Sunday, June 29, 2014

Speaker for the Dead, introduction, in which we solve a mystery by studying its genetics

It's been a hell of a ride, hasn't it?  This is the final Speaker for the Dead post, and July is a novel-writing month, so I wouldn't count on a lot of new blog content during that time.  After that, I may return with Ender's Shadow, the retelling of Ender's Game from Bean's perspective, which I still consider to be Card's best novel (I just think that's a lower bar than I used to).  Or maybe I'll move on to something else entirely.  Maybe something good?  Or at least better?  Erika the Blogqueen has contemplated doing a series on Mistborn; I've got like eighteen books partly read lying around my apartment and half of Wheel of Time that I inherited from a former roommate.  We'll keep you posted on our post-July posting plans.

(Content: ableism, partner abuse, racism. Fun content: y'all like point-form lists, right?)

Speaker for the Dead: p. ix--xxii

So... Speaker for the Dead, eh?  What was up with that?  It takes some careful planning to create a story where all of the problems exist solely because people would literally rather die than ask a direct question.  As I belaboured back in chapter fourteen, Ender was in a much better position to play an antagonist who proves to be a friend than he was to be the hero, yet he's presented to us as the hero because he's the only one who isn't afraid of the truth.  This needs explaining, and in the spirit of Speaker for the Dead, I'm going to argue that we can figure out what caused this atrocity by tracing back its evolutionary history to a catastrophic plague the 1980s.
Speaker for the Dead is a sequel, but it didn't begin life that way--and you don't have to read it that way, either.  It was my intention all along for Speaker to be able to stand alone, for it to make sense whether you have read Ender's Game or not. Indeed, in my mind this was the "real" book; if I hadn't been trying to write Speaker for the Dead back in 1983, there would never have been a novel version of Ender's Game at all.
Interesting premise.  Let's summarise Speaker for the Dead by chapter:

  1. Pipo rescues young Novinha from sadness by taking her in as his daughter (in a weirdly romantic relationship with her pseudo-brother), then is horribly murdered by the mysterious primitive aliens.
  2. Ender Wiggin is super-smart and philosophical and a three-thousand-year-old war hero, and people have very strong opinions on the morality of being an alien because his ultra-brilliant sister wrote an essay about fjords a couple of months ago.  He also owes a mysterious debt to someone.
  3. Novinha hides all the science that somehow led to Pipo's confrontation and death, and also breaks up with her pseudo-brother to protect him, but also summons Ender Wiggin to cross the galaxy to solve the mystery that she believes must never be solved.
  4. Ender Wiggin's girlfriend is the internet and he's super rich and he carries the last survivor of his accidental genocide. 
  5. Ender Wiggin breaks up with his newlywed pregnant sister to cross the galaxy in a private star cruiser in hopes of protecting aliens.  His best student figures out the truth and devotes her life to serving his sister's family.
  6. Novinha's children are terrible.  Ender arrives and immediately astonishes the mayor with his knowledge and history, learns that Libo died after all, scares children because the Bishop has told them he's the devil, and befriends one of Novinha's kids.
  7. Novinha's children are terrible.  Ender enters their home, subdues them by physical force or argument, refuses to leave, and tells them how foolish they are for not understanding their little brother.  Novinha's dead husband used to beat her.
  8. Novinha comes home.  Ender tells her he knows everything, she's a terrible mother, and he will redeem her.
  9. Ender's literal internet girlfriend Jane reveals that all of Novinha's kids were fathered by Libo.  Libo's kids, Miro and Ouanda, are bad at science.
  10. Ender befriends the local monastic sect because he was besties with their founder two thousand years earlier.  Jane distracts Ender, so he switches her off for a bit.
  11. Being cut off from Ender for an afternoon utterly devastates Jane and she spends the equivalent of 50,000 years in recovery, then sparks an interstellar police action.
  12. Ender is super rich, Novinha is obsessed with him, and her children are fractionally less terrible now that they're obsessed with him as well.
  13. The aliens demand to meet with Ender because he is everything.  Ela reveals to Ender that she's secretly been doing real science for years.
  14. Miro and Ouanda take Ender to meet the aliens.  Ender tells them that they're terrible scientists, and the aliens then reveal everything to him because he's so important.
  15. The government locks down the planetary computers, but they save some vital information because Ender is special.  Ender makes the entire colony sympathise with a dead abuser by explaining that he couldn't have kids and his wife cheated on him.
  16. Everyone tells each other everything now that Ender is there.  Miro wants to run away to the forest to marry his sister, but grievously injures himself instead through terrible science.  The colony rebels because Ender is so special that he can completely prevent any consequences to rebellion for the next thirty years.
  17. The aliens tell Ender everything else they haven't said.  Ender teaches them how not to be terrible warmongering savages, signs a contract, and ritually murder-metamorphoses an alien volunteer to seal the deal.
  18. Miro is permanent disabled and shoved in temporal storage for later.  Ender gets the girl, brings civilisation to the primitive aliens, learns that his sister is uprooting her family to come meet him, and revives the last survivor of his war crime, clearing his conscience.
Now, on the one hand, this synopsis does make it clear that there wouldn't be much of this book left without Ender there.  On the other hand, without Ender's Game as background, Ender literally never earns anything--he's just a brilliant rich straight white male ex-soldier poet-priest whose very presence elicits awe even from people who claim to hate him.  I'm curious if anyone has read Speaker and not Ender's Game, and whether they found Ender remotely sufferable.  I find him aggravating and I've read about all the harsh childhood and suffering and abuse that is supposed to have turned him into who he is in this book.  (I've even read Ender in Exile, y'all.  Never let it be said I'm not dedicated.)

Back to the introduction.  Card explains that the 'speaker for the dead' concept is the result of his dislike for eulogies that erase anything uncomfortable about the dead person and therefore make them less like real people in memory.  He insists that the only story worth telling (despite it being unknowable) is the story of what the person meant to do with their life.  I'm a little unclear on how this is possible--surely, if the true story is unknowable, then the speaker has to take a guess at it, and in doing so they still erase the real person in favour of an explanation that makes sense to them and is therefore "much easier to live with", which is exactly the problem he has with 'normal' eulogies?

This really gets to the heart of the problem, because Card insists that intentions are all that matter to morality, but even he admits that we can never really know what a person's intentions were.  In that case, the logical conclusion seems to be that we can never know how moral a person is, and maybe then we end up at the traditional Christian 'judge not', but Ender's assertion seems instead to be that everyone has good intentions all the time and therefore they are ultimately good even if shallow outsiders think they're 'bad' just because they do stuff like start bar fights and abuse their families.

The next point is interesting:
So when I thought of the idea of an alien species which, in order to reproduce, had to slaughter each other in terrible intertribal wars, it was only natural that I decided the story should be told from the viewpoint of a human scientist studying them.  Only gradually, over several years, did I develop the idea of the piggies and their strange lifecycle, and the intertribal war receded in importance--so much so that I didn't need to make it an issue in Speaker for the Dead at all.
This explains a fair bit--the wars (which play some kind of vital role in Little One society by allowing males to go tree without having to be selected by the females, circumventing their usual honor-related system) seem like they should be a bigger deal, and everything that happened to Pipo and Libo would make more sense if the Little Ones specifically required speedy, violent death, but that wasn't the story Card wanted to tell.  He also couldn't quite bear to get rid of it (and it does allow for that great scene where civilised white Ender teaches primitive little Human about non-aggression treaties and peaceful alliances), so it stayed in some vestigial form, an offshoot that evolution doesn't really need but hasn't had cause to eliminate either.

Originally the role was the Singer of Death, but Card's wife pointed out that all of his acclaimed works had some kind of music thing going on, so he ditched that and attached instead to the only one that didn't: the short story of Ender's Game.
What if Ender Wiggin comes to an alien world as a Speaker of Death, and accidently gets caught up in the mystery of why these piggies are slaughtering each other? It had a delicious symmetry to it--the man who, as a child, destroyed one alien species now has a chance to save another.
On the one hand, I think Card made the smart choice here by having the ultimate threat be 'scared humans with guns' rather than having to understand why the primitive aliens keep slaughtering each other when it's actually harmless.  On the other hand, the story we have got is basically 'humans colonise a planet wrong, so Ender teaches them to colonise it right and the primitive natives are much better off, and this makes other humans angry'.  At no point do we seem to have any hope of 'humans discover the aliens are actually handling their own affairs just fine and if they'd stop trying to force the aliens into human institutions we'd all float on okay'.  One way or another, regardless of whether the endless reproducto-war is centre stage or an afterthought, we're pretty sure that Ender needs to save these people from their ignorance.

Card set up the deal for Speaker of Death in 1983, only to find:
...that the book was unwritable.  In order to make the Ender Wiggin of Speaker make any kind of sense, I had to have this really long, kind of boring opening chapter that brought him from the end of the Bugger War to the beginning of the story of Speaker some three thousand years later!  It was outrageous.  I couldn't write it.
Card then details the short conversation that abruptly led to him having a contract to do a novel of Game before Speaker, but I'm left confused.  That's quite literally what this book does for the first few chapters: show us Ender of three thousand years later, rich and respected and forgotten, and tell us all about his childhood achievements.  What made the original 'outrageous' draft so different?  (Card acknowledges that Ender Wiggin wasn't really a full character until he fleshed out Ender's Game, which is a fair point and presumably made a difference in trying to approach Speaker, but that's not a problem with the story of Speaker, that's a reminder that you have to know your characters before you can write them, or you'll be visibly flailing to figure out their deal on the page.)

With Ender's Game written, he approaches Speaker again, starting with Ender arriving on Lusitania to speak the death of "an old lout named Marcão", but two hundred pages in found it hollow, even after adding Novinha, Pipo, and Libo.  Card was on a trip with a friend and former student, Gregg Keizer, who took some time to read the manuscript of Speaker.
He had many good ideas. Of course, most of them dealt with small fixes for problems in the manuscript as it now stood. One comment he made, however, illuminated everything for me. "I couldn't tell Novinha's kids apart," he said. "I couldn't remember which was which."
This, Card tells us, was the key.  Novinha's kids were "nothing but placeholders", like a younger sister in another novel whom he would forget existed for hundreds of pages at a time until he finally decided to retcon her into dying in infancy, because I guess the death of a baby sister is exactly the same as her never existing?  But he couldn't just cut her kids:
Because I wanted Novinha to be voluntarily isolated, I had to have her be otherwise acceptable to her neighbors. In a Catholic colony like Lusitania, this meant Novinha needed to have a bunch of kids.
Wait, what?  There's an entire sect of teacher-administrators on this planet whose whole deal is that they are married without children.  (I'm not entirely sure what to make of the assertion that Novinha is and had to be voluntarily isolated, given that we're told she was isolated from a young age because no one took the time to understand her and for the rest of her life no one tried to stop Marcos from beating her--Card's insistence that Novinha literally signed up for physical abuse still horrifies me.)
Once you've read Speaker, of course, you'll wonder what the story would be without Novinha's children, and the answer is, It wouldn't be much!
Novinha's children, in order of relevance:
  • Miro: informed almost-protagonist, fails to get useful information, gets permanently injured trying to run away to marry his sister, gets put in storage so people don't have to deal with him being all physically disabled at them.
  • (Honorable mention because she's not Novinha's kid: Ouanda: like Miro, but female and therefore less important.  Does basically nothing of consequence; exists mostly to assist Ender, be told she's screwing up, and create angst for Miro.)
  • Ela: runs the actual household and does the actual science.  Gives Ender vital information a few times and tells everyone that all of their problems are Novinha's fault.
  • Olhado: gives Ender vital information several times and likes him first.  Records key incidents with his cyborg eyes because a pocket camera just wouldn't feel sci fi enough.
  • Grego: poster child for broken household, violent, needs proper physical discipline from a strong man.
  • Quim: religious zealot, shows that even Ender's least-rational fanatical enemies like his work.
  • Quara: like Grego, but female and therefore less important.  Quiet, needs signs of affection from a strong man.
Card goes on to complain that genre heroes never seem to have parents and we never see them grow up and become parents either, and he's not wrong about that.  Showing protagonists as part of a larger family makes a big difference and we could do with more.
The romantic hero is unconnected. He belongs to no community; he is wandering from place to place, doing good (as he sees it), but then moving on. This is the life of the adolescent, full of passion, intensity, magic, and infinite possibility; but lacking responsibility, rarely expecting to have to stay and bear the consequences of error. [....] Only when the loneliness becomes unbearable do adolescents root themselves [....] many fail at adulthood and constantly reach backward for the freedom and passion of adolescence. But those who achieve it are the ones who create civilization.
Card decided that, if he couldn't write a parent's perspective, he could at least write the perspective of an adult who feels responsibility to a family, and thus this book was an opportunity to show"the miracle of a family in transformation".  This, at least, explains a little more of why Novinha is such a non-entity in her family.  Card had already decided that the caring adult was Ender, and Novinha was 'voluntarily isolated', so there was no hope of her actually doing anything for her kids.

This undertaking, Card wants us to know, was haaaaard:
Most novels get by with showing the relationships between two or, at the most, three characters. This is because the difficulty of creating a character increases with each new major character that is added to the tale.
Characters A and B just have an A-B relationship, he explains, but add C and you've got A-B, A-C, B-C, and A-B-C.  And we change all the time depending on who we're dealing with, so A might be a very different person with B than with C, and so each one is multiplied and it's so hard.
What happens, then, when you start with a family with a mother, a dead father, and six troubled children, and then add a stranger who intrudes into the family and transforms every one of them?
In this book?  Apparently you reduce half of them to caricatures and ignore the relationships that aren't with Mighty Whitey.  Quick, someone tell me how Ela's relationship to Miro changes as a result of the transformative impact of Ender's presence on both of them over the course of the story.  (I'm pretty sure they talk to each other... once in the whole novel?  Was it once?)
I sat there with Gregg, assigning some immediate and obvious trait to each of the children that would help the reader keep track of them. Oh, yes, Olhado is the one with the metal eyes; Quara is the one who says outrageous things after long silences; Grego is the violent one; Quim is the religious fanatic; Ela is the weary mother-figure; Miro is the eldest son, the hero in the others' eyes. These "hooks" could only serve to introduce the children--I'd have to develop them far beyond that point--but having found those hooks, I had a plan that would let me proceed with confidence.
I'm not sure I have anything left to say about how far these characters have been developed beyond the lines above that I haven't already said over the last six months and three weeks.  Perhaps it will suffice that ppfffbbfbttthaaaaahaaaahahahahaha.

Card notes as well that Jane wasn't in any of the original outlines for Speaker; Ender's computer uplink wasn't sentient (I guess he personally hacked all the things?), but Card started the idea and just enjoye it too much, finding that she brought Ender to life.  This is one of those moments where someone almost has an epiphany and then just barely misses it and runs in the opposite direction: Jane made Ender more interesting because Jane is interesting and Ender's just got a lot of backstory.  Sure, Jane's computer powers are a plot device, but no less than Ender's magical intuition.  Jane could have made a fascinating protagonist, knowing everything and incapable of doing anything without human assistance.

She did apparently get spun off to play a major role in the third book, which came out of nowhere when Card's agent told him she had sold the 'Ender trilogy' to an English publisher.  Card immediately realised that, in the same way that he had turned the Speaker idea into a book by jamming Ender into it, he could turn his concept for another story, 'Philotes', into the third book (Xenocide) by the same process.

Just in case anyone got their hopes up, I'm not reading Xenocide.
Besides--and here you are about to learn something truly vile about me--having a third book would mean that I didn't have to figure out some way to resolve the two loose threads that I knew would be dangling at the end of Speaker: what happens to the hive queen? And what happens to the fleet that Starways Congress sends?
Gotta say, not sure that's more vile than the stuff you happily publish about them disgusting homosexuals, Card.  I mean, sure, self-deprecation can be comedy gold, but it kind of plays better when you're not actually terrible?

There's more rambling that doesn't strike me as vital to our purposes, except that Card loops back to the same thing he said in the last intro, that the story in the book is the result of the reader interpreting and transforming with their mind the materials that the author has put there.  "I hope my tale is true enough and flexible enough that you can make it into a world worth living in."

Flexible, you say?  Flexible.  Okay then.  Let's bend it.

What would Speaker for the Dead become if we cut Ender out of the story and split his part among other people?
  • Chapters 2, 4, and 5 get ditched entirely, along with their obsession with sniping at Calvinist theology that matters so little for the rest of the book.
  • Chapters 6 through 8 can get enormously condensed, because we don't need any time to fawn over the pageantry surrounding Ender's arrival or his invasion of the Ribeira house.
  • Chapter 9: Someone else has to be doing the actual investigation.  I nominate Ela, the only person on the planet who actually does her job (unlike Novinha the UnScientist, or Miro and Ouanda the Missionaries).  The only thing Ela needs to discover in order to set everything off is that she and her siblings were fathered by Libo, not Marcos.  There are a score of ways this could happen, since she's a biologist.  For whatever reason (her insistence on studying Descolada in case it comes back, for example, or her desire to ensure that none of her siblings are going to die from Marcos' disease) she realises that Libo was their father, and this begins unravelling everything she thought she knew about her family history.  Much like Ender, once she knows Novinha didn't hate Libo, she has to figure out why else she would try to cut him out, and steadily comes back to the way Descolada files have been locked away.
  • Chapter 10 can get cut.  So can 11, if scientists elsewhere in the galaxy catch Miro and Ouanda's meddling with the aliens without needing Jane's help, because at least one other scientist also does their job.
  • The rest of Ender's meddling is substantially reworked.  I'm going to suggest that Ela tries to engage Miro with some of the things she's discovered, but he is too removed from the family and focused on his work to particularly care.  Ela argues that he's just repeating what their mother did, hiding in science because she rejected her family, he says it's not his responsibility to fix her mistakes (he considers his future family with Ouanda to be the only one he needs to care about), and we get into those same issues Card was talking about with adolescent heroes never dealing with consequences or families, and the way adulthood means dealing with the situation you are in rather than running off to somewhere fresh.  Miro considers literally moving into the woods with Ouanda and cutting humanity off, since no one else can come through the fence without their clearance.
  • There is still a need for the critical point where Ela confronts people with the truth--the colony knows it will be locked down, and Miro resolves to run away, but Ela drags him and Ouanda and Novinha together (maybe others? Ye Must Love Reapers?) to reveal all that she knows.  Miro and Ouanda have the stark choice to either flee or to try to understand and fix things like responsible adults.
  • Miro, who is his mother's repetition, stays with her and tries to hash things out about why she did everything she did (they both broke so many rules of good science for bad reasons) while Ela and Ouanda go into the woods to resolve the science mystery.  (They agree that if Ouanda comes back with answers, they will rebel to defend the Little Ones, but if they get ritually murdered like Pipo and Libo, Miro will go to stand trial without her to protect the colony.)  As in the book, they know the government has left them with all-or-nothing options and so they, like Ender, toss aside their not-even-half-assed attempts at secrecy, but keep to other anthropological good practice like 'Don't remake other societies in your own image'.  They're also damned sure going to tell the Wives that they think they could, with permission, save the lives of the Mothers with a scalpel, some thread, and a mashed yam, rather than let the males keep that fact to themselves.
  • I don't particularly care if one of them has to carve Human open to seal the contract or not.
  • In a final optional twist, Novinha realises her childhood dream of becoming a Speaker for the Dead to help humanity understand the Little Ones, but not before she (with Bruxinha's permission, if she mentions Libo's infidelity with her) Speaks the death of Marcos herself.
At this point, we've covered the same ground in substantially less time and with fewer asides to talk about how much Calvinists suck and partner abusers are sometimes just misunderstood, which should leave some room to deal with the arrival of the deadly Evacuation Fleet, rather than leaving that for another book.

So now we've got Card's own account of why the hell Ender was in this book: he didn't actually realise he needed to write the other characters until someone read his manuscript and told him to write the other characters.  He was more prepared to write an entire 'prequel' novel about Ender's childhood than he was to figure out what anyone on Lusitania was thinking or doing.  They didn't matter until they were set pieces, the boy with cyborg eyes and the girl who doesn't talk and the young woman trying to be sister and mother and scientist all at once.  He got halfway through the first draft before he acknowledged that they needed some attention.  He already knew which character he identified with: the white guy from another land.

And that, as best I can tell, is what the hell was up with that.  /speakerpulpit


  1. Just in case anyone got their hopes up, I'm not reading Xenocide.

    Aww. That could be fun, from a yell-at-ALL-the-ableism PoV.

    I would actually like to read Speaker sans Ender. Someone get on fanficcing that.

  2. Though actually, that's probably what Yuletide is for.

  3. Just in case anyone got their hopes up, I'm not reading Xenocide.

    Good choice. Just imagine a continuation of the most irritating parts of this book, without any sort of actual resolution at the end, and bloated by a hundred-page novella which had almost nothing to do with the plot, was apparently already published elsewhere, and managed to be even worse in terms of racism, sexism, ablism and everything else as the "main" "plot". There are reasons even people who got through the first two books without noticing the problems took one look at Xenocide and said, "What the hell?"

    On the plus side, though, it does have Novinha dumping Ender (more or less offscreen, as I recall) when he admits that he doesn't want to bone her 'cause he's gay he just married her to get into the COTMOCs.

  4. of those rules of writing probably says "if you can excise a character and a story doesn't change, excise the character." Which would actually tighten the cast up considerably if we followed that rule - no Ender, no Jane, many of the kids disappeared... maybe needing two kids and Novinha, maybe?

    So, since Ender's Game had a cast that almost was all needed, Speaker has most of the cast unnecessary, it's probably wise to pass on Xenocide, because there will be one character that is actually necessary, who will have one line.

    Reading the process of the creation of the books makes it sound like this idea was worth developing... In the hands of someone competent.

  5. It would make for a great fanfic challenge: "rewrite this universe so it actually makes sense/is good." On the other hand, if you were going to put all that effort in, you could just write an original sci-fi setting and maybe win a Hugo yourself.

    It might be nice to see how pissed off Card would get, though-- as I recall, he really hates fanfiction.

  6. That was about my experience of it. Somehow I read through Ender's Game and Speaker and missed most of the WTF moments, but I got to Xenocide and threw it at the wall for being so terrible. Much like the Sword of Truth books, you could find a lot of terrible things in Xenocide to talk about, but nobody really needs to spend so much time surrounding themselves with that much awful. ):

  7. I definitely recommend the Mistborn books if you want to read something good. I thought the series was very good at flipping a lot of common tropes (the Evil Overlord, the Revolutionary Hero, etc) on their head, and the magic system is very unique and interesting. The series as a whole had a lot of great atmosphere that I really liked.

  8. For extra credit, make all the Little Ones gay.

  9. Awww, I was sort of hoping you'd delve into the fail that is Xenocide. So many crops of whatnapples! Exoticism out the ears!

    Mistborn would be interesting, though I'm not a huge fan of Sanderson's style- his world building, yes, and character development, definitely, but IMHO he gets carried away with Let Me Show You This Awesome Thing I Invented!! I really liked Elantris because it felt like that aspect of his writing hadn't really shown up yet. But that is most definitely a personal preference.

    If you feel like headdesky YA you could do the Maze Runner trilogy. All 3 of those would have hit the wall if I hadn't been reading them on my tablet. Or maybe the Young Wizards series, if you want non-headdesky YA (though you'd want to get the NME e-book versions which have been updated to fix a bunch of issues in the originals, mostly timelines &, later, bad understandings of autism (about which the author listened to her fans & fixed, omg)).

  10. there wouldn't be much of this book left without Ender there.

    There's not much of a book with Ender there. Or at least not much of what could really be called a plot. In fact, most of what's there is people being implausibly incompetent to keep there from being a plot.

    it was only natural that I decided the story should be told from the viewpoint of a human scientist studying them

    Why was this "only natural"? Did something precede what you excerpted that makes this seem less headdesk worthy? Or does Card really find the idea of writing from the point of view of the other unfathomable? (Which explains a lot and isn't at all surprising, but, still, yikes. There aren't that many authors willing to just flat out say "Of course I write Mighty Whitey. It's only natural!")

    "In a Catholic colony like Lusitania, this meant Novinha needed to have a bunch of kids."

    On top of the other problems you've pointed out about this, there's no reason I can think of why the colony needs to be Catholic. I don't remember that ever being relevant to the story. The friction between Ender and the colony could've been achieved in any number of other ways, and amounts to so little it could've been dropped. (And any religion at all would've worked, even one Card made up on the spot.)

    Never mind the presssing question of why there's Catholicism three thousand years in the future and why it's apparently little changed from present day Catholicism.

    And she's having a bunch of kids supposedly with a man who at least the colony doctor should know is infertile. (Good thing the colony doctor found his license in a box of Cracker Jacks.)

    "I didn't have to figure out some way to resolve the two loose threads that I knew would be dangling at the end of Speaker: what happens to the hive queen? And what happens to the fleet that Starways Congress sends?"

    Um, Card, I hate to break it to you but the Starways Congress fleet isn't just a loose end, it's like half the "plot" of the book. (In as much as the book has a plot.) True, it's not going to destroy the planet for 30 years, but you did set up the idea that it's on it's way to, you know, destroy the planet. That's not a dangling thread, that's a giant "to be continued" sign. (Unless you're planning on adding a postscript that just says "Boom.")

  11. A definite vote for Mistborn here. I really enjoyed the book, and I would dearly love to have the chance to shake it around and see what knocks loose.

    As a kid I loved Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, with only a couple of head-shaking moments in SftD, where the science got particularly egregious. Xenocide was a mistake, because that was where I started noticing the giant gaps in Card's world-and-people building, and once seen, that couldn't be unseen. I've never really enjoyed a Card story since.

  12. "Unless you're planning on adding a postscript that just says "Boom."" <<-- this would have been a much better and more satisfying Xenocide. Whole book of empty pages and Boom.

  13. Add me to the list of people who are disappointed that you won't be getting to Xenocide or Children of the Mind. I thought Xenocide was fine until the final chapters, for which there weren't enough Whatnapples in the world. COTM was Whatnapple from beginning to end. Though nobody could blame you for not wanting to subject yourself to these books, it would've been so gratifying to see you take them down.

  14. Plus, one of those books contains the squirrel retcon! The squirrel retcon is pure gold!

  15. "What happens, then, when you start with a family with a mother, a
    dead father, and six troubled children, and then add a stranger who
    intrudes into the family and transforms every one of them?"
    Oh! Card! I know the answer to this one! What happens is that Ender gets his goddamn ass kissed, same as when a six-year-old gets drafted into a supposed top-notch military academy, when an adolescent commits "innocent genocide" via hundreds of pages of absurd contrivance, and when the internet achieves sentience. Or when someone bakes a loaf of bread is Ender's presence.

  16. Mmm Octavia Butler. Ooo. She'd have Ender as a strong woman of colour! It would be so COOL!
    Though there might be alien sex. But not uncomfortable alien sex.

  17. Why can't it be from the alien's perspective? He sometimes has Wrong Narrator Syndrome. Like, who cares about the perspective of Mormon parents when their son is talking to ghosts for the love of cats dancing in drag?

  18. It could've been from the alien's perspective. Hell, even if he'd actually written the book from the perspective of one of the scientists like he thought he should, the book would've been less of a disaster. Will makes a good case for Ela. Or we could backtrack all the way and have Novinha and Libo trying to study the Little Ones and figure out why Pipo was killed.

    Or, you know, if Card wanted to have Ender redeem himself by saving an alien species maybe he should A) have found the hive queen a home instead of farting about for three thousand years (a time skip that is a terrible idea in so many ways) and B) become a xenologer himself, eager to try to make sure that this time things go well. Ender needs to be involved in the story, with an investment in the outcome, facing risks and challenges, if he's going to be the main character. He can't be this removed figure who's full of himself and who the narrative just pats on the back for teh awwwwesome.

  19. Squirrel retcon? Though, yeah, I made the mistake of rereading those books and recently I reread Ender in Exile.

    I regret doing this. Those books are so FRUSTRATING!

  20. I agree about Sanderson's style. Elantris was great, Mistborn I think is not too far off from that-- and a big part of the appeal for me was taking common fantasy tropes and turning them around. I mean, the premise of Mistborn is pretty much "What does this world look like after the Evil Overlord *wins*?". I found that interesting.

    But his later books--ugh. I read through Warbreaker and it seemed like the whole thing was just a setup for the sequel hook at the very end, and a lengthy way to show off the magic system. Which was a cool idea, but not enough to make up for the lack of plot. I couldn't get into the Way of Kings at all. I've been wary about reading any of his other works after that.

  21. So true. The whole mighty whity from the sky thing did not sit well with me. Hence why I never finished Avatar. It pissed me off too much.

  22. That brings to mind Larry Niven's reaction to Elf Sternberg's fiction piece, "The Only Worthy Prey." It's not properly 'fanfiction' because Niven opened up the Ringworld universe for people to write in. And was made uncomfortable when aforementioned author picked up the Law of Unintended Consequences (AKA "You didn't think through your alien culture, dude, did you?") and ran all the way to the club for sadomasochistic non-heterosexual Kzinti males.

    TOWP became explicity expunged from the Ringworld pseudo-canon by Niven. If Card's reaction is as entertaining as Niven's, it would be worth reading.

  23. I got a much different vibe from Avatar. The human-in-the-Na'vi's-body didn't do anything that a Na'vi couldn't. He only brought information about the other humans and their goals and techniques. After that, the Na'vi handled it themselves. Considering the ending, I saw it as a transformation/transmogrification for him.

    BUT... my interpretation is hardly infallible, I may be wrong, the story itself was anvilicious, and there are huge biology and physics and neurology holes left wide open. (For starters: Everything else on Pandora is hexapedal and quadrocular, except the Na'vi.)

  24. Did something precede what you excerpted that makes this seem less headdesk worthy?
    Yes, it was preceded by this paragraph:
    But that was not the only source of Speaker for the Dead. I was also a longtime aficionado of anthropological science fiction—stories in which a scientist studies an alien culture and uncovers the reasons for their strangeness. The first such novel that I read was James Blish’s A Case of Conscience. Not many years later, I read Michael Bishop’s story “Death and Designation among the Asadi.” Both had a powerful effect on me. So in the back of my mind, I had a strong desire to add something of my own to that subgenre.

  25. Hm, yes, the context does make it sound a bit less bad. Though the question of why he didn't actually write in that subgenre remains.

  26. I am hate listening to the Wheel of Time series right now. I can't stop because I need to know how it all wraps up, but don't do it. Run now. It's not worth it.

    I started them back in middle school, before I found out about the internet, when super long books with wizards in them were a blessing because I didn't finish them immediately and have to distract myself with the boring real world until I got to whatever I was reading next.

    But oh god the sexism (and all the other isms honestly). Plus all the blatant dragging shit out to milk the series.

    On the plus side (?) I would totally come here to yell about them if you were doing posts. Epic yelling.

    Not worth it.

  27. I've her rumours and propaganda that the first few books (somewhere between one and four) are actually good? But lord no, I wouldn't commit to the entire series, any more than I'd have opened Ender's Game by pledging to plow through to Children of the Mind.

  28. I have got to know about the squirrel retcon.

  29. The first one, maybe two, are fairly well written. But he's got a very binarist view of men and women (no one else exists, everyone is straight) and while he doesn't start hitting you over the head with it every chapter until further on it still bothered me even as an oblivious teenager. It actually kind of wraps up like a story that's not going to be thirteen giant bricks long, so if you can be content with just assuming it will end how all fantasy novels end (I cannot. Six books in I've decided it's a character flaw) you could probably yell at it without regretting it. But even one book that long is kind of an investment and it's really not worth it.

  30. In the Shadow series, Peter grows as a person, and although he remains
    ambitious in the extreme, his agenda for humanity involves good things
    like stopping war. And deep in his heart he loved Ender the whole time.

    It's all believable except for that one part in Ender's Game where Valentine tells somebody that teenage Peter impales squirrels. Just straight-up murders them. That isn't the act of somebody who has some growing to do. It's the act of a psychopath

    In Children of the Mind, somebody retsplains that Peter wasn't killing for pleasure. He was doing scientific experiments.

    Whether the person saying this is in a position to know -- his entire character is made of whatnapples -- is highly questionable. But if we accept this, we have to be grateful that Peter went into politics rather than science.

  31. I had no difficulty reading the first book and stopping. It had space to continue (and hoo boy he stretched that space for all it was worth) but it had a mini-resolution that made stopping not bothersome for me. I remember it as being quite bland and very up its own ass.

  32. Oh, sure, crucifying and skinning squirrels is definitely science. Of the sort villains do. I feel all better now. Yes indeedy. That retcon helps everything!

  33. see, I can't read Sanderson. Not that I've ever read him mind you. It's just that during my first year doing Nanowrimo, Sanderson, who I'd never heard of before, was on the message boards waxing about how girls are only at conventions for guys to pick up and how to score said girls. Then I found out he was a professional writer. And of course, he is also LDS. Big wheelbarrow of nopetopi (plural of nopetopus) with a side of whatnapple.

  34. That is a really depressing anecdote. (Despite being LDS, Sanderson isn't nearly as terrible as Card on most points I've heard him speak on, and I've been hoping he'll get better over time instead of worse.)

  35. Wow. I suppose, in a horrible sort of way it's commendable how many authors are honest about their asshattery. You'd think not driving away potential readers would factor In, but Nope!

  36. I read through like book six, I think? The first book starts out okay, but in my opinion the main problem is this - the world and the setup are fascinating and neat, it's obviously been thought through a lot, you want to know more about how the One Power works and what's going on with the dark one and all this other stuff, but holy shit every single character is a giant asshole and you just want to punch all of them in the face.

    It just keeps getting worse, too. Here, meet this interesting character Faile that is this neat lady! What's that? She seems neat? HA HA NOPE let's have her start acting totally irrationally while refusing to communicate anything like an adult! What's that? Other characters are communicating like adults? Let's have that stop! Everyone can be a whiny ungrateful piece of shit that's full of themselves! That's right, every single person! Also all these women totally worship Rand because of Reasons or something, but they're ALL going to be intensely passive-aggressive and weird about it, because remember, no one is allowed to communicate like a fucking adult or even a somewhat well-adjusted teenager!

    Honestly I just can't read something when I hate every character and want them all to die, no matter what kind of interesting worldbuilding there is. I have friends who say that it's worth it, but I'm pretty much like "eh if I really want to know I'll read the wiki article on it or something" because every character that I thought was interesting and relatable in the first book just turned into a huge piece of shit. Plus, as Tanzenlicht said, it's super rigid on "girls are like X but boys are like Y!" and it kind of hinges on that because there's woman-magic and man-magic and they're separate and distinct and this is not a world with nonbinary or trans people, apparently.

  37. Aren't the second-life males pretty much gay already? I mean, to the degree that they match any human orientation. There's the nipple-rubbing, and virtually all of their close emotional and physical interactions are with other males. Heterosexual intercourse in this species is a brief and mutually nonconsensual affair--the male is an immobile tree, the female is an assumedly mindless worm, a third party places the latter on the former and fertilization happens automatically.

  38. That's too bad. I knew he was pretty religious, as pretty much all his books deal with faith/deities in some way, and he talks about it a lot on his website, but I haven't seen him be obnoxious about it the way that Card is. The comment about women at conventions is pretty disappointing, though.

  39. Given the way the Little Ones handle reproduction, I'm not sure we could say they have any such thing as a 'sexual orientation' as humans understand the concept.

  40. Huh. I also first heard of Sanderson in my first year of NaNo, only he was on the forums offering writing advice, which I thought was really great of him, and ended up picking up his books because of that. First impressions really do matter.

  41. Because if you're a girl and want to get laid by some random guy, you...have to go to a sci-fi convention to do it? That's kind of an expensive and time-consuming method, isn't it?

    I don' t know much about Sanderson, but you don't happen to have a link to his comments, do you? Those are always handy to pass on, if they haven't disappeared down the memory hole.

    I remember going to E3 one year with my girlfriend; she was sitting under a staircase in a bulky sweatshirt, reading a book, and some marketing-looking guy walked up and asked her how much she charged for her services. Women and their mixed messages, you know. It's just so hard to get clear on what they want from you.

  42. I listen to the Writing Excuses podcast that he does with Mary Robinette Kowal and ... Dan Wells, and Howard Taylor... which is interesting as someone who hopes to get published in SFF someday, but I have to stop listening every time they get off onto how great at writing Card is. Srsly. Not being sarcastic or ironic or anything.

    I think that if I had discovered the podcast before Mary started co-hosting, I'd have given up on it ages ago,

  43. Thank you! I can assure you that one way or another there will be much more book-dissecting to come. (I'll be laughing at "sacred cow barbecue" for the rest of the day.)

  44. Mmm sacred cow barbecue.

  45. See, but that is still cruel and terrible behaviour!

  46. BUT HIS INTENTIONS WERE GOOD. Move along, move along, nothing to see here.

  47. She was clearly just reading to get male attention

  48. I'm a bit sad you won't be examining Xenocide or Children of the Mind, but I understand and respect your decision. For me, the parts of those books set on the planet Path, really struck a chord with me. As a young person on the autism spectrum (though I didn't realize it at the time) the feeling of being intelligent but with isolating and anxiety ridden behavior holding you back from your full potential seemed to be encapsulated in that part of the story. Because of how much those parts of the books mattered to me as a child, I would really like to go back over them sometime but am also rather afraid of how much whatnapple-y stuff I'll find in it. Perhaps I'll find the bravery to do it myself someday.

  49. He's just a soul whose intentions are good! Oh lord, please don't let him be misunderstood :(

  50. I started reading the Wheel of Time series way, way back in high school, and I really wanted to like it. But by the fourth book, I just plain gave up, because Jordan kept introducing characters and I couldn't remember who they were, what they were doing, or why I was supposed to care about them. It felt like every time a new book came out, I had to re-read the entire series to refresh myself on what the heck was going on. I also thought the female characters were pretty boring, except Nynaeve, whom I rather liked. Now that I look back, though, I realize most of Nynaeve's plot line was "Are she and Lan going to get together or not?" Still, she seemed to me to be the only girl who wasn't boring or dead.

    Having poked around in Wheel of Time wikis so I could find out how it ended without having to read the damn things, I've tripped across people trying to deal with the sexism of the series. The best example I found of this was a FAQ which addressed the question of whether or not Egwene was ta'veren. It pointed out that hey, ta'veren are people around whom the Wheel turns and Egwene seems to fit that description and why shouldn't she get to be one? Except Jordan pretty much said, no, none of the major women characters are. Which led to the following heart-breaking/infuriating explanation for Egwene's achievements in the books:The likeliest explanation for why [Egwene] is able to acheive [sic] her improbable success is that Rand (who is the strongest ta'veren ever recorded), or the Pattern, which amounts to the same thing, needs her to be Amyrlin for the Last Battle, or even afterwards to rebuild whatever's left of the world.Every time I re-read that explanation I'm astounded both by how profoundly insulting that explanation is and how entirely unaware of that the person writing it is.

  51. Do you really want Jordan dealing with non-binary or trans people? I mean, he tackled polyamory with Rand's wives, but I always found those relationships creepy. It seemed to me like the women were in the relationship because gosh, Rand loves all of them and how could they make him choose? I really wanted one of them to be like, "You know, I love you but this isn't going to work for me bye." Plus there's the minor issue of Rand being the reincarnation of a man who killed his wife in a fit of insanity brought on by using the very same magic that Rand is messing around with.

  52. I am on the spectrum too. In fact, rereading these books is what made me go WTF? Rereading them several times and being like WAIT A MINUTE HERE?!?!?

  53. Yeah, I can't count the number of women who have shamelessly flaunted their basic literacy at me. And I respect basic literacy. For I am a Nice Guy, you know.

  54. Well maybe if Jordan knew about nb or trans people he'd be a better writer? But no, you're probably right and it would probably be terrible.

    And yeah, it seemed to me that Rand is just ~*~*so amazingly special*~*~ that they all have to share because they can't give him up. That's how it came across to me, anyway, like it wasn't even a real relationship, just women throwing themselves at him because they couldn't help it, because special snowflake and the Pattern says so or something. More accurately it comes across as a teenager's fantasy to have beautiful people of the kind one's attracted to fawning all over you because they all just love you so much because you're so amazing.

  55. Indeed. They are married before they even totally know each other. It rankles so much. I kind of WANT that kind of life. Passion, intensity, magic and all of that instead of the sort of life people like OSC want people to live.

  56. Well since there are some votes on what to do next - I would recommend Jumper by Steven Gould. The reason being it ranks up there with Ender's Game as the two books I have read and re-read over and over. You totally entertained me with your decapitation of Ender and I'd like to see how you would deal with Davy Rice. The book by the way, is infinitely superior to the movie.
    I'd toss in a vote for Mistborn too, although I would not recommend going beyond the initial trilogy. There's a sequel set a couple of hundred years after the action and I really didn't care for it. I'm in the minority based on Amazon ratings, but I really didn't care for the genre (Batman in a Wild West setting).

  57. Congratulations on finishing this horrible book, btw.

    I made you a fruit basket.

  58. CheckeredFoxgloveJuly 6, 2014 at 9:50 AM

    Card is great at writing. Everything he writes sounds beautiful. That's why people are fooled into thinking he's also a great storyteller. Everything's so pretty they stop paying attention to how nothing makes sense.

  59. I just realized there's no more SOTD updates. Ever.



  60. this is a basket truly worthy of Carmen Miranda. All the upvotes to you!

  61. Intent! It's fricking MAGIC!

  62. CheckeredFoxgloveJuly 6, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    I think he took all his cues from anthropology circa 1880, when it was all white colonialists being sad that all these Fascinating and Exotic cultures were being wiped out, so they wanted to preserve them for posterity like stuffed birds. Stuffed, endangered birds. Which you shot.

    Anthropology had changed a lot by the 1980s, but I guess Card hadn't caught up yet.

  63. CheckeredFoxgloveJuly 6, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    Maybe she could team up with Jane Yolen and actually run with the anthropology!Sci-fi angle.

  64. CheckeredFoxgloveJuly 6, 2014 at 5:05 PM

    In case anyone else goes looking: according to Google it's actually The Only Fair Game.

  65. "And if ye eat of the fruit of this tree, ye shall write novels in which the protagonist is the one dispensable character. And they shall give unto them Hugos and Nebulas, and their fame shall be great in the land. But the children of snarkiness shall gibe and fleer at them, so they shall know no quietude in their habitations. And it shall come to pass that the Whutnapple shall be found to be good for food by all the tribes of the earth."

  66. "In a Catholic colony like Lusitania, this meant Novinha needed to have a bunch of kids."

    "On top of the other problems you've pointed out about this, there's no reason I can think of why the colony needs to be Catholic. I don't remember that ever being relevant to the story. The friction between Ender and the colony could've been achieved in any number of other ways, and amounts to so little it could've been dropped. (And any religion at all would've worked, even one Card made up on the spot.)"

    And then there's no guarantee that no adult member of a Catholic (or even any-religion let's-breed-a-lot) colony won't be infertile. (See: Marcao.) Or maybe it's the author's idea that infertility is something which only happens to dudes since they're the ones with the seed of Adam in their loins they're the ones with the Spirit of God in their loins they're living on Lusitania and the implications inherent in the Lusitanian method of reproduction, which excludes female parents as much as is possible, are somehow mystically transferring themselves over to the human population. My best guess.

  67. Yeah, but they were talking about, IIRC, how he's good at writing relatable, sympathetic characters, and his great system for working out where you need to flesh out your plot. *boggle*

  68. I'm not sure why it made me anonymous though. Oh well.

  69. How cute! I love all of those confused grapes!

  70. The Two Musketeers and Possibly a Couple of Other Guys, I Think One of Them Is a Musketeer Too But Who Can Keep Track of These Things