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.)


  1. (Spoilers for the exact piggie genetics, if anyone cares.)
    On the last question about the trees, my impression when I read the book (years ago) was that there are two varieties of trees (brother-trees and father-trees) and that brother-trees are semi-sapient and do the suicide-for-wood thing, and father-trees are totally sapient and are the only ones that reproduce. (The distinction being that the slow torture thing makes you into a father-tree, and just plain dying makes you into a brother-tree).

    I'm not convinced that makes any more sense from an evolutionary perspective. There is more elaboration on the suicide thing in later books (something weird to do with global warming and cooling) but that seemed more like post-facto justification than anything Card actually thought through ahead of time.

  2. Hi! I'm new, and your reviews are the absolute BEST. I've never really been able to explain coherently why I dislike Speaker for the Dead so much... you put so much of it into words.

    Ok, now... this is a pet peeve of mine... It's just that evolution doesn't work by setting up biological "plans," it uses existing materials for whatever immediate problem presents itself. For an example, look at human feet versus ostrich feet. One of these is obviously good for running, and the other is a recent kludge that causes extravagant amounts of pain for the humans who run on them. The tree-suicide probably evolved due to some totally unrelated reason, and this just happens to be what the Little Ones are using it for now.

    Still sucks for them, though. :/

  3. Hello and thank you!

    I would agree with you on the biological thing, except that 1) the Little Ones only became tree-people very recently in their evolutionary history, like a thousand years ago, so either they inherited the ability to tear themselves apart from their adoptive ancestors (they literally merged with an existing species of tree) or they just discovered this was something they were capable of doing even though the old trees would never have done so. Either way, carpentry suicide rather than selective branch-shedding makes no sense for genetic prosperity.

  4. Since I've read ahead: they imply that dying the wrong way makes you a quiet tree, and they mention that they make their houses out of 'cowards', but it's not clear if those two things are related, since there's still the war aspect, and presumably dying in war means you don't get the kind of guided evisceration that they most prize. Card dodges this problem by just never really addressing it.

  5. See, this makes no sense because don't people CUT DOWN TREES when they first move somewhere? Don't they use PAPER on this world? There's so much in this book that makes my brain itch it's not even funny.

  6. Yeah, I agree Card is definitely dodging. Perhaps I will just relegate my previous understanding to my extensive head-canon collection. (I've had a complete rewrite of Narnia stored away mentally for years, and it's been a fun internal exercise comparing it to Ana Mardoll's deconstructions as she goes along.)

    I really like your theory about the "magic," by the way! I really want to read a fanfic rewritten from that point of view now. Unfortunately that would be a rather extensive project and it's nearing finals for me, or I'd have a shot at it myself.

  7. Possibly the trees used it for exploding into a million seed-pods or something? I'm just making stuff up, though, and it has been a _very_ long time since I have read the book. I didn't remember the merging-with-a-tree-species thing at all. On the other hand, there are critters on Earth have "and then die horribly" as part of their reproductive strategy (the one that comes to mind immediately is how giant squid are believed to reproduce, but there are lots of plants that die after going to seed).

    Little Ones must be awfully generous people, if enough of them are willing to commit carpentry suicide to make civilization possible. o_o I can't wait till you get to the bit with the Wives. I think I've intentionally forgotten a lot of that creepiness.

  8. In a surprising twist, nothing in the colony is made of wood. They do use paper, though maybe they just used the paper they brought and carefully recycle it? The colony is supposed to be self-contained, and even sustainable forestry might be a bit much for them to manage in their limited space. I mean, it's not like environmentalism and long-term planning are normal for this world, but there's reason to hope and pretend, maybe?

  9. Seriously, though, this takes the usual near-telepathic face reading that happens in fiction and turns it all the way up to pure telepathy.

    If you think this is bad, brace yourself for the speaking next chapter. Ender will literally guess details about Marcos' life such that his coworkers wonder who Ender secretly interviewed to so perfectly represent their comrade.

    Because it is utterly impossible for them to have come up with any of this on their own.

    Nah, Miro wonders how many of these things Ender realises are native and how many are foreign introductions.

    THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE! Does Card imagine want us to believe that Pipo and Libo just manfully wept a little while being vivisected? No begging, no asking why, no screaming, no "MY GOD THE PAIIIIIIN!!!"?REALLY??? *throws up hands at the ridiculousness of this*

    This is fractionally more plausible later on, when we find out how the murder thing happened, but I'm still baffled as to how (even granting that they *meant* to suppress their reactions) they were able to just suck it up and endure vivisection so well that they didn't even yell, which is the Little Ones' preferred method of expressing discomfort.

  10. Ender will literally guess details about Marcos' life such that his coworkers wonder who Ender secretly interviewed to so perfectly represent their comrade.

    Where's that gif of Picard and Riker doing a simultaneous facepalm, because really, that needs it.

    This is fractionally more plausible later on, when we find out how the murder thing happened...

    Wait, you're not telling me that they were willingly vivisected? But... How... What... If they knew what the Little Ones were trying to achieve, then they knew enough to explain that humans don't work that way. If they didn't, why in the galaxy would the submit to vivisection!?

    This is going to need all the facepalms, ever, isn't it?

  11. People usually clear trees to build homes. I find it so hard to believe that people didn't kill folks' fathers and brothers when they came to this planet. Plus they MINE. Surely that would damage trees, right? Guh, this book falls apart when you read it too much. Or even once, really.

  12. How about, no one asking, why do you want to cut us and vivisect us? What is the point of that? Don't you know humans don't work that way? And that we have whole entire families whose lives will be ruined?

  13. they literally merged with an existing species of tree

    So, they're like the demons from Devilman? Humans are right to be a-feared of them!

  14. I guess all the Ribeira's problems could be laid at Novinha's door if Marcos was some kind of volcano, or flood plain, or rabid animal or something, that is, something well-known to be dangerous that could have been avoided, but which Novinha chose to live with anyway. But Marcos is not a force of nature, he too is a human person, and he too had choices. Novinha didn't force him to marry her. She didn't force him to stay with her when she became pregnant with children that obviously weren't his. And she didn't force him to abuse her or her children. And why do I get the sinking suspicion that Ender's Speaking of him is going to present him as a man buffeted by the force of nature that is his wife's self-hatred, rather than an abusive alcoholic who never took responsibility for his own actions?

    Moving on, how are there any Speakers besides Ender that are at all functional or helpful? We've seen Ender, on this particular, um, "Speaking", use his personal AI pixie to get around his universe's version of HIPAA for no better reason than to prepare for a funeral, bully pretty much everyone by threatening to expose their secrets, and do his weird face-read-telepathy business. How do other Speakers operate? How are they trained? Even the way Ender got this "assignment" makes zero sense. There were *no* other Speakers closer than 20 light-years? No one responded to Novinha's call first? Ender had dibs? If there's no seniority or structure managing the Speakers, who decides who Speaks where? Or is Ender the *only* Speaker in the universe, and everyone humors him because they don't want him going all genocide-y again? Watnapple. Watnapple to the max.

  15. Oh god, the Speaking. It's one of the worst, most victim-blaming shitfests I've ever had the misfortune to read. (And to think, I used to like these books! It's amazing the things you can gloss over as a teenager.)

    I'll paraphrase because it's been years since I read them, but:

    "Marcos wasn't an abusive person, because the only people he ever abused were his wife and children! It's all because Novinha was unfaithful to him and deserved it because she's a filthy sinner. That's okay because she thought she deserved it and wanted him to punish her for her transgressions!"

    There are not enough Whatnapples in the world.

  16. "Abusers don't abuse people! Abusers heap the abuse on people that those people know they deserve!"

  17. Wait. If the Little Ones can turn into semi-sentient trees as part of their life cycle, why are they building anything at all out of tree-wood? Especially if becoming a tree is the highest honor they can achieve? Maybe ritual or ceremonial objects out of naturally-fallen trees, but all the functional items sbould be of bone or stone or some other material, out of respect for their fellows? If houses are needed, then, yes, bend the trees to create the dwellings and furnishing, so that there's symbiosis.

    Also, Worst Scientists Ever, or Luckiest Scientists Ever, in that neither Pipo nor Libo ever trippee, stubbed a toe, got hit in the face with something, had intestinal distress, or anything else that would give them an opportunity to explain pain and human ways of expressing it.

  18. Exactly. I just don't see how an oops!vivisection could happen, much less two of them. So many things pile up to make it nonsensical: the time frame, the fact that the Little Ones can observe the human settlement, the implausibility of two people not even objecting to being horribly killed (and somehow being so stoic that the Little Ones didn't figure out they were being hurt), no one (human or Little One) asking any questions.

    Normal Idiot Plots stare at this one in awe, wishing they could be so astonishingly ridiculous.

  19. There's much more to discuss later, but rather than keep you in suspense, I'll add some details--basically, the Little Ones have specific rituals in which a highly-honored person gets cut open so they can move on to being a tree, and they are expected to ask their closest friend to do the cutting. For cultural reasons that go completely unaddressed, the friend is allowed to refuse and then the person-to-be-honored instead must cut *them* open. Pipo and Libo didn't apparently get this stages-of-life thing properly explained, and were just told "Either you eviscerate me or I eviscerate you now", and chose to die rather than, to the best of their knowledge, murder a Little One. Like I said, there are many things to be said about this (of which only about half are "WHAT") and many circumstances to consider, so the full deliberation will have to wait a few weeks yet.

  20. *gabbles incoherently*

    *throws up hands*

    This really is the Idiot Plot all other Idiot Plots aspire to be! Its a fruit salad of WHAT! An entire army of facepalming Starfleet officers!

    It is so obvious that instead of Card thinking up problems that could come from the civilization he invented, he came up with the problem he wanted - people getting oops!vivisected - and backfilled to try to make that plausible. Which he hasn't. At All.

  21. You are going to need an Army of Whatnapples.

  22. Lots of earth-species *eat their mates* immediately following coitus/gamete exchange (a la praying mantis). Others die after sex (salmon et al) or are subsumed whole-y into the female's body (angler fish ftw). It is so common there is a name for it: Suicidal Reproduction. The craven ignorance of all the so-called scientists in this book towards unusual reproductive strategies *from their own homeworld* just make their game of Idiot-Ball-Keep-Away that much more irritating.

  23. If we're going with spoilers, I'll just answer everyone: this didn't evolve. Aliens made the Descolada, which somehow imposed all this on the Little Ones. No word on whether the genetic engineers made the Galaxy look like Earth to begin with. (I doubt Card actually saw that as a problem.)

  24. Aashyma Never WouldApril 21, 2014 at 2:59 PM did the humans manage to teach the Little Ones about herding and archery and the like but never, in nearly three generations, discussed tears? Basic facial cues that three year olds know?

    I mean, sure we can ignore the Prime Directive to teach them pottery but human emotions and the expression thereof? That apparently is too much.

  25. Check out the chapter head for chapter 6. It's a war story that goes something like "I was fighting a mighty warrior from the other tribe, once he realized I planned to eviscerate him and give him honor, he stopped struggling. He will never be a stick in our hands".

  26. I'm pretty sure war deaths involve the guided evisceration. This doesn't really make sense since that is a long ritual and war deaths are quick, but there's definitely a part where one of the piggies is telling a war story about a valiant enemy that includes the lines "I gave him honor" and "He will never be a stick in our hands!" Which to me means that he father-treed him. In later books, they talk about how war is how they conduct genetic exchange - the winners get to use all the trees from the fallen warriors. So, yes, I think that brother-trees are piggies who died without the ritual, can't talk or reproduce, and who give themselves to be sticks and houses and whatnot, and father-trees died with the ritual, can talk (both psychically to other trees and through reshaping) and reproduce, and don't give themselves.

    What I think is never explained (or at least I don't remember) is what happens to the dead females. We haven't really gotten into piggy reproduction yet, though, so I'll save that for later.

  27. Yeah, I'm just gonna be over here banging my head on the wall.

  28. And the humans--the culturally Brazilian humans--didn't bring any trees with them? No orchards to go with the fields of grain and vegetable gardens that we know they planted, no decorative or shade trees? The Little Ones regularly spy on the colony; if humans had ever planted and felled a tree anywhere within its boundaries, they'd know about it.
    We can maybe handwave this away by saying that Earth trees grow too slowly to reach maturity before they succumb to the Descolada, unlike the annual grains and other food crops. And by the time xenobiologists had figured out how to engineer Descolada resistance into plants, they'd decided to avoid cultivating trees so as not to run afoul of the tree-worshipping Little Ones. (Except that doesn't really work, because until five minutes ago the colony scientists believed that the Little Ones themselves chopped down trees. Oh well.)

  29. If it could be any more obvious that what the Little Ones do/don't know/understand exactly corresponds to what Card's shitty plotting requires, I'd like to know how.