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Xenocide Reviews

Xenocide is really two different books. I'm not exaggerating here; I literally read each plot separately. I wanted to catch up with what Ender was doing before I bothered with these strangers on the Chinese world of Path. I'm not proud of that, but that's how I read it. And I could follow it that way with no problem at all, which is my biggest quibble with the book.

I wish I had read straight through, or read in a different order, because the truth is, the people of Path -- especially the class known as the godspoken -- are the most interesting part of Xenocide. The godspoken of Path are highly intelligent men and women who are gripped by fits that look to anyone on the outside like Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (Novinha's daughter Ela finds that it is, in fact, a strain of OCD), but are seen on the inside as voices of the gods. This plot focuses quickly on Qing- Jao, the daughter of two godspoken individuals, who passes the agonizing test to prove that she too is godspoken, and is later chosen to find the fleet sent to attack Lusitania... in essence, pitting her against Ender and Jane. Her "secret maid," Wang-Mu, is every bit as bright as she is, but since she is not subject to the O-C fits, she is not taken seriously. Wang-Mu, for the record, has always dreamed of the Hegemon -- Peter, who has been dead three thousand years -- as her husband.

Meanwhile, Ender and the people of Lusitania are trying to find a way to cure the descolada once and for all, deal with both the pequininos and the buggers, and travel faster than light without temporal dislocation. I was a bit disappointed in Ender in this book, but then so was Ender. He was feeling a bit useless, so it was okay that the reader was wondering what exactly he was doing. The Lusitania Fleet has not yet arrived, and the major work going on is scientific. Ender is competent, but it's not really his milieu. Valentine notices something that Ender does not: he is longing for his life as a child. She can't understand why he would wish for such a time, but I think readers can; as a child, Ender was needed desperately, and it is clear that he does not know how to behave when he is not needed. Meanwhile, his marriage to Novinha (childless, to my disappointment) is in jeopardy. His sister Valentine comes with her family, and they basically set the stage for the next novel, Children of the Mind.

The best thing about Xenocide is the nature of the questions it asks. The Ender books have never been a place to look for easy problems or simplistic solutions, but Xenocide tackles head on questions that are almost unthinkable, including the fact that in order for three species (humans, buggers, and pequininos) to survive, a fourth (the descolada), must be destroyed, despite the fact that Novinha's daughter Quara has discovered that it might be sentient, and Jane may have to sacrifice herself (again, I wish I had more of an opinion of Jane; I think it would have significantly boosted my enjoyment of this novel). It explores the mob mentality, and the poisonous mindset of extreme piety, but counters each with its opposite: against the forced "purification" of the godspoken of Path is set the voluntary penance of the people of Lusitania; against Qing-Jao's prideful piety is set the martyrdom of Father Estevao; against the pogrom called "Grego's War" is set the peaceful transition of Path from an enslaved world to a free one (notably, Qing-Jao's first action after the "Plague of the Gods" -- a super-splicer bacteria Ela sends to cure the godspoken and spread the mental enhancements -- is helping in this transformation by feeding the people around her).

There is another question which is raised but not addressed: who sent the descolada to Lusitania in the first place? This is certainly a plot question, but it may figure in the next book as a challenge to what we have so far been led to believe philosophically. We finally meet the Hive Queen face to face, and she is rather repulsive. We learn that she tried to enslave Ender early on, but was unable. We also learn that she has a childish view of the universe, and sometimes forgets having done things. Could the buggers have sent the descolada? And if so, what does that say about them? How does that reinterpret the story? Or was it Peter the Hegemon who sent it? And what would that mean? Or is there some other sentient species in the universe that we will encounter? (If you can't guess, I'm looking forward to Children of the Mind.) Xenocide is my least favorite of the Ender novels, though the scenes about the godspoken are spellbinding (especially Qing- Jao's test... {shiver}), and the questions really make me think. But the stage is set for a good fourth novel, and -- here's the best part -- Peter Wiggin returns! No, I'm not going to tell you how; the book is in any public library, at least through inter- library loan. I will say that I'm hoping Peter is more himself than Ender thinks he is, or that he will find a way to become more himself, because he adds a lot to Ender's universe.

Review by Barbara E. Walton

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