Sunday, June 15, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, chapter seventeen, part two, in which Mighty Whitey saves the day

We're closing in on the end now.  This is the supposed climax of the book, and then there's a final chapter to pretend to resolve plot points and set up the sequels.  Needless to say, there's very little tension, because it's mostly about Ender giving the Little Ones the Simple Wikipedia version of peaceful nationalist propaganda (irony meter broken) and them instantly realising how much better this way of life is because they're very smart and just needed to be shown the ways of civilisation.

(Content: misogyny, imperialism, racism, death. Fun content: more matriarchy, the most harrowing Garfield story ever.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 331--355

Ender has been negotiated with Star-looker for hours now, but adrenaline is keeping him sharp past midnight, while Ouanda and Ela are getting dozy because I guess the socio-cultural information on the Little Ones, the future of interspecies interactions, the fate of their entire planet, and the impacts this could have for all of humanity's future aren't that exciting.  Ender has been trying to help them figure out cultivation (now that they've started farming, they care about prairie land for the first time, but they don't know how much to claim or cultivate and neither does he because, praise the Jade Emperor, Ender is somehow not an expert in agriculture).
Harder still was the concept of law and government. The wives ruled: to the piggies, it was that simple. But Ender had finally got them to understand that humans made their laws differently, and thathuman laws applied to human problems. To make them understand why humans needed their own laws, Ender had to explain to them human mating patterns.
If that makes the slightest sense to anyone, please let me know.  "We just let our adult females tell us what to do."  "Humans can't do that."  "Why not?"  "Well, unlike your species, human women generally survive pregnancy."  "Oh, heavens!  You can't put them in charge!  Fertility is the mind-killer!"  Is that it?

 Laverne Cox summarises the logical conclusion.

The wives find the idea of adults mating creepy, and the idea of loyalty to your immediate family over the rest of your tribe bafflingly arbitrary.  (They have a point on the latter.)  Regardless, after three hours, they've agreed that Little One law applies to the forest and anyone who enters it, and human law applies within the fence.  Ender brings up the hive queen, whom they expect to rapidly outpace both of them since she doesn't actually have to teach anyone anything and her drones are totally sweet super-labourers.  Star-looker declares that the rest of the forests of Lusitania are theirs to divide up as they see fit, and Ouanda points out that it's considered poor form to graciously gift someone with a neighbouring country you're at war with.

At that moment, Novinha and Quim arrive with Miro's message--they relay what he heard earlier, about the Little Ones' plans to use their mass numbers to conquer the world, and Arrow confirms what Ouanda says, that in any war the winning tribe gets rights to the trees of the fallen (thus improving their gene pool).  They're counting on Ender to prevent this tribe from taking over the world.  Leaf-eater and Human argue about whether the wives should be told what's just been said (Human, naturally, prefers to say nothing, because we're supposed to like him).  Leaf-eater threatens to translate it anyway.
"Stop!" shouted Ender. His voice was far louder than he had ever let it be heard before.  Immediately everyone fell silent; the echo of his shout seemed to linger among the trees. [....] "Tell Shouter that if she lets Leaf-eater translate words that we humans have said among ourselves, then he is a spy. And if she lets him spy on us, we will go home now and you will have nothing from us. I'll take the hive queen to another world to restore her."
In case we thought that all this talking was insufficiently manly (it's been ages since we heard about Ender's rippling white shoulder muscles), he asserts his power through shouting and threats and defines 'spy' to suit his own purposes when, in all likelihood, the Little Ones have never had such a concept before in their history.  (Hard to sneak around a forest and do reconnaissance when literally every tree is sentient and psychic and your enemy.)

On the plus side, Human does raise some counterpoints, arguing that Ender is meddling in Little One affairs (Ender says he only promised not to "try to change you more than is necessary") and that he knows Milagre has basically declared war on their own galactic government, so he finds this hypocritical.
Surely Pizarro, for all his shortcomings, had an easier time of it with Atahualpa.
That is an actual line of text in this book.  That is what our hero is thinking right now because his translator has made some very fast and comprehensive assumptions about human politics based on an incomplete understanding of intergalactic law. Of course Pizarro 'had an easier time of it' you colossal jackwagon; Pizarro was a colonialist warmonger who held a mock trial and then murdered Atahualpa when he got bored of dealing with him.  'For all his shortcomings'?  Who the hell edited this book?  STEP FUCKING ONE: CHECK IF YOUR HERO EMPATHISES WITH A HISTORICAL MONSTER.

(Actual line from wikipedia, at the end of the introduction: "modern Peruvians look askance at Pizarro, considering him the force behind the destruction of their indigenous culture, language, and religion".  You don't say.)

Ender explains that they hope not to actually fight other humans, and if they do, the point will be to win the right to star travel for the Little Ones.
"We have set aside our humanness to become ramen with you. [....] Human and piggy and hive queen, here on Lusitania, will be one. All humans. All buggers. All piggies."
Human considers this, and then waxes poetic about the Little Ones' lifestyle, their histories of war (their oldest fathertrees are the heroes of the war that started their forest; their "houses are made of the cowards"), and they've been increasingly excited about their prospects for global domination over the last few years (Human says ten, which doesn't match the timeline, but what else is new for Card).  Asking them to abruptly give up those dreams is hard, he insists.
"Your dream is a good one", said Ender.  "It's the desire of every living creature. The desire that is the very root of life itself: To grow until all the space you can see is part of you, under your control."
If Card keeps telling me what the fundamental desires of all living creatures are, I'm going to have to declare him raman.  If things like 'ownership of the universe' or 'endless grandchildren' were really universal desires, he probably wouldn't need to tell us as much quite so frequently or persistently.

I'm torn on how much of Ender's further arguments to share, because on the one hand it's like the word of the day on Sesame Street is 'imperialism', but on the other, I did sign up to examine what the hell is going on in this book for my many confusingly-devoted readers.
  • Ender points out that humans have given them technology instead of conquering them, and thus modelled the idea that it's possible to make other people greater without making yourself weaker.
  • Human counters with the idea that strength is relative and thus if all the tribes gain technology at the same rate, none of them have really gained anything.
  • Ender walks through the idea that it's possible to bring glory to your fathertree without killing any of the other fathertrees in the forest, and (once Human buys into this), argues that the lines dividing 'in my tribe' and 'not in my tribe' are arbitrary, and therefore the best way to own the universe and maximise your glory is to bring everyone into your tribe.
"If we say the tribe is all the Little Ones in the forest, and all the trees, than that is what the tribe is. [....] We become one tribe because we say we're one tribe." 
Ender marveled at his mind, this small raman. How few humans were able to grasp this idea, or let it extend beyond the narrow confines of their tribe, their family, their nation.
This is, by a wide margin, the best morality that Card espouses in his books.  (The Ender's Shadow series ends up in the same direction, most explicitly when Bean analyses Peter's work and says that he's also trying to make every human on Earth see themselves as one 'tribe'.)  And yet it's rather hollow in the larger context, given that Ender considering everyone to be 'in his tribe' hasn't stopped him from violating the rights and privacy of anyone or leveraging threats of his illegitimate government power against people for the last few days, even when there was nothing at immediate stake to his knowledge.  It hasn't caused him to respect the customs or privacy of the Little Ones, or stayed his hand from meddling in their society (except when Ouanda and Ela wanted to fritter away their time saving the lives of alien women, what nonsense that was).

And out here in the real world, I don't think this is the brilliant breakthrough Card imagines it is either.  Just look at him: he wrote this book about thirty years ago; about a decade ago he wrote another series with the same 'one tribe' aesop, and yet he's also practically a spokesperson for sexism, racism, and homophobia camouflaged under religious beliefs and legalistic vagueness.  Orson Scott Card, who wrote a fanfic about Barack Obama declaring himself Emperor of the United States and oppressing white people--Orson Scott Card, who just barely didn't declare himself the potentially-insurgent enemy of any government that would dare to support same-sex marriage*--this man opines on how much people just don't understand the idea of 'one universal tribe'.

Beyond simply hypocrisy, I think this illustrates the weakness of Card's quick-and-easy all-one-tribe system, which is that it doesn't necessarily mean anything.  Ender declares that they're all ramen together, all one tribe, and then declares that humans won't recognise Little Ones' laws outside the forest and vice-versa, and leverages his technological advantages to dictate terms and demand apologies for ritualistic empty threats, but none of that can actually be used against his unilateral declaration that he's on their side and they're all equal.


And ultimately it doesn't matter if he declares everyone 'one tribe' or not, because within the tribe it's still very easy to declare that those people are our enemies for whatever other reason--they want the wrong rights or they support the wrong way of doing things.  And this is, I think, the ultimate reason why privileged people are so desperate to explain how they're being oppressed--if you can say you're provoked, you can go to war with a clear conscience.  (Spoilers: that's exactly what the final treaty says.)

Human agrees to try to sell the wives on this philosophy, and Ender agrees to make exactly the same treaty with every forest of Little Ones on the planet and to restore the hive queen and let her make her own treaties.  for the final matter, Ender gets around to asking about the third life and why they killed Pipo and Libo. Human confirms that the first life is their infancy in/on the mothertree, the second life are the standard-issue Little Ones, and the third life is tree.  Ender explains that humans don't have a tree life, and that the afterlife of the Bible is an immaterial thing, entirely different.  It still takes Human a remarkably long time to work out that this means they straight-up murdered Libo and Pipo.

Revelation: the Little Ones mark momentous honors by planting someone.  Pipo and Mandachuva jointly made a biological breakthrough (I still don't grasp exactly what), and Libo and Leaf-eater worked out forest agriculture, and therefore in each case one of them had to be ritually planted.  Pipo and Libo each refused to eviscerate their pal, and therefore had to be eviscerated themselves.  (Leaf-eater and Mandachuva both have emotional breakdowns.)  I feel like we covered a lot of this ground a while back, but the extra twist is that this treaty is an equally momentous occasion, and therefore under forest law either Ender has to cut open Human or Human has to cut Ender before the end of the day.  Human now understands and therefore won't cut Ender, but he does demand to be given "the honor of the third life".

Ender agrees, although Ouanda is horrified because being the shocked female is her only remaining job.  Human sends them away with Arrow while he explains human biology, and as they leave, they hear an eruption of wailing from the wives.  Ouanda and Novinha take some solace in it, while Ender reflects on how much more emotional pain he will go through cutting open Human, since "to Ender himself he would be taking away the only part of Human's life that Ender understood".  Now, if I were in his place, I would feel some kind of creeped-out gut reaction too, absolutely, but it reads to me like Ender feels there's something still intellectually or morally wrong with the act, and I don't understand why, except to try to upsell the angst factor because "Once again, he thought, I must kill, though I promised that I never would again".

Novinha pulls the 'I can't see in the dark' tactic to justify taking Ender by the arm, and they both laugh as Ela chastises Olhado for not realising it's a ploy to hold hand.  Novinha tells Ender that he'll be able to do what's needed, not because he's "cold and ruthless", but "compassionate enough [...] to put the hot iron into the wound when that's the only way to heal it".  Novinha is only a genius xenobiologist, so I suppose she wouldn't have been taught that cauterisation was a gratuitously hideous practice that was used throughout Europe for centuries mostly because everyone forgot how ligature works.  Like, the metaphor does approximately work, but it mostly makes me think that there's probably a better solution.  (Traditional empty threats: completely unacceptable.  Eviscerating a person to validate a treaty: well, what're you gonna do?)

Ender wakes up lying in the grass with his head in Novinha's lap.  A bunch of Little Ones have emerged from the woods, led by Human, including several that Ouanda doesn't recognise ("from other brother-houses" which, apparently, have been permanently retconned in).  They carry the printout of The Hive-Queen and the Hegemon that Miro brought them years ago, which he conveniently printed single-sided, such that they've used the blank sides to write up their treaty.  Ouanda mutters that they never taught them to write, but having learned how to read**, they figured out the writing aspect themselves and improvised some ink.

The written version has some additions: the humans have to have the same terms in their treaties with every forest, any inter-species disputes will be settled by the third party (i.e., the hive queen will adjudicate if humans and Little Ones ever have a conflict), forests that have signed the treaty won't go to war unless they are physically attacked by non-treaty Little Ones, and humans and Little Ones are forbidden to 'plant' each other, with the exception of Ender slicing up Human.

Human insists it's a great honor, even if it feels wrong to him, and says that all his life he has known Ender would be the one to understand him and to plant him.  (Star-looker signed the contract, and Human relays her words, that she was named for always staring at the night sky but until Ender arrived she hadn't known what she was waiting for.)  Basically, they love him and they have always loved him and they wish they could all cling to his nipples or something.  Ender silently (very silently) thinks about how much hope has been placed in him even though everyone else has done the hard and important work.  Now let us never speak of that blasphemy again.

They pass the treaty to Ouanda and go to Rooter's tree, which opens up to let Human climb inside and talk to his father for a while.  (A sweet moment for Father's Day, I guess?  Make sure to call your dad if he's not a terrible person or a psychic tree.)  They clear the space for Human's tree, so that he and Rooter will approximately flank the gate to Milagre, and Novinha sidles up to quietly observe that he signed the contract "Ender Wiggin".
"I never went to the priests to confess," she said, "because I knew they would despise me for my sin. Yet when you named all my sins today, I could bear it because I knew you didn't despise me. I couldn't understand why, though, until now."
I understand why Novinha would think everyone would despise her, because that's the kind of thing despair and depression makes you think, but really, she cheated on her abusive husband and thus Ender isn't going to challenge the idea that she's a monster no one but the Xenocide could ever empathise with?  Most of Milagre doesn't even know the worst things she did (hiding scientific information that has prevented any progress in researching Descolada, so that everything on the planet is a world-killing bioweapon that can't be defused or defended against, and incidentally preventing Libo from having any hope of understanding why his father died, potentially contributing to his own death).  I don't hate Novinha (as an individual, rather than a character), and I've murdered zero people.

Ender and Human have more poignant discussions about how much they are brothers, and Human asks Ender to write another biography, "the Life of Human", to go with HQ&H.  He agrees, and tries to clear the others away, but they all have their reasons to stay (Olhado is recording everything as evidence for the other tribes, Ela is a scientist, and Quim compares it to Mary staying at the crucifixion).  Ender does the necessary surgery with Mandachuva and Leaf-eater's guidance about what organs go where, and they take root quickly, turning into a tiny sapling in minutes.  When Ender is finished, the other Little Ones are dancing, but he just crawls away up the hill and collapses in the grass, and Novinha's family follows.

The mayor and THE BISHOP arrive shortly before sunrise to find them all asleep in the grass.  Ender reports they have a treaty; the mayor reports that Jane has restored all their files.  Then she notices what a literally bloody mess he is, and sees Human's corpse down the hill.
"I would rather have no treaty," said Bosquinha, "than one you had to kill to get." 
"Wait before you judge," said the Bishop. "I think the night's work was more than just what we see before us."
I understand now, at last.  Bishop Peregrino is the comic relief.  Dude feared/hated the Little Ones, hated Ender until about twelve hours earlier, knows nothing about the Science Mystery, knows only the brutal aspects of Little One death rituals, and yet his dialogue (as it has been for the last few chapters) consists largely of 'I bet this Speaker guy is secretly awesome'.

The Bishop surveys the corpse/sapling:
"His name is Human," said the Speaker. 
"And so is yours," said the Bishop softly. [....] Am I the shepherd, Peregrino asked himself, or the most confused and helpless of the sheep?
Immediately bored of exploring this possible epiphany, the Bishop declares that it will soon be time for mass, and leads them all away--Novinha silently asks Ender to come along, but he asks for a moment more, hopefully to wash up.  When he does arrive at the cathedral, shortly after the beginning of mass, he quickly finds the family and takes the spot where Marcos used to sit.  The Bishop mulls a bunch of poetic facts and reversals (Ouanda isn't there, she's caring for her brother Miro; Grego is sitting happily with Ender; "Novinha, the lost one, now found", whatever he thinks that means; and the all-important fence now harmless) and concludes that it's the same miracle as transubstantiation:
How suddenly we find the flesh of God within us after all, when we thought that we were only made of dust.
Which I'm pretty sure is heretical.

Next week: A Very Special Episode of ableism with Miro and Jane.

---

*So it turns out there's a section of his website called "Quotes in Context" (no link, but easy to find) that is meant to explain how his completely reasonable views have been viciously misrepresented, and it's hilarious.  Like, the line "I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn" wasn't Card talking, we must see, it was Card writing a hypothetical future person who decides to overthrow and remake the government for recognising same-sex marriages without their express permission.  This is the adult bigot equivalent of blaming a broken lamp on his imaginary friend, and it cracks me up.

**It occurs to me that, while the book has treated Miro and Ouanda bringing them HQ&H and the New Testament as a big deal because of the philosophies inside, the simple introduction of the written word was a vastly bigger and altogether separate undertaking.  I mean, it takes humans years to learn to read effectively, young or old.  Miro and Ouanda only had a few hours a week to spend with them.  How did they even have time to teach them how to read?  (Stark is supposed to have gotten rid of a lot of the confusing parts of English, like silent-GH or whatever, but I'm skeptical that means they can teach them how to read a two alien biographies and Christian scripture in less time than it takes to get an online liquor handling license).

42 comments:

  1. This series is all kinds of dippy and frustrating because I can't understand why Pipo and Libo did not just say, no, we cannot turn into trees. If you kill us there will be misery from our families. How hard is that? Or how hard is it to explain that to these folks turning into a tree is a good thing? Ender is kind of racist to not understand that or even TRY.

    OSC totally sucked me in with this sort of we're all one tribe thing like in Seventh Son before I realized that his web of life doesn't include gays who don't want to lie about their sexuality, or people who don't want to get married and live with strict gender roles. Or even people who don't want to have babies because they want to make this decision for themselves.

    This is OK. Everyone is welcome in my web of life. Unless they are assholes. I'm not fond of assholes.

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  2. What Ender (and OSC by extension) doesn't seem to understand is that saying "we're all one tribe" doesn't make it happen. It's a great idea, but the baggage that goes with the previous tribes doesn't just vanish. And given his political positions, OSC obviously uses "one tribe" in the classic right-wing way: "Everybody gets to be just like me."

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  3. Pipo and Mandachuva jointly made a biological breakthrough (I still don't grasp exactly what), and Libo and Leaf-eater worked out forest agriculture, and therefore in each case one of them had to be ritually planted.
    Ender explains the details to Miro in the next chapter. Pipo’s discovery was that the pequeninos had incorporated the Descolada virus into their own DNA and now actually used it to reproduce. Mandachuva’s insight was that in that case, his people could survive a thing which killed humans and even turn it to their advantage; therefore, humans were not inherently superior to pequeninos, but had merely had more time to develop technology. Similarly, Libo’s invention of ways to increase the pequeninos’ food supply prompted Leaf-eater to persuade the wives to let hundreds of children be born in anticipation of being able to feed them all: a huge risk to take. In both cases, the human contribution was less important than the transformative insight of the pequenino; neither Pipo nor Libo really deserved the honor by pequenino standards.

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  4. CheckeredFoxgloveJune 15, 2014 at 10:44 PM

    The one where the solution isn't actually "we're all one tribe!" but rather, "All of you are part of my tribe now, so it's time for you to be just like me. Oh, you don't want to? Inconceivable!"? Yeah, it's a much less palatable solution when you're not the guy in charge.

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  5. Yes, this. He isn't trying to enter into the other person's way of life. He's just telling them all that now they have his way.

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  6. So I had a fun thought. The way for the male pequeninos to become trees is either to be granted the honor by the Wives or by going to war with another tribe and killing/being killed by an enemy who agrees to kill in the ritual way. Ender is largely trying to do away with the wars (one tribe, don't kill, etc). So he's making it entirely in the power of the Wives to decide who is made a father tree, right? He's actually taking power -away- from the male population. I'm quite sure that this is not a thing Card intended.

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  7. Okay, we're almost at the end of the book (I feign to say "conclusion", because that implies first that there was a conflict to resolve, which I submit is facts not in evidence, and second that said conflict has been resolved, which again, hasn't happened.) And I still Don't Get why the Little Ones have such a boner to have an aggressive, warlike, invasive species with a pretty pressing mandate to reproduce and spread as much as possible stuck down on their little world. What does the Hive Queen got that's so great? The ability to engage in really, really ill-advised space-war? A complete inability to properly communicate with another species? Yeah, I can really see what a nice neighbor she would make... Again, Watnapple is the Spirit Animal of the narrative.

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  8. Pipo and Libo each refused to eviscerate their pal, and therefore had to be eviscerated themselves.

    Oh good, we've gotten to this part.

    I feel like this is supposed to make sense in some sort of thought-experiment, would-you-rather-kind of sense. You know, "If you had to either brutally kill your friend or have them kill you, what would you choose?" And Pipo & Libo choose "be killed" because they are good people and that's how this works.

    The problem is that these kinds of thought experiments always depend on a few things. First, a sadistic psychopath/totalitarian government/all-powerful puppetmaster that is forcing you to make this choice. Second, anything you can think of to try to get out of it (pleading, escaping, fighting the psychopath instead) will definitely not work.

    Card skips that part. As far as I can tell, the conversations (that he wisely chooses to never show) went something like this:

    Mandachuva/Leaf-Eater: "Will you do me the honor of killing me?"

    Pipo/Libo: "What?!? Never!"

    M/LE: "Either you kill me or I kill you."

    P/L: "Oh. Really? Then.... kill me, I guess."

    Out of all the unbelievable things in this book, this might be the one I believe the least. Pipo and Libo are apparently not suicidal. They would never willingly abandon their families, friends, colleagues, and certainly would not do so without so much as a note explaining the situation. Not to mention the potentially devastating consequences that murdering a human may bring to the Little Ones.

    So, the only conversation that I can imagine involves Pipo and Libo immediately trying to leave. Since they do not succeed, they must have been prevented by force, which is completely out of keeping with the characterization of the Little Ones in the rest of the book. I mean, I get that they are warriors, but they have shown no sign of aggression towards the humans. Furthermore, that they would forcibly restrain their friends, who are begging and pleading to leave, in order to honor them, is just nonsensical. (And seriously messes with the "Wait, they didn't want to die?" revelation of this chapter.) Pipo and Libo must presumably ask to wait until morning to die, or just to go home for an hour to say goodbye to their wives and children. All denied, for some reason. Can anyone imagine a dialogue where any of this this makes sense? (And which doesn't result in Pipo and Libo learning that the Little Ones turn into trees when they die [which I thought Pipo had figured out, actually?] or else they would presumably oblige them.)

    At the very least, Pipo and Libo would have wanted their loved ones to know the truth. They would have said, finally, when all their appeals have been rejected, "Tell the others (Libo/Ouanda/Miro) what happened. Tell them that I died because I could not bring myself to kill. Tell them that I would give almost anything in the world to come home to them, but I could not kill a friend."

    Since none of that happened, looks like "Oh. Really? Then... kill me, I guess" is still the most likely option.

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  9. I may have skipped over a few key lines along the way, but the short form is that the hive queen is able to talk with the trees and has promised them endless technological riches when she awakens--if she wants anything in exchange other than land to build her new hive, that hasn't come up. (The complexity of interspecies communication also hasn't been engaged--either she'll talk to the trees and the trees will translate to the Little Ones, or she'll have to learn how to write via drone or something.) The Little Ones have apparently obsessed over the queen ever since they read HQ&H, because they strongly identified with the character of 'noble alien species whom humanity completely failed to understand'. Literally no one is afraid that the hive queen actually intends to take the Colador to protect herself, murder everyone else on Lusitania, and then use the Descolada to scythe the galaxy free of humanity.

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  10. Can anyone imagine a dialogue where any of this this makes sense? (And which doesn't result in Pipo and Libo learning that the Little Ones turn into trees when they die [which I thought Pipo had figured out, actually?] or else they would presumably oblige them.)


    Pipo didn't figure out the 'tree life' thing, apparently, just that the Descolada was how the Little Ones achieved genetic mixing for reproduction. I still have no idea why that was such an exciting revelation that he broke the rules and ran out of the forest to ask the Little Ones direct invasive questions that would completely contravene his 'don't indirectly reveal anything about humanity to the Little Ones' directive, but then presumably completely followed the 'ask no questions' rules such that he didn't understand why there was to be a ritual killing or what would happen next.


    So, yeah, I have exactly the same 'this is an impossible dialogue' problem, which we will recall has been the problem literally every time the xenologers somehow get new specific information from the Little Ones that only furthers the Science Mystery.

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  11. I still have no idea why that was such an exciting revelation that he broke the rules and ran out of the forest to ask the Little Ones direct invasive questions that would completely contravene his 'don't indirectly reveal anything about humanity to the Little Ones' directive

    Yeah, the reason I thought it must have been the tree thing is that I couldn't imagine anything else that would make sense to ask. Aside from it breaking the rules, what exactly could he ask that he expects the Little Ones to even understand? "Is the Descolada in all of your cells?" "Do you reproduce using this virus?" What is the burning question that prompts him to run off? (We know it's a question because he tells Novinha he's leaving to ask the Little Ones if he's right.)

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  12. So, the lesson of the book is not "through the powers of SCIENCE and its methods, we can resolve conflicts involving alien species and their microorganisms" but "humans are too stupid to be able to figure out conflicts and their resolutions. If you find yourself in world-ending trouble, pray to superior beings and they will descend from the heavens to fix your problems. And you will love them unconditionally if you want their help, no matter how much they are jerks."

    This is supposed to be science fiction, not a long-winded religious tract, right?

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  13. I also really don't get how the Little Ones have any common vocabulary or word-view to understand that question. Do they have a concept of cells, cellular reproduction, viruses, DNA and genetic inheritance and evolution and natural selection? If so, *how*? Wouldn't all those topics be verbotten under the Galactic Starways Idiot Ball Rules for dealing with aliens? What do the Little Ones even know about the Descolada as a sickness? Do they understand that it almost wiped out the human colony? Do they know that it affects them in any way? And again, if they know this, HOW do they know it?



    A comparative conversation would be a little green man type of alien inquiring of a Cro-Magnon how herpes simplex and herpes zoster viruses evolved to be compatible with humans. There is literally no way the little green man alien could communicate enough info to the Cro-Magnon for them to even begin to understand the question, and even if they showed up later in history and asked a modern human, the answer would still be "We don't really know, we weren't there."

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  14. Right. Pipo has an interesting hypothesis regarding alien biology. Does he discuss it with (a) his close friend and colleague who happens to be the universe's leading expert in Lusitanian biology and is standing right there running the very simulations that led to his hypothesis, or (b) the aliens who presumably know nothing of modern science and with whom he is forbidden by law to discuss anything of the kind? I think I can understand Novinha's frustration when he chooses to run off in the rain and offers by way of explanation "To ask the piggies if I'm right, of course!"

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  15. My only guess is that Pipo felt that the killing was not really killing but some sort of ritual -- e.g. "Do you want to lead me through the planting ritual, or should I lead you?" "Uh, I don't know the planting ritual, so why don't you lead me?" But that doesn't explain why Libo fell for the same thing.

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  16. Have they explained yet why the Descolada won't melt the Hive Queen? Or is that next chapter?

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  17. Colador biology magic universal cure handwave science? (Read the words of that sentence in any order you like.)

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  18. From the next chapter:
    Ela was working on developing new strains of Earthborn plants and even small animals and insects, new species that could resist the Descolada, even neutralize it. Mother was helping her with advice, but little more, for she was working on the most vital and secret
    project of them all. Again, it was Ender who came to Miro and told him what only his family
    and Ouanda knew: that the hive queen lived, that she was being restored as soon as Novinha
    found a way for her to resist the Descolada, her and all the buggers that would be born to her. As soon as it was ready, the hive queen would be revived.

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  19. The problem, to me, lies not in the vaccine - sciencey magic, sure, whatever - but rather in the way Ender doesn't worry about it at any point. He should have been thinking, 'While I know the virus probably cannot adapt quickly enough to matter, it sure would suck if the disease destroyed what I've wanted for so long when we were this close.' And possibly he should also worry on the Hive Queen's behalf.

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  20. This would make a little more sense if the capim grass did get humans high, more so than Little Ones. But I don't know why even Pipo would eat it after seeing the grass in the mouth of dead Rooter. I also recall a story about giving it to a warrior before his death - Pipo may not have known that one, but Libo suggests all the Little Ones' stories end that way. Maybe we could imagine the Little Ones forced it in each xenologer's mouth (physically dubious though that seems) when he seemed afraid of pain. And then politely ignored his seeming weakness.

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  21. THIS.

    Look, I can just barely accept that SOMEHOW, between Pipo's excitement and confusion and the Little Ones really seriously just Not Getting It, the mistaken-slaughter of Pipo could have happened. Once. Even their belief that Pipo had consented, even to holding Pipo down (maybe some Little Ones need help being held down for the last few minutes of their walking-about lives). Maybe Pipo didn't really realise what was going to happen until they started cutting.

    But it would have been clear to the Little Ones who did it that Pipo had *not* rooted - when Little Ones are killed, they plant roots immedately. When the humans came and took Pipo's body away, it would also have been clear that the humans hadn't expected him to root.

    What is absolutely unbelievable I mean seriously unbelievable is that the Little Ones would have made the same mistake twice. They'd know Pipo hadn't rooted. They'd know that humans don't seem to have a third life. And there are still Little Ones around who are old enough to remember first-hand the night Pipo should have entered the Third Life and didn't. They know something went wrong.

    And Libo knows that one of the things Little Ones can do is cut someone up alive. So he wouldn't - he couldn't - be as innocently cooperative as Pipo might have been. It doesn't remotely make sense that Libo's murder happened -

    Except that for Ender's great romance with Novinha to happen. Card needed both Libo and Marcão to be dead before Ender arrived. Can you imagine if Marcão were dead (since his death is apparently a given) and Novinha was apparently a single mother with a horde of kids and still sneaking off to see Libo whenever they both felt like a spot of nookie, and then the Speaker turns up and proposes to reveal her Secret Relationship with Libo while she was still banging him?

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  22. It's just so dippy. I don't even buy Novinha and Ender. They hardly had any scenes together that suggested let's get married and I'll be a father figure to your irritating children.

    Seriously, I hate her and her kids except Miro, Ela and the dude with the cool eyes. The rest of the lot are bratty and annoying as all hell. If I had to go from being single to having to deal with all of those unpleasant people I'd go to another colony with or without a deadly virus to get away from the lot of them.

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  23. Okay WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS BOOK.

    Apparently it's almost over and I'm kind of sitting here going "huh? So what?" It's like Twilight, where there's pages and pages of nothing happening??

    Ender's game had a clear plot and narrative arc. Genius boy gets drafted into space military school and fights in zero gravity to learn military tactics because he's going to be used to "innocently" exterminate an alien species. Fine. A problematic story, as deconstructed here, but a story where stuff happens.

    This is like... a bunch of people dicking around on an alien planet doing totally boring stuff? The entire plot hinges on no one being able to just communicate like fucking adults? What the hell is the point of a Speaker for the Dead? Why do we care about any of these people? This isn't even a character study type book, where instead of a strong narrative plot it goes into characterization and human experience. I mean, so far as I can tell from the deconstruction, anyway. Character studies require internal change and character arcs, anyway.

    I'm so confused and I don't want to actually try reading this myself because I could spend my time reading, y'know, GOOD books, so is it just me or is this not even a story?

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  24. It's really not a story. We'll get even more into that with the final post, since I'll go back to cover the introduction at the end, same as I did with Ender's Game. It's not just obvious that it isn't a story, but it's increasingly obvious why it isn't a story.


    The most galling part, to me, is that all of this filler bloated the book so much that it spilled over into a sequel (spoilers: the Evacuation Fleet won't arrive in this book) which then spilled over into another sequel. There's so much not-story going on that it crowded out the story that could/should have actually been there, all for the sake of telling us how awesome and enlightened Ender is.

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  25. This seems to be literally what's being set up in this chapter, due to the requirement that all other tribes sign the same treaty with no changes. The Little Ones from this tribe negotiated a treaty that covers everything they care about; all the other ones can either join their tribe or die.

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  26. That would only matter if, for some bizarre reason, every single tribe of this entire species across this entire planet wasn't basically identical in terms of culture, law, history, and goals, which is obviously ludicrous nonsense.

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  27. "Great romance" was sarcasm, yes. Sorry, I forgot to add the /Fe html.

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  28. I have trouble even buying Pipo's "planting." I think it's really telling that we're not shown how these things happened, because they just don't make sense with the characters and all as written. It's quite possible to plausibly write either humans killing aliens or aliens killing humans through misunderstanding, but Card set up a situation that just doesn't compute. Unless Pipo had a heart attack from shock the moment they started cutting or something, I cannot fathom how the Little Ones could have gone through their ritual without realizing at any time that something was wrong and that they were hurting him.


    I think the big problem is that Card himself never tried to imagine the scenario. Or, if he did, and realized it made no sense, he just opted to skip describing it and hope no one else thought about it. Rather than, you know, fixing it.


    And, yeah, Libo's death is just flat out unbelievable. The Little Ones couldn't possibly have made the same mistake twice. (Though I still don't see how they made the mistake once. Why would Pipo not have objected? Why wouldn't he have asked what they were doing? Why they were killing him? Card wants us to believe that he agreed to being "planted" without knowing what he was agreeing to and then mutely laid there and let them cut him up - without understanding the situation. I don't buy it.)

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  29. Oh, I’d better add that they succeeded in both projects – and then the hive queen emerged from her cocoon. We’re never told how Novinha learned enough about Formic biology to find a Descolada countermeasure while the only living specimen was still in her cocoon!

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  30. Yeah, even Pipo's death doesn't make much sense, but it's the kind of plot event where I could kind of maybe accept it for the sake of the story (not that there's much of that). Actually, the "has a heart attack from shock" would fix it in that kind of McGuffin sort of way. There needed to be two things: One, the Little Ones genuinely had to be completely totally convinced that all sentient beings turn into trees when they die. It should have bewildered them that Pipo didn't. And there should also be instances of Little Ones entering the Third Life voluntarily but physically being unable to lie still and let another Little One plant them. And anyway, if the Little Ones hadn't made the mistake of "planting" Pipo, where's the story?


    And Pipo could have - autopsy discovered - died of heart failure early in the planting ritual.


    And then the Little Ones could have started spying on the humans, and discovered that none of them turn into trees or appear to do anything else when they're dead, and Pipo said he was already a father, and then surely to god they'd have tried to explain to Libo how they're very sorry about Pipo, they thought he had consented to the planting ritual, he should have turned into a tree, they don't understand what went wrong....


    And when Ender's ship arrived at Milagre to Speak Pipo's death, he finds Novinha and Libo married, lots of kids, and by the way, so sorry we called you here but you do know the planet is under quarantine, here's why....

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  31. And suddenly there's something that actually resembles a plot. It just doesn't happen to involve Ender. Or, well, it could, from that point on as he works through diplomatic channels to help solve the problem (from a galactic standpoint) of the Descolada, while the scientists work on the scientific end of things with Jane's help. (Access to all the existing information everywhere has to be useful.)


    The more I think about it, though, Ender is really completely unnecessary for even the story as written. Card only makes him "useful" through making everyone else behave in completely nonsensical ways and generally fail at science and anything else they might be expected to actually know how to do. Which is downright bizarre when this is supposedly the book he had to rework Ender's Game into a book in order to write. It would've been better if he'd just set it in the same universe and left Ender out of it - a lot of the WTFery could've been avoided then.

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  32. It has just occurred to me, too: there is no way that in all of their years of spying on the villagers, the Little Ones didn't see human babies being born. While the level of medical technology available is completely not made clear (Olhado, ahem), and Card never mentions midwives, still, it's fairly probable that most women in Milagre have home births. There's no point in dedicating huge amounts of valuable hospital space when most women, most of the time, don't need hospital facilities when they give birth. Within a relatively short time, well before Libo got killed in the timeline, the Little Ones would have known that human reproductive biology isn't anything like the Little Ones - that the women in the human families are both mothers and Wives. And that should have led to questions about their planting Pipo...

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  33. Ender gets around to asking about the third life and why they killed Pipo and Libo. ... It still takes Human a remarkably long time to work out that this means they straight-up murdered Libo and Pipo. ..... (Leaf-eater and Mandachuva both have emotional breakdowns.)


    Or, the Little Ones had worked out years ago that they murdered Libo and Pipo and they've been waiting for the humans to work it out too and blame them - and while they're sorry, all their very public distress here and now is an act, because they fear human retribution if the humans realise the Little Ones knew before they did...

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  34. Basically. If they really spied on humans they'd know humans don't work that way.

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  35. The more I think about it, the more I think what a really brilliant piece of dialogue that conversation between the Little Ones and Libo / Novinha *could have been* if Card hadn't been set on a Novinha / Ender relationship and wanted Ender to be the Hero. Conversation instigated by Little Ones, who have finally worked out that their killing Pipo was like someone cutting down a friendly fathertree, and who want to explain and apologise and acknowledge that they understood the *wrongness* of what they did, to the two humans they have identified as Pipo's children. And as the Little Ones are explaining, and Libo and Novinha are expecting to get closure about what Pipo did that caused the Little Ones to feel they had to kill him, they realise that what they are getting instead is a *huge scientific breakthrough* in their understanding of the Little Ones. There's grief, and understanding, and pain, and regret, and through it all the unspeakable joy of a scientist feeling the boundaries of understanding expland....

    And instead we get this.

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  36. Really, if you took Ender out of this book, it would be a much better book. Possibly because Card wouldn't have written it, but still . . .

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  37. "Then you will remake the entire universe in the image of your soul. And when at last you turn to look upon the eternal desolation you have wrought, you will see Human, as in a mirror, and know what fear is...."
    Oh, so that's why everyone agrees with Ender. He just recites the Anti-Life Equation at them!

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  38. Yep. There's nothing like a planetwide state of constant intertribal warfare for keeping everyone committed to one uniform monoculture!

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  39. "What more does he need to make the empathy leap?"


    Empathy

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  40. As far as I can tell, the only moral wrong with tree-ifying Human is that it causes Ender pain, and anything that causes Ender pain is automatically morally wrong.

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  41. I think the implication was that Pipo and Libo didn't know the Little Ones could turn into trees either or, if they did, didn't connect it to the whole ritual murder thing.
    In that context, choosing to die rather than kill another person makes a certain amount of sense, though choosing to have a conversation about why ritual murder is a thing would have made even more sense.

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