Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter 1, part 2, in which we immediately give up on all reasoned morality

(Content: violence.  Fun content: a familiar fruity friend.)

Ender's Game: p. 2--8

Welcome back, friends new and old, to the first proper Ender's Game post, in which we are introduced to our hero and immediately question his heroism!  And by 'question', I mean 'leaping panda of upper Uganda, what the fuck are we reading'.  I'll be coming back again and again throughout the book of whether and when Ender is supposed to be considered a hero and when he's not.  It's super flipfloppy, which is both interesting and terrifying for a whole parade of reasons yet to come.  Anyway!  Time for the first flip.

With the ground rules of the universe set, we meet Ender Wiggin, six years old and hauled out of class one afternoon to have his military-issued spinal chip removed.  The chips aren't discussed again in the books (that I've read) and never really explained here, but the implication is basically that Battle School candidates get wifi'd into a neural network where someone else can monitor them for screening purposes.  The monitor gets to see/hear/feel everything the kid does.  This quickly introduces us to the idea that the government/military gets to do pretty much whatever it wants for the sake of saving humanity and possibly the rest of Earth.

As noted before, this is a core bit of the story: the idea that anything can be justified in order to save the world. The first themes, as mentioned last time, are already basically about how special Ender is: he is a Bespoke General made of prototypical Masculinity and Femininity for a single purpose (save the world) and everything that he does or that is done to him to facilitate that goal is justified.  The next theme is this: Ender Wiggin is smarter than them. Them in this case is basically everyone.  He knows how adults lie and uses that so effectively that you might as well never lie at all.
"Andrew, I suppose by now you're just absolutely sick of having that horrid monitor. Well, I have good news for you.  That monitor is going to come out today. We're going to take it right out, and it won't hurt a bit." Ender nodded.  It was a lie, of course, that it wouldn't hurt a it.  But since adults always said it when it was going to hurt, he could count on that statement as an accurate prediction of the future.  Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.
(Spoiler: it hurts like wonderfuck and they have to give him muscle relaxant drugs that nearly kill him, which is a reminder that these people are doing terrible things to kids, but is not otherwise relevant to the plot.)

Ender gets picked on in class because he's so special, but he's also so smart and helpful that his enemies accidentally compliment him when they text him dancing insults on his tablet at school.
He was the one who had figured out how to send messages and make them march--even as his secret enemy called him names, the method of delivery praised him.
This will continue forever.  Ender will always be the smartest person in the room.  And that means that a most common burden he will sag under will be the knowledge that he knows the best way to do things but must keep quiet to avoid embarrassing or enraging the senior people who are in command.  (Honestly, Ender's Shadow is a relief just because Bean sometimes points out Ender not being perfect.)  People hate Ender for being so awesome, on a regular basis.  The remainder of chapter 1 will be about what happens to folk like that, because we meet a boy named Stilson, who taunts Ender for being a Third (a government-requisitioned third child, in a society where population controls normally limit families to two kids). Ender doesn't know yet that the military wants him; he thinks his monitor was pulled because he has flunked their psychological testing.

I said this chapter was actually pretty well-written, and I'll take a moment now to explain that.  Card uses a style of writing that I try to mimic in my fiction as well, in which the narrative treats the reader like everything is normal.  When it talks about Ender picking up his desk and walking away, it doesn't stop to explain that a 'desk' is basically a tablet computer that the school has issued to all the students, despite Ender's Game having been written decades ago when the tablet computer was thoroughly the stuff of speculative fiction.  The story doesn't stop to explain that the monitor chip in the back of Ender's neck was put there when he was three (or any age; it's not specified) so that the military could screen him for training potential for the Battle School; it just tells us that his monitor has been removed and everyone knows (the other kids gossip a bit) and this must mean he's 'washed out'.  We're not told these things, but we're given enough implied hints from the narrative and the other characters' remarks that we can piece it together.  This isn't easy to pull off--plenty of authors in both science fiction and fantasy try and just end up with an incomprehensible mess that loses any normal reader.  When it works (and here I think it does) it's deeply immersive (and in keeping with last week's theme, it's a great way of making the reader feel smart).  My point in this analysis isn't to deny that Card knows how to write.  Just that sometimes people use their powers for evil.

So, school lets out, Ender dawdles a bit because he doesn't want to go home (this is fair, as we'll see in chapter two) and when he's finally prodded out of the room by his teacher he finds bullies waiting.
His monitor wasn't perched on his neck, hearing what he heard and seeing what he saw. They could say what they liked. They might even hit him now--no one could see them anymore, and so no one would come to Ender's rescue.
Ender's never faced actual violence before this moment, and isn't sure if he might now.  The leader of the bullies is just called Stilson, and he taunts Ender with stuff that's realistic playground fare, including of course "bugger-lover" (THE SUBTEXT, IT BURNSSS USSSS), and then he gets surrounded and they start pushing him back and forth.  I'm sure a few of us have been in that position--I was, at that age, and as I recall, my brilliant escape plan involved ninja kicks, for which I later (I am not making this up) attempted to plead temporary insanity.  A six-year-old gets surrounded, there's a good chance they'll lash out.  I get that, and I don't think there's anything wrong with self-defence.  So: Ender tries to even the numbers by taunting Stilson into facing him alone, and they let him go:
And as soon as they did, Ender kicked out high and hard, catching Stilson square in the breastbone. He dropped. It took Ender by surprise--he hadn't thought to put Stilson on the ground with one kick. It didn't occur to him that Stilson didn't take a fight like this seriously, that he wasn't prepared for a truly desperate blow.
For a moment, the others backed away and Stilson lay motionless. They were all wondering if he was dead. Ender, however, was trying to figure out a way to forestall vengeance. To keep them from taking him in a pack tomorrow. I have to win this now, and for all time, or I'll fight it every day and it will get worse and worse.
Ender knew the unspoken rules of manly warfare, even though he was only six.
 The rules have to do with whether it's okay to hit a person when they're down (the rules say no) but first I am left struggling to know what to make of the above.  The bullies are just there to pump their egos up by literally pushing a little kid around.  Ender, for some reason, is instead fighting for his life right from the start, and I cannot fathom why.  He's been wearing a monitor for at least a couple of years.  No one would dare attack him lest they face a military-spurred response.  He's been bullied, definitely, but in a verbal and social way.  He's been certain of food and shelter to a comfortable American middle-class degree.  And yet somehow he has this animalistic defensive instinct.  This is, presumably, one of the inborn traits that makes him the Greatest General Of All Time, but it's terrifying and I don't know what should happen to our sympathy for him.

So Ender lays into Stilson, systematically kicking him in the ribs, crotch, and face, finally spattering blood from his nose.  He tells the other bullies that if they try to come after him again, he'll do worse to them, and then walks away.

What in all of the fuck.

No, wait, let me try that again.

That's better.

Ender's response to being threatened with schoolyard violence is to destroy a 7-year-old child and walk away.  This is our hero.  I can still be compassionate for him, but in the sense of 'he needs help'.  He needs professionals with a non-patronising manner and soothing background music.  Spoilers: that is not what he's going to get.  Mother Wiggin will have a similar reaction in a couple of chapters, but Ender is going away to learn how to be an even better destroyer.  In space.

But part of what scares me here is that I don't remember being horrified the first time I read this, and that makes me think that I didn't see anything grossly unreasonable about Ender's response, and that makes me think that this might be more realistic than I'd like to believe.  I don't think I could have really devoted myself to this degree of violence at age six, but I might have been philosophically on side.  What about y'all, readers?  Were you peaceable kids, or one rough day away from Lord of the Flies?  Later in the book, the military folks will explain that they need to train young commanders because only kids have the rapid learning and creativity that they need, but I think there's a solid alternative interpretation here that they want to capture that youthful spirit of cheerfully mangling a helpless opponent.

Well, not that cheerfully--as he waits for the bus, Ender tearfully recriminates himself by saying that, with his monitor gone from his neck and thus no one watching, he is "just like Peter", his brother.  I am not sure that's a legitimate comparison, Ender!  To the best of my knowledge, your brother has not ruined a life yet!  But this is all very tight third-person, with us seeing the world the way Ender does it, and we'll see how Ender sees Peter next time, as we get into chapter 2.

Also, quick poll: do y'all care about spoilers?  There's a point or two in this chapter where we don't get the whole story until much later in the book, and I wasn't sure if I should make reference to those, or if we should save the surprise for later.  I'm sort of keeping the spoilers out for now, but if you don't care, let me know for future reference.


  1. I think I was horrified at this scene the first time I read it, though for some reason I read Stilson as being older than 7 (and I don't want to go back into the book to check on his age). The scene in which he basically beats the other kid to death, not because he's in a state of mindless terror and rage, but because he thought it out and decided, rationally, that this was the way to go, struck me as a description of a sociopath, but we're supposed to be on Ender's side because after all, he KNOWS the only way to deal with this situation.

    I'm wondering, now, if this makes any sense. He's known all his life that people were watching what happens to him. Why doesn't it even occur to him to talk to someone in authority about these bullies? Presumably there were teachers or other adults around who might have been able to do something about the situation; presumably since this is set in the future and there's all this surveillance technology in use, it would be unlikely that Stilson and his friends could get away with doing anything really bad to Ender (or to anyone) without being seen at least, and presumably punished.

    As you noted last time, this is a constant theme in the book, that there are no adults who will help Ender and therefore that makes him vulnerable and is supposed to make us root for him more. However, to me at least, this theme of the book, together with his brilliance-beyond-all-other-beings, felt as if the author were really weighting the deck for him, and I felt less sympathy as a result.

  2. Perhaps this is just because we're getting excerpts and not the book, but I'm not jumping on the "awesome world building" bandwagon. Why are some kids chipped and others not? Why was Ender picked? (Also, meaningful name much?) How does this monitoring work, anyway? And how can it possibly find as small children people who'll be Earth's best hope? And why does the future have less supervision of little kids than the present, or even the recent past?

    Though I must admit that part of the problem is that I hate The One as a trope and, as I mentioned before, think it makes no sense at all removed from a fantasy setting. I don't know how I would feel about the world building if I were predisposed to like the book. I certainly accept plenty of wacky stuff in fiction I like. But the more seriously I'm expected to take stuff, the more it supposedly has something to say, the more it better sell me on what it proposes. This isn't succeeding at it. (And reading what I could on the Amazon preview just added to my WTF? impression.)

  3. Wait, WHAT? "Manly Warfare" at six? The only way I can see anything like that being accurate is if Ender has been subjected to the rules of "manly warfare" by someone repeatedly by the age of six. Which can't make Ender into an ideal commander at all...

  4. Card said once (I think Lance Manion quoted it in a review of the book) that good people (like Ender) can usually be trusted to do bad things, unlike Bad People. So yeah, Ender gets a pass.
    If there's much fighting among them, I have no trouble believing he'd understand the unspoken rules, and I can believe the military might let it happen. "Manly warfare" is an unlikely way to refer to it though.

  5. @ Nora -- Stilson is described as not being the biggest kid, but being bigger than Ender, which suggested to me that maybe he's a bit older (seven to Ender's six) but still in the same class at school (thus the harassing text earlier). But given that he knows there are authority figures close enough that they could come running if the monitor detected trouble, it is very weird that Ender doesn't think he can run to find someone faster than that. And this is before Ender goes through a book's worth of psychological conditioning telling him that no one will ever come to his rescue. Until this read-through, I hadn't noticed, but it seems like there's a lot here that presumes that Ender's life wearing the monitor was just as tormented as he faces once the monitor is gone, and it doesn't make sense to me.

    @ depizan -- It's hard to quote examples of the worldbuilding, because there are very rarely sentences I can just point to and say "This is where we get worldbuilding". It's sufficiently integrated that it's just cosmic background radiation. The testing process, near as I can tell, is that every kid gets aptitude testing (age 3 or 4) to see if they have raw genius, and the ones who do then get to wear monitor chips for a couple of years to see if they are psychologically compatible with military training. Ender (which is explained to be his infant mispronunciation of his own name, 'Andrew') is in practice very The One, and I have no idea why Card wrote it that way, given that we meet a number of other really strong candidates and in particular Ender's Shadow makes it pretty explicit that one or more other people could have managed to win the final exam battle based on the way Ender laid the groundwork up to that point.

  6. Manly warfare. Uh-huh.

    What about y'all, readers? Were you peaceable kids, or one rough day away from Lord of the Flies?

    The secret is to make sure you have as many visible marks at the end as your opponent (scratch your own arm if necessary), to make it appear you hurt each other equally. Which does mean keeping to light wounds. Beat someone up like Ender did and you're never going to get away with it unless (maybe) you're willing to put yourself in the hospital. Awfully high price to pay for giving in to violent urges that Ender doesn't even seem to be feeling.

    I haven't read it, but I don't mind spoilers.

  7. @ Will

    I think it's mostly a case of me failing to believe the world building (not the technology, the world). Entertain my suspension of disbelief and it will forgive you for being implausible; play the drama card on things that I just don't buy and my suspension of disbelief suggests using the book as a Frisbee. This world, unfortunately for Card, falls into the latter category. (Though I'm still tempted to see if my library has a copy so I can follow along with you.)

    The One is a hard, hard sell for me in fantasy. In sci-fi, it's just pffft, no. And much of the world building seems to hang on believing in a world that can have "The One."

  8. Dezipan, good point about Peter, especially considering that they'd already rejected Peter as being too violent for their needs. You would think that the people doing the monitoring would be paying EXTRA attention to this special "One" (since they'd given special permission for his parents to conceive him in the first place), given what the story tells us they already knew.

  9. Not to get too much into the next chapter's post, but the remark that fraser brought up seems to be the key in all of this--their problem with Peter isn't that he was too violent (it's not really clear how much violence he's displayed thus far in life) but that he's too indiscriminate in his violence, whereas Ender only gets hyperviolent for specific purposes that are supposedly untainted by emotion. Unless they aren't, because his emotional connections are part of what empowers his violence. Look over there, a distraction!

  10. Will,

    even if Peter's violence is a-okay except for the indiscriminate part, why aren't they worried about him harming or killing The One. I mean, my god, the boy is humanities only hope, you can't be careless with that! (Except, of course, apparently, you can.)

  11. @ Will and depizan -

    Clearly, Ender needs the threat of indiscriminate violence to focus his mind and hone his instincts to know when to retaliate with his own focused violence. Because children who are constantly on edge have the perfect mentality to succeed in school that requires intense focus. (The science says...otherwise.)

  12. Silver Adept,

    I so forsee [ ] says otherwise being a theme with this book.

    I'm 30th in line for it at the library. *sigh* At least we've got 10 copies circulating, so that's not as bad as it sounds. But I'm definitely not paying to read this mess!

  13. SPOIL US! (I don't think you can run a decon without them, honestly. I've tried, but it's just too hard. And people drop in the comments anyway.)

    I read EG in college, and I was more than a little startled by this scene. Not because I thought it was strange (although, you're right -- it is) and not because I thought it was immoral (I think I was on Ender's side, because bullies), but because it seems ... disproportionate. It's easy to forget, as the reader, that these aren't bullying 12th graders or whatever, these kids are SIX YEARS OLD. And Ender just SPOILERY SPOILER SPOILED SPOIL. (Ha.)

    What really got to me, iirc, is how blase all the adults are about it. "Oh, ho, hum."

  14. I don't remember when I read EG -- must have been around twelve -- and I think the beatdown scene isn't an uncommon power fantasy to children, at least those with repeated experiences of bullying. Ender's actual execution of it and reasoning, that's unusual. If a kid fantasizes about suplexing their tormentor into the pavement, it'll be in a fit of mindless anger, not in a careful meditated way to get rid of an opponent.

    Ender's doing what many kids wish they could do, but usually don't because 1) as Brin Bellway stated, the threat of adult intervention is there (when you're a kid you NEVER WANT the grownups to intervene... and consider the huge Us vs. Them attitude that Battle School will engender between the students and teachers), and 2) most people don't actually want to brutalize people outside of their imagination.

  15. I dunno, considering how much his brother abuses him at home, I have no problem believing Ender Wiggin is a completely messed up kid who needs help, and would lash out in violence at a time that, from an adult perspective, seems completely inappropriate.

    Of course, kids can be incredibly violent. After all, seven year olds regularly hurt me and tried to smash my testicles once when I was six... so I can totally see the logic of hurting them first, if you're the sort of kid Ender is, clearly already inappropriately conditioned to violence due to his brother's abuse.

  16. This would be a more compelling argument to me if we had a clear idea of what kind of abuse Ender is facing at home. Supposedly the monitor affords him at least some level of protection, so while Peter evidently does torment him, things don't escalate to the 'death threat' level until the monitor is removed. Card is quite vague about how things were before relative to how they are now. We're additionally not told about any times Ender might have had to flee or fight before now, so the instant escalation from 'for the literal first time ever, bullies are physically pushing him around' to 'kill their leader, it's the only way' is still pretty goddamn sharp.

  17. Somehow, it took reading this a second time to realize that the scene goes:
    Bullies surround Ender.
    Ender kicks Stilson.
    Everyone - including Ender - is surprised.
    Ender ponders how to end the bullying forever.
    Ender kicks Stilson to death.

    I didn't really process that there was a pause before the whole "methodically kicks other six year old to death" business. I'm not sure there're enough Whatnapples in the universe for that. As far as I can tell, the qualification for savior in this universe is calm, premeditated murderer.


    *starts waving Formic flag*

  18. I just found this via Ana. When I listened to the audio book for the first time at 25, I really enjoyed this book. But it was basically a horror novel in the way Ender acts and is reinforced to act. I never read on or reread the book and I'm looking forward to challenging my experience even further than reading those great articles about the book that float around online...

  19. Oh, and I think most people reading a deconstruction either have read the book or have no intention of reading it. So spoil away!

  20. Charles Matthew SmitApril 10, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    Two things: First, I'm pretty sure Ender doesn't know in the text that he actually killed this kid. Just that he beat him up very thoroughly. Since in the later chapter analyses Ender's murder of Stilson keeps being referred back to, that might be important for perspective. IIRC, nobody mentions Stilson's death until much, MUCH later in the book.

    Second: I'm really kind of puzzled as to why there's even a question of Ender looking for an adult authority in cases of bullying. Adults don't help kids with bullying. I mean, they try, yeah, but in my experience that "help" is ineffectual and prompts worse bullying from a wider variety of bullies, and the adults never take the situation as seriously as it merits (certainly not as seriously as the kid being bullied feels it merits). I'm speaking here as a guy who, as a kid, was bullied daily from kindergarten through sixth grade, who developed a reputation as a "narc," for telling on other kids, and who experienced an effective adult intervention maybe twice in those seven years, *both times by accident.*

    So of course Ender had to deal with the situation himself.

  21. First, I'm pretty sure Ender doesn't know in the text that he actually killed this kid.

    This is probably true, but I don't believe it contradicts any part of my post. (Bean, in Ender's Shadow, insists that Ender is smart enough to realise when he's killed a person, but is in denial, and so the subconscious knowledge just eats away at him, further destroying his mental wellbeing. But Bean is not always right either.)

    Second: I'm really kind of puzzled as to why there's even a question of Ender looking for an adult authority in cases of bullying.

    Because unlike most children (I was bullied right on up through high school) Ender has, for perhaps his entire life, known that if he was threatened, he could summon literal armed warriors to come to his aid. It's been only a couple of hours since that stopped being the case, and he's barely shrugged off the drug-induced haze of that procedure. Under those circumstances, I think it's strange that this supposed genius tactician immediately and fully embraces the idea that there is no one anywhere who knows that this is happening or would help him if they could. I don't think it's unreasonable to suspect there's at least one on-site soldier at the school to protect monitored kids, and there's no particular reason for Ender to believe that this soldier's response to being told "Now that I don't have my monitor, a bunch of other kids are going to beat me up" would be "Eh, sorry, it turns out you're not the only person who can save the world, so screw off."

  22. Eh - I can believe it, especially given his older brother. I suspect Ender's bullies would have made it abundantly clear that they were just waiting to get him, only being restrained by the very literal constant surveillance of Ender. It also seems obvious in-book, that the military certainly never intervened to save Ender from anything short of actual beatings (which may never have been tried - these kids are all familiar with the implants).

    I knew I was relatively safe in class. I also knew that as soon as I wasn't in class, no teacher would do a damned thing to protect me - even if they happened to be close enough to get. Kids learn that kind of distinction pretty young, and it can definitely feel, or even be, a life-and-death matter.

  23. First, I'm pretty sure Ender doesn't know in the text that he actually killed this kid.

    I'm pretty sure you're right. In fact, if I remember, that's a theme theme throughout. He never knows. It's how he stays "innocent".

  24. Oh, I realize it's a nickname in story, I just find it hard to believe that Card didn't pick (invent?) it because he's the ender of the Formic Threat. Har-har.

  25. _Ender's Game_ the novel grew out of a short story that Card later returned to because he wanted to write another story about what happened to Ender next (this other story eventually became the sequel novel _Speaker For The Dead_). But he found he couldn't bridge the gap from the short story to what he wanted to do next with just one linking chapter. So he had to go back and expand and rewrite the original short story so that it became the novel to which the next one could then be the sequel. My feeling is that this has a lot to do with the way some things just don't hang together; on the one hand he had things fixed by the short story and on the other hand he had the starting point for the sequel he had to arrive at. So on the one hand he had to have acceptably convincing reasons to dismiss anybody who said 'Maybe it's not true that we have no alternative to an unhesitating response with maximum force' and on the other hand they had to be right. Tricky tightrope to walk. I don't think Card succeeds.

    There may be some connection between my making this analysis and my feeling that Card's (non-fictional) social and political analyses mostly consist of a search for acceptably convincing reasons to dismiss people who are, as it happens, correct. Beware my bias.

  26. I think most of what follows is what I thought at the time, but it's possible some bits are only what I've come up with later.

    I don't remember being horrified, not exactly, when I first read the scene. Maybe I'm not prone to being horrified by fiction, having read a lot of fictional characters doing monstrously vicious things to other fictional characters--I don't know. I remember clearly that I didn't take it casually. I felt the impact. It was intensely serious. I remember especially clearly that it was important for me to know what had happened to Stilson. Was he dead? The chapter didn't make it clear. Why not? Why weren't we being told? Was Card hiding this from us on purpose and was he deliberately storing up the definitive answer for a later point in the narrative? (Yes, he was.)

    I don't think I had any difficulty accepting as plausible the idea of children that age being extremely violent. But the extremely calculating and methodical way that Ender approached the situation after he first knocked Stilson down, was that plausible? Beating Stilson in fear and/or rage, that would make sense, but can any six-year-old, no matter how much of a super-genius, think that much like Talleyrand? (Metternich said of Talleyrand that, if you kicked him in the arse, not a muscle would move in his face until he had decided what to do.)

    And (I think this may be an afterthought) how plausible is it that a six-year-old (physically untrained at this point, as far as we know) could deliver a single flying kick to the breastbone that knocks his opponent down for the count?

  27. I'm behind in my reading, but wanted to answer your direct question about personal experiences of childhood violence. I was "the weird kid" in school, always a target for bullies and at the bottom of the pecking order. My role model was Spock: "I am in control of my emotions and I will not let this bother me". Which, of course, doesn't actually work very well. The anger and resentment I felt just built and accumulated over months and years until, on at least two occasions during grammar school, I responded to a bullying situation (which was objectively not any different from normal day-to-day experience) with extreme violence against the perpetrator. On at least one such occasion, I remember sincerely intending to kill (luckily, I was prevented). I say "at least" because most of my memories of that period are hazy and incomplete. The experience of trying to kill someone, however, burned pretty seriously into my brain.

    So I don't see Ender's actions as at all hard to believe. I just think that the author is obscuring or mistaken about his *actual* motivations. Yes, this is the first time Ender has faced actual danger -- but he's had years and years worth of built-up pressure from the psychological bullying he's been subjected to. This is not just the first time he is "unprotected", this is the first time he is (so he thinks) *unmonitored* -- the first time *he* is able to physically lash out without being certain of punishment.

  28. Confuses me, because I understood "Ender" to be a common nick for the last baby the same way "Buddy" is a common nick for the first boy where I'm from. If they explained it was "Andrew" in the book, then I'm misremembering the book.

  29. Again, I could be projecting a false memory, but I had the feeling that once you were 'unmonitored,' you were fair game for the bullies, and Ender "rationally" knew he had to hit them hard enough to make his status secure. I mean, bullies are in it because the show of force gives them status, so it makes sense, just not how a six-year-old knows the "rules of manly warfare." Yeah, if someone could explain that.

  30. Yup. Bullies are about status. Tattling confirms your lower status and attracts more bullies.

  31. I think it's also relevant that this is the first time he's been exposed to physical bullying personally, though he's probably seen other kids deal with it, so he really doesn't know what to expect. He's not thinking "they're just trying to build themselves up by putting someone else down", he's thinking "I'm in danger now" and may well be blowing that amount of danger out of proportion--especially likely given that he's six and things tend to feel like much bigger deals at that age.

    I never really dealt with physical bullying, but even while part of me knew that I was being picked on as a way for other kids to puff themselves up (hell, I did a bit of that myself), another part didn't care because those pricks were making my life hell. Part of me already had fantasies of losing it and whaling on someone, I can't imagine how I would have reacted if suddenly physical bullying became a real threat.

  32. I was peaceable, and it got me harassed and bullied a lot. And I was fortunate to at least be bigger than everyone else.

    And sure, Ender's never had to face any of that before, but he may well have seen other kids facing it. And so, look at it from the perspective of having just had his chip removed. He knows no-one is watching his back, now, and he's just been dropped into the tank with the hungry sharks for the first time alone. "Panic" seems like a pretty appropriate (over)reaction.

  33. As someone who took a lot of martial arts as a kid (and still does), this fight scene isn't as surprising to me (though no less disturbing) as it may be to some other readers. I'm going to go with the movie's version of the kids' ages, putting them more around 10 to 12 than at 6. I just don't—and never could—buy that any of these kids acted like they were six, no matter how bright they were supposed to be in the book. If we do that, if Ender is around age 10 here, he'd be at an age and very possibly conditioned by previous attempts at non-physical bullying to be scared enough to seal a victory when he had the chance. That doesn't mean kill, per se, but I don't think he meant to kill nor obviously was aware he did make a kill, either. He meant to inflict enough harm to indicate to Stilson's friends that Ender was not someone to take lightly. In middle school, we had this issue when I was sparring with friends at times: you'd hit someone harder than intended, in a fit of pain and boyish anger, they hit back even harder, you get scared and you hit again harder than that. No, no one got killed, and it did take longer than in this scene, but it's something for early teen boys I could see happening.

    When I was in seventh grade, a bully would wait for me out by the generator at our middle school, which I had to walk by to get to PE class. I could have taken another route but it would take too long. So every day he would throw a rock at me or punch me or something. One day I punched him back—hard. Very hard. I thought it would get him to leave me alone. Nope. He turned around—a bigger kid than me and a year older—threw me against the wall and started to choke me. I nearly blacked out. It was winter, and I was extra careful wear turtlenecks so my parents and teachers didn't know what happened. I am unsure of the extent of the damage, but it seemed pretty severe and the marks on my neck took over a week to subside; I had a lot of trouble swallowing, too. That's what kids are capable of. (Sorry for coming to this so late, by the way, but again, this blog is the most lucent and amazing discourse on Ender's Game I've yet seen and I'm very thankful for that.)

  34. The disconnect that remains for me is that Ender isn't supposed to be an ordinary kid in any way--he's supposed to be extremely empathetic, passive, know quite a lot about most everything, and have never been seriously bullied before. If it were a single lash-out kick and Stilson fell the wrong way and got fatally injured, that would play out fine, but instead we get a detailed description of how Ender stares down the other bullies while methodically kicking Stilson in deeply damaging ways and yet still be considered completely reasonable. His defence to Graff isn't "I lost control" but "I decided I needed to do this", which implies very different things about his willingness to harm people at the first sign of hostile intent.

  35. Thinking it over, you're right: Ender's response was one of dedicated force with a specific goal—which was to end this fight here and now. I'm not sure if he was or wasn't the victim of serious bullying prior to this—the monitor kept him from the worst of physical harm but it's possible he was taunted and scary threats were made by Stilson or others, which we know from real-life cyber-bullying can be enough to push some kids towards violence or suicide without having experienced physical bullying. Between the school bullies and Peter, Ender may have lived a living hell of knowing that nowhere he was safe (unless, we presume, Valentine was right there). But I agree, he used calculated brute force—and kept using it, even after the other bullies should have noted he wasn't the boy to fuck with.

    Your point about what he said to Graff is also outstanding, because yeah, he admits he saw a threat and went about figuring out how to overcome it and ensure it would not revisit him. Of course, that seals in Graff's mind that Ender is The One for sure, as this is (as we learn later) how Graff sees the solution to the Buggers. Which, in a way, brings up a question on Graff's opinion of Peter: If Graff sought a kid who would go to battle as soon as possible after Battle School (as is pretty much what happens with Ender) and is willing to use outlandish force on the enemy, and if Peter wasn't lacking (as Graff said) in skills, why not Peter? We can presume Peter, being older, would have allowed the IF a couple years' leg up on the Buggers by having the boy wonder in shorter time, and frankly, if Peter had the tactical skills, I don't much see what more Ender offered, other than maybe people wouldn't follow Peter?

  36. Ender's magic empathy is supposedly his advantage over Peter--first because in Battle School he earned the love of his classmates and so they can form a flawless dream team in the war, and second because it allows him to understand the formic mindset better than other humans and so out-strategize him. Unfortunately, the latter part is basically all off-page (with the exception of his ability to identify the queen ships on sight from the way the fleet moves, which matters exactly once that we know of), and the former... eh. Ender's friends in Battle School almost all picked him. He defended Shen, yes, but then Alai befriended him, Petra protected him, and Dink brought him into his first proper team. And Bean he won over by being an unrepentant hardass. The consistent rule doesn't seem to be that Ender cares about people and so they love him (the Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson school of leadership), but that good people instantly recognise how wonderful Ender is and flock to him to rub their faces on his pure brilliance and brilliant purity.

  37. Hey so I'm like WAY late to this blog, but this is really awesome! I just read "Ender's Game" for the first time last year & "Speaker for the Dead" about a month ago, and I have to admit I honestly really enjoyed both books even though of course I recognize the insane plethora of problematic issues in them.
    I have to say, it's kinda weird thinking back to my own initial thoughts while reading this first chapter since, if I recall correctly, I *was* properly horrified by Ender's actions, and somehow I kinda got the feeling that I was supposed to be? I realize now this was probably because, before I read the book, one of my friends had given me the impression that Ender was this sort of genius-sociopath antihero and that the whole story was about him being trained to become an inhuman mass-killing machine for a futuristic military society. So going in I was already picturing "Futuristic Artemis Fowl" in my head when it came to Ender's character. Because of that I felt the book *wanted* me to be shocked and appalled by what a monster Ender was, while also understanding why he did what he did. And considering the book ends with this big message about understanding Others and empathizing with "monsters", I thought maybe Card was attempting some kind of meta-thing where he invites the reader to empathize with Ender, the monster, just as Ender learns to empathize with the Formics. Thinking about the book that way, I thought it was really fascinating--although now I can't help but wonder if I was giving too much credit to Card.
    And come to think of it, I'm not sure I ever did fully empathize with Ender throughout the whole book... I found him interesting as a character and I could sympathize with him at times, but there was always this constant awareness that he was kinda horrible/terrifying, and somehow I never imagined that I was supposed to see him any other way. Maybe I'm just not remembering right, though. (Having read "Speaker for the Dead" more recently, the portrayal of Ender in *that* book as a super-special-snowflake who is always way smarter and righter than everyone else seemed much more explicit to me than it was in the first book. But that might have been because he wasn't murdering bullies and genociding aliens anymore, so I didn't have any of that horribleness to distract me from his super-smart, super-perfect, I'm-better-at-life-than-everyone-else-watch-me-fix-everything-just-by-existing-ness.)
    I wonder now if my brain just went "NOPE!" to the way Card was actually trying to characterize Ender and instead made up its own thing to make the book make more sense to me on a moral level.
    And this is probably why, when I got around to reading "Speaker of the Dead," I had so much trouble convincing myself that THAT Ender was supposed to be the same person as THIS Ender. Even now when I think about it, my brain is still all, "Nope, nope! Two different characters! Don't know what you're talking about!"
    I'm looking forward to getting around to your "Speaker of the Dead" posts, btw. I have lots of weird feelings about that book.

  38. "the boy is humanity's only hope, you can't be careless with that! (Except, of course, apparently, you can.)"
    I'd also refer you to:
    "it hurts like wonderfuck and they have to give him muscle relaxant drugs that nearly kill him"
    And I'm assuming this is standard for every chip removal.