Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Speaker for the Dead, chapter one, part three, in which Pipo makes a lot of bad decisions

I missed last week's post, quite unintentionally.  And now this one is late.  Holiday season; y'all know how it is.  I've also now read ahead a bit, just the next three posts or so.  I don't think that enough information came up to affect my analysis of any of this material so far.  I just know that it's going to start getting really, really bad soon.  I have previewed my horror and I can see the pain incoming again.  (I mentioned to my mother that I was reading Speaker for the first time and she tried to talk me out of it, like I had said I was going to hitchhike to Mexico.  She does care.)

Let's wrap this first sucker up.

(Content: sexism, murder.  Fun content: balloons, the human nervous system.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 20--30

It takes three days for Novinha to take the test to become the new xenobiologist of Milagre, and because she is 13 years old and a main character in a Card novel, she passes with a score better than most graduate students.  Obviously reasonable.  She starts spending most of her time in the Zenador's Station, because they have all the cool data, and Libo finds her cold condescension aggravating, especially since they're the same age and presumably both ubergeniuses but she has an adult job and he's still just apprenticing.
He was not prone to taking umbrage openly.  But Pipo knew his son and saw him burn.  After a while even Novinha, insensitive as she was, began to realize that she was provoking Libo more than any normal young man could possibly endure.  But instead of easing up on him, she began to regard it as a challenge.  How could she force some response from this unnaturally calm, gentle-spirited, beautiful boy?
*blows noisemaker*

Well done, Card.  Managed to make it to page 20 before describing a barely-pubescent boy as 'beautiful' in an explicitly romantic/sexual context.  (Of course it's romantic/sexual, and yes of course Libo and Novinha will hook up within the next few years/pages.  What kind of book do you think this is?)  Novinha snipes at him one day when she learns that Pipo and Libo have never met a female Little One and don't know anything about how the species reproduces.  (They described the concepts of male and female, and all of the Little Ones have identified themselves as male.)  Libo is quiet for a while before responding at all, and then they have this back and forth of "Obviously you should just do this" and "Well, no, that won't work because X" until finally X is "Because trying to tell them what we want their hair for would risk giving away scientific secrets that could change the course of their society and ruin everything".
Once she realized that they were excellent at their science, and that she knew almost nothing of it, she dropped her aggressive stance and went almost to the opposite extreme. [....] Politeness gradually gave way to familiarity.  Pipo and Libo began to converse openly in front of her, airing their speculations about why the pequininos had developed some of their strange behaviours, what meaning lay behind some of their strange statements, why they remained so maddeningly impenetrable.
Libo and Novinha become BFFs, making inside jokes based on their unique scientific information that no one else except Pipo could possibly understand.  And it's sort of sweet, but I also wonder why, with the galactic instant internet that's been in place for over 3000 years, none of them have, say, friends on other planets.  A hundred worlds with a total human population in the tens or hundreds of billions--shouldn't the galaxy be full of lonely supergenius teenagers looking for someone else smart enough to get them and make complicated xenobiology jokes?

Basically what I'm saying is that Card was very impressive to foresee political blogs but this is the part where he clearly did not see tumblr incoming.

So then there's a misogynistic interlude in which Libo riffs off the Little Ones' habit of naming trees and starts naming their office furniture.  Actual quote: "Don't sit on Chair!  It's her time of the month again."  And Novinha does the same, obviously, she writes "a series of mock reports on an imaginary pequenino woman called Reverend Mother, who was hilariously bitchy and demanding."

Now, maybe, maybe, these arrogant teenagers mocking the primitive aliens' noted reverence for their unseen female population are still going to accurately collect and assess and analyse all of their information, and aren't going to let their superiority affect their objective rational Sciencemastery at all.  But maybe--probably--they won't, and if that happens there will be no one to catch them, no one to call them out, because they are utterly isolated from the rest of their community and the only people who are even aware of the mockery going on in the privacy of the Zenador's Station are the three of them who are complicit in it.  Where is the oversight?  For that matter, where are the experts from the rest of the galaxy making trips to Lusitania to attempt to add insight or oversight to their work?  (Travel might be stupidly expensive, but that won't stop Ender from jetting in shortly, and no one thinks it's weird to request a Speaker to come in.)

This here is exactly how science and academia get bigotry in them and become part of the larger system of oppression--it's just a joke, and then it isn't.

But when they do ruin everything one day, it's not because of that, of course.  It starts with Rooter, alien teenage supergenius, who demands to know who it is that the humans go to war with, since he knows they only have one city.  Pipo reassures him that the humans would never kill the Little Ones, and some time later Rooter remarks--joking, but he's smart enough to know that jokes are always about the implicit truth--that the only reason Pipo is still alive is that "your women are too stupid to know that he is wise".

The weird hybrid of bloodlust and misogyny continues, until Libo finds a safe answer.
"Most women don't know him," he said. 
"Then how will they know if he should die?" asked Rooter.  Then, suddenly, he went very still and spoke very loudly.  "You are cabras!" [....] He pointed at Libo and then at Pipo.  "Your women don't choose your honor, you do!  Like in battle, but all the time!"
'Cabra' means 'goat', and they seem to be the bison or antelopes of Lusitania.  Pipo tries to explain that couples make decisions together, but the Little Ones continue shouting in distress and then haul Rooter away into the forest and forbid the humans to follow.  Pipo and Libo book it and try to figure out what happened, starting with Rooter calling human women weak and stupid.
"That's because he's never met Mayor Bosquinha.  Or your mother, for that matter."  Libo laughed, because his mother, Conceição, ruled the archives as if it were an ancient estação in the wild mato--if you entered her domain, you were utterly subject to her law.
Paraphrasing Card: "Gosh, I sure do have some strong female characters offscreen.   Hoo boy, if you could only see them!  Now then, back to making sexist jokes about primitive tribal cultures."  Also, our characterisation of Conceição now consists of knowing that she doesn't believe children are full people, she doesn't understand her husband's quiet brilliant insights into human nature, and she's iron-fistedly domineering about her library.  Top notch, Card.

The forest is loud with drumming that night, and Pipo and Libo wonder if they haven't accidentally introduced the concept of sexual equality to the Little Ones--meaning, of course, not that the revered females might have broken free of wherever they're hidden away, but that the males might have thrown off their shackles and be fighting for liberation.  I have literally no idea what these 'shackles' might consist of, but a whole lot of ideas about why the males might be keeping the females locked up and never let them meet the outsiders.  Sigh.

In the morning they find a patch of freshly cleared earth, and Rooter's corpse with a tree growing out of his chest.  It's gruesomely detailed--every organ and tissue and sinew has been carefully extracted (though not detached) and laid out in a pattern around his body.  (I keep picturing this amazing but terrifying image of the human nervous system extracted from the rest of the body.)  From the blood spread, they determine that he had to have been alive when they started to eviscerate him.  Libo has the understandable reaction that, if the non-interference law means letting this happen to a person, then the law is ignorant and wrong.

Pipo and Libo debate which of them said something to trigger this sudden violence, and Novinha interrupts:
"Do you think their world revolves around you?  As you said, the piggies did it, for whatever reason they have.  It's plain enough this isn't the first time--they were too deft at the vivisection for this to be the first time." 
Pipo took it with black humor.  "We're losing our wits, Libo.  Novinha isn't supposed to know anything about xenology."
Well done, Sherlock.  So they file their report, and the committees agree that since the Little Ones are going to meet human women sooner or later it would have been stupid for Pipo to lie about our genders, so nothing could have been done differently.  Life and research go on, although Libo is traumatised and doesn't return to the field for weeks--he grew up hearing about the Little Ones and had known Rooter by proxy for years.  I like this; for once someone's empathy for aliens seems realistic, rather than nonexistent or 'Oh my god this fanfic has changed society's entire outlook on our near-extermination'.

Libo and Novinha continue to bond more intensely, treating the Zenador's Station as their only sanctum now that the Little Ones seem just as mysterious and dangerous as other people always have.  Pipo and Libo apparently can't get over the feeling that one of them must have ruined everything, so Libo and Novinha are each other's only non-stressful companions.  Pipo goes Shakespearian, comparing the station to the island in The Tempest:
...with Pipo a loving but ever remote Prospero.  Pipo wondered: Are the pequininos like Ariel, leading the young lovers to happiness, or are they little Calibans, scarcely under control and chafing to do murder?
Or both!  I vote for 'both'.

The Little Ones don't talk about Rooter's death, and the humans don't bring it up either, lest they give away more information or trigger more violence, and so the years kind of stumble on.  By age 17, Libo and Novinha often talk about what they'll be doing together twenty years from now, and this sort of saddens me.  Don't get me wrong, I love the fantasy of people finding each other early in life and first love being truest and forever love, but I am also creeped out by the idea of people attaching to each other out of desperation and never having any consideration of other options, especially when they seem to literally have no other friends or anyone--once in a while even they are going to fight, and who are they going to talk to about those issues?  It is good to have your magical one true love to whom you can tell anything, but it is not sufficient.

Also, the romance quotient in the room is reading a solid zero.  I'm going to assume that's because I'm not supposed to be emotionally invested in their relationship and rather just take it as future backstory.
Pipo never bothered to ask them about their marriage plans.  After all, he thought, they studied biology from morning to night.  Eventually it would occur to them to explore stable and socially acceptable reproductive strategies.
Ha ha!  Social pressure to conform to traditional religious institutions regardless of whether they're appropriate to your personal goals, relationship, and preferences sure is adorable.  (Libo and Novinha apparently hypothesise endlessly on how the Little Ones reproduce, given that they only see self-identified males with no apparent mating equipment.  Again, Pipo finds this delightful.  Is this supposed to be a parallel to recommended 'courtship' practices in conservative American Christianity, with the constant chaperone?)

And then one day Novinha is examining plant cells and she finds the Descolada agent sitting in them, the same body that swept through the colony as a plague stopped only at the cost of her parents' lives.  She starts searching specifically for that and finds Descolada in every kind of cell from every kind of species she's catalogued.  She shows Pipo, who starts running the same tests himself and asks her to explain how it functions.  I don't know enough about biology to comment:
"...It attacks the genetic molecules, starting at one end and unzipping the two strands of the molecule right down the middle. [....] In humans, the DNA tries to recombine, but random proteins insert themselves so that cell after cell goes crazy.  Sometimes they go into mitosis, like cancer, and sometimes they die."
Pipo says unnecessarily vague things about how 'it's the same thing' among the cells, then grabs his coat to run outside, telling Novinha that when Libo arrives he should look at the simulation and see if he can figure it out before Pipo returns, because it's "the big one.  The answer to everything."  He says he has to go ask the Little Ones if his theory is right, and if he's not back in an hour he must have broken his leg in the forest.

Pipo would not survive in a horror movie, either.

Libo's committee meeting runs long, and then he gets groceries (where does this tiny walled colony get its food), so he doesn't arrive at the station until after dark, and Pipo hasn't returned.  They go looking for him, preparing for a long scouring of the forest, but very quickly they find him dead in the snow, eviscerated like Rooter without the tree in his chest.

This is just... I don't even know what to say.  Is there anyone who doesn't find it howlingly infuriating when a character figures out a vital secret but then refuses to tell anyone else for no good reason and then walks voluntarily into incredible danger?  Like--Pipo, you know this is a subject they kill people over and you know they're super casual about "So, will your women decide to murder the hell out of you soon?"  This isn't hard.  Write something down and take precautions.  (This would work better if he really was trying to take precautions, specifically of the 'Don't let my son come with me into this dangerous situation' variety, but that's not how the situation is sold.)

So let's hypothesise wildly based on the hints dropped.  The plague that takes apart your DNA is a vital part of this planet's life.  The Little Ones consider themselves all male and no one ever sees a female.  The females apparently evaluate the males and decide when the wisest ones should die, and they are specifically killed in a particular ceremonial and surgical manner.  Conclusion: death is part of their reproductive cycle, male Little Ones die in order to open up access to their DNA, and only the best are chosen to die in this particular way and contribute to future generations.  I'm trying to decide if it's more likely that the trees are simply ceremonial or if female Little Ones actually are trees because the whole ecosystem is interlinked somehow.  Anyway, that's why Rooter was so concerned about the humans having another village to go to war with--because war and associated death is ceremonial (or somehow mandatory) as part of their reproductive cycle.

Not sure how long I'm going to have to wait to have my guesses confirmed or rejected (I know it won't be within the next twenty pages) but I'm going to be unimpressed if Pipo worked it out in thirty seconds but his genius proteges don't catch on for decades and need Ender's help to solve the mystery.  Seriously, Pipo, write a note or something.  Don't just Fermat us.  That's a jackass move.

Speaking of jackass moves, come back next week when we catch up with Ender and endure some just really spectacularly bad theological strawmen!  And, if you can't wait for that, look for the return of Erika the blogqueen later this week!  It is about to be a new year and we are GEARING UP.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Speaker for the Dead, chapter one, part two, in which species is decided by vote

We left mid-scene last time, so not much to introduce here.  Since I no longer have a movie-related deadline to set the pace of posts, and this is the first chapter, I'm going back to smaller chunks of book and greater detail each week.  Let's draw this sucker out, eh?

(Content: religious coercion, parent/guardian negligence, identity policing.  Fun content: taking a level in science, oven-fresh science.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 8--19

We return to Dona Cristã and Pipo considering what's wrong with the orphan girl Novinha, and I am not sure about these generalisations--Pipo thinks that "There was no teacher who genuinely liked her, because she refused to reciprocate, to respond", and all I can think is that this colony world is painfully unequipped with teachers qualified to teach, for example, autistic children.  I suppose that's quite possible, even three thousand years into the future, but they have an instantaneous galactic internet and no one has maybe looked into taking a course on care for children with social/emotional disabilities, because I guess Novinha's situation is obviously impossibly unique and there are no known techniques to aid such a case?  Teachers knowing what they're doing or caring about emotionally-isolated children?  SILLINESS.

Mind you, the rest of the people in the town of Milagre are also pretty realistically terrible.  The Pope beatified Novinha's parents, and so random people keep asking her if she's ever seen any miracles related to her parents, which could justify their sainthood.  Her response was evidently a smackdown:
"She said, more or less, that if her parents were actually listening to prayers and had any influence in heaven to get them granted, then why wouldn't they have answered her prayer, for them to return from the grave?  That would be a useful miracle, she said, and there are precedents.  If Os Venerados actually had the power to grant miracles, then it must mean they did not love her enough to answer her prayer.  She preferred to believe that her parents still loved her, and simply did not have the power to act. [....] She told the Bishop that if the Pope declared her parents to be venerable, it would be the same as the Church saying that her parents hated her. The petition for canonization of her parents was proof that Lusitania despised her; if it was granted, it would be proof that the Church itself was despicable."
Not flawless logic, but damn good effort for a ten-year-old, and rather more plausible for its flaws.  The petition was sent anyway, of course, "for the good of the community", and everyone is just super awkward about Novinha.  I really hope she's going to be a misotheist, because I don't think I could handle Card writing an 'I'm-an-atheist-because-I'm-angry-at-God' character.

Dona Cristã explains that, with Novinha's emotional distance, no one really asks about her for her own sake except Pipo, thus why she's there to speak to him now.  Libo protests that Novinha does in fact have one friend, Marçao, because he was once accused of some unidentified misdeed and Novinha testified to who the real perpetrators were--Dona Cristã thinks this had less to do with liking Marçao and more Novinha's desire for justice, but Marçao apparently likes her anyway.  Libo, when asked for his opinion, thinks honestly for a moment, which impresses his dad because Pipo knows he isn't just thinking up the answer that he expects they will praise or protest the most, unlike most kids, because other people's kids are losers, I guess?  Libo says he "understood that she didn't want to be liked", and then leaves with a smirk of discretion even as Cristã is asking him to leave and be discreet, et cetera et cetera children are more mature than adults.

Novinha has applied to be a xenobiologist--not for training or apprenticeship, but to start immediately, based on the independent study she's apparently been conducting this whole time.  They note that at 13 she's not even the youngest ever; two thousand years earlier there was one who passed the test as a pre-teen.  And apparently in the whole colony there are zero other xenobiologists, so they're lacking in new plant life to improve their crops and yields.  How big is this colony?  As pointed out in last week's comments, colonisation was supposedly to help with Baía's overpopulation, but it seems like they only sent a few thousand people at best, and the incredibly important role of 'alien life scientist' has been vacant for several years now after they lost their first two.  (The plague killed about 500, which seems to have been a noteworthy chunk but not enough to wipe them out, so... I'm thinking in the 3000 range?)  Dona Cristã wants Pipo to supervise the testing:
"But believe me, my dear friend, touching her heart is like bathing in ice." 
"I imagine.  I imagine it feels like bathing in ice to the person touching her.  But how does it feel to her?  Cold as she is, it must surely burn like fire." 
"Such a poet," said Dona Cristã.  There was no irony in her voice; she meant it.  "Do the piggies understand what we've sent our very best as our ambassador?" 
"I try to tell them, but they're skeptical."
Reasonable.  Is this entire cast once again going to be made up entirely of people who are The Best At Everything?  Pipo notes that if Novinha fails, she will "have very bad problems" and if she passes he jokes that Libo will want to test for zenador and if his son passes that test then he might as well go home and die, which is apparently some kind of joke, but... this is intriguingly archaic.  Three thousand years into the future and scientific disciplines are 'the family business' and you only ever bother having one at a time because I guess there isn't enough demand for science to need two?  Like, sure, people need science, but then you just go down the street and pick up a fresh science from the sciencery and they already make enough for everyone to get all the science they need hot out of the oven so any additional science would just go to waste?

The next day, Novinha goes to confront Pipo and she is made of angry and smart.  She says she'll jump through all his pointless hoops as long as he lines them up fast enough rather than putting her off, and cites the Starways Code as giving her the right to challenge the test at any time.
Novinha saw the intense look in his eyes.  She didn't know Pipo, so she thought it was the look she had seen in so many eyes, the desire to dominate, to rule her, the desire to cut through her determination and break her independence, the desire to make her submit.
Well... it kind of is?  Pipo ended the last scene by thinking that he was going to test her for "the unmeasurable qualities of a scientist" that he sees in his son, and intends to stop her from taking the test if he isn't satisfied.  So yeah.  He's decided that he's in charge here regardless of galactic law.  Also, an old man judging the qualitative scientific aptitude of a young girl against his son; does this not set off huge sexism alarm bells?  He might not be doing it purely out of ego, but Novinha is otherwise quite right to be suspicious.

She snaps at him that the planet needs a xenobiologist and Pipo is going to make them wait just so he can feel in control longer, and she's startled that he doesn't snap back.  He makes it clear that he doesn't believe she's doing this out of altruism.
"Your own words called you a liar.  You spoke of how much they, the people of Lusitania, need you.  But you live among us.  You've lived among us all your life.  Ready to sacrifice for us, and yet you don't feel yourself to be part of this community."
I do not remotely follow how that proves that she's not doing it out of altruism, but Pipo is running with it, telling Novinha that she has withdrawn from the colony in every way she can, from the student community, from the church community, et cetera, and then he hits one of my buttons:
"[...] You are so completely detached that as far as possible you don't tough the life of this colony, you don't touch the life of the human race at any point."
And the reason I hate this is that Novinha is human and therefore her experiences are part of the life of 'the human race' even if she never met another human in her whole life.  This is the same format of thinking that allows people to marginalise and devalue the identities of any minority: to speak of, for example, 'Christians rejecting queers' itself rejects the existence of queer Christians (generally by asserting that they're not really Christians, as proven by how they're not oppressing themselves enough); to speak of how Canadians are racist towards First Nations people ignores the fact that First Nations are Canadian and legitimises the idea that the only Real Canadians are white people.  It simplifies the world, which can be useful and attractive, but it does it the wrong way.

Anyway.  Novinha is shocked that Pipo understands her isolation, and so has no defences against it; she continues to protest his stonewalling as he finally gets around to arguing that if she hates everyone, she can't want to be a xenobiologist out of altruism, therefore she must have some other motivation and some other community.  It is apparently objectively true that everyone must have a community or die.  Novinha snarks that she's obviously insane.
"Not insane.  Driven by a sense of purpose that is frightening.  If you take this test you'll pass it.  But before I let you take it I have to know: Who will you become when you pass?  What do you believe in, what are you part of, what do you care about, what do you love?"
Novinha says she loves nothing and no one understands anything, lectures him through tears that he's doing his job the wrong way because anthropology was meant for humans and xenology is doomed to fail without understanding the Little Ones through their genes and evolution.  Pipo thinks she needs to be more emotional, because as Ender's Game taught us pain always causes good things, so he prods her about her isolation, and she goes from cold crying to fury:
"You'll never understand them! But I will! [....] You're a good Catholic."
Novinha is a teenager who has read a cool book and therefore understands the truth about the entire world better than everyone else on her whole planet, and suddenly I think that this is the most realistic character Card has ever written in his life.  She read The Hive Queen and the Hegemon and imagined what it must have demanded of the anonymous author to understand those aliens, and I just want everyone to keep in mind that as far as the galaxy is concerned, HQ&H is nothing more than an Alternative Character Interpretation fanfic with zero real-world evidence.  The fact that it's taken more seriously than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is itself a premise that desperately needs justification.
"I don't know about Jesus, I listen to bishop Peregrino and I don't think there's any power in their priesthood to turn wafers into flesh or forgive a milligram of guilt.  But the Speaker for the Dead brought the hive queen back to life." 
"Then where is she?" 
"In here! In me!" [....] 
"So you chose not to be part of the bands of children who group together for the sole purpose of excluding others, and people look at you and say, poor girl, she's so isolated, but you know a secret, you know who you really are.  You are the one human being who is capable of understanding the alien mind, because you are the alien mind; you know what it is to be unhuman because there's never been any human group that gave you credentials as a bona fide homo sapiens."
This is... like, the worst possible way of saying something that's actually pretty cool.  Here, let me try:  'I think you have talents for special kinds of empathy because you won't start from the same conditioning and biases the rest of us do, and your self-knowledge makes you powerful.  By the way, kids with circles of friends suck because it's really just about declaring other people not to be your friends, and personal identity is decided by group vote.'  Oh, whoops, I made the same mistakes Card did.  I guess that's trickier than it looks.

Pipo agrees that she can take the test, and while by law she must never go out to meet the Little Ones, he will give her all his notes and let her study in his lab, in exchange for her also sharing whatever she learns from her genetic research.  They immediately start bonding, especially when Pipo reveals he had the test ready for her to start at any moment, as long as he approved of her aspirations.  The narrative informs us that Novinha is being "poisonous" when she accuses him of setting himself up as "the judge of dreams", even though that is 100% accurate.  Pipo quotes 1 Corinthians 13:13, because why not, and remarks that Novinha has in turn set herself up as judge of love.
"I lost a daughter in the Descolada.  Maria.  She would have been only a few years older than you." 
"And I remind you of her?" 
"I was thinking that she would have been nothing at all like you."
Well, that, at least is the best way that exchange can go if it must go anywhere, although Pipo strongly indicates that he hopes they will grow close as family over time.  She starts the test.

Next week: SCIENCE!  Maybe?  Or some kind of horrible incident?  Maybe a horrible scientific incident?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Speaker for the Dead, chapter one, part one, in which nothing ever changes

That hiatus went on a bit longer than intended.  November wasn't a great month.  (Parts of it were good!  The blogqueen got married and it was pretty awesome even though I didn't get to swordfight anyone as had been suggested!)  But things have calmed down again and I am in possession of a borrowed copy of Speaker for the Dead, the book whose essence was apparently so wonderful that the author wrote Ender's Game just to give Speaker its hero.  Unlike Ender's Game, I've never read this book before and I only know tiny fragments of what happens, so rather than the kind of long-view thread-picking I was doing with the last series, this is going to be a much more as-it-hits-me analysis and I may make hilariously wrong predictions or interpretations along the way.  Sound good to everyone?  Cool.  Let's roll.

(Content: colonisation, racism.  Fun content: I'm just going to link everything ever.)

Speaker for the Dead: p. 1--7

The book doesn't quite start with the prologue; first there's the introduction again (which I'm skipping because it again has spoilers and because doing the Ender introduction at the end of the book was far more effective), then some family trees of Portuguese-named cast members, then some explanation of how to pronounce letters in Portuguese names, which kind of hilariously devolves into 'this is obviously all much too complicated for you readers so don't worry about it, ahah'.  Card keeps on keepin' on.  Then we get to the prologue.

The calendar was apparently reset when the Starways Congress was established, which I'm going to assume is the Space UN, so it's the year 1830 when a robot scout ship identifies a planet suitable for humanoid life and Congress gives the high-population planet Baía (that i is accented, but it's hard to tell in this font) permission to explore and thus spread out some of their excess people.  They land 56 years later, 1886, relativity being what it is, and they are all Portuguese-speaking ethnically-Brazilian Catholics, because if we can be sure of one thing it's that three* millennia into the future we will definitely still have the same nationalistic, religious, and linguistic categories that we have today.  (English has mutated into 'Stark', probably short for 'Starways Common' or something, and it is everyone's first language, obviously.  Portuguese is still Portuguese, though.)

I suppose from their perspective it's been less than three millennia by some degree, since people keep losing decades whenever they travel, which should lead to interesting situations for some people and terrifying transformations of the universe from the perspective of others.  I mean, imagine that back in 1900 CE we were all in contact by magic instant radio with England, and they're all "Oi, Germany seems like it could be the centre of some big trouble, want to pop over and help keep an eye on things" and we're all "Hell yeah,let me get in my relativistic boat", and then we arrive a century later and now they're all "No worries, nothing a couple of world wars and the devastation of Russia couldn't solve, too bad you missed the Beatles, but have you heard of One Direction" and in a panic we radio home and Canada is like "We're still super-racist to First Nations and Inuit but check out this marriage equality" and then the USA busts in with "Check out mah nukes I'VE BEEN TO THE MOON" and this is happening all over the galaxy all the time.  You might as well have Leifr Eiríksson trying to make conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson.  The idea of 'history' becomes a complete mess.  God, I hope that's what this book is about.

Anyway, the people of Baía aren't quite in that situation, since they presumably descended from a single Earth colony ship and spent less than 2500 years of Earth-time travelling through space, so the implication should still be that their planet is well-established and old and they're just very set in their ways.  (It occurs to me that it must be kind of hard to be Catholic when contact with the Vatican is disrupted by time dilation.)  They are so dedicated that when these Portuguese-speaking ethnically-Brazilian people land on this new planet they name it Lusitania, last used as the name of Portugal in 891 CE.  Four thousand years later they can't think of a better name for this planet they're colonising that already has native sentient life.  Well.  That seems appropriate, but probably not for the reasons that Card thinks it does.

Within five days of landing, they have found the indigenous people, whom they originally considered animals, named them porquinhos/piggies, and realised they're actually sapient and "not animals at all".
For the first time since the Xenocide of the Buggers by the monstrous Ender, humans had found intelligent alien life.  The piggies were technologically primitive, but they used tools and built houses and spoke a language.  "It is another chance God has given us," declared Archcardinal Pio of Baía.  "We can be redeemed for the destruction of the buggers."
Really, first 'buggers' and now 'piggies'?  Can I suggest humanity put someone else in charge of naming alien species?  Maybe a sociologist should hang out with these scientists to point out that dismissive and diminishing nicknames are squished right up against slurs and both already contribute to the devaluation of humans so they'll probably do a real number on our views of 'primitive' aliens?

Also, modern North Americans mostly don't give a fuck about the genocide that their ancestors and country-founders conducted on this very continent less than five hundred years ago.  Here we're given to believe that the people of the galaxy are still super-guilty about Ender's single-handed destruction of the Formics from three thousand years earlier, the only evidence for which is an anonymous biography/eulogy also from three thousand years earlier?  But at the very least this apparently plays well politically, so everyone agrees that above all else "the piggies were not to be disturbed".  Of course, the Lusitanians are still allowed to form a colony from Baía on that world, guaranteeing that sooner or later they're going to run into each other and there will be disturbance.  They're not quite in Prime Directive territory yet.  If they're that concerned, settling at all seems like a hugely unnecessary risk.  A scientific outpost at most.  Goddammit, humanity.

Chapter One: Pipo

In place of the old Featureless Dialogue of Faceless Voices, we have a fragment of a letter from Demosthenes "to the Framlings", which I understand better than I should because I've encountered the words 'raman' and 'varelse' before.
The difference between raman and varelse is not in the creature judged, but in the creature judging. When we declare an alien species to be raman, it does not mean that they have passed a threshold of moral maturity.  It means that we have.
'Raman' are beings we can understand and value in the same way that we do humanity; 'varelse' are aliens that are more foreign and so harder to empathise or interact with.  This is, broadly, a good point.  I just find it so weird coming from a sexist, racist, homophobe who named his innocent and worthy aliens 'buggers' and 'piggies'.

Despite the whole 'they are not to be disturbed' deal, we now join Pipo, who apparently meets semi-regularly with a porquinho (god, I hope we get a better name for them) called Rooter (get it, like pigs?) in a clearing somewhere and they talk, although Pipo apparently isn't allowed to ask direct questions.  Rooter is basically a rebellious teenager, but smart enough that he apparently manipulates Pipo as well--into doing what, it doesn't say.  Also, he's already learned Portuguese.  Portuguese.  Either they really, really suck at this 'no disturbing the indigenous people' law or Rooter is a linguistic genius who would put most humans to shame.
The earliest visitors to this world had started calling them [piggies] in their first reports back in '86, and by the time Lusitania Colony was founded in 1925, the name was indelible.  The xenologers scattered among the Hundred Worlds wrote of them as "Lusitanian Aborigines", though Pipo knew perfectly well that this was merely a matter of professional dignity; except in scholarly papers, xenologers no doubt called them piggies, too.  As for Pipo, he usually called them pequininos, and they seemed not to object, for now they called themselves "Little Ones."  Still, dignity or not, there was no denying it.  At moments like this, Rooter looked like a hog on its hind legs.
The correct name for a person is what they say it is.  Little Ones.  Gotcha.

Rooter has been clambering around and Pipo calls him an acrobat, from which he quickly deduces that humanity must have people whose job it is to leap and tumble for show.  Pipo sighs and curses himself because he's let loose information about humanity and that is verboten.  I'm not sure how the hell the existence of acrobats is a state secret but the existence of interstellar-venturing aliens is considered okay.  He changes the subject, but Rooter quickly gets back by asking Pipo to show off his hovercraft to Rooter's friends, trying to put Pipo in the position of either breaking the law or humiliating Rooter and showing disrespect.  Oh, and apparently Rooter speaks Stark as well as Portuguese and at least one of their own languages.  Rooter quite reasonably asserts that this is because his people are smarter than humans, and then tells Pipo to shove off, which he quickly does, picking up his teenage son/apprentice as he goes.

On the way home, Pipo muses on words in Stark (xenologer) and Portuguese (zenador) and how the ansible is the only thing keeping all of humanity speaking a common language.  He muses that without constant outside contact, the Lusitanians would probably end up speaking some fusion of Stark and Portuguese and be mutually incomprehensible with any of the other hundreds of dialects that would form across human civilisation.  And this too is weird to me, because here on our one world of Earth we've already seen English transform into potentially-incomprehensible dialects within single countries (consider, for example, AAVE) and that's with people speaking the same language in the same city, let alone across a hundred different planets.  Stellar clusters don't have variation?  Language transforms all the time.  The introduction of a specific kind of blogging interface is arguably responsible for new vernacular grammatical constructions in English that make no sense when compared to the lessons we were taught at home or school.  The ansible is, for all purposes, the galactic internet, or more accurately the infrastructure on which the galactic internet resides, and it's not going to preserve Stark any more than Pinterest has contributed to the preservation and spread of Received Pronunciation.


Pipo figures it'll be the usual long evening of making notes with Libo and reviewing each other's reports before uploading them to the ansible network for the benefit of xenologers across the galaxy.  Instead, he finds the monastic Dona Cristã waiting to talk to him.
Dona Cristã was a brilliant and engaging, perhaps even beautiful, young woman, but she was first and foremost a monk of the order of the Filhos de Mente de Crista, Children of the Mind of Christ, and she was not beautiful to behold when she was angry at ignorance and stupidity.  It was amazing the number of quite intelligent people whose ignorance and stupidity had melted somewhat in the fire of her scorn.
I'm not sure if that's supposed to mean that she unreasonably thinks everyone is stupid, or if she's so smart that she even shows smart people that they're lacking.  I'm a tiny bit surprised that we've apparently abandoned the Ender's Game tradition, ignoring women to talk about beautiful adolescent boys, in favour of the more popular tradition of women needing to be beautiful and having their looks commented upon even when their defining characteristics are completely unrelated.  But I guess there's still time.

Dona Cristã is there to talk about Novinha, orphan daughter of the genius xenobiologists who cured the Descolada plague that almost wiped out the colony eight years earlier.  The description of the plague is beyond hideous, so no quoting of that--Pipo muses on types of grief, sharing his mourning (for his lost daughter Maria) with the community in requiem mass, whereas Novinha lost her parents while the rest of the colony rejoiced because they found the cure.
After the mass she walked in bitter solitude amid the crowds of well-meaning people who cruelly told her that her parents were sure to be saints, sure to sit at the right hand of God.  What kind of comfort is that for a child?  Pipo whispered aloud to his wife, "She'll never forgive us for today." 
"Forgive?"  Conceiçāo was not one of those wives who instantly understand her husband's train of thought.  "We didn't kill her parents..." 
"But we're all rejoicing today, aren't we?  She'll never forgive us for that." 
"Nonsense.  She doesn't understand anyway; she's too young." 
She understands, Pipo thought.  Didn't Maria understand things when she was even younger than Novinha is now?
Lady roll call!  We have: the aggressive beautiful angry teacher-nun, the wife who doesn't understand her husband or respect small children's maturity and awareness, and the memory of the tragically-dead smart daughter.  Awesome.  Top marks.

I see we're also keeping the Ender's Game moral that no one appreciates children as actual people, although instead of six-year-olds to save the day we've now got Rooter, Libo, and Novinha around.  Not sure when Ender will show up (not for a couple of chapters, I think), but he should be, what, in his mid-twenties now at least, so he probably isn't a good candidate to validate and vindicate unappreciated brilliant teenagers.  I wonder if that was always an aspect of Speaker, or if it came in after Ender's Game had already been written.  Or maybe it'll be dropped entirely after this acknowledgement.  I legitimately don't know!  It's exciting.  Are you excited?  I'm excited.  Come back next week when we find out exactly what Dona "Angry Hot Nun" Cristã has to tell us about Novinha and we muse further on the alienness of aliens!


*I originally got the times wrong; I assumed that the Starways Congress was established not longer after Ender's Game, but apparently it took something like a millennium just for that.  So, three thousand years since Ender's Game.  Not for everyone, certainly not for Ender, but for Earth, it's been three thousand years.  For a sense of scale, three thousand years ago from our modern day, the Phoenicians had just invented their alphabet, South Asians invented Tamil, the Kenyans started farming, and the Philistines stole the Ark of the Covenant.  Latin hadn't been invented yet.  It's a long freaking time.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's that time of year again! The WAR ON CHRISTMAS!

Hello one and all! Erika sneaking out of hiatus early for a post! Did you miss me? I missed me you. Will should be back with the next round of Ender's Game posts next Sunday, but for today you get me! Today I want to write about something important to me, something I've written about before. Sort of. Let's talk about "The War on Christmas".

As I point out frequently, I live in Canada, and grew up in a small town. I come from a mixed background, and grew up celebrating both Catholic and Jewish holidays*. I've also had to work jobs that involve customer service. One of those was even in a boarding school cafeteria. As such, I have seen "first hand" what the war on Christmas actually looks like, even in the context of "What it's doing to our schools".

Growing up, I would see Christmas lights and Christmas decorations and signs that screamed MERRY CHRISTMAS and hear Christmas songs everywhere I went from November to January. I used to adore every minute of it, but I wondered, why were there no Hanukkah decorations? Why was half of who I was celebrated loudly and publicly, while the other half wasn't acknowledged, and even more rarely even remotely understood? Why did my teachers get nervous, and why was I mocked as a little girl by my peers (and sometimes their parents) when asking "What about Chanukah"?

I was a kid. I didn't understand things like minority oppression, I didn't understand that White Christian Straight Men were the default, I didn't understand antisemitism, bigotry, and privilege even as they all affected me. As I got older I found out the reason I saw no Hanuka decorations was because those houses tended to get vandalized. Like the synagog was several times over the years. I came to understand that being able to celebrate your culture and your religion openly was a privilege, not a right like I had thought. I realized the privileged people, on top of having no idea what sort of privilege they had, felt entitled to shoving their holiday and their tradition down everyone's throats. It's tradition, after all, and heaven forbid you mess with tradition. They would seize up and get panicky if you asked for change.

They didn't want to make room for other holidays and traditions. When token efforts were made, it was always with a smirk as they mocked the "Hernikah candle sticks" and sneered at "Jew beanies" (actual examples I have heard from adults). It wasn't safe to try to make space for our own culture in the main stream, and they didn't want to change theirs to be more safe, let alone inclusive, for us. It didn't matter what harm it did, it was their right to celebrate their own holiday in every way they wanted! They think if they say it is a right to practice and celebrate your culture and religion openly enough times, it will be true. They're willfully blind to how hostile it is for so many others. I used to believe that it was obliviousness, not willful ignorance, but when I see people get red faced and angry in discussions about it and change it back to their precious holiday being under attack so many times I no longer can. It is willful, deliberate, malicious ignorance, and nothing else.

This, by the way, is all the "War on Christmas" is. People who don't celebrate Christmas wanting to make room for their traditions that fall at the same time or year and do so safely, or people who are just exhausted of having to deal with the two month marathon of non-stop Christmas propaganda. Which is to say: there is no war on Christmas. There is a war on equality and inclusion.

Show of hands, how many among you wish people "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" for what ever your reason? Now, show of hands, how many of you, when cheerfully wishing people joy, have acidly been told "It's merry Christmas" and had people demand you change your greeting**? All the same hands, huh? Who's ever been told to wish someone happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas? Because I have never had it go the other way. I use both, because I can't safely always use "Happy Holidays" though I die a little bit every time I do. I have never seen a cashier get reamed for wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" even in a school, and I've been watching and listening and waiting for five years. Never have I seen someone get told off for saying "Merry Christmas" only "Happy Holidays". We make it hard for people to be inclusive, and sometimes make it hostile for people trying.

People feel so entitled to have their culture catered to that they fight to protect that catering. They protect it by starting fights with someone offering a simple, kind greeting that they think will threaten the status quo. They protect it by silencing people trying to speak up when their own culture is being pushed out. They protect it by making other people too scared to put a Star of David in their window at Hanukkah because someone might break the window and scare the kids. They protect it by running propaganda saying that no, they're the little guys, and all those mean old ethnic people are threatening their way of life by celebrating their holiday, too!

The war on Christmas boils down to privileged people having their privilege challenged. I get it, no one likes being told that they're blindly causing harm simply by being born into a certain group of people and it's a normal human response to get defensive and double down when you're told that. I'm white, I've been chewed up over the guilt of my own privilege before before too. I get it. But you know what? I don't care anymore. I don't care that you feel icky. I care that there are people who suffer, who are mocked, who have their homes vandalized, who feel unsafe being able to practice and celebrate their culture and holidays because there's so little room for them because Christmas takes up so much. Then they have the gall to claim there's a war on it.

*I use all Jewish holidays and examples because that is my own lived experience. I just want to acknowledge that Hanukkah isn't the only one, and I'm still talking from a position of privilege.

**I opt to smile sweetly and wish them a happy Chanukah when they do this.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ender's Game, introduction, in which we contemplate empathy

One last Ender's Game post.  Think of it as the bonus scene after the credits.  Most of y'all have expressed a wish to see Speaker next rather than Shadow, and thanks to a friend oft called Mad Scientist Alex, I will have my hands on a copy of Speaker next weekend without letting Card have any more cash.  Not sure how much I'll actually manage to get done, what with Erika getting married next Saturday (and her continued efforts to hook me up with one of her friends just because she thinks it would be funny), but I shall try to get something started.

Ender's Game: p. xi--xxvi

It's not really the point, but I'm kind of amused that Card opens the introduction by saying the first thing he wanted to do for the new hardcover edition of Ender's Game was to "fix the errors and internal contradictions and stylistic excesses that have bothered me ever since the novel first appeared", and I wonder if no one else has ever pointed out that, for example, Bonzo's timeline is complete nonsense.  There, now we've got the pettiness out of the way.

Card says that Ender's Game started with speculation fuelled by Asimov's Foundation series and trying to imagine what the future would be like if technology advanced but people mostly didn't, except for the few people "who, not through genetic change, but through learned skills, are able to understand and heal the minds of other people".  Not sure what to make of that when there's such a huge undercurrent of 'breeding true' in Game which gets bumped up to literal genetic engineering in Shadow.  The healing, I assume, doesn't refer to Game but to Speaker, because if it refers to anything in Game that is hilarious.

The military side of Game, Card explains, was largely drawn off Bruce Catton's "Army of the Potomac" trilogy, which involved the Union having a fantastic army but no general to match Lee until Grant, who lost so many soldiers but always made their deaths count.
It was because of Catton's history that I had stopped enjoying chess, and had to revise the rules of Risk in order to play it--I had come to understand something of war, and not just because of the conclusions Catton himself had reached.  I found meanings of my own in that history.
If you stop enjoying chess because you realise it bears no similarity to real war, I'm not sure you ever really understood the point of chess, or games in general.  (Okay, I lied, the pettiness is not out of the way.)  I will refrain from commenting on the meanings that Card drew from military history any more than I already have, which you may recall was when I pointed out that Card/Ender determined that the best soldiers are isolated, lonely, afraid, angry, and untrusting.
And even though I could not then have articulated what I understood of military leadership, I knew that I did understand it.  I understood, at levels deeper than speech, how a great military leader imposes his will on his enemy, and makes his own army a willing extension of himself.
This actually does match up okay with military modern theory as I understand it--the goal of combat as the Canadian Forces phrase it is 'to impose our will upon the enemy throughout their depth', basically meaning that the fighting is over once you are in such a good position that you can demand the enemy stop fighting.  This is what they teach you in some of the very first officer leadership courses, so I'm not sure it's quite the level of numinous epiphany that Card is phrasing here, but I haven't read Catton, so I can't comment.

Card then goes over his thought processes in creating the battleroom, which he states will clearly be used in real military training some day if there is "a manned military in space", leading me to wonder why it's in use in Battle School when they don't seem to have any use for footsoldiers.  He pauses to tell us all how unbearably boring archaeology is (sorry, Alex) before summarising the rise of his writing career in plays and short stories, leading to the publication of Ender's Game as the unexpectedly-improved retroactive backstory for the story he really wanted to tell, Speaker for the Dead.

It's not hard to find a record of how incredibly popular Ender's Game is.  Card recognises that there are some people who also hate the book--the degree of hatred astonished him.  As noted before, he says he expected some of it because, while he wrote in 'layers of meaning' for anyone who cared to analyse them, he also made it as accessible a book as he knew how, and thus those ivory-tower snobs felt that it was crude and were terrified of literature that didn't need them.  Et cetera.
[...] A guidance counselor for gifted children reported that she had only picked up Ender's Game to read it because her son had kept telling her it was a wonderful book.  She read it and loathed it.  Of course, I wondered what kind of guidance counselor would hold her son's tastes up to public ridicule, but the criticism that left me most flabbergasted was her assertion that my depiction of gifted children was hopelessly unrealistic.  They just don't talk like that, she said.  They don't think like that.
Card goes on to explain how Game scares people because it asserts that children are people and not just simplistic little monkeyfolk; how he is writing from his own sense that he has always been a complete person with fully developed thoughts and feelings.  I agree that what changes in us is our ability to predict, to express ourselves and--I might argue most importantly--our ability to empathise with others.  What's unrealistic about the children of Ender's Game to me isn't their complexity but their narrative convenience: the way Bonzo looks at Ender and on sight, without a word, knows that he has met a great and compassionate leader who will crush his dreams.  The way Ender can be at school for a few months out of his seven years of life and suddenly not know what it means to 'just live' like an ordinary civilian.  The way Graff (not a child, but no more realistic) can somehow know the perfect way to raise the perfect general despite apparently no one else approving or even recognising his strategies which have never worked before.  There are reasons that these people don't feel like people to me, and none of them are Petra Arkanian using the word 'polyglot' at age nine.

Also, I think there might be a difference between saying 'my son loved this book but I hated it' and 'hey everyone my son has terrible taste in books', and Card's inability or unwillingness to consider this might say something about the objectivity of aesthetics in his views.
Because the book does ring true with the children who read it.
He includes a letter from a girl named Ingrid on behalf of a dozen friends, all gifted teenagers at a two-week summer residential program at a university.
We are all in about the same position; we are very intellectually oriented and have found few people at home who share this trait.  Hence, most of us are lonely, and have been since kindergarten.  When teachers continually compliment you, your chances of "fitting in" are about nil. 
All our lives we've unconsciously been living by the philosophy, "The only way to gain respect is doing so well you can't be ignored." [....] However, in choosing these paths, most of us have wound up satisfied in ourselves, but very lonely. [....] 
You couldn't imagine the imapct your books had on us; we are the Enders of today.  Almost everything written in Ender's Game and Speaker applied to each one of us on a very, very personal level.  No, the situation isn't as drastic today, but all the feelings are there.
I don't want to single these kids out--that would be stupid, millions of people have read this book and I think Card is not wrong when he says that the people who love it best are the people who feel that it is deeply personal, that they are Ender.  Card also says that adults tend, not to identify with Ender, but to love or pity him.  One option is that this is a matter only of condescension, but another is that people don't stay one way for their whole lives.  As the popular wisdom goes, when we think about who we were a decade ago, most of us will agree, perhaps with reluctance, that we were bloody stupid.  And all probability is that a decade from now, we'll look back on our current selves and think we were/are bloody stupid.  This, in my opinion, is a good thing and vastly preferable to the alternative, that we never grow and improve.

And just maybe it's a good thing if we grow up and we stop thinking of ourselves as the forever-shunned unmatched genius on whom everyone is counting to save the entire world because they're all so inept and they need us even though they hate us.  Yes, kids need someone to identify with, and maybe that means they need to identify with someone who has the same misconceptions they do.  That's not something to be ashamed of.  But I wonder how much people remember that the ultimate secret of Ender's Game is that everyone was wrong the whole time, they were saving the world from a threat that didn't really exist, and they were so focused on their own egos and their imagined victories that they hurt and killed other children along the way.

Maybe sometimes people pity Ender, not because they don't understand him, but because they know what's coming when he gets some perspective.

There is a second letter excerpted, from an army helicopter pilot in Saudi Arabia, written during the first days of aerial assault in the Gulf War.  Ender's exhaustion in the book resonated with his own experiences in training and gave him inspiration to keep going.  He tells Card of their conditions, of the way outdated equipment keeps betraying them and people die from stupid mistakes, and suggests that maybe Card and his other favourite military author, John Steakley, could collaborate on a story of helicopter pilots of the near future.

Card goes on to tell us what this means--that this aviator did not read the book as a scare-quotes "work of literature" but "as epic, as a story that helped define his community", which... is not actually something the guy says in the portion of the letter that gets excerpted.  Hm.  Anyway, Card sees this as the man hoping for "a 'speaker for the dead' and for the living".  Author as eulogist.  It's an interesting idea, at least.

Card dismisses the idea that we read fiction "to be impressed by somebody's dazzling language--or at least I hope that's not our reason", because apparently fuck Shakespeare.  (This might explain why he was apparently unconcerned about the atrocities he visited upon the play Hamlet in his inconceivably homophobic fanfic, which is so incredibly disgusting that I will not link to anything about it and I advise no one to google it.  If it's too late for that, then you know what I mean.)  Anyway, he starts waxing on the mythic truth of fiction that allows us to identify "our own self-story" and then lists many examples of different people using Ender's Game as a text or subject for analysis in schools and papers and suchlike, which is a little funny after his earlier dismissal of angry lit profs who hated him for not writing something indecipherable.
All these uses are valid; all these readings of the book are "correct."
The story of Ender's Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it.  The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory.  If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created,but as something that we made together.
This, ultimately, is actually what I hope for more than anything.  Because this book is so very popular, and we have just spent eight months looking at all of the reasons that is terrifying, but "Ender's Game" as a cultural phenomenon isn't the words on the pages, it's the storystuff bouncing around inside millions of heads.  And if those people are better than Card, then there's a chance they were in it for the lessons that it mostly doesn't teach, about remembering that communication can change everything and that trying to be someone's friend when no one else is willing just might be a small and vital step on the path to saving the world.  Or destroying the world.  Just... be careful with the world when you're making friends, I guess?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter fifteen, in which the victims blame themselves

It's eight months to the day since I started this thing.  For those of you who have endured from day one: thankya kindly.  For those of you who dropped in along the way: welcome.  For those of you who have some sadomasochistic tendencies and are really excited to see me continue with either Ender's Shadow or Speaker for the Dead, leave your preferences in the comments below.  The Ender's Game movie (which was in development hell back in the late 1990s when I first read this book) opened Friday and everything I have seen, such as Ana Mardoll's film corner, suggests that it is terrible.  So I'll get you some commentary on that as well in due course.  You know; once I somehow obtain completely legal access to the film.  But first, the final chapter, which gets better as it goes along.

(Content: abuse apologetics, ableism, colonialism apologetics. Fun content: pirates, Phoenix Wright, aliens Jesus.)

Ender's Game: p. 305--324
Chapter Fifteen: Speaker for the Dead

The featureless plane of disembodied dialogue is gone; Graff and Anderson are hanging out at the lakeside.  We open with some gratuitous fat hatred because obviously--Graff is apparently slim again, stating that while the stress of the war caused him to gain weight, the stress of being court-martialled took it off again.  He explains that he was never worried that he wouldn't be acquitted:
"As much as anything, I think the videos saved me.  The prosecution edited them, but we showed the whole thing.  It was plain that Ender was not the provocateur.  After that, it was just a second-guessing game. [...] We got the judges to agree that the prosecution had to prove beyond doubt that Ender would have won the war without the training we gave him.  After that, it was simple."

It's like some kind of nightmarish reversal of presumption of innocence.  Graff has apparently been acquitted because no one can prove that murdering Stilson wasn't a completely essential module of Ender's curriculum.  Murder is presumed necessary unless proven optional (which I guess fits with the rest of the military philosophy we've seen so far).  I hope Ender wore a helmet in the courtroom.  You know, to protect him from all the kangaroos.

They also discuss how Ender is never coming back to Earth, despite Demosthenes pressuring the Hegemon.  Graff says Demosthenes has retired, and refuses to reveal Valentine's identity, which I guess is a not-terrible thing to do.  He does say that Demosthenes wasn't really the one who wanted Ender back on Earth--Locke did (while publicly arguing that Ender needed to stay away) and Demosthenes talked him out of it, what with the whole Invincible Warrior God-Child thing Ender would have had have going for him.  They're all going to rest instead.  Anderson's the new football commissioner.  Graff is the first Minister of Colonization, because clearly a life in military education makes him... an ideal policy-maker for the appropriate way to organise and disperse the human population?  ("The second rule of Colony Club is you do not talk about Colony Club.")  Mind you, Graff does have the mind of a colonist in the old meet-new-people-take-their-land-and-commit-war-crimes style.
"As soon as we get the reports back on the bugger colony worlds.  I mean, there they are, already fertile, with housing and industry in place, and all the buggers dead.  Very convenient.  We'll repeal the population limitation laws [...] and all those thirds and fourths and fifths will get on starships and head out for worlds known and unknown."
You know, I hadn't thought about it until last week's comment thread, but why aren't there queens on any of the formic colony worlds?  Why didn't Ender have to bust planet after planet to eradicate them all?  And why in the world would formic housing and industry be remotely suitable for human use?  Colonists are going to get to these worlds and find decaying, rusty cemetary-cities filled with the desiccated husks of millions of nightmares.  Honestly, who wants to sign up for that instead of, you know, base camp?  I want to hang out at base camp.  Forget hive cities.

Back in space--Ender's remained on Eros for a year.  He's been awarded the rank of admiral, because that's how the space navy works, obviously, and that gave him the authority to watch Graff's trial, so he knows everything now, knows how Stilson and Bonzo died, hears the case made against him by eeeeevil psychiatrists:
[He] listened as the psychologists and lawyers argued whether murder had been committed or the killing was in self-defense.  Ender had his own opinion, but no one asked him.  Throughout the trial, it was really Ender himself under attack.  The prosecution was too clever to charge him directly, but there were attempts to make him look sick, perverted, criminally insane.
Trying to court-martial a colonel by instead expounding roundabout ableist psychological slander against the colonel's prize student who is the favourite person of everyone on the entire planet does not sound like the actions of someone 'too clever'.  That sounds hilariously inept.  You court-martial Graff by asserting that he gambled humanity's survival on the belief that a miraculous military strategist would find a way to survive a fistfight to the death, and put it on Graff to somehow prove that it was necessary to do this, despite the thirty-six other genius commanders all performing so well without killing two classmates.  Then you move on to handling Ender by screaming "THERAPY, THERAPY FOR EVERYONE, IS ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION" and so forth.  Obviously.

All of Ender's friends go home, one by one, and he watches the videos of their triumphant returns, but then nothing more until the first colonists start to come to Eros, because apparently the secret headquarters of the International Fleet makes a much better docking hub than, say, the other non-secret place we know to exist that is called Inter-Stellar Launch.  My god.  Did they just cancel the military now that the formics are dead?  Is that how that works?
The one thing he could not bear was the worship of the colonists.  He learned to avoid the tunnels where they lived, because they would always recognize him--the world had memorized his face--and then they would scream and shout and embrace him and congratulate him and show him the children they had named after him and tell him how  he was so young it broke their hearts and they didn't blame him for any of his murders because it wasn't his fault he was just a child-- 
He hid from the as best he could.
Sounds about right, yeah.  Ender refuses to let himself off the hook for Stilson, for Bonzo, for the entire formic civilisation, and I suspect we're supposed to think he's being too hard on himself, but anything less would be even more terrifying, and so this rings true.  All too much of human history (and present) tells us how quickly we forgive murderers if they're on 'our side'.

And then one day, as Ender is helping with starship construction--he's decided he needs a new profession, also a good move--Valentine appears and asks him to go with her on the first wave of colony ships.  Two years from their perspective, fifty years to the rest of the universe.  Valentine implies that it's quite intentional that they would never see Peter again, and apologetically adds that she made sure Ender can't go back to Earth, because Peter is halfway to ruling the Hegemon's Council already.  The war on Earth a year earlier was ended by the culmination of Peter's plan, Locke and Demosthenes combining their forces like the Wonder Twins: Shape of--an insufferable snob!  Form of--a screaming racist mob!
"He decided to be a statesman?" 
"I think so.  But in his cynical moments, of which there are many, he pointed out to me that if he had allowed the League to fall apart completely, he'd have had to conquer the world piece by piece.  As long as the Hegemony existed, he could do it in one lump." 
Ender nodded.  "That's the Peter that I knew."
Yeah, Ender, that does sound like someone you'd feel superior too.  That rat bastard of a brother of yours who just goes and benefits from saving the world.  I have a wild guess that exactly zero of those still-breathing civilians would prefer to be dead as a statement on Peter's supposed moral vacuum.
"Funny, isn't it?  That Peter would save millions of lives." 
"While I killed billions." 
"I wasn't going to say that."
Well, what were you going to say, Valentine?  Because that's a really weird thing to just throw in there.  Peter has always been about power over people; wanting to have as many subjects as possible is exactly in-character for him.  Your conviction that he's made of murderousness is fanon.  But Valentine explains that Peter intended to use Ender as his last stepping-stone to planetary domination, so she threatened him with compilations of videos of him tormenting Ender as a child and pictures of slaughtered squirrels, "enough to prove in the eyes of the public that he was a psychotic killer".  Remember what I said before about this book being consistently sympathetic and positive about having and handling mental illness?  I take it back.  Mental illness is only a reason to be sympathetic to people we like; for the people we hate, it's an incurable condemnation and a weapon to be used against them.

Valentine further explains that in her final Demosthenes essay she announced that she was going to take the first colony ship out, and for some bizarre reason Graff announced that Mazer Rackham was going to be the pilot, which probably confused a hell of a lot of people who aren't very familiar with relativistic time dilation or who would like to know what qualifies a military tactician from eighty years ago to drive a modern civilian space ark, and that Ender would be the colonial governor--though Valentine quickly adds Ender has time to cancel the announcement if he doesn't want to, which is I guess the kind of agency that you get when it's your loving sister manipulating you instead of the military dictatorship.  Ender agrees, he says, because he wants to see the formic worlds and try to understand where they came from.

Just saying: not hard to empathise with a corpse.

The voyage passes uneventfully (hah, no, Card went back and wrote an entire interquel about it, which I made the mistake of reading) and years pass on the colony world as Ender learns to govern and sets up an economy and tries to study what remains of the formics.  There isn't a lot, because their species had a literal living social memory and so they never kept books or whatever--though I wonder if they didn't have, say, specialised drones whose job it was to maintain continuity of thought, or if they just had flawless/eidetic memory or what.  Regardless, Ender looks at their architecture: strong roofs hint that winters were hard, staked fences show that there are wild animal problems:
And from the slings that once were used to carry infants along with adults into the fields, he learned that even though the buggers were not much for individuality, they did care for their young.
So, the vast majority of the population are made up of female drones that can't reproduce anyway, and all young are derived from a tiny handful of queens, but they lack the specialised labour to maintain nurseries and instead prefer to have random drones haul larvae around while they're doing agricultural work?  I'm guessing this is a remnant of the original story where the aliens functioned in some completely different, vastly more humanoid way?

The colony stops caring much about what things are like back on Earth, although they hear that Peter finally becomes Hegemon.  Valentine, still writing under the Demosthenes name, writes history books, seven volumes of the human-formic wars.  She says she'll write one more, the life of Ender Wiggin, but Ender tries to talk her out of it.  When there's a year left before the next colony ship arrives, Ender goes to scout out a new place for a village, and takes an eleven-year-old kid named Abra with him as his, I don't know, caddy.  Three days away from their town, they find strange hills:
A deep depression in the middle, partially filled with water, was ringed by concave slopes that cantilevered dangerously over the water.  In one direction the hill gave away to two long ridges that made a V-shaped valley; in the other direction the hill rose to a piece of white rock, grinning like a skull with a tree growing out of its mouth. 
"It's like a giant died here," said Abra, "and the Earth grew up to cover his carcass."
It looks, in point of fact, exactly like Fairyland in the mind game.  There's an overgrown playground nearby, like the one where Ender fought the child-faced wolves.  The formics built it, fifty years earlier, during the war.  Ender tries to send Abra away; Abra warns Ender that it might be a trap; Ender says he doesn't care if they want revenge.  They keep flying (apparently they've been in a helicopter all this time?  Three days by helicopter seems like a hell of a long way between the only two human settlements on the planet) and find the cliff and the ledge and the tower at the End of the World.  Ender leaves Abra in the chopper and climbs the wall. The same room is there, with the mirror that showed Peter's face, though it's just a dull sheet of metal with a rough humanoid face scratched into it.  Behind that, a dormant, silk-wrapped pupal formic queen, and Ender instantly knows that she carries enough fertilised eggs to start a colony on her own.  She links to his mind, the philotic effect, and Ender realises why he had so many nightmares at Eros--as the formics traced his mind back through the ansible and tried to understand him.  She shows him her birth, the old queen preparing her, memories of the campaign as the human fleets destroyed the formics over and over.
She had not thought these words as she saw the humans coming to kill, but it was in words that Ender understood her: The humans did not forgive us, she thought.  We will surely die. [....]
We are like you; the thought pressed into his mind.  We did not mean to murder, and when we understood, we never came again.  We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you, but never did we dream that thought could arise from the lonely animals who cannot dream each other's dreams.  How were we to know?
Ender takes the cocoon and promises to find her a world to start again.  When he returns to the colony, he writes a book, a history of the formics from the memory of the queens.  They lament the tragedy of the wars, and it's really very beautiful aside from the terrifying undercurrent of pro-colonialist appropriation apologetics:
But still we welcome you as guestfriends.  come into our home, daughters of Earth; dwell in our tunnels, harvest our fields; what we cannot do, you are now our hands to do for us.
They did 'start it', as wars of annihilation go, but it's hard not to see this as the kind of thing that makes people think it's okay to co-opt the possessions of subjugated cultures, dressing up in warbonnets for Halloween and fracking for oil on sovereign First Nation land because, really, it's all our country now and all that killing happened a long time ago and it's not like those people are really around anymore, right?  And now we have the slaughtered people literally forgiving and welcoming their killers.

Ender signs this book as the Speaker for the Dead and it starts a tradition back on Earth, people who arrive at funerals and say "what the dead one would have said, but with full candor, hiding no faults and pretending no virtues", which just sounds like the most passive-aggressive eulogy in the history of I'm-just-being-honest-here.  The religion spreads; among the colonies, it's the only one that matters, because apparently Jesus' jurisdiction doesn't extend into space.

When Peter reads the book, he calls Ender by ansible, seventy-seven years old to Ender's twenty-three, asks Ender to write his biography as the Speaker, and pours out his life story.  (It's not told here, obviously, because it's a retcon in addition to being a huge spoiler, but since there is no way I'm wading through the entire Shadow series, I'll mention that at this point Peter is married to Petra and they have like a dozen kids.)  The Hive-Queen and the Hegemon become "holy writ", because in addition to being the greatest general of all time and a starshipwright and a governor and a judge, Ender is also a prophet and poet, I guess?

One day, Ender asks Valentine to leave, says they should skip across the galaxy at lightspeed and let centuries fall away.  Especially disturbing:
"We have to go.  I'm almost happy here." 
"So stay." 
"I've lived too long with pain.  I won't know who I am without it."
Gluuuuuuuuuurge.  Apparently no one else in the last decade has thought to suggest that Ender should get a therapist either.  But he does have a real goal, because he needs to find a world for the formic queen to hatch, so they travel, Andrew Wiggin the Speaker for the Dead and Valentine Wiggin "writing down the stories of the living while Ender spoke the stories of the dead".  And for once I don't know what happens next.

I will confess that I hated this chapter the first time I read it.  What a backhand, what a theft, to have everything that the heroes suffer for be taken away: it didn't have to happen, it was a tragedy that it happened, it would have been better if they had failed.  That is a bitter fucking pill to swallow, especially for a teenager who thought he was smarter than everyone else and wished he could make the bullies see just how much better he was than them.  (By 'he' I mean 'me', if that could be more obvious.)  In theory, it's what gives the book its weight and teaches kids the value of compassion and communication, and rescues the book from the last 300 pages of 'I have to torture him to make him stronger and save everyone' by explaining that it was all for nothing.

Except... well, the last-minute twist comes in the final ten pages and the "I did what I had to do" abuse and endangerment and murder got the whole book.  They say that François Truffaut once claimed it was impossible to make a true anti-war movie because any war movie by its nature glorifies war.  (I'm going to crack again and just link to TVtropes' "Do Not Do This Cool Thing"--they may be stamp collectors, but that's a hell of a collection.)  The pro-empathy, anti-abuse, anti-violence message at the end of this book is about as compelling and hilarious as an abstinence message would be at the end of Fifty Shades of Grey.  (Worse, actually--Fifty Shades does make sex look terrifying.)  And while we might be told the war wasn't worth it, nothing has yet tarnished Ender's flawless goodness in the eyes of the narrative, despite that time he murdered a boy on the playground because they shoved him, and everything he's done since then.

After this comes Speaker for the Dead, the story that Card actually wanted to tell, for which he turned Ender's Game from a short into a novel-length backstory.  In theory, that whole book is the response to this one, and I'm curious enough to keep reading it, though I'll have to track down a copy first--I think my mother still owns one.  (I'm sure as hell not giving Card any more money.)  And there is also Ender's Shadow, which tells Bean's story during these same few years, from childhood to the destruction of the formics, which I do own.  Bean is a better person than Ender in most ways, and I think I might actually enjoy that one, which makes me want to leave it until I've endured Speaker.  Not sure.  Thoughts from the audience?

As a terrifying epilogue, next week I'll go back and look at the introduction to Ender's Game.  It might seem weird to leave it for now, and I've wanted to make reference to it in just about every post since I started, but I've left it this long intentionally.  After all, everyone in the introduction has already read the book--that's why I wanted to do so as well, and that's why it scares the hell out of me.  So that'll be fun.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter fourteen, part two, in which the plan works perfectly

So there was no Ender post last weekend.  That was a thing that didn't happen, because my brain was exhausted from a marathon tabletop RPG session the day before.  My first attempt at GMing!  It was good times.  So, to make it all up to you, I'm going to blitz through the entire remainder of the chapter.  This is because we are friends, and not because there are a lot of 'action' sequences in this part of the book that are really easy to skim over.  It's time for the final campaign!  It is time for the game to ender.  End.  Warning: incoming game.

(Content: sexism, self-harm, genocide apologetics. Fun content: trailers that lie, Bustopher Kobayashi.)

Ender's Game: p. 273--304

Ender gets to the game room and the controls are gone, replaced with a switchboard.  He'll be playing as commander from now on, with a team of lieutenants, who speak as soon as he puts on the headphones:
"Salaam," said a whisper in his ears. 
"Alai," said Ender. 
"And me, the dwarf." 
And Petra, and Dink; Crazy Tom, Shen, Hot Soup, Fly Molo, Carn Carby, all the best students Ender had fought with or fought against, everyone that Ender had trusted in Battle School.
And the scarecrow and the tin man and so forth.  We're told there are three dozen of them in total, despite Card having run out of recognisable names after nine of them.  A couple more names will come up over the course of the chapter, and Ender's Shadow.  Vlad.  Who was Vlad?  I feel like I would have remembered a Vlad.  Still, twenty-six more unnamed heroes helping save the world!  I'm just going to assume at least one of them is named Bustopher Kobayashi.  If Card didn't want this to happen, he should have said there was only a team of a dozen.  Was he afraid Ender wouldn't seem special enough if his elite team was too elite?  Also, they made a huge deal about bringing Ender to Eros, but nine months later they ship in thirty-six more kids like it's no big thing?  And it's not like they're all the ultimate geniuses--Shen's biggest on-page achievement so far is refusing to let catcalls get to him a few years ago.  Is it just narrative convenience that Battle School's greatest students are all Ender's best friends, or are they giving him his friends regardless of their skill level?  The latter is sort of plausible, but it will fail utterly in short order.

They start having a great time with the games now that they are reunited, and over the next three weeks of practices Ender gets to know everyone's skillset: Dink is great with orders but terrible at improvisation (despite having had years more command experience than Ender--remember, he was a commander even in Rat when he had his independent toon), Bean gets overwhelmed with large groups but shreds up with a small strike force (that will get retconned to bits in Shadow), and Alai is a master strategist almost equal to Ender (not that we've ever seen or ever will see proof of this, nor will it affect the plot at all; Ender suggests replacing himself with Alai at one point but Mazer shoots it down instantly by telling Ender to "be honest").

Ender and Mazer analyse the latest practice and observe that his team basically moves like a formic fleet now, their coordination is so perfect, but they still have independent thought and innovation.  Go humanity.  So now it's time for the next course of testing, in which they'll simulate an entire invasion campaign just like the one that's going to really happen when the fleet arrives.  Mazer also takes a moment to tell Ender not to complain about how hard it is going to get, because he lost his wife to time-travel, which is a pretty good trump card.  (Did she not want to come along?  Did they think it was too expensive to send her too, ignoring as usual the possibility of compromising their own geniuses with crushing despair?)

The next morning, at 0340, Mazer rouses Ender from a dream of being vivisected and brain-scanned by the formics and takes him to his first campaign mission.  They chatter about who'll take what ships (Alai, Petra, and Vlad share a carrier's complement of fighters) and Ender assigns Bean one fighter from each carrier, which echoes back to his Ridiculous Ops squad, but seems like a terrible idea to me in this kind of scenario.  If he sees something that requires a ship from someone else's group, can't he just relay the command?  What do squadrons get out of having one of their fighters inexplicably not under their own control?

The formics have a spherical formation with an obvious core ship that Ender realises they want him to believe is the queen.  Ender ignores it and orders them to try to compress the formation, not telling his friends about Dr Device as they protest the weirdness, and then they sit back to watch as Alai's first shot devours the fleet in a chain reaction.  Mazer explains that, for a proper campaign, they had to have one fight in which the formics didn't know what the humans could do, and they'll learn rapidly from now on.  He then proceeds to critique their technique, and gets increasingly harsh--a harshness that Ender passes on to his team.
"You're too kind to us," said Alai one day.  "Why don't you get annoyed with us for not being brilliant every moment of every practice.  If you keep coddling us like this we'll think you like us." 
Some of the others laughed into their microphones.  Ender recognized the irony, of course, and answered with a long silence.  When he finally spoke, he ignored Alai's complaint.  "Again," he said, "and this time without self-pity."  They did it again, and did it right.
Their friendship withers, their trust in Ender as a commander grows, and somehow Ender knows that "it was to each other that they became close; it was with each other that they exchanged confidences", even though he never talks to them outside of game time or sees them in person at all.  Obviously, this makes them all even more effective soldiers, because the Enderverse runs on the Omelas principle and making people sad and wounded always makes everything around them better.  I bet whichever general thought they should supply Ender with his friends instead of all their assorted best students is feeling kind of stupid now.

Ender starts having more nightmares, dreaming of the Giant's corpse shaped into a formic village, and child-faced wolves that hunt him, not just the obvious threats like Peter and Bonzo, but Alai and Valentine and Dink, but in his dreams he still kills them all in the river, sobbing as he does so.  He accuses Mazer of cheating at programming the game, and feels like his dreams are being watched.  This section is just randomly trippy on its own, but it's foreshadowing a bunch of stuff, which is sort of cool.  It'd work better for me if more of the stuff it was foreshadowing was in this book and not the sequels, but this is what happens when a standalone novel gets drafted into becoming backstory for an unrelated series.

It finally occurs to Ender that all this psychological stress might be affecting his brilliance, but the first big burnout is Petra, and the contrast between the way it's described here and the way it will be in Shadow is interesting.  In Shadow she literally blacks out in the middle of a battle because eleven-year-old children are mortal; here she just makes a stupid maneuver, "and she discovered it in a moment when Ender wasn't with her" and gets shot up.  When Ender does notice, he immediately tosses command of the surviving ships to Tom and has to salvage the battle because Petra's forces were the core of his strategy.
Ender knew at once that he had pushed her too hard--because of her brilliance he had called on her to play far more often and under much more demanding circumstances that all but a few of the others.
So, I'm mixed on this.  Petra falters because she's been pushed too hard, and she's been pushed too hard because she's too awesome not to use, but "a few of the others" like Bustopher Kobayashi have been even pushed harder and they're apparently doing fine.  Ender's pushing himself even harder and he still reacts as perfectly as he can, because Petra needs handholding through emergencies?  Shen saves the day with a perfect Dr Device shot that eats a swarm of the enemy, and Fly Molo mops up.
She was not there for the next few practices, and when she did come back she was not as quick as she had been, not as daring.  Much of what had made her a good commander was lost.  Ender couldn't use her anymore, except in routine, closely supervised assignments.  She was no fool.  She knew what had happened. [....] The fact remained that she had broken, and she was far from being the weakest of his squad leaders.
I try not to link to TVtropes very often, but this is just such a flawless Faux Action Girl scenario.  Petra, we're told, is totally hardcore and badass and brilliant.  She also fails, utterly, and never recovers, and is the only girl we're aware of in the entire group.  If you believe what the narrative tells you, then there's nothing wrong with this because Petra is so strong.  If you consider the narrative unreliable for two seconds, Petra has been just barely not good enough for the entire book and of course the girl needs her hand held through everything.  This comment thread also has some good previous discussion, if you missed it.

Ender's stress continues to mount; he chews his hand in his sleep until it has to be treated by a medic, and starts getting ideas like thinking that any prior candidate who washed out died--he doesn't say whether he thinks they get executed or if they just wasted away or what, but Mazer assures him this is ridiculous and he's perfectly safe.
"I think that Bonzo died.  I dreamed about it last night.  I remember the way he looked after I jammed his face with my head. [....] My whole life keeps playing out as if I were a recorder and someone else wanted to watch the most terrible parts of my life." 
"We can't drug you if that's what you're hoping for.  I'm sorry if you have bad dreams.  Should we leave the light on at night?" 
"Don't make fun of me!" Ender said.  "I think I'm going crazy."
But Mazer remains unsympathetic and so Ender resolves not to tell him about this ever again, and continues to weaken.  The battles get worse, longer, he has to rotate commanders in the same battle, then one day Ender blacks out in the middle of practice and is confined to bed for three days, then back to battles every day.
During the night he thought he felt hands touching him gently.  Hands with affection in them, and gentleness.  He dreamed he heard voices. 
"You haven't been kind to him." 
"That wasn't the assignment." 
"How long can he go on?  He's breaking down." 
"Long enough.  It's nearly finished." [....] 
"I can't bear to see what this is doing to him." [...] 
"I know.  I love him too."
So here we have Mazer and Graff acting as audience surrogates to be ineffectually kind to Ender.  Of course this kindness takes the form of unsolicited touching and invading his privacy at night, because that is how these jackwagons roll.  Ender thinks he's dreaming it: "If there was love or pity for him, it was only in his dreams.  He woke up and fought another battle and won.  Then he went to bed and slept again and dreamed again and then he woke up and won again and slept again and he hardly noticed when waking became sleeping".

And then one day he wakes up and no one's there to shepherd him around, but he can't think of anything he could do other than eat breakfast and go to practice.  There are other people in the simulator room, but he doesn't ask; Mazer explains that today is his final exam and these are the evaluators.  Mazer adds that to switch things up, the test battle will occur around a planet, and Ender lists a few effects (gravity changing fuel costs):
"Does the Little Doctor work against a planet?" 
Mazer's face went rigid.  "Ender, the buggers never deliberately attacked a civilian population in either invasion.  You decide whether it would be wise to adopt a strategy that would invite reprisals."
Humans are raised on vids of terror; one of the famous incidents of the First Invasion was the Scouring of China; suddenly they only ever struck purely military installations?!  If they weren't slaughtering civilians, ever, why is the military so convinced this is a war of extermination?  How does this not raise any questions in anyone's minds?

Ender runs through some warm-ups with his team and muses on what training will be left for him between today and the war.
And as he waited for the game to appear, he wished he could simply lose it, lose the battle badly and completely so that they would remove him from training, like Bonzo, and let him go home. [....] Failure meant he could go home.
Then the battle appears: ten thousand formic ships swarming around a planet, constantly shifting through random patterns, versus his own twenty old-model carriers with eighty fighters.  Ender hears his team breathing heavily over their microphones (hot) and one of the evaluators swears behind him.  They start to shift nervously as they realise how unevenly matched it is.

Ender once said that all Bonzo knew how to do was fail with style.
"Remember, the enemy's gate is down."
Bean says that, and they all laugh.  Ender decides to remember that it's just a game and so to pursue a strategy that breaks Mazer's rules.  He won his last game in the battleroom by ignoring the armies and going for the gate.  ender decides that if he goes for the war crime, they'll consider him too dangerous to put in command, "and that is victory".  He orders the ships into a 'thick cylinder', to better penetrate the enemy formation, and the enemy happily engulfs him.  Supply your own subtext.  Ender's ships fly in seemingly random patterns, then at a word they burst in all directions, firing madly, then at another a dozen fighters form up on the far side of the enemy fleet and dive for the planet.  The formics cut off his escape, but he doesn't care anyway, because the only point is to get close enough to fire on the planet.

In three seconds, the planet is gone and the fleets as well, with only a few human ships surviving at the edge of the system.
Ender took off his headphones, filled with the cheers of his squadron leaders, and only then realized that there was just as much noise in the room with him.  Men in uniform were hugging each other, laughing, shouting; others were weeping; some knelt or lay prostrate, and Ender knew they were caught up in prayer.  Ender didn't understand.  It seemed all wrong.  They were supposed to be angry.
Graff and Mazer embrace him and thank him, tell him how proud they are.  Ender remains confused until Mazer explains that the entire campaign up to this point wasn't testing, but the actual campaign, humans versus formics, and Ender has just won the war forever by destroying all their queens and committing xenocide.  Ender walks out of the room, ignoring everyone, back to his room, strips down [drink!] and gets into bed.  He wakes up to find Graff and Mazer in the room, informing him that Earth has heard what happened and every government in the world has given him their highest medal.

So here, in full, is the defence of this entire book.
Ender grabbed Mazer's uniform and hung onto it, pulling him down so they were face to face.  "I didn't want to kill them all.  I didn't want to kill anybody!  I'm not a killer!  You didn't want me, you bastards, you wanted Peter, but you made me do it, you tricked me into it!"  He was crying.  He was out of control.
"Of course we tricked you into it.  That's the whole point," said Graff.  "It had to be a trick or you couldn't have done it.  It's the bind we were in.  We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them.  So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, as perfect as the buggers.  But somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed.  Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs.  If you knew, you couldn't do it.  If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood the buggers well enough." 
I don't know what to say to this that I haven't said before.  Ender's big thing at Eros has been lack of compassion, has been his refusal to be any kinder to his subordinates than Mazer has been to him.  If he had been given a raft of brilliant lieutenants who had never met him before, they'd have quite reasonably hated him even if he was a genius.  He's running on the love that he supposedly earned from them back when he was in Battle School.  Maybe that's why they shipped in Bean and Dink and Bustopher, so that Ender would have subordinates who would put up with his hardassedness.  'Compassion' as a superweapon would also have worked better if it were clear how it actually affected Ender's strategy--it's been a long time since he needed to, for example, identify a queen in an enemy fleet.
"And it had to be a child, Ender," said Mazer.  "You were faster than me.  Better than me.  I was too old and cautious.  Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart.  But you didn't know.  We made sure you didn't know."
Well, apparently any decent person except the ones who plan the campaign, deploy fighters, and pull the trigger to destroy a civilisation.  Who planned this war?  I mean, the ships have been in flight for seventy years and they successfully scheduled them all to arrive over the course of, what, two, three weeks?  Just to maximise the possible burnout of their tacticians?  The formic worlds are light-years apart and communications are instant, so there's no actual tactical value in hitting everywhere at once; they can't reinforce each other world-to-world.  The battles could have been spread out over months to the same effect.  Don't generals like Ender normally have some say in the way the war proceeds and not just individual firefights?  What was the entire invasion fleet for, anyway?  Wouldn't ansible-equipped drones have been about a jillion times more effective, what with being able to survive much greater physical stresses and save room/weight on life support?  That way those could also have been piloted by genius children who think they're playing a video game.  Has Earth ever had a competent Polemarch or Strategos or whoever planned this gong show?  (Actually, it turns out Mazer plotted the campaign.  Graff reprimands him for not leaving the minor outposts for later.  Mazer tells him to screw off.)

Anyway, just as Peter and Valentine predicted, Earth has erupted into war.  The Russian soldiers aboard Eros are leading an attack, and so Ender is locked down under guard.  He dreams, has nightmares of the Giant's Drink again and of the End of the World, where he watches the formic homeworld burst and sees the Queen except it's his mom and her children are his friends and a dying formic is Bonzo accusing him of having no honor and his reflection is Peter.  And at last he wakes up and Alai is there in his room, and there was much rejoicing.
"Some of the Russians who came in told us that when the Polemarch ordered them to find you and kill you, they almost killed him. [....] There's a million soldiers who'd follow you to the end of the universe."
Ender just wants to go home--good luck with that.  The war ends, the lights come on, and Bean enters the room, followed by Bustopher, and Petra and Dink holding hands because of course she needs a man.  They further explain the terms of the peace, stuff that won't be relevant until the second Shadow book.  The banter is mostly pretty sweet and realistic.  And maybe others don't read it the same way, but recalling what Dink taught Ender while naked in the battleroom ages ago:
"You OK?" Petra asked him, touching his head.  "You scared us.  They said you were crazy, and we said they were crazy." 
"I'm crazy," said Ender.  "But I think I'm OK."
I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the message that mental illness is not shameful, not a mark or cause of evil, and not life-defining is the only consistent positive message in this entire book.

They joke about what they'll do next, and how they'll probably be forced to go to school until they're 17 because it's the law, and the chapter has the chutzpah to give us an Everybody Laughs Ending after slaughtering an entire species.  But at least they were a species of monsters!  And the people we like are alive!  And if you talk to enough fans of Ender's Game, you'll find that some people stop here, because they aggressively miss the point.  The graphic novel stops here.  I'll be curious to see if the movie stops here.  There's one more chapter to go, and it's not easy, but it's the only chance this book has at redemption.  Next week: everything is terrible forever.