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Xenocide (Ender Saga) by Orson Scott Card – Review

Ender Series Boxset

Ender Series Boxset

Xenocide is the fourth novel in the Ender series, and the penultimate of the series overall – even though it is succeeded by the “Shadow” series. I know this review is going to be messy. It’s hard to summarise the ideas and thoughts in this series here, but I’ll try.

If you’ve read Speaker For The Dead you’ll know more or less what to expect. It follows the same story to it’s almost conclusion. Be warned: This novel – and the proceeding one – is both scientific and philosophical in nature, and far removed from the action in “Ender’s Game”.

If you remember the end of Speaker For The Dead brought Ender to make a pact with the Pequeninos. He also married Novalhina, made this adopted family his own, and met up with Valentine – his sister. He also established the Hive Queen on Lusitania, representing the last remaining living Bugger colony, and learned a little more about the sinister-but-essential Descolada Virus which rules the planet.

Now, Ender and his family and friends face a few problems on Lusitania.  For one, the Starways Congress has sent a fleet to destroy the planet with the Dr. Device, because the infitely adaptable Descolada Virus represents a threat to humanity – or indeed, all life.

To attempt to stall this Jane – the “ghost in the machine”, the entity that inhabits the Ansible network – has cut off communication to the fleet. But this has resulted in her influence being shown.

The person tasked to discover her is Han Qing-Jao, an inhabitant of Path – a Chinese world. On this world the most highly intelligent people are the “God Spoken”. They are highly intelligent, but exhibit all the mannerisms of Obsessive Compusive Disorder, then believe it to be a punishment from the Gods.

Finally the Pequeninos and Hive Queen both want to leave Lusitania and colonize other worlds, to preserve their species. Unfortunately they carry the Descolada, and thus could end up destroying worlds, or even the universe. This also presents a dilema to the humans, on whether to stop them or allow them to leave.

These ideas of life – which species should continue, if any? – pervade this novel.

It’s a race against time. The fleet is due to arrive soon. Han Qing-Jao eventually discovers the truth of Jane’s existence, and informs the Congress that all Ansibles must be replaced. This will take about 40 weeks.

Jane informs Han Qing and her highly respected father Han Fei-Tzu the truth about their Godspoken. It seems that the Congress deliberately genetically-modified Path’s inhabitants to both become hyper-intelligent but they were also crippled with the OCD in order to temper the frightening powers. While Han Fei-Tzu believes this, his daughter does not, thinking it to be a demonic plot to drive away the Gods. She is far too immersed in her religion, in part caused by her upbringing and tutoring by her father, to believe anything.

With some of the brightest minds on Lusitania and Path struggling to find answers about the Descolada, Faster Than Light travel (as a way to escape), and the truth about Jane the book enters it’s final part.

In part suggested by the Han’s secret-maid, Si Wang-Mu , it is thought the Descolada is a deliberate attempt at terraforming or planetry control instigated by some higher intelligence. The virus takes over entire planets and species, and genetically controls them in a “gaiacentric” way to keep the ecology stable. It is unkown whether the Pequeninos themselves are actually intelligent or only intelligent-by-proxy (via Descolada) but an experiment where one piggy has the virus removed yet remains intelligent up to his death disproves this.

There is some argument amongst the Ribeiras (Ender’s adopted family – who are also the scientists on Lusitania) whether or not the virus is sentient, and should be protected, but in the end they decide to create a crippled version – the Recolada – that will sustain life functions but give back free will and free them from genetic modification. This would allow all species to survive without being contagious or reliant on the virus to live. It’s duly designed by Quara and Ela.

Then the truth about Jane is discovered during a confusing meeting between Ender and the Hive Queen. Although the Hive Queen can only communicate mind-to-mind and thus is unable to to really comprehend human thought and vision, Ender discovers that Jane is in fact a part of him, or at least anchored in him, created long ago as a “pattern” that enabled the Hive Queen to communicate with Ender via his mind-game computer (in Enders Game). Jane, thus freed from believing she is only part of the universe-wide Ansible network, can survive the switch off in some form, albeit it crippled until she can rebuild her memories.

It’s the last part of the book that starts to throw you, as it rather heavily relies on science, or at least the science in this universe. It doesn’t cheat, and it’s not a “McGuffin” – because hints have been developed earlier in the novel and indeed in the series – but it does take some thinking about.

The basic premise is that the matter can be broken down to it’s smallest component, the Philote, that is indeed all that really counts. There’s a parallel universe of sorts that is infinitely composed of Philotes – and it’s those that came into our universe that created the so-called Big Bang. The Hive Queen herself – or at least her mind/intelligence – is a Philote (or pattern of) from that universe. And Jane is also a similiar Philote, brought into being in the Hive Queen/Ender pattern. Philotic connections power the Ansible, to enable instantaneous communication*. And each and every person, or indeed thing, is Philote based.

These Philotes are existence itself. They are infinite, and essentially make the idea of “thought as reality” a truth. Everything is a pattern, anchored or formed from Philotes, and the Hive Queen and Ansibles rely on this even though they don’t understand how it works.

* The whole Ansible communication theory, of one Philote directly linked to others, smacks of “Quantum Entanglement” , but we won’t go there.

This Philote-theory of the universe neatly solves all the problems on Lusitania, and indeed Path. By building a “Faster Than Light” ship (just a Hive Queen manufactured shell) that can jump from here (the Inside) to the parallel-universe (the Outside, a kind of primordial soup of raw Philotic matter) Jane can – by holding the entire pattern of the ship and contents in her mind – go to anywhere in the universe instantly. She simply switches the Philote-pattern from here to there, but since “there” has no time or location she can come back “here” anywhere (and I guess anytime?). Also any pattern that can be conceived can also come into being thanks to the Philotes….

This means Eva manages to create the new Rotolada by simply holding it’s details in mind, and even create a anti-OCD solution for the inhabitants of Path based on the Descolada. It means Ender’s stepson Miro – crippled in the last novel – can re-create his old, perfect body, and it means Ender brings into existence his idealized versions of young-Valentine and young-Peter by accident.

To be honest the last part of the book is rather mind bending and I’m sure I’m at least partly wrong on the details, but still… it’s a blast! Orson Scott Card has a wonderful imagination and as long as you can suspend your disbelief you’ll find yourself going along with the plot whether you understand the “science” or not.

While you don’t have to read Ender’s Game both Speaker For The Dead and Xenocide really form one long novel. Heavy on Philosphy, Religion and Humanity this is not your traditional Science Fiction – strange new worlds and space travel aside.

Descolada cured, we finish with the new young- Peter and Valentine becoming the anchors for Jane in place of Ender – since they are both really subsets of his own mind – and taken off in FTL ships to explore the universe. Peter to deliver the genetic OCD remedy to Path, and then to take on the Starways Congress, and Val to deliver the Hive Queens and Pequelino Father-Trees to their new colonies.

The story continues, in Children Of The Mind. Whether that refers to Peter and Val being “Children” of Ender’s Mind or to the quasi-religious group set up in the series I don’t know, but I’ll find out soon!

Rated: 8.5 / 10 – Can get confusing, but ultimately a uniquely rewarding read.