Saturday, April 9, 2011

Orson Scott Card: Xenocide

Five years after "Speaker of the Dead," Orson Scott Card continued his career-making Ender Saga with the publication of "Xenocide." As far removed as "Speaker" was from the original "Ender's Game," so too is removed "Xenocide" from either of them. The same characteristics of Card's literary knack are still present (to shamelessly mix a metaphor from his other early series, Tales of Alvin Maker), but they are directed towards very different ends.

"Xenocide" might best be described as a psychological drama, for almost the whole of the action is borne on the back of certain ethical dilemmas faced by various groups of characters. On the other hand, the narrative atmosphere itself feels like nothing so much as the atmosphere of a road movie: forced away from home by inexorable pursuers, casting hurried glances behind, sustained solely by the drive to press on. It's an almost oppressive sense of fatalism: even from the beginning of the book, you feel the pressures and the trap ahead, but find yourself draw there as though inexorably.

On the one hand, we remain with the original cast on Lusitania, a world in rebellion against the alliance of the Hundred Worlds. These characters must constantly fight against the descolada vrius, that is the center of the conflict between humans and the alien pequininos. The "piggies" rely on the virus to metabolize and survive, but the same virus is capable of annihilating any human and human biosphere it comes in contact with. Thus, the characters who live on Lusitania must find a way to remove the destructive tendencies of the virus, while simultaneously finding a way to prevent the impending xenocide at the hands of a military fleet sent by the Starways Congress.

The primary difference between "Xenocide" and the previous books in the Ender Saga lies in the other half of the narrative, in the sharply Oriental setting in which this portion of the story occurs. The earlier works were largely Euro-centric, for even the planet Lusitania was populated by Portuguese settlers and Portuguese culture. Here, however, we find ourselves in rather more rarefied air, among those who inhabit the Chinese world of Path. These super-intelligent "godspoken" function as the brain-trust of the Starways Congress, who govern the Hundred Worlds. Our attention is drawn to a small familly -- widower, daughter, and servant girl -- who are tasked with finding the right ideas to fight against the Lusitania rebels.

I am a great admirer of Orson Scott Card, and I have difficulty conceiving that he could write a story I would not like to read. Card's trick of shifting perspectives between major characters has slowly made its way to the fore of his writing. True to form, his depiction of Path does not resort to lazy Orientalism, but seems to convey a genuine love of the culture.

However, even with the manifold virtues of the novel taken individually, it cannot help but suffer in contrast to what comes before and after. "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead" are both enduring classics, and "Children of the Mind" gives Card a much broader canvas (along with several new colors) for his portrait of human society. "Xenocide" appears almost as a holdover, a necessary entry in the Saga but primarily there to pave the way to its final installment. It's still a great novel and an enjoyable read, but less astonishingly good than the rest in the series.

To purchase this book, check out
Xenocide (Ender, Book 3)

For other reviews of the Ender's Saga and Shadow series, check out these links:

Ender's Game (13 Aug. 2010)
Ender in Exile (23 Sept. 2010)
Speaker for the Dead (8 Apr. 2011)
Xenocide (9 Apr. 2011)
Children of the Mind (11 Apr. 2011)
Ender's Shadow (15 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Hegemon (19 Apr. 2011)
Shadow Puppets (25 Apr. 2011)
Shadow of the Giant (29 Apr. 2011)

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