Orson Scott Card


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Xenocide Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Xenocide by Orson Scott Card.

Xenocide is a 1991 science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, the third installment in his Ender’s Saga series. A sequel to Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead, it follows Ender Wiggin on the planet Lusitania as he tries to find a way for different species to coexist. The planet also harbors a virus that is fatal to humans, but necessary for native species. An intergalactic congress orders the destruction of the planet and the virus with it, but that means xenocide. Card is best known for this series and for Ender’s Game in particular. He has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards for his work.

The action begins where Speaker for the Dead left off. Ender lives in a Catholic Brazilian community of colonists. They live peacefully alongside the pequeninos, the planet Lusitania’s native sentient life. Ender has brought another species with him: the Hive Queen, the last of her insect-like species, the Formics, or “buggers.” Ender nearly annihilated her species in a war between humans and Formics in Ender’s Game, only to learn that the entire war was the result of a cultural misunderstanding. Now, he wants to find a place where the Hive Queen can rebuild her species so he can atone for nearly committing xenocide.

A deadly virus exists on the planet as well. The Brazilian colonists call it the “descolada,” Portuguese for “no longer glued.” The virus is complex, adaptable, and highly infectious. All native life on Lusitania has adapted to the virus and evolved to accommodate it, but humans and the Hive Queen are vulnerable.

In Speaker for the Dead, Lusitania defied orders from Starways Congress to protect the lives of the pequeninos. Now, Congress has sent a fleet to regain control of the planet—but the fleet will take close to thirty years to reach its destination. Valentine, Ender’s sister, uses her pseudonym “Demosthenes” to reveal that the fleet contains a device powerful enough to destroy a planet. She warns of a “Second Xenocide”—the first was the apparent total destruction of the Formic race.

Lusitania has an ally in Jane, a sympathetic AI who has secretly formed in the ansible network used to communicate between planets. She stops Congress’s order from reaching the fleet, risking discovery and destruction by doing so.

Novhina Ribera is a Lusitania colonist and Ender’s wife. She and her daughter Elanora are studying the descolada virus in an attempt to replace it with a harmless one that will still allow the pequeninos to reach their adult stage. But descolada is so intertwined with the Lusitanian ecosystem that they’re not sure it’s even possible. Quara, another daughter, doesn’t want to replace the descolada at all. She becomes convinced its complexity shows signs of sentience, which means destroying it would be immoral. In fact, it might be what gives the pequeninos sentience in the first place. Meanwhile, another Ribera child, Quim, also known as Father Estevao, tries to make peace with a more aggressive pequenino tribe that is making plans to launch into space with the descolada, on a mission to wipe out all humans with the virus. They believe the humans’ susceptibility to the virus means they are unworthy of life.

Unable to communicate with the fleet, Congress believes it has disappeared. They ask the planet Path to solve the mystery. The people of Path, whose culture is based on ancient China, share the cultural belief that some of its people are “godspoken.” They demonstrate symptoms of OCD, through which they believe they can communicate with the gods. It later becomes clear that the godspoken are actually genetically modified for superior intelligence. The government has purposely made them smarter, but has also debilitated them with OCD so it can control them. Any disloyalty the godspoken demonstrate, even in their own minds, immediately triggers obsessive-compulsive symptoms to distract them. They believe this is the gods speaking to them.

The respected Han Fei-tzu and his daughter Han Quing-jao, or “Gloriously Bright,” are two godspokens tasked with discovering the missing fleet. Quing-jao’s maid, Si Wang-Mu, assists. Quing-jao discovers that Demosthenes is really Valentine Wiggin, who has been en route to Lusitania for years. She conjectures that AI must be responsible both for the publication of her work and the fleet’s disappearance.

Jane reveals herself to Quing-jo, Fei-tzu, and Wang-Mu, telling them the truth about the godspoken: they are the result of genetic modification overseen by the government. They are given superior intelligence along with OCD. Their symptoms make them controllable: the godspoken experience compulsions whenever they have disloyal thoughts. Wang-Mu also has superior intelligence, but not OCD. Jane asks them not to tell Congress what she has done.

Fei-tzu and Wang-mu believe her, but Quing-jao does not. She reports the truth to Congress, sure she is doing the right thing. She recommends Congress transition to a new communication system that will effectively kill Jane. Jane restores communication between the fleet and Congress, knowing her fate is sealed.

Fei-tzu and Wang-mu use Jane to communicate with Lusitania to find a way to save the planet. Planter, a pequenino, offers his life as a means to experiment to find out whether the descolada are truly sentient. Elanora makes a model for a possible “recolada,” a form of descolada that will maintain life as usual for native species, but without killing all non-native life forms. But she doesn’t have the means to actually make the recolada, and the fleet is approaching.

Father Estevao is killed by the aggressive pequeninos, and Grego leads a human mob against them, which soon gets out of hand. Many friendly pequeninos are killed. The Hive Queen enforces peace, setting up drone guards to prevent further violence.

Jane, Grego, and another named Olhado discover something that will save them: “Outside,” a different plane of existence where the “patterns” for all existence begin. Jane constructs a complex pattern for a spaceship that will carry Ender, Elanora, and her disabled brother, Miro, Outside and back again: instantaneous travel through space. Elanora is able to use the Outside plane to create a pattern for the recolada, which also cures the godspoken’s OCD. Miro heals his body Outside. Ender unintentionally creates two new consciousnesses: child versions of his brother Peter and sister Valentine. They are not clones of his siblings, but different aspects of Ender’s subconscious, given corporeal form. Valentine has always represented the best of Ender, and Peter the worst.

The recolada spreads across the planet, replacing the descolada. It also reaches Path and cures the godspoken of their debilitating symptoms. Qing-jao refuses to be treated, still convinced she is communicating with the gods. Si Wang-Mu and the new Peter depart to take control of Congress and stop the destruction of Lusitania, while the new Valentine goes to find a planet where Lusitania’s population can evacuate.

Though Xenocide was nominated for a Hugo Award and a Locus Award, it received mixed reviews overall. Publisher’s Weekly called Card’s voice “didactic” and too given to “lengthy philosophical and scientific ruminations.” The fourth book in the series, 1996’s Children of the Mind, completed Ender’s story. Card later wrote an additional series in the same universe: the Ender’s Shadow series, following Ender’s schoolmate Bean.