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XENOCIDE

A novel by Orson Scott Card
(1991, TOR Books)

Ender's Saga, book 3
 
 

With the fleet bearing down on Lusitania with a doomsday weapon, Ender and the scientists try to find a way to save the Pequininos, the Hive Queen and Jane, while searching for a way to destroy the deadly virus.

 
 
 
   

+ -- First reading (ebook)
April 26th to May 16th, 2020

 
   

Beginning and ending well, there was enough to like about this book scattered around, but it was tedious in many spots. Valentine’s voyage getting to know Miro, the riot in the middle of the book, and especially all the scenes on Path were the highlights, which I looked forward to though the rest of what appeared to be filler. The philosophical discussions had me turning the pages to get them over with, as they argued the same things over and over again, but with different people. I longed for a book that was seriously contracted..

Spoiler review:

Very little happens in this book, from action to relationship. In the previous book, Ender learned all about the Rebeireo family and then went to see the Peqininos, where he made the discovery of how they move into their third life, as a tree. It was interesting as we grew to know them. This book feels like filler. Yes, it takes time to create different solutions to the problems, but most of the book is about spinning their wheels.

Valentine comes to Lusitania, to help Ender in his search for a solution, but doesn’t do much of anything. She even stops writing as Demonsthenes after she gets there. Ender watches his adopted family fall apart, but is powerless to do anything. He goes to talk with the Hive Queen, who has been very busy increasing her numbers, as well as building starships. One reason is survival, as the Council of the Hundred Worlds has sent a ship to Lusitania to destroy the powerful descolada virus, which is actively destroying everything not native to the planet. The Peqininos wonder what will happen to them if any of the groups succeeds, whether to eradicate the virus, which is vital to their lives as they know it, the advancing fleet, the Hive Queen, or the Christian missionaries. Ender, meanwhile, worries about the virus spreading to other planets if the Hive Queen leaves Lusitania, or if the increasingly agitated Peqininos get off the planet.

The first half of the book, in which the tension mounts slowly, peaks with one of the Peqinino trees killing a missionary, one of Ender’s adopted children. Another of his children starts a riot, which gets out of control and goes on a killing and burning spree in the nearest Peqinino colony, rather than the farther one that actually did the killing. It was probably the best part of the book, but only the parts told from Grego’s point of view, as he tries to regain control.

A major aspect of the book is the origin of Jane, the AI who lives among the ansible network. It turns out she was created by the Hive Queen as part of the ploy to infiltrate and take over Ender’s mind, and evolved out of her control as Ender played the Giant game. She lives and can control the ansibles, and she stops the connection between the doomsday fleet and the rest of the galaxy. But this alerts people, especially those working on Path, to her existence, which puts her life at risk. As she faces the countdown to new computers replacing the old ones she had “infected”, she contemplates life. That part got stale quite quickly, but I did like Ender’s attitude, that they could find a way to save her. While there is no Star Trek ending, where she would be transferred into another body, it turns out she’s connected to Ender so that she can’t die completely, though she’ll be seriously hobbled when it happens. Personally, I thought she’d be “called” into a bugger egg.

Miro was disabled in the last book trying to sneak into the Peqinino’s forest illegally. Here, he goes out to meet with Valentine, which means he doesn’t age as the rest of the galaxy ages thirty years. So he comes home to everyone being seriously older, new families sprouted up, and he remembers them as their younger selves. The thing is, very few of them have actually changed, and none of them have made progress in any way. Miro is a major character, but doesn’t have much impact on the story, except to stop the rioters from destroying Human and Rooter’s trees.

The story of the characters on the planet Path was completely separate until about halfway through the book. The author created an extraordinary culture of obsession, which was by far the most interesting part of the book. At first it takes place with years-long interludes, as Valentine progresses on her decades-long voyage to Lusitania. At this point, we are introduced to Han Fei-tzu, whose wife dies, and whom he promises to teach their daughter about dedication to the gods. When she is older, he brings her to a place where she is forced into confinement to determine if she’s been “touched by the gods”. The upper echelon of Path believe they have a direct pathway to the gods, as they go through purification rituals which include extreme washing, and other OCD behavior.

Qing-jao feels the extreme need to trace the wood grain on floorboards, sometimes to the extreme of following them across every floorboard in an entire room. The way Han Fei-tzu teaches his daughter about the gods allows everything to be explained by their grace. Even the most extreme behaviors are described as being influenced by the gods as punishment or reward, because they never do anything directly. It’s total brainwashing, because it can justify any behavior.

Qing-jao is tasked with finding out what happened to the doomsday fleet, and she takes the peasant Wang-mu as her servant. The point of view starts with Qing-jao, but ultimately shifts to Wang-mu as the servant becomes more important than the master. Qing-jao never loses her faith, even after it is revealed that the Council created their advanced intelligence, but with an intentional side-effect, the humiliating rituals of purification.

Han Fei-tzu is converted immediately, and starts to work with Jane and Ender. They contribute the idea that the descolada is a constructed virus, but little else. Qing-jao starts working against her father, but mostly that means ignoring him. She delivers the news about Jane to the council, and even convinces herself that the cure developed by the Lusitanians is punishment for the gods. She continues her purifications though no longer compelled to do them. It was wonderful to see them go through all the manipulations, and Wang-mu’s stance about her status compared with her dedication to Qin-jao.

The Rebeiro family is completely divided, and it’s only when they start working together that they come up with true solutions. Wang-mu speculates that the descolada is an engineered virus that got out of hand, and that leads to all sorts of new research avenues. All at the same time, the family is trying to communicate with the descolada, replace it with a version of itself that is not deadly to humans, find a way to travel faster than the speed of light, find a way to save Jane, and remove the humiliating cleansing ritual required by the godspoken of Path. By the end of the book, thanks to the Hive Queen and the way she “calls” souls into her newly formed children’s bodies, Grego has figured out how to travel anywhere instantaneously, and they use that no-space to create the new replacement virus that two of the sisters have managed to formulate. They spread it over the planet, so it is no longer deadly.

They also figure out that Jane is permanently attached to Ender, and that she can carry the memory of people inside her, which allows them to go and come back. They can also create things by wishing for it, such as the virus. But an unintended side-effect is Ender’s subconscious, which creates two people -Peter and a younger more na´ve version of Valentine. Presumably these are the titular characters in the next book, Children of the Mind. For now, Peter exists only to torment Ender, as he once did, and to reveal his plan to take over the galaxy, becoming Hegemon all over again. He goes to Path to pick up Wang-mu as his apprentice. The thing is, as the Council is acting dishonorably, we feel that Peter might be better off leading the galaxy. Miro chooses to change his body to the undamaged one.

There were only a few really good parts of the book, but while the others weren’t bad, they were definitely less interesting, as the author delves into the meaning of life, and different opinions of the morals of replacing the descolada, and its right to live as well. I just found it was too much I was much more interested in the new characters from Path, and the society that had been created there. It’s neat how we were able to go from sympathy to love to sadness for the main character there.

 
   

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