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. Marc√£o, 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.


  1. Just how many times has Card gone back over this whole "wow, he's been around three thousand years. He's old enough to be the very first speaker. Or even the hated xenocide Ender" thing so far? And how many more times is he going to go over it? Because I'm getting really sick of it, and we've noted earlier that it doesn't actually translate into more wisdom or experience or even age for Ender, so I don't see why anyone would give a shit.

  2. It's exciting! With this person figure out that he's not just old enough to be the first speaker, he is the first speaker! And the xenocide! OMG!

    No, Card, it's not exciting. Not even a tiny bit.

    And the galaxy Card built should have all kinds of people who've "lived" for hundreds or thousands of years. Ender isn't special in this regard. Bringing it up all the time makes it seem like either the people in the book or Card himself keep forgetting how space travel works in this universe.

  3. Ugh. Here comes the painful, agonizing ABLEISM. It makes me want to scream in horror. Plus, it took me years to notice it too.

  4. This is just so bizarre. I don't even remember most of this. Card's weird fetish for genetic lineage is creepy, though to be perfectly honest it's even worse in everything else I've read of his (ugh, why did I waste so much of my life reading Card's literary defecations...).

    I remember even when I first read this and bought into most of the BS thinking the bizarre rewrites of Bible fanfic (let's face it, the Pericope Adulterae is Bible fanfic, so what Card's writing here is actually fanfic of fanfic, or the equivalent of fanfic of Fifty Shades of Grey. fanfanfiction? metafanfiction?) made no bloody sense. You've done a very good job of parsing out why here; to me they had just seemed bizarre but I couldn't put my finger on anything specific.

    Also, is it just me or does that exchange with the smiles between Ender and the Bishop read as vaguely flirtatious to anyone else?

  5. I've already plugged Ursula K. LeGuin as a great anti-Card, but it should be noted again that she not only invented the "ansible" word & concept in SciFi (inter-planetary instant communication), she also did a *great* job writing a believable galaxy with Nearly-As-Fast-As-Light (NAFAL) travel, including the effects of time-dilation on galaxy-wide history and communications. (Both of these concepts have been ripped off by other writers, but Card is especially egregious in that he stole the concepts without understanding them properly or using them well.)

    LeGuin's Hainish cycle features a loose association of worlds known as The Ekkumen, which doesn't play around with ridiculous personal file privacy settings or pointless interplantery legal proceedings. They just like to learn about each other, and create a vast sharing of knowledge of all human species (LeGuin's humans are sub-species of the Hainish originals set down on numbers of worlds during a Hainish colonial period so long ago it has been completely forgotten by most indigenous human cultures.)

    ANYway, to set up this loose coalition, the Ekkumen trains Mobiles and Stabiles and Observers, who are trained on Hain and travel about helping world cultures to gradually evolve towards freedom and equality. But every Ekkumenical agent is trained on cultural info that is decades out of date by the time they reach their assignments. They are also always losing each other to time-dilation. A common saying among those who live in study-ships and move around from station to station is "Goodbye, we're dead", because if one stays, the other will never come back in time to see them again, and the other will be dead by the time their friend reaches their destination.

    It makes much more scientific and logical sense, and also avoids the idiotic pitfall Card has created by making Ender Just the Speshalest by having him seemingly be only the second person (after Mazar Rackham, don't forget about that Plot Device) to have used time-dilation to skip ahead into "The Future". In conclusion, read more Ursula K. LeGuin. I really can't stress that enough.

  6. That could be where to go once I'm finished with these books.

  7. Card combining other people's concepts and common concepts explains why the worldbuilding is so weird. Or rather his failure to think through how (or if) that combination of concepts would work. (Many authors combine ideas, but some thought generally help.)

  8. "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."

    I'm gonna say, as a mother, I have zero interest in knowing everything my kid eventually gets up to online. Thinking about it now for this time I would get an avalanche of emails, facebook notices, tumblr spam, youtube, it would be waaaay too much! I mean, give me an hour on the computer and I'll use the hell out of that hour. It'll take you at least an hour to review it.

    Who compiles this? Is there a spy AI program that just tattles on everyone in the colony all the time? Do people have a choice about receiving the tattles? I mean, if I got a text from a program saying "OMG your husband looked at porn!" I'd be like, "okay program, good for him. *block*" It's very strange.
    I like to imagine that there is an actual office of humans who compile the info and then have to meet weekly with individuals in person to review the "activities" they are reporting on.

  9. Octavia Butler. Now THERE'S an interesting writer! She's way more complex and enjoyable than OSC I think.

  10. I love Octavia Butler, but I have to take months-long breaks between reading her books to emotionally recover. Brilliant, but brutal.

  11. Oh, so Kindred isn't exceptional for her? I was hoping it was, because I hear phenomenal things about her, but I had to read Kindred for class this term, do not want more of that.

  12. So Jane alerts the Starways Congress to the Prime Directive shenanigans going on, sparkling the clearing off the planet of humans, so Ender can finally lay down his Formic burden, even though buddy knows where to put all the humans suffering from the Descolada yet, and then Ender decides he wants to help the population by Speaking about abuse, affairs, and the general apathy of the population toward helping others...

    ...and we're supposed to be surprised that someone is calling for a pitchfork-and-torches mob.

    I'm surprised that nobody has attempted to kill Ender at this point, myself, Catholicism be sent to Sheol.

  13. Holy frik! You've just hit on something rather important. Weren't Lusitanians forbidden to ever leave due to the Descolada? Why in space would they have two Lusitanians carry the incurable supposedly quarantined bug to a whole other planet, never mind the problem of what to do with the rest of the colonists. They'd hold the trial by ansible. And I'm not sure we want to think of the colony's logical fate, because all I see are tombstones.

  14. Umm, unfortunately not, but I have to say Kindred was even more so in this regard (i.e. making your emotions feel like someone took a cheese-grater to them.) I read the Parables duet first, and found them fascinating and real in a visceral way, like reading an actual future-woman's autobiography in an increasingly broken-down America. So it was rough going, but still bearable. Kindred was a whole other level. I'm halfway thru the Patternmaster books now. Taking a break again, but they are definitely less of a downer than Kindred.

  15. Good to know, thanks.

  16. Yep. If there were a trial, it would be remotely-adjudicated. I think the logical fate there didn't leave anyone to make tombstones - just a faintly smoking crater where a colony once stood.

  17. This book is 90% plot hole. And I may be being generous.

  18. Well, they wouldn't get to that other planet for twenty-odd years, which here in the real world is usually enough time to figure out how to contain an infectious disease. If nothing else, they could confine Miro and Ouanda to Judiciary Quarantine Zone XXXX, with air recycling and thermonuclear sewage disposal, and conduct the trial via telefactor muppets in adorable hazmat suits.

    That said, Card being Card, I'm sure the correct alternate future is "and then they infected everyone on that planet, and then they infected everyone on every planet, and everyone died and went to hell Because They Didn't Listen To Ender."

  19. It's already been more than twenty years since the Descolada was discovered. Now, Novinha has been stifling research there on Lusitania, and no one in the galaxy can science, but you'd still think they'd have come farther than No One Leaves the Planet.

    Since they haven't, though, it's bizarre that the Descolada just seems to have been forgotten at this point. I swear, this is like a non-comedy version of the galaxy in Keith Laumer's Retief stories. It's the only other sci-fi I can think of with this level of blustering incompetence. (When your serious business sci-fi keeps making people think of comedies, you're probabaly doing something wrong.)

  20. Kindred is brutal. There's a 2 book series of hers that is also very brutal. I just love Xenogenesis though. So. Good. Yeah Parables is brutal.

  21. I always think of Retief's universe as a comedic version of the decaying Terran Empire in Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry stories. The Terran Empire is incompetent due to pervasive corruption, though; it's not just populated by people whose brains have failed. And nobody tries to claim that Flandry's superhumanly truthful and compassionate.

  22. What does population control have to do with hiding one's Catholicism? Or are supposed to understand that it was not only illegal to have more than two children, it was illegal to want to have more than two children, and it was not possible to be a professed Catholic and not want to have more than two children?

  23. As far as it's explained, it's done back at the start of Ender's Game, but the general shape of it is: Ender's dad came from a family of nine children, which wasn't yet totally illegal but was highly socially disapproved, so he invoked some laws to be emancipated, supposedly renounced his Catholicism, changed his name, and moved to the USA. So it wasn't about Catholicism being illegal so much as impolite, and that his supposed atheism was part of his 'cover'. We eventually find out (in Shadow of the Hegemon) that he and his Mormon wife actually planned to move off the grid and start having as many kids as possible, but as soon as Peter got his Genius Toddler Aptitude Test the government was watching them too closely for that to work.

    So, yeah, it doesn't actually make a lot of sense, unless you start from Card's assumptions that the only reason anyone would ever hide their religion is to cover up their secret desire for a huge family.

  24. How the heck can you even see leadership potential in a tiny person that just smacks everyone with their toys?

    Did Peter do this in an especially sociopathic way or something?

  25. So it wasn't about Catholicism being illegal so much as impolite, and that his supposed atheism was part of his 'cover'.

    And this is why the Bishop’s reasoning is absurd, because this is almost certainly still the case. It’s “impolite” to profess a minority religion in pretty much every society we see in this series. If you’re a Lusitanian who isn’t Catholic, or a Trondheimer who isn’t Lutheran or Calvinist (or who is Calvinist with Lutheran neighbors), or an inhabitant of Path who isn’t a follower of their ridiculous parody Chinese folk religion ala Dragonball on meth, then you get shamed and ostracized. And Ender’s apparently spent half his life getting death threats (and death curses! And necromancers casting Lv. ??? Death!) from various religious groups because he dared to argue with them. Card outright tells us there’s still religious oppression out there.

    So there must still be Catholics in this universe who keep their faith under wraps for fear of persecution. And the Bishop, of all people, must be aware of this. He’s a conservative religious leader. If there’s one mistake they don’t make, it’s understating the amount of persecution currently faced by their followers. (Seriously, imagine telling James Dobson or Jerry Falwell about your dad being afraid to profess his faith, and having them respond, “that’s ridiculous, no one these days oppresses Christians!”

    This Bishop believes that the popular and widespread Speaker-religion is Satanic, and he’s noticed that at least this speaker has threatened to unleash massive amounts of governmental force against his enemies. He could not possibly conclude from this that the galaxy is a 100% safe place for Catholicism.

  26. I dunno, if I was looking for a reincarnation of Hitler "a tiny person that smacks everyone with their toys" sounds pretty dead-on. Or, wait, did you mean potential to be a good leader?

  27. I'm also still trying to fathom the reasoning that led to "No, holding the trial by ansible is too inconvenient. Let's wait 22 years instead."

    Maybe their courts have really busy schedules?

  28. But do they have porn on Lusitania? The ansible is apparently expensive so I doubt children would have casual access to it. And if Marcos and Novinha were the scandal of the town then I doubt the colony has a porn industry. They might have to make do with the drawings in their biology textbooks. (Oh wait... Catholic school. Do they have those?)

  29. In fact, the grownup version of that behavior is painfully similar to the toddler version, except that the toys get bigger and more deadly. (See: The Big Sandbox.)