Chad Bearden's Reviews > Xenocide

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card
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Oct 01, 10

bookshelves: sci-fi-fantasy
Read from September 14 to 25, 2010

"Xenocide" is far from perfect, but the ambition and subtle complexity of Orson Scott Card's ideas more than make up for a glitch or two here or there.

"Xenocide" is, of course, the second sequel to the classic, "Ender's Game". With four books in the main series (the "Shadow" books are kind of their own thing) Card actually seems to be writing two distinct stories. The first was "Ender's Game", which is a pretty straightforward sci-fi, coming-of-age adventure story with a very effective twist.

The second story leaves the space adventure behind and delves into more metaphysical musings about the 'meaning of life' and 'free will vs. destiny' and the 'right of an individual (or community, or species) to protect itself at all costs'. This second story seems to stretch out over the last three books in the series, of which "Xenocide" is the second. Whereas there is a huge time difference between the end of "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead" (as well as a huge tonal shift), "Xenocide" seems to pick up right where its predecessor left off, back on the planet Lusitania where the univere's three sentient species are trying to figure out if its possible to co-exist.

Though the Lusitania storyline that runs through the last three Ender novels is far more heavy on the philosophy than on action and adventure, there is still a pretty prominent sci-fi backdrop. Card gets to postulate about light-speed travel and communication, the genetics of sentient species and whether biology allows for such a thing as free will, and the ecology of alien worlds. It is in some of this scientific pondering where the weakest bits of "Xenocide" crop up. Card spends so much time digging tediously through the various characters' moral delimma, you can see him running out of room for the more practical aspects of his story. Subsequently, you see characters making strange leaps in logic (concerning both their science and their philosophy) that seem less organically arrived at than rhetorical short-cuts that help get things to the point a little faster.

There is also such a huge cast, that many characters are given short shrift concerning their characterizations. Ender's wife, Novinha, barely registers as a character, so the depths of torment Ender feels when she rebukes him don't ring as sincerely as maybe they aught. Similarly, several of Novinha's children and a few heroic pequininos (the native aliens) come off more as cyphers than as real people.

But as stated above, Card's ambition makes up for some of these shortcomings. He sets out, you see, not to give you depth of character, but depth of thought, and that depth is accomplished in spades. The main themes flow around the novel's namesake, xenocide, and are framed in a myriad of ways relating to different interpretations of what constitutes personal identity. Characters struggle not only with the broader problem of being forced into possibly destroying one species to protect their own, but other characters are faced with more personal delimmas. Two welcome additions to the cast, for instance, are Qing-jao and Wang-mu, who learn something about their society's heritage that leads to a standoff, the resolution to which would alter them genetically, thereby fundamentally changing who they are. Which is only a problem if you believe we are what we are made off. If you happen to believe that the soul is something seperate from the body, messing with your genes shouldn't be that big a deal if it leaves you healthy and able. Does that transformation mean the destruction of what you once were? Is this getting better from a hindering biological flaw, or is it a xenocide?

This problem is echoed by a similar question posed to the pequininos of Lusitania, but their understanding of the problem is much different, as would be the possible reprecussions of the choices they might make. Card then brings in a wild card of a character for whom the idea of xenocide conundrum becomes a wholly different battle to wage.

It is this complexity, this eagerness to attack an idea from so many different angles, that makes "Xenocide" such a satisfying read. "Speaker for the Dead" feels now like more of a prologue to the ideas this novel takes on, and Card leaves just enough loose plot threads dangling around to keep me eager to read the final novel in the series, "Children of the Mind".
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