Thursday, January 26, 2017
Xenocide, by Orson Scott Card
As I mentioned in my review of Speaker, I thought it was a great example of how science-fiction could still deal with important human issues in a meaningful way. Xenocide takes this approach to the eventual extreme with lengthy debates on theology, metaphysics, sociology, and the science of the ansible and...well...souls. There's really no other way to put it if I'm being completely honest. Part of the plot of the book deals with trying to save Jane once Starways Congress has found out that she's in the ansible network and intends to shut the network down to kill her. So in an attempt to save her, Ender and company have to find where Jane's ''soul'', for lack of a better term really resides. And it just gets kind of...dumb.
This isn't to say there aren't good parts to the book. There's several conflicts running at once. Relationships between the humans, pequininos, and buggers on Lusitania has been strained, and they're all facing the very real threat of annihilation in the near future. In addition the humans and buggers are in their own race against time because the descolada virus is adapting to their chemical defenses against it but they can't simply wipe it out entirely because it's necessary for all indigenous life to survive on Lusitania. There are also the events on the planet Path, which I didn't really understand at first because they weren't tied directly into the story but eventually it all meshed together and story-wise it's fairly good overall. It just takes a really dumb turn towards the end.
Basically, among their problems, the humans on Lusitania are trying to develop faster-than-light travel as a means of shuttling people off of Lusitania before the fleet to destroy them arrives. Basically it revolves around these things called philotes, fictional particles that connect to each other and make the ansibles work. Plus apparently philotes are in absolutely everything. Anyway, the humans come upon the idea that philotes come from a place called ''outside'', just waiting for an opportunity to come into the universe in some pattern. They get this idea because apparently when the buggers want to create a new queen they call philotes from Outside to make the...consciousness, soul, whatever you want to call it for the new queen.
Anyway, so the theory goes that you can take a ship, go outside, and then go back inside at a separate point in time, with the philotes in the same arrangement, with no time at all passing. They literally call it travel by wish in the book because Jane has to will the ship and its passengers to go outside, and then will them back inside. It's very...clap your hands if you believe which is more mysticism than science but it gets worse.
Basically the scientists were trying to find a way to solve the descolada virus without harming the pequininos but they couldn't produce what they needed in the lab. But they struck on the idea that if you can think of anything Outside, where anything you can imagine is possible, then if you go Outside and imagine the virus you need, then bring it back inside. I honestly can't see this as anything other than magic or a deus ex machina. Basically, ''Go to a place where anything's possible, imagine a thing, get thing, come back from place.'' It just...it bothers me on some level. One of my friends said it felt like a way for Card to get himself out of a corner he painted himself into and in a way I have to agree.
So the fact that the main characters resolve the story by wishing for things to fix their problem, plus the interminable arguments on theology and metaphysics make the book feel simultaneously pretentious and lazy. There are some good parts in there, for sure, but for me it was drowned out by all the bad parts. The audio book was also kind of hard to listen to because the characters on Path were read with extremely stereotyped Asian accents, which made me feel uncomfortable when the only other characters that got exaggerated accents were aliens. The book also seems to waffle back and forth on whether gods exist in this universe or not and I feel like Card is trying to have it both ways which feels disingenuous.
Overall I feel like this is an example of science-fiction done badly, just as much as Speaker for the Dead is science-fiction done well. The book gets extremely pretentious with its discussions on a number of subjects and ends with sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic to solve the problem. It was just a really great disappointment.