Children of the Mind – Ender’s Quartet #4

Subtitle: I am so confused!

Is the brain a map that leads down twisted paths and into hidden corners? Then when we die, the map is lost but perhaps some explorer could wander through that strange landscape and find out the hiding places of our misplaced memories.

We made it! This week’s review marks the end of January sci-fi month. I have discovered that I am a major fan of the Ender’s Quartet (or, well…the first 3 books at least), and also that I am not as smart as I thought I was.

There is even less I can talk about in this book without spoiling anything, so…let’s just get to it!

Jane, the computer entity thingy that made us all question the nature of humanity in the last book, is spiriting humans, buggers and pequininos alike to different planets to colonize them. Peter, Ender’s mind creation #1, and Si Wang-Mu (the servant from last book) have the mission to stop the fleet sent to destroy planet Brazil. Valentine, Ender’s mind creation #2, and Miro, Ender’s stepson, lead to colonization mission.
Ender’s wife, Novinha, lives in a cloister to avoid him – and he gives up everything to join her. Everybody else? Busy shouting and “falling in love”. We get a nice glimpse of planet Polynesia and planet Japan – but it would be too much to talk about.

So let’s just move on to the spoilers! It’s the usual – spoilers are over after the coming picture! See you there!


Jane, Valentine and Miro find out that the virus on planet Brazil was a message from a different alien species, and eventually find the planet it came from. They find out that this species sends messages through molecules. And…essentially that’s it? Although this could have been very cool, it’s essentially the backdrop for the romantic relationships in this novel..

Ugh. So Si Wang-Mu and Peter fall in love. Why? Well, because the story says so. Miro (Ender’s eldest adoptive son) also falls in love with 1) Valentine, and then with 2) Jane, and both of them with him. Because of course they do. Even though 1) does not have a soul of her own, but instead has half of Miro’s stepdad’s soul (ew), and 2) is a god. Oh yeah – JANE IS a GOD. This is both kind of cool, as she was “born” (in a way), during the series and the nature of her being is very interesting and keeps you guessing and thinking – what does it mean to be human? What is a being without a body?

Anyways, when Ender created young Valentine and Peter out of his mind at the end of the last book (just roll with it), he split his soul to control these bodies (again..just roll with it). Apparently the body he is the least interested in starts to die – ouch. First it’s Valentine, which is just mean, and eventually it’s his old body. Which actually dies. And then… Jane, whose networks are getting shut off (i.e. she’s dying too), is searching for a vessel to hold her, which turns out to be Valentine. Ender goes into Peter’s body.

So let’s go into this a bit. Peter and Si Wang-Mu had a kind of relationship-ish thing going on, and now Ender lives in Peter’s body. He doesn’t have his Ender memories anymore, but he is definitely someone else. And she just rolls with it and they get married?? Also they save planet Brazil from the fleet that came to destroy them, so hurrah!
Likewise, Valentine and Miro had a thing. To get her to give her body up for Jane, one of the most painful scenes happens – Miro “has to” make her want to die. It is brutal, and mean, and then her soul leaves to join in Peter’s body, and her body gets taken by Jane. Sure, Miro has some issues with it, but he just goes with it too and they get married. Oh and both marriages happen at the same time right after Ender’s funeral.

This doesn’t work. It’s too confusing, it’s too wrong in its implications about relationships. Although a lot (a lot) of words are used to talk about the ethical and moral issues concerning these relationships, it never really feels like the characters are ever genuinely even considering that these people are now different. Yes, they have the same body, but their soul, their nature, is different. The characters not having any problem with this makes it seem like they are in love with the bodies, not the souls. And that is sad – and not what the author was going for (to be fair).


Confused Rey
Eh?

I don’t really know how to feel about this book you guys. On the one hand, it does have high stakes with the whole imminent destruction of a planet and 3 species and on a personal scale for the characters – trying to save Jane’s and Ender’s lives etc. On the other hand…it’s all very confusing and scattered, and the stakes don’t lead to suspense. There are many characters, as there were in the previous book, but now they’re all embarking on their own plots. They are also all very emotional. The characters have all gone through a lot, and although the stakes don’t translate to the reader, apparently the characters are feeling them very harshly, as they all turned into massive jerks. It seems nobody can keep their cool, or essentially their character from the past 3 books. Everybody is mean, selfish, shouty, and seems to have forgotten how people actually talk (Have I lost my mind? Or have I, finally, found my heart?). Too quote: “too much plot, too much emotion, too much of everything“.

In summary, I feel a bit sad with this conclusion of the series. Firstly, because that means it’s over (yes, I know there’s other books, but this is the end of the official quartet!). And secondly…because this is it. Don’t get it wrong, this is not a bad novel. It’s just also not good. Not good enough to close off such an amazing series, at least.


Ah, what tea goes with confusion?

To me, tea is stimulating (yay! cafeïne!), comforting, soothing, warming – and no, not just your stomach. Although tea can definitely go with texts that are active, and/or take a while to wrap yourself around, I’m not sure if it can go with confusion. The characters are nasty, the dialogue is super awkward, the plots are confusing – and a bit far fetched.

The tea would be either awkward too, which would be unpleasant to drink, or too together to fit with the text. And although I enjoy a complex cuppa, drinking something that goes with “confusing” would be ..an experience I am not exactly waiting for. Also, this book is the first one so far that has taken me around a month to read. And there ain’t no cup of tea that lasts that long. So here’s to being spontaneous and breaking with the norm – no tea here today!


Ender's Quartet.jpg

Let’s not end this month on a low note. This quartet is brilliant, even if the plot was lost in the last book. Let’s focus on the positives when we round it up here, before taking off into Chrestomanci Februari!

  • The writing is very gripping, especially in Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead
  • The philosophical issues are built up subtly and with a lot of grace over 3 novels
  • It makes you think!
  • The Quartet is very understanding and instructive of human nature
  • It’s so very touching you guys, planet China will make you cry
  • It’s the sci-fi Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit!

This is it, you guys, time to take off our space helmets and settle back down in real life. Before we take off on a magical trip to pre-Hogwarts!

Hula (Edinburgh)

After visiting the farmers’ market on Castle Terrace (check it out, it’s pretty nice!), my friend and I decided to pop into Hula for a quick cup of tea. Considering we already treated ourselves to a German pastry at the market, we were really quite stuffed so we didn’t have anything to eat. I know I always do food too – I’m sorry, I just couldn’t! For what it’s worth, the food looked and smelled pretty good though!

Also, Hula is not necessarily a tea room – damn it, it’s like I can’t stop breaking with my own traditions lately – it’s more like a student cafe-ish type thing. Officially, it’s a juice bar and gallery, and yeah, they do have lots of that stuff.

Hula Menu

Ooh but they do have that classic tempting counter though… As I said, the food does look and smell very yummy. Also, although they are not a tea room per se, they do sell and serve a small selection of teas from renowned local tea brand Eteaket, and that stuff is pretty good. Even so, my friend and I decided to be even more recalcitrant and ordered not one of their yummy Eteaket teas, oh no. We had to go crazy and order some herbal infusions.

Hula Counter

To be fair though, this choice has a history behind it. Story time!
My friend and I met at undergrad in the Netherlands, which seems a long time ago, before we moved to Edinburgh together. In the Netherlands, Mint Tea is a very popular and common summer drink to order. Sure, we know now that it’s not actually a tea, as no tea leaves are involved, but shhh the Dutch haven’t figured this out yet. Best not to burst their bubble! Anyways, you take some mint leaves and let them suffer in your cup of hot water, and maybe you splurge and add a bit of lemon. Yum! (Fun fact: the agony of the leaves is an actual tea brewing term. No, really.) For another emigrated Dutchies step-by-step explanation, go here.
So long story short, neither my friend nor I have lived in the Netherlands for some time now, and to celebrate our friendship and to quench our nostalgia, could not help ourselves but to go for this herbal infusion that is so intrinsically linked to Dutch summertime.

Hula Tea

Oooohhh, so close! In the tea pot there were 2 thick slices of lemon (Jesus!), and a small amount of mint leaves. Because of the lemon it actually got a bit bitter, and the mint got drowned out – but it’s the thought that counts! Sure, it was not how I expected it to taste, but it was still light, fruity and took me back to the Netherlands – all good things. My friend had ginger as well, which was also a bit too heavy on the lemon, but still very good.

The price isn’t bad in this place, and it’s quite fun to sit in such a busy, busy student cafe and people watch, while talking about the Dutch past and excitingly uncertain future. The music here is appropriately studentish, and a bit weird, which adds to the charm. Also, they sell art here. This exibition was by Nematode a local artist who makes really expensive paintings. I’m no art expert, so I’ll just leave this here!

img1453655191920

All in all, it was all very different from usual, and because of that fun and refreshing. Sure, we went to a juice bar for tea, but they actually do sever nice tea and it’s a very lively and crowded joint. So why not go for it? Check it out!

Xenocide – Ender’s Quartet #3

Alright, it’s week 3 in Ender’s sci-fi month, and the Star Wars hype is calming down as we reach the climax of the Ender’s Quartet!

Pooh, so here is where it is starting to get too difficult to write concise summaries for the stories. The story continues from where we left off in Speaker for the Dead, with the fleet coming to destroy planet Brazil (note: that’s not it’s official name), and the buggers, pequininos and humans attempting to live together in peace. Miro, Ender’s stepson (yes, he got married!) is crippled and miserable, and everybody is attempting to save the universe by destroying a cell-deconstructing virus, which might just be sentient. Simultaniously, Jane, Ender, the hive queen and the pequininos are working to build space ships so the inhabitants of Brazil can escape before the fleet reaches them. So that’s planet Brazil. The other half of the story takes place on planet China. Here you have essentially 2 types of people: normal people, and godspoken people, whom the normal people serve. Their religion and planet are called Path, which ties back to the real world religion of Taoism (only it’s different). Two of the most holy godspoken people, a father and daughter, get the task to see what happened to the fleet that was going to planet Brazil and disappeared.

I can’t really say a lot more without spoiling anything, honestly. If you don’t want to spoil the story (and there’s a lot to spoil!) skip to the next picture. See you there!


There are 2 major spoiler to discuss, so I’ll just keep it to those and start with the easiest one, which concerns planet China.

The godspoken people are revealed by their extreme OCD symptoms. This is explained as the gods punishing and cleansing them via individualised rituals – Gloriously Bright, the Path protagonist, has to follow wood grains on the floor boards until she feels pure, which can take hours and hours. The godspoken are also of superior intellect, and it is revealed by Jane that this combination is not accidental: the Starways Congress (the UN of the universe) manipulated the DNA of the people of China so some have extraordinary intellect, whilst also being curbed by their OCD. Once this is revealed, the whole of China collapses and becomes equal. Only Gloriously Bright cannot let go of her rituals and because she cannot “hear the gods” anymore, she spends the remainder of her life tracing wood grains.
This is so, so sad. Gloriously Bright is not the nicest of people, but you can’t help but feel for her when she is forced to torture herself by tracing lines on the floor. When she renounces her father, whom she worshipped more than the gods, and devotes herself to her rituals even when it is revealed to have nothing to do with the gods…it’s absolutely heart breaking. Also on a planet wide level it’s really crushing: on the one hand the godspoken are freed from their rituals and the other people of their life of servitude, but on the other their gods have abandoned them and their existence is brought into serious question. The build up is subtle and brilliant, and the sucker punch payoff hits you straight in the heart. Ouch.

The second spoiler I quite frankly only partially understand.

Brazil is being evacuated, due to the war fleet coming and all, and there is simply not enough time. Unless…they discover space travel which is as fast as the speed of light!
So essentially what happens is that based on a theory that the smalles particles in existence (philotes) connect everything and everyone, and that there is a space outside of the universe where there are unconnected philotes, they do superspeed travel. Jane, the computer entity, has to envision the structures of the ship and the people inside, pop them “outside” while remembering their structures, and then pop them back in. This allows for lightspeed travel, but it also does something else. While on the ship, Ela (Ender’s stepdaughter) creates the antivirus to save humanity, Miro creates a new, able body for himself, and Ender creates 2 bodies: child Peter and Valentine. This is possible because they thought of the structures while outside.

I…I don’t know. This is the seed for the weird stuff of the closing chapter of this quartet, and I’ll just leave it for now. It’s a strange combination of cool and very confusing. I’m not going to lie to you, dear reader, I’m not very good at abstract physics. This all goes way over my head, but it’s nice to imagine that it is true, as the theory also means that people can connect in ways that transcend human life. And that’s just a very nice and comforting thought. One final thing to add: real life Valentine is not happy with her duplicate. I see trouble brewing!


Hive_Queen

It took me a bit longer to get as absorbed into this book as I was with the previous 2, which is probably because the world is getting pretty big now and there are a lot of characters to keep track of (and I’m bad enough at that with real people). However, these characters all feel so real and alive, and you really, really feel for them. This is what makes the philosophical questioning aspect of the story not oppressive at all, it’s all just a logical result of their world and life. One of the main themes of the story is the role of organised religion in society. And it’s very clever about it. On both planets Brazil and China human life is shaped by either the Church, or the gods of the Path. Both have their positive and negative sides, as it keeps people together but it also oppresses.
This is a very clever book, so humanising and it shows real understanding of the human condition. I love it.


 

Look, this may be a bit cheesy, but because the story takes place on planet China so much and is so concerned with philosophy, I can only think to pair this book up with a soft and mellow green tea. It’s just…the gentleness of the scent and flavour really facilitates your thinking capacities, and you’re really going to need that! This is a book that makes you think, and you need something that allows you to do that. It would be wrong to combine a story about planet China with a Japanese tea, so I matched it with a jasmine green tea. Again, unfortunately this is a tea I picked up at a Chinese supermarket in Antwerpen and I don’t really have any information on it.

So this was it you guys, the highlight of Ender’s Quartet is over, and now all that’s left is Children of the Mind. This is where it all gets..weird… So cling on to your copy of Xenocide, give your mind a free reign with a relaxing yet also energising tea, and brace yourself for next week..

Jasmine Tea

The Willow Tea Rooms (Glasgow)

As we are running out of afternoon tea places in hometown Edinburgh, my partner and I decided to go outside of our bounds and go to exotic Glasgow for afternoon tea last weekend. We took the whole day off, it started snowing – it was quite a beautiful and energising trip! We decided to take our tea at The Willows Tea Rooms, “one of the key visitor attractions” of the city, according to the website.

The Willows Tea Room The Willow's Winter

There are 3 main elements to afternoon tea:

  • Atmosphere (look and service)
  • Food (quality and presentation)
  • Tea (quality and range)

Atmosphere is mostly dependent on decoration and the overall feel of a place: Anteaques is more classic, where Eteaket is more funky and modern, for instance. This is of course subject to taste, although your tea room should always be presentable. Then some shops have a higher emphasis on teas, whereas others focus more on food, like Casa Angelina. In general, you don’t need to serve mind blowing food, as long as the tea is good. Similarly, there’s no need to have hundreds of teas for sale – as long as you have a range that covers the main four tea types + some extras, and they are of good quality. There should always be some food for sale though, and that food should be of serving quality.

The reason I am pointing this out in this review is that, unfortunately, The Willows Tea Rooms missed the mark. The presentation was not my style. Generally that is not an issue, as it’s an entirely subjective issue of taste, but this tea room had a bit of a weird thing to it. When you first come in, you enter a shop. Not a tea shop, a gift shop. This is odd, as it breaks with expectations and the tone of a tea room.

The Willows Gift Shop

On the first floor, there’s a restaurant looking down on the shop floor. The tea room is on the top floor. It’s a fine room, and looks fine enough, even though the Jugendstil style glass decorations were a bit much for my taste.

The Tea Room

I selected a Chinese Keemun, a charming little black tea. Warming and honeylike, it’s a delicious tea to have with sweets and on a snowy winter’s day. There was a fine selection and the quality was good, so the tea box was ticked. (Also, the pricing isn’t bad at all!)

The issue was the food. The traditional afternoon tea comes on a 3 tier stand: sandwiches on the bottom, scones with clotted cream and jam on the middle one, and cakes on the top. The sandwiches…they were bad. The toppings were fine, if ordinary, but the bread was not. These sandwiches had clearly been in the fridge for at least a day, and the crust was not cut off. The result was a cold, damp, chewy mess that was just not enjoyable to eat. The scones, on the other hand, were nice.

The Food

As for the cakes, you get to select yours yourself from a scrumptious looking display. I went for a ridiculously large and delicious looking chocolate fudge cake. It was alright, although for some reason the cake was very spongy and cut in half, where it was glued together with some kind of flavourless cream. This didn’t really add anything and made it hard to eat – but I can’t ever be mad at a chocolate fudge cake.

The Cakes

Maybe it’s a bit harsh of me, as I did have a good time overall, but I have to admit that I was a bit thrown off by the food. For me, all 3 elements of afternoon tea must be good for the overall thing to be good too. The service was not exceptional, the look is not my style, and those sandwiches… If you go to The Willows Tea Room, I suggest you don’t go for the full afternoon tea – just have tea with a cake or a scone.

Speaker for the Dead – Ender’s Quartet #2

No human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless. No one’s life is nothing. Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins.

Ooh I love this one.
Although Ender’s Game is about children, and is sold as YA, I guess I’m maybe stretching it a little bit with the sequels. That said, my love for this series well makes up for that painful stretch. Word of warning: as I am now starting discussion of the sequels to Ender’s Game, there will most probably be spoilers to the original!

This book is set 3000 years after the first one, (mostly) on a planet called Lusitania – which we could also call planet Brazil. This is one of many human colonies, but the only one with another sapient species: the pequeninos, or piggies. To avoid a situation that could cause another xenocide, the humans have adopted a passive observant policy and are not allowed to share any information with the piggies. The main family observing them is that of Pipo, his son Libo, and outcast Novinha. Novinha discovers information that gets Pipo vivesected by the piggies, and to protect her lover Libo, she vows never to marry him so he cannot get that information. She calls for a Speaker for the Dead, and Ender picks up the request. Years later, when he arrives (space travel takes a looong time), he finds that he is not wanted anymore, and Novinha is a bitter woman with a dysfunctional family.

Valentine, Ender’s sister, after travelling with him for 3000 years, married a man on planet Norway and started a family. She is a professor of philosophy, but most importantly she is Demosthenes. In the first book she used this pseudonym to help their brother Peter to become Hegemon of the human race, since then she used it to support Ender and write histories, biographies and critiques of every world they land on. She’s totally badass. When Brazil is in trouble, she moves her whole family over there to help out, knowing they can never return. Although they are a bit too close for my comfort, the sibling love between Valentine and Ender is very touching. They’ve been together for over 3000 years and know each other through and through, respect each other, and know when to let go. When Ender leaves planet Norway, and Valentine with it, it’s hard not to get teary-eyed.

Before I move on to the spoiler section, I need to talk about Jane. Jane is a ..being..? – an entity who lives in the ansible computer network (more on that next week). She can communicate with Ender at all times and has access to all computers everywhere, at any time. Her existence raises very intersting and difficult questions: what does it mean to be human? Do you have to have a body to qualify? The existence of the piggies raises constant questions as well: what defines intelligence in a species? How do you interact with different species? Can you ever understand each other? Is it possible to live in peace with a species you cannot understand? Could you be friends? Is it ever right to destroy a sapient, possibly intelligent species to defend yourself?
These constant questions press on the back of your mind when you’re reading this book, which makes it quite the philosophical exercise. And I love it!

Now for the spoilers (the picture marks the safe spot)!


Novinha could not save Libo. He, too, got vivesected, and the whole planet of Brazil lives in fear of the seemingly violent piggies. Tensions are rising towards xenocide. On top of that, it is revealed that Miro and Ouanda, the current researchers and Novinha’s son and Libo’s daughter, broke the law and taught the piggies human technology and culture – a big deal, sure, as they are called to be sent to court, the travel alone taking decades. That said, the bigger reveal to come up in Ender’s investigation is that Novinha’s children are Libo’s as well, even though she married someone else! Miro and Ouanda are siblings!
The inhabitants of Brazil choose not to send them to trial. When Libo triest to join the piggies on the other side of the electric fence and gets brain damaged there, Brazil shuts off the fence, cuts of their connection with the rest of the world, and goes into rebellion.

The piggies and humans explain their different cultures and ways of life to each other, revealing that when the piggies vivesected Pipo and Libo they didn’t know they were killing them – they thought they were bestowing great honour to them by letting them become trees (as the piggies do). They are truly sorry for this misunderstanding and sign a treaty, because of which humans, piggies and buggers can live on Brazil in peace (in theory).

Did I say buggers? Yes I did! Ender has been carrying the hive queen from his last xenocide around for over 3000 years to find her a new home, and has established telekinetic conversation with her. At the very end of the novel he “plants” the queen and her eggs on planet Brazil, as a last chance for him to be redeemed from his massive sins. Ender and Novinha marry and everybody is happy – except for the impending punishment for their rebellion, and of course crippled, brain damaged Miro. But he’ll get his chance later!


 

Speaker

This book is where the series really starts taking shape. (It’s actually my favourite entry in the series.) It’s clever in how it makes you question preheld beliefs about everything, in its worldbuilding, in the wide array of compelling characters it presents so well. The universe gets expanded, epicafied, and fits perfectly with the original. I agree with what Lindsay Ellis said in her funny review of the series; that Ender’s Game is sci-fi’s answer to The Hobbit, and the three sequels to The Lord of the Rings (she also talks about Orson Scott Card’s self inflicted negative image and its impact on his readership).

A small, but very interesting detail I just want to highlight really quick is that Ender’s name has become a curse word, he is Ender the Xenocide. The original Speaker for the Dead, however, has a saint-like status, and nobody suspects that these two could be (and in fact are) the same person. It seems to be a reflection of Ender’s philosophy that every person, no matter how bad, has at least one thing that redeems them. Only in his case nobody knows. Does it then still count?


Whenever I ponder the universe (even though space scares me like nothing else does), I calm my brain with a soothing green tea. Although this book has some excrutiating violence, and is a very suspenseful read, it is mostly intruiging in the philosophical department. Therefore, I chose to match it with a soothing Lotus Green Tea. It’s very fresh in it’s smell and taste, with some light floral hints in a perfectly smooth blend. As always with green tea, be careful not to put boiling water with it (the best temperature is about 80 degrees Celsius) and do not let it infuse for more than 2 minutes – otherwise it will get too bitter and the delicate nature of the tea will be lost! I picked this one up in a Chinese supermarket in Antwerpen, so I don’t have a lot more information about it I’m afraid!

Lotus Tea

This book you guys, it’s so good. Get yourself comfortable, make a nice, sweet cuppa soothing green tea, and get ready to get your mind blown as you ponder the universe.

 

 

PekoeTea (Edinburgh)

And we’re back!
It’s the first tea room review of 2016, and we’re back in Edinburgh. This time we decided to visit PekoeTea, a local tea brand that in 2010 opened their first teashop/bar. It’s a cute, wee little tea bar just outside of the centre, so it’s not going to be crowded. Although there are only a couple of tables we didn’t book in advance and it was absolutely fine.

PekoeTea

Where some of the other tea rooms we visited had a large display of cakes to tempt you, PekoeTea has another approach. The tea approach.
This shop is absolutely packed with stacks of beautiful teas. The look of the shop is kind of vintage and reminiscent of 20th century shops, without being stuffed with decorations. The shopkeeper had an excellent understanding of her wares and was very knowledgeable about the products. The overall impression of the shop is cute, warm (that comforting look and feel you can only get in certain shops), and friendly.

PekoeTea Collection

Seeing how we were both a bit stressed and tired, we decided to go for mellow teas. Although I prefer black and rooibos teas, I’ve been in a green tea mood lately. My friend picked the Moonlight White, a white needle tea from Yunnan. It was so very soft and comforting – absolutely delicious!
I had the Pre Qing Ming Lung Ching, which they described as the “‘fine wine’ of green tea”. It’s a bit of an acquired taste, I’m afraid. Although the drink was very soft and gentle, the taste and flavour of this tea clashed a bit with that gentleness. It also didn’t go particularly well with our Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie, which was absolutely delicious.
The teacups were so classy and actually looked a bit like fancy wineglasses or the like, very exciting!

Our PekoeTea Selection

This is a wonderful shop. Because it is not full of decorations it’s quite easy on the eyes, and comforting in its complete focus on teas. It seems like a nice place to sit at the bar and work all afternoon, while sipping teas from their truly special collection and chatting about teas and chocolate with the staff.

If you want to have a nice cup of tea, but don’t feel like any of the fancies and frills that come with tea rooms (or the dangerous temptation that comes with a fully decked counter of sweets), go to PekoeTea. Edinburgh tip: escape the cold, rain and people and seek shelter in the warming arms of tea.

Since my tea selection was not my favourite, I will (unfortunately) have no other choice but to come back and try everything, oh woe is me!
PekoeTea, I’ll be back. And I can’t wait!

Ender’s Game – Ender’s Quartet #1

 

 

At last he came to a door, with these words in glowing emeralds:

THE END OF THE WORLD

He did not hesitate. He opened the door and stepped through.

2016 has been marked already by the release of Star Wars, the Force Awakens. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan, but after having seen this episode I am absolutely buzzing with sci-fi excitement. This must be what people felt like after the first trilogy! The sky is the limit – oh snap, it isn’t!

Coincidentally, I’ve spent my holidays reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game quartet. I had read the first book already, and I have to say, together this quartet is absolutely addictive! So for those whose space needs have been awakened by the latest Star Wars, I present to you: Ender’s Game.

In this book Earth has been attacked twice by the Formics, an alien race commonly referred to as Buggers. In response to this threat the Battle School is raised, where the most brilliant children are trained as soldiers and strategists. The main character, Ender, is one of these kids. He is the only one in his family who is “successful” in being sent to Battle School, while his brother Peter was too violent and his sister Valentine too compassionate. The administration at Battle School systematically isolates Ender from his peers and assures his being ostracised and bullied, so they can test his strength and leadership skills.

At Battle School they have all kinds of cool, zero gravity simulations to train their strategical thinking and understanding of space combat that allow for some pretty cool imagery. He also plays a game which interacts with his subconscious, more on that in the spoiler section below. On Earth, Valentine and Peter are infiltrating the world’s intellectual and political spheres online, influencing the people’s views on the war and human politics.

This book is great. The storytelling is very gripping and the emotional stakes are very high. The military’s treatment of Ender is cruel and abjectionable, but you can also understand it in a way: they are trying to save all of humanity, after all. Ender himself does some shockingly terrible things also, and this does raise some interesting ethical questions. Does it matter that he is only a child? Or that he was not fully aware of his actions or the repercussions thereof if they are so destructive? We are also lead to ask ourselves how far you can push someone for the greater good before it becomes amoral – this is a story about training kids as killer machines.

And now for the spoiler section…! As per usual, the next spoiler-free point will be marked by the picture. See you there!


 

Ender quickly turns out to be the best pupil and gets promoted often and quickly. The reason the administration loves him so much is that he is a genius with features from both his compassionate sister and sociopath brother. When he gets bullied at school Ender beats the bully so severely that he dies, and this happens again at Battle School. These deaths are kept from him, which actually makes it sadder. Ender suspects that he murdered other children and hates himself for his violence, but does not know it.
The biggest moral issue here is when Ender finds out that what he thought was a game, mere simulations, was real. He led real people into battle and caused their deaths. And when he decided to “cheat” in the game by destroying the Buggers’s home planet, he unknowingly committed xenocide by destroying almost all of the Bugger race. He later finds out that the Buggers weren’t going to attack again, and that this xenocide was uncalled for and unnecessary. Appalled and ashamed of his own actions, he writes The Hive Queen and The Hegemon, about the Buggers and humans respectively, under the pseudonym of Speaker for the Dead to show people the true nature of each race and both sides of the war.

This aspect of the book is what really sets it apart for me. Throughout, the Buggers are portrayed as Evil, and humans as Good, the victims struggling to survive. Towards the end, however, this story stops the reader to show that each war has two sides, and that you need to understand what is happening and why to be able to put an end to it. The ruined generation of children,the constant fear and rush to advance the military – none of it would have been necessary if only the two species had been able to communicate.


 

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This book is important. Because of its call for empathy and understanding, because of its complex and humanising portrayal of conflict. Child soldiers are a thing. War is a thing. Ignorance, too, is a thing. By putting an innocent face to atrocity, Card created a wonderful, chilling tale of humanity and inhumanity.

(If you are as much a Demosthenes fan as I am, worry not: Valentine and Peter will get their turn in the sequels, coming up next!)


 

What tea goes well with sci-fi? Or war literature? That’s still a story about children? This novel is brutal in bits, but all filtered through the innocent eyes of a very young child. There’s adventure (in space!), love between siblings, loneliness and regret.

This tea should not be floral, or light. Green and white teas are ruled out because they are too soothing and refreshing, and Rooibos is too fresh and fruity. It should also not be too heavy, as to draw attention away from the book. Therefore, I have decided to go for a more basic tea: Cassiopeia by Alveus.

Thistea has an Assam base, and light notes of lemongrass, cinnamon bark, cloves, orange peel and rose petals. Because of the lightness of this mixture the tea is seemingly unremarkable, but fresh and soothing in an understated way. In that, it is reminiscent of home, in a way. It’s nice and relaxing, but you don’t really know why.

So before you set off into space,pour yourself a nice cup of home. And don’t forget your lightsaber.

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