Thing of the Day: Speaker for the Dead

[Content Note: Colonialism, Plague Death]

I've said this before, but if you aren't reading Will Wildman's analysis of Orson Scott Card's Ender books, you are missing out. I finally picked up Speaker for the Dead so that I could follow along, and I am just WTF all over the place.

Comment here:
So I think I mentioned that I bought a copy of Speaker just to be able to follow along. I'm already WTFing all over the place.

It’s the funeral of her parents, she’s the last survivor in her family; yet all around her she can sense the great rejoicing of the people of this colony. Young as she is, does she understand that our joy is the best tribute to her parents?

[...] Five hundred dead, and more than a hundred masses for the dead here in this colony in the last six months, and all of them were held in an atmosphere of fear and grief and despair. Now, when your parents die, the fear and grief and despair are no less for you than ever before—but no one else shares your pain. It is the relief from pain that is foremost in our minds.

[...] Today everyone was rejoicing, except her.

No. What? No. No, this is not how people work. Has OSC really done ZERO reading on community responses to plague? Has he never met, like, actual people? This is so fucked up.

Everyone in the colony has either lost a friend or relative OR knows someone else who has. Whole families have probably been wiped out. OSC is seriously asking us to believe that peoples' relief at their being a cure would blot out any and all mourning. THAT IS NOT HOW PEOPLE, PLURAL, WORK. (Some individual people may work like that, but not every member of a few thousand strong community.)

Some people at this funeral would still be in mourning for those that were lost. Some would be in morning that the cure came too late. Others would feel that the cure came too soon; that if they were going to lose their child or spouse or best friend to the plague, it would have been better for it to take them as well.

Some people are going to be worried that a quarter of their community was wiped out by an unexpected illness. They're going to be worried that the illness might strike again--a different version, immune to this cure, or another illness entirely different from this one but just as deadly. They'd be in mourning for the xenologists for a self-interested, but genuine reason: the people who could best protect them from another outbreak are dead.

Some people are going to be disheartened and disenchanted by this illness. No doubt they came to this planet to start over, to start new lives--now those new lives are indelibly marked with a tragedy they never intended to experience. The people they brought with them, the people they most wanted in their new lives, are gone. Some people will feel they've lost their purpose to go on.

Some people are going to be flat-out terrified at this plague, regardless of whether a cure has been found or not. Bam! Here's a reminder that you are mortal. Here's a reminder that for all your science, your best-laid plans don't turn out the way you expected. Here's a reminder that even the best and brightest of your generation aren't immune to random bad chance.

The assertion that everyone is doing the happy dance because penicillin has been invented or whatever is FLATLY FALSE.

Pipo’s heart broke for her. Yet he knew that even if he tried, he could not conceal his own gladness at the end of the Descolada, his rejoicing that none of his other children would be taken from him.

Having said all that, I *am* willing to believe that Pipo is the most terrible person in the entire universe. I'm not ENTIRELY unfair to Orson Scott Card, you see.

(Seriously: Pipo is terrifyingly stupid. "Yay! The flu is cured so now none of my children will ever die because there are no other illnesses on this alien world!" OH. MY. GOD.)

And here:

Pipo and Libo speculated that perhaps the human example of sexual equality had somehow given the male pequeninos some hope of liberation. [...] It was a sobering thought—that doing their job faithfully might lead Starways Congress to forbid them to do their job at all.

I love -- and by "love" I mean I want to throw this book into a supernova -- how fucking self-centric this is. Pipo and Lido have potentially completely upset an entire society, there may be violent social upheaval on the horizon, people are almost guaranteed to die (because that's what social upheaval usually does), and an entire society may be irrevocably changed overnight. Possibly not for the better. Possibly not in ways which will ever allow them to be peaceful again.

And Pipo and Lido are worried about THEIR JOBS. Because of course they fucking are. And not even a kind of worry that allows them to also be concerned about the Little Ones who may die over this--they're 100% thinking about themselves. These guys shouldn't be allowed to study PLANKTON.

Also? That "doing their job faithfully" cracks me the fuck up. BECAUSE IT IS A LIE. Pipo broke the rules because he felt like breaking the rules would be better than saying "I'm sorry, I don't understand, possibly we have a language barrier problem?" when faced with a question that HE DIDN'T UNDERSTAND BECAUSE OF A LANGUAGE BARRIER PROBLEM. The book straight-up says he broke the rules:

In this case, Pipo could see no point but to tell the truth; it was, after all, a relatively obvious and trivial bit of information about human society. It was against the rules that the Starways Congress had established for him, but failing to answer would be even more damaging, and so Pipo went ahead.

That's not faithfully doing your job. That's deciding that the rules don't apply to you because you think the rules are wrong. You might be right that the rules are wrong, but you don't get to act all wounded about how you did your job by the book and now you aren't allowed to at all waa waa waambulance.

Also, AGAIN, if they aren't allowed to do their jobs, it's because despite everyone's (supposed) best efforts, HUMANITY HAS FUCKED UP ANOTHER RACE. Humanity would be 2 for 2 on fucking up alien races. That, to me, is just a touch more important to mourn than waa waaa waa we followed the rules but we're being punished anyway. You're not being punished, you selfish garbage monsters, your job just because impossible because the alien race you're supposed to be studying has now been irrevocably altered by your intervention.


I'm closing the comments here because this discussion should happen in the awesome space that Will and Erika have crafted, but seriously come play with us because this is the shnizzle. Assuming you kids still say that.


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