Xenocide

by Orson Scott Card

This has got to be the heaviest sci-fi book I have ever read. Even more strongly than Speaker for the Dead it plunges into philosophical debates and religious issues. Though I still felt distanced from the characters, the impossible dilemma they were struggling with drew me in. I wanted to know the outcome, just because it seemed so impossible to solve their set of problems, which kept getting more and more complicated.

In Xenocide, the fate of three sentient races (one human, two alien) depend upon the efforts of one brilliant, utterly dysfunctional family. There are threats of biological warfare, deliberate genetic manipulations, heated debates over an insidious virus which is catalyst for both life and death, and plenty of martyrdom. Lots of drama…. but again, it\’s all told through dialog and I didn\’t really feel the urgency. It continually surprised me how the characters would suddenly solve problems just by sitting around talking, or how often a breakthrough idea came from an individual who had absolutely no expertise in the matter. I certainly got here what I was missing in Speaker for the Dead– more biological information on the alien \”piggies\” and the foreign, insect-like mind of the Hive Queen. I usually read books which lean more towards fantasy than hardcore sci-fi. Here the explanations of invented fields of science, futuristic discoveries in physics, genetics, computer technology, space travel, etc. made little sense to me. Even after reading those passages several times over I still didn\’t get it, and began glossing over them, following the storyline to its final astonishing conclusion. It was more strange than I ever could have imagined, and utterly fascinating. Unexpected events so obviously pointed the story in an entirely new direction that I can\’t help but continue the series into its conclusion: The Children of the Mind.

I was propelled throughout reading this book by my husband\’s cryptic hints and comments (he read it before me). He recently found out some details about the author\’s personal life which affected his reading of the book. He kept seeing inconsistencies between what the author professes to believe, and messages that came through the story, and also couldn\’t help looking for ways the author might have written himself into the book. It distracted him so much that he declared that he didn\’t want to learn any more about the author. I\’ve found that sometimes when I learn details of an author\’s life, I also look for ways their life experience is reflected in their books, but usually it doesn\’t bother me too much. What about you? Has knowing more about an author ever dampened your pleasure in reading their words?

Rating: 4/5 …….. 592 pages, 1991

4 Responses

  1. My husband\’s been talking a lot about Card\’s new book coming out and I keep telling him–but you still haven\’t read Speaker of the Dead or Xenocide. He probably never will and really I don\’t have very much interest. Ender\’s Game was enough for me. Or should I read them…?

  2. Hm. I wouldn\’t make the effort. I wanted to finish Children of the Mind because I want to see how one thread of the story plays out, but the other two thirds leave me confused and bored. I haven\’t opened the book in two days and don\’t know if I\’m going to be able to get back into it…. I do recall liking Ender\’s Shadow very much (the Ender\’s Game story through Bean\’s eyes) I would recommend that one. I have high hopes for the new one, as well. (Ender in Exile, right?)

  3. I think it\’s best just sticking with Ender\’s Game, too. I\’d forgotten I read as far as Xenocide. Knowing about an author\’s beliefs sometimes effects the reading and sometimes doesn\’t. After reading an interview with the author of The Golden Compass, I decided I had no interest in reading his work. That\’s pretty rare, though.

  4. Sometimes I find knowing about the author helps in giving layers to a work, like LM Montgomery – now we know why all her characters have sad childhoods, she had a sad one, but end up happily married (well she was married, questionable how happy she was in it). I\’m curious about how authors write books, what they\’re thinking as they write it, but not so curious about what they personally believe, because I think that does become a distraction, like you found with Xenocide. I read Ender\’s Game long ago, and really liked it, and Speaker for the Dead. I forget which comes first – but the first one I liked best, the second was different and I wasn\’t sure I liked it enough to continue. I know Card has a different belief system than the general population, but I wouldn\’t think that affects his writing – story sometimes moves beyond the writer. An interesting question, I\’ll be thinking more on it, I think!!!

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