Sunday, April 27, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter fifteen, upon which everything depends

I'm tackling this chapter slightly out of order, because for some inconceivable reason Card didn't lay out his chapters with the explicit intent of helping a blogger dissect them on the internet thirty years later.  This is a big one (thirty pages) and Ender's monologue makes up half of it, but it's the middle half.  So I'm going to tackle all of that this week, and then go back and do the first quarter and the last quarter next week.  The only thing you really need to know going in is that all of the most important cardboard cutouts authority figures prod each other into going to the Speaking even if they don't want to accidentally legitimise the devil agnostic terrorist.

(Content: ableism, victim blaming, family violence, abuse apologetics and statistics. Fun content: the Bishop, Fred Clark, and speechwriting tips from April Ludgate.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 256--270
Chapter Fifteen: Speaking

This is it: the Speaking of the death of Marcos Ribeira; the pivotal event that must, in its way, stand as the defence of this whole book.  This is the sole responsibility of a speaker, the demonstration of Ender's mastery of human understanding, and the most complete account we have of what it means, in Ender's estimation, to tell the whole truth about someone who can no longer speak for themselves.  We have been told, more than once, that Ender does that which seems outrageous but is ultimately right.

People show up to hear him based on the compelling power of rumour, because they're all really superstitious:
So word spread that Marcão's little girl Quara, who had been silent since her father died, was now so talkative that it got her in trouble in school. And Olhado, that ill-mannered boy with the repulsive metal eyes, it was said that he suddenly seemed cheerful and excited. Perhaps manic. Perhaps possessed. Rumors began to imply that somehow the Speaker had a healing touch, that he had the evil eye, that his blessing made you whole, his curses could kill you, his words could charm you into obedience.
Card explains that this is partly the Bishop's fault, because he made Ender sound like the devil's personal servant, and the villagers are less interested in good versus evil than they are in strong versus weak (and God is mighty and therefore scary) so checking out what this supposed miracle-worker is offering.  Space-faring colonists with some of the most brilliant scientists ever, almost four thousand years in our future, are comparison-shopping Satanism on the basis of what they heard down at the pub.

They gather in the praça, where the mayor has provided Ender with the Legally Mandatory Microphone.  We get a roll call indicating that every named human on the planet is there, including Conceição (Pipo's widow), Bruxinha (Libo's widow), and, spurring a flurry of whispers, THE BISHOP in simple priestly robes rather than his fanciest vestments.  They start wondering if he's going to engage Ender in divine battle like an outtake from St John's Apocalypse, which would frankly be twelve million times better than what's actually going to happen.

Ender shows up, looking "ghostly" because he's so white in a huge crowd of black people.  He starts by listing Marcos' "official data. Born 1929. Died 1970. Worked in the steel foundry. Perfect safety record. Never arrested. A wife, six children. A model citizen, because he never did anything bad enough to go on the public record." I seriously question the claim that 'not arrested' is the sole criterion for considering somebody a model citizen. If you're not an avid reader of Fred Clark, this is as good as time as any to read his post on "God's battered wife", a character (in books which outdo even these for awfulness) who blames herself for forcing God to smite her, and who, in that world's bizarre theology, managed "to act like a good person without actually being a good person".

Throughout this passage, Card rejects the 'show, don't tell' dichotomy and creates a third malformed option, wherein he tells by showing--members of the audience analyse Ender's speech as he goes, to explain to us why it works.  For example, Ender doesn't Orate, preferring a conversational tone: "Only a few of them noticed that its very simplicity made his voice, his speech utterly believable. He wasn't telling the Truth, with trumpets; he was telling the truth, the story that you wouldn't think to doubt because it's taken for granted." (If this does need to be said outright, it's a rare moment when I think it would work better in Ender's own thoughts, reminding himself to keep a casual voice in hopes of compelling them, showing his strategy rather than stating its effects.)

Ender goes on about the strength of Big Marcos, Marcão, whose might was so important in manual work in the foundry, where people's lives depended on him.  Marcos' colleagues nod sagely to each other:
They had all bragged to each other that they'd never talk to the framling atheist. Obviously one of them had, but now it felt good that the Speaker got it right, that he understood what they remembered of Marcão. Every one of them wished that he had been the one to tel about Marcão to the Speaker. They did not guess that the Speaker had not even tried to talk to them. After all these years, there were many things that Andrew Wiggin knew without asking.
Oh my goddamn stars and fucking garters. Ender, without the slightest information beyond 'Marcos was a burly steelworker', has correctly guessed the entirety of his co-workers' perceptions of his entire twenty-year career.  Not one of them is like "Okay, yeah, he was a competent assembly-line worker but he was a terrible conversationalist, and he skewed the whole the team, because I once tried to get the guys to confront him about beating his wife and they were like 'mind your own business' and then I got passed over for a promotion because they thought I didn't have their backs in case word ever got out that their home lives weren't all rainbows and unicorn giggles".  Nope.  People aren't that complex.  People don't have histories and independent thought and secret judgments like that; those are for main characters.  Factory workers who aren't plot-relevant enough to have names form a two-sentence opinion of a man and then it remains immutable for decades.

Then Ender comes to Marcos' third name, Cão, Dog, for when he'd been beating his wife bloody.  The audience silently snarks at Ender for his lack of decorum in bringing this up, but they know they've all said the same in private. Ender goes on that none of them liked Novinha, but "she was smaller than he was, and she was the mother of his children, and when he beat her he deserved the name of Cão", as if her height or their lack of children might have excused it?  Novinha is right there in the crowd, of course, and people glance her way with a mix of fear and pity. (Why do they fear her? She has no power over them, and we're told that they care much more about power than good or evil; the worst she can do is make them feel guilty by saying exactly what Ender is already saying.)

Ender goes on about how Marcos had no friends, even in the bars, how he was always surly and short-tempered whether he was sober or about to pass out, had no respect from anyone as soon as he stepped out of the foundry, was "hardly a man at all", but they're all genre-savvy enough to realise that Ender is about to turn on them, because someone who is 'hardly a man' is still a man.  The other foundry-workers catch on first, thinking in unison as befits their interchangeable NPC status: "We should not have ignored him as we did. If he had worth inside the foundry, then perhaps we should have valued him outside, too."  Yeah, that's definitely where your priorities were skewed.  Well done, detectives.

Ender says they called him Cão "long before he earned it", when he eleven years old and already two metres tall, and they called him names because his size made them "ashamed" and "helpless", which are very weird reactions that, as an unpopular and very tall child, I don't recall ever having aimed at me by anyone. Dom Cristão (Ye Must Love Reapers) the COTMOC remarks quietly that "They came for gossip, and he gives them responsibility", in case readers are just as stupefied as Card's cast.

Ender goes on about bullies, about how they attacked young Marcos "because as big as he is, you can make him do things", and at last I see some justification for this atrocity, because in the same way that Ender invented the notion of Novinha and fell in love with her before they met, he's invented his own Marcos as well, and Ender hates bullying* and sympathises with the child who can't help being so far above his classmates that it makes them uncomfortable.  Ender is gracious, of course, and says that children can't be blamed for being "cruel without knowing better", which sounds like a lot of 'boys will be boys' rubbish that deflects all responsibility from parents or from children (in a series with a running theme that children are full people with complete and complex emotions and psychologies).

Ender seems to say that "You called him, a dog, and so he became one", and this is a feint, but first we get the less-genre-savvy plebes giving what Card considers to be the obvious and inadequate responses: Ela is furious that Ender is excusing her father's brutality, and THE BISHOP thinks to himself that people must be held responsible for their own sins or they can never really repent.  Ender strikes again:
"Your torments didn't make him violent--they made him sullen. And when you grew out of tormenting him, he grew out of hating you. He wasn't one to bear a grudge. His anger cooled and turned into suspicion. [....] So how did he become the cruel man you knew him to be? Think a moment. Who was it who tasted his cruelty? His wife. His children. Some people beat their wife and children because they lust for power, but are too weak or stupid to win power in the world [....] but Marcos Ribeira wasn't one of them. Think a moment. Did you ever hear of him striking his children? Ever? You who worked with him--did he ever try to force his will on you? [....] Marcão was not a weak and evil man. He was a strong man. He didn't want power. He wanted love. Not control. Loyalty."
It seems redundant, but:

Clearly, Ender argues, if Marcos only beat his wife, it wasn't proof of a failure of character, because he'd have tried to subjugate and hurt everyone else around him, too.  He must have a strong man who wanted love, and had some other reason for constantly abusing Novinha!  I'm struggling to find the words.  Is it inconceivable to everyone present that Marcos was a thoughtful abuser who beat his wife because it made him feel strong and he knew that she was the one victim no one would care enough about to save?  Because that's literally what happened: no one intervened, because it was only Novinha, not their sweet innocent children.  Abusers aren't uniformly compelled to try to dominate everyone they meet.  Ender is one step away from saying "But look at all the people the defendant didn't murder! Clearly killing that one person would have been out of character for him and so we mustn't jump to conclusions!"

There's a reason that vulnerable populations have higher rates of every kind of abuse: because if the victim is old, or not white, or queer, or disabled, or especially a woman, and god forbid you're more than one of those things, you have a lot less power to fight back, because most people won't care that much.  It's easier for abusers to get away with it, and people are so busy talking about how abusers must be these 'out of control' monsters that they don't dare imagine that they could be cautious, contemplative folks who pick their victims carefully, until they find the right vulnerable target.  They create a situation where people are more willing to say that there must be extenuating circumstances, that we need the whole story.  Which is exactly what Ender is supposedly giving us.  Real abuse, he assures us, would be the act of a senseless monster, and Marcos isn't a monster, so this must be something else.

Ender recounts the full story of how bullies ganged up on twelve-year-old Marcos one day, and when he struck back, they claimed he had attacked unprovoked, and young Novinha, the sole witness, gave the testimony that acquitted him  (I don't know how Ender got this story; he doesn't seem to have asked anyone for the details and Jane isn't at his beck anymore.)  Grego, in the audience, cheers at the story of his mother saving his father.  Ender explains that in Novinha's mind, she wasn't helping Marcos, but undermining the other children she disliked; in Marcos' mind, she had been kind to him, and he worshipped her for six years before marrying her.  He pauses to regroup before his second volley of victim-blaming:
"And why did she endure it, this strong-willed, brilliant woman? She could have stopped the marriage at any moment. The Church may not allow divorce, but there's always desquite, and she wouldn't be the first person in Milagre to quit her husband. She could have taken her suffering children and left him. But she stayed."
Why does she stayWhy does she stayWhy does she stayWhy does she stay?  There are a lot of answers to that question, because people won't stop asking it, because they don't want any answer except the one they've already got, which is that if she stays, it's her own fault.  And that's basically what Ender is going to say, but first he explains why it's her fault: she needed a cover, Marcos was dying, and after the Descolada ended Novinha was the only one left who knew.
"I saw the genetic scans. Marcos Maria Ribeira never fathered a child. His wife had children, but they were not his, and he knew it, and she knew he knew it. It was part of the bargain that they made when they got married."
Quim leaps up and threatens Ender for calling his mother a whore, and then for some reason falters when he realises that he said 'whore' and Ender didn't.  He demands that Novinha refute this, but she doesn't, and he thinks about how adulterers are tortured in hell for mocking creation.  He swears at her in Portuguese that Google Translate isn't quite equipped to handle (or Card's grammar is patchy) but the essence of it is 'Who'd you fuck to make me?'  Novinha holds Olhado back from attacking his brother, and the crowd gasps but stays in fascination--the narration assures us that if she denied Ender's accusation, they would have mobbed him on the spot, but since she didn't, they just want the rest of the tabloid details.

Ender explains what he knows about why Novinha blamed herself for Pipo's death (her mysterious files on the Descolada), and how cartoonish galactic law would give her husband access to those files, meaning she could never marry her true love Libo, but she cut a deal with Marcos that Libo would father all her children.  (No evidence given that they actually hashed this deal out; it appears to be another of Ender's magical intuitions.)  Bruxinha curses Ender and three of her daughters help her away from the praça, including Ouanda.  Ender, again with no evidence that I'm aware of, explains that Libo tried to resist, as did Novinha, and they might spend years shunning each other before they were overwhelmed with the need to bang again.
"They never pretended there was anything good about what they were doing. They just couldn't live for long without it."
THE BISHOP silently observes that Ender is "giving her a gift", telling her not to blame herself for Libo's failures of fidelity.  Much of the crowd is now weeping, because as much as they already disliked Novinha, they don't like finding out that Libo had a twenty-year affair.  This might be the least-terrible bit of the speech, acknowledging to some minor degree that men are actually responsible for their commitments and not purely at the mercy of relentless Other Women.

Ender asserts that Marcos married Novinha partly for the social acceptance of having a proper family but mostly out of love:
"He never really hoped that she would love him the way he loved her, because he worshipped her, she was a goddess, and he knew that he was diseased, filth, an animal to be despised. He knew she could not worship him, or even love him. He hoped that she might someday feel some affection. That she might feel some--loyalty. [....] He never broke his promise to Novinha. Didn't he deserve something from her? At times it was more than he could bear. She was no goddess. Her children were all bastards."
I really hope we're not supposed to take this as an unusual situation, instead of the painfully common situation (both at the general level and in more targeted arrangements) that boils down to one of the best-known psychological phenomena in the world.

We cut to Miro, who's barely paying attention anymore because he's reeling from learning that Ouanda is his sister, and taking the opportunity to tragically-fanboy at Ender.  We get a summary of what this book wants to be and should have been, where Ender is the antagonist instead of Our Hero:
How could he have known that instead of a benevolent priest of a humanist religion he would get the original Speaker himself, with his penetrating mind and far too perfect understanding? He could not have known that beneath that empathic mask would be hiding Ender the destroyer, the mythic Lucifer of mankind's greatest crime, determined to live up to his name, making a mockery of the life work of Pipo, Libo, Ouanda, and Miro himself by seeing in a single hour with the piggies what all the others had failed in almost fifty years to see, and then riving Ouanda from him with a single, merciless stroke from the blade of truth; that was the voice that Miro heard, the only certainty left to him, that relentless terrible voice. Miro clung to the sound of it, trying to hate it, yet failing because he knew, could not deceive himself, he knew that Ender was a destroyer, but what he destroyed was illusion, and the illusion had to die. [....] Somehow this ancient man is able to see the truth and it doesn't blind his eyes or drive him mad. I must listen to this voice and let its power come to me so I, too, can stare at the light and not die.
There's something tragic about Orson Scott Card, to have skill enough to turn phrases like that, and to use that gift for evil.

Ender goes on to say that Novinha knew "what she was", knew she was hurting all the people around her, and so she "endured, even invited" abuse from her husband, because "no matter how much Marcão might hate her, she hated herself much more". The Bishop nods sagely and thinks that while these are secrets that he thinks should have been spoken in private, he can see how it's affected the whole community to finally understand the story that they have been half-involved in for decades.  (Note that we will literally never hear about any beneficial consequences of this enlightenment; we don't even get that thing from Ender's Game where we're told that it 'makes them wise' and causes them to re-evaluate their own relationships.  That's not the point of this story.  They're here to glorify Ender, not to gain from him.)

Ender finishes by saying that everyone in the story suffered and sacrificed, that everyone in Milagre is culpable for causing some part of the pain.
"But remember this: Marcão's life was tragic and cruel, but he could have ended his bargain with Novinha at any time. He chose to stay. He must have found some joy in it."
No, Ender, that is stupid and wrong and I can't actually be bothered to dignify something so blatantly foolish with a comprehensive response.
"And Novinha [...] has also borne her punishment. [...] If you're inclined to think she might deserve some petty cruelty at your hands, keep this in mind: she suffered everything, did all this for one purpose: to keep the piggies from killing Libo." 
The words left ashes in their hearts.


*Unless it's electronic and vaguely homophobic.**
**Or committed against a girl who disrespected her commander.***
***Or he needs to put a smart brat in his place on the first day after singling him out unprovoked as an exercise in team spirit and hostile mentorship.****
****Actually, screw it, Ender is blatantly in favour of bullying as long as he likes the perpetrator.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter fourteen, part two, in which magic is handled badly

So I read ahead for the rest of the book.  I can confirm that things actually happen from this point on, relatively consistently.  None of these things are good.  It's bad, y'all.  It is legitimately worse than I expected.  Imagine how low my expectations are after all this time.  Now consider the fact that, days later, I was still thinking of new ways in which this book had failed to meet them.  This book was a misguided idea for a short story that was over-inflated until it filled the width of a novel and still it rushed the mystery revelations in such a way that they only barely might make sense.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  We're still only in chapter fourteen.  Goggles on, people.

(Content: family dysfunction, death, suicide, colonisation.  Fun content: Ender Wiggin is ha-Satan.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 232--246

One more unnecessary roadblock in the discoveries finally happening out in the woods--we cut back to the Ribeira house, where Ela is serving dinner and enjoying the calm that comes from neither Novinha nor Miro being home, since that means she's in charge and (unlike them) she actually makes an effort to keep the younger children subdued.  Of course, since the family has been Touched By A Xenocide, they're in some kind of healing trance; Olhado and Quim are barely speaking to anyone and she only has to tell Grego off twice for tormenting Quara.  Then the meal ends and Quim settles in for the attack by accusing Olhado of teaching Ender how to spy in their files, and thus being "the devil's servant".  Olhado briefly considers launching into a full assault, but thinks he has no support in the room, and so surrenders and apologises.
"I hope," said Ela, "that you mean that you're sorry that you didn't mean to do it. I hope you aren't apologizing for helping the Speaker for the Dead."
Quim is enraged by the idea that they should help "the spy", and starts shouting, but Ela leaps up and shoves him back, keeps shoving until they run into the wall, and shouts louder:
"Mother's secrets are the cause of half the poison in this house! Mother's secrets are what's making us all sick, including her! So maybe the only way to make things right here is to steal all her secrets and get them out in the open where we can kill them!"
Well.  Let's consider this.  Reasons the Ribeira house is fucked up:

  1. Abusive father (recently deceased)
  2. Neglectful mother
  3. Estranged eldest son who basically lives in the woods
  4. Eldest daughter desperately trying to fill parental role while also solving the Science Mystery
  5. Zero community support
I'm not 100% sure that's a comprehensive list, but I think that's the top five, and none of them are 'Novinha won't tell anyone what Pipo discovered about Descolada'.  Don't get me wrong; there are huge scientific issues and questions about the very purpose of the colony and the philosophy with which humanity approaches the unknown, but it's a bit monomaniacal for Ela to insist that her siblings will only learn how to not be terrible to each other if someone purges the last bit of privacy in their mother's life.  (Spoilers for next chapter, but Ender's Speaking for Marcos won't actually require any of that scientific knowledge either.)
"The only real treason is obeying Mother, because what she wants, what she has worked for all her life, is her own self-destruction and the destruction of this family."
The quantity of hatred that gets piled on Novinha for being an impulsive and irrational person (not surprising given her apparently completely neglected childhood) and the lack of responsibility put on Marcos for being physically violent and verbally abusive is just boggling.

Olhado begins to sob, as Ela has convinced him that he hasn't actually sinned, and when she looks up she sees Novinha has arrived and overheard this last rant.  Having accepted her role as Scapegoat Villain of the novel, she just says that "for all I know she might be right", dismisses everyone, and settles down on the floor to comfort Olhado for the first time in years.

We return to the forest, where it's time for Miro to tell-not-show us more about how terrifying Ender is:
Miro had expected him to be wise. He had not expected him to be so intrusive, so dangerous. Yes, he was wise, all right, he kept seeing past pretense, kept saying or doing outrageous things that were, when you thought about it, exactly right. It was as if he were so familiar with the human mind that he could see, right on your face, the desires so deep, the truths so well-disguised that you didn't even know yourself that you had them in you.
Y'all might recall that back in Ender's Game I argued that one of the biggest flaws running through the book could have been corrected if "Hyrum Graff" was actually a false identity for Mazer Rackham, who would reveal his true self to Ender when they arrived at Eros, thus giving "Graff" an actual backstory, motivations, and justification for his otherwise inexplicable fetish for neglectful and abusive training environments.  There was no good reason for those two characters to be separate.

This is as good as time as any to make my recommendation for the mistake in Speaker for the Dead that would have made it work so, so much better: Ender Wiggin shouldn't be the hero.  Ender should be, narratively speaking, the antagonist.  (As distinct from 'villain'; done properly this is the kind of story that doesn't really need a villain.)  When one is writing about magic--and let's not pretend that Ender Wiggin is not, for all narrative purposes, a wizard--it is very easy to ruin tension by using ill-defined magic to get your protagonists out of trouble, but you are always allowed to use magic, no matter how vague or unprecedented, to get your protagonists into trouble.  Ender the Xenocide, atoning priest, who comes into town and somehow learns everyone's secrets no matter how hard they try to hide them but has a thousand of his own, who sees through lies and breezes through computer security and damn near walks through walls and then drags all your secrets out for everyone to see: he's a nightmare, he's Keyser Soze, he's the devil, and in a better book he would be treated as such, and it would be the most incredible, awe-inspiring twist when the town lies in ruins at the whims of this strange ancient man's idea of truth and morality and then he suddenly seems to switch sides and help our heroes save the day, because he isn't the relatable everyman hero, the ansibles themselves are in love with him and he carries the last egg of the scourge of Earth, he's a force majeure, he's ha-Satan.

There are two core ways magic can work: you can be in on the secrets and be impressed by the performance, showmanship and wonderment and seeing the way a good magician tricks everyone into thinking they're so much more mystical than they are, or you can cheerfully decide to be an uninitiated audience member and accept the show for all the impossibility that it pretends to be.  These are both perfectly valid.  Card's mistake here is in not committing to either one, because he lets us in behind the curtain to see what Ender's secret techniques are, but instead of "I make them look over here and then I finesse the egg away here and sneak the dove out here, presto", the secret is "I snap my fingers and a dove appears because shut up", and, as far as secrets go, that's really not satisfying at all.  There's no effort, no cost, no artistry to admire; everything just happens because the story says Ender can't be stopped.  Card lets us see the inner workings of his magic and they're boring.

They come to the Little Ones' village and Miro wonders how many of the foreign technologies Ender spots: bows, pots, roots being leached of cyanide, but Ender just waits until the Little Ones bring him their copy of The Hive Queen and the Hegemon and, when asked, confirms that he wrote it.  Ouanda shows a flash of vindication at this blatant lie, because the poor girl still hasn't realised what kind of book she's in.  Human notices this, and Ender snarks that it still hasn't occurred to them that Rooter told the truth.  He's so deadpan that it finally occurs to Miro that someone who travels a lot (like a speaker) probably could skip over three thousand years realtime, and that the original Speaker would probably be very interested in sapient aliens.  They ask if Ender will bring them the hive queen, and Ender says again that he hasn't decided yet, and once again Miro begins to question whether it's possible that the formics aren't all dead.  And, of course, if these things are true, then it becomes quite likely that Rooter's tree really does talk.

The Little Ones ask what Ender wants, saying they have nothing worth trading to him, and he says he needs true stories, but he only speaks for the dead, and the Little Ones bust out what I'm going to call, on the spur of the moment, the best part of the entire book:
"We are dead! [....] We are being murdered every day. Humans are filling up all the worlds. The ships travel through the black of night from star to star to star, filling up every empty place. Here we are, on our one little world, watching the sky fill up with humans. The humans build their stupid fence to keep us out, but that is nothing. The sky is our fence!"
I'm not sure it's explained how they know this--if Miro has told them about colonisation or if they've heard about it through the hive queen--but finally the Little Ones actually get to speak for themselves about what actually concerns them, and while it doesn't particularly touch on the kinds of genocidal horrors that colonisation has meant on Earth, it's a vague gesture in that direction and at this moment that is like rain in the desert to me.

And then, because these are primitive tribals and can't be allowed to be taken seriously for too long, Human leaps up, then runs up a tree and leaps off as though trying to fly, and crashes to the ground hard enough that they briefly think he's dead.
In all the years that Miro had known the piggies, in all the years before, they had never once spoken of star travel, never once asked about it. Yet now Miro realized that all the questions they did ask were oriented toward discovering the secret of starflight.
Like, for example, that time a few chapters ago when they literally asked Miro to bring them metal so they could learn how to make the machine that drove Ender's shuttle down from orbit.  Just sayin': that's not a hard couple of dots to connect.  Arrow reports that Rooter told them the hive queen would tell them everything they need to know: "metal, fire made from rocks, houses made from black water, everything". Ender says that there are many ways to learn to fly, some better than others, and he'll only teach them the things that he knows won't destroy them, and again there's an actual good moment from the Little Ones:
"If we are ramen," shouted Human into the Speaker's face, "then it is ours to decide, not yours! And if we are varelse, then you might as well kill us all right now, the way you killed all the hive queen's sisters!"
Miro, still struggling on the path to genre savviness, wonders how they could possibly think Andrew Wiggin is "the monster Ender", but Ender just sheds tears. The Little Ones demand to know what this means, and when told it shows "pain or grief or suffering", begin to let out wails like Miro has never heard before--their own way of showing pain, because Mandachuva says he saw tears in Pipo and Libo's eyes, and Miro realises that they have only just understood that Pipo and Libo suffered when they were cut open.  Ouanda staggers away to sob, while Miro asks how it's possible that Ender is the first Speaker and also the Xenocide.  Ender says that regardless of how they're viewed, those figures were both human,and then tells the Little Ones that they aren't to blame for things they did in ignorance.  He points out as well that it's easy for humanity to love the formics, all dead, but they fear the Little Ones, and the thought that one day humanity might come to a new world and find that someone else got there first.
"We don't want to be there first," said Human. "We want to be there too."
Lines like that are really strange to reconcile with moments like those which follow--Ender agrees that it's time they tell each other everything, but then admits that he doesn't know what to ask first, and Ouanda asks what's clearly supposed to be a Wham Line sort of question, though I feel a mite cheated.
"You have no stone or metal tools," she said. "But your house is made of wood, and so are your bows and arrows."
Ender earlier noted that their weapons appeared to be fallen wood, so I've been assuming that the trees used for their house were fallen as well, and wood can be shaped by scouring or what have you, but Miro boggles that no one else has ever asked this question in fifty years.  Ender explains that humans fell and shape wood with cutting tools.
It took a moment for the Speaker's words to sink in. Then suddenly, all the piggies were on their feet. They began running around madly, purposelessly, sometimes bumping into each other or into trees for the log houses. Most of them were silent, but now and then one of them would wail, exactly as they cried out a few minutes ago.
Miro's response to the plot twist is to be quietly amazed at his failure of inquisition.  The Little Ones' response is literally to run around in a senseless mob running into objects like cartoon characters, finally showing the emotion that they've supposedly been hiding from humans since the beginning.  Card could have tried much, much harder to not be constantly hitting the racist primitive tribal tropes.  The Little Ones begin flinging themselves at Ender's feet, begging humanity not to cut down their fathers, offering themselves as sacrifices, until Ender points out that no human has ever cut down a Lusitanian tree.  Ouanda is mostly shocked at their hypocrisy, given that they carved her father open.  Ender has decided it's not time to resolve that plot point yet, and is far more curious about their carpentry techniques--they're shocked at the idea that they should "ask a brother to give himself, just so you can see it", but Leaf-Eater (who wandered off some time ago) appears and bellows orders in the Wives' Language.  Ouanda tries to translate, but all she can get is something about doing what Ender says and "all of them dying", though she assures us they're not afraid.  Miro is impressed:
"I've got to hand it to you--you've caused more excitement here in half an hour than I've seen in years of coming here."
Of course he has, Miro, you inept pseudoscientist, but half of that is because literally everything that matters in the galaxy in the last three thousand years has revolved around him and the other half is that he's the only one who seems to have noticed that once you started revealing humanity's secrets it was ridiculous to stop halfway.  Hell, Ouanda was the one who asked the Wham Question anyway.

The Little Ones gather around an ancient tree, climb up, and start singing and drumming on it with sticks.  After a few minutes it tilts and half them jump off to make sure it's falling toward the clearing.  The tree sheds its branches until it's a single straight pole, and then that topples over.  They stroke the bark until it splits open and they carry it away in large sheets (Miro's never seen them use the bark for anything, and we won't see it again either).  The ends of the fallen branches are smooth, dry, and cold.  Lastly, they swarm over the naked trunk, still singing, and trace shapes over the wood, again and again, until it splits where they touch, and they pull the trunk apart into hundreds of shapes--weapons, knives, strands to make baskets, and lastly a half-dozen poles, until the whole trunk is used.
Finally Mandachuva came to him and spoke softly. "Please," he said. "It's only right that you should sing for the brother." 
"I don't know how," said Miro, feeling helpless and afraid. 
"He gave his life," said Mandachuva, "to answer your question."
Miro at last does come forward, kneels with Human, and sings, at first hesitantly, but once he understand the point of it he grows more confident, singing thanks to the tree for its sacrifice and promising to use it for the good of the tribe, and at last repeating the same rites that he said over Libo's body.

Now, this has some emotional weight to it, and I hate to feel like I'm willfully missing the point of a story, but I can't quite get over what a bad biological plan this is.

So we're clear on this--the trees, the sapient trees that Little Ones grow into after 'death', are capable of reshaping their wood to provide tools for the tribe, that's great, but evolutionarily, why in the world would they develop so that it's all-or-nothing?  They apparently can't choose to just shed a branch, or only part of their trunk, or else they would have done so just to demonstrate the principle to Miro.  Given what we'll learn in a couple of chapters (that the trees are the fertile males) that shooting themselves in the foot, genetically.  My first thought was that it was sort of like if the rule for organ donors was "If we're taking one kidney out, we may as well chop-shop the rest of you too", but in this case it's a little more like if humans realised we could make rope out of our hair but evolved so that the only way we could get our hair was to collapse into a pile of cold cuts.  It's just a bad idea on a variety of levels.

And given that the trees can reshape their wood without killing themselves (again, this is made explicit in later chapters), I'm a bit confused as to why they would fell trees to make their houses rather than have the living trees morph and weave themselves together to form a house shape without--and this is important--committing suicide for the sake of a breakfast nook.

Next week: Ender speaks the death of Marcos Ribeira and reveals everything to everyone.  I'm sure he'll be very sensitive to others' feeling and not just go for shock value.  (Pfffbhahahahaaaa.)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter fourteen, part one, in which Ender is Right at people

Unrelated to anything: there is no good reason that the first button that gets highlighted after you've written a blog post's title should be 'Publish'.

(Content: cultural supremacy, genocide, ritual murder. Fun content: I will never get tired of the graffiti of Pompeii.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 220--232
Chapter Fourteen: Renegades

This chapter is so long that I think something has to happen, but that also means it gets split over two weeks so we can really soak up all of the ways in which this is a terrible book.  Let's start with this opening exchange from one of Ouanda's transcripts:
LEAF-EATER: Human says that when your brothers die, you bury them in the dirt, and then make your houses out of that dirt. (Laughs.) 
MIRO: No. We never dig where people are buried. 
LEAF-EATER: (becomes rigid with agitation): Then your dead don't do you any good at all!
I have some vague hope that we're about to solve the Science Mystery, so Card is throwing the most blatant possible indications at us that the trees are literally 'dead' Little Ones.  What interests me more is this cliche where the 'primitive tribe' is always presented as vastly more horrified by outsiders not following the same rituals or values, compared to the wise outsiders who know everyone has different practices and remain utterly mellow about it.  I'm hoping that we're about to get a little reversal of that, when humanity finally figures out what the Little Ones' deal is and they get to be shocked and horrified at the Truth About War, but I don't expect we're ever going to get the Little Ones being all mellow and "Huh, so that's what humans do; interesting".  Their reactions always have to be overwhelmingly emotional, either raucous laughter or revulsion and knives, because that is how we always characterise 'primitive tribes'.

Mind you, the Lusitanians are themselves also a tiny monoculture settlement largely isolated from any other concepts of societal structure, and we've been seeing a whole lot of how that limits their capacity to understand things (e.g., bad definitions of male/female, sex and gender, social hierarchies, and restrictive expectations of alien biology in general), but I'm still waiting to see that acknowledged and not just presented in the form of "All of our science cannot fathom these strange creatures!"

Anyway.  Miro and Ouanda have zero problem getting Ender through the village fence, because no one likes acknowledging that the fence is there and no one watches it.  Miro and Ouanda might be the only people whose palmprints can open the door, but... security cameras?  Surely this privacy-exploding settlement has space for a monk or two who spend all their time hidden away with rosary beads and a wall of TVs showing key security points around the colony?

They pause by Rooter's tree for Ouanda to exposit about how they've relied on Rooter for most of their spiritual advice over the last seven years, which they get by drumming rituals that they've heard but never seen, using fallen wood sticks.  Ender thinks they would have done well in Battle School--Miro's total emotional control, Ouanda's sense of responsibility--but still quickly acts to assert his authority over these teenagers by demonstrating that he knows about Rooter and interrogates them about the trees (never planted anywhere except in corpses, no saplings elsewhere in the woods).  He works out that Miro's worry is that there's a Little One in danger of getting murdered that night, but rather than hurry, he decides he can let Ouanda question him now.

He leans back against the tree, appreciating the view up through the leaves, and is struck by sudden déjà vu, though all he can think is that he's never seen a tree like this before.  (He does not, for example, connect it to the last blast of imagery he got via the Hive Queen.)

Miro and Ouanda begin telling him about the "Questionable Activities", which is not a sexual euphemism (yet!) but refers to the technological meddling they've started.  Ender does take a moment to think about how obvious it is that they're in love [HINT: IT IS NOT OBVIOUS] and be sad that they will hate him when he soon speaks Marcos' death and "drive[s] the wedge of the incest tabu between you".  Which is a weird phrasing, to me.  Like... he's not making the tabu up or anything.  They are half-siblings and it would be a bad idea for them to reproduce.  Focusing on 'tabu' makes it sound like he's sorry more about the social pressure they'll feel to not hook up, like it's some kind of arbitrary old tradition.  Maybe I'm reading too much into what's just supposed to somehow be formal prose.

This next chunk is difficult to figure out how to approach, because on the one hand this is obviously the Turning Point where everything changes, but first Card needs everyone to lay out their philosophies so that Ender can explain to us what is True and what is Stupid.  And I feel like being fair to the book means giving those chunks some attention, but on the other hand it's just so boring.

The meddling all started when the Little Ones were running low on grubs and starvation was imminent, so they expected there would be a war and they would all die.  They were weirdly cheerful about this, but Libo decided he had to save them, so he showed them how to sun-bake merdona root to neutralise its poisonous enzymes.  Ouanda and Miro furiously defend their actions, saying they can't be dispassionate about the lives of the Little Ones the way they would about animals.
Miro struggled for words. "It's as if you could go back, to old Earth, back before the Xenocide, before star travel, and you said to them, You can travel among the stars, you can live on other worlds. And then showed them a thousand little miracles. Lights that turn on from switches. Steel. Even simple things--pots to hold water. Agriculture. They see you, they know what you are, they know that they can become what you are, do all the things that you do. What do they say--take this away, don't show us, let us live out our nasty, short, brutish little lives, let evolution take its course? No. They say, Give us, teach us, help us. [....] And the longer we stay, the more they try to learn, and the more they learn, the more we see how learning helps them, and if you have any kind of compassion, if you understand that they're--they're--" 
"Ramen, anyway. They're our children, do you understand that?"
I absolutely understand why this would be Miro's perspective on things, but this seems to be the part that Ender agrees with, so we're supposed to take it as fundamentally right, if condescending, since he characterises the Little Ones as immature--children--simply because their tech levels are lower.  Maybe the most powerful single thing I've ever read about ancient history is records of the graffiti of Pompeii, because you can only read things like "Marcus loves Spendusa", "I have buggered men", and "If anyone sits here, let him read this first of all: if anyone wants a screw, he should look for Attice; she costs 4 sestertii" so many times before you realise that humans, on a fundamental level, have pretty much been the same for untold millennia, regardless of our technological sophistication.  What gets me is that Card isn't going to stop presenting the Little Ones as being chaotic and childlike, which clashes with the apparent implication that it's a terrible mistake to think of them as anything lesser than full responsible individuals.

Miro notes as well that the Little Ones insist Ender ('Andrew', still) is the original Speaker, the author of HQ&H, and they claim that the Hive Queen speaks to them and has promised to bring them endless gifts of technology.  Ender realises that the Hive Queen is somehow in contact with them, and specifically learns that she's talking to a mind inside Rooter's tree, which Miro and Ouanda pretend to believe.
"How condescending of you," said Ender [inexplicably not struck down by a righteous deity of hypocrisy]. 
"It's standard anthropological practice," said Miro. 
"You're so busy pretending to believe them, there isn't a chance in the world you could learn anything from them."
I'm not sure how he reached that conclusion, since this is literally the first he's heard of it, five seconds ago, but I guess he is drawing a line from that 'they're like our children' bit earlier.
"You're cultural supremacists to the core.  You'll perform your Questionable Activities to help out the poor little piggies, but there isn't a chance in the world you'll notice when they have something to teach you."
I realise I've levelled this same accusation at Miro and Ouanda myself, but I have the advantage of knowing that they've been getting accurate information from Rooter for several years, whereas the only thing Ender knows they've been told is something spectacularly implausible for which they have zero evidence (that the secret Main Character of the Universe has arrived, bringing with him literally every plot-important aspect of history in the last three thousand years).

Ender continues to attack their hypocrisy, apparently daring karma to strike him down on the spot, by pointing out that they have treated Pipo and Libo's deaths as the inexplicable, unjustifiable actions of senseless animals, even as they claim to recognise the Little Ones as ramen/human.  And, well, look--he's not wrong that it has been one long atrocious decision to never ask the Little Ones about why they killed Pipo and Libo, but I'm not seeing how it's valuable to cram that into his sister's special pseudo-Nordic Framework of Who Counts As People.  Here on backwards pre-star-travel Earth, we're also capable of recognising individuals who aren't equipped to be held fully accountable for their actions--usually children, but also people under particular types of stress or mental illness.  There are a lot of analogies that could be drawn here.  Really, sticking with the 'children' thing would probably work better, because then instead of constantly shifting what we mean by 'species' (Miro says the Little Ones are 'human'; Ender makes reference to humanity having 'kicked him out'), we could continue to consider how children who are never taught about the consequences of particular harmful actions may keep doing those harmful things without caring.  A toddler who is too rough with a pet isn't an alien incapable of ever understanding what empathy means.  They're ignorant about animals.  Little Ones are ignorant about humans and how much we don't like to be eviscerated.  Adults are responsible for fixing toddlers' ignorance.  Here on Lusitania, humans are responsible for fixing the Little Ones' ignorance.  Ender says that ramen bear responsibility for their actions, but no one considers the idea that people take responsibility for educating themselves, either.  Humans, adults, whatever our shorthand term is for 'sapient being considered worthy, independent, and accountable', are capable of asking questions and solving their own problems and not just sitting around waiting for the Main Character to explain the ways of the world to them.  Yet, somehow, in all of this reminding us that the Little Ones are people, Card forgot to have the Little Ones investigate the humans, ask why Pipo didn't grow a tree, ask how humans reproduce, or make any substantial effort to solve the Science Mystery from the other direction.  They've been too busy shouting that humans are 'like cabras' (which is apparently not true, given what we've heard about cabras?) and alternately revering and shunning Ouanda.  The whole 'Little Ones are not like children' message is kind of undercut when the author presents them as needing to be saved from their ignorance by a sensible human.

Ender hints that he really is the first Speaker, but before that can go much further, they find Leaf-Eater.  He immediately recognises the Speaker and then retreats into the woods again, and there's more hostility between Ender and Ouanda as he questions whether they actually know how to read Little One body language, she admits they don't always but also that he can't possibly to learn all they know in ten minutes, and Ender says he doesn't need to since he's got them there assisting.  Ender really can't decide whether he's got any respect for these two.  Miro not-very-reluctantly admits that Ender is right, they've been making lots of foolish assumptions, but then Ender goes back to 'but that's impossible!' thoughts himself when he hears about the bread.

In the face of starvation, Libo taught the Little Ones how to make merdona safe, how to make bread, and then as soon as the first loaves had been delivered to the Wives, Libo was killed.  Ender thinks it's completely unthinkable that the Little Ones would murder somebody who helped them so much, but then, I kid you not, he compares it to Miro and Ouanda: despite them being "better and wiser" than Congress, they'll be hauled off for trial and prison if they're ever caught.  Yes.  Murdering someone who teaches you how to bake is definitely similar to enacting judicial measures against people who break galactic law to completely reshape the development of the only known sapient aliens.  Ender, however, thinks that this would only make sense"if you viewed humans as a single community, and the piggies as their enemies; if you thought that anything that helped the piggies survive was somehow a menace to humanity. Then the punishment of people who enhanced the piggies' culture would be designed, not to protect the piggies, but to keep the piggies from developing."

I haven't said much thus far about cultural contamination, because human history again tends to show that when we meet strangers with cool toys, we want to make with the sharing.  Even in the most atrocious cases, in genocides like the European colonisation of the Americas, the Aboriginal peoples did like the idea of steel and horses and trading, and Europe just about fell over itself when it came to flora, fauna, and that all-important 'How Not To Die In Canadian Winter' knowledge.  (Or, if you're more into Asian history, one of the reasons the Mongol Empire was a lot better than it gets credit for is that they worked that scientific exchange like mad, spreading Chinese medicine west and Arabian metallurgy east, leading to a mess of new inventions.)  So my default assumption about humans, at least, is that while we'd really prefer not to have our culture stolen or dictated to us, we do love us new technology a lot of the time.  The goal should probably be to allow that while not allowing one side to take control of the other's way of life.

But, personally, I think Ender is missing the even-more-obvious conclusion, which is not that humanity sees itself as one community and the Little Ones as the Other, but that humanity sees itself as a bunch of communities and the Little Ones as a political football that they can cheerfully toss around in order to enable themselves to make statements about morality and virtue and protecting the weak, thus gaining credibility and public favour over their opponents.  Y'know, just like current politicians and literally every marginalised population slice (like women, POC, queer folk, people with disabilities, or some kind of impossible individual who is more than one of these things).  Ender has, for no apparent reason, concluded that people really care what happens to the Little Ones, because they are potentially a super-dangerous enemy, while also viewing them as primitive child-animals incapable of real understanding.

Ender makes a really blatant title-drop, quietly mulling over how, in his theoretical framework, Miro and Ouanda would be seen as traitors to their species.
"Renegades," he said aloud. 
"What?" said Miro.  "What did you say?" 
"Renegades. Those who have denied their own people, and claimed the enemy as their own." 
"Ah," said Miro.
The Hugo award and the Nebula, folks.  Like... both.

Ouanda objects to this, but Miro says that according to the bishop, they denied their humanity a long time ago (I legitimately have no idea what he means by that), and Ender explains that they are renegades when they treat the Little Ones like people, but when they treat them according to congressional law, they treat them like animals.
"And you?" said Miro. "Why are you a renegade?" 
"Oh, the human race kicked me out a long time ago. That's how I got to be a speaker for the dead."
I'm not a historian, but I'm pretty sure Ender got to be a speaker when he discovered that he hadn't actually killed every formic and decided to relay their history, and I'm pretty sure he got kicked out when he prosecuted one of his pseudonyms under the other (Andrew Wiggin used the Speaker for the Dead to explain the consequences of the work of Ender the Xenocide).  I'm reminded that Ender was actually prosecuted by proxy, right after the war, and was righteously acquitted.  The best way I can read this is that he thinks humanity kicked him out when they made him their general, turned him from a child into a weapon and a celebrity, untouchable by mere legal systems, which in turn necessitated that he create another larger-than-life-persona to make sure that his memory (but not him personally) suffer some conviction.  The only person who could make everyone hate Ender was Ender himself, and as soon as he realised that, he realised that he was not really human anymore, but some kind of mortal god, a force majeure.  But if that's how Card wants me to read that line, he's going to need to do a little more of the heavy lifting himself.

Next week: a brief and unnecessary interlude in the Ribeira house, and then, yes, it's finally here: plot happens.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter thirteen, in which science washes its hands of sci fi

(Content: transphobia, familial abuse, mental ableism. Fun content: that depends on how obsessed you are with dicks.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 199--219
Chapter Thirteen: Ela

We open with A Day In The Life Of The Worst Scientists.
MIRO: The piggies call themselves males, but we're only taking their word for it. 
OUANDA: Why would they lie?
Good goddamn question, Ouanda.  I mean, I realise this is part of the Science Mystery and all, but here on Earth basically every culture has had some type of recognition of gender identity distinct from obvious biological sex indicators.  People who can't imagine how asking someone about their gender and getting an answer that doesn't jive with the assumptions about their physiology have no business being anthropologists, let alone alien anthropologists.  And in the meantime, back here on Earth, if for some reason you need to ask someone what their gender is, decent folks follow the same rule as census-takers: call people what they tell you they are.  Transphobes will of course have you believe that the only reason anyone would identify with a gender other than that assigned to them at birth is to evilly infiltrate another gender and, I don't know, shut down the planetary shields or something.  Look, don't ask me; it's their bigoted fantasy.

But of course, as a young man in a Card novel, Miro's primary concern is that when he looks around he's not seeing the legions of penises he expects, but he has a theory.  A few days earlier he saw Pots caressing the bumps on Leaf-eater's chest (which Ouanda insists are obviously vestigial nipples) and Leaf-eater was apparently really enjoying, and--I am not making this up--his chest was incredibly moist.  He figures that if none of the Little Ones are fathers, their wives obviously aren't doing anything sexual with them, because--lest we forget--Miro is the Worst Scientist and can't imagine people having sex that doesn't result in children unless it's moist man-on-man action in the woods.

The only reason that this 'confusion' is possible, and the only reason this aspect of the Science Mystery has been dragged out this long, is that we've never actually been told how Pipo (or his predecessor) explained the concepts of 'male' and 'female' to the Little Ones.  He obviously didn't reference genitals, since the Little Ones lack humanoid parts like that.  Did he actually use the small-gamete/large-gamete dichotomy that would be most appropriate to essential Earth biology?  (If so, how did he avoid describing human reproduction, since Rooter was apparently shocked to discover we were 'like cabras' in that respect?)  Did he use stereotypical roles like 'males fight and defend, females nurture and clean'?  Did he inquire how they define their identities, to determine if they even have genders/sexes that can map to human norms, or did he say "Hey, I bet you're all dudes, am I right?"  If we knew how that conversation went down, we'd have found whatever the loopholes were a long time ago.  (Hey, if they have comprehensive notes on everything, shouldn't there be some record of that conversation on gender in the old notes?  Isn't that something that Miro might want to read and reread exhaustively as he tries to puzzle out the Enigma of the Absent Dicks?)

We leave the recording of Miro and Ouanda to find the actual Miro and Ouanda in the Little Ones' village, where everyone is extremely still and quiet as Human approaches them accusingly.  The back-and-forth is really boring unless you never get tired of "But by my exact words I wasn't lying", so I'll summarise: they want Miro and Ouanda to bring Ender to them, and they are angry that they implied he wouldn't come when they know that he does want to, because they heard it from Rooter, who heard it from the Hive Queen.  Miro cannot believe the lengths these people will go to, insisting that their silly tree-worshiping-religion somehow lets them contact obviously-dead people, just because they have rituals where they commune with the trees that grew out of the corpses of their ancestors (with an unexplained reproductive system) and these rituals keep giving them accurate information out of nowhere.

(Miro continues to think occasionally about the efforts they've had to go into to keep from giving away information, which confuses me enormously because: they've been intentionally interfering for several years now, so why do they care about secrecy?  They've decided that the Little Ones must know some things but no others?  They've established themselves as arbiters of Little One technology?  It's so weird.)

Anyway, Miro and Ouanda have continued to disagree on whether they should bring Ender, and now the Little Ones are demanding he come.  Ouanda says no, but Human is a tribal primitive, so he takes a callback quote out of context and 'accidentally' produces wisdom:
"Pipo told us that women do not say. Pipo told us that human men and women decide together. So you can't say no unless he says no, too." He looked at Miro. "Do you say no?"
For the record, Pipo said this in regards to human reproduction, which the Little Ones for some Mysterious reason associate with ritual killings, so if Miro and Ouanda had actually done their research, this would be skeleton-freezingly terrifying.  Miro stays silent, until Ouanda can't bear the tension anymore and declares that he says 'yes', which gives Human the all-important opportunity to tell a woman she's terrible.
"He says yes, but for you he stays silent. You say no,but you don't stay silent for him." Human scooped thick mucus out of his mouth with one finger and flipped it onto the ground. "You are nothing."
Then he backflips out (I kid you not) and the Little Ones leave en masse, pausing only for a brief confrontation between Leaf-eater and Human, which Miro and Ouanda interpret to mean that if they don't bring Ender by the end of the day, Human 'loses' and will probably get sapling-murdered.  They argue more, Ouanda says that Miro should have followed her lead because Libo's rules say they must never present disagreement and--she cuts herself off before she can say she's in charge, but Miro figures it out anyway, and chastises her for thinking of him as her apprentice and blaming him for a 'yes' that she ascribed to him.  They continue to be terrible to each other (Ouanda implies that she is "zenador by blood right", and Miro twists that to mean that he is an abusive alcoholic by blood right) and it occurs to me that I have no idea why these two are attracted to each other.  Miro's personality consists mostly of hating his parents and being an inept, horny scientist; Ouanda's barely had anything going on that wasn't "let's meddle in alien societies as much as we can before people catch on".  I understand that shared secrets and isolation from the rest of the world can lead to intense relationships between people, but shouldn't they at least have, like, one virtue each?

After more passive- and active-aggressive accusations, they apologise to each other ( and agree that if they get Ender to the Little Ones before sundown, Human probably won't get eviscerated.  Is the plot on?  Are things going to start happening now?

Before plot can accidentally happen, we skip to Ela sitting on a rock in the river just barely inside the colony's fence, waiting for Ender.  No one comes near the fence unless they have to, so it's apparently a great secret meeting place and not, for example, a hangout for horny teenagers.  (Where the hell are all the other teenagers on this planet, anyway?  Miro obviously doesn't have friends, because of the Ribeira Isolation Field, but surely Ouanda should know other people?

Ender arrives, rowing flawlessly up the river because of course he's good at everything (he says on Trondheim it would be worse to be unable to walk than row) and Ela takes a moment to appreciate his White Beefcake Shoulders in the creepiest possible way.
The skin of his back was shockingly white; even the few Lusos who were light-complected enough to be called loiros were much darker-skinned. His whiteness made him seem weak and slight. But then she saw how quickly the boat moved against the current [...] how tightly wrapped in skin his muscles were. She felt a moment's stab of grief, and then realized that it was grief for her father, despite the depth of her hatred for him [...] she grieved for the strength of his shoulders and back, for the sweat that made his brown skin dazzle like glass in the sunlight.
It should, by rights, be possible to find a way to talk about aesthetics and phenotypes without sounding weirdly racist, but Card struggles to find that ground.

Ela reports that Novinha and Olhado are still furious with Ender for his deception.  She keeps levelling accusations even though she means to express appreciation and sympathy, so Ender continues with his whole I'm Just Being Honest defence, the standard excuse of malevolent narcissists.
"I'm a speaker for the dead. I tell the truth, when I speak at all, and I don't keep away from other people's secrets."
Ela reveals that, despite being the apprentice xenobiologist, she's locked out of her mother's files as well, and Novinha has held her back from completing the guild tests to graduate from apprentice, because that would mean she could bypass the locks too, because, lest we forget, privacy law in this galaxy was invented by a literal clown who had just marathoned the complete written works of Franz Kafka.  Ela thinks she's being ungrateful; Ender (badly, all of their communications are inexplicably backhanded and hostile) praises her for holding the family together for so long while her parents were busy being terrible.

Then it's time for some casual ableism as Ela says her mother is "crazy" and Ender says that "whatever else Novinha is, Ela, she is not crazy", because heavens forbid anyone entertain the shocking idea that a person raised in a series of deprived and abusive environments be accused to having suffered any kind of psychological damage when all of her decisions can just be explained by her choosing to be an arrogant megalomaniac.  I mean to say: it's one thing to say 'don't dismiss a person by accusing them of a compromised mental state' and another to say 'don't imply that this person has anything so distasteful as a mental disability.

(I'm reminded of an incident in high school--I don't remember what the class was talking about, but a fat girl made some comment about a type of negative treatment she got because she was fat, and a well-meaning classmate responded by expanding on the main point being made and then finished by saying to the first girl "Also, you're not fat".  Now, what she meant was obviously "You don't deserve that kind of terrible negative treatment, please have positive self-image", but what she said was "I will deny the reality that we are both aware of because I can't conceive of a world where your body fat isn't considered deserving of hatred and shame".  Cognitive dissonance: it's what's for brunch.)

Ela instead insists her mother is "boba", which I'm having trouble getting a good translation for, but is obviously a synonym or euphemism for 'crazy', so Ender asks for the evidence.  Ela reveals that Novinha has somehow locked away all of the Descolada files.  All of them.  ALL OF THEM.  Did they never send their information on Descolada out to the rest of the galaxy, even while people were dying by the hundreds forty years ago?  In all the time since then, has no one ever had any interest in studying those files?  Xenologers across the galaxy are hanging off Pipo/Libo/Miro/Ouanda's every word, but no one's ever had any further interest in understanding how or why Descolada works, even as a thought exercise?  (Ela rightly points out that Descolada adapted to affect humans in less than a decade, and there's no reason it couldn't adapt again.  Also, apparently it never goes away--if you get it in your body, you have to take supplements for the rest of your life or start growing extra arms out of your nose.)  It's ever-clearer to me why science hasn't advanced in three thousand years.

Second, Novinha forbids Ela to do any theoretical research, like developing evolutionary models.  The reason for this isn't clear to me, since she doesn't actually know what the 'secret' of Descolada is and so has no apparent reason to forbid this theorising.  Lastly, she won't exchange any information with the xenologers, and even deletes any data they send her.  Ela chalks this up to her hatred of Libo, and explains that this means the xenobiologists have no materials to work with except those they enclosed within the fence decades ago: grasses, a herd of cabra, river plants, and water snakes.  No trees, since that would obviously also solve the Science Mystery (which, again, has already been solved by Pipo and now Jane, and made irrelevant by Miro and Ouanda's meddling).

There is a long aside about how much Novinha hated Libo, how she stopped feeding Miro when he became apprentice xenologer: every night, he would come home, sit at the table, she'd take away his plate and cutlery, and he would sit there staring at her in silence until Marcos shouted at him to leave, gleeful that his wife finally hated Miro as much as he did.  She started feeding him again when Libo died.  That night, Ela heard Libo sobbing and vomiting in the bathroom (not clear if this was guilt-based purging because he ate the food provided by his Devil Mother, or general distress), and she says she should have gone to comfort him.  Ender agrees.
The Speaker agreed with her that she had made a mistake that night, and she knew when he said the words that it was true, that his judgment was correct. And yet she felt strangely healed, as if simply speaking her mistake were enough to purge some of the pain of it. For the first time, then, she caught a glimpse of what the power of speaking might be. It wasn't a matter of confession, penance, and absolution, like the priests offered. It was something else entirely. Telling the story of who she was, and then realizing that she was no longer the same person [....] she had become someone else, someone less afraid, someone more compassionate.
The nicest thing I can say about this is that it's a step up from the Ender's Game incident of "Ender had a conversation with Dink Meeker and it made him wise and more likely to question things, although we'll never actually see him do so for the rest of the book".  Instead of that forward-looking tell-and-then-never-show, we've got a retrospective I-used-to-be-a-worse-person, and assurances that this confession-and-judgment is somehow radically different from confession-and-forgiveness.  I do think that reflection and admission of guilt can be very important and healing, but the fact that it can only happen with Ender's magical aura is... predictably tiresome, and vice-versa.
"Miro says the framling xenologers are always pestering him and Ouanda for more information, more data, and yet the law forbids them from learning anything more. And yet not a single framling xenobiologist has ever asked us for any information. They all just study the biosphere on their own planets and don't ask Mother a single question."
Trillions of people in the galaxy and not one scientist is remotely curious about the biology of the only world with known sapient aliens.  Who's running science in this place?  God, I bet the ansibles are all wood-fired.

The next plot twist Ela brings up is another chunk of the Science Mystery: there's a herd of cabras inside the colony fence, and her observations have found that they've all given birth in the last five years and they're all "female", not "male" and not "hermaphrodites", so I guess this is the part where I just give up on any hope that the biology of the universe is ever going to be remotely not-Earth-like.  The vagina is a galactic constant.  (Didn't expect to say that a second time today.)  The offspring aren't identical to the parents, from which Ela determines that they must be managing a genetic exchange in the herd anyway, and I'm a pedant so I'm back to wondering how we define biological sex in Card's universe.  Ender, Genius of Ages, just makes a joke about "theological implications".  Ela goes on about the water snakes, which hatch, grow, and breed on land before they ever get into the river, and then never come back out again--she questions why they're so completely adapted for the water if it's not related to any part of their life cycle before the end.  The only eggs she's ever found in the water are just gametes, not embryos.  She almost but doesn't quite get to the point of suggesting that the riverside grass, "grama", is actually their larval form or something.

Finally, she gets around to saying that the biodiversity is unnaturally small: there's only one kind of bird they've seen, one kind of fly, one kind of cabra, one kind of tree, one kind of prairie grass, no predators (although the cabra do have predator-avoidance instincts).  Ender guesses that the only explanation is that some disaster wiped out all but a handful of highly adaptive species, and Ela says it has to have been a disease, specifically Descolada, because something like a meteor would have killed the big animals and left all the tiny creatures.  I'm wondering what Card thinks happens to prey animals if their predator vanish for a hundred thousand years like Ela is guessing--shouldn't they have multiplied until their food supply was stretched thin and starvation put a limit on it?  This is standard Malthusian economics.

Anyway, Ender and Ela together realise that Novinha locked away all the Descolada files and all of her other Secret Files at the same time (no one caught onto that before?) and thus must have determined that the Descolada is somehow key to the Science Mystery too.  I... legitimately hadn't realised that they hadn't caught onto that yet.  The Descolada files and some other files are all locked away by the same secret-keeping person and no one suspected a connection?  Forget Sherlock; someone get me Irene Adler, I need a critical thinker who gets things done.

Ender says, at Ela's urging, that he'll speak Marcos' death as soon as possible, but he can't possibly do so until he meets the Little Ones.  Ela says that's impossible; Ender says "That's why it's going to be hard", (phrasing, boom).  Ela says she wants every secret revealed as soon as possible; Ender says that she doesn't know how big it's going to be and he fears she will feel he has betrayed her in the end, like Olhado does.  She assures Ender that they are BFFFFs and he should go fix/reveal everything.  (There's literally nothing stopping him from telling her or anyone else what he's learned about Novinha and Libo's affair, unless he thinks that she would somehow ruin his plans.  I'll be watching to see if there's an explanation for that or if he's just waiting to spring it on the whole town at once.)

And then Ela skips afternoon work and goes home to start making dinner alone and feel cheerful for the rest of the day, and Miro shows up in a panic trying to find the Speaker.  He won't say what for, and Ela admits to having talked with him by the river but won't say why, and I can't decide if this is a realistic portrayal of people who have been raised in an isolated and secretive household, or if it's just more 'People don't tell each other things in order to prolong the plot'.  Miro runs off again, puzzled as to why Ender wouldn't answer his ear-bling-email, and Ela starts having panicked mental images of finding Ender splayed open dead just like Pipo and Libo.  I would hope she's right, except that would just drag things out even more.

Jane, you're still my favourite character, but I don't think I'm going to forgive you for making us sit through all of this.

Next week: Miro and Ouanda reveal their meddling and I probably spend half the post discussing technological revolution and its effect on human societies.