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.


  1. 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.

    Card really hates suspense. Also, a fence no one watches is a bad idea at the best of times, but in this case it seems criminally negligent since, one, this colony produces child geniuses who supposedly teach themselves advanced science - how long until one teaches themselves Electromagnetic Fence Defeating 101? - and two, this colony produces - and ignores - dangerously violent people who might use the fence to maim and/or murder other people in the colony.

    he showed them how to sun-bake merdona root to neutralise its poisonous enzymes

    HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE??? They don't know enough about the Little Ones to know what is or isn't poisonous to them, much less how to make something not poisonous to them! They don't know how to tell what sex a Little One is, or even if Little Ones come in different sexes, they don't know their physiology, they basically know what they look like! (And possibly they took samples at some point...since the descolada is supposedly in everything, though I don't know how they could've taken the samples given the rules about interaction, nor do I know how they could have cell samples and know as little as they generally seem to know about the Little Ones. The science in this book is so bad.)

    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.

    I don't disagree, but half the problem with this book is that Card presents everyone as so utterly incompetent, ignorant, and incapable next to Ender - who might be trusted not to stick his finger in a light socket... more than once. If Card didn't tack on a bunch of stereotypical primitive tribe characteristics to the Little Ones, I think they'd look about the same as the humans. No one asks relevant questions. No one actually tries to solve the mystery. They all just sort of blunder about.

    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.

    Wat. Do I have this straight?

    Ender: You can't actually read Little One body language.
    Ouanda: Well, no, not all the time. But you can't learn what we know in ten minutes.
    Ender: I don't have to, you're here.


    You don't know this, but you can teach it to me/do it for me.


    This book is Vogon Poetry!

    I also really, really don't understand how this colony ever came to exist. The Starways Congress's rules about interaction with other sapient species read like someone took the Prime Directive and fed it through a translation program a few times. It may not make any sense anymore, but it's pretty clear that they don't want humans fucking up other species. So why wasn't the colony pulled the moment the Little Ones were discovered?

    Does Card just think that internal consistency is for wusses or something?

    Ender's whole "It only makes sense if the Starways Congress thinks they're the enemy!" thing would be fine if it were characterization - being raised by the military really fucked up young Ender but good. But, no, he's supposed to be right. Because the entire universe only exists in "us" and "them" and the idea that one could view the Little Ones as people without also being a traitor to humanity is just ridiculous.


    You know, most escapist fiction has a more complex view of the world than this.

  2. We talked last chapter about how The Worst Scientists are just assuming that when they use the words "male" and "female", the Little Ones mean the same thing the humans do, i.e. males produce small gametes and females produce large gametes, and females often gestate young or produce eggs, while males generally do not (not that I give Pipo, Libo, Miro, Ouanda or even Novinha as much credit as understanding male-ness as anything other than "are aggressive protectors" and female-ness as "are passive-aggressive liars and nurturers") And I've just realized that all The Worst Scientists *seem* (I'm not actually reading the book, could be wrong) to have assumed that Little Ones reproduction is similar to mammalian reproduction, because there hasn't been any mention of trying to identify a mating season or mating rituals, asking about eggs, queries about nesting habits or anything else. It's like they cannot imagine another sentient species reproducing in any way other than penis-in-vagina sex and in-uterus gestation of young. Which for the record is only one of several methods employed on our own home planet, and not even the most popular one at that.

    Anyway, this chapter they (the humans) seem to have completely mis-explained the concept of "death" and "dead" to the Little Ones. Because Rooter is pretty obviously Not Dead in the human sense, has not ceased to exist as a living entity, and has not in fact even *ceased to communicate*. Has no one in Lusitania ever heard of a life-form with different stages of maturity? It never occurs to them that the Little Ones might be a larval or nymph form of a species that then goes on to become trees? Trees that the Little Ones have demonstrated multiple times to the humans are still alive and communicating? Science. Ur Doin' It Wrong.

  3. all The Worst Scientists *seem* (I'm not actually reading the book, could be wrong) to have assumed that Little Ones reproduction is similar to mammalian reproduction

    they (the humans) seem to have completely mis-explained the concept of "death" and "dead" to the Little Ones

    In the first case, the language the Little Ones use (Wives, Fathers, etc) certainly seems like it could line up with humanoid reproduction, and in the second case, the Little Ones never referred to Rooter as 'dead', but in both cases, the problem is an enormous hulking convenience of miscommunication, because somehow they've managed to get to a place where they've taught the aliens human words without explaining human concepts.

    (We will see in the second part of this chapter that the Little Ones do know what humans mean by 'dead', because the trees eventually die, meaning that somehow Pipo or whomever managed to teach the Little Ones the meaning of 'dead' in such a way that they still left open the possibility that eviscerated humans transform into telepathic shrubbery, which I feel can be considered a failure in vocabulary lessons.)

  4. Seems like all the scientists here and elsewhere received their diplomas by a correspondence course from a for-profit diploma mill, considering how well everyone has managed to screw things up (by authorial fiat, of course). At least, we assume the xenologers of Lusitania have credentials obtained through science courses. (Right about here, I can imagine Card saying 'Hah, no, they don't have Real Science, they're Catholics, and Catholics abandoned science at Copernicus." Despite, y'know, Notre Dame existing.) The Little Ones, not to be outdone, appear to be no slouches in the bad science department, since they appear to be incapable of curiosity. "Here, have a technique by which you can remove toxins by sun-drying." "Gee, this is useful, and we will only ever use it in this context, instead of seeing whether or not it can be applied elsewhere, creating a food supply boom and a corresponding population increase. And maybe combining it with other things to create weapons or new tools."

    The Prime Directive forbids interference because it introduces technology to entities that are assumed to be creative enough to adapt it for other purposes. So, really, Starways Congress should have been all over this a long time ago.

  5. Well, if the Little Ones are using words like "Wives" and "Fathers" to describe themselves, the Trees, and their relationships to the unseen Others that somehow produce more Little Ones, that again seems like a Massive Vocabulary Fail on the part of the humans teaching them these words. Why are the Others called "Wives" at all? When and how did Pipo decide to describe *mothers* as *wives*? Those Are Not The Same Things. At. All. If Card trying to build up the whole Science Mystery as Cultural Misunderstanding, the only possible denouement for that I can envision is:

    Humans: "Why did you eviscerate two scientists?"
    Little Ones: "So they could become Trees and have offspring."
    Humans: "Humans don't have offspring that way. That is deadly to humans."
    Little Ones: "Oh. Why didn't you explain human reproduction when you explained what Male and Female meant? Why did you describe our Others and Trees as 'wives' and 'fathers' when they are clearly nothing like human wives and fathers?"
    Humans: "..."

    Humans: "Why didn't you explain that eviscerating people is related to your method of reproduction?"
    Little Ones: "You didn't ask."

  6. Yeah, that's pretty much how I'm expecting that conversation to go down. Can you imagine how much better this book would be if Card actually gave us the original definitions that had been given for all of these words, and done so in such a way that these misunderstandings made sense? We would spend the whole book seeing them hurtling towards tragedy after tragedy and desperately wishing that they'd understand their mistakes, instead of struggling to figure out how the mistakes were even possible.

  7. On baking the root, I think they just assumed that little ones' physiology is just like humans', so if you get rid of the poison that's why humans can't eat it, you're good. As with so many other things involving the little ones, this isn't true even for earthly species that are fairly closely related. Which means that at least one person involved in this whole setup is an idiot. Since it seems to have worked, I'm figuring the idiot is OSC.

  8. My mistake; it wasn't enzymes, it was cyanide. (Cyanide is deadly to everything everywhere including aliens with inconceivably different biology from Earth, right?) They just suntanned the cyanide right out.

  9. So the study of the aliens is The Most Important Thing Ever and millions of people devote their lives to reading Miro and Ouanda's twitter feed but it's also so unimportant that no one keeps tabs on them. The fence is Important but no one guards the entrance. Ender is The Most Important Person Ever but also so unimportant that no one has bothered to keep track of where he ended up after he killed a whole race and then wrote a new religion into existence. Desmosthenes is The Most Important Author Ever but no one ever bothers to figure out who she is. Novinha is The Most Important Person in the colony but no one even checks in to see why she's always sporting injuries/helps her escape being injured.
    There's a really solid theme here of things that are So Important but also completely ignored. I could probably let one or two slip, but everything in this book is Important(!) but also unregulated, unobserved, unaided. You can't have both Card! Either it's important and everyone is watching, or it isn't and they aren't.

  10. Some googling suggests that Card may have based merdona root on the quite real cassava root. Which opens a whole new can of worms.

    It basically turns a food source real life people figured out how to domesticate and make safe into Mighty Whitey Salvation for the Little Ones. Which is gross beyond all belief and indirectly staggeringly racist.

    Then of course, there's the problem that various insects eat cassava. Also, on the subject of how universally deadly cyanide is, I discovered that there's a lemur in Madagascar, the golden bamboo lemur, that has developed a high resistance to cyanide since the bamboo they eat has a high content of cyanide. If wikipedia is right, they can eat 12 times what should, by body weight, be a lethal dose for them.

    The more I look at it, the more ludicrous and horrible the whole thing becomes.

  11. "The Starways Congress's rules about interaction with other sapient species read like someone took the Prime Directive and fed it through a translation program a few times."

    The translation program meets "telephone."

  12. Cassava? As in a staple food of developing-world cuisines, including in South America? Yeah, there's Card's Brazilian mission-community-as-sci-fi-fan-fiction rearing its head again. This book is like a point-by-point example on how *not* to "write what you know".

    Is it better that he was writing it in the 80s for an 80s audience? Was 80s America that much less multi-cultural and globalized, really?

  13. As a great palate-cleanser to Card's myopic chauvinism on alien reproduction, Ursula K. LeGuin wrote a wonderful short story, Seasons of the Ansarac, about a migratory bird-like species on a world with very long solar years, that leaves behind all their settled cities near the equator every seven-or-so earth-years and goes north to the grassy plains to raise infants as couples, then migrating back to their carefully preserved cities to live individually in another seven earth-years. It is found in "Changing Planes". Actually, all of the "Changing Planes" stories are really great examples of good writing about alien/alternative societies with minimal Science Fail, even tho there's lots of fantasy-like elements in use.

  14. Yup.
    I really don't know about 80s America, since I was a kid when I experienced it, but I'm reluctant to let award winning science fiction from not quite 30 years ago off based solely on it being 30 years old. For one thing, I've read other science fiction (okay, mostly space adventure) from the 70s and 80s that wasn't anywhere near as racist as this. Nor is this level of wtf science fail normal for the time, at least not in what I've read.

  15. Vogon poetry. I love that. It just kills me that they can't ask SIMPLE BASIC QUESTIONS WHICH ARE THE KEY TO EVERYTHING. Man it makes me nuts. And wait until they get to that part that just made this whole book fall apart for me. And it was the simplest thing. Writers of the world, stop doing stuff like this! It makes me so ANGRY!

  16. This kills me. But what kills me more, and here is a spoiler but!!! WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T THESE SCIENTIST SIMPLY EXPLAIN THAT THEY CAN'T TURN INTO TREES? It's not like these aliens don't speak English. You say, why are you cutting us? Because we want to make you a tree. We can't tree. You can't? NO guh why do people think he's a good writer as my head explodes! And they spy on humans. Do they see humans treeing? Haven't they seen human copulation or birth or something? No. more. IDIOT PLOTS! It gives me migraines and IBS.

  17. How do i make it do that or translate that? Because, yeah... there's going to be so many Whatnapples soon.

  18. Ah, right, translation would be useful, eh? The website is the easiest way to encode/decode text like that. (Because it offsets every letter by 13 places, the same button serves both functions.)

  19. Yes, can writers think things through better? My head and stomach will thank them.

  20. 'Hah, no, they don't have Real Science, they're Catholics, and
    Catholics abandoned science at Copernicus." Despite, y'know, Notre Dame

    Guess who spent a year in a Ph.D. program at the University of Notre Dame in the 1980s?

    (I wonder if Orson Scott Card's "Hah, no, they don't have Real Science, they're Catholics" attitude was born when he had to quit being a graduate student at Notre Dame?)

  21. "How is there a Science Mystery when they keep telling you the answer?"
    Maybe OSC thinks his readers are as stupid as his characters?

  22. Oh, really? Guess my sense of comedic timing is better than I thought.

    It's possible the attitude comes from graduate school, but the dislike seems more spread out than just that as a catalyst. Catholicism seems convenient, rather than having to be THE target for ideological reasons.

  23. The thing is, this is an award winning book - one whose positive reviews match almost nothing we've seen here. Card seems really good at reaching an audience (a specific audience, perhaps, since we're all sitting her going WTF?) and getting them to somehow not notice that the world building makes no sense, that it's a second order idiot plot (turned up to 11), or any of the other flaws we've boggled at. (Whether his target audience would be turned off by the racism and sexism if they noticed those is a different question.) There's some appeal here that carries certain people past all the crap or that allows them to accept his telling over what he shows or...or something.

  24. I wonder if it's still the "I'm the Only Sane And Smart Person surrounded by a cacophony of profoundly stupid people" that was in clear evidence in Ender's Game. Ender is still flitting about the universe, supposedly being awesome because he's awesome (even though it's really Jane), just a bit more grown up, now. People who liked him when he was an insufferable genius brat are supposed to like him even more, now that his limiters of childhood are off. Nevermind that he's gone from brat to git in the intervening time.

  25. Maybe that's why he had to write Game first to lead into Speaker. So that he could grab all the teens who feel like the "I'm the Only Sane etc" and get them to invest in the character ahead of time. Since he didn't plan to make anyone want to invest in the character in Speaker. If people already see Ender as just like themselves they'll be less likely (I think) to spend too much time questioning him later, even if he goes completely off the rails.

  26. This feels right to me, as someone who used to like these books as a teenager. I'm not proud of it, but so be it.

  27. Better to err and grow than to never learn anything. Lest we forget, I decided to start analysing Ender's Game on this blog because as a teenager I thought that book was an unparalleled work of genius. (It's kind of interesting to me that, on reflection, the part that most appealed to me and stuck with me largely happens offscreen--the glory days of Battle School, when Ender had found his friends and they were all triumphant wunderkinds inventing the art of war day by day. I was also one of those people who hated the last chapter and sometimes skipped it; my views of that have probably done the most evolving of any part, and now I have entirely different complaints.)

  28. [Spoiler for the Introduction] He said the reason he needed to write Game was to keep Speaker from having a slow start. He moved the opening chapter of Speaker to the end of Game.

  29. *stares*
    *blinks several times*

    We're on Chapter Fourteen and we just now might be getting to the plot! I do not want to know what Orson Scott Card's idea of a "slow start" is.

  30. I just read the introduction this morning and it made me deeply sad. It would be easy to be cruel about it and belabour all the ways in which he failed at every one of his stated goals, but there's nothing good to be had from that. Suffice to say that, as with Ender's Game, I'll do a post on the introduction once we've finished the story proper.

  31. If the goals match the story that the positive reviews are about, perhaps he succeeded, at least for some number of readers.

    I'm not sure what happens to create works of fiction where the fans get one message and other people get another, but I can think of quite a number.

  32. I also accept action stories where the hero is canonically not that bright. Not that they're really stupid, but that they acknowledge that thinking through mysteries isn't their strong suit. Right now I'm thinking of the Dresden Files. When Dresden solves the mystery, he usually has a healthy dose of 'why did it take me this long to figure this out?'

    I'm willing to accept someone bumbling toward the answer as long as they don't pretend their bumbling is well thought out planning.