Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter six, in which ZERO GRAVITY RACISM saves the day

(Content note: racial slurs, bullying, tokenism, virtual violence.  Fun content note: origins of the Ferengi.)

I had blanked out parts of this chapter.  It's relatively easy if you have privilege shields, because Card at last reveals the game that spurred him to build the rest of the story to justify playing it, but wow, the abrupt throwaway racism.  Y'all be warned.

Ender's Game, p.54--65
Chapter Six: The Giant's Drink

You know where we start.
"Don't you see what's going on here?  He's stuck at the Giant's Drink in the mind game.  Is the boy suicidal?  You never mentioned it." 
"Everybody gets the Giant sometime." 
"But Ender won't leave it alone.  Like Pinual."
It took me the longest time to realise that Pinual is the aforementioned student who died in Battle School.  I'm pretty sure this is the only time he's mentioned by name--I always assumed it was a historical/military reference.  They're also arguing over whether he's causing too much tension in his class, which is apparently just as concerning as his indicators of potential self-harm?
"Give him time with the group.  To see what he does with it." 
"We don't have time." 
"We don't have time to rush too fast with a kid who has as much chance  of being a monster as a military genius."
This is Graff insisting that Ender should be moved out and his superior telling him to keep Ender there.  I read this chapter out of order this week, and that has caused me to notice something interesting--I'll get back to it later when we see the results of Graff being overruled here.  Also, a fun final bit:
"Graff, you give me ulcers." 
"You wouldn't have ulcers if you'd leave the school to me and take care of the fleet yourself." 
"The fleet is looking for a battle commander.  There's nothing to take care of until you get me that."
Dozens or hundreds of ships, thousands of crew and pilots, but the supreme commander of Earth's entire fleet has nothing to do with any of them until he gets his tactician.  I know this is hyperbole, but seriously, the amount of time this book spends telling us that Ender is the only thing who matters, ye gods.

Moving along.

It is time for the grand debut of the Battle Room, the core of this story.  For anyone who hasn’t read the books already: it’s a huge cubic room with doors in the middle of the walls on opposite ends and no gravity.  The kids, all wearing their battle suits, file out of the door and start moving along the walls by grabbing the sunken handholds, and the ones who lose their grip are stuck drifting in the air, trying to swim (which doesn’t work) unless someone else can reach out to grab them or launch off the wall and push them to the far side.  There’s a lot of trial and error; Ender and Shen start trying to bounce around the room to learn how to navigate.  In a rare moment of Ender not being Way Smarter Than Everyone Else, he is trying to figure out what to do if you get stuck drifting in the air, but he sees other kids are already experimenting (with no results) and he actually can’t think of anything they aren’t already trying.

(Ender’s Classmates Are Legitimately As Smart As Him tally: 1)

The suits are kind of awkward; they take extra effort to get moving and to slow down, and Ender accepts that no matter what “I’ll be clumsy for a while.  Better get started”.  This is maybe the best advice we’ve yet seen in this entire book—the same wisdom for writers is usually phrased as “Everyone starts out with 10,000 bad pages in them, and the key to becoming a good writer is to get them out of you as fast as possible”.  There's our Not Horrible moment for the chapter.

In a return to the shuttle scenario, everyone has trouble coping with the lack of ‘down’ in zero-G and the constant reorientations as they move around the room.  Ender launches himself toward a wall and thinks he’s flying, but that’s unsettling to him, so:
Then he forced himself to change his view.  He was hurtling toward a wall.  That was down.  And at once he had control of himself.  He wasn't flying, he was falling.  This was a dive.
He still has no control while drifting, and so checks out the one tool he has, the blaster-looking thing holstered in the side of his suit.  We’re told it has a bunch of buttons, but Ender only tests the red one (focused beam) and the white one (lamp).  Spoiler alert: we’re never going to find out what the rest of those buttons do and no one’s every going to use the lamp function ever again.  The Swiss Army Laser has one purpose and that is shooting.  Having determined that he can’t manoeuvre with it, Ender loses interest and goes back to bouncing.  He launches haphazardly again on an impulse towards Alai.

Oh, Alai.  You’re sweet, but you obviously didn’t exist before this page and you’re a borderline Magical Negro.  Happy birthday.  Canonically, however, Alai is “Bernard’s best friend”, according to Ender.  You’ll recall that last chapter we were told that Ender’s cyberbullying had destroyed Bernard’s powerbase and only the most sadistic students were still loyal to him.  Presumably this should mean that Bernard’s “best friend” is the most sadistic of them all?  Nope.  Alai sees Ender is on a crash course and quickly acts to help him land safely on the wall, despite knowing that Ender and Bernard are ARCHNEMESES.
"That's good," Ender said.  "We ought to practice that kind of thing." 
"That's what I thought, only everybody's turning to butter out there," Alai said.  "What happens if we get out there together?  We should be able to shove each other in opposite directions."  [....]  "Let's push off before we run into that bunch." 
"And then let's meet over in that corner."  Ender did not want this bridge into the enemy camp to fail.
They succeed, though Ender has to rebound several times to catch up to Alai, and then shows what he's figured out about their lasers.
"What does it do when you aim at a person?" asked Alai. 
"I don't know." 
"Why don't we find out?" 
"Ender shook his head.  "We might hurt somebody." 
"I meant why don't we shoot each other in the foot or something.  I'm not Bernard, I never tortured cats for fun."
From the first time I read this book, this was a characterisation thing that bothered me.  Why is Alai friends with Bernard?  What possible connection do they have?  Bernard is a sadistic, bullying, presumably-white French Separatist, and Alai is a clever, compassionate, black Muslim.  (I'm pretty sure we never actually find out where he's from, beyond 'Africa or maybe the Middle East'.)  We have no evidence whatsoever that they share any interests or history.  The only way this can make sense to me at all is if Alai is used to being bullied and so has taken the preventative route of finding the dominant bully in the group and befriending him in order to ward off anyone else's attacks.  We have no evidence of this, either, but that just puts it on an even footing with any other explanation, and it would at least start to explain this.

Anyway.  The lasers are for laser tag, obviously, more specifically laser freeze tag:
"Shoot me in the foot." 
"No, you shoot me." 
"Let's shoot each other." 
They did.  Immediately Ender felt the leg of the suit grow stiff, immobile at the knee and ankle joints.
They decide to start their first 'war' by commencing fire on the other dozens of students, but Ender first says they should invite Bernard to join them .  Alai is surprised at first, and then Ender adds Shen as well.  And... my god.  I mean... look, I don't know what Card thought was going on here, but--is it supposed to be reclamatory usage indicating that this generation of children is truly 'postracial' but not so far advanced that they've forgotten racism used to be a thing?  Did it occur to Card that there's a problem when 'postracial' is largely defined by PoC not complaining about racism?  Does he--okay, fine, just--here's the dialogue:
"And Shen." 
"That slanty-eyed butt-wiggler?" 
Ender decided that Alai was joking.  "Hey, we can't all be niggers." 
Alai grinned.  "My grandpa would've killed you for that." 
"My great great grandpa would have sold him first." 
"Let's go get Bernard and Shen and freeze these bugger-lovers."

Honest to fuck I don't know what this is for.  Gritty realism?  The harmonious future in which racial slurs have been defused and become harmless as long as people know you're joking?  (Actually, plenty of people would argue that's the case now, so maybe it's not supposed to be futuristic.)  Are they bonding by testing boundaries?  Does it not seem like a problem to anyone in this postracial situation when the now-'harmless' racial slurs are still only directed at the black kid and the Chinese kid?  Battle School is supposed to be super-international and its slang borrows from languages all over the world and no one's got a choice epithet for whitey?  Gwailo?  Yaku?  Alai could easily know 'firanji'* at least?  If you're going to argue that equality comes about when everyone's not upset about racial slurs anymore, take your own goddamn medicine, Card.

Where were we.

When Dap arrives, Our Heroes are laughing themselves sick in the thick of the thirty-six other students, since apparently not even one other student in the class figured out how laser tag works in time to zap one of them, despite Ender telling us earlier that he and every other child on Earth have had toy guns "almost since infancy".  The element of surprise didn't just beat nine-to-one odds, but made it a perfect sweep.  Of course it did.  Dap unthaws everyone and tells them to stop whining that it was an unfair fight, since everyone had an equal amount of time to start figuring things out and it's their own fault for not firing first or something.  Sure, that seems reasonable.

In the aftermath, apparently, the rift is healed in their class, and there is no more Team Ender and Team Bernard, because Alai is friends with everyone, and Bernard now calms down when Alai tells him to.  I'm going to give this a pass on plausibility because it's a rare thing: Ender has resolved a conflict by reaching out to other people and befriending them instead of just being so awesome that they must repent, and there isn't a lot of that in this book.  They vote Alai their class leader by a landslide, "and everyone settled into the new pattern.  The launch was no longer divided into Bernard's in-group and Ender's outcasts.  Alai was the bridge."

And, finally getting back to what I mentioned earlier, all of this happened because Graff was ordered not to do what he wanted and pull Ender out early.  Ender found a solution that involved bonding with people and being, if not empathetic exactly, at least open to the possibility that they didn't have to fight for dominance.  As much as Ender has the potential to be a monster, he can be a healthy being too, if Graff doesn't get his way.  (And while Graff may think he's doing what he must for ruthless efficiency, Alai is in several ways key to Ender's Ascension and victory, so this was not merely healthy, but necessary to save the world.)

So finally we find Ender back in his bunk, playing 'the mind game' on his desk, an automatically-adapting adventure game that presents him with different environments and puzzles as he roams.  Ender has beaten all of the normal puzzles, of course--he always knows how to dodge the cat if he turns into a mouse, and he's tired of the ducks, so he heads outside and starts climbing the big green hills.  In a nice bit of imagery, the hills swell and crack and reveal a vast loaf of bread, and when he hops down off of it he's on an enormous dinner table surrounded by huge food.  He keeps telling himself he won't come back here, but he has yet again--the Giant appears and sets down two shot glasses for him to pick from, a guessing game that inevitably kills him in some creative way.

Ender tries kicking the Giant in the chin this time, but it proceeds with the game as usual--doesn't matter whether he's afraid or belligerent, he gets the same problem thrown at him.
"One is poison and one is not," said the Giant.  "Guess right and I'll take you into Fairyland." 
Everyone knows that no one gets to Fairyland.  I'm amused by the names that Ender checks when thinking about how infantile it probably is: "Mother Goose or Pac-Man or Peter Pan".  Given the most effective narrative for Pac-Man, I'm not sure it'll end up in the canon of children's stories of the future, but it was worth a shot.
Ender knew that whatever he chose he would die.  The game was rigged.  On the first death, his figure would reappear on the Giant's table, to plan again.  On the second death, he'd come back to the landslides.  Then to the garden bridge.  The to the mousehole.  And then, if he still went back to the Giant and played again, and died again, his desk would go dark, "Free Play Over" would march around the desk, and Ender would lie back on his bed and tremble until he could finally go to sleep.
This is one of those sections that is again actually written really well, both is the implications for Ender's psyche at this moment and the gruesomeness as the Giant, as promised, kills him over and over with each attempt.  He falters for a moment, but ultimately always comes back.
He stared at the two liquids.  The one foaming, the other with waves in it like the sea  He tried to guess what kind of death each one held.  Probably a fish will come out of the ocean one and eat me.  The foamy one will probably asphyxiate me.  I hate this game.  It isn't fair.  It's stupid.  It's rotten.
Ender kicks the glasses over, dodges the Giant's hands, leaps up into its face, and digs into its eye with his hands until it dies.  When it topples, the landscape has changed again to an elegant forest, and a bat flutters down to ask what he's doing here, since "Nobody ever comes here."  Ender gifts it a handful of whatever substance he dug out of the Giant, and it flies off, welcoming him to Fairyland.  He shuts the game off and tries to sleep.
He hadn't meant to kill the Giant.  This was supposed to be a game.  Not a choice between his own grisly death and an even worse murder.  I'm a murderer, even when I play.  Peter would be proud of me.
And now we're back to the part of Ender's education that Graff is totally onboard with, wherein at all times he must be pushed to kill people to protect himself.  (Also, Peter as the embodiment of all evils.  Would Peter actually be proud of Ender killing in self-defence?  That's not really Peter's schtick.  Peter would, in keeping with his current character, have found some way to dominate the Giant and then keep it around to bully to bolster his own ego, I think.)

Graff argues against allowing Ender to be in situations that reward diplomatic and constructive problem-solving, and fights to keep him in the ones where the game is rigged and murder is the only solution.  And, as Erika helpfully pointed out, we're supposed to believe that Peter was too sadistic to meet Graff's needs, but everything that Graff is pushing Ender towards is supposedly exactly what Peter is good at.  Who are we supposed to believe?  Is Ender wrong that Peter would be much better at Graff's tests?  Is Graff wrong that this is the training Ender needs in order to become a good leader?  If Peter was too sadistic to make a good leader, why is Graff trying to push Ender that way again and again?  He doesn't seem to be particularly concerned that he'll damage Ender's empathy permanently, despite rather a lot of evidence that Ender has been failing at empathy again and again.

Graff is a goddamn supervillain.


*If the internet is to be believed, this is an old Arabic word for the French, which in Egyptian was pronounced 'firangi', which is in turn where Gene Roddenberry got 'Ferengi', the race of conniving ultracapitalist jackasses.  Star Trek progressivism always used to be so hilariously over the top.  Those were better days.


  1. Graff is a supervillian, and Peter is the hero who could defeat him. Of course, Peter can't be a hero in the traditional "hero = good guy" sense, but think about it. The entity forcing Ender to choose between certain defeat and murder isn't the giant, because the giant doesn't exist. The entity forcing Ender to choose between certain defeat and murder is Graff. The reason Graff's mindfuckery works on Ender is that Ender, in the last analysis, is willing to buy what Graff has got to sell. What Graff has got to sell is the idea that the transcendence of a paradigm always involves death, either that of the transcender or of somebody else, and that deception (read: manipulation) is insufficient and won't cut it.* (Meanwhile Graff and his pal, if we're to judge on the basis of the evidence we're given, have decided to devote their lives to manipulating Ender, but that, too, is probably just one of those things which embiggens from the ceiling downwards. No one ever said that moral suasion has to make sense.)

    Peter would have no patience with any of this guff. Peter stands or falls by his ability to "fix" situations before they start to be threatening, not by overcoming threats when threats arise. Peter defines failure as allowing a threat to arise. Peter, faced with his brother's dilemma, would either A) find some way to reprogram the Mind Game, or B) do his best to mindfuck the giant (and, being Peter, he would probably succeed) or C) take extreme care to fail elaborately and publicly so that he could go home and get back to torturing animals. (Peter is arrogant, but he has no pride, and he's devoid of honor.) The best case scenario for Peter would be that he'd manage to turn Graff's weapons against him, pulling Graff's strings in such a manner that he (Graff) winds up demoralized enough to allow him (Peter) to live out his Battle School captivity like a young pasha surrounded by boy servitors who compete incessantly as to which of them can bring the Master the most hookers and blow. What Peter would most definitely not do, what Peter would never do, is condescend to play Graff's game, that game which is adopted by Ender, thereby becoming Ender's Game.

    This is my way of saying that I agree with the proposition that the reason Peter fails out of Battle Preschool is not that he's somehow a "worse" prospect than Ender is, but that the Battle School Dudes are afraid of him, as well they might be, because he's onto them, and they know it. Such is the theory of the bekabot.

    *Too "feminine"?

  2. Just wondering if Graff and the other unnamed person ever talk about anyone besides Ender. Yeah, I know this is all about Ender and how wonderful he is, and so of course all the adults would be agog about him, but there are other kids in the battle school, and it seems to be a little one sided if these guys spend all their time and attention on one kid.

  3. Ah, yes, the Giant's Drink. It is really frustrating for me that Ender killing the Giant is treated as something special, and that no one before him did it. I mean, seriously, "why don't you attack the Giant?" was pretty much the first thing that crossed my mind after the game was explained.

    Hell, many people would pass this test completely by accident since attacking an annoying NPC is a pretty common reaction to frustration in video games, even when you know you can't actually harm them.

    Then there is The Lord British Postulate: "If it exists as a living creature in an MMORPG, someone, somewhere, will try to kill it."
    Well, this game isn't a MMORPG, but Postulate applies for other games that allow fighting as well. I remember trying to kill Elminster in Baldur's Gates, then this annoying wizard who tried to steal my stuff that i honestly looted from Drizzt in Baldur's Gates II...

    Tl;dr: I fail to see what's so special about Ender's actions here.

    His reaction on this events is also very frustrating. I mean, it's a game. It's not like he threatened to kill the IT guys to make them fix the game. He just killed an annoying NPC, business as usual. I've killed children in Fallout II and caused the end of the world in a few other games, and I don't think it somehow makes me a monster.

    All in all, it's very melodramatic for little reason.
    Well, perhaps this game is a full immersion virtual reality, that would make Ender's reactions more understandable.

  4. Can't form an adequate response right now, but I love everything about this.

  5. I always read the racial-slur-interlude as little kids trying to mimic adults and showing how their mimicry of adults being tough is actually really sad, not actually tough. Then Card took out the slurs (I don't remember, off the top of my head, what the replacement insults were), so apparently he put them in there initially because he thought it was awesome, not because he was trying to make a point. :/

  6. @ Will Wildman

    Thank-you-very-much. {Curtsies.}

    (BTW, what is the proper form of address for an Over Lord? "Your Awesomeness?" I'm not trying to be obnoxious; I'd really like to know.)

  7. You'd have to ask Erika--it was only by a quirk of timing that my title wasn't Blog Queen. There have been female kings, so presumably there can be male queens other than in the colloquial sense. 'Your Awesomeness' does have a certain ring to it, but I don't know if my hair is spiky enough. (Also, here on SS&S you can feel free to use the reply function if you like.)

    I'm looking forward even more now to the chapters where we reunite with Valentine and Peter.

  8. Wow, so 'gritty realism' was about right? I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I've never seen an edition of the book without the slurs, so now I'll have to investigate the bookstore and see if this bit is different.

  9. Yeah, I hadn't really appreciated the depth of this either, because the book pushes really hard on the idea that this game is intuitive and adaptive so that players will get deeply invested and have strong reactions--thus 'the mind game', since it's really about psychologically analysing players. But in a world where kids are apparently playing with toy guns from day one, everyone has to see the video of the aliens coming to slaughter the world on a regular basis, and these kids are in a school that is explicitly telling them to toughen up and be soldiers because they have to fight the horde, everyone should be sooner or later trying to kill the Giant. Yes, all evidence is that the previous games were all about evasion and puzzles rather than aggression, but there are plenty of other obviously violent games in the school, like that very first one Ender played against the older students. "Undisciplined soldier attempts to solve problem using violence; pictures at eleven".

    Maybe it would have worked better if people tried to fight the Giant in a 'normal' way, draw your sword and try to figure out the puzzle-boss aspects of the fight, and Ender was the first one to drop his weapons and just go for the brutal eye attack with his bare hands--less in this case about 'you fought something that wanted to kill you' and more about 'holy fuck that is disgusting who would do a thing like that'.

  10. Well, in Ender's Shadow we at least hear them talking about the hero of that book on a regular basis...?

    I think our best hope is that they just have 15 minutes of scheduled Ender Time every day and the rest of the time they're doing other stuff. But the admiral's 'get me my commander or I have nothing to do' remark does not give me hope.

  11. Valentine and Peter are both interesting insofar as they operate as alternatives to Ender (or alternative versions of Ender) and as such suggest alternative endings to Ender's story. There's a heavy does of "alas-but-it-must-be-thus" mixed up in Ender's Game, the objective correlative of which is the fact that just about everybody in the darned book who isn't Ender seems to be more involved in Ender's life than he is and to exercise more agency than he does over the same. Valentine and Peter both operate as correctives to that in the sense that a reader can peer through them dimly and get a feel for a future in which choices still exist. They don't exist in Ender's Game because Ender's programming is so total. (Yet another thing which creeps me out about this book: we're all supposed to cheer and applaud.)

  12. I think the answer has to be that Ender first attacked the eye (AI RESPONSE: Grab avatar and pull legs off) but then kept burrowing into the brain (GRAB ERROR: "reach through eye" not found). Even then, seems like he got 'lucky'. Maybe this explains why he feels bad afterward? He claims he didn't mean to kill the Giant (a claim which sounds disturbingly like Graff, now that I type it out) so maybe it feels to him like he can kill people without even trying that hard. It could certainly bring up an unpleasant memory.

  13. NEW POST! NEW POST! *jazz hands*

    I don't even know what to say about the racial slurs; I'd like to hope that my original edition didn't have them (because I don't remember them), but it's just as possible that in my privilege I was all OH WELL, IF THE MAGICAL MINORITIES DON'T MIND THEN WHY SHOULD I. What the fuck, what the fuck.

    I additionally cannot articulate my feelings on (a) the boys shooting each other and then (b) shooting the other students. I am envisioning an alt-verse where they blew off each others' feet and/or rendered everyone din-dins for the buggers the school unleashed on them as their *actual* targets.

    I always found the Giant's Game simultaneously well-written (in that it had Pretty Descriptions in it) and poorly-written. As aptly noted above, it's complete BS that NO ONE EVER thought to kill the giant or even to kill it in that way. I think my brain hand-waved this at the time by saying that the other students thought it was a "kiddy game" or buggy and not worth playing. Yet either way we're left with this melodrama that Ender is THE BEST and the MOST SPECIAL and also VERY SENSITIVE (in that video game deaths REALLY affect him, whether it's his or the giant's). And yet he's not so demonstrably sensitive that he won't kill other kids, shoot off his own foot, etc.? It's all very inconsistent, and I feel like it's Empathy By Author Fiat. Does Ender ever WORRY about the victims he's left behind? No. Yet he's disturbed by his reaction to the Giant. I don't buy it as characterization -- it feels like apologia for what's coming.

    I love how much you point out, Will, how Peter is invoked. I'd not noticed that before and it's really blatant.

    [CN: Rape, Misogyny]

    And now let me breathe a sigh of relief that there aren't more girls in Ender's class:

    Girl: My grandmother would have killed you for calling her a cunt.

    Ender: My great grandfather would have raped and killed her for being one!

    *jovial laughter*


  14. Aashyma Never WouldJune 11, 2013 at 10:52 AM

    In India, "firangi" is used for white foreigners, usually Brits.

    (I have naught more to say except great job!)

  15. "Does Ender ever WORRY about the victims he's left behind? No. Yet he's disturbed by his reaction to the Giant. I don't buy it as characterization -- it feels like apologia for what's coming."

    Amen. I was going to add a short post about how I think the Giant's Drink episode is meant as foreshadowing, because really, whatever else you want to say about Ender's Game as an exercise in Galactic Epic Fail, at least as a story it's economical, and it contains few throwaway scenes. And the Giant's Drink episode feels so off-handed that the natural response of a suspicious person is to ask what it's excuse for being there is. So: the Giant's Drink episode has an excuse for being there if it's meant as a hint that the rules of the Enderverse say that deaths in games aren't always what they appear to be. Otherwise it's just taking up space to no purpose.

  16. Dazed and ConfusedJune 12, 2013 at 12:37 AM

    Spoilers of various varieties, including for sequels, below (is it required to warn for that sort of thing?):

    The episode serves a purpose in that this is not the last we'll see of this game. Ender continues to explore "fairyland" and eventually hits another seemingly impossible encounter which he finally solves by embracing his enemy instead of fighting it (after giving up in despair, foreshadowing both of the climactic battle scenes in which despair precedes the genius victory stroke), possibly a nod to the whole "love your enemy to understand them so you can kill them" thing?

    Besides foreshadowing, the mind game subplot seems to function primarily as a source of angst. Beginning with this scene, Ender repeatedly thinks he's reached a point in the game where he doesn't have to fight anymore and is repeatedly disappointed and thrown into another lethal struggle. One could read this as the game's AI (which we later find out has achieved sentience, but that only comes up in the Ender sequel plot line) reflecting Ender's mental state back at him and surmise that he is deeply unhappy with the whole ultimate chosen military commander thing.

    And later we find out that the buggers were listening in on the interaction between Ender and the mind game (called "Jane" once she becomes a character) via faster than light interplanetary wire tapping abilities (they magically knew that Ender, out of all the students playing the game, was the one to watch) and constructed a facsimile of the "fairyland" area, complete with decomposed giant's corpse turned into a hill/ house, on one of their colony worlds and placed an infant bugger queen in stasis there so Ender could go there, after he killed all the other queens, and restart the species.

  17. Thanks. It's been a long time since I read this book.

  18. I recently started a re-read of A Game of Thrones and I noticed a bit of a parallel between Ender and Jon Snow. In the chapters covering his training at the wall Jon is essentially positioned as the 'ostracized but awesome' person and he manages to build a social bridge to help reduce the ostracism, but there is less of a sense of narrative convenience to Jon's experience than there is in Ender's. For all that George R.R. Martin is thought of as torturing his characters, I actually think he comes across as the more humane author than Card in the comparison.

  19. Graff just wants his tactician to feel like every situation has to end with violence and to feel horrible about doing that violence, so that his tactician has easy triggers to manipulate, and that he doesn't start enjoying visiting violence, like Peter would. He is a goddamn villain.

    I'm also wondering how Ender and company are able to do all their work so well without someone catching on and starting to shoot back. If I recall correctly, Graff or someone else berates all the others as just stupid because they didn't start shooting each other with the weapons.

  20. Translation: Ender is the Wiggin Graff & Co. can jerk around, so they feel they're safer with him than they would be with his brother (or his sister). They (Graff & Co.) get Ender to invest in violence the way Mafiosi train up prospects to be blackmailable. After you make your first hit you're in, but you're also a marked man. Or something like that. (Ender's compassionate/violent nature means he's principally blackmailable by himself and not by other people, but the principle is the same.) Peter might be moved to get rid of the Buggers Formics for his own reasons, ditto Valentine (though her reasons would be different) but they might also, for their own reasons, again different in both cases, be moved to get rid of Graff & Co. Therein inheres the danger: Graff & Co. won't stand for that.

    "'I knew I'd be acquitted,' said Graff." (Or, again, something like that. I've been re-reading the book, but not closely.)

    See, that's knowledge Graff would have been deprived of if he'd chosen Peter as his instrument or even if he'd chosen Valentine. Either one of them is capable of destroying Graff right along with the Buggers Formics. Peter would bring Graff down out of a devotion to tidiness and Valentine out of righteous wrath, but cleanliness is next to Godliness, after all. Only Ender would turn inward and mope and mosey off into the Black. (Valentine heads in the same direction but she does it in order to keep her brother company.)

    Ender is the One because he's such a good fall guy; that's a role both Peter and Valentine would resist. Graff & Co. want tenure and for them Ender's the One because he's the One who can fix that for them.

  21. Card discusses the racial slurs on his website:
    I'm not sure exactly what kind of warning to put on this link apart from "justification of use of racial slurs in dialogue", but, well, expect to be repeatedly called a "prude" for objecting to this sort of thing. He says the idea of the scene was that Ender teaches Alai not to use racial slurs on his friend Chen by showing him he'd get a racial slur in return.

  22. I like how Card more or less compares himself to Shakespeare in that piece. And no, it didn't come across that Ender was trying to show that Alai was a racist by using a racial slur himself, if that was what Card was trying to convey in the scene, so the scene was a failure.

  23. Oh, brilliant. Thanks for linking that--it might get its own shorter post just to give it space to examine all of the wrong.

  24. Hmmm. I'm kind of puzzled here by Card's presentation of the games, particularly the video games, and how it relates to Ender's morality. I mean, the morality of games and the morality of real life are often not the same.

    I play a fair amount of video games. Many many times in games I have done terrible things-- a lot of the games encourage it. Practically every RPG features the ability to break into anyone's house at any time, smash their things, and steal their stuff. Some games you can go on killing sprees and murder everyone in town. Sometimes this is done deliberately, but a lot of times you're really just testing the game to see what it will and will not let you do.

    Point being... you can do terrible violent things in a video game that you would never want to do in real life, because you are playing by a different set of rules. And being willing or even enjoying violent or immoral acts in a game doesn't mean you are a violent immoral person.

    The mind game here seems to be a simulation to test problem-solving skills, like a very advanced choose-your-own-adventure. Ender reaches a point that seems like it is impossible to beat, but really he just needed to approach the problem in a different way. This is perfectly fine as a setup to the idea that Ender is good at thinking outside the box, but it makes no sense to say that because Ender is willing to see what other options the game will allow him to do (like killing the giant) he's inherently violent and murderous. It's also a bit odd that a simulation game designed to have many many possible outcomes and solutions would not involve some kind of diplomacy/workaround outcome.

    Also, I flatly refuse to believe that no one else thought of this solution before Ender. An unbeatable puzzle is like candy to many gamers. If all the kids in Battle School are as bright as they're supposed to be, I imagine they would have tried every possible option, and failing that, they probably would have hacked the game or looked into the source code for possible glitches. Like, there would easily be an entire group of kids probably focused on beating this one puzzle and networking on possible solutions.

    It's almost like Card doesn't actually play video games, or understand how many gamers think. Kind of like he also doesn't seem to understand how kids think. :/

  25. I think it's more of a mis-speculation on Card's part. Ender's Game was originally published in 1985 (and obviously was written in the years prior to that), so it predates the vast majority of classic games--it's older than the first Final Fantasy and Phantasy Star. It came out the same year as The Bard's Tale, and when Card was writing Ender's Game, Donkey Kong was about as cutting-edge to him as Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is to us. So I can see how he might not fully predict the kleptomaniac hero that would become an industry standby, or the levels of realistic violence that most people are totally cool with in their games.

    But the insistence that Ender is the only one who would ever try to kill the Giant (the only proto-soldier EVER to do this in many years of the school) is indeed ridiculous. I am legitimately looking forward to seeing what the movie does with it.

  26. Hmmm. Maybe. But a lot of the quirks of gaming happen in other communities as well with niche interests. There are entire conventions on puzzle-solving, for example, for people who are really into that, or the mathematicians who are determined to solve some impossible proof. I think to some extent hammering away at the impossible is just human nature. Games make it easier because they present us with more problems in increasingly varied or improbable situations, but human reactions to games are not really anything new. I mean, sports fans and sports pools have been around for ages, and those communities react in a lot of the same ways as gamers.

    I think Card just doesn't know as much about people as he assumes. I mean, whatever the medium used, if you're looking for tacticians for your army, you are looking for someone who can outthink the enemy. And that means someone who is going to approach problems (any problem) creatively and look outside the bounds of the scenario you give them. Since the goal of Battle School seems to be to find this really good leader/tactician/general to wipe out the Formics, you'd think they would have any number of clever candidates who would take that approach to the games presented.

  27. Is the title of this post really supposed to say "part one"?

  28. I guess not--there was a possibility that it would be continued with a further discussion of the racism and the editing thereof, but that got appended to the start of chapter seven instead.

  29. Thanks. Fascinating series of posts. Great stuff.

  30. This is a fantastic post.

    "Firanji" has me thinking about the Thai word "farang" (or "falang" since both "L" and "R" are approximations of the sound in Thai, which is in between.) Seems like they must be related.

    "Farang" is also a fruit, but when I was a kid I thought they were tonally different, ergo different words...two seconds of internet searching say probably not. The term is rude, but I don't know that it's really a slur...depends on context I suppose. I knew it meant white person, but I never really thought about how you'd almost certainly need a different word to insult, say, Tongans or Nigerians or whatever.

  31. I can pretty much believe of Ender and Alai that they would use insults and slurs as part of bonding rituals; that's pretty common in groups like this. It doesn't make it harmless; it's still an insult, just also more than that. Regardless, we're not buddies with them, and I think it's irresponsible and clueless for Card to put that stuff in a YA book especially. No reason not to just make up insults that fit Ender's world better.

  32. That was awesome! I kind of wish I was reading the books (though that probably won't happen) so I can say something smarter than just gaping in awe. :D

  33. Awesome post as ever. I don't know why this book (well your reading of it) leaves me so unsettled. I think it's the ideas that Card is trying to push, mainly: Survival = Murder and no way around it. I think that's why I enjoyed the Hunger Games so much. I am working on a Dystopian YA with a similar premise (about war and violence and such), but I'll probably go for a more... diplomatic moral/solution something about balancing it out. Even 50 shades doesn't leave me that... uncomfortable, really.

  34. For some reason I can't view my comments on your pieces, so instead of editing I am writing a new one, so sorry for the spam, but that Pac man narrative - God, was the inherently creepy as well!

  35. I had always assumed that nobody else had tried killing the Giant because the player character at that point is a mouse. When I first read Ender's Game as a kid, I was big into playing home computer games, most of which were either by Infocom or Sierra. "Try to kill the irritating NPCs" was not really a thing that was on my radar, and trying to kill an NPC a few thousand times bigger and stronger than me would never have occurred to me. Granted, I was not a boy genius being trained as a military leader, but the state of home computer games at the time made Ender's attack on the Giant one of the more shocking events in the story to me, and it's still one of the few things I remember from the Battle School part of things that wasn't in the Battle Room.

  36. My copy of Ender's Game says
    "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."

  37. Yeah that's what mine says too! I'm more than a little appalled at the original version. :(