Sep 6, 2011

[Books] Xenocide

XenocideAs I continued to make my way through the original Ender books written by Orson Scott Card, I finally reached a point where my interests and those of the author started to diverge. While he won me over with the brilliance of Ender's Game and the complexity of Speaker for the Dead, this book left me feeling a little weird, among other things. Perhaps his being a Morman had truly begun to creep into his writing or at least presented itself in a way that rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe his focus on Brazil was weirding me out. Maybe the story was just going into a place I didn't entirely like. It's hard to say really.

It might have more to do with how Bean was perhaps one of the more interesting characters, at least in terms of how he was originally presented in Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow. And while Ender was interesting to begin with, over the course of these books in particular, he's become less and less appealing a character to me given how lofty a lot of the subject matter has become. Or at least has tried to become.

To be fair, this story arc has included some pretty interesting themes and concepts. We've had to deal with the question of sentience, the value of one species over another and even a little religious argumentation to boot. But then it has meandered around a lot as well and I suppose that's really begun to eat away at my personal interest in this story. But still, I already started the series and I remain determined to finish it no matter what.

In summary, Xenocide is the third novel in the Ender series of books written by Orson Scott Card. The book was nominated for both the Hugo and the Locus awards in 1992 for Best Novel although it didn't win.

The book begins pretty much right after where Speaker for the Dead ended - with the residents of the planet of Lusitania facing annihilation by a fleet of ships dispatched by the Starways Congress. And these aren't just the human colonists alone - this group now includes the native sentient species known as the Pequeninos and the now revived and thriving race of the Formics, the original opponents in Ender's Game. All three face possible extinction should the Starways fleet execute its orders to deploy the dreaded MD Device to destroy the planet. In order to work against this, the sentient computer presence Jane cuts of all ansible communications between the Starways Congress and the fleet as a stopgap measure.

Sunset of the Forbidden City, Beijing (northwe...Image via WikipediaThus we are brought to a new planet, this time the Chinese-oriented planet of Path. Here the people believe that a select few become "godspoken", their term for individuals who have been granted the ability to somehow hear the gods or at least be touched by them. This usually manifests in what can only be described as obsessive compulsive behavior including the need to constantly cleanse themselves of impurities. Beyond these quirks though, the godspoken are also proven to be of greater intelligence compared to other people. And thus the Starways Congress asks the most respected of the godspoken, Han Fei-Tsu together with his daughter Han Qing-jao to figure out what had happened to the Starways fleet and somehow restore ansible communications between the two.

Card seems to have a penchant for disorienting readers at the start of the book. Maybe this is his way of trying to keep each book more or less separate from the others to avoid readers feeling overly obligated to read the prior books in order to understand the present book.But as someone who has been following the sequence of titles one after the other, I have to admit that I felt really uncertain of where I stood at the beginning of this book. After taking a while for me to fully invest myself in the interests of Lusitania in the previous book, suddenly we're on this strange world of Path where people speak in a weird exaggeration of Chinese culture. I'm sure these some level of truth to the portrayal, but at the same time it felt like things were a bit too weird. Would Chinese culture really evolve to be a throwback to its more primitive period?

Plus it's hard to appreciate the continued bickering of the Wiggin / Ribeira family gets really old really fast. While I understand they had some challenging beginnings given the unusual relationship between Novinha and her ex-husband, but I don't think it fully explains how they continue to be annoying into their adulthood. You'd think that the introduction of a somewhat more positive father figure in the form of Andrew would have helped steer things along better, but in the end they all just become strange caricatures of real people. And that can really wear you down through the book.

To be fair, I did appreciate the reintroduction of Valentine into the story since she was a pretty interesting character in the prior books. So instead of a bit role, she now got to join the ensemble a bit more together with her new family (who were largely absent from the book now that I think about it). And yes, the Miro angle was pretty interesting to some extent, although his self-pitying here and there was also rather grating on my sensibilities.

In the end, the book does manage to resolve things, although whether this was a good resolution is probably a subject for much debate. I don't want to spoil things, but I will go as far as saying while it did present an interesting application of Card's notions in terms of Miro, I didn't like the other side effects it resulted in. Seriously, for a story that spans thousands of years, we seem to be stuck dancing around a rather limited number of characters. I think we could have done better than this.

Xenocide was a tolerable read but not one that I'd return to all to quickly. There was too much religious prattle going on for my tastes and it was hard to find a character that I wanted to support fully or through my moral support behind. Thus it manages to limp out of drydock with 2 annoying godspoken cleansing rituals out of a possible 5.

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