Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card

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Copyright © 1991 by Orson Scott Card


A Parting
She longed for death now, not because she hadn’t loved life, but because death was now unavoidable, and what cannot be shunned must be embraced. That was the Path.



“Because the soul is made of light and dwells in air, it is that part which conceives and keeps ideas, especially the idea of the self. The husband longs for his whole self, which was made of the husband and wife together. Thus he never believes any of his own thoughts, because there is always a question in his mind to which his wife’s thoughts were the only possible answer. Thus the whole world seems dead to him because he cannot trust anything to keep its meaning before the onslaught of this unanswerable question.”





<So you, too, are a believer.>

<I understand belief.>

<No—you desire belief.>

<I desire it enough to act as if I believed. Maybe that’s what faith is.>

<Or deliberate insanity.>

Note (Hal’s):

Conversations within angle brackets, serving as chapter headings throughout the novel, are exchanges between two nonhuman characters: a tree named Human, and the Hive Queen.

— end note



The only conclusion they reached was that while the future couldn’t be known, it would probably be a good deal better than their worst fears and nowhere near as good as their best hopes. Wasn’t that how the world always worked?

“Yes,” said Plikt. “Except for the exceptions.”


The Lusitania Fleet

Father did not raise his voice. It was in the faintest whisper that he said, “First the gods. Second the ancestors. Third the people. Fourth the rulers. Last the self.”

It was the clearest expression of the Path. It was the reason this world was settled in the first place. She had forgotten: If she was too busy to perform righteous labor, she was not on the Path.

She would never forget again. And, in time, she learned to love the sun beating down on her back, the water cool and murky around her legs and hands, the stalks of the rice plants like fingers reaching up from the mud to interwine with her fingers. Covered with muck in the rice paddies, she never felt unclean, because she knew that she was filthy in the service of the gods.



“So much power has no right or reason to exist in the universe.”

“Who taught you this?”

“Decency taught me this,” said Qing-jao. “The gods made the stars and all the planets—who is man to unmake them?”

“But the gods also made the laws of nature that make it possible to destroy them—who is man to refuse to receive what the gods have given?”

“We are using two different meanings of the words truth and belief. You believe that the story is true, because you responded to it from that sense of truth deep within you. But that sense of truth does not respond to a story’s factuality—to whether it literally depicts a real event in the real world. Your inner sense of truth responds to a story’s causality—to whether it faithfully shows the way the universe functions, the way the gods work their will among human beings.”

Qing-jao thought for only a moment, then nodded her understanding. “So the Life of Human may be universally true, but specifically false.”

“Yes,” said Han Fei-tzu. “You can read the book and gain great wisdom from it, because it is true. But is that book an accurate representation of the pequeninos themselves?”



“Just as the gods speak only to a chosen few, so the secrets of the rulers must be known only to those who will use the knowledge properly. Demosthenes was giving powerful secrets to people who were not fit to use them wisely, and so for the good of the people those secrets had to be withdrawn. The only way to retrieve a secret, once it is known, is to replace it with a lie; then the knowledge of the truth is once again your secret.”

“You’re telling me that Demosthenes is not a liar, and Congress is.”

“I’m telling you that Demosthenes is the enemy of the gods.”



She did not understand all of human nature, but Ender had taught her this: to stop a human being from doing something, you must find a way to make the person stop wanting to do it.


“Shut up,” said Quara.

“As a kindness to us all, Grego, please do as your sister has so kindly asked,” said Novinha.



“Even if they’re sentient,” said Ender, “that doesn’t mean they’re sacrosanct. It all depends whether they’re raman or varelse. If they’re raman—if we can understand them and they can understand us well enough to work out a way of living together—then fine. We’ll be safe, they’ll be safe.”

“The great peacemaker plans to sign a treaty with a molecule?” asked Grego.

Ender ignored his mocking tone. “On the other hand, if they’re trying to destroy us, and we can’t find a way to communicate with them, then they’re varelse—sentient aliens, but impacably hostile and dangerous. Varelse are aliens we can’t live with. Varelse are aliens with whom we are naturally and permanently engaged in a war to the death, and at that time our only moral choice is to do all that’s necessary to win.”



“You believe that miracles are possible.”


“But you don’t think any of them actually happen.”

“Miro, I believe that they do happen. I just don’t know if people accurately perceive which events are miracles and which are not.”



“Will God answer your prayer?”

“Of course. God answers all prayers.”

It took only a moment for Miro to realize what Quim meant. “I mean, will he say yes.”

“Ah. That’s the part I’m never sure about. Tell me later if he did.”





<I’ve been talking to Ender and his sister, Valentine. She’s a historian.>

<Explain this.>

<She searches through the books to find out the stories of humans, and then writes stories about what she finds and gives them to all the other humans.>

<If the stories are already written down, why does she write them again?>

<Because they aren’t well understood. She helps people understand them.>

<If the people closer to that time didn’t understand them, how can she, coming later, understand them better?>

<I asked this myself, and Valentine said that she doesn’t always understand them better. But the old writers understood what the stories meant to the people of their time, and she understands what the stories mean to people of her time.>

<So the story changes.>


<And yet each time they still think of the story as a true memory?>

<Valentine explained something about some stories being true and others being truthful. I didn’t understand any of it.>

<Why don’t they just remember their stories accurately in the first place? Then they wouldn’t have to keep lying to each other.>



Qing-jao remembered how she had felt when she first read the words of Demosthenes—how logical and right and fair he had sounded. Only later, after Father had explained to her that Demosthenes was the enemy of the rulers and therefore the enemy of the gods, only then did she realize how oily and deceptive the traitor’s words had been, which had almost seduced her into believing that the Lusitania Fleet was evil. If Demosthenes had been able to come so close to fooling an educated godspoken girl like Qing-jao, no wnder that she was hearing his words repeated like truth in the mouth of a common girl.



Then she thought of some famous lines from a song by her ancestor-of-the-heart:

I want to call back
the blackberry flowers
that have fallen
though pear blossoms remain

The poet Li Qing-jao knew the pain of regretting words that have already fallen from our lips and can never be called back. But she was wise enough to remember that even though those words are gone, there are still new words waiting to be said, like the pear blossoms.



“Hasn’t anyone caught on yet that the gods always say what people want to hear?”

“Not so,” said Ender. “The gods often ask us to do things we never desired, things that require us to sacrifice everything on their behalf. Don’t underestimate the gods.”

“Does your Catholic God speak to you?”

“Maybe he does. I never hear him, though. Or if I do, I never know that it’s his voice I’m hearing.”

“And when you die do the gods of every people really gather them up and take them off somewhere to live forever?”

“I don’t know. They never write.”





“We face some of the most terrible moral choices that humankind has ever faced. We run the risk of committing xenocide, or allowing it to be committed if we do nothing. Every known or suspected sentient species lives in the shadow of grave risk, and it’s here, with us and with us alone, that almost all the decisions lie. Last time anything remotely similar happened, our human predecessors chose to commit xenocide in order, as they supposed, to save themselves. I am asking all of you to help us pursue every avenue, however unlikely, that shows us a glimmer of hope, that might provide us with a tiny shred of light to guide our decisions. Will you help?”


The Jade of Master Ho
“It’s a foolish man who thinks a true story can only mean one thing.”
Most people are able to hold most stories they’re told in abeyance, to keep a little distance between the story and their inmost heart. But for these brothers—and for you, Qing-jao—the terrible lie has become the self-story, the tale that you must believe if you are to remain yourself. How can I blame you for wanting us all to die? You are so filled with the largeness of the gods, how can you have compassion for such small concerns as the lives of three species of raman? I know you, Qing-jao, and I expect you to behave no differently from the way you do. Perhaps someday, confronted by the consequences of your own actions, you might change, but I doubt it. Few who are captured by such a powerful story are ever able to win free of it.



“I want to live,” she said.

“Not as much as you want to be yourself,” said Ender.

“Any animal is willing to kill in order to save itself.”

“Any animal is willing to kill the Other,” said Ender. “But the higher beings include more and more living things within their self-story, until at last there is no Other. Until the needs of others are more important than any private desires. The highest beings of all are the ones who are willing to pay any personal cost for the good of those who need them.”


Grego’s War

“Are you a believer?”

“Let’s say I’m a suspecter. I suspect there may be someone who cares what happens to us. That’s one step better than merely wishing. And one step below hoping.”

Valentine had long ago observed that in a society that expected chastity and fidelity, like Lusitania, the adolescents who controlled and channeled their youthful passions were the ones who grew up to be both strong and civilized. Adolescents in such a community who were either too weak to control themselves or too contemptuous of society’s norms to try usually ended up being either sheep or wolves—either mindless members of the herd or predators who took what they could and gave nothing.

Free Will
It hurt Wang-mu to have Qing-jao treat her so coldly, for they had once been friends and Wang-mu still loved her, or at least loved the young woman that Qing-jao had been before the crisis. Yet there was nothing Wang-mu could say or do to restore their friendship. She had chosen another path.



Isn’t it possible, he wondered, for one person to love another without trying to own each other? Or is that buried so deep in our genes that we can never get it out? Territoriality. My wife. My friend. My lover.



“If God created our will, then he’s responsible for every choice we make. God, our genes, our environment, or some stupid programmer keying in code at an ancient terminal—there’s no way free will can ever exist if we as individuals are the result of some external cause.”

“So—as I recall, the official philosophical answer is that free will doesn’t exist. Only the illusion of free will, because the causes of our behavior are so complex that we can’t ever trace them back. If you’ve got one line of dominoes knocking each other down one by one, then you can always say, Look, this domino fell because that one pushed it. But when you have an infinite number of dominoes that can be traced back in an infinite number of directions, you can never find where the causal chain begins. So you think, That domino fell because it wanted to.”

“Bobagem,” said Miro.

“Well, I admit that it’s a philosophy with no practical value,” said Ender. “Valentine once explained it to me this way. Even if there is no such thing as free will, we have to treat each other as if there were free will in order to live together in society. Because otherwise, every time somebody does something terrible, you can’t punish him, because he can’t help it, because his genes or his environment or God made him do it, and every time somebody does something good, you can’t honor him, because he was a puppet, too. If you think that everybody around you is a puppet, why bother talking to them at all? Why even try to plan anything or create anything, since everything you plan or create or desire or dream of is just acting out the script your puppeteer built into you.”

Note (Hal’s):

bobagem (Portuguese): nonsense

— end note


Free will


Virus Makers
When you have wisdom that another person knows that he needs, you give it freely. But when the other person doesn’t yet know that he needs your wisdom, you keep it to yourself. Food only looks good to a hungry man.



“As long as the whole species is together, interbreeding constantly,” said Qing-jao, “individuals never drift too far, genetically speaking; their genes are constantly being recombined with other genes in the same species, so the variations are spread evenly through the whole population with each new generation. Only when the environment puts them under such stress that one of those randomly drifting traits suddenly has survival value, only then will all those in that particular environment who lack that trait die out, until the new trait, instead of being an occasional sport, is now a universal definer of the new species. That’s the fundamental tenet of gaialogy—constant genetic drift is essential for the survival of life as a whole.”



“I think you don’t grow up until you stop worrying about other people’s purposes or lack of them and find the purposes you believe in for yourself.”




Life and Death

“We’re on the verge of reconceptualizing the universe. We’ve discovered the illuminating principle that wishing makes it so and all living creatures pop out of nowhere whenever they’re needed.”

“If wishing makes it so,” said Valentine, “can we wish for faster-than-light flight?”

“Grego’s doing math in his head right now,” said Olhado, “so he’s functionally dead. But yes. I think he’s onto something—he was shouting and dancing a minute ago. We had a sewing-machine experience.”

“Ah,” said Valentine.

“It’s an old science-class story,” said Olhado. “People who wanted to invent sewing machines kept failing because they always tried to imitate the motions of hand-sewing, pushing the needle through the fabric and drawing the thread along behind through the eye at the back end of the needle. It seemed obvious. Until somebody first thought of putting the eye in the nose of the needle and using two threads instead of just one. A completely unnnatural, indirect approach that when it comes right down to it, I still don’t understand.”

“So we’re going to sew our way through space?”

“In a way. The shortest distance between two points isn’t necessarily a line. It comes from something Andrew learned from the hive queen. How they call some kind of creature from an alternate spacetime when they create a new hive queen. Grego jumped on that as proof that there was a real non-real space. Don’t ask me what he means by that. I make bricks for a living.”

“Unreal realspace,“ said Grego. “You had it backward.”

“I was just thinking—I heard a prayer, not many weeks ago. A prayer to Os Venerados, Grandfather Gusto and Grandmother Cida. That if there wasn’t a way to solve the impossible problems facing us, they would petition God to open up the way.”

“Not a bad prayer,” said the Bishop. “And perhaps God has granted it.”

“I know,” said Quara. “That’s what I was thinking. What if all this stuff about Outspace and Inspace, what if it was never real before. What if it ony came to be true because of that prayer?”

“What of it?” asked the Bishop.

“Well, don’t you think that would be funny?”

Apparently no one did.


Ender’s Children

“I’ve made a promise.”

“You made one to me, too,” he said.

“Should I break a vow to God, so I can keep my vow with you?”

“God would understand.”

“How easily those who never hear his voice declare what he would and would not want.”

“Do you hear his voice these days?”

“I hear his song in my heart, the way the Psalmist did. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.”

“The twenty-third. While the only song I hear is the twenty-second.”

She smiled wanly. “Why hast thou forsaken me?” she quoted.

“He’s a good boy who thought that he was doing the something fine.”

“Yes,” he said. “But it got away from him.”

“He didn’t know what he was doing,” she said. “When you don’t understand the consequences of your acts, how can you be blamed for them?”

He knew that she was talking as much about him, Ender the Xenocide, as about Nimbo. “You don’t take the blame,” he answered. “But you stll take responsibility. For healing the wounds you caused.”

“Yes,” she said. “The wounds you caused. But not all the wounds in the world.”

text checked (see note) Oct 2022

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