Book Reviews

Orson Scott Card * Wyrms Sci Fi Book Review (Ender Series)

Whenever I think of a young woman’s journey to an uncertain destiny, I usually think of David Palme’s Emergence  – especially if the girl is under 15, has the power to take a life and is a master of disguise, diplomacy and martial arts.

Patience is the seventh seventh seventh daughter of the space captain who first came to Imaculata (we are looking here at 249th generation, 7000 years of genetic material). She’s the daughter of the rightful heir to the kingdom, the Heptarch. But she and her father serve the current ruler as diplomats. And slaves.

“Your first responsibility is the greatest good for all the world. Only when that is secure can you care for private loves and comforts and power. The King’s House is all the world.”

Her entire life, her father has protected her from her destiny. But, when he dies and his head is harvested to serve the king, she’s must run for her life, and face a destiny that has been prophesied for generations. A destiny that that will save the world – or destroy it.

She was destined to mate with Unwyrm. When Heffiji was asked who or what Unwyrm was, he replied:

“It was a large wormlike animal with vestigial wings that fanned out just like geblings’ fingers, with a head as proportionately tiny as the head of a dwelf, and with a body as long and lithe as a gaunt. Its belly looked loose and open, as if loose sections of bowel were protruding.

When Heffiji at last quieted down, Angel spoke softly from his place by the fire. “Wyrms,” he said. “The earliest colonists called them that, and killed them all, even though there was evidence that they lived communally and buried their dead. They were too frightening, they awakened too many human fears. And now they’re extinct.”

“Except one,” said Patience. “That’s what Unwyrm is, isn’t he? The last of the wyrms.”

“Not quite,” said Ruin, who looked exhausted and defeated. “We geblings named him, didn’t we? Unwyrm.

Not-wyrm. Not our father; our brother. We didn’t remember that he looked like this, didn’t remember what a wyrm was. But now it’s clear enough. Just like the second-generation gnat that killed off the other gnats and waited to mate again with the Earth wheat. That’s what Unwyrm is doing. Waiting to mate again with a human being.”

On her journey she is accompanied by Angel, her tutor, a fat boat owner, two Giblins (who are the true kings of the Giblin race), River – a head in a jar who helps navigate the treacherous waters and his monkey and eagle. And Will, a Revolutionary and one of the Giblin’s slave.

I highly recommend this book. The story is compelling and well paced, the characters complex, and the world believable.

Humans have lived on Imakulata for millenia, originating there as a Greek Orthodox religious colony. They are the ascendant race of this incredible world, maintaining an uneasy distance from the aboriginal geblings, taking the empathic gaunts as whores and catamites, enslaving the small-headed and small-brained dwelfs. Since the time of the first colonists, the Heptarchs have ruled in a seldom-broken line of descent. The Starship Captain’s prophecy holds that the seventh seventh seventh daughter of the first Heptarch will become the mother of Kristos, to either be the savior or the destroyer of humanity on Imakulata. Patience is that prophesied daughter, the only living child of the rightful Heptarch, Lord Peace. But Peace belongs to a second-generation usurper. He serves as a diplomatic slave to the man in the Heptarch’s seat. Peace teaches his daughter that the Heptarch’s House is the whole world, and that deposing the sitting Heptarch would only bring about bloody civil war. So Patience learns the arts of diplomacy from her father and from his slave Angel, the last of the Wise. Angel is the only Wise to have returned from Cranning, to where all the Wise had followed an undeniable call years ago, to restore to Lord Peace the ability to father a daughter. Together, Angel and Peace teach Patience how to perfectly mask her emotions, how to speak every language spoken on Imakulata, how to kill with the skills of an assassin, how to be impeccably loyal to the ruling Heptarch.

But the Heptarch cannot trust Peace and Patience because of what the Starship Captain’s prophecy has foretold for their destinies. He holds father and daughter effectively hostage by never letting both leave the Heptarch’s House at once, and perpetually monitors their behavior and words. Thus Patience grows up never having had a single unguarded moment with her father, and Peace’s slave becomes more her father than Peace himself. When the aging Lord Peace dies, Patience flees the Heptarch and the certain death he intends for her. She rejoins Angel, and in the company of a religious Vigilant, a pair of Geblings and a coarse river woman, they journey toward Cranning, from where the Unwyrm calls to her, seeking life for his race and death for humanity. Aided by a dwelf whose home is the storehouse for all the knowledge of the Wise and by a pair of empathic gaunts, Patience travels toward the fulfillment of her destiny — to either bear the ancient Unwyrm’s children or to slay him in his lair.

I loved the Geblings, they are such social creatures, always touching, communicating, calling each other when a task needs to be done.

She remembered so clearly how it felt, when she was each of the first few gebling kings. Yet now she felt nothing. It was like reaching out with her hand, only to discover that her hand had been cut off. She watched them wistfully, grieving that she could never know them except in the vicarious memories that came to her through the scepter. And the geblings went about their business, not knowing who she was, not guessing that she was the one living human who knew what it was like to be a gebling, who could understand the constant fellowship that gave them their anchor in the world. How did I find the courage to live before, when I never knew what it was to know another person?

And they despise humans for their aloofness, their solitude, until they get to know what technologies the humans have designed:

“But now, well, he keeps telling me that solitude is the foundation of true wisdom, that all the brilliant thoughts in this house come as the desperate cry of one human being to another, saying, Know me, live with me in the world of my mind.”

It’s a tale about invaders from space (the humans) and the way they handled the local intelligent indigenous species. Through the stone implanted in her brain, Patience has access to all her ancestor’s memories, all the way to the Starship captain who mated with a local worm (who called him, seduced him) and gave birth to Unwyrm and the first Geblings.

“If human beings are all monsters, why should I sacrifice anything for them?”
“Because they are beautiful monsters…, And when they live in a network of peace and hope, when they trust the world and their deepest hungers are fulfilled, then within that system, that delicate web, there is joy. That is what we live for, to bind the monsters together, to murder their fear and give birth to their beauty.”

The captain managed to pass a warning when giving the prophecy. His right hand wrote that the daughter 249 generations down the line will be the life mate of the Unwyrm but with his left hand he wrote: “save my daughter”.

Card’s Imakulata is a complex world in both the biological and social senses. This novel could have been twice its actual length if Card had taken the detail to a higher level. The style Card chose, though, gives Wyrms the feeling of myth, of a legend common to all of humanity’s subconscious. The self, the soul, the question of right and wrong differing from good and bad, are just some of the perplexing problems that Card sparks the philosopher in all of us to think about. Card seamlessly interweaves adventure with the most unsolvable problems of the mind. Wyrms carries special appeal to those who are fans of the Ender books, but could serve equally well as an introduction to Card’s work for any reader seeking thought-provoking, solid speculative fiction.

Read chapter 1 here

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