Sunday, March 30, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter twelve, in which there are okay bits

(Content: family abuse, violation of privacy. Fun content: cool dads, space water snakes, and borderline tree erotica.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 184--199
Chapter Twelve: Files

We have reached the middle of the book!  (Or we`re about to, at page 191 out of 382.)  We've been introduced to a wide cast of  'characters' and all the pieces have been set in motion and clearly now the actual plot will pick up and we will see people tackle their failings and grow into better individuals against a backdrop of thrilling intrigue and interrogation of what it means to be human!  The incredibly slow plot, irrational and inconsistent characters, and diligent failures of worldbuilding have clearly just been setting up for a masterpiece that may now begin.  (On a completely unrelated note, I'm also really looking forward to the Walking Dead season finale tonight!)

The chapter-prelude bit is a series of congressional orders revoking All The Things: Lusitania loses its Catholic License, all their files are confiscated for review and the colony is locked out of all their non-life-support systems, Ender's starship Havelok is commandeered to ship Miro and Ouanda to Trondheim for trial, a committee is struck to plan and implement the total human evacuation of the planet, and all evidence of human contact on Lusitania is to be obliterated, including any genetically modified organisms.  It's not clear if that means vaporising the Little Ones who've been given new tech or if they're exempt from the 'evidence of human contact' deal.

Blissfully unaware of this, Ender finally shows some evidence of being a time-refugee, because he's having to navigate computer systems without Jane's help and he's terrible at it, so he's hired Olhado to assist him.
"Olhado, just tell me what program to run." 
"I can't believe you don't know what it is. I've been doing data comparisons since I was nine years old. Everybody learns how to do it at that age."
It occurs to me at this point that we have no idea what 'normal' life is like off these backwater colonies.  Card writes about the miners and farmers as if they're what we think of today as stereotypical miners and farmers, but what 'data comparisons' would they be running? What do kids get taught in public schools? Do they learn how to operate software to do incredibly complicated mathematics like Ender did back in space school?  Are menial jobs automated and so everyone needs to be skilled in navigating computer systems in order to operate their robot farming legions?  Three thousand years in the future!  Tell me what it's like, Card.
"If I knew how to do it myself, I wouldn't have had to hire you, would I? And since I'm going to be paying you in offworld funds, your services to me will make a substantial contribution to the Lusitanian economy."
Not content with being terrible at science, psychology, and religion, Card has decided to loudly fail at economics as well.  Lusitania has no exports and to our knowledge few or no physical imports.  The only transactions they could conceivably have are ansible communications, and seeing as they're a government-mandated scientific outpost, there's no reason for their ansible not to be free (if perhaps regulated, if we're going to play along with Card's ridiculous assertion that ansible transmissions are expensive). Since they don't export anything, they can't afford to independently sustain offworld payments for the ansible anyway.  There isn't even a good reason for them to pay taxes at the interplanetary level.  All of their transactions are internal, which means that bringing in more money (Ender's promised offworld funds) will just lead to inflation devaluing everyone else's savings, unless Olhado just uses his paycheque to cover everyone's ansible charges for however long.  (I'm assuming that Ender Forty-billion-is-a-drop-in-the-bucket Wiggin will be hilariously overpaying Olhado.)

Ender reveals that he also has no idea what his password is, and explains that this has all been automated for him for ages--Olhado calls Jane a 'slave program' and says they're illegal, but Ender just responds that it wasn't illegal for him, once again avoiding telling us whether he has tons of government pull or if he's just thinking that Jane is so unique that the law doesn't apply to her.
"I got no eyes, Speaker, but at least that wasn't my own fault. You can't do anything." Only after he said it did Olhado realize he was talking to the Speaker as brusquely as if he were another kid. 
"I imagine courtesy is something they teach to thirteen-year-olds," the Speaker said. Olhado glanced at him. He was smiling. Father would have yelled at him, and then probably gone in and beaten up Mother because she didn't teach manners to her kids. But then, Olhado would never have said anything like that to Father.
Ender's not a normal dad; Ender is a cool dad.  I have a sinking feeling that Marcos' abuse is primarily going to be used to make Ender seem even more awesome than he already is (because he passes the unfathomably low bar of not raging and beating people), rather than exploring how it may have affected Novinha's psychology if her most constant and legally-bound companion for the last twenty years was actively hostile and blamed her for everything, including things outside of her control.

Ender eventually manages to guess his password, which is..."Ender".  I'm going to be kind and assume that Jane intentionally made it something he'd be able to guess in an emergency, and not a security protocol, given that she is the internet and therefore would have the ability to simply deny access to anyone else.  Olhado sees his accounts, and although Ender has no concept of what money means these days, Olhado suggests that, rather than a wage, he be paid "one thousandth of one percent [of the interest this gets during the time I work for you]. Then in a couple of weeks I can afford to buy Lusitania and ship the topsoil to another planet." Ender says that his investments must have just done well; Olhado (first jokingly, then seriously) guesses that Ender must be millennia old.

The 'data comparisons' that started all of this turn out to be comparing Pipo's and Libo's files in the weeks before their respective deaths, trying to piece together the common elements. They get nowhere, but Olhado realises that Ender didn't actually expect to get anywhere: he just wanted to see how Olhado worked the program so that he could then run his own searches in private later on.  Olhado thinks this is foolish, not least because he already knows some of Andrew's secrets, like the way his "Ender" password gets him basically everywhere--for example, into the mayor's and bishop's files.
No need to keep a secret from me. You've only been here three days, but I know you well enough to like you, and I like you well enough that I'd do anything for you, as long as it didn't hurt my family. And you'd never do anything to hurt my family.
I keep thinking Card will get bored of having people rhapsodise about how wonderful Ender is.  I don't know why I haven't caught on yet.  Aside from the Ender-worship and the worldbuilding blanks and the failure of economics, this was, however, a pretty good scene, and that's rare enough that I feel like being explicit about it or I'll just end up in a heap of despair that there's anything good in the world.  (And, again, I'm bracing myself for whatever dreck the Walking Dead writers will think they're being clever about next.)

The next morning, Novinha fumes about how Ender was rooting around in her root directories all night (when I started that sentence it was just a pun and not a horrendous innuendo but this is where life has taken us) and didn't even bother to cover his digital tracks.  We get, at last, some blessed relief from being told how wonderful Ender is, because his presence did not magically heal the Ribeira house: Grego has been cutting up sheets and headbutted one of his teachers in the crotch; Miro and Ela have slid back into grumpiness.  On the other hand, ever-silent Quara apparently started talking loudly in class about how she met the Speaker and he's terrible like the Bishop said and he tortured her little brother, until the teacher actually had to demand she stop talking.  And Olhado has obviously shifted to hero-worship, which has inspired Quim to threaten to have him exorcised.

Olhado has noticed that Ender seems to speak Stark as his native tongue, which is apparently super-weird.  I find this fascinating, because if true this means that the galaxy of the future is not mostly populated by English-speakers.  (Stark isn't technically English, but Ender spoke English first and obviously still does.)  As much as I scorn Epcot Galaxy, it is at least different from the usual pasty anglo SF environment, to the point where English is properly recognised as a minority. Olhado wonders if Ender comes from Earth, which in turn makes me wonder two things: are the people who natively speak Stark the same demographic as the people who previously natively spoke English, or has future-English mutated into some other language while Stark actually bears a closer resemblance to 20th-centry English?  Did everyone default to their non-English ancestry, so that someone like me would grow up speaking Cymraeg (Welsh) or Irish Gaelic and then learn Stark at school?

Novinha spends her whole day thinking about her family, her secrets, her illegitimate children and how she'll have to one day tell Miro about his real father to keep him from marrying Ouanda, and engages in a whole lot of internalised victim-blaming and ascribing her abuse by Marcos to the delivery of divinely-approved vengeance. Novinha has 'discovered' that she is religious after all, but she only believes in the vengeful old god and not the mercy of Christianity.

Quim shows up to say that Quara went to the Speaker's house after school, and to complain that Novinha isn't fighting him harder. They recriminate each other, with Quim varyingly accusing and apologising to her, until Novinha lashes out to strike him, and then they both crumple to the floor as she tries to comfort him. I'm tempted to call this a relatively realistic depiction of severely dysfunctional relationships in which abuse has been normalised (although apparently Novinha kept Marcos from ever attacking the kids).

They decide to go to Ender's house, though Novinha's not sure whether she wants to take Quara away from there if it's got her talking.  (Their path is scattered with molted water snake skins, which is firstly a very Earthlike sort of animal to find on an alien planet and secondly why would anyone ever be okay with water snakes as their primary form of vermin that's terrifying.  Although Novinha mentions that they make the riverbanks smelly with musk, so I guess these are Space Northern Water Snakes and not Space Cottonmouths, which is some relief.)  Quim and Novinha argue about confrontations between good and evil, until she tells him that she's been there and he's only seen the map and so has nothing to say on the matter, and he stalks off.

Quara greets her happily and brings her inside, where Ender and Olhado are playing a video game of duelling fleets--she arrives in time to see Olhado wipe out half of Ender's ships in a moment, I assume because Ender is letting him win and apparently has no problem replaying the same game that was his life and education and religion and torment as a child, the illusion that allowed him to slaughter an entire species and define human interaction with alien life and the evolution of philosophy for three thousand years.  No big.
...She certainly didn't approve of him playing games of warfare. It was so archaic and outmoded, anyway. There hadn't been any battles in space in hundreds of years, unless running fights with smugglers counted. [....] Maybe it was something evolution had bred into males of the species, the desire to blast rivals into little bits or mash them to the ground.
Ah, it's been a little while since we got that evo-bio gender essentialism; I knew it had to be lying around somewhere.  Predictably, Ender then wipes out Olhado's entire side in a single shot and tells him to replay the memory until he figures out how to counter it next time. (I guess Doctor Device is still considered a normal armament in space war?  Or I wonder if people think that it's just a fiction of the game, and the story of how Ender destroyed the formic homeworld is blurry and rewritten.)

Ender and Novinha have a fairly predictable conversation--he lays out what he's learned so far and demands to know what Pipo learned that led to his death; Novinha says she'll never tell anyone (although she never puzzled it out herself either), Ender says that knowing will protect Miro and his sister where ignorance got Libo and Pipo killed.
"Tomorrow I'm going with them, because I can't speak Pipo's death without talking to the piggies--" 
"I don't want you to speak Pipo's death." 
"I don't care what you want, I'm not doing it for you. But I am begging you to let me know what Pipo knew."
Soooo... apparently Speakers can't speak someone's death unless requested, but if requested it's irrevocable?  I know there was that whole thing about how you can't turn a speaker back once they've left whatever world they came from, but being unable to protect your personal privacy from someone depending on the exact moment they hopped on their space yacht is distressing.

Ender then implicitly compares himself to Pipo (in that he's rescuing and healing the damaged little girl, Quara). Novinha is of course enraged and storms out, without Quara, realising as she leaves that Ender said "your son and his sister"--he knows all her kids were with Libo.  Then Olhado turns accusatory, for Ender having "made a traitor out of me", using the search skills Olhado taught him to investigate his mother.  Ender feels enough pain at Olhado's departure that he even attracts the Hive Queen's attention.
And he felt her touch him inwardly, touch him like the breeze in the leaves of a tree; he felt the strength and vigor of upward-thrusting wood, the firm grip of roots in earth, the gentle play of sunlight on passionate leaves.
Man, can you imagine if Card just wrote poetry and not bigoted propaganda masquerading as serious philosophical literature? I mean upward-thrusting wood and passionate leaves, okay, phrasing, but these moments really stand out in the dross and I legitimately wish there were more of them.  Also, I think we can take from this that the Hive Queen's new companion is indeed the consciousnesses of 'dead' Little Ones inside their trees, if there were any question left in that at all.

Ender is left with Quara, who cheerfully remarks that in a couple of days he's managed to make everyone hate him (including her), and then turns on his terminal and brings up arithmetic problems, which she invites him to watch her solve.  Ender says they look hard; Quara boasts that she can solve them faster than anyone.  I'm not sure what to make of Quara yet, but she's smart and cheerful and says she hates Ender, so I'm on board for now.

Next week: My conviction that the plot is actually going to happen begins to waver.


  1. If Jane is a "slave program" does that mean there are other AIs, just not as powerful as her? And what does it mean for sentient beings to be "illegal"? Are they not allowed to exist? (Damn, but this universe suddenly got even worse.) Or are they legally supposed to be free?

    His password is ENDER!? ENDER


    Yes, that makes perfect sense. Not only is his password the name under which he committed and is reviled for committing xenocide, but when this comes out in front of someone who is, basically, a stranger... nothing happens. You'd think Olhado might wonder about the Speaker using Ender as a password. I mean, it is a bit like someone using Hitler as a password, ya know.

    " It was so archaic and outmoded, anyway. There hadn't been any battles in space in hundreds of years, unless running fights with smugglers counted>"

    Okay, that struck me as really weird. Out here in reality we play games and engage in other fictions involving both things that haven't been around in hundreds of years, won't exist for hundreds of years, or have never and will never exist. Is this a hint that fiction/games have changed in the Enderverse and don't normally include things that aren't realistic? Is Ender supposed to be playing a game from his time (whenever in hell that would be at this point) with Olhado? Did Card just temporarily forget that people like entertainment with knights, or pharaohs, or ancient Greek travelers, or the like? battles in space for hundreds of years? Not thousands of years? There seems to be a massive piece of world building hinted at yet strangely absent here. This all but outright states that there was some sort of space war long after Ender's defeat of the Formics. A war that must have been fought between groups of humans, since there aren't any other aliens they could've fought. This is a really weird throwaway, especially since everything else has suggested that Ender's defeat of the Formics brought galactic peace.

    My conviction that the plot is actually going to happen begins to waver.

    Why have plot when you can have incoherent and contradictory world building and people saying how great Ender is?

  2. Then, too, “Ender” is not exactly a long enough password to be secure; Jane almost might as well have made his password “123456”.

  3. *resists temptation to post scene from Spaceballs*

    The really bad thing is that 123456 would be a better password. Not for security reasons, but for people not giving you stink eye for using the Xenocide as your password. (Not that Olhado does, mind.)

  4. seriously, I would have been more impressed (and more creeped out) if Card had made the password "Valentine"

  5. If Jane is a "slave program" does that mean there are other AIs, just not as powerful as her?

    There must be, mustn't there? The Fantasy Game obviously involved some fairly sophisticated AI, and it was a robot starship that discovered Lusitania. Maybe those AIs aren't as smart as a person, and hence get ignored just like "the animals," which are all considered as varelse as a rock, apparently.

  6. Good point. We know there are other AIs. The question of exactly what Olhado meant remains, however. Especially since Olhado can't know how unusual Jane (supposedly) is. Unless Ender told him. Which he might have. Ender is about as wise as pocket lint.

    No matter how you slice it, the smuggling thing is just flat out odd. Then again, it's far stranger when Card manages to have two whole pieces of world building actually fit together! (That has happened at some point, right?)

  7. "Olhado wonders if Ender comes from Earth, which in turn makes me wonder two things: are the people who natively speak Stark the same demographic as the people who previously natively spoke English, or has future-English mutated into some other language while Stark actually bears a closer resemblance to 20th-centry English?"

    I think so — I think that the situation which prevails in the Enderverse in the future (between Stark and English) is the same situation which prevails today on Earth between British-English and American-English. British English has continued to develop along its own British lines, while American English remains, to some extent, "stuck" at the point(s) at which America was colonized by English-speakers. American English is actually an older form of the language and retains many of the characteristics, not of English today, but of English as it was spoken a few hundred years ago. Substitute "millennia" for "centuries" and you have the difference between Enderverse English and Stark.

  8. He sort of does, and he continues to compare it to having an obscene word for your password, but Ender just says that his "slave program" had a perverse sense of humour. (Olhado also doesn't buy the idea that an AI could have a sense of humour, so apparently the AIs of the distant future aren't that advanced.)

  9. Actually, how are the Lusitanians supposed to even attempt this if all their computerized technology has been disabled? It’s going to take more than shovels and those pointy trash-picker-upper-things to erase the colony down to the molecular level.

    I think it's the responsibility of the people who arrive to evacuate them, and not the Lusitanians themselves. So, with travel time, the immediate and total erasure of the colony will probably begin in another 25 years. But yeah, this is why I'm thinking that removing all hint of human presence (not of interference in general, but evidence of humans themselves) has to involve bombarding the site from orbit until it's an abstract glass sculpture.

    In other words, the interstellar currency of the Hundred Worlds is amateur internet porn. You know it makes sense.

    The fact that it makes sense is exactly why I'm certain it's can't be the canonical explanation. One of them catch-22s.

    I genuinely don’t understand why Card would write this line; Ender normally doesn’t even pretend to value politeness, so it doesn’t make sense even as hypocrisy.

    Nor is it anywhere near the first time Olhado has snarked at Ender. My best guess is that it's 1) the first time a character has snarked at Ender 2) while that character was supposed to not be his enemy 3) and Ender is an adult who has the right to demand courtesy, rather than a child talking to another child. (Though there was that first time he met Bean and Bean was all 'what up' and Ender was all 'I think you mean what up sir'.)

    Um, her timing’s a little off on that one, since Miro and Ouanda are already dating. Or is she literally onlyworried about them getting married—incestuous makeout sessions are fine as long as a ring isn’t involved?

    Sounds like it. She is apparently 100% confident that her children won't have premarital sex and, in the reproduction-fetish-cult that everyone in the Ender books belongs to, that's literally all that matters.

    Hey, I like water snakes. I’ve seen Lonesome Dove and I still like water snakes. They swim so pretty!

    I had previously been informed that water snakes were some of the most venomous creatures on Earth, but in further review I think the creatures in question were sea snakes (or cottonmouths that get confused for water snakes a lot). So my kneejerk reaction was terror.

    And everything here is extraordinarily earthlike. Trees, grazing vertebrate antelope critters that produce milk…same with the skrika and the Formics, really.

    I've been holding out hope that the cabras and skrika, for which we've had no direct physical description, actually look like something Dr Seuss would invent and communicate through incredibly fragrant yodels. There was at least some room there. But 'Here are some snakes that live in the stream just like on Earth and shed their skin just like on Earth and exude a powerful musk just like on Earth' dashes any hope of that. At the very least, he could have given us tiny amphibious river goats and herds of giant milk-producing snakes on the plains.

  10. But yeah, this is why I'm thinking that removing all hint of human presence (not of interference in general, but evidence of humans themselves) has to involve bombarding the site from orbit until it's an abstract glass sculpture.

    Which, of course, would have no affect on Lusitania and the Little Ones, whatsoever. It does sound about right for Enderverse people's response, though. *sigh* And they would, of course, be shocked - profoundly and deeply - when, in a few centuries, they're attacked by the Little Ones, who, having achieved spaceflight want to make sure the galaxy is safe for Little One kind by preemptively striking against the clearly hostile and unreasonable humans. ... Actually, considering this universe, even if Little Ones proved to be less into striking first and asking questions of the smoking corpses, it would still lead to tragedy... because there's a good chance humanity would strike first if the Little Ones didn't. There really is nothing to suggest that humanity actually learned anything - they're just invested in pretending they did, so they can label the next group they decide to wipe out non-sapient so it's totes okay. (That there are (possibly unintended) references to other interstellar war(s) and ill-explained criminal enterprises, not to mention the strange and bizarre laws and legal system of the Hundred Worlds does nothing for my confidence in Enderverse people.)

  11. Is there any explanation of this illegal "slave program" business? Why are they illegal? What does the term "slave program" even mean in this context? (It can't be that AIs are illegal, unless they've been recently outlawed, unless Card is trying to up the "Ha! You'll never make my world building bits fit together!" factor.)

    But I'm glad that Olhado does have some reaction to "Ender" being the password. Though that just highlights that Card knew it was a problematic password and had his protagonists use it anyway. Which is a different WTF.

  12. It's vague, but what Olhado specifically says is that it's illegal to tie up public systems with slave programs--that is, Ender couldn't have had his finances handled purely by AI because if everyone did that then bad things would happen. I'm not sure what Card imagines the bad things are, but I can supply some thoughts: if speculative markets (stock exchanges) were given over to the control of independent AIs with inconceivably fast decision-making power, stock values would probably go berserk and a company could find itself owning the world one moment and ceasing to exist a minute later because of accelerated and semi-uncontrolled transactions.

    So: AIs themselves are legal, personal assistant AIs are legal (Olhado realises that's what Ender's ear bling is for), but personal financier AIs are not, except Jane, maybe.

  13. That makes sense - though AIs might also realize the potential problems and compensate, assuming sapience and a desire to have the human world go on functioning (even if only because they're dependent on it).

    There is one possible problem with outlawing personal finance AIs, though - the time skips that spacers experience. I know it's just Ender who chooses not to keep up on anything while traveling, but, depending on what the experienced to actual time shift is, it could be really hard for people to do even basic types of money management while traveling. It seems like you almost need AIs in charge of shipping companies (finance included) because of the huge travel times. Sure, at the age of sale, voyages involved months (or even a couple of years? ???), but in the Enderverse, travel times are measured in decades. If you were a space freighter crew, you'd be delivering to the children of the people who placed the order. And back at the home offices, the staff might well be a completely different batch of people. (I work in a library - a fairly stable sort of workforce - but there still aren't that many people with 20+ years of service.)

  14. "Ender's starship Havelok is commandeered to ship Miro and Ouanda to Trondheim for trial,

    …in twenty-two years, when they actually get there."

    This actually made some sense to me in the sense of being an overly controlling government (they even control your access to tv and stuff). They add punishment to be -accused- of a crime even before you are on trial or convicted. Even if you're found not guilty you've still been punished by living the kidnapped-by-fairies thing where you go away for a bit and then your whole family is old or dead when you get back. Having accusation and trial include a severe punishment would add a whole level of fear of committing a crime, or seeming to have committed a crime against the government. Like how some governments punish the families of traitors.

    The person going to trial knows their life is over even just by being under suspicion. The family left behind know the person is as good as dead to them due to suspicion. The community around them knows it. So everyone is afraid. It doesn't matter if they're found guilty or not, they're an example.

  15. Of course, turning the colony into glass is likely to kill the nearby Little Ones, which one might think would be anathema to a post-HQAH universe. On the other hand, it would eliminate the perceived risk of the nearby natives contaminating father away natives with human tech, etc. so I'm betting that the Starways Congress is ok with it. I say perceived risk because I'm pretty sure that our human-centric Congress and community of the universe's stupidest scientists believe that these primitive aliens couldn't possibly have already passed the cool human tech on to other groups. I'm also pretty sure that the Little Ones have a pretty good world communications net so Little Ones on the other side of the world are making cheese.

  16. Indeed. Although his use of 'American' to mean 'white' is questionable. And one only needs to read his 'speculative fiction' about Emperor Obama to discover just how gleefully racist he can get. But here, in this one particular way, he's leaning in the right direction.

  17. Actually, what he says there bothers me because it doesn't seem to have occurred to him that other countries are busy writing their own science fiction and, presumably, putting people of their own nationality into space. It feels like he's being Mighty Whitey rather than really being inclusive. But... *points at avatar* what the hell do I know. I'd be much more interested in what people of those nations and ethnicities think of what you quote there.

    Though I do know that, at least in anime/manga, the Japanese enthusiastically put - gasp - Japanese people in space! (And I suspect that pre-WW I sci-fi leaned heavily English/French because of the nationality of the writers. What I know of pre-WW I American sci-fi had, guess what, American heroes.)

    I'm pretty sure there are ways of being inclusive without sounding like you're doing people a favor and/or erasing their own efforts.

  18. It's all well and good, but somehow I refuse to believe that 3,000 years into the future everyone on a shuttle to Chinaworld would choose to live like Ancient Chinese people only without footbinding rather than evolve as a culture and society? It's like he doesn't have the imagination to do that. To imagine Chinese people or Japanese people who are not even stereotypes.

  19. I think it's the responsibility of the people who arrive to evacuate them, and not the Lusitanians themselves. So, with travel time, the immediate and total erasure of the colony will probably begin in another 25 years.

    Well, that's no problem. I'm sure all this human-taught progress in farming and whatnot won't spread very far in 25 years. I mean, you'd need an agricultural revolution for that to happen.

    (Though there was that first time he met Bean and Bean was all 'what up' and Ender was all 'I think you mean what up sir'.)

    And Ender had no problem back-talking to adults when he was a kid. I guess we'll chalk it down to the usual megalomania.

    At the very least, he could have given us tiny amphibious river goats and herds of giant milk-producing snakes on the plains.

    I'm not really sure we'd want to read Card's take on that.

    With compassionate, powerful strokes, Ender milked his massive snake. Several of Novinha's children--hopefully, the post-pubertal ones--watched in awe as his strong, pale, white, Caucasian hands moved easily along its well-muscled length, coaxing forth a fluid that was as free from Ham's curse as Ender himself. Its skin was shedding, and Ender peeled it back to expose the glistening, slippery new surface. The old skin dropped unheeded to the ground, where it would soon be nothing but foul-smelling slime, yet precious seed for new life.

    His Polish forebears frowned on snake-milking, but Ender was well prepared for the task. He had spent his boyhood in painful, powerful, mental intercourse with his internet girlfriend, and his adult life lurking in spaceship cabins with his sister, mightiest of anonymous bloggers. He felt the innate yearning to reproduce that all men feel, or at least say they feel if they're on a date with a Mormon, and although he was tragically barred from fatherhood by his tendency to compete with small children for attention, he would at least bequeath several gallons of the finest anaconda yogurt to posterity.

  20. Mmm, yeah, I don't really buy it. The problem is, his timing is wrong. Card was writing decades after LeGuin, Zelazny, Poul Anderson, etc. were producing fairly nuanced portrayals of non-white, non-Anglo cultures in space and in the future. Even Arthur C. Clarke had China beating the US and Russia to Europa, and his farther-future characters tended to be multiethnic or members of novel ethnicities, even if they still pretty much sounded like Arthur C. Clarke.

    Heck, Lovecraft and Wells and Stapledon were depicting largely non-white, non-Anglo futures even earlier, although they weren't necessarily positive depictions. So I'm not going to give Card a very big cookie for taking a step in that direction. He wasn't breaking new ground.

    As for science fiction being America's great literary gift to the world...I guess, kind of, but not really? I don't think of a genre that includes Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Stanislaw Lem and Douglas Adams as quintessentially American. (And if we include comics/graphic novels/manga, which we probably should, Japan, China, Korea and Britain are easily keeping pace with the US there.)

    Conversely, it seems to me that Twain, Whitman, Hawthorne, Hemingway, the Beat poets, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, etc. have been quite influential on global literary trends. So I'm not at all sure that sci-fi is exceptionally US-dominated.

    (And maybe it's broadly true that "nobody in other countries aspires to write Westerns," but Western novels aren't very popular in the US either at this point. What people in other countries do aspire to create are Western-influenced movies and comics, and those have been incredibly popular Japan, Italy, Belgium, the Eastern bloc, etc. Arguably, the Western is one of America's biggest contributions to global narrative art.)

  21. Also, the play that gave us the word "robot" was Czech, Mary Shelley can be considered the mother of science fiction, and, however America-centric Wikipedia's science-fiction articles are, it's still clear that the history of sci-fi is more complicated than "an American art form." It's also clear that by the time Card was writing, a ton of other countries had or were busy developing their own sci-fi traditions. Card's just being an arrogant, self-important ass.

  22. He is very good at that.

  23. Arguably, the Western *is* one of America's biggest contributions to global narrative art.

    Bet Native Americans tend not to care much for that.

  24. Anton, I always look forward to your comments, but this might be your masterpiece. I'm going to be ill with laughter, and then possibly just ill.

  25. Could be. I'm no expert on this, but my impression is that most international western derivatives have a lot less "Cowboys & Indians" stuff. (Think of Kurosawa or Sergio Leone.) Maybe because they're just more recent, maybe because there aren't surviving native-equivalents in the transplanted settings, maybe because audiences in places like postwar Italy and Japan weren't very interested in triumphalism and manifest destiny.

    In the Soviet and East German Red Westerns, the Native Americans were often portrayed far more sympathetically--if not more realistically--and the white "heroes" were condemned or satirized. (Incidentally, the Red Westerns were heavily influenced by the German writer Karl May, whose popularity disproves Card's claim that non-Americans had no interest in Western fiction.)

  26. Thanks! We laugh so that we may not hurl, or something.

  27. guh. I can't read his articles. It's bad for my stomach.

  28. "There really is nothing to suggest that humanity actually learned anything - they're just invested in pretending they did"

    I just love this phrase you've written :)

  29. He wrote people of colour into space... to be hidebound, ignorant failures at their specified goal (studying aliens) until a white man could show up and fix it all for them within a week. It looks more like the "I'm not racist, I have a black friend!" of novel writing. I'm not racist, there's black people here! They're all crappy side characters, but they're -there-, right? The hero is just white because he is, it doesn't mean anything."

  30. Of course, he utterly missed *real* science fiction writers, like H Beam Piper, whose Terro-Human Future History was largely populated by the descendants of the Southern Hemisphere (North America, Europe, and Russia having nuked themselves into the Stone Age in 1973).