Welcome, dear readers to yet another blog post!
As you’ve probably gathered from the title, and as you might know from my last blog entry I’ve recently been working my way through Orson Scott Card’s Xenocide, the third book in the Ender’s Game series. I fully expected this work to be enthralling, captivating and highly emotional, and it has definitely lived up to its expectations.
The really great thing I’ve always found about classic sci-fi works is that they are mostly written with a moral in mind. Xenocide‘s moral lies in the debate over life, death, religion, politics, and science, and how they can all interact when placed in a pot that’s about to boil over. It tackles these problems with such a fine-grain that the text itself becomes art, it becomes the debate which it contains and it is so much more than just a story.
As I was reading Xenocide, I often found myself questioning many of my already well-established beliefs. I have always had a black and white view of morality, but reading Xenocide has shown me that it’s not always quite so clear and that there is a very fine line between right and wrong, good and bad, and – indeed – a difference in how events are interpreted by different people with different backgrounds.
In part, Xenocide is also about what would happen if we tried to find our Utopia and something went horribly wrong along the way. It is set in a time when space travel, human knowledge, and matters of ethics are controlled by large corporations (in this case Starways Congress), and where any failures are immediately annihilated or covered up to stop anyone doubting the supremacy of Congress. One such failure is the colonisation of a world called Lusitania, which is shared between humans and the native species the pequeninos (Portuguese for ‘piggies’). The pequeninos’ life cycle is predicated on the existence of a virus called the descolada, which is considered to be a form of ‘intelligent’ life once evidence is found of its ability to communicate on a molecular level with other strains of the virus. This would all be well and good if the humans hadn’t wandered onto Lusitania and disrupted the status quo – the descolada is fatal to humans and it had forced the population to construct viricides and antiviruses which were ingested on a daily basis to let the crops grow and to prevent death. Scientists on Lusitania had been trying to find a way around the descolada for many years, with very little success, and after Starways Congress was informed they decided that it was time to destroy Lusitania and everything on it. This would stop the spread of the descolada to other human colonies, and stop it from wiping out humanity in an unintentional act of xenocide.
In the fight to stop Congress from sending the fleet that will destroy Lusitania, a computer entity called Jane decided to step in and virtually erases the Lusitania fleet from existence. This sparks some curiosity amongst the other worlds under Congress’ control, and so Congress enlists the help of a planet called Path, full of genetically bred geniuses, to help solve the mystery. They would have succeeded, too, had Jane not revealed to the leaders of Path that they suffered from a form of obsessive compulsive disorder, given to them by a genetic alteration authorised by Congress and disguised as the will of the gods. In repayment for this revelation, the leaders of Path agreed to help the scientists of Lusitania to find a way to stop the descolada from killing humanity, whilst keeping the qualities of the virus that allowed the pequeninos to reproduce and survive.
They did manage to find a way to construct the virus needed, however they had no way to create the virus without killing the original one completely. Luckily, recent discoveries in the field of faster-than-light travel enabled the team from Lusitania to travel to the ‘outside’, the realm which is beyond the universe we know, and with a simple wish they were able to make the alterations to the descolada and brought back the new virus, thus preventing the destruction of Lusitania.
It’s a heartwarming tale of survival against all odds, however as I’ve mentioned already it has morals and these morals reflect real life. The fact that Congress is not held to account for its genetic alterations of the people of Path or for its attempted xenocide of the pequeninos is very similar to the way that governments here on Earth have not been held to account for their atrocities in ages past. The way that the people of Path were fooled into believing that they were ‘godspoken’ when really they were suffering from a genetically modified mental disorder also speaks a thousand words, especially in the current day and age where we are faced with so many religions that all claim to be better than one another. As a training psychologist I found that particular point hit me hard, and made me wonder just where the truth lies between being a believer in the faith and, well, suffering from a disorder.
Either way, Xenocide is definitely a book I would recommend for anyone who likes sci-fi or a good meaty read with morals and imagination. It’s a book that will make you think and definitely one that you’ll miss when you close it on the final page.
As a convenient ending to this post, and in case it’s escaped your attention, the movie adaptation of Ender’s Game is due in cinemas on the first of November, and it looks like a really good movie. You can see one of the official trailers here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UNWLgY-wuo . I’m looking forward to seeing how well it can portray the book, though I may not have enough time to read it before the movie’s release.
If anyone has read it feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts 🙂
Never stop reading!