A large duck (burger_eater) wrote,
A large duck

City of Pearl (spoilers)

Finished City of Pearl by Karen Traviss this morning, and that's the last of the debut novels I plan to read. This one was one of those books that I read through to the end, although I have zero idea why.

You know what I kept thinking as I read this book? "Let's just say I have a professional interest, since Benderism is a major part of the consensus in modern SF."

A major plot element is that the aliens in the book have technology (a parasite, actually) that cures disease, heals wounds, extends life and reshapes bodies to "optimize" them. This is a bad thing, apparently. Widespread availability of the parasite would make corporatations rich and there would be too many people in the world.

Most humans aren't vegans, see, and the bastards also build stuff and dissect things, and they don't place the same value on the life of a rat as they do on the lives of other humans. Therefore, if humans were allowed to eliminate disease and aging, they'd overpopulate the galaxy. They don't believe in balance.

See, if they received the healing parasite, they'd all have to be killed. The alien who would do the killing (one of the protagonists in the book) would, you know, feel bad about it, but it would be necessary. He'd murder them all, to restore the balance of life on the world they've landed on.

Balance. Very important.

Oh, did I mention that it's a completely artificial balance created by him? He already let a small human colony establish itself on the planet. Sure, he was supposed to wipe out any aliens trying to establish itself on this world, (and in fact, he already had murdered millions of non-human alien colonizers who were building too much and polluting) but if he had, there would be no reason for the protagonist to show up and Learn Important Lessons about respecting all living things.[1]

Also, let's not forget that every living creature matters just as much as every other one. Intelligent species are not priviledged in the alien mass murderer's philosophy. Not that, you know, he ever bothers to mention any of these other creatures when he talks about the terrible effects of pollution, over-building and colonization. Whenever the subject of ecosystem damage caused by the now-obliterated colony comes up, it's always discussed in terms of the sole native sentient species on the planet--how many there were, how far their numbers were reduced, their fear of further damage by star-faring colonizing races.

I wonder how the book would have played out if the colonized planet had not had a sentient species on it. Would the vegan aliens have charged in and nuked the colonies for a Rigillian spotted owl? Their philosophy says they would have, but I guess that would have been too risky a choice for this book.

The human protagonist is a misanthropic psuedo-cop with a lot of sympathy for the mass murderer. Poor little killer, he just wants to extinguish all life he doesn't approve of! Is that so wrong! And he's a vegetarian! Because of course it's fine to commit genocide to hold an eco-system in exactly the place it was when you found it, but killing a chicken for dinner is unforgiveable.

At the end of the book, an infant dies, which is pretty sad if you think about it, but hey! at least no tried to save it with a life-saving alien technology! Because if they had, the baby would have been taken by the government/corporations and cut apart for experimentation (since, obviously, just drawing blood would never be good enough to get a sample of the parasite). Darn those evil corporate scientists! Where is their balance?

In fact, the parasite itself is so incredibly dangerous that, when the protagonist herself is infected with it, she kills herself, destroying her own body rather than let the dangerous, life-extending, wound-healing bacteria spread.

Oh, wait a minute! Ha ha! Actually, no she doesn't! She doesn't destroy herself because the tech can't be trusted in human hands. She, of course, is trustworthy enough to handle it. It's all those other people out there who can't be trusted.

In fact, she's so trustworthy that she takes her infected self straight into an alien city--and an alien home--while carrying the mildly contagious bacteria without telling anyone that she's a threat to them. Why? Well, they'd kill her, of course. Can't have that.

Pages later, she does tell alien council that killing all the humans on and near the planet is a perfectly reasonable option, but she still wants asylum, because hey, the bacteria that are changing her body live inside her now. She's their world. She has a responsibility to look after them. [2] That infant child could have been a parasite habitat, too, of course, but--ooo look! A shiny rocket ship!

Honestly, while I appreciate an attempt to create aliens and humans who don't fall into the simplistic good/bad guy scheme, can't they at least have a moral understanding that is not repulsive and hypocritical?

[1] Colonizing aliens not included--those can be murdered indiscriminately.

[2] Unless of course they're alien colonizers.[3]

[3] Which is exactly what they are. I guess they can be nurtured rather than exterminated because they are creating a false balance the characters like rather than one they don't.

That's it for me. No more debut novels.
Tags: words

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