Welcome back! Before we get down to the next chapter, it turns out there is even more fascinating and intricate Wrong to discuss in regards to last chapter's festival of gratuitous racism. Y'all will recall that Chapter Six had Ender and his new black best friend bonding in a scene that inexplicably featured them laughing over racial slurs directed first by Alai at Shen (Ender's Chinese friend) and then by Ender at Alai. I was not sure what the deal was there, but thanks to Steve Morrison, we have Card's very own explanation at his website. I also checked the local bookstore's copies of Ender's Game, and can confirm that the new editions now have the exchange in question as thus:
They grinned. Then Ender said "Better invite Bernard."
Alai cocked an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"And Shen.""That little butt-wiggler?"
Ender decided that Alai was joking. "If you didn't hold yours so tight it would wiggle, too."
Alai grinned. "Let's go get Bernard and Shen and freeze these bugger-lovers."Card made this change himself, voluntarily, but if you click through to his website you'll find he was swift to assure readers that he was not caving to special interests or aiming to be politically correct (he has only scorn for "the prudes") or any of those soppy damnable liberal things. He just accepted that he had failed to write the passage well, because it was giving readers the impression that Ender and Alai might actually be racist, which OF COURSE THEY ARE NOT THAT IS SILLY. What Card intended to show was that Alai was trying to be funny through racism (as so many people do) and Ender was telling him not to do that. Which is something I am in favour of! So what problem do I have with this now, aside from the flaw Card has already admitted (that it was distractingly clunky)?
Well, Alai is black. I don't know if we ever find out where he's from, but in the Ender's Shadow series, we'll meet him again living in the Middle East, where he is beloved by many but even still occasionally targeted with racial hatred. And that's when he's considered an incredibly holy and wise and compassionate leader. So I have this wild speculation that maybe, as a child with no such recognition, he was also targeted with even more racism than that. It's just a guess. And I have a further guess that Ender, as the white middle-class boy from the United States, did not suffer from racism. And yet, in order to emphasise how much wiser and more compassionate Our Hero is, we're going to have Ender teach Alai a Lesson About Race Relations, and he's going to do so by aggressively wielding the white privilege that puts him over Alai in the racism hierarchy.
God, I think I liked it better when I thought they were just supposed to be stupid kids using words with power they didn't comprehend.
Time to get into the new stuff. What fresh horrors await in the plane of disembodied voices?
Ender's Game, p. 66--74
Chapter Seven: Salamander
"The player's deaths have always been sickening, I've always thought the Giant's Drink was the most perverted part of the whole mind game, but going for the eye like that--this is the one we want to put in command of our fleet?"YOU BOTH KNOW ENDER MURDERED A CHILD ON THE PLAYGROUND FOR PUSHING HIM. PRIORITIES; HOW THE FUCK DO THEY WORK?!
Graff observes that Ender handled the situation with Bernard perfectly (as if he hadn't argued against giving Ender that chance) and intends to move him on to a new situation immediately. Graff's boss hangs a lampshade on these unrealistic children by observing that none of them act like little kids: "They aren't normal. They act like--history. Napoleon and Wellington. Caesar and Brutus." Is this weird to anyone else? I feel like this is Card trying to weasel out of his unchildlike children by telling-not-showing us that this is because they act like great generals of a bygone age. If Napoleon made as many fart jokes as these kids do, history has failed to record him as comprehensively as it should have.
"General Levy has no pity for anyone. All the videos say so. But don't hurt this boy."
"Are you joking?"
"I mean, don't hurt him more than you have to."I feel like the only possible way of capping these intro bits is with Graff and his boss doing an Everybody Laughs Ending into a freeze-frame. Just to let the sociopathy sink in. (Unrelated, I'm pretty sure we'll never meet 'General Levy', but we will learn later on that in this futuristic society, 'brilliant military strategist' is now a Jewish stereotype. Uh, yay for positive discrimination?)
One night at dinner, Alai tells Ender that he's finally figured out how Ender impersonated Bernard on the student messaging system, and explains that he's hacked the system enough to know that Ender has now built his own security system to protect himself. Alai wants Ender's security because he's just hacked another student for fun and fears that retaliation is imminent, and after a little needling, Ender agrees to help. Ender continues to be completely okay with electronic bullying, I guess. It's possible to read this scenario as Alai having a friendly hacking competition with a classmate, but it's hard to be sure.
Ender laughed. "I'll set up a system for you."
"Can I finish eating?"
"You never finish eating."
It was true. Ender's tray always had food on it after a meal. Ender looked at the plate and decided he was through.This isn't much of a recurring theme for Ender specifically, but it's a recurring theme in Battle School--Bean will also have ongoing issues with the approved nutritional allotments and feeling like the school is trying to overfeed him. I don't know what this is supposed to signify, other than that authorities are trying to stuff them with more than they can take in every way, and/or that Our Heroes are all skinny kids with possible indicators of disordered eating. (Well, Bean pretty clearly has disordered eating, but that's not surprising.) I had forgotten what these books are like about food and fat--just wait until we start seeing the toll of the stress on Graff, who apparently 'self-medicates' with extra food. Sigh. It's like Twilight up in here.
Anyway, Ender can't help because his desk has been shut down and lockers permalocked, and Alai finds a transfer order on Ender's bed--he's been assigned to an army, despite only having been at Battle School for three months instead of the usual two or more years that kids spend in their 'launch' class.
Ender is upset, of course, on the verge of tears (more 'mustn't cry' stuff) but Alai pretends not to notice and jokes with him until he calms down, which is a reasonable good friend move. He hugs Alai, "almost as if he were Valentine", and talks about not wanting to go, but Alai states that they can all see Ender is the best and they want to teach him everything. Ender says he just "wanted to learn what it was like to have a friend", and Alai assures him they will always be friends.
Alai suddenly kissed Ender on the cheek and whispered in his ear, "Salaam". Then,red-faced, he turned away and walked to his own bed at the back of the barracks. Ender guessed that the kiss and the word were somehow forbidden. A suppressed religion, perhaps. Or maybe the word had some private and powerful meaning for Alai alone. Whatever it meant to Alai, Ender knew that it was sacred; that he had uncovered himself for Ender, as once Ender's mother had done, when he was very young, before they put the monitor in his neck, and she had put her hands on his head when she thought he was asleep, and prayed over him. Ender had never spoken of that to anyone, not even to Mother, but had kept it as a memory of holiness, of how his mother loved him when she thought that no one, not ever he, could see or hear. That was what Alai had given him; a gift so sacred that even Ender could not be allowed to understand what it meant.I kind of hate to nitpick, because that is, to my mind, a fine turn of wordcraft right there. That's the way I hope my writing sounds, the flow of language and the careful tone. Unfortunately, none of this content makes sense. Ender has apparently been sheltered from religion his whole life (he didn't know that his parents were Mormon and Catholic, he didn't catch that they named their kids for saints), but other peoples' religions have tremendous impact on him, apparently? Not that this is an unusual thing for people like Card to presume about atheists, but it's really tiresome. I can appreciate the good intention if a religious person offers me a blessing, but that's all it means to me. I don't keep 'memories of holiness' and there's no clear reason Ender would either.* In particular, given that Ender is constantly being told things and made to do things that he can "not be allowed understand", which will include rather a lot of unnecessary killing, I wonder if this mystery is supposed to parallel those--Ender is thoroughly appreciative of not having to understand what other people think of him and do for him.
Ender also knows nothing at all about Islam, enough so that he thinks it might be a secret religion. Maybe at this point in Card's mind it was--it's not until the Shadow books that we see they are one of the strongest and most numerous religions on Earth. Ender apparently never heard 'Salaam alaykum' growing up, since he was far too busy learning the rules of manly warfare (#12: Only one messianic/innocent killer child at a time).
Alai leaves. There's a bit of angst that Ender can't take anything that he owns, but he didn't bring any possessions up from Earth and we don't know of any that he's acquired on the school, so I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, other than to emphasise again that the teachers are cold heartless beings. WE KNOW, CARD. I am less sure that Card knows.
Ender apparently has some time before he's got to report to his new group, Salamander Army. He goes to the game room and logs into the mind game again, and so it is time for metaphors. Lots of them. Ender starts out at the corpse of the Giant, which has now been pretty much picked clean and merged with the landscape, which frustrates him because he thinks it would help let off tension if he could kill it again now. Instead he wanders off, skips the path to the castle of the Queen of Hearts (apparently he's already spent a lot of time there) and finds himself in a playground instead, swings and slides and laughing children. The playground gear doesn't work for him (he falls through the slide, the merry-go-round throws him off) and the other kids laugh, so he wanders off into the woods and finds a well, but before he can climb in (like you do when you find a well in the woods) the children reappear, human faces on wolf bodies, and devour him. Ender realises that he can incapacitate them while they're all human by using the treacherous playground gear as traps, but they rise up again if he leaves them lying around too much, so he drags their broken bodies into the nearby stream, where they froth and dissolve.
None of this appears to bother him much, despite seeming quite as hideous to me as the attack on the Giant, nor did his earlier remark about killing a rat with a giant pin because it creeped him out to see it chewing on the Giant's corpse. Maybe the Giant was supposed to be unsettling because it represented Ender's loss of innocence and transition to being a perpetrator of violence, except: Stilson. Gah, everything in this book would make so much more sense without Stilson. I could buy Ender as basically peaceful, and the Battle School teachers as breaking a sweet kid to make him effectively violent, and Peter as Ender's best reference point for what brutality looks like. But Stilson screws all of that up. How did editors not see this?
I'd have critical things to say about the way Ender so easily figures out how to deal with the wolfchildren, dragging them into the river to destroy their bodies and all, but this is 'the mind game' and the important thing, from the designers' point of view, is that they see Ender's brain work, so it makes some sense if the game is making up the rules on the fly based on what makes sense to Ender, like a semi-independent dream. So I see it less as Ender guessing right on the first try how to destroy the bodies, and more the game saying "Eh, cool enough, let's go with that".
Under the well he finds caverns full of more games that he passes--figures hidden in the shadows of a treasury; a menagerie of playful animals--but he wants to see what's at the end, and after a long time finds a door: The End Of The World. It leads to another fantastical landscape, green forests and farmers' fields and a distant castle and a sky that is just one vast jewel-encrusted cavern roof, so Ender decides to leap off a cliff because... hell if I know; the point is that a cloud catches him and sweeps him away to a tower with no doors, where the rug in front of the fireplace turns into a snake:
"I am your only escape," it said. "Death is your only escape."And then before Ender can do anything to repel it, the game stops itself and tells him that he's late to report to his new army.
To recap: having reached the promised land by killing the thing no one ever thought to kill before, Ender grows bored with the normal games and instead explores, but is beset by things that pretend to be harmless children but are actually monsters, and so is forced to slaughter them by using his vast intellect, and the laws of the universe bend to ensure that he is brought to the final inescapable conflict at the end of the world.
Remember all the way back at the beginning when Card said that "I deliberately avoided all the little literary games and gimmicks that make 'fine' writing so impenetrable to the general audience [....] Since a great many writers and critics have based their entire careers on the premise that anything that the general public can understand without mediation is worthless drivel, it is not surprised that they found my little novel to be despicable"? We can confirm that he wasn't kidding. But I'm not sure what the narrative value is supposed to rise from barely-veiled analogies that remove all nuance and ambiguity from the story, either.
Ender angrily switches off his computer and goes off to meet his commander, musing on how he might escape the tower and get down into the fields:
Perhaps it's called the end of the world because it's the end of the games, because I can go to one of the villages and become one of the little boys working and playing there, with nothing to kill and nothing to kill me, just living there.
As he thought of it, though, he could not imagine what 'just living' might actually be. He had never done it in his life. But he wanted to do it anyway.Oh how Ender wishes he could just be one of the simple folk.** Y'all don't understand what it's like, being male, middle-class, white, and a spectacular genius brought into space to a school where every need is provided for and days are filled with infinite games.
What does he mean, he's never been 'just living' in his life? He's not quite seven years old. He has spent all but the last three months of his life living at home with his parents and siblings, playing and going to school and dealing with normal people problems like bullies. There's a bit of extra stress in that he's always known he might be taken to this school to become a soldier, but the threat of alien invasion looms over every human right now.
Ender's getting badly treated, yes, and I sympathise with him, but this 'woe is me for I am special' nonsense infuriates me, because it's the exact opposite of empathy--it's founded in the ideas that other people's lives are as simple on the inside as they look at first glance as a random bystander, that other people don't have pain and problems like you do, that they can't understand your anguish, that they are scenery and you're the main character. This wish is founded in the exact opposite of the compassion that is supposed to be Ender's greatest strength.
The chapters start getting long at this point, so we will cut off here for now--come back Thursday for the next Fifty Shades post (it's so close to being over!) and look forward to the second half of this chapter, in which we finally meet Petra The Exceptional Girl! (Petra will be fun. Everything else will be terrible.)
*My views on holiness are perhaps best expressed by the golem Dorfl in Terry Pratchett's Feet of Clay, when he is asked about holidays and says: "Either All Days Are Holy Or None Are. I Have Not Decided Yet." Dorfl also makes the argument that atheists think about the gods constantly, in the form of denial, and therefore should count as religious, but give him a break, it's his first day. Also, on his world, the gods absolutely do exist. So he's in a bit of a bind.
**That version of the song ends in a weird way. In the original, the dancing fails to impact them at all and she asks again, and he says "They sit around and wonder what royal folk would do", and that is when he delivers the line "I have it on the best authority", since he used to be a commoner. Which gets at the point better, I think--there is no actual difference on either side, because they all have the same problems. Hmph.