Sunday, May 18, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter sixteen, part two, in which science is useless before the might of the fence

(Content: colonialism, incest, genocide. Fun content: CAN WE FIX IT? No, we can't, because this book was published 28 years ago and the damage is done and it somehow won the Hugo and the Nebula.)

Speaker for the Dead:. p. 289--311

Y'all will recall that we left Miro at the fence, which he can't turn off anymore, hooting for the Little Ones and hoping that narrative fiat is on his side.  It is, obviously, and so a passel of them arrive--"Arrow,Human, Mandachuva, Leaf-eater, Cups"--stomping through the grass instead of moving silently like they do in the forest.  They stay still and absolutely silent, which Miro translates as anxious body language, and he says he can't come to them anymore because he got caught.  He blames Ender, but the Little Ones report that the hive queen said it was the satellites, and suggest what they might have spotted: the hunt, the amaranth crops, the cabra-shearing, orrrrr maybe the three hundred and twenty baby Little Ones born since the first amaranth harvest.

Once again, I'm having some trouble with timelines.  (Bonzooooooo--)  Libo is the one who gave them the amaranth (I don't know if we've had that stated outright yet, but it's why they honored/murdered him), meaning that was four years ago, and we also know that was the first time they shared human technology (spurred by the famine).  All the other tech that Miro and Ouanda have shared with them has to have been in those intervening four years.  Obviously it takes some time to go from conception to adult, but we've already got Arrow and Calendar and Cups running around, meaning none of them can be older than four years.  Supposedly the mass birthing started as soon as possible after Libo's death, but somehow no one has noticed the massive upswing in population, not Miro, not Ouanda, and most questionably not Jane, who literally satellite-scoured the entire planet like four days ago and reported to Ender that "every forest like this one carries just about all the population that a hunter-gatherer culture can sustain" back in chapter six.  Possible conclusions: either the masses of new births actually got delayed a few years, or the Little Ones are actively hiding most of their new generation, or this alien baby boom didn't exist four chapters ago because it wasn't relevant to the plot yet.  Place your bets!

Also, as an aside, I hadn't considered until now that this timeline means that Libo gave the Little Ones new tech, the Little Ones inexplicably eviscerated him for it, and Miro and Ouanda responded by massively ramping up the technology-sharing.  Because that makes sense both from an emotional point of view ("My name is Ouanda Figueira. You killed my father.  Prepare to be taught how to bake and sculpt basic pottery".) and from a survival point of view ("Huh, the boss gave them agriculture and they murdered him; I wonder what they'll do if we give them ranged weapons.").

Where were we?  Right, savage primitives.  Miro demands to know what's with the baby boom and the Little Ones explain that, with their new amazing food source, they can hugely increase their tribe size, conquer all the surrounding tribes, plant mothertrees in their forests, and TAKE OVER THE WORLD.  Miro is a professional, so he doesn't protest their megalomania; he just asks where the new generation is, and Human says they're busy learning with the other brother-houses.  Which is again rubbish, since we were told back in chapter six again that all the males in the forest lived together in one big log house.  (Although, if the satellites can see through the trees well enough to figure that out, why can't they see the Wives' settlement?  And if they can't see the Wives or these other possible brother-houses, how can they be estimating the populations in any of the forests anywhere on the planet?)

Miro gets around to explaining that he's to be taken offworld.  The Little Ones (who have been assuring him that Ender will fix everything) offer to hide him, and he points out the impassable agony fence, they tell him to chew grass.
Finally Mandachuva tore off a blade of capim near the ground, folded it carefully into a thick wad, and put it in his mouth to chew it. He say down after a while. The others began teasing him, poking him with their fingers, pinching him. He showed no sign of noticing. [....] Mandachuva stood up, a bit shaky for a moment. Then he ran at the fence and scrambled to the top, flipped over, and landed on all fours on the same side as Miro.
It turns out the Little Ones have been hopping over the fence at night and strolling around town for years now.  Not going to lie, I cracked up a little at this part.  I mean, it makes no sense or difference--they haven't learned anything in town that impacts the plot, and they've never been spotted because the Starways Panopticon doesn't believe in security cameras--but the level of "Oh, yeah, by the way, your technology is less than useless" is hilarious in its excess.

Miro says the grass is an anesthetic, and they correct him, saying they feel the pain--worse than dying--but "it's happening to your animal self. But your tree self doesn't care. It makes you be your tree self."  Miro recalls Libo's corpse with a mass of grass in its mouth.  Mandachuva says he'll go find Ouanda, since he's been in the village a few dozen times now and knows where everyone lives.  Which of course means that there's no one to pinch Miro and help him test his pain sensitivity as he starts chewing grass.  Well:
He pinched himself. As the piggies said, he felt the pain, but he didn't cared. All he cared about was that this was a way out, a way to stay on Lusitania. To stay, perhaps, with Ouanda.
Yes, dear reader, Our Hero is desperately seeking a way to take his half-sister away into the forest to "raise a family of humans who had completely new values, learned from the piggies".  You may commence retching; I'll still be here when you're done.
He ran at the fence and seized it with both hands. The pain was no less than before, but now he didn't care, he scrambled up to the top. But with each new handhold the pain grew more intense, and he began to care, he began to care very much about the pain, he began to realize that the capim had no anesthetic effect on him at all, but by this time he was already at the top of the fence. [...] Momentum carried him above the top and as he balanced there his head passed through the vertical field of the fence.
Mandachuva returns in time to haul himself up the fence and shove Miro over to the other side.  They argue about planting him immediately before he dies, but Human insists the pain is just an illusion and he'll recover, though he shows no signs.  Mandachuva runs off again to find Ouanda.

We cut back to Ender meeting with all the important people.  Novinha arrives:
He noticed that her hair was down and windblown, and for the first time since he came to Lusitania, Ender saw in her face a clear image of the girl who in her anguish had summoned him less than two weeks, more than twenty years ago.
So... wait, she's finally free and at ease, and so she looks more than ever like the isolated, self-loathing, desperate heretic teenager acting out of self-sabotaging panic?

Ender explains that he's gathered them to decide whether to rebel against the congressional order.  They say they have no choice, but Ender says all of congress' power and threats depends on the ansible.  THE BISHOP says they can't cut off the ansible or they'd lose contact with the Vatican, but Ender (without asking her first, obvs), reveals Jane's power:
"I have a friend whose control over ansible communications among all the Hundred Worlds is complete--and completely unsuspected [....] And she has told me that when I ask her to, she can make it seem to all the framlings that we here on Lusitania have cut off our ansible connection. [....] In sohrt, we will have eyes and they will be blind."
The mayor calls this out as the act of rebellion/war that it would be considered, but Ender can intuit that she likes the idea even as she tries to resist it, which is also creepy as hell--her mouth says no but her eyes say insurrection.  THE BISHOP of course continues to argue, saying that evacuation may suck:
"But a law was broken, and the penalty must be paid." 
"What if the law was based on a misunderstanding, and the penalty is far out of proportion to the sin?"
Lest we lose track, the law here was based on the possibility that introducing human culture and technology to the Little Ones might cause them harm, and about ten pages ago we were informed that the Little Ones currently intend to use their new tech to wage a war of conquest across their entire planet.  That's not a misunderstanding, that's prescient.  The penalty is foolish (as if intervening in twenty years will help), but Ender's counterargument boils down to "I can fix it", which is only going to get you an acquittal if your judge is The Honorable Mr Justice Bob the Builder.

Ender says that if they do what congress says, then they are approving of the law and the punishment*, and they shouldn't do that until they know everything.  There's some more ego-stroking; Ender says they all have to decide together,"the civil and religious and intellectual leadership of Lusitania", or they can't rebel, and the Bishop calls Ender a fourth power, "as dangerous as Satan", yet submitting to them.  Ender says he wants to be one of them.
"As a speaker for the dead?" asked the Bishop. 
"As Andrew Wiggin. I have some other skills that might be useful. Particularly if you rebel. And I have other work to do that can't be done if humans are taken from Lusitania."
First: skills useful for rebellion?  Like, what, tactically?  Ender doesn't have a fleet to destroy the rest of humanity with.  Second: I'm like 150% sure that Ender's work restoring the hive queen would actually be a jillion times easier if he didn't have to worry about humans next door.

Ender recaps for them: he went into the woods, the Little Ones have read HQ&H and the Bible, they want to travel the galaxy and fear human colonisation, humans only advanced so far because we found formic technology and ran with it and now we fear that the Little Ones will do the same if we give them anything.  Libo started meddling because the xenologers have never thought the Little Ones were just savages (Ender says this after literally accusing Miro and Ouanda of thinking of the Little Ones as beastly primitives two chapters ago), and they killed him "exactly the way they put to death their own most honored citizens" (I'm not sure what he's basing that conclusion on).  Then it's time for more theology:
"If you really believed that someone was perfect in heart, bishop, so righteous that to live another day could only cause them to be less perfect, then wouldn't it be a good thing for them if they were killed and taken directly into heaven?"
I would love to dive into this, except that is' one of Fred Clark's best-tread wheelhouses.  Suffice to say that this logic only works if you first assume that the sole point is to go to heaven as assuredly and quickly as possible, and not, for example, to do anything in particular on Earth with your perfection and holiness.  Screw the plebes, you got yours and if they deserved your help they should have offered you paradise first.  (Spoiler: we'll never find out if or how Little Ones die of old age, or what the consequences are for their tree phase.)

Anyway, Ender recaps the tree-splitting ritual, and explains that the Little Ones and the trees are the same species now, despite this being practically impossible.

Novinha interrupts the hubbub to point out that, if congress copied all their files, then they've got her parents' research on Descolada now.  (Apparently no one in the last thirty years has bothered to research any aspect of this ultimate plague, because this is the galaxy of terrible science.)  This means they won't evacuate the planet after all, because while the Descolada is controlled, it's still lying dormant in their bodies.
Bosquinha was appalled. "So anywhere we go--" 
"We can trigger the complete destruction of the biosphere." 
"And you kept this a secret?" asked Dom Cristão. 
"There was no need to tell it. No one had ever left Lusitania, and no one was planning to go."
I can only say 'worst scientists ever' so many times.

But with Ela and Ender's discoveries, Novinha has figured out Pipo's last discovery, that Descolada is part of the reproductive process, and thus she's 'figured out' that every animal on the planet has a plant counterpart.  The river grass hatches watersnakes.  The capim fertilises the cabra.  No, don't ask how she made that leap based on no more evidence than we've been given.  She is senior scientist and her intuition is fact.

The Bishop says this must mean they won't evacuate the colony after all, and Ye Must Love Reapers says they'll be put under quarantine and so they have no reason to submit to the congressional order anyway.  The Bishop finally points out that if Little Ones pose the same threat to the galaxy, and so their dreams of spaceflight must be equally impossible.  Ela thinks they could learn to fully control it one day, but Ender says congress will see this as another formic war, only this time the retroactive tragedy is averted: they'll obliterate Milagre and all of the Little Ones who've had human contact, and keep a compassionate blockade over the planet, no xenocide needed.
"You were there," said the Bishop. "You were there the first time, weren't you. When the buggers were destroyed."
I kind of love the way the Bishop just keeps grabbing historical facts out of intuition in order to make the situation sound more serious.  HEY READERS, REMEMBER HOW IMPORTANT ENDER IS?

Ouanda bursts in, Bosquinha tries to casually arrest her, and she blurts out that Miro's gone over the fence.  They scramble to call Dr Navio, but Ouanda says they can't get through the fence unless they shut it off, and congress has that control now.  Mandachuva strolls in and asks if this means they should eviscerate plant Miro, earning a chorus of horror.  Ender says they need to cut the ansibles immediately, and prods the Bishop with scriptures about leaving the ninety-nine safe sheep to save the lost one.  As they leave:
"Tell me, Speaker [...] if we rebelled against Starways Congress, would all the rules about contact with the piggies be ended?" 
"I hope so," said Ender. [....] 
"Then," said the Bishop, "we'd be able to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Little Ones, wouldn't we? There'd be no rule against it."
First priority: convert the heathens.  I feel like there are a lot of other theological questions to be addressed here first, such as "why" and "are we sure God wants humans to convert aliens" and "have you ever heard of the crusades", but given how we've had the Bishop characterised so far, I suppose his top concern is building his own authority by getting more laypeople under him.  I'm not a fan of proselytising for a variety of reasons, though I do figure it should be allowed (all else equal), but maybe we could spare like five minutes to think about power differentials and coercion and unequal access to information.

When they arrive at the fence, Novinha has already tried to climb it and Ela is holding her back from a second attempt.  Ela recaps the recap, that Miro tried and failed to numb himself with capim.  Ender talks to human, and says he'll bring down the fence and rebel against congress and bring them the hive queen, but only if they let him meet with the Wives to write a treaty first.  He gets a consensus, although Leaf-eater snarks at Human and Novinha is horrified that they're putting everyone in danger of evisceration like Pipo and Libo, and the Bishop's agreement is contigent on getting to preach to the Little Ones.
"Jane," murmured Ender. 
"That's why I love you," said Jane. "You can do anything, as long as I set up the circumstances just right."
Oh my god Jane Ender hasn't done anything.  Everyone reported the facts to each other: Ela's research, Novinha's conclusions, Miro and Ouanda's observation of the tree ritual, Reaper's understanding of how congress would react, the Bishop's desire to convert the Little Ones, all due to the crisis that you personally engineered.  I've played visual novels that were more demanding than Ender's role in this.

Jane 'cuts' the ansible, Ender climbs the fence and hauls Miro back over just as the doctor arrives, and Ouanda follows him over, saying she'll need his help if he's meeting with the Wives.  Ela does the same, and they take off into the woods.

Now, obviously they were going to rebel anyway, but:

1) Literally the only way anyone can think of to cross the agony fence is to declare planetary rebellion?  You till fields!  You mine!  You work steel!  You're supposedly advanced scientists!  Run a tractor through it, dynamite it, swing an axe through its power cables, literally any of the many techniques humanity can bring to bear against fence technology!

2) How the hell does this agony fence work?  It's a physical fence, clambered over like it's chain link, but its agony field not only radiates from the metal but in a vertical field projected upwards?  Does this not result in hundreds of bird corpses piling up on either side year after year as the more reckless of each generation misjudge how high the field is projected, or try to land on it?  Is there no safety suit or lead blanket that could be thrown over the top to make a safe passage?  Does the agony field pierce literally every known form of matter?

3) Why a fence?  Ostensibly it's to keep out the Little Ones, and they must not be allowed to see human technology (remember, Pipo was forbidden to use a ballpoint pen in their sight) but Miro and the Little Ones can see each other and converse through it, and it's structured so that an immune creature (or a robot, perhaps, given the AIs that humanity should be programming) can easily get handholds in the links?  You know what would have been literally a billion times more effective, if you were going to use a huge power-draining fence anyway?  A forcefield, like the ones used in Battle School.  Impassable by any force we're aware of save the Doctor Device, absolutely opaque, absolutely frictionless, and cheap enough to operate that they're used as doors on a space station.  Harder to climb over, but no chance for colossal neural damage in case of an accident!  (Miro's been damaged because he went over the top, but would the same thing not have happened if he tripped and fell face-first against the side of the fence one day?)

Next week: even when women are infertile, they're characterised as loud harridans with full responsibility for raising children.


*This is one of Card's things, the same principle that inspired him to say he was compelled to try to destroy any government that would dare attempt to enforce anything as society-ruining as same-sex marriage.  As yet, I haven't heard about him getting arrested for plotting his own insurrection, so I have to assume that he's either a hypocrite or he's changed his mind and he fully endorses marriage equality.  NO, CARD, PICK A SIDE OF MY FALSE DICHOTOMY AND LIKE IT.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

50 Shades Freed, prologue, in which its shortness is the nicest thing I can think to say about it

Well, about a year later, I finally return to this clusterfuck of a series. Updates will be sporadic (based on when my health allows me the mental ability, spoons, and snark to tackle this) but if there is an update, it will be on a Thursday. My goal is every other week, but I know I can't commit to that.

I tried to read this book in one go, with the intention to then go through it again and write about it chapter by chapter, but it was both too long and too awful. I honestly don't really remember what happened as far as I did read, so you all get to see my shock and disgust as I unearth these suppressed memories. Grab your drinks because you need to drink enough for both of us, dear reader.

You want to know how much I forgot? I forgot that this book opens with first-person baby Grey hanging around his Mom's corpse and being hungry and playing with cars. I--I'm not even going to quote any of it because

1) First person child narration, even when done well* is creepy and annoying.
2) EL James attempting to drama and angst porn is also creepy and annoying
3) Honestly, the writing in those two paragraphs is just such a jumble of bad I don't even know what to grab to demonstrate it.

So I will summarize: Grey hangs out with Mom-corpse, is hungry/thirsty and eats some unidentified gross stuff while puttering around not understanding that Mom isn't sleeping. Her drug-dealer ex turns up, freaks out, boots Grey in the head out of the way to investigate the body, calls the cops, and peaces out and locks the door. Cop turns up, grabs Grey who freaks out and... this leads to him forgetting how to words? Or running out of words? Even being put in this character's head at this moment, it's just all so... blunt force that I actually find myself less certain as to what is supposed to be going on with them.
Don’t touch me. I stay by Mommy. No. Stay away from me. The lady policeman has my blankie, and she grabs me. I scream. Mommy! Mommy! I want my Mommy. The words are gone. I can’t say the words. Mommy can’t hear me. I have no words.
OK, I get that we're trying to establish how he ended up doing the whole "not talking for a few years" thing (which, given the amount of therapy he was put in from such a young age, still does not seem quite feasible to me but I am not a child psychologist) and the whole "no touching" bit (that one seems more reasonable to me to have manifested in the way it did, even with being treated intensely from a young age) but eeeehhhh. At least EL James is trying to show, not tell? Like, it's an improvement.  (But she's already told us. Over. And over. And over. I no longer care to be shown.)

We then get a smash cut to Ana tearfully reassuring Grey in third person--and that is weird to me. Was EL James struggling to write Grey in first person? I get why it's not Ana, this scene is very much about Grey, but switching to third person (which we have not seen at any other point in the series) is a strange narrative choice that doesn't work for me. I think it would have worked better if the whole book was third person (James' third person is actually not nearly as terrible as her first person) or had stuck with Grey for the whole chapter.
“Ana.” He breathes her name, and it’s a talisman against the black choking panic coursing through his body.

“Hush, I’m here.” She curls around him, her limbs cocooning him, her warmth leeching into his body, forcing back the shadows, forcing back the fear. She is sunshine, she is light . . . she is his.

Grey is, as far as I can tell, in the middle of a panic attack when he wakes up. I am lucky enough to not have had a panic attack, but not all of my loved ones have been so lucky. For the sake of privacy I won't go into too much detail, but I'm like 90% sure you can't hug away a panic attack. I've tried. What surprises me is Grey, who until the last book had a lot of issues with touching, in a moment when he is, if not having a panic attack, on the cusp of maybe having one, isn't set off more by touching. That seems like it would be more internally consistent. I mean, I get Ana apparently has some high level cleric spells (she's been power leveling between books it seems) that have allowed her to become light incarnate (that's gotta be at least a level 10 spell) but being able to magic away deep rooted psychological problems is still some hella high-leveled shit and I don't think she's had enough time between books to both power level AND become a shrink. However on top of not being a child psychologist, I am actually not any kind of psychologist, so this is not my area of expertise. (That involves fire. So much fire).

I also see that even in third person Grey is claiming Ana as "his". That will never not be weird to me. I will sometimes claim The Husbeast's** limbs as my own, and ignore his protests of needing them, and there is nothing sexy or romantic about this. I do it entirely to harass him. So when I see someone claiming another person as their own, I associate it with all the wrong things and it's either creepy and Gollum-like or involves evil giggling followed by trying to hide the other person under the blanket and hope they're not like birds and think that nothing else exists now.
“Please let’s not fight.” His voice is hoarse as he wraps his arms around her.
 You were just asleep what? How does that even? I don't?

“The vows. No obeying. I can do that. We’ll find a way.” The words rush out of his mouth in a tumble of emotion and confusion and anxiety.

Dude this is a hell of a non-sequitur. I assume they were fighting about this before bed? I mean, they fight constantly in book 2 so that seems like another Tuesday in their household. I kind of like that we're being told he's disoriented and confused and anxious here--not just shaking off the (almost?) panic attack. I guess even Ana's high level light-magic healing spells can't even do that (I'd look into taking some levels in healing if I could) and as annoyingly unrealistic as Grey's feelings and trauma is--bouncing wildly between melodramatic and "tidied up neatly by the end of the episode" levels of simplicity--I do appreciate when James hits on something resembling human.

I am a concerned for Ana that Grey is only agreeing to compromise on her not agreeing to obey him, in front of all their friends and family (a call that seems painfully obvious on her part), when he's like this. Grey is shaken and upset, and Ana is the one thing (he thinks) that can help. It is taking that to have him say "OK, I need (not want) you in my life because you fix a thing, so I will do what it takes to keep you here so you can keep fixing that, 'kay?" which is still shitty and unhealthy and so typically Grey.

“Yes. We will. We’ll always find a way,” she whispers and her lips are on his, silencing him, bringing him back to the now.


That brings us to the end of the prologue (it is, unlike every other chapter, blissfully short). Keep an eye on twitter (@SnappyErika) or tumblr (for those of you lamenting Will not being on twitter, he IS on tumblr!) for news on updates, or, you know, come back and check the 50 Shades Freed tag. Do what feels good friends. As always, your comments encourage me to forge forward into this awful, and I need all the encouragement I can get. Till another Thursday! Erika out!

*I could not finish this book because while it was very well written and engaging in a horrific sort of way my inherent lack of ability to kids made it too hard to get through for me.
**He was promoted from The Boy after we got married, and a reminder since I've been away and it keeps coming up in comments on older posts, Will and The Husbeast are not the same person. [WW note: It is impossible to overstate how important this distinction is.]

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter sixteen, part one, in which everyone breaks character

It's so disorienting to have things actually happening in the latter half of the book.  Card mentions in the introduction that his original vision for the novel began with the Speaker arriving to speak Marcos' quite normal non-mysterious death, ordinary Tuesday.  Kinda shows; all the plot is on this end.

(Content: death, violent imagery, victim blaming.  Fun content: depends how into religious doctrine you are.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 277--294
Chapter Sixteen: The Fence

This chapter opens with Bible AU fanfic.  Specifically, it's about John 8:1-11, 'let the one without sin cast the first stone', etc, and it has an interestingly controversial history about whether it's 'real' gospel or not.  You can pick your favourite version of the Bible from a drop-down menu on that site, but here, in Ye Must Love Reapers' translation of San Angelo's writings about Ender's fanfic, we get two different parables about how the rabbi (explicitly not Jesus) reacts.
He takes the woman by the hand and leads her out of the market. just before he lets her go, he whispers to her, "Tell the lord magistrate who saved his mistress. Then he'll know I am his loyal servant." 
So the woman lives, because the community is too corrupt to protect itself from disorder.
This interpretation doesn't work for me--the rabbi is corrupt, and he argues for the woman to be spared out of mercy, but it wasn't the rabbi's corruption that actually saved her; it was the decision of the crowd based on their agreement with the philosophy that the rabbi suggested.  There's exactly one corrupt person in the community as described, and his power is voluntary.

In the second take, the rabbi waits for everyone else to drop their stones, then grabs one and murders the woman himself.
"Nor am I without sin," he says to the people. "But if we allow only perfect people to enforce the law, the law will soon be dead, and our city with it." 
So the woman died because her community was too rigid to endure her deviance.
Again, we have this confusion between 'community' and 'rabbi'.  The rest of the crowd was completely willing to relent, but the rabbi took sole responsibility as judge/jury/executioner.  This only makes sense in Card's world, where the only people who actually do anything and thus count as 'community' are the protagonists, and everyone else is furniture.

San Angelo concludes by talking about how this illustrates Jesus' daring optimism (expecting people to show mercy while preserving the law') and I wonder just how much harder Card can push the Ender-is-Messiah button.

We catch up with Miro doing a Walk of Despondency because his girlfriend is his sister, his father wasn't his father, his boss was his father, and the Little Ones are Space Dryads.  Hell of a day.  There's some casual sex-shaming when he wonders if Libo and Novinha hooked up inside the Xenobiologist's Station, or "was it more discreet, rutting in the grass like hogs on the fazendas?"  Stay classy, Miro.  He arrives at the gate in the village fence and makes the eminently sensible decision to deal with his pain by living in the woods forever.  (Not that I haven't considered that on long days myself.)
He laid his right hand on the identification box and reached out his left to pull the gate. For a split second he didn't realize what was happening. Then his hand felt like it was on fire, like it was being cut off with a rusty saw, he shouted and pulled his left hand away from the gate. Never since the gate was built had it stayed hot after the box was touched by the Zenador's hand.
The gate then informs him that his authority has been revoked, and he and Ouanda are to hand themselves over to the mayor and be shipped to Trondheim to stand trial.  He panic-mopes that no one will be able to tell the Little Ones what's happened, about how every trace of the colony will be destroyed, instinctively grabs for the gate and gets zapped again.  He waves, hoping to catch the attention of a Little One, but he expects the mayor to arrive shortly since the gate is apparently under observation.  (It isn't.  Their concepts of privacy are so weird.)  Miro starts walking beside the fence and hooting, the sound that he and Ouanda use to call each other in the forest (you remember all the times they've done that before this exact moment, right? Nah) and hoping that it will summon one of the Little Ones out of the woods, even though he's apparently only ever used it to call Ouanda and specifically not one of the Little Ones.  I don't even know.

In THE BISHOP's office, Quim is petulantly receiving the we're-not-having-a-witch-hunt-for-your-mother lecture.  He asserts that Ender is indeed the devil and he's never going home, and when the Bishop points out that Jesus forgave everyone and we can't all have the Blessed Virgin for our moms, Quim similarly tries to cast Catholicism and speaking as inherently opposed:
"Has the church made way here for the speakers for the dead? Should we tear down the Cathedral and use the stones to make an amphitheater where all our dead can be slandered before we lay them in the ground?"
The Bishop shuts him down, puts forth the more reasonable suggestion that Ender should have only told the people personaly involved what he knew and let them decide for themselves what to do.  Quim is unmoved by the evidence that his mother loves him, but the Bishop points out that under Catholic doctrine, if she had confessed, she would have been completely forgiven without ever telling anyone else the truth, and then shuffles Quim off to pray for forgiveness for not showing forgiveness.

For a science fiction classic about an atheist hero relating to an alien species whose 'religion' is scientifically accurate, I don't think this book could possibly spend more time talking about comparative religion.

The Bishop's secretary lets Ender in, and when the Bishop doesn't rise to meet him, Ender kneels and waits.  Eventually the Bishop approaches, holds out his hand for a ring kiss, but Ender doesn't move and eventually the Bishop asks if he's being mocked.  Ender relates that bit of backstory about his parents being "a closet Catholic and a lapsed Mormon", which the Bishop finds way too convenient.  He also does the math right quick and determines that the last time it was forbidden to be Catholic anywhere in the galaxy was pre-galactic-colonisation Earth, three millennia earlier, and determines that this means Ender was a Third.  I've increasingly liked the Bishop over the last chapter (apparently the Battle School rules about horrendous adversity magically transforming you into a better person still hold true), but this just feels like extra-gratuitous continuity in order to remind us that this book is definitely a sequel to Ender's Game.

There's more back-and-forth about what was the right thing to do and who needs blessings and when Ender found out about Miro and Ouanda's Questionable Activities (in the non-making-out, contravention-of-interstellar-law sense of the term) before the Mayor arrives, and then they both go back to being typical jackwagons.
"I've always been respectful of authority," said the Speaker. 
"You were the one who threatened us with an Inquisitor," the Bishop reminded him. With a smile. 
The Speaker's smile was just as chilly. "And you're the one who told the people I was Satan and they shouldn't talk to me."
Oh my god Ender you didn't deign to talk to them anyway you just magically intuited everything Jane hadn't gotten around to telling you.  Am I supposed to feel tension?  Because I can't say that people being snippy and giving each other refrigerated smiles is really gripping prose.  I've written scenes like that and I always get huge warning bells in my head because I get bored writing them, and if I'm bored while writing, the reader will be bored while reading.  The Bishop's power is largely by convention and Ender's power is by narrative fiat; I don't care if they like each other.

Ender says they have to wait until Novinha arrives, so we cut to Ela finding Novinha out in the grass by their house.
Her mother had not worn he hair down in many years. It looked strangely free, all the more so because Ela could see how it curled and bent where it had been so long forced into a bun. It was then that she knew that the Speaker was right. Mother would listen to his invitation. [....] Mother is glad, thought Ela, to have it known that Libo was her real husband, that Libo is my true father. Mother is glad, and so am I.
Not that literally letting one's hair down can't be a sign of relaxation and freedom from crushing secrecy, but I'm not sure what makes Ela so sure it's that, and not, say the outward sign of someone who believes they have nothing left to lose and so sees no reason to be bound by social strictures or expectations.  She's an alien biologist; she above all others on the planet has potential now to go full badass Mad Scientist.  In a more interesting book...

Novinha says yes, she'll go, and yes, she'll tell them everything she knows about the Descolada, and says that she never told Ela because Ela was doing better xenobiology on her own:
"You're my apprentice. I have complete access to your files without leaving any footprints. What kind of master would I be if I didn't watch your work?" 
"I also read the files you hid under Quara's name. You've never been a mother, so you didn't know that all the file activities of a child under twelve are reported to the parents every week."

So, to recap, children can hide nothing from parents, apprentices can hide nothing from masters, and Novinha spent twenty-two years trying to hide the secret of the Descolada from everyone but also approvingly watching over her daughter/apprentice as she tried to piece the genetic theory together while also forbidding her access to the Descolada files that she personally didn't fully understand anyway.  I have no adequate words.  This is just a blatant against-character retcon for the sake of making Novinha suddenly seem reasonable now that it's not important to the plot for her to be supremely irrational.

Novinha does still hate Ender and is betrayed that her children trust him so implicitly but not their own mother.  Now, I'm all on-board with hating Ender, but Novinha just admitted that she's been secretly spying on her kids and erratically denying Ela information while putting up a front of disinterest, so I don't think she should be surprised she's not everyone's closest confidante.

Ela is still totally convinced that all the pain is Novinha's fault:
"I love Libo, the way everybody in Milagre loved him. But he was willing to be a hypocrite, and so were you, and without anybody even guessing, the poison of your lies hurt us all."
We went over this a while back, but the only aspect of Libo and Novinha's secret affair that has obviously contributed to harm in the town is that Miro and Ouanda didn't know not to make out.  Everything else is directly attributable to Marcos' abuse, Novinha's neglect, and the disinterest of everyone else in the colony.  That can only be blamed on Novinha if you think that Marcos' abuse and everyone else's disinterest is directly, 100% the inevitable result of Novinha not being nice enough.
"It's easy to tell the truth," said mother softly, "when you don't love anybody." 
"Is that what you think?" said Ela. "I think I know something, Mother. I think you can't possibly know the truth about somebody unless you love them. I think the Speaker loved Father. Marcão, I mean. I think he understood him and loved him before he spoke."
Our evidence for this is... look, we'll get back to that.

(Is it weird to anyone else that in the space of two hours all of Novinha's kids have stopped thinking of Marcos as their 'father'?  Libo's literal only contribution to any of them but Miro was genetic.  Sure, if they see this as a good time to reject the idea that the verbal abuser they lived with deserves any familial loyalty, they're welcome to do that, but it's hard not to see this instead as a logical offshoot of Card's obsessive fetish for genetic lines.)

But really, why should we think that Ender loved Marcos?  What did he do that demonstrated this deep and abiding compassion--explain to everyone in town that it was all Novinha's doing?  He gave them context for Marcos' death, but come on, that's the job of journalists and biographers and no one says that their jobs are driven by an all-encompassing love.  The things Ender told us about Marcos were obvious, surface facts (he was burly, he was surly, he fixated on the one time a pretty girl was nice to him) that he found out with about five minutes' "research" from publicly available sources.  The secrets he revealed were scientific facts that Jane worked out in thirty seconds.  None of this required a special love.  If this is going to be Card's core thesis, he's going to need to justify it much more extensively.

But Novinha breaks down and embraces her daughter and swears she has always loved her, and Ela reflects on how Ender has finally erased the barriers between them.
"You're thinking about that damnable Speaker even now, aren't you?" whispered her mother. 
"So are you," Ela answered.
I imagine that's a problem a lot of people in this galaxy have during intimate moments.

(There's a very wise proverb: "The best safeword is 'as a white man I think that', because it can kill any mood.")

We'll leave off here for this week, so we won't get around to the Insurmountable Waist-High Fence until next time.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter fifteen, part two, in which Ender is accidentally honest

It's been a week and still I am continually struck by new layers or wrong and terrible in Ender's Speaking.  If, perchance, you are an avid reader but you haven't delved into all the comments on last Sunday's post, enrich yourself by doing so now, because this book is fractally bad and its depths are worth exploring.  (I'll also take a moment to thank all my readers, commenters and silent alike.  Y'all provide me with the drive to keep at this.)  It got to the point where I grabbed Ender's Shadow off the shelf and started flipping through it again, because Shadow has always been my favourite and I've always planned to proceed to it after Speaker for the sake of ending on a high note, but... Card's work is so wretched that I'm struggling with how much more time I want to spend with his creations.  Shadow benefits enormously from its unreliable narrator, because that means that when Bean is being a jackass, the odds are that we're supposed to judge him harshly for it, and when he thinks someone is useless, odds are that he's going to recant later when he grasps their value.  On the other hand, Card has continually proven unworthy of the benefit of the doubt.  A matter to keep considering.

(Content: authoritarian government, anti-Catholic caricature, hypothetical incest. Fun content: Police Chief Broomley Fermentington.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 247--256
(Chapter Fifteen from the start to the Speaking)

The opening dialogue extract is about the fence, and there are several layers to examine in just a few sentences.  Human is asking why the other humans never come to see the Little Ones, and when Miro says no one else is allowed through the Fence of Pain, Human refuses to say whether he's ever touched it, but does say this this is stupid because there's grass on both sides, and that's all we get.  Miro doesn't ask what the grass has to do with it, because that would be plot-relevant, basically.  I still don't understand the rules about what he can and can't say.  He can say that he's the only one allowed through the fence, but not that the others are barred by law, or that they're afraid, or that the interactions between humans and Little Ones are considered very special to humans and so only the Zenadors can meet with them, in the same way that only certain people are allowed to meet the Wives.  What in the world could he possibly reveal about humanity's secrets by saying "What's so special about the grass?" except that we don't know what's so special about the grass?  And on Human's side, after a couple of decades of human-Little One interaction, he must realise that the fence was put there intentionally by humans and they stay inside voluntarily, not because they're caged.  He already thought the humans knew what the grass does (Little Ones use it as an anesthetic) so what harm does he think there would be in explaining that to Miro and seeing what they do?  Gnar.

The chapter proper starts an hour before sunset, when Mayor Bosquinha arrives at THE BISHOP's office and finds the chief COTMOCs, whose titles I will continue to translate as the properly terrifying Reaper and Harrow, already there.  There's some reflection on how much the Bishop sucks, because he thinks of himself as the master of the colony just because they're all gathered in his office, even though the mayor called the meeting.  No one forgot we're supposed to hate the bishop, right?  Cool.

The mayor calls up a holographic projection of a mess of cubes, vaguely pyramidally stacked, mostly red and some blue, which the COTMOCs immediately take as a dire indication even though we'll never actually be told what the colour-coding means.  The Bishop remains confused, and time is short, so the Mayor only takes two full pages to get to the point.  First, we need to discuss chauvinism as a virtue!
"I was very young when I was appointed to be Governor of the new Lusitania Colony. [Young?  I am shocked.] It was a great honor to be chosen, a great trust [....] What the committee apparently overlooked was the fact that I was already suspicious, deceptive, and chauvinistic." 
"These are virtues of yours that we have all come to admire," said Bishop Peregrino. 
Bosquinha smiled. "My chauvinism meant that as soon as Lusitania Colony was mine, I became more loyal to the interests of Lusitania than to the interests of the Hundred Worlds or Starways Congress. [....] We are not a colony [...] We are an experiment. I examined our charter and license and all the Congressional Orders pertaining to us, and I discovered that the normal privacy laws did not apply to us."
You guys, I laughed so hard when I read this the first time.  Normal privacy laws?!  All one-and-a-half of them?  The only thing that surprises me about privacy laws in this universe is that there isn't an executive mandate requiring all teenagers' journals to be broadcast over billboards in a constant stream of awkward earnestness.  Also, it hadn't occurred to me until now, but I note that Lusitania has no democracy whatsoever.  The GoverMayor was appointed by congress and the bureaucracy is run by the church.  This system is begging to fill with corruption until it's pouring out of every window.

The Mayor went on to put a program in place to monitor intrusions, of which she says there have been few over the years, except some predictable spying after Pipo and Libo's deaths.  (Hey, does this mean that Congress grabbed the Descolada files after all, in spite of Novinha's protections, and they've got secret labs around the galaxy researching this doom plague under maximum classification?  Oh, look, it's another premise that would be way more exciting than anything else going on right now: the quest to find the government's labs before someone weaponises this wicked alien DNA-eater.)  The other two incidents have been recent, starting three days earlier:
"When the Speaker for the Dead arrived," said Bishop Peregrino. 
Bosquinha was amused that the Bishop obviously regarded the Speaker's arrival as such a landmark date that he instantly made such a connection.
Ender's the first outsider to come to the colony in a century and the Bishop publicly declared that he is the servant of the devil; of course he considers it a landmark date.  What the hell else could this possibly mean?  Does the privacy override mean that Bosquina has seen his STAY OUT--BISHOPS ONLY folders where he's photoshopped Ender's face over Jesus and scrawled a big heart with an arrow through it around the border?

There have been two scans since then.  One was obviously Jane, browsing everything relate to the xenologers and xenobiologists at blitzing speed, walking through all security protocols like nothing.  They mull what congressional pull Ender might have.
Dom Crisão nodded wisely. "San Angelo once wrote--in his private journals, which no one but the Children of the Mind ever read--" 
The Bishop turned on him with glee. "So the Children of the Mind do have secret writings of San Angelo!" 
"Not secret," said Dona Cristã. "Merely boring. Anyone can read the journals, but we're the only ones who bother."
I feel like a solid 60% of this book could be summed up with 'fucking Catholics, amirite?' and Card would still have made about the same quality argument.
"What he wrote," said Dom Cristão, "was that Speaker Andrew is older than we know. Older than Starways Congress, and in his own way perhaps more powerful." 
Bishop Peregrino snorted. "He's  boy. Can't be forty years old yet."
I am questioning all of the life choices that led to me reading this book.  Also, oh my god, there has been a religious order of monks reading about the myth of the ancient Speaker Andrew for two thousand years and none of them have bothered conducting the research that it would take to find out that he's Ender Wiggin, which Plikt managed to do in four years based on a hunch while maintaining a full time job as a grad student.

The Mayor calls them out on their derails and explains that there's a scan happening at that very moment, apparently copying all Lusitanian files offworld and priming to delete everything on the colony as soon as it's done.  The Bishop sputters about how this is something Congress would do to worlds "in rebellion", and I wonder what that even means in a galaxy where communications are instant, ships take decades to travel between worlds, and a single yacht with a double-barrelled raygun can destroy a planet in five seconds.  Do they refuse to pay taxes?  What possible use could there be for interplanetary taxes?

The COTMOCs already noticed the intrusion, transferred all their records to other COTMOC monasteries "at great expense" (how, how does the ansible cost anything and how do they get the money to pay for it), but they realise that Congress will probably not allow a digital restoration, so they're now furiously printing hardcopies of the most important stuff.  I wonder what that is, on this tiny single-purpose colony.  We'll never find out, obviously.  The Bishop is furious that he wasn't informed and so couldn't start printing things himself, but the Mayor insists:
"[...] even if we began this morning, when the intrusion started, we could not have printed out more than a hundredth of one percent of the files that we access every day."
What in blazes are they doing on this planet?!  My day job involves cross-comparisons of documentation relating to government programs totalling millions of dollars of resources in action and I could print out all the documents I need to access in the average month in, at best, a morning.  I know printer technology has advanced a lot in the thirty years since this book was published, but these people are three or four millennia ahead of us.

Bosquinha noticed something else important: Ender is invisible; he has no files in Lusitanian memory and so would be immune to congressional action.  The Bishop furiously demands if they're suggesting they email Ender all of their files, and the Mayor says she's already done so:
"It was a high priority transfer, at local speeds, so it runs much faster than the Congressional copying. I am offering you a chance to make a similar transfer, using my highest priority so that it takes precedence over all other local computer usage."
What exactly does "local speeds" mean when interplanetary computer communications are literally instantaneous?  Is it a bandwidth thing?  But they've already said that Ender's files aren't part of Lusitanian memory, so must that not mean that they aren't local and they still have to be beamed offworld?  Or does she just mean that Jane moves all his files to wherever he is but keeps them invisible in local memory?  I'm just saying, Doctor Who has more robust explanations of computer science, and they have clockwork robots.

Reaper excitedly accepts and Harrow sets about queuing emails up via the Mayor's login on the Bishop's terminal, and I'm briefly reminded of the many Dramatic Conference Calls of the Left Behind novels.  Telecommunications are the stuff of real narrative action.  The Bishop also accepts and snarks at anyone who thought that he would put his pride over taking "the only way God has opened for us to preserve the vital records of the Church", so I guess this is the turning point Jane was aiming for where everyone bands together against evil congress, and we realise the Bishop (who keeps leatherbound copies of the Bible so congress can never steal the word of God from him) is actually not necessarily such a bad guy after all.
He smiled. Maliciously, of course.

Enough of this scene.  There's more dramatic organising and prioritising of spreadsheets, then the Mayor mentions that Ender plans to speak Marcos' death that evening, in just a few minutes.  Reaper says he wants to hear the man who spoke San Angelo's death, and the Bishop snarks that he'll send a representative (though as we know from last week he'll actually show up in person).  They leave, and the Mayor, walking alone, wonders what Miro and Ouanda must have done to trigger this kind of action.  She's sharp enough to realise that it has to have been their doing (she sadly misses the possibility that it's a flailing attempt to capture Ender now that he's been lured into a dead end*) but she can't imagine what they've done.
It was a very good thing that governments under the Starways Code were forbidden to own any instruments of punishment that might be used for torture. For the first time in her life, Bosquinha felt such fury that she might use such instruments, if she had them.
Moral response: you haven't even asked them yet woman why are you thinking about torture before you've even had a chance to say 'we're in trouble what have you done' you are not fit to lead a samba let alone a colony.

Practical response: Mayor, I don't know if anyone's told you, but your entire village is surrounded by a fence that projects some kind of electromagnetic agony field.  You literally live inside an instrument "that might be used for torture".

Speaking of torture and speaking, next is the part where Ender forces the entire colony listen to him be terrible for fifteen pages.  Skipping ahead:

Speaker for the Dead: p. 270--276

In the aftermath of Ender's echoing jackwagonry, Novinha's children cluster around her (Olhado, Ela, Quara, and Grego wailing that "all my papas are dead").
Ender stood behind the platform, looking at Novinha's family, wishing he could do something to ease their pain. There was always pain after a speaking, because a speaker for the dead did nothing to soften the truth.
Don't blame him; he's just being honest!
Ender knew from the faces that looked up at him as he spoke that he had caused great pain today. He had felt it all himself, as if they had passed their suffering to him.
You know, as much as I love the X-Wing series and the Thrawn books and especially Traitor, I'm generally pretty critical of the Star Wars novels, especially the later series, especially Legacy of the Force, which took everything brilliant about Traitor and burned it down out of panic and reactionary cries for simplistic, objective moral binarism.  Traitor made the New Jedi Order salvageable, and Legacy of the Force made made it irredeemable again.  But even then, in the midst of ruining all that prior authors had earned, there was something they did right: there was a character who thought that he was so empathetic, that he felt other people's pain so intensely, that he was allowed to inflict harm on the innocent and still be the hero.  And that guy was the evil wretch who almost destroyed galactic civilisation, moping all the way about how hard it was and how much he suffered when he hurt people.  The worst dross of Star Wars pulp novels has a sturdier and more nuanced moral core than this award-winning classic.

What I'm saying, Ender, is that if they had "passed their suffering" to you, they wouldn't be getting crushed by it right now.  What you're feeling is what normal humans call 'compassion', and it means nothing unless it drives you to action.

The Mayor comes to meet him, "extremely upset, barely under control at all", to report that his starship has been commandeered by Congress.  Ender immediately guesses that Congress is responding to something Miro and Ouanda have done, and says he won't let them go.
"Let me tell you why you will let them go, why we'll all let them go to stand trial. Because Congress has stripped our files. The computer memory is empty except for the most rudimentary programs that control our power supply, our water, our sewer. Tomorrow now work can be done because we haven't enough power to run any of the factories, to work in the mines, to power the tractors. I have been removed from office. I am now nothing more than the deputy chief of police, to see that the directives of the Lusitanian Evacuation Committee are carried out."
Not to miss the point, but shouldn't the actual chief of police be involved in this conversation as well?  Or, given how excellently they apparently enforce the law on this planet and conduct investigations, is the chief of police's schedule full because the chief is a burlap sack full of inedible grains wearing a cowboy hat and a monocle?

Ender is a bit surprised at the evacuation, and the Mayor explains that the colony is being revoked, and I can't tell if anyone remembers that it'll probably take thirty years or more for ships to arrive (unless Trondheim just happens to have ships on hand to move a few thousand people and their stuff).  Apparently once Miro and Ouanda are en route to Trondheim, Congress will restore access to their necessities.  Ender cracks up hearing that they saved their key files by emailing them to him.  He suggests that, the instant they restore their files from his access, they cut off the ansibles.
"Then we really would be in rebellion. And for what?" 
"For the chance to make Lusitania the best and most important of the Hundred Worlds. [....] Please,this place is too important for the chance to be missed." 
"The chance for what?" 
"To undo what Ender did in the Xenocide three thousand years ago."
'Undo' will remain an overly strong word until such time as Ender learns how to literally resurrect the dead queens.  There's a lot else to say here, but I've said all of it long ago when first asking why Ender didn't just take the hive queen away to an uninhabited planet far from human cities or any other creatures.  The Mayor agrees to try to convince the COTMOCs and the Bishop to properly rebel, and runs off.  Then, briefly, Jane:
"Don't let them sever the ansible connection. [....] I can make them think you've cut off your ansible, but if you really do it then I won't be able to help you."
Ender first accuses her of setting all this in motion, then starts trying to apologise for cutting her off, promising to never do it again, but she doesn't speak again.  He thinks it's enough to know she's still there, still listening.
Ender was surprised to find tears on his cheeks. Tears of relief, he decided. Catharsis. A speaking, a crisis, people's lives in tatters, the future of the colony in doubt. And I cry in relief because an overblown computer program is speaking to me again.
Huh, yeah.  That's true, Ender.  It's almost as if other people's enormous pain doesn't actually impact you half as much as you like to tell yourself it does, but you're extremely concerned with whether special individuals still think you're the most important being in the galaxy.  How curious and inexplicable.

Ela is waiting for Ender in his shack.  She's predictably shocked; she thought she had guessed all of her mother's important secrets.  She's especially pained for Miro and Ouanda; Ender says the cruelty was their not knowing for so long, and now they can solve it themselves; Ela grimly suggests that, as an even worse sequel to their mother, her brother will secretly bang his half-sister for the rest of their lives.

Ender asks for help, saying he needs to know immediately how the Descolada works, and so needs Ela to convince Novinha to help him.  He demonstrates that Congress has enacted a computer lockdown, reveals the charges against Miro and Ouanda, and his plan for rebellion.  Though at first Ela said that Novinha wouldn't speak to him, she assures Ender that, for her children, for Miro, she would in fact do anything.
For a moment she sat still. Then a synapse connected somewhere, and she stood up and hurried toward the door. 
She stopped. She came back, embraced him, kissed him on the cheek. "I'm glad you told it all," she said. "I'm glad to know it." 
He kissed her forehead and sent her on her way.
I prefer to think that Ela realised that she had dropped character for a moment and so had to quickly recover by acting like she had, as usual, instantly forgiven him and has no plans to extract recompense for his cruelty.  Ender then flops on his bed and thinks about how he would trade Novinha all her pain in exchange for a child who trusted him as much as Ela trusts her mother to do the right thing.  Ender's making a powerful bid to have his signature move changed from 'Murder everyone who displeases me' to 'Wallow in how awesome I am because I know how much other people overestimate the significance of their pain'.

Next week: Literally everyone forgets how fences work.

*Oh my god, how great would it be if the Little Ones were actually genetically-engineered and everything on Lusitania was actually a century-long hoax intended to trap the invisible untouchable vagabond Xenocide?  Put him on a planet without the manufacturing capacity to build starships, infect it with a plague that means no one can ever leave lest they kill whole worlds, cut off its ansibles for rebelling, and that goddamn Speaker for the Dead is safely defused with the full support of the general public.