Tuesday, April 30, 2013


So I am without internet at home and trying to be a little sneaky, so this is going up while I know Will isn't home. His actual birthday is tomorrow (May 1st) but you should all wish him happy birthday/anniversary of escaping his Mother/congratulations on surviving another year without being set on fire!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cat's Cradle Book Club meeting, chapter 1-4

“Hey wasn't this supposed to be up yesterday?” Yes, yes it was, but Saturday was moving day (Where The Boy and I escaped the EVIL clutches of the student neighborhood and have now taken sheltered in a much nicer more central area!) and the internet fairy doesn't come until Thursday and though I had this ready, I was without a way to upload it. So, you get it a day late. Here, take this Dachshund as an apology. 

Now, while I am in the process of making slightly embarrassing admissions: I didn't actually page through this book when I picked it as a candidate. When I was picking candidates I walked to my bookshelf and yanked every one that I had been meaning to read, (or re-read) that I thought would give me something to pick at. Having read Vonnegut before I had less concern that he would deliver than some of the other authors on the list (like the delightful but straight forward Wallace). It wasn't until I managed to steal ten minutes to sit down with the book (yes, it had taken me until Sunday to do so) that I realized that each chapter was about 2 pages.


Well then.

So I am going to do the first 4 chapters, because if you guys are anything like me there is absolutely no way you did not read ahead, and if you didn't it will take you about three minutes to do so. I'm doing the first 4 because they fit together nicely as an intro.

Alright, let's get started, shall we?

I usually skip over the reviews for a book, at least if I already own it. They're there to sell me the thing, and I've already bought it, why should I bother? Still, this time for what ever reason I felt compelled to, the copy of the book I have was printed in 1998 so yours may not have the same reviews as mine (do they change that sort of thing?) but one jumped out at me.

Our finest black humorist.
...we laugh in self-defense.”
-The Atlantic Monthly

I'm not entirely sure why of all the passages this one jumped out at me, perhaps because it's so similar to a line I picked up somewhere that I internalized at a young age (“Sometimes you either need to laugh or cry. Might as well laugh.”) but it brings up what I know of Vonnegut. A war vet and brutal pragmatist (“Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” anyone?) and his other book that I have read (Slaughter House 5) very much draws from those experiences. My Dad knew a bit about Vonnegut's history when I made him read Slaughter House 5 (I needed someone to talk to about it) and mentioned that Vonnegut had always been very anti-war (being 18 I didn't do things like read up authors histories). (From Wiki) "He was a citizen he was a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union and a critical pacifist intellectual. He was known for his humanist beliefs and was honorary president of the American Humanist Association". Reading these two lines brought all this to mind, and tells me about Vonnegut's motivations (or one theory on what they might be). Vonnegut is a war-vet who has become a pacifist, having been a "baby" at the time he went to war (according to the intro of Slaughter House 5).

Vonnegut writes about war, in some capacity or another, in most of (all of?) his writing. However he doesn't just write grim gritty war actions novelizations. He writes (often surreal) satire. He writes about war and then laughs at it. While there is a lot to be said about the courage it can take to write about your own gritty horrors*, I think it takes even more courage to then turn around and laugh at them.

The preface to the book is interesting, too.

Nothing in this book is true.

Live by the foma* that makes you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”

The Books of Bokonon. I: 5

*Harmless untruths

This idea will come up often in the first four chapters. Chapter one our narrator introduces himself as Johan (though his parents named him John) because for what ever reason he has been compelled to certain places at certain times. He goes on to give us an idea of his age

When I was a younger man – two wives ago, 250, 000 cigarettes ago, 3,000 quarts of booze ago...

that he was writing a book. “The Day the World Ended.” that was to be a factual series of events of what “important” Americans had done the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Jonah then starts to tell us about Bokonon which is the made up religion that is outright declared to be made up of “bittersweet lies”. The gist of it (for those of you not reading along at home) is that we are all divided into teams (karass) to fulfill some aspect of God's Will. An individual is never to know what this is, just that we are. The books goes on to tell us that if we find ourselves tangled up with a person for no discernible reason then odds are we are members of the same karass. Bokonon preaches equality, and a place and purpose for all of Gods creations. Bokonon is also very upfront about the fact that it is made up entirely of foma.

That is chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 3 tells the story of a woman who claims to understand God and His Ways of Working perfectly. She is, shockingly, arrogant to think so. She believes that God holds all the same opinions and beliefs as she does (the example we're given is that He likes people in sail boats better than people in motorboats) and goes on to say she freaked out if she ever saw a worm. The book (quoting from the Book of Bokonon) calls her a fool, but also calls himself (and anyone else who thinks they can see what God is Doing) a fool.

The next chapter Jonah tells us that the goal of the book we are reading is to find as many members of his karass as possible, and to find out what they were doing the day the bomb dropped in hopes of getting an idea. He is defining people as members of his karass by their lives being inexplicably tangled in his own, and rattles off a few (I'll get into them more as they come up) and the chapter ends with him firing a letter off to the youngest son of Dr Felic Hoenikker (one of the Father's of the bomb) Newton Hoenikker asking for what he remembers going on that day even though he would have been just a kid.

There is one thing that struck me in the chapter that I haven't mentioned yet, and it's the “Bokononist warning” that we are offered. First we are told the one that resides in the very first sentence of the Books of Bokonon:

All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.”

The narrator goes on to offer his own for this book,

Anyone unable to understand how useful a religion can be founded on lies will not understand this book either.
So be it.”

I first read that and laughed. It basically spelled out any speculations I had about Bokononisim leading up to this point. It's a religion for people who don't actually want to practice religion, simply the security blanket that (according to non-theists) religion offers. The moral absolution, the ability to trust some higher power when it comes to all of the big scary things in life because they're all part of God's plan (the book has yet to touch on holidays yet, but I will be surprised if there was not some Christmas stand in). It makes sense from an author who is a Humanist.

I write this as an Agnostic who was raised in a mixed-religion household (French Catholic & Jewish.) and I can totally understand why someone would embrace that. I want to scream whenever I'm facing down some big scary life issue and someone cheerfully tells me it's all in God's Plan. Really? I'm dealing with (Insert issue. Unemployment/illness/a loved one in danger) because God figured I was due? Or that (insert consequence. Not being able to work due to playing caretaker/because of illness) would build character? Through often heroic will-power I just grit my teeth and offer some generic platitude because while I disagree entirely, I understand that is what they believe, and that it helped them through hard times. If it's something you can buy into I can see how incredibly comforting the idea that everything happens for a reason is, but it's not a theology I've ever been able to sink my teeth into. To each their own. Which is why Bokononisim makes me giggle (as I believe it is supposed to) because it is sounds much like the creation of a non-theist.

So, what did you at home make of this? What are your thoughts on Bokonon? Do you think I'm way off with thinking it's meant to be a religion for people who don't like religion? Do you think personal responsibility will come up as a theme (I suspect it will be)?

Also while religion is an obvious theme here, and the author was Humanist (which is closely related to Atheist as far as my understanding goes, but I will do more research into it before the next book club meeting) I will stress the commenting rule of "Don't be a dick". Religion is open for discussion, but not debate. People's beliefs are what they are and there is to be no policing of others' beliefs.

On that cheerful note, sound off in the comments, and read chapters 6-8 for May 12! Next Sunday is Ender's Game and a Thursday will have a guest post for 50 Shades! Probably!

*You can see how much he struggled in a little more depth if you ever read the foreword to Slaughter House 5

Thursday, April 25, 2013

50 Shades Darker, Chapter 14, which was supposed to be a guest post, but Erika felt it was inhumane to make someone else do this chapter

This chapter is post 200 on Something Short and Snappy, just want to throw that out there y'all. Happy 200! I'm moving in a few days (to a much nicer apartment in a much nicer neighborhood) and Editor #2 (aka Mad Scientist Alex), being an awesome friend, offered to do this week's 50 Shades post so I could concentrate on the battle with Boxzilla. I was ready to take him up on that offer (and next week will be him! Be excited!) but once I read the chapter I realized there was no humane way for me to inflict this chapter upon him. I warned you guys last week that this chapter was going to be bad; I meant it. Your booze. Grab it.

Just a quick recap of last chapter: Leila, Grey's gun-toting ex, was found in Ana's apartment, and Grey took care of her without really explaining to Ana what was going on. Ana figured that meant obviously they were going to fuck, freaked out, went to get some drinks with Ethan, and when she went back to Grey's resolved to ask for some space (aka: Be allowed to go back to her own damned house) he FREAKS OUT and goes into Sub mode.

Okay, ready? Here we go!

So, there's a big thing about how Grey wants the perfect sub in book 1, and how Ana can't be that. Since he is perfect, we're to believe that he is also awesome at being a Sub. I think that's what we're supposed to believe as Ana describes him as being serene, but, well, he's bad at it. Ana asks/begs/pleads for Grey not to do this, he ignores her. When she gives him a direct command ("Say something!") his response is a bland "What would you like me to say?"

She has given a few orders/requests, and he ignores them. Even while being submissive, he is still being dominate by trying to bully Ana into the role of Dominate. Ana realizes she'll have to "fight" to bring "her 50" back. But she won't dominate him because that's gross and icky and would make her like Elena and she's obviously way better than that!

As my thoughts clear, I can see only one way. Not taking my eyes off his, I sink to my knees in front of him.
The wooden floor is hard against my shins, and I dash my tears away roughly with the back of my hand.
Like this, we are equals. We’re on a level. This is the only way I’m going to retrieve him.

WE GET IT BDSM IN THIS RELATIONSHIP HAS BEEN A STAND IN FOR POWER! Ana, by curing him of his darkness with her white-magic snatch is curing him of his need for BDSM/giving him the ability to not NEED to be in control. But Grey's need to control people/his surroundings comes from his having felt useless/helpless in the past. It comes from deep-seated insecurities, and Ana can't fix that; he has to.  She can help him realize he wants to fix that, but he talks about not feeling the need to go back to the play room, all because of her! So this whole "and now they are both submissive and therefore equal" thing? It doesn't really fit with the theme of the dominating sex stuff being about overall power in the relationship, and I actually think Ana the Dom would have done a better job of portraying that. However, we instead get this moral superiority that dom=bad and evil, sub=good and pure. If we follow this tangent further it's saying that dominate behaviors are bad (which includes things like bluntly asking for what you want, initiating sex) while submissive ones are good (like Ana engineering situations to ask for her wants because of Grey's "moods" and seducing him via ass waggling as opposed to just going for the gold or SAYING she wants to fuck). So basically this book is telling me that a good relationship is one that limits direct, blunt, honest communication in favor of indirect hints. Ana actually does often say what she wants directly, but unless she frames and times it well (like a few chapters ago when she asked to go to work alone in the tub) it often ends in a fight, or Grey having a psychotic breakdown.

Ana then starts to babble about how she loves him, but there is a lot of baggage and she just wants some space and time to figure out how she feels about a lot of it and how she wants to handle it. I wholeheartedly support this thought, by the way. An old roommate and I had a theory that there were two types of people: fast burns and slow burns. Fast burners are those people who tend to be really intense and what they feel they feel in a big way, and right away. When they're done, they're done. Slow burns are obviously the opposite, they tend to be more subdued in their emotions as it takes longer and more to rile them up, and when they do get riled up it often takes them a little longer to sort it out because sometimes its taken them so long to GET upset they're not entirely sure what, exactly, they're mad about. When a fast burn and a slow burn fight it often leads to the fast burn getting everything out all at once, and the slow burn going along and then being left to sift through it after the fact and if they realize that they're still upset/have issues they either need to deal with them on their own or risk upsetting their fast-burning other half by bringing the same issue up after the fact. We've seen Grey get upset at Ana for revisiting old problems (like her issues with Elena) because she's still trying to understand (admittedly, Ana did go back to that one a LOT, but the point still stands). So Ana outright saying "I wanted time and space to figure out how I feel so we can talk about this all at once, rather than repeatedly which upsets you" IS AN AWESOME WAY TO APPROACH THIS! Yay Ana! Shame that it's getting shit on by Grey here.

You see, as Ana offers this explanation, Grey doesn't bat a lash. She's sobbing, visibly upset and anxious, and he's just staring at her. I'd say he wants her to talk and he wants to hear her out but she isn't even sure if he can hear her, so I really think he's letting her talk herself out so he doesn't need to justify himself. Which is exactly what she does. She goes on to talk about her insecurities about not being able to be a Sub and seeing Leila was hard for her and she just doesn't get why he thinks she's awesome because he's like, super perfect and she's just... plain old Ana!

Oh, he’s so exasperating. Talk to me, damn it!
“Are you going to kneel here all night? Because I’ll do it, too,” I snap at him.
I think his expression softens—maybe he looks vaguely amused. But it’s so hard to tell.
I could reach across and touch him, but this would be a gross abuse of the position he’s put me in. I don’t want that, but I don’t know what he wants, or what he’s trying to say to me. I just don’t understand.
“Christian, please, please . . . talk to me,” I beseech him, wringing my hands in my lap. I am uncomfortable on my knees, but I continue to kneel, staring into his serious, beautiful, gray eyes, and I wait.
And wait.
And wait.
“Please,” I beg once more.
His intense gaze darkens suddenly and he blinks.
“I was so scared,” he whispers.

YOU MANIPULATIVE COCKSLIME! He leaves Ana panicking and lets her pour her deepest insecurities out in her panic and fear that she broke him and his first response (after he leaves her crying in terrified silence) is all about him. He has managed with his silence to lead her away from her upset and back into being concerned about him, and he knows that he can now have her coddle his feelings.

Oh, thank the Lord! Inside, my subconscious staggers back into her armchair, sagging with relief, and takes a large swig of gin.

That sounds like an excellent idea.

He’s talking! Gratitude overwhelms me, and I swallow, trying to contain my emotion and the fresh bout of tears that threatens.

She is overwhelmed by gratitude because he is talking. Just think about that for a minute. His irrational, misplaced fear (which she has just spent a fair bit of time trying to lay to rest within her own emotional rant) is still demanding attention, rather than Ana's distress. I'm not saying Grey's feelings don't, or shouldn't, matter. I'm just tired of them mattering more than Ana's.

First, he explains why he was such a jackass to Ana in her own apartment about getting her out of there (he was scared for her safety, even after he had the gun) and waits to see that she's into it before he continues.

He swallows. “Seeing her in that state, knowing that I might have something to do with her mental breakdown . . .” He closes his eyes once more. “She was always so mischievous and lively.” He shudders and takes a rasping breath, almost like a sob. This is torture to listen to, but I kneel, attentive, lapping up this insight.

My first response was to call Grey out for appropriating Leila's trauma, but, I kind of have to give him this one. That shit would be traumatic. What is creepy here is Ana. She claims this is torture to listen to (seeing your loved ones in pain is awful, yes) but describes herself as "lapping up" these insights. That... doesn't sound tortured to me, that sounds like she's reveling in it.

So once Grey finishes talking about how he was just so worried about Ana and her safety and that she was going to run away they reassure each other that they're totes in love and we get this:

“I love you, too, Christian, and to see you like this is . . .” I choke and my tears start afresh. “I thought I’d broken you.”
“Broken? Me? Oh no, Ana. Just the opposite.” He reaches out and takes my hand. “You’re my lifeline,” he whispers, and he kisses my knuckles before pressing my palm against his.

REALLY BECAUSE WHEN YOU WENT INTO SUB MOVE AND WERE TOTALLY UNRESPONSIVE THAT SEEMED PRETTY FUCKING BROKEN DUDE! He then grabs her hand, puts it on his chest, and sits there hyperventilating. Ana tries to pull away because she's not comfortable with this and he doesn't let her. I get that it's supposed to be a show of trust here, but if she isn't okay with it at the moment, then DON'T FUCKING FORCE HER! She switches to being on side with it pretty quickly, though.

Gently I start to undo the buttons on his shirt. It’s tricky with one hand. I flex my fingers beneath his hand and he lets go, allowing me to use both hands to undo his shirt. My eyes don’t leave his as I pull his shirt open, revealing his chest.
He swallows, and his lips part as his breathing increases, and I sense his rising panic, but he doesn’t pull away. Is he still in sub mode? I have no idea.

And there is something bizarre about this scene. Ana isn't sure if he's still in sub-mode which makes her unbuttoning his shirt and touching his chest (a hard limit for him) deeply problematic. There is one thing I really do like about it, and that is that Ana stops and asks for consent before each action. When Grey doesn't seem into it, she tries to stop and he puts her hand back. When she kisses his scars (we all knew this was coming) she stops and studies his reaction, and she doesn't do it until he tells her to. I find myself liking Ana quite a bit this chapter, and it makes me sad to see her getting swept along with Grey's emotional manipulation.

“Oh, Ana,” he breathes, and he twists and pulls me down on to the floor so that I am underneath him. I bring my hands up to cup his beautiful face, and in that moment, I feel his tears.
He’s crying . . . no. No!
“Christian, please, don’t cry. I meant it when I said I’d never leave you. I did. If I gave you any other impression, I’m so sorry . . . please, please forgive me. I love you. I will always love you.”

She's begging forgiveness because he wouldn't let her finish a god damned sentence. However now it's time for what we've been waiting for since book 1! Grey's Big Dark Secret! Is he about to confess the nature of his dark magics to Ana? Show her his collection of severed doll's heads? Maybe he has a secret knitting room?!

He takes a deep breath and swallows. “I’m a sadist, Ana. I like to whip little brown-haired girls like you because you all look like the crack whore—my birth mother. I’m sure you can guess why.” He says it in a rush as if he’s had the sentence in his head for days and days and is desperate to be rid of it.

Ana's first response is "B-but you said you weren't a sadist. You just said you were a Dom," as she tries to absorb this. I'm not that surprised, to be honest. This is about the level of pseudo-psychology I'd expect from this book.

Then it hits me like a wrecking ball. If he’s a sadist, he really needs all that whipping and caning shit. Oh fuck. I put my head in my hands.
“So it’s true,” I whisper, glancing up at him. “I can’t give you what you need.” This is it—this really does mean we are incompatible.

That's right, Ana's first clear thought is "OH NO THIS MEANS I CAN'T MAKE YOU HAPPY" not "holy shit you want to whip me as a way to take out aggression on your dead Mom AND you presented that as a sex thing."

“When you said you loved me, it was a revelation. No one’s ever said it to me before, and it was as if I’d laid something to rest—or maybe you’d laid it to rest, I don’t know. Dr. Flynn and I are still in deep discussion about it.”
Oh. Hope flares briefly in my heart. Perhaps we’ll be okay. I want us to be okay. Don’t I? “What does that all mean?” I whisper.
“It means I don’t need it. Not now.”
What? “How do you know? How can you be so sure?”
“I just know. The thought of hurting you . . . in any real way . . . it’s abhorrent to me.”

I find it hard to believe that his super sweet doctor Mom never said "I love you" as she tucked him in at night. Doctors need to take some level of psych in school, don't they? Or read any parenting book when she had her own kids, or had some sort of social worker that comes through during adoption processes who would have talked her through it? I hate that Grey has been cured from BDSM by love, because it just spells it out in big block letters that BDSM=BAD and it isn't. If everything is being done safely and consensually, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it (like any other sex act!). I hate how a book that is supposed to be kink positive is selling us this crap that there is only one acceptable romantic and sexual narrative. I hate it almost as much as Grey being cured by love.

“You’re still here. I thought you would be out of the door by now,” he whispers.
“Why? Because I might think you’re a sicko for whipping and fucking women who look like your mother? Whatever would give you that impression?” I hiss at him, lashing out.
He blanches at my harsh words.
“Well, I wouldn’t have put it quite like that, but yes,” he says, his eyes wide and hurt.
His expression is sobering and I regret my outburst. I frown, feeling a pang of guilt.

When I first read this I thought "Well, that joke is in poor taste" and then I finished the sentence and realized Ana wasn't joking. I'm torn on how I feel about it. Grey is emotionally manipulative and abusive, and so I don't feel much sympathy for him. On the other hand, he did just do something huge by opening up about it to Ana and this really comes out of no where (she goes from confused about him being "cured" to this?) but Grey knows how easy it is to make Ana feel guilt.

His easy dismissal of her comes to mind: No one of consequence . . . She’s responsible for all this . . . and I look like her . . . Fuck!

Yeah, say it with me. EEEWWWWW!

There's more "So... you're not leaving?" and puppy dog eyes as Ana announcing that she is exhausted and wants to just go to sleep and they can talk about this more later, okay?

“Don’t leave me,” he whispers.
“Oh, for crying out loud—no! I am not going to go!” I shout and it’s cathartic. There, I’ve said it. I am not leaving.
“Really?” His eyes widen.
“What can I do to make you understand I will not run? What can I say?”
He gazes at me, revealing his fear and anguish again. He swallows. “There is one thing you can do.”
“What?” I snap.
“Marry me,” he whispers.
What? Did he really just—

Nope, not enough.

Okay, little better.

Ana's response is hysterical laughter (which is right and just). Grey is wounded, but Ana points out that they haven't been together that long (FIVE WEEKS!) and he just told her his initial attraction to her involved wanting to beat his mother up. Girl needs time to think- she isn't saying no, she just isn't saying yes yet, either. Grey sulkily finds this acceptable (and is prodded that maybe he should propose again later, but more romantically).

So despite the fact that Ana is exhausted and just wants to go to bed, she lets it slip that she's hungry in her litany of complaints on why she needs to stop having a SUPER SERIOUS CONVERSATIONS for now, Grey demands she eats first. While he's microwaving some left over KD (ick) and Grey starts to get growly at Ana for not knowing where she went (she left her purse and phone! He couldn't track her!) and Ana's response is to play ball. She asks what he did with Leila. The answer? Gave her a bath (ick).

Try to rationalize this, my subconscious coaches. That cool, intellectual part of my brain knows that he just did that because she was dirty, but it’s too hard. My fragile jealous self can’t bear it.
Suddenly I want to cry—not succumb to ladylike tears that trickle decorously down my cheeks, but howling at the moon crying.

I'm torn on how I feel about all this. If I found out The Boy's ex had turned up on our doorstep a naked broken mess and he shooed me out and gave her a bath while he waited for the paramedics... I understand the thought of "Shit what do I do I can not freak out if I can find something to DO!" and latching onto just about anything, but at the same time: help was on the way, dude. He also could have washed her up without giving her a full on bath. I think Ana's right to feel that it was Not Okay for him to give her a bath, but I also appreciate her effort to rationalize it and the recognition that it's jealousy/she is totally beaten from the days events.

“Ana, please.”
I whirl around and face him. “Just stop, Christian! Just stop with the ‘Ana, please’!” I shout at him, and my tears start to trickle down my face. “I’ve had enough of all this shit today. I am going to bed. I am tired and emotional. Now let me be.”

She then sprints off to get ready for bed/the bathroom and just breaks down sobbing because that's the kind of day she's had. That's the end of the chapter folks! Told you it was brutal. Bets on him barging in in about seven seconds next chapter?

So that's all for this week, sound off in the comments with what you think, and tune in Sunday for the first book club! Chapter 1 of Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle! Till then!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter three, which is much less terrible than previous chapters, or maybe I'm just getting inured to it all

So, for the sake of pacing, the first Book Club post on Cat's Cradle by Vonnegut will be next Sunday, not today.  All you dedicated people get for today is the next episode of Ender's Game.  How will you ever bear the deprivation?  I recommend lying back and being happy that you're not the one who has to pour over every word of this and try to figure out what Card was thinking and not-thinking at the time.  Also, there was a corgi in a scarf two weeks back which really does help quite consistently.

(Content: sexism, gender essentialism, reproductive coercion. Fun content: the mighty warrior Stefen Colbear.)

Ender's Game, p. 16--26
Chapter Three: Graff

This chapter's exchange on the Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue is brief and regards how much Ender loves Valentine ("our weak link" who "can undo it all"), and Graff's plan to ensure that she does not:
"I'll lie to him." 
"And if that doesn't work?" 
"Then I'll tell the truth.  We are allowed to do that in emergencies. We can't plan for everything, you know."
Excellent work, unaccountable military authorities!  I appreciate a we're-allowed-to-tell-the-truth-in-emergencies joke as much as anyone, but I think it's worth noting that your lies have, within the last twelve hours, resulted in the unanticipated murder of a child by another child and, within the last few years, probably psychologically and emotionally warped untold numbers of other children, so your continued casualness mostly reads as pure sociopathy.  I get using grim humour in order to stomach doing terrible things, but so far, given the way you've talked about your monitoring technology allowing you to experience the sensations and emotions going through these kids' heads, this entire testing process looks hideously gratuitous.  They really have not made it clear what made this last series of brutal events so important.  This should be the part where Graff explains it all.  (Spoiler: NOPE.)

It's the next morning, Ender is having breakfast and reflecting on facing Stilson and his gang at school.  At long last, it appears to have occurred to him that he can't really guarantee that they won't just beat the hell out of him in revenge today.  He's pretty sure they won't, but he's still afraid and doesn't want to go.  There's some plausible banter between the sons and parents, although Mrs and Mr Wiggin remain about as deep as a lunch tray--he's reading the paper and responding only when needled (Peter makes a joke about obviously getting all of his genius genes from mom); she's trying to convince Ender to eat more and he's suggesting she should hook him up to a breakfast IV.

The table beeps, meaning someone rang the doorbell, and the camera shows a man from the International Fleet, "the only military uniform that meant anything anymore".  Which is kind of strange, since later books and even later events in this book will make it clear that Earth still has a lot of big, well-equipped, highly trained militaries that aren't the IF.  Why don't those mean anything?  I guess because the IF gets to make shadowy decisions to let people die at their whim?  Also because they're in charge of maintaining the shields that prevent international nuclear attacks.  They have their fingers on the buttons that make all the other The Buttons irrelevant, which sounds like a good job to be in.

No one says it, but everyone makes it clear that they think the IF dude is here for Ender, which of course sets Peter off a bit, but that gets cut off when they reveal that Stilson is "in the hospital".
Ender shook his head.  He had expected someone from the school to come about Stilson, on an officer of the fleet.  This was more serious than he had thought.  And yet he couldn't think what else he could have done.
We've already belaboured everything else he could have done, with options heavy on 'running' and 'getting help from the many nearby adults'.  But no, the world's greatest strategic genius can only think of one hyperviolent way to solve his problem.  What the hell.  Anyway, the IF dude asks if Ender can explain himself, and Ender cannot, because "he was afraid to reveal himself to be any more monstrous than his actions had made him out to be".  Ender hopes they'll just punish him and get it over with.  This is the same kind of self-loathing (but lack of repentance) that Peter displayed at the end of last chapter, not that I'm surprised neither of them realises it.  THERAPY.  THERAPY FOR EVERYONE.

Time for some longer quotes, because this is another foundational chapter.  Card lays the groundwork early and thick.
 "We're willing to consider extenuating circumstances," the officer said.  "But I must tell you it doesn't look good.  Kicking him in the groin, kicking him repeatedly in the face and body when he was down--it sounds like you really enjoyed it." 
"I didn't," Ender whispered. 
"Then why did you do it?" 
"He had his gang there," Ender said.
"So?  This excuses anything?" 
"Tell me why you kept on kicking him.  You had already won." 
"Knocking him down won the first fight.  I wanted to win all the next ones, too.  So they'd leave me alone. [....*] You took away the monitor," Ender said.  "I had to take care of myself, didn't I?"
Mr Wiggin says Ender should have asked a grown-up for help, but the officer cuts himself off and introduces himself as Hyrum Graff, director of the Battle School, and invites Ender to enter their program.  Mrs Wiggin rightfully freaks out and ironically asks if they'd be offering him a medal as well if he'd killed Stilson.  Ender asks why they're letting him in now.
"The final step in your testing was to see what would happen when the monitor came off.  We don't always do it that way, but in your case[...] It isn't what he did, Mrs Wiggin.  It's why. [...] It wasn't a charade, Mrs Wiggin.  Until we knew what Ender's motivation was, we couldn't be sure he wasn't another--we had to know what the action meant.  Or at least what Ender believed it meant."
I suppose that Graff is stopping himself from saying "we couldn't be sure he wasn't another Peter", reminding us of course that there is a vast difference between Ender, who dispassionately murders an incapacitated child in order to intimidate the others, and Peter, who threatens and torments his siblings to cope with his inferiority complex.  Those are clearly totally different things.  INTENT: STILL MAGICAL.

If I wanted to be charitable for a change, I'd suggest that Graff is pleased that Ender is thinking in terms of long-term strategy, but knows that they will have to school him in discipline and threat assessment and considering all tactical responses, but the book is going to remain pretty consistent on the idea that Ender's limitless willingness to destroy is exactly what they want.  I'm not sure why that's supposed to be so valuable, since there are lots of people obviously willing to destroy pretty much anything to win, and Ender's real gift is supposed to be his empathy, which he has tremendously failed to display in this incident.

Graff explains that Mrs and Mr Wiggin already gave their consent for Ender to go when he was born, so now it's just Ender's decision, since they only take volunteers for officer training.  There's some sales-pitching; Graff says that any student who's ever made it through first year at Battle School has become a commissioned officer, and none has ever retired from a position lower than CEO of an interplanetary ship, and also I guess when they hiccup they emit a flock of eagles?  It's pretty obviously the greatest thing ever for anyone, the only job worthy of Ender's time, and everybody will be ashamed to be so much less awesome when they meet him.

The only extant portrait of Commander Mazer Rackham.

Graff and Ender speak privately, and Graff admits that Ender won't be able to see his family again for a decade if he goes.  Ender privately thinks that this is a good thing because Peter presents a legitimate threat to his life.  Graff adds that he has seen enough of the monitor recording to know that Ender won't miss his parents, which brings up yet again: what do those monitors actually monitor?  Do they get feelings?  Are they straight-up telepathic bonds that let people hear his thoughts?  Because it's very weird that they seem to be able to read his mind but they still think they don't know how his brain works.
"You'd be amazed how sensitive the instruments are.  We were connected directly to your brain.  We heard all that you heard, whether you were listening carefully or not.  Whether you understood or not.  We understood."
Graff also says that Ender's parents won't miss him for long--not because they don't love him, but because they are Secretly Religious and have a complicated relationship with family size.  Dad, John Paul Wiggin (formerly Wieczorek) was seventh of nine children.
Nine children.  That was unthinkable.  Criminal.   
"Yes, well, people do strange things for religion.  You know the sanctions, Ender--they were not as harsh then, but still not easy.  Only the first two children had a free education.  Taxes steadily rose with each new child.  Your father turned sixteen and invoked the Noncomplying Families Act to separate himself from his family.  He changed his name, renounced his religion, and vowed never to have more than the allotted two children.  He meant it.  All the shame and persecution he went through as a child--he vowed no child of his would go through it.  Do you understand?"
Except not really, because John Paul and Theresa Wiggin are still religious (she's Mormon and tries to hide that she was born in Utah).  They gave their kids saints' names, and one of the things their religions agreed on was big families, which Ender simultaneously symbolises (a forbidden but permitted Third) and shames them for (because they dare not have more kids and they feel like they should).  What could be more fun than competing forces of cultural and governmental reproductive coercion?  This is all very interesting backstory and could make for a good premise for a book.  Too bad it won't be relevant ever again in this novel!

Graff further entices Ender by describing the Battle Room, the original concept from which the rest of this story sprawled out, but we don't need to cover that yet.  Ender asks if all the students are boys.
"A few girls.  They don't often pass the tests to get in.  Too many centuries of evolution are working against them.  None of them will be like Valentine, anyway.  But there'll be brothers there, Ender." 
"Like Peter?" 
"Peter wasn't accepted, Ender, for the very reasons that you hate him." 
"I don't have him.  I'm just--" 
"Afraid of him.  Well, Peter isn't all bad, you know.  He was the best we'd seen in a long time.  We asked your parents to choose a daughter next--they would have anyway--hoping that Valentine would be Peter, but mildly.  She was too mild.  And so we requisitioned you."
Girls: evolutionarily predisposed to not be useful.  And let's again be clear here, Valentine and Ender are both empathetic, but Ender sometimes chooses to be brutally violent and Valentine does not.  That's why they're taking him and not her.  I get that they only want soldiers who will commit to battle, but the case so far for Ender Wiggin being their greatest hope ever seems really patchy.
"Our tests are very good, Ender.  But they don't tell us everything.  In fact, when it comes down to it, they hardly tell us anything.  But they're better than nothing."
Stilson: dead because 'well, this test won't tell us much, but it's better than nothing'.

Graff goes on, saying that the IF has a much better fleet than they did eighty years ago when the aliens first ravaged Earth, but they need a general, and the only reason they defeated the Second Invasion was because they had the most brilliant commander in history, Mazer Rackham.  It's a pretty good speech, but I think this post has been quote-heavy enough already.  Card is a capable writer and he knows how to make this kind of propaganda and declamation shine.  (Backhanded compliment, but so it goes.  I do sincerely think these sequences are done well, though.)
"I'm afraid," said Ender quietly.  "But I'll go with you." 
"Tell me again," said Graff. 
"It's what I was born for, isn't it?  If I don't go, why am I alive?" 
"Not good enough," said Graff. 
"I don't want to go," said Ender, "but I will." 
There's no packing, just tearful goodbyes and dad promising to write and Peter shouting 'kill some buggers for me' and Valentine begging him to come back some day, and then they're gone.

While rife with the usual sexism and excuses for needless cruelty that suffuse the book as a whole, this chapter is easily my favourite so far, and pretty much where I think the book actually begins.  Chapter one exists so Card can make a statement about how personal virtue can excuse stunning atrocities, chapter two exists to try to convince us that Ender and Peter are radically different.  Chapter three gives us backstory, worldbuilding, and presents Our Hero with a real choice to jump at the call of adventure and try to save the world, or stay in that which is familiar and safe where people love him.  It's relateable, it's sympathetic, and it doesn't depend on us thinking that Ender was totally justified in murdering a bully.  If this novel were about the story instead of The Philosophical Point, this would be chapter one.

And I should note that Card agrees with me there.  I mentioned in comments previously that I once met Card; I was at a reading/signing when Ender's Shadow was published, and he was talking about the various iterations of the Ender's Game movie scripts that were cycling along.  He noted that, in the script, he'd had to cut Stilson because in a movie that level of violence wouldn't work for introducing the main character.  As much as I support the idea that books can tell stories that movies can't, I think it's important to note that books put us inside characters' heads and in movies we just watch them like they're other people.  In this, movies are vastly more like the real world than books are.  And I think there's a big point to be considered when the daring and brilliant opening chapter to your novel falls flat when presented in a format that more closely resembles reality.

Come back next Sunday for the first installment of the Book Club with chapter one of Cat's Cradle, and of course don't miss the unbearable writing of EL James in Erika's next Fifty Shades post this Thursday!

(Also, we appear to have adopted rot13 for ciphering spoilers on this blog, which can be translated on rot13.com if needed.  That's just for things that aren't Ender's Game, though; spoilers for the book are free game.  Stilson is dead, by the way.)


*This snips a passage about how Ender hates to cry and is ashamed to be seen doing so by his parents and a military man, because that is obviously a healthy sentiment to have been instilled in a six-year-old boy.  No one says anything about it--his father doesn't reprimand him for showing weakness--so how the hell did he get this idea established in his head?  Manly warfare?  Don't cry?  Who is teaching him these things before the age of six?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

50 Shades Darker Chapter 13 which is blessedly short.

In the rough draft of my book, chapter 13 was the one where things went to hell. This was totally unintentional and incredibly appropriate and I'm a little sad that once the editing is done it will almost definitely no longer be chapter 13. I half suspect that there was so much time spent on the boat because EL James wanted this chapter to be chapter 13. It is however a blissfully short chapter!

So we open with Leila hanging out with her gun and Ana, rather than running the fuck away, trying to talk to her. Admittedly Ana does read as someone who is scared and thinks immediately of Ethan (her questions are tying to figure out if he is in the apartment or not) and comments that Leila looks a lot like her.

I've mentioned playing Call of Cthulhu before, a Lovecraftian table top game set in the 1920s. It's not uncommon to run into people who have gone absolutely insane because of Eldritch horrors. Looking into the fabric of the universe and/or watching someone get turned to beef jerky will do that to a person. I'm going to be honest with you guys: Ana's conversation with Leila is reminding me of one I've had with NPCs in that game. She doesn't quite make sense and she gets derailed by little things. I don't mind the portrayal of the mentally ill like this in a game like Call of Cthulhu because there are over the top mind breaking dramatic things pushing the person to it. Leila has been through a lot but she reads like what a movie would expect the "creepy mentally ill" person to look like, not someone who actually is sick. Leila was able to get a gun, able to break into Grey's home (unnoticed) and watch Ana sleep before escaping again. Yet it looks like she has been a great deal of time without a shower and is malnourished. I feel that she probably would have collapsed and either died or been shipped off to a hospital by now. Ana and Grey are being shown to be soft and benevolent by trying to be kind to her (Ana tries to calm her down and get her to set the gun down, Grey has refused to involve the police even though that would be best) and it all just makes my skin crawl.

So, we get Leila lamenting "alone" a whole bunch, Ana panicking/offering to make tea, Leila not talking in full sentences (she sounds like a very young kid) and her body language being described as "inhuman". THANKS EL JAMES BECAUSE THERE ISN'T ENOUGH STIGMA AROUND MENTAL ILLNESS ALREADY! Oh, and Leila tells us that she plans to "join her love" and we're not sure if she's talking about her lover who died in an accident or if she's planning a murder-suicide, but there are a few things I just need to put up here.

“Why does Master like us like this? It makes me think something . . . something . . . Master is dark . . . Master is a dark man, but I love him.”
No, no, he’s not. I bristle internally. He’s not dark. He’s a good man, and he’s not in the dark. He’s joined me in the light. And now she’s here, trying to drag him back with some warped idea that she loves him.

Yes, because it is all about how Ana is rescuing Grey from the dark, not the fact that there is someone with a gun in the room who wants to shoot herself and probably Grey as well. Also being "dark" in this instance means "troubled" and I don't know what being troubled has to do with being "a good man". I guess it's fine so long as he's been redeemed by Ana's magic healing snatch though! SO MUCH RAGE.

I realize I’m holding my breath. What will she do? What will he do? But they just continue to stare at each other. Christian’s expression is raw, full of some unnamed emotion. It could be pity, fear, affection . . . or is it love? No, please, not love!


It's all okay though because Grey uses his warlock powers and Leila drops to her knees and the gun goes skittering away! He is in Dom mode! So Ana agonizes over the two of them staring at each other for a bit before he orders her to her knees (which works?) and then boots Ana out of her own apartment. Ana is, reasonably, still confused and flustered and not so okay with this, and her first question is to ask about Ethan, but...

“For the love of God, Anastasia, will you do as you’re told for once in your life and go!” Christian’s eyes lock with mine as he glowers at me, his voice a blistering cold shard of ice. The anger beneath the quiet, deliberate delivery of his words is palpable.
Angry at me? Surely not. Please—No! I feel like he’s slapped me hard. Why does he want to stay with her?

He's been trying to hunt her down so he could "talk" to her since the last book, this is his chance. He isn't going to fuck her on your kitchen island. I mean, he'll probably dump you for a few chapters so he can "save" her but don't worry it's all to protect you! And you'll have Ethan to snog for a bit before you get back together!

I glance down at Leila and notice a very small smile cross her lips, but otherwise she remains truly impassive. A complete submissive. Fuck! My heart chills.
This is what he needs. This is what he likes. No! I want to wail.
“Miss Steele. Ana.” Taylor holds his hand out to me, imploring me to come. I am immobilized by the horrific spectacle before me. It confirms my worst fears and plays on all my insecurities: Christian and Leila together—the Dom and his sub.

How the hell can she honestly be thinking that when she just had a gun pointed at her? How is she so worried about this right now instead of the anything else? So Taylor has to physically grab Ana and carry her out (although not kicking and screaming) and the last thing she sees is Grey stroking Leila's hair. The thing that really pisses me off about all this is she's right- he's totally going back to Leila to "save" her (although not because he needs a sub but because he's such a giving man). Didn't I call this in chapter 3?

So Ana meets Ethan in the lobby (he was running late and not home yet) and he figured getting the obviously upset Ana AWAY from the apartment building where shit is going down is a good idea. Taylor isn't thrilled because he was supposed to take her back to the apartment, but Ana makes a good point in that 1) they are going across the street, and 2) they know where Leila is now so why all the security? Taylor lets that be. So, Ana tells Ethan what she can (because NDA).

“And what’s Christian doing with her now?”
The blood drains from my face and bile rises in my throat. “I don’t know,” I whisper.
Ethan’s eyes widen—at last he’s got it.
This is the crux of my problem. What the fuck are they doing? Talking, I hope. Just talking. Yet all I can see in my mind’s eye is his hand, tenderly stroking her hair.

So they watch the front of the building, Dr. Flynn and someone in scrubs turn up to get Leila (who Grey carries out, wrapped in a blanket) and Taylor drives after them. No one touches in with Ana, and I think Ethan might be my new favorite character in this book (yes, guy with dreadlocks from chapter 1 has a contender!)

Ethan places a large brandy in front of me.
“Come on, Steele. Let’s get drunk.”
Sounds like the best offer I’ve had in a while.

He later walks a drunken Ana back to Grey's and doesn't lay a hand on her. Ana goes up to Grey's where she is greeted with so much anger. Ana is, reasonably, not thrilled with this. Grey had tons of ways of finding out where Ana was (like Taylor, and I'm sure he could have gotten Ethan's phone number in seconds since Ana didn't have her phone on her through his brother) but is freaking out that she wasn't home waiting by the phone for him. Ana is also totally awful about his taking care of Leila.

“Why do you do this to me? This is not about you, Ana. It’s about her.” He takes a sharp breath, running his hand through his hair again. “At the moment she’s a very sick girl.”

And he's right that it isn't about her, but I find it telling that he asks why she does this to him. It isn't about him either, but at the same time, she is his girlfriend who has been stalked and threatened repeatedly because of him/his ex. Ana is confused and hurt and just saw her boyfriend being intimate with another woman in a way she feels she can't be with him. I don't think she's wrong to be upset, but I do think she's approaching it wrong. She is drunkenly telling him that she's no good for him and can't fulfill his needs and is about to ask for some space to think about all the shit that has gone down (so she can talk to him with more coherent thoughts). Grey starts to panic and beg, not letting Ana finish a sentence. She'll get maybe two words in before he cuts her off with "NONONO I LOVE YOU YOU CAN'T LEAVE!"

“No,” he breathes, his eyes wide with panic, and suddenly he drops to his knees in front of me, head bowed, long-fingered hands spread out on his thighs. He takes a deep breath and doesn’t move.
What? “Christian, what are you doing?”
He continues to stare down, not looking at me.
“Christian! What are you doing?” My voice is high-pitched. He doesn’t move. “Christian, look at me!” I command in panic.
His head sweeps up without hesitation, and he regards me passively with his cool gray gaze—he’s almost serene . . . expectant.
Holy Fuck . . . Christian. The submissive.

The many faces of Christain Grey also include: The stalker, the sailor, the creepy guy in a clown costume...

So, this seems like a terrible idea. I mean, BDSM is supposed to have a huge element of "we will discuss what we do first" because consent is important! Throwing Ana, someone who has never expressed a desire or want to be a Dom into that role without her consent seems like a terrible idea. That said, the Dom/Sub dynamic has been a stand in for larger power within the relationship, and so this could also be read as Ana having equal power within the relationship (even if she doesn't around her individual actions).

I also suspect that Elena if/when she hears about this will not be so thrilled to hear Grey was subbing again because they both seemed to recognize that him being a sub wasn't great for him.

And that is chapter 13! If all the chapters were this short I might not hate this book so much! So tune in Sunday for a DOUBLE UPDATE with the FIRST MEETING of the Something Short and Snappy book club where we will discuss chapter 1 of Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle! There will also be the next installment of Will's Ender's Game series! Sound off in the comments on what you think of this mess of a chapter!

Also for those of you worried by the lack of whatnapple, don't worry, I've read the next chapter. He'll be back next week.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Thoughts on Ash in Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2

Warning: So many spoilers

There are a bunch of posts about the new Evil Dead movie,which I have not seen yet (and having read some of these reviews I am unsure I want to see) but when I first heard it had absolutely no CGI and a female Ash I had wanted to. I also wanted to see it with The Boy because I get jumpy and need someone to cling to and cower on and he finds it endearing while my other friends make fun of me. There was just one problem, he had never seen the first three.

"I'm pretty sure you don't need to. It's basically taking the concept of the first movie, which is really just a cabin in the woods flick, and trying to do what it failed at. Making it actually scary."

He shook his head, determined, "We can see it, but I wanna see the original ones first."

Fine. So we've been working out way through them and as we watched the first one, I was stunned. Not by the treatment of women, and not even by the actually pretty good gore. I was stunned that I was being given a white male hero who was freaking the fuck out. We see Ash be cute and romantic with his girlfriend, and loving to his sister. We see him do the "wrong" thing when he can't cut up his dead girlfriend's body because it will probably come back to try and kill him because he loves her and can't. We see him actually stop to dig a grave in all this mess to bury her, even. We then see him get the shit beat out of him, we see him powerless, we see him cry, we see him get scared senseless. We are given a hero who is weak and flawed and still heroic and I loved it. I saw the movies for the first time years ago, and I was not as aware of things like tropes then as I am now. I don't remember being shocked by Ash being allowed to be weak and still manly. It seemed... progressive, really.

Then we get Evil Dead 2. The movie where they realized how silly this series could be and no one ever breaks their neck and we see where The Thing from the Adam's family came from. Evil Dead 2 is a fun movie, and it quickly recaps the events of the last movie in the intro (although it cuts it down to just Ash and his girlfriend, his girlfriend dies, and he can't chop her up still) before getting on with the ancient evils and such.

The Evil Dead 2 is a fun movie and I have pages of snarky notes* (which were helped by The Boy, Will, and another friend) but the thing that really impressed me about Evil Dead (Ash's character) was just totally mutilated. In the second movie we see him getting possessed, and when the new female lead starts attacking him with an axe, he snaps out of it. Shockingly, she isn't convinced and keeps trying to axe him (I'm on her side here). Ash's response is to grab her, shake her, and scream a bit. Because that worked before. For some reason it does work, which I think is kinda BS. We see the often pants-shittingly scared Ash from the first movie become a one-line spitting bad-ass action hero. His character is still fun, and since Evil Dead 2 is self aware of how absurd it is not the same old same old (dude has a god damned chain saw arm, after all). Still, as much fun as Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness' Ash are, I was sad to see Ash from Evil Dead 1 get replaced by him. I felt he was a much more unique and interesting character.

When they re-made the movie and I heard of a female Ash, I admittedly thought of the more iconic Ash in the later movies, but the remake is trying to be the first movie only. Which means we have taken a very progressive character (pants shittingly scared man) and swapped that over to a woman. The pants shittingly scared woman isn't nearly as interesting. Mostly because women are often expected (or at least certainly allowed) to be scared and irrational on screen while men rarely are and that was what made Ash so interesting to me to start with (there's a lot more to be said but I have yet to actually see the movie myself and that would be ALL the spoilers) however if they were to remake the whole trilogy and have female Ash swap into the more over the top character that we see in the later Evil Dead movies, we'd loop around to progressive and interesting character again.

*Enjoy some of my notes:

"Did he just have a stroke or an orgasm?"

"Horror rides a vespa."

"He needs sunshine to protect him. Why is he driving into the dark forest?" "Because he's being chased by a shakey camera"

"They had sharpies 4000 years ago?"

"Such welcoming music! It's like faeries are playing harps! Made of human hair."

(On the naked zombie) "Worst wetdream ever."

"Dude, you're safe. She's stop motion."

"Wait, which part of the chair is the structurally important mouth?" (This is an on-going joke with my Call of Cthulhu group when discussing how to kill the monsters)

"Did Bruce Chinbell just grope a ghost?"

"So, there's two of him now. Think he'll make out with himself?"

"So he has a zombie demon hand. That's like The Stranger, but better."

"Oh, so that's where The Thing came from" "Go home Thing, you're drunk."

"I think this movie is really about man VS self." "Really? I think it's man vs house."

"I'm just saying, being out of frame does not make you invisible."

"Oh, sure, hit the disabled guy with both your hands."

"Does it still count as a unibrow if it's half blood?"

"If I take my glasses off, the camera work gets better."

"Are all trees into bondage or just evil demon trees? I think this has some negative implications about bondage."


"You take the thing you just used to stab a guy, and then you stab another guy!" "It gets easier after the first one."

"She screams like she forgot to scream."

"See? Even as a zombie Ash is sensitive."

"Car=Smashed. Ankles=Fine."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

50 Shades Darker Chapter 12 in which the book pretends to have a plot.

I'll open this decon with a bit more of an in-depth recap than previous chapters because I know there's recently been a bit of an explosion of new readers here thanks to Will's Schrodinger's Closet and Ender's Game posts (all of which are excellent and you should go read with your face orbs).

So for those of you stopping in for the first time, here's what's up in the book so far!

In book one, Christian Grey, the pinnacle of manly beauty and sexy prowess, powerful CEO, super duper sexy sexing BDSM enthusiast, and owner of a TRAGIC PAST (TM), meets our narrator, the totally bland, innocent, and younger-enough-to-be-creepy Anastasia Rose Steele. Yes, that is her real name. After a book's worth of "will they/won't they" Ana decides that yes, she will be his sub! Then at the end of book 1 they break up because Ana just can't do it! At the start of book two they get back together, but this time they're just dating, none of the sub/dom stuff that we spent a whole book hearing about in painful detail.

Book 2 has inflicted upon us more controlling rage and a crazed ex trying to maybe kill Ana? Oh, and Grey's ex of significance, an older woman often called Mrs. Robinson, has started trying to befriend Ana in the most hilarious and awkward ways possible.

Last chapter I finally figured out that Grey isn't a warlock (the only way to explain how any woman would want to be in a relationship with him) but is probably a necromancer. There were some "soul stirring orgasms" and, although this is supposed to be a sex- and BDSM-positive book, Grey declared that BDSM isn't for people in committed relationships. Grey also fucks around with Ana's career (having bought the company she works for) to "protect" her, and after 5 weeks of dating they have decided to move in together! The chapter finished up with Mrs. Robinson turning up despite both Ana and Grey telling her that Ana wanted nothing to do with her! Let's see what EL James has in store for us this week, shall we?

And here she is . . . Why is she so damned attractive? She’s dressed entirely in black: tight jeans, a shirt that emphasizes her perfect figure, and a halo of bright, glossy hair.

I'm really unsure of why Ana keeps obsessing over how blond Elena is; almost every female character in this book is blond. Grey's sister, Ana, Leila (Grey's gun-toting ex-sub) and the black woman Ana works with are the only non-blonds in the book, counting every waitress, receptionist, and secretary that we've met. I also burst out laughing here. Grey is always wearing gray, from head to toe, and last chapter we saw Ana doing the same. This is one of the many ways the author beats us over the head with the moral and emotional ambiguity around him. Now we see Elena dressing entirely in black. I can only assume this is meant to reassure us that despite Grey claiming she's an old and dear friend, Ana is right and she is totes evil. I don't know WHY this bothers me so much. I should be used to EL James' ham-fisted writing, but on average, people tend to avoid wearing all one color. It's boring and rarely a good look. Sort of something you mostly do at funerals--oh my god, you guys, Elena is totally just coming from a funeral, a sexy funeral!

Elena is surprised to see Ana there, as Grey only used to have his subs around on weekends. She tells Ana point blank she didn't think Ana'd be around and apologizes, she gets that Ana wants nothing to do with her. It's all super awkward, but it does a pretty decent job of underlining that yes, Elena has been in Grey's life for a long time and yes, she is comfortable with him and his home. Elena explains (in front of Ana, at Grey's insistence) that she's being blackmailed. Ana is, reasonably, filled with glee because clearly she deserves it. It is at about this point that Ana realizes she really shouldn't be there and skitters away--only to eavesdrop on their conversation once she's gone. No, really.

So what does Ana hear? Naturally Elena asking Grey about how things are going, scolding him for being too hard on himself, telling him he deserves to be happy. You know, the normal day-to-day conversations you have with friends. There are a few things I want to highlight, though.

“Does she know how negative you are about yourself? About all your issues.”
“She knows me better than anyone.”
“Ouch! That hurts.”

I am actually kind of on side with Elena here. She's been the only one to put up with Grey's BS for many years now. Suddenly he's dating some new girl (for all of five weeks) and he's saying she's the stars and the moon and really gets him more than anyone else ever. If I were in Elena's position, yeah, that would sting. However Elena's dialog is given no tags, so I assume this is meant to be taunting him (because that's the only not horrific way to say it) but I could be very wrong. As this next bit might suggest I am.

“What is her problem?”
“You . . . What we were. What we did. She doesn’t understand.”
“Make her understand.”
“It’s in the past, Elena, and why would I want to taint her with our fucked-up relationship? She’s good and sweet and innocent, and by some miracle she loves me.”

Again, I'm still kind of sympathetic to Elena here. I have a lot of dude friends, and have always had more dude friends than girl friends. I also fall somewhere on the scale of "conventionally attractive" and so (especially when I was younger) when my guy friends got girlfriends, they'd often vanish. I figured out early that this wasn't really about me as a person but the idea of a pretty girl who had known her boyfriend longer and was maybe closer to him. Once I wrapped my head around that, I realized that if I made an effort to actually get to know these girls they'd probably return the favor. More often than not, that worked out wonderfully for me and there are some cases where I've stayed friends with the girls long after the break up with my friends.

Ana is 21, which is still very much in the age bracket of this being a problem. Grey is closer to 30, but this is his first relationship so no surprises that he's acting like an overeager 14 year old about it. I think it is a safe assumption that Elena has other friends besides Grey (we know she first met him because she was friends with his mother) so I'm not surprised that Elena tries to befriend Ana; she's probably been through the paces. What I am surprised by is her first interaction with Ana involving saying "If you hurt him I will find you" BEFORE she gets into the "we should do lunch!" part. I get that she is supposed to be protective of Grey, but she is bad at it. If Grey is in his late twenties and Elena is older by enough that it was rape she would have to be at least 10 years older, if not more, so that'd put her in her late thirties/early forties. So you are telling me that Elena is going to think the right response to a girl almost half her age, who she's never met, getting a bit spooked by Grey being Grey is to threaten her? And then be surprised why she doesn't get it? I'm authentically uncertain what I'm supposed to take away from this book about Elena. Is she supposed to be "Grey's dearest friend" who is just too protective and who he seems to treat like shit, or am I supposed to see her as an evil meddlesome seductress? Because there's evidence to support both of these things.

One of the other things I want to draw attention to in that exchange (there's a lot to unpack here) is the "make her understand". Elena is supposed to be nearing 40, by my estimation (and according to the 50 Shades wiki). You are giving me a 40 year old woman who is acting like she's 19, and I don't understand why, EL James.

Lastly before we can move onto a new expert is Grey's continuing fertilization of Ana's innocence. When we first met her she had never been kissed or dated. Grey is her first everything; she hadn't even masturbated (and still hasn't, by his orders). I'm still not sure why. The target audience for this book is women who are Elena's age or older, so I can understand them being uncomfortable with someone their own daughter's age being self-possessed and sexually experienced and confident. The flip side is: I can't imagine reading an erotic novel and drawing any parallel between my own daughter and the woman being hammered away on and finishing the book. I don't think Ana is supposed to be a reader insert character, she's too young and too inexperienced for women who are wives and Mother's to picture themselves as her. Or I would assume so. I am not yet either of those things so if someone wants to correct me on this one, by all means. Perhaps the goal is to sell "the good old days" but not like they happened at all, but for many people their twenties was when they started to figure their shit out and branch out and experience freedom. There's some very real confusion there, but many people look back at the adventures and debauchery fondly (I know my parents do). EL James is stripping a lot of that away by making Ana so innocent, so it seems unlikely to me that she's supposed to be a reader insert.

Elena asks Grey about his relationship/if he misses his play room/etc when we get this:

“Elena, we have a business relationship which has profited us both immensely. Let’s keep it that way. What was between us is part of the past. Anastasia is my future, and I won’t jeopardize it in any way, so cut the fucking crap.”
“I don’t want to lose you, Christian.”
“I’m not yours to lose, Elena,” he snaps again.
“That’s not what I meant.”
“What did you mean?” He’s brusque, angry.
“Look, I don’t want to argue with you. Your friendship means a lot to me. I’ll back off from Anastasia. But I’m here if you need me. I always will be.”

And this is basically why I sympathize with Elena. She loves Grey, even if it isn't romantic (although I am a firm believer that you can love someone in more than one way at once, so I do think it is in part romantic) and values his friendship immensely, and has for many years. If one of my best friends was suddenly vanishing after 20 years, I'd voice concern over losing them, too. However because Ana is our narrator, this isn't about friendship, this is about Elena being in love with Grey and trying to take more than what is her's to take. I think this exchange is meant more to be about how much Grey loves Ana and that their love is twu and nothing will ever come between them.

I'm gonna be honest here. I think that's bullshit. I was a weird kid: at 15 I realized that while I enjoyed dating and having a boyfriend it was super important that I have a friends and life outside of that boyfriend because odds were one day he would no longer be my boyfriend and then what? This has been something I've carried with me my entire life. I'm getting married in the fall and I still think it's important to have friends that are mine and not ours. It helps keep me centered and grounded and offers a sometimes much needed change of pace. Besides, there's only about half overlap in tastes for movies/music*, and I need people who are not him to go to the movies with in these instances. Since I have always made an active effort to maintain my not romantic relationships during the times when I have a romantic one, if my friends start to voice concerns that "hey, something seems off with you and your SO, and I'm concerned"** I'm going to give that some very serious thought, not assume that they are trying to destroy my relationship because... seriously, why do people think someone would be out to destroy their relationship? I can see parents or close friends stepping in when there are things like abuse happening, but that's about it. Then again, I live in a world where I am surrounded primarily by reasonable and well-meaning people, and I suspect this statement reflects that.

So Elena leaves after agreeing to have one of Grey's guys look into who's blackmailing her, and Ana has to scuttle to his room to avoid being caught eavesdropping. To her credit, she will admit that she did so, and this is more of a panicked move than a premeditated one.

I gaze up at him, trying to frame my question. “Will you tell me all about her? I am trying to understand why you think she helped you.” I pause, thinking carefully about my next sentence. “I loathe her, Christian. I think she did you untold damage. You have no friends. Did she keep them away from you?”
He sighs and runs his hand through his hair.
“Why the fuck do you want to know about her? We had a very long-standing affair, she beat the shit out of me often, and I fucked her in all sorts of ways you can’t even imagine, end of story.”
I pale. Shit, he’s angry—with me. I blink at him. “Why are you so angry?”
“Because all of that shit is OVER!” he shouts, glowering at me. He sighs in exasperation and shakes his head.
I blanch. Shit. I look down at my hands, knotted in my lap. I just want to understand.

Ana has been pretty awful about Elena so far, so I want to try to give Grey some credit about being tired of going over it. At the same time, he is being such a cantankerous ass about it, any credit I can try to scrounge up is just lost. Ana is trying to understand, and all of the concerns she voices are valid, but Grey's responses are just... cruel, frankly. "We did the BDSM thing and had crazy wild sex" and he will go on to say he used to think he loved her but with Ana he realizes what love really is and so no, he never loved Elena! Remember what I said earlier about believing that there are many ways to love a person, and you tend to love them in more than one way at once? Grey will also insist that it wasn't rape because he consented and could have broken up with her at any time when they had their thing going on, and discusses how she's helped him come to terms with his feelings for Ana.

What do I make of this? Maybe she is on my side and just worried that I’ll hurt him. The thought is painful. I would never want to hurt him. She’s right—he’s been hurt enough.
Perhaps she’s not so bad. I shake my head. I don’t want to accept his relationship with her. I disapprove. Yes, that’s what this is. She’s an unsavory character who preyed on a vulnerable adolescent, robbing him of his teenage years, no matter what he says.

Super torn on this, to be frank. I agree with Ana in that what Mrs. Robinson did was wrong, but if Grey, the victim, doesn't think so, is it still okay to insist it is? Doesn't he get to be the authority on that one? It's the flip side of someone telling a woman she wasn't really assaulted because he didn't jump out of the bushes at her.  Things then segue into Ana not being perfectly compliant with being monitored all the time.

“Do you want to fight about that, too?” he snaps.
“I wasn’t aware we were fighting. I thought we were communicating,” I mumble petulantly.
He closes his eyes briefly as he struggles to contain his temper. I swallow and watch anxiously. Jeez, this could go either way.

His response is to storm off to go work. I've commented before that any time Ana tries to talk about something that's upsetting her Grey's response is anger. Last chapter, when she literally begged him to be allowed to go to work without a security guard, she had to wait until a super relaxed calm point to do so. Grey acts like Ana has him whipped but restricts her from doing things like leaving her office or going home alone. He bought her a new car that she isn't allowed to drive because it might be dangerous. Everything he does he does in the name of her safety, but it is still taking away agency and choice and it is still terrifying. After Grey storms off, Ana is left to her own devices.

We just don’t know each other that well. Do I really want to move in with him? I don’t even know if I should make him a cup of tea or coffee while he’s working. Should I disturb him at all? I have no idea of his likes and dislikes.

According to Grey, Ana knows him better than anyone else in the world and he has asked her to move in with him after five weeks of dating. Ana feels they keep fighting because they're still getting to know each other and that this is normal for new relationships. It's been a while since I've done the "new relationship" thing, but in my direct and indirect experience, if you're fighting this much this early you fucking bail. The first bit is all about getting to know each other and fun and adventures! You're in the honeymoon phase, not the "I am afraid to ask to go to work alone" phase! THAT SHOULD NOT BE A PHASE YOU GO THROUGH!

So Ana will putter around a bit, call her Dad, and go read before Grey finds her dozing in the library and puts her to bed. She wakes up in the middle of the night to find Grey playing piano in his bubble of isolation (again).

“Why do we fight?” he whispers, as his teeth graze my earlobe.
Holy cow. My heart skips a beat, then starts pounding, coursing heat throughout my body.
“Because we’re getting to know each other, and you’re stubborn and cantankerous and moody and difficult,” I murmur breathlessly, shifting my head to give him better access to my throat. He runs his nose down my neck, and I feel his smile.
“I’m all those things, Miss Steele. It’s a wonder you put up with me.” He nips my earlobe and I moan. “Is it always like this?” he sighs.
“I have no idea.”

Grey has two moves, intimidate and seduce. If we look at a more typical abuse pattern, it's the charming husband and the horrible abuser (or the early stages there of). We saw the abuser earlier, now he's being charming (or in his case sexy because the man doesn't have enough personality to be charming). I've commented before on Grey derailing Ana with his black-magic sex powers when she tries to ask questions, and it is one of the few consistent behaviors he exhibits.

In his usual form, he starts to get handsy and because black-magic sex powers Ana is right into it. So they start fooling around on the piano.

“Oh no, baby, not yet,” he teases, but I feel myself quicken as does he, and he stops.
“No,” I whimper.
“This is my revenge, Ana,” he growls softly. “Argue with me, and I am going to take it out on your body somehow.” He trails kisses along my belly, his hands traveling up my thighs, stroking, kneading, tantalizing.

Okay, I talk about sex being different for everyone no two vaginas are the same often, but seriously, how the hell can he have that level of knowledge to actually keep her on the cusp and not just accidentally shoving her over to a shitty orgasm consistently? INTERNET HELP. Also, he even fucking admits to using sex to punish her. I mean, there are worse punishments, but he clearly and repeatedly says "If you fight with me there will be consequences." ANA YOU ARE COVERED IN SLIPPERY STAIN USE THIS TO YOUR ADVANTAGE TO THROW YOURSELF OFF THE PIANO AND SKID OUT THE DOOR!

Lifting my feet off the keys, he pushes me; and suddenly, I’m sliding effortlessly up the piano, gliding on satin, and he’s following me up there, briefly kneeling between my legs to roll on a condom. He hovers over me and I’m panting, gazing up at him with raging need, and I realize he’s naked. When did he take off his clothes?


Also where the hell did that condom come from? Does Grey have Summon: Condom? He's naked and nowhere near a drawer; this is raising a lot of questions. Did he store one in Ana's cooter for later? Is that one of his black powers? Is the piano in fact made of condoms?

So they bone (off page, tragically, because I rather enjoy these purple sex scenes) and the next morning they wake up and Grey makes an off hand comment about not having nightmares when Ana is around. This leads her (innocently enough) asking what those nightmares are about which leads into talk of his TRAGIC PAST (TM). So, to save you all the groaning, Grey talks about how the dreams are flashbacks (though doesn't tell us what they are, we did see one at the start of this book) and Ana, frantic to not set him off so early, asks him for happy childhood memories. He comments on the crackwhore (the charming nickname he has for his birth mother) baking him a birthday cake, his baby sister, and his piano teacher before they start fooling around.

No really, that is the progression of events. I know I like to get my bone on right after talking about my childhood!

Skip ahead a few pages, Ana has gone to work, mentioned Kate's brother Ethan will be back in town today and she should go by her apartment to help him settle in, gotten a few e-mails via Blackberry with Grey about spankings and given him the heads up on "hey leaving the office now just FYI" because he must be kept aware of all her movements and now we're onto her boss leering at her some more.

“Would he object to you coming out for a quick drink tonight? To celebrate all your hard work?”
“I have a friend coming in from out of town tonight, and we’re all going out for dinner.” And I’ll be busy every night, Jack.
“I see.” He sighs, exasperated. “Maybe when I’m back from New York, huh?” He raises his eyebrows in expectation, and his gaze darkens suggestively.
Oh no. I smile, noncommittal, stifling a shudder.
“Would you like some coffee or tea?” I ask.
“Coffee, please.” His voice is low and husky as if he’s asking for something else. Fuck. He’s not going to back off. I can see that now. Oh . . . What to do?

This is all so, so creepy. This is the third or fourth time he has asked her out for a drink. The hint: take it. So Ethan gives her a call and is all "SOON I SHALL BE UPON YOU CAN I HAVE KEYS TO OUR NEW APARTMENT PLEASE?" and when he turns up to see Ana at work this is his first response.

“You look . . . wow—different. Worldly, more sophisticated. What’s happened? You changed your hair? Clothes? I don’t know, Steele, but you look hot!”
I blush furiously. “Oh, Ethan. I’m just in my work clothes,” I scold as Claire looks on with an arched eyebrow and a wry smile.

Every single dude wants in Ana's pants, even her BFFF's brother. We have also been told that he's just kinda like this though, so... not sure. He at least seemed authentically enthusiastic about the idea of going out to dinner with Grey and Ana later.

“Yeah. Laters.” He leans over and kisses my cheek.
“Elliot’s expression?”
“Yeah, kind of grows on you.”
“It does. Laters.” I smile at him as he collects his large shoulder bag from beside the green couch and exits the building.
When I turn, Jack is watching me from the far side of the foyer, his expression unreadable. I smile brightly at him and head back to my desk, feeling his eyes on me the whole time. This is beginning to get on my nerves. What to do? I have no idea. I’ll have to wait until Kate is back. She’s bound to come up with a plan.

I like that Ana is remembering Kate exists, and that she is enthusiastic about her return. I like that her thought is "Kate will understand how to better cope with lechers and help give me strategies" as opposed to running to Grey who will DESTROY Jack. By the same token, this is an interesting thought. When I had the owner's brother in law pinching my ass at an old job, I was afraid to step forward because what if he got fired and this caused a huge rift and he has kids! I was worried about my abuser's well-being. I don't think this is uncommon, women are often made to feel responsible for the abuse they get, and it's on us to fix things and take care of everyone. It's bullshit, and I wonder if EL James has considered that when she wrote this.

So Grey picks Ana up from work and they're all cute and bubbly and SO TOTALLY IN LOVE. Which means something horrible is about to happen.

“Hi, Ethan, it’s me. Let me in.”
The door buzzes, and I head upstairs to the apartment. It occurs to me that I have not been here since Saturday morning. That seems so long ago. Ethan has kindly left the front door open. I step into the apartment, and I don’t know why, but I freeze instinctively as soon as I step inside. I take a moment to realize it’s because the pale, wan figure standing by the kitchen island, holding a small revolver is Leila, and she’s gazing impassively at me.

Told ya. Think she shot Ethan? We haven't seen him enough for me as a reader to give much of a crap about his character, but I can see how Ana and Grey will be affected. And that, naturally, is the end of the chapter because these books were initially fan fiction and will end on cliffhangers as often as possible!

Tune in next Thursday to find out what happens next! And Sunday for--I'm not sure what's running this Sunday yet. TUNE IN SUNDAY FOR A SURPRISE OF SOME SORT! As always, comments make this hurt less, and if you don't want to check the blog to see when we update you can also follow me on Twitter @SnappyErika!

Till next week my dear readers!

**One of these conversations happened right after I got engaged because there was a rapid turn-around on "Erika is scared of the concept of marriage" to "So I'm engaged now". The friend in question was one who I don't see often but am close to, making sure I wasn't doing it because I felt I was supposed to or anything. It led to the most stereotypical drunk "YOU'RE MY BEST FRIEND I LOVE YOU" conversations I have ever had and it was magical, warm fuzzy, and hilarious.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter 2, in which the villainous Peter Wiggin fails to be as horrifying as our hero

(Content: violence, death threats, abusive family environment.)

Ender's Game: p. 9--15

Chapter Two ("Peter") begins again with the Unlabelled Unset Dialogue of the Powers That Be, who have observed the brutality that Ender just unleashed and are trying to decide what it means.  They were, apparently, still observing this happening, but the analyst protests that he can't be sure what to read into it since he doesn't have the spinal monitor dealy.  Also, worldbuilding name-drop:
"He was thorough.  He didn't just beat him, he beat him deep.  Like Mazer Rackham at the--"
"Spare me.  So in the judgment of the committee, he passes."
"Mostly.  Let's see what he does with his brother, now that the monitor's off."
It's a bit of a clunker, that reference to Mazer Rackham, but it could probably be much worse.  We'll find out shortly that Mazer saved humanity in the last war with the aliens, and is essentially the inspiration for this whole 'perfect general' system they run.  More terrifyingly, they don't think they know why Ender killed Stilson, but they're pretty sure they're cool with it, and now want to see what happens when he goes home to his volatile and violent brother.  But first, this boggling passage:
"I went back through the tapes.  I can't help it.  I like the kid.  I think we're going to screw him up."
"Of course we are.  It's our job.  We're the wicked witch.  We promise gingerbread, but we eat the little bastards alive."
So: they can look at one child murder another and their response is not merely 'Huh', but in fact 'Gosh, he's so innocent and we're really going to ruin him'.  I don't--

How does--

What in--
Moving along.

Ender is at home; Valentine is expressing sympathy that he's apparently been kicked out of the military screening program, and Peter arrives munching PB&J and looking like every grown-up's idea of a "beautiful ten-year-old boy".  Ender doesn't notice his brother's perfectly-shaped features, we're told, because he's only ever interested in identifying anger or boredom in Peter, "the dangerous moods that almost always led to pain".  So, for whatever reason, apparently Ender has been getting tormented for quite some time now by his brother, and there has been no intervention from anyone.  I'm not sure how that meshes with the earlier implication that the bullies at school wouldn't touch Ender for fear of soldiers appearing out of nowhere, but this is what we're told.  I guess the totalitarian military government does rank familial privacy over the salvation of the entire species, which is in turn ranked over the lives of random children.  Anyone is welcome to try to figure out how this is consistent.

Peter is angry that Ender kept his monitor until age six (he lost his at four; Valentine at three).  He notes that he's not being monitored anymore for pain or threats; I'm no longer sure what this means, but presumably he feels free to do worse than he's done before.  Peter cheerfully suggests they play 'buggers and astronauts' and digs out the toy masks and rayguns, telling Ender he'll have to be the bugger.  Valentine nonchalantly suggests she's going to try to contact their parents, and Peter counters that neither of them are near home or going to answer the phone, which--okay, apparently parents in this world really just don't take any kind of precautions, since even if no one in the house was a nascent killer, the implication is that if anything else goes wrong, all three kids are without any assistance.

Ender briefly recollects that their mother wasn't happy about the toys, but their father had successfully argued that the war wouldn't go away if you didn't play war games and that playing these games might give them a better chance of surviving invasion.  There are a variety of reasons this is stupid in the specific (yes, let's simplify the realities of logistics and morality in engaging in what might be a war of extinction with an entire civilisation down to 'shoot the bad things'; clearly this can't harm anything and will teach valuable life skills) and so I think it's safe at this point to conclude that the parents of these three genius children are themselves as sharp as a bag of hammers.*

Ender puts on the alien mask and immediately starts trying to get into character.  He wonders if alien children on their world put on human masks to play games, and wonders what they call humans.  Humanity calls them buggers because they look like bugs, with their exoskeletons; he decides that they call us soft and oily folk 'Slimies'.  Points given for consistency: Ender's signature move is trying to understand how the aliens think, right from the start.  Points withdrawn: he didn't do a damn thing trying to understand how Stilson was thinking prior to their fight.  Ender doesn't appear to try to understand what's going on inside any human's brain (I'm thinking ahead here of many, many failures in this area) but he's obsessed with the aliens' minds.  I hadn't noticed that until just this moment, and I'm not sure if it's a consequence of the other themes or something entirely new.  Neat.  (And more than a little disturbing.)

He manages to get into character and call Peter a 'Slimy' once before Peter decks him and declares that, having caught an alien alive, they must now vivisect him for science.  He quickly drops the facade of the game and whispers to Ender--trapped on his back with Peter kneeling on his chest--about how he could just  keep pressing down and let Ender die and claim it was an accident.  Valentine says she'd tell; Peter threatens her too; Valentine declares that she has secret computer programs set up so that in the event of her death they will automatically send letters to various people stating that her accidental death was in fact Peter's doing.  She's implied to be making this up, but that's a pretty good improvisation on the spot.

So, obviously this family is fucked in all of their heads.  More to the point, this is the best chance we have to explain Ender's bizarre mindset: he defaults to fighting for his life because his brother makes death threats, and he assumes no one will come help because, well, no one ever comes to help.  This isn't the perfect explanation that it might be--if the monitor really was making Peter hold back, then he presumably hasn't been making death threats until now--but maybe it explains why Ender is convinced he's alone: no one has ever stopped Peter.  Ender knows that the military has been listening in on his life, and apparently Peter has been allowed to continue with minor torments at a whim.  Maybe this isn't some kind of inborn trait; maybe this is what the monitor has taught him.  Top notch job, faceless military tyrants!  Are you familiar with the Heisenberg Principle?

Peter abruptly lets Ender go, moves like he's going to attack Valentine, and then falls over laughing at his own joke.  Well:
"Not a joke, a game.  I can make you guys believe anything.  I can make you dance around like puppets."  In a phony monster voice he said, "I'm going to kill you and chop you into little pieces and put you into the garbage hole."  He laughed again.  "Biggest suckers in the solar system."
Peter's argument is that he's not doing it for the violence, but for the fun of exerting power.  Ender and Valentine insist that they (and only they) know that Peter is "a murderer at heart"; I'm not sure if that's agreeing or not.  This comes up again later in the Shadow books, the idea of being "a murderer at heart", and that might be an interesting philosophical discussion except ENDER LITERALLY MURDERED A KID LAST CHAPTER.  I don't even know how to begin parsing the cognitive dissonance and the hypocrisy here, for Ender to be sneering at his (total jackass, no question) older brother for having an impure soul while Ender himself still has a dead boy's blood on his shoes.  (He does; he tries and fails to intimidate Peter with it.)

Their parents arrive and commiserate with Ender for having been kicked out of the program and gush about how wonderful it is that they now get to keep all three of their kids, causing Ender more Third Angst.  That night, Ender lies in bed and Peter stirs, wanders to Ender's bedside, and Ender fears that Peter's about to kill him, but instead he whispers:
"Ender, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I know how it feels, I'm sorry, I'm your brother, I love you."
And then goes back to bed, and Ender cries himself to sleep.  When I first read this, I was totally on board with Ender's side; I was convinced that Peter was a terrible monster and that this last outpouring was some kind of playacting--not precisely a lie, but a futile attempt to pretend to be a better person.  Looking back, Peter is still awful, but he seems a lot more sympathetic, given that he too has grown up in this deeply awful society and family environment, trying to manipulate everyone to either adore or fear him.  It's bad enough feeling like the new baby will replace you in your parents' eyes; it's got to be worse when the new babies might grow up to be the salvation of the entire world.

Nothing excuses Peter's actions, but like Ender, he mostly seems like he desperately needs some kind of therapy.  (And indeed that's sort of what his plotline will be about in this book.  Ender, not so much.)  It's very hard to see him as the biggest monster in the room, even when he's tormenting and torturing his siblings, when Our Hero murdered someone that afternoon.  The implication it seems like we're left with is not that Peter is too violent, but that Peter wants to be liked, while Ender just wants to be left alone.  Peter has social skills (in the way that sociopaths do) while Ender can't tell the difference between someone pushing him around for fun and someone trying to kill him.  Of the two of them, Peter actually seems much more normal to me, a conflicted mess, and that apparently makes him useless as a heroic general.

Our agreeing with this depends on us caring more about Peter's cruelties (mostly off-page, even later in the book) than Ender's  actual atrocities.  And I'm more than a little freaked out that Card thinks he can sell this. Protagonist-centred morality is one thing in a narrative and another when it apparently permeates the entire world and affects interplanetary military strategy.

Tune in next time to see one of the Faceless Nameless Voices show up in person, Ender's mother be the only reasonable person in the room and so automatically shushed by the menfolk, and basically everything continue to be awful forever.  I promise to find some way of making it more entertaining by then, because the stark horror is kicking is way earlier than I expected.

In the meantime, have a corgi in a scarf.

*Card eventually noticed the same apparent contradiction, and the Shadow sequels will retcon/explain that their parents are in fact similar calibres of geniuses but played daft for their kids, both to make them feel better (I have freedom because I can outsmart my guardians) and to make the kids underestimate them, thus retaining some advantage.  This family is messed.