Xenocide is the third book in Orson Scott Card’s award-winning ENDER WIGGEN saga. In the first book, Ender’s Game, the child Ender Wiggen was trained to wipe out the alien “buggers” who were planning to destroy the earth. The second novel, Speaker for the Dead, takes place years later when Ender visits the planet Lusitania where Xenologists are studying two non-human species: the pequininos, who have an unusual life cycle, and the descolada virus, which is fatal for humans but necessary to the pequininos. In addition, Ender has brought the buggers’ hive queen to Lusitania so she can rebuild her species. When the human Starways Congress finds out what’s happening on Lustinania, it sends its fleets to blow up the planet. Speaker for the Dead ends with Ender’s sister Valentine, who writes propaganda under the name Demosthenes, traveling to Lusitania to support her brother. Both Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Ender’s Game is being made into a movie for release in spring 2013.
As Xenocide opens, Valentine is arriving on Lusitania after traveling for many years to get there. So far, her propaganda hasn’t worked and the fleet is still on its way to destroy the planet. So Jane, a Neuromanceresque artificial intelligence who lives in the connected computers all over the universe, cuts off the fleet’s communications so they can’t get the final “destroy” command from Congress. When Congress can’t figure out what happened to its fleet, a young Chinese girl on the planet Path is asked to use her superior intellect to solve the mystery.
Meanwhile, on Lusitania, Ender’s family is desperately trying to find a way to recode the descolada virus’s DNA so it will do what it needs to do for the pequininos without killing humans. If they can prove that it’s no longer harmful to humans — and get in contact with the fleet before it acts — they can stop the destruction of the planet. If they can’t, not only will the humans on Lusitania be killed, but two species, the pequininos and the buggers, will be completely wiped out. And make that three if you want to count the descolada as a species — the more they study it, the more they think it may be sentient. There’s a lot to get done before the fleet arrives…
Like its predecessors, Xenocide is an intense, emotional, and thought-provoking novel. Most of the text doesn’t actually deal with the action that the plot implies (e.g., the nearing of the fleet, the tests on the virus’s DNA, etc.) but it mostly revolves around all of the ethical and psychological issues that arise, and there are a lot of them. I can’t tell you about some of the most interesting ones because it would give away plot twists, but in generalities I can say that Xenocide had me thinking about the genetics of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the relationship between compulsive behavior and religiosity, the nature of fatherhood, God, the big bang, the possibility of traveling faster than the speed of light, time-travel paradoxes, guilt and forgiveness, sentience, language, artificial intelligence, loyalty, and death.
The subject matter in Xenocide is pretty heavy, but Card accompanies this with lots of psychological drama, too. Almost every conversation is emotionally intense. The characters are constantly challenging each other’s beliefs, psychoanalyzing each other, and attributing motives to each other. They often go back and forth — analyzing, interpreting, questioning, denying. I found this to be emotionally draining and it increased the page count beyond what I thought was necessary. In fact, Card explains in his author’s note that eventually Xenocide got too long and the story had to be continued in the next novel, Children of the Mind. From what I’ve heard (not having read it yet), Children of the Mind rehashes much of the plot of Xenocide. I would have preferred for most of the overwrought dialogue to be written out of Xenocide so the story could be told in one volume as originally planned.
But that’s my only real complaint about Xenocide. I think some readers will find the ending too bizarre, but I’m feeling mostly generous toward the novel. Other than the overdose of drama, Xenocide is a well-crafted and thought-provoking story. It works beautifully with its award-winning predecessors and, though it’s more than 20 years old, its science and technology feel surprisingly current.