also suffering major whiplash from assuming that Libo and Novinha would be in deep UST at each other (over her I Will Never Marry) declaration only to find that NEVERMIND Libo is safely dead and she married some (undoubtedly) loutish guy who gave her loutish children or whatever.


    Can a Card-written lady NOT reproduce for once? Like, is that too much to ask? And NOT love Ender? Because between him being worshiped by his sister, his niece, his alien queen, and his internet AI girlfriend, I'm saturated on Ender-love.


    (I'm reminded of when people would write, speaking facetiously to S. Meyer about Twilight, "JUST MAKE OUT WITH YOUR JESUS-AVATAR AND GET IT OVER WITH.")

    ReplyDelete
  41. Can a Card-written lady NOT reproduce for once?

    Well... there's a nun in the Shadow books...? But religious vows of chastity are pretty much the extent of the acceptable reasons.

    Ye gods, someone reassure me that Ender and his Adult Space Niece don't hook up to make Super Genius Wiggin Children. I don't put ANYTHING past Card anymore.



    No, although (another spoiler!) we are going to get a romance between two teenagers who don't know they're half-siblings. Due to the terrible foreshadowing, I'm 99% sure this will end when they find out, but... only 99%.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Oh, yes, Star Wars generally does fine on the worldbuilding, even if the science runs rather "a wizard did it." (And 40k may be overall implausible, but it is pretty good at being consistent, at least from what I know.) Card seems to fail both worldbuilding and science. That should bother people.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Also, can I just say that the phrase "trading genetic favors" seems to indicate that from this point of view (which I will attribute to Libo and not Card, but.), the sexy part of sex is the fact that babies happen and your genetic lineage goes on??


    Because, um, "sexual favors" is a phrase I'm familiar with, and which I assume is a linguistic parent to the phrase used here, but "sexual favors" usually imply that sexytimes are FAVORable to the recipient of the sexytimes. Thus, "sexual favors" or a FAVOR that is SEXUAL in nature. (And presumably favorable because the sexy is fun for the persons involved.)


    So "genetic favors" is applying that concept of fun and favorable, only not to the SEX but to the REPRODUCTION. Which means that reproduction is no longer a by-product of sex, and isn't even graduated to a primary goal; now it's the thing that is making the act favorable.


    I... find that kind of... well, I guess it's a kink that isn't my kink. So maybe not a bad thing to have/feel, but I think it says more about Libo than maybe the text intended. (Or maybe not more than it intended, since I gather that Card's ideas about reproduction are kind of a Thing.)

    ReplyDelete
  44. Card reminds me of Heinlein in this way, that nearly all the sex (at least all the non-reprehensible sex) in either is aimed at reproduction. It makes the sex sound too much like work for my tastes.

    ReplyDelete
  45. And--yet more spoilers!--in Xenocide and Children of the Mind...well, let's just say that there's a lot of body-swapping and clonage that leads to creepily incestuous pairings. So no, sorry, can't reassure you there.

    ReplyDelete