2.15.2012

Currently Reading: Xenocide

Xenocide (Ender's Saga, #3)So what Wiggin was describing wasn’t parents, really. He was describing good parents. He wasn’t telling her what the gods were, he was telling her what goodness was. To want other people to grow. To want other people to have all the good things that you have. And to spare them the bad things if you can. That was goodness.

What were the gods, then? They would want everyone else to know and have and be all good things. They would teach and share and train, but never force.

Like my parents, thought Wang-mu. Clumsy and stupid sometimes, like all people, but they were good.

Author: Orson Scott Card

Synopsis: Every known sentient species is up for obliteration—but Ender Wiggin could bear his difficulties until his wife walked away.

Starways Congress has the Molecular Disruption Device aimed at Lusitania, where the Hive Queen once again prepares to save her people from xenocide. The pequeninos, too, intend to take to the stars, but some of them would like to spread the descolada virus to the Hundred Worlds, destroying humankind and every other life form that cannot evolve quickly enough to survive the disease. Meanwhile, a Chinese researcher has discovered Jane and made plans for her destruction as well.

Ender faithfully aids every battle for survival, but grief and guilt over Novinha threaten his own.

Notes: One of Card’s greatest strengths as a writer is in his empathy. Whatever a character thinks or believes or does, he is capable of putting himself into their mind and heart, showing the best of who they are and placing the reader firmly on their side.

This novel opened with the mind and heart of Han Fei-tzu, one of the godspoken on the Chinese world of Path, as he makes a promise to his dying wife despite his own reluctance. That promise and its consequences set the key themes for the rest of the story, meanwhile establishing Han Fei-tzu and his daughter Qing-jao as beloved and interesting people.

From Path, Card takes us to Lusitania by way of Miro’s and Valentine’s starships. There, the Wiggin-Ribeira family has begun under pressure to return to the state of self-destruction in which Ender found it. It would have been nice, thinks this reader anyway, if more of the characters had progressed somewhat in the thirty years since the events of Speaker for the Dead. But as it stands, Grego’s aggression and Quara’s stubbornness are endangering not only the family peace but the lives of humans and pequeninos. Ela remains selfless and unable to rein in her younger siblings, and Novinha returns to distancing herself from everyone who might love her. Miro still has his bitterness, but Miro has lived only one month thanks to time-relative starflight, so he has fair reasons for not having changed much.

Quim, however—now Father Estevão, missionary to the pequeninos—was a pleasant surprise. Angry and holier-than-thou in his early teens, the priest has become a truly good and respectable and even likable man. Likewise, Olhado, the boy with the metal eyes, returns in this book with much to show for his years, despite having little onscreen time to show it.

Ender is still the Andrew Wiggin we know and love, but a little older and more weary. Reunited at last with Valentine, he does everything he can to bring about peace, even after Novinha retreats to the monastery of the Children of the Mind of Christ. His wisdom works against Miro’s bitterness, against the fighting between Ela and Quara and Grego, and against suspicions the Hive Queen and pequeninos share toward the humans.

Valentine aids her brother, both in person and in the character of the writer Demosthenes. Together with Miro and Jane, they fight at the center of the battles of Lusitania and Path.

Amid all this, the novel’s themes play out in both word and action. In a story containing so much threat of death—few books can have objectively higher stakes than this one—it would probably be dishonest to avoid all talk of religion, and Card doesn’t hesitate to raise the subject. While placing his own Mormonism in a symbolic role, Card sets the Catholicism of Lusitania, the ancestral worship of Path, and the agnostic humanism of the scientists into debate over penance, the impact of science upon religion, free will, and the power faith holds over the believer. These questions affected the lives of the characters so totally, sometimes so unsettlingly, that for me at least, they never became dry to read.

The story isn’t held together quite as perfectly as its predecessors, but to be fair, that's primarily because it's only the first half of the tale. It leaves a number of threads untied for the next book. Here and there it strained mildly at the all-important suspension of disbelief, and some of the conversations might have stood a little tightening; Novinha’s character could also have used fleshing out, to make Ender’s continued love for her more comprehensible and her own plight more interesting.

The book fills its place in the Ender saga well, though, picking up the thread of suspense left at the end of the previous installment. It sets the stage for a potentially very powerful sequel. And it gives us a little more time with one of the great memorable and sympathetic characters of fiction.

Recommendation: Read it with its sequel close at hand. You'll want the next book right away.

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