Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fifty Shades intermission, in which the truth of the universe is unveiled

Hello faithful readers!  It's Will here, filling in with revelations about the underlying nature of reality while Erika is busy winning at NaNoWriMo harder than normal people have any right to do.  (I started strong and then ran into philosophical problems with NaNo that I might blog about later.)  The point of the matter is that Fifty Shades Darker is over and before my co-blogger dives into the infinite abyss of book three, we thought I should take the time to explain exactly what fell sorcery has caused this hideous series to outsell basically everything that wasn't supposedly written by the God of Abraham.

The situation we've got is this: a truly terrifying book has captured the attention of millions of otherwise apparently reasonable people.  It has sparked obsession, despite comprising a supremely boring first book followed by an offensively-bad second part.  It tells the story of a normal person who meets a terrifying monster of unlimited power who swiftly acts to consume her entire life and bring about the downfall of anyone who opposes him.

I'm not actually talking about Fifty Shades.

In 1895, a man named Robert Chambers published a collection of art-nouveau short stories.  They varied in style and genre and subject matter, but most of them had one thing in common: the presence of a book within the story, a play that gave the whole collection its name--The King In Yellow.

A great deal of mystery surrounds the titular play, but there are a handful of facts: it is everywhere, on everyone's shelf, and its first act seems relatively mundane, only for the second act to unleash its full devastating horrors upon the unsuspecting reader.  Those who finish reading the play are reduced to broken husks of themselves, unlikely to survive long, as the fundamental truths of reality swim through their minds and their very souls are captured by the tattered King.

Chambers' works inspired HP Lovecraft, famed father of the genre of sothothic horrors (and world champion bigot).  Through many of his stories we are introduced to the cults of the elder gods, ruined people who have given up their spirits and sanity in worship of evil powers.  From this, we can begin to understand what really happened with Fifty Shades.

The first book tells the story of a young woman who meets a lone cultist who has sacrificed every ounce of virtue in exchange for phenomenal power.  His ethereal glamour charms everyone he meets; his compelling voice wears at their defiance; his turgid wang shatters their soul into a million pieces with every badonk.  This warlock has broken from his cult and now seeks his own thralls.  Our Heroine seems to escape in the end--but it always seems like they escape, don't they?  Hope is delicious.

The only explanation that makes sense to me is that EL James was possessed by an eldritch horror from outside of time and space.  It's well-established that reading the mysterious tomes of the elder gods drives people to madness and helps said gods anchor themselves to the world.  In the old days, they passed around secret tomes in hopes that sufficiently talented people would be enticed to draw them into reality, but this is the era of mass production.  Fifty Shades brought us the greatest revolution in apocalyptic writing of all time--eldritch fanfiction.

Part one baits the trap.  Part two snaps its jaws shut.

It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterwards with more awful effect.
--"The Repairer of Reputations" (from The King In Yellow)

Fifty Shades of Grey ends with Ana escaping Grey and all of his wretched powers, but anyone who reads Chambers' book knows you don't escape the tattered King.  Having written the happiest ending that could be hoped for, EL James was ultimately compelled by forces beyond human understanding or sympathy to continue the story, to entangle Ana once again in an incomprehensible labyrinth of plot confusion and hopelessness in which she finally surrenders her freedom to the implacable all-reaching power of the evil warlock that has chosen her as his prey.  She's happy.  SHE'S SO HAPPY NOW.

And that, dear readers, is the truth of the world.  This book isn't good.  It wasn't meant to be good.  It was meant to insinuate itself into the world, to wrap its tentacles around as many minds as it could and strain them until the weight of rage, confusion, and confusing-rage-sex overwhelms the walls of the universe and brings it through.

And it is winning.

As yet, brave Erika is holding onto her sanity, but you can understand why she's not going to take on Fifty Shades Freed with quite the same intensity as the first two books.  The King In Yellow only had two acts.  We don't even know what kinds of evils the third might try to unleash.

(Fortunately, Erika makes excellent SAN rolls.  Her first Call of Cthulhu character saw an elder god manifest and destroy an entire town, comprehended its appearance, rolled a 100-sided die, and it came up 5.  A sight that should have obliterated a normal person barely fazed her.  For the moment we have hope.)

(Hope is delicious.)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter seven, part three, in which middle schoolers are just too old to keep up with the young folks

And now: the conclusion.

(Content: physical abuse.  Fun content: by the grace of Bastet we actually reach the end of this chapter.)

Ender's Game: p. 85--96

This is the bit where Alai saves Ender, and maybe the world.

Okay, that's overstating things, but follow me: Ender has just been informed that he isn't allowed to train with his new team, because his commander resents him and considers him a liability.  Petra is offering Ender some very useful training, but Ender on his own can't exactly train to be an amazing soldier.  This is the position that Graff would have put him in weeks ago, if not for Levy insisting that Ender stay in his launch group until he resolved the conflicts there.  Alai was the one who really resolved that, by resolutely being friends with both Ender and Bernard and so forcing them to be on the same team.  Without that, Ender would be completely adrift right now.  No one ever goes back to their launch group once they leave, we're told.

Ender goes back to his launch group to train with Alai.
"Hey, the great soldier returns!" said Bernard.  Ender stood in the doorway of his old barracks.  He'd only been away for a day, but already it seemed like an alien place, and the others of his launch group were strangers.  Almost he turned around and left. But there was Alai, who had made their friendship sacred.  Alai was not a stranger.
Every other kid in the group, whom Ender was last dorming with 24 hours earlier, is a stranger, but Alai is a friend.  Alai and Petra are basically only Ender's only two connections with humanity right now.  Otherwise who knows what state Ender would be in.  Unless Graff planned that Petra and Alai would be there to offer Ender friendship, to help him despite the obstruction of his abusive commander, he's basically gambled everything for no particular reason.  Not only is he a supervillain in his methods, he has the incompetency to match.  And it wouldn't have worked, if not for those meddling kids.

Ender admits to his old classmates that he's useless compared to the older student/soldiers, and offers to train with them instead, practicing the techniques he saw while sitting in the corner during Salamander practice.  A bunch of them are eager to sign up, and do.  Naturally, Bonzo hears about it instantly and snaps on him when Ender returns to his barracks, forbidding him to spend time with them again.  Ender requests to speak with him privately: It was a request that commanders were required to allow.  Not sure how that
counts as a 'request', but I guess it's a military thing in which everything is at least nominally under full control of the CO.
"Listen, Wiggin, I don't want you, I'm trying to get rid of you, but don't give me any problems or I'll paste you to the wall." 
A good commander, thought Ender, doesn't have to make stupid threats.
I wonder how to reconcile Salamander's supposed rising-star status with the way Ender and the narrative continue to harp on how bad Bonzo is as a leader.  Is he supposed to be tactically adept but have reached his limit (at his current 60% win rate) because he's held back by his own flaws?  Do his methods work in the short term but fail in the long term because he squanders the talent and potential loyalty of his soldiers?  Or are we supposed to be unimpressed by the 60% win rate and consider Salamander's supposed rise to be purely the fiction in Bonzo's head?  I can't decide.

Anyway: out in the hall, Ender admits that he's a bad soldier but insists he will keep practicing with his friends.  Bonzo is having none of it ("You'll do what I tell you, you little bastard.") but Ender points out that by the school rules no orders can be given regarding Free Play time, even by commanders.
He could see Bonzo's anger growing hot.  Hot anger was bad.  Ender's anger was cold, and he could use it.  Bonzo's anger was hot, and so it used him.
Ender's anger also smells like honey and cinnamon and improves cell phone reception in a fifty-metre radius.  I'm open to any indication as to how Ender is 'using his anger' right now.   Courage to not back down?  It's a little weird to me that Ender has suddenly taken this new reasonable manipulative stance, but I'm going to credit it to Alai showing him how talking can be used to solve problems instead of murder.

They continue to stare each other down.  Ender argues that if he trains with his launchies, he'll be easier to trade away, and ultimately claims that if Bonzo tries to interfere with his free play Ender will get him removed from command.  He thinks he's bluffing, but then he considers how rapidly he's been promoted to full soldier and concludes that the teachers think he's special, thus maybe he can get preferential treatment after all.  Ender seems to have forgotten that Graff subscribes to the Agoge Model of elementary school.

For a final backhand, Ender tells Bonzo that it's his own fault for giving a bad order where everyone could hear it, but offers to pretend to have lost the argument and allow Bonzo to pretend it's his own idea to rescind the order the next day.  Ender either fails to realise that honor-hound Bonzo will consider this an insult, or doesn't care because the important thing is that he is so smart and right that Bonzo has no choice but to agree.  Ender was all about building bridges with Bernard a few weeks ago, but his new commander can apparently eat his Chosen shorts.  He does at least read the anger on Bonzo's face, and struggles to understand why:
Maybe it seemed to Bonzo as if Ender were granting his command as a favor.  Galling, and yet he had no choice.  No choice about anything.  Well it was Bonzo's own fault, for giving Ender an unreasonable order.  Still, he would only know that Ender had beaten him, and then rubbed his nose in it by being magnanimous. 
"I'll have your ass someday," Bonzo said. 
"Probably," said Ender.
It's not Ender's fault that everyone is always so smart and right all the time!  Why do people have to be mad when he calmly explains that they're stupid?  They just don't UNDERSTAND.  (I'm not even sure what the 'probably' is supposed to mean.  Is that also Ender trying to be generous/patronising?  Or is he sincerely expecting to get beaten?  He's not displaying any fear, despite being as vulnerable to bullying as ever.  Ender just grew a massive exoskeletal spine enhancement in this scene for some reason.)

As agreed, Bonzo loudly withdraws his order the next day on the pretense of getting Ender transferred faster, then whispers more threats, but Ender's confidence remains--he watches Salamander practice, then goes and trains with his launchies, then lies in bed thinking to himself that he actually will succeed in Battle School as his muscles unknot.  Boy's seven, and his life until two months ago was average.  Does he even have muscles?  Anyway.  We catch up with them two days later, for Ender's first match, Salamander versus Condor.  BATTLEROOM TIME, GAME FACES ON, THIS IS THE PART WHERE IT GETS REAL.
When they came to the place where the battleroom had always been, the corridor split instead with green green brown leading to the left and black white black to the right.  Around another turn to the right, and the army stopped in front of a blank wall. 
The toons formed up in silence.  Ender stayed behind them all.  Bonzo was giving his instructions.  "A take the handles and go up.  B left, C right, D down. [....] And you, pinprick, wait four minutes, then come just inside the door.  Don't even take your gun off your suit."
The blank wall vanishes (Ender is not at all surprised by the existence of forcefields--that's a bit of worldbuilding that the later books are incredibly inconsistent about) and through they go.  For anyone who's been wondering how the hell laser tag works in a big empty room, we now are introduced to 'stars', huge blank cubes that hover exactly in place in the battleroom and act as terrain.  Ender watches with fairly withering contempt as Salamander moves out, showing excellent technique but no tactical sense.  They simply move from star to star, assaulting and pushing the enemy back wherever, instead of sliding along the walls to better positions and skipping unnecessary stars.  (Sounds like basically every random player-versus-player battleground in every MMO ever, so, prescience points to Card?  Except that any PvP team with actual coordination does better than that.)  Condor happily gives ground to the Salamander in what might be called the 'never get into a land war in Asia' strategy: they constantly withdraw, wiping out Salamanders on the reckless offence while protecting their own.

Four minutes in, Ender drifts through the door and casually revolutionises the game.

The door is apparently normally set level with the 'floor' of the battleroom, but for games it's set in the middle of the wall.  As Ender reorients to zero-G, he realises that there is no longer any way to tell which way was 'up' in the corridor outside, nor does it matter: For now Ender had found the orientation that made sense.  The enemy's gate was down.  The object of the game was to fall toward the enemy's home.

Battle School has been running for years, definitely decades.  There are retired soldiers now who went to Battle School back in the day.  And out of all those people, ever, only Ender Wiggin has ever thought to imagine a different orientational reference frame for fighting in zero-G.  It is perhaps possible that someone has thought it up before, but many of Ender's advances will be quickly adopted by the rest of the students, such as the kneeling assault position (legs protecting body) that he immediately invents to make use of the 'downward to the enemy' orientation.

Ender is spotted and shot, but his folded legs take the hit, leaving his body mobile, and since he was ordered not to fire back, he's assumed to be frozen.  Condor continues to mop up, now outnumbered the Salamanders.  Petra, certified badass, shreds their formations but gets spotted as a major threat and can't avoid the focused fire of the entire opposing team:
They froze her shooting arm first, and her stream of curses was only interrupted when they froze her completely and the helmet clamped down on her jaw. 
 Is it just me or does that sound like a great way to cause hideous injury by causing someone to bite their own tongue?)

Condor wins with only the minimum five soldiers needed to complete the ending ritual: four soldiers touch their helmets to the corners of the enemy door and a fifth one flies through.  Ender still had his arms free, could have fired on them and forced it into a draw, and everyone realises this when they check the post-battle stats, but Bonzo doesn't care.  There is much chatter in the mess hall about how Salamander lost with a soldier only damaged, not disabled.  Bonzo ignores Ender for the rest of the day, until the next morning when he just reiterates that Ender will follow orders (which is exactly what Ender's been telling everyone who asks).  Ender silently rages at Bonzo for letting his honor overrule the path to victory, but he obeys, and Salamander easily wins their next two matches--it turns out Condor was one of the better teams.  Ender keeps training with launchies, who improve, but obviously:
Ender and Alai stayed ahead of them, though.  In part, it was because Alai kept trying new things, which forced Ender to think of new tactics to cope with them.  In part it was because they kept making stupid mistakes, which suggested things to do that no self-respecting, well-trained soldier would even have tried.  Many of the things they attempted turned out to be useless.
The whole point, we are told, of having young children in Battle School is that they need the creativity of a child in their strategies.  It seems very weird to me that in this school full of creative genius kids, there is a terrible stolidness that stifles creativity out of all the veteran soldiers, who are thus rigid and set in their ways by age eight.  I realise it would be challenging to write a school where everyone acted like they are actually as smart as we are told they are, but that's the author's problem to deal with, not the reader's to justify.

Ender's birthday comes 'round; they fit him for a new flash suit and send him back to his barracks.  He thinks about stopping by Petra's bunk to talk about their respective birthday traditions, but doesn't.  No one talks about birthdays; that's a "landsider" thing.  The juxtaposition of this bit, with Ender having already abandoned the idea of birthdays after only a few months because of school culture, might be interesting as it follows Alai and Ender and their creativity--it's quite reasonable that an oppressive environment would stifle people from speaking up and bringing in new ideas, but if it really is happening that fast with new recruits, the school administrators suck and they are failing Earth.  (Tangentially, while Alai becomes a soldier someday too, we'll never hear about his career, victories, command, anything, despite having been told many times now that he's basically Ender's creative and strategic equal.  Even a paragraph would be something.)

Ender's fourth game comes up, against the relatively new Leopard Army.  Their leader is "young", whatever that means, and so they are low-ranked but unpredictable, and they out-reckless Salamander by moving around the outside walls of the room to flank from every side.  Bonzo, and thus his soldiers, are confused and panicked, and Ender observes that while the two sides are losing people at equal rates, Salamander feels defeated:
They had surrendered the initiative completely.  Though they were still fairly evenly matched with the enemy, they huddled together like the last survivors of a massacre, as if they hoped the enemy would overlook them in the carnage.
Up until now, it's been implied that Bonzo's great strength has been his soldiers' discipline, their resolute skillful performance even in the face of danger or defeat.  Not sure where that went today.  The author giveth and the author taketh away to make a point.

Ender drifts out into the corner and freezes his own legs (in a shielding position) so he looks defeated like the first time.  Leopard finishes off Salamander and has nine left to take the door--Ender starts sniping them and gets five before they hit his arm, leaving them one short to finish the match.  It's a draw; everyone outside Salamander praises Bonzo for his ambush plan; Bonzo hates Ender for saving him from his own failures.  All Bonzo had to teach Ender, he decides, is how to fail with style.*
What have I learned so far?  Ender listed things in his mind as he undressed by his bunk.  The enemy's gate is down.  Use my legs as a shield in battle.  A small reserve, held back until the end of the game, can be decisive.  And soldiers can sometimes make decisions that are smarter than the orders they've been given.
This is an interesting list.  Most of the points are highly relevant--'the enemy's gate is down' are of course the arc words of the book; sacrificial shields will be key to all of the most important battles (except Bonzo himself), and the small reserve can (if you really want to reach, but it's important) be applied to the epilogue of the book.  The only thing that I think we'll never see happen is a soldier under Ender make decisions smarter than the order given.  Perhaps the idea is that Ender has learned the lesson and so tries to only ever give orders that won't restrict his soldiers from using their own smarts, but without that happening it seems to me like the actual lesson is 'Ender can make smarter decisions than his superiors'.**
Naked [drink!], he was about to climb into bed when Bonzo came toward him, his face hard and set.  I have seen Peter like this, thought Ender, silent with murder in his eye.  But Bonzo is not Peter.  Bonzo has more fear.
I'm guessing that's supposed to highlight that Bonzo has actual insecurity about Ender's overwhelming awesomeness, while Peter remains the implacable spectre of evil.  Wevs.  Bonzo has successfully traded Ender to Rat Army--by virtue of Ender's borderline non-participation in the games, Ender has never been fully frozen in combat and has never missed a shot, so his performance stats are through the roof.  Ender tries to be gracious, so Bonzo slaps him across the face, then gut-punches him and rebukes Ender for disobeying orders.
Even as he cried from the pain, Ender could not help but take vengeful pleasure in the mumurs he hears rising through the barracks.  You fool, Bonzo.  You aren't enforcing discipline, you're destroying it.  They know I turned defeat into a draw.  And now they see how you repay me.  You made yourself look stupid in front of everyone.  What is your discipline worth now?
Look, spoilers, but Ender will continue to follow basically all of his orders for the rest of the book and it is exactly that disciplined obedience that results in the final tragedy of the story.  This makes no sense as part of the narrative arc except as a side-story about how much Bonzo sucks and how much he hates Ender for being better.  This is yet again what it means to be 'so good they can't ignore you'--the ones who are bothered find a different way to take it out on you.  And then you go read a book about a really smart kid who gets to lash out and beat down his enemies and be awesome and it's not his fault.

(Once again Ender takes no possessions when he transfers, but at least this time the narrative acknowledges that there aren't any possessions.)

To make the point clear, the chapter closes with Ender registering for "an earth-gravity personal combat course [....] He didn't plan to get vengeance on Bonzo for hitting him.  But he did intend that no one would be able to do that to him again."  Now Ender is not only mentally superior to everyone who hates him, but he will learn how to take them on in a fistfight too.  I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure if they don't have a montage at this point in the movie the executive producer goes to jail.

Chapter seven comes to an end!  The chapters are pretty much all this long from here on out--how do y'all feel about the pace?  Personally I kind of wanted to maintain one chapter per post, but at the current rate we should finish just before the movie is released, which seems like good timing, so I'll probably keep this up (10-15 pages of the book per post) or do shorter posts (5-7 pages) on a weekly basis.  Sound off in the comments!


*This is a little funny to me given that there are several times in the book when Ender will indeed choose to fail with style--he just won't actually fail because he's got so much style.

**It would be kind of an epic turnaround at the end if Ender refused to follow the order that would exterminate the Formics, but that would ruin Card's thesis of 'morality is all about intention and thus you can finagle an innocent genocide'.  I don't suppose anyone's ever written a sort of Luminosity-esque Ender's Game fanfic in which Ender actually shows his super-empathy throughout and makes better decisions?  That would be awesome.  Get on it, internet.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Punching Upwards: Rape and Comedy

I have been trying to write this post for years. Years. It was getting to the point that I feared it may be my own book about Dresden. I have read this post over, edited it, and tweaked it, more than anything else I have ever written. When the whole controversy with Tosh happened, I thought to myself Okay self, it is time. We are going to sit down and write this. And then I tried and everything I wrote just sounded so generic and fluffy and uhhhgggghhhh. So I decided to let it ferment for a while longer. Then I saw Sady Doyle's incredible articles about comedian Sam Morril and saw the shit storm over that and once again I thought to myself, Self, it is time to get this shit done. I've been sitting on this, tweaking and massaging it, for months since doing so.

I started in the same place I always did, why it was such an important topic to me, and my own complicated relationship with shock humor. If I had a mantra that I repeated to myself in hard times, it would be "Sometimes you either need to laugh or cry. Might as well laugh." That phrase, and the philosophy that goes with it, has carried me through some dark times, and enabled me to navigate some difficult problems and situations without pissing too many people off. Humor has enabled me to look at the darkest parts of the world around me, make sense of them, and then talk about them without traumatizing anyone too much. Humor is practically a way of life for me, and the darker a thing is, the more likely I am to have (at least to myself) been cracking jokes about it. I do feel I need to say this, but I realize now I don't want that to be the focus.

I looked at Mr. Morril's response. Everything about it depressed and bugged me, but nothing quite so much as his blatant appeal to authority of "I know comedy and you don't." That was where I wanted to start. I'm not a comedian, but I definitely write comically, can I declare myself a reasonable enough authority on the topic to override him? I wasn't sure, so I talked to my sister who's worked in comedy. I asked her thoughts on rape and humor and then harassed her for a comment because that's normal between sisters right?

To quote her,

"From my limited time working in comedy, people who rely on rape jokes for their big laughs have a shock in the place of a punchline.
Though I've heard some funny rape jokes, it's never at the expense of the victim."

Well, she is my sister, I shouldn't be surprised her views are similar to my own. She then reminded me that I actually know a stand-up comedian, and that he's gotten formal training from Second City. So I fired off a quick message asking his thoughts on the topic. I was a little worried, this wasn't someone I knew well, and I've seen people I thought were perfectly reasonable turn interesting colors at the mere mention of the topic of rape's relationship in comedy. My fear was totally misplaced. Maddox Campbell's* response nearly just got copy and pasted in its entirety for this article, but that felt like cheating. Here is some of it.

"It is important that nothing is sacred in comedy. Comedy is more than levity. It is, or at least can and should be, a means of talking about serious or uncomfortable issues without everyone getting their mental and emotional defenses up.
It also allows us to raise an important political issue to mind without being too straight-forward or preachy. So, writing jokes about rape is not belittling the seriousness of the subject, it’s doing the opposite. It’s saying, “I only have five minutes on this stage that I’ve waited all week to get on and competed with other comics to get and I’ve decided rape is worth discussing.”"

Obviously, that is not the only stance to take on the topic (and sadly not all comedians look at rape as "something worth discussing") but it articulates many of my own feelings well. I asked him if at comedy school they talked about rape jokes, he told me that they were too protective of their image to ever QUITE go there, but he did offer this:

"The basic rule when dealing with any touchy topic is "Don't make fun of the victim." Which is pretty obvious and also more about keeping the audience on your side. Also, if a character is the victim of a scene, they should win in the end of the scene. A general rule would definitely apply any one trying to do a scene about rape."

I've said for a while that there are two types of rape jokes. Ones that ask the audience to laugh at the victim, or the act of victimizing someone. They ignore the fact that by doing so, we're further victimizing them.

EX: My girlfriend told me "REAL men don't rape" I told her "REAL women do as their fucking told" 


Then there is the second type of rape joke, the one that makes me think that rape (or any topic) should never be taken off the table when it comes to comedy. The rape jokes that make fun of the rapist, the society around rape, and rape culture as a whole. The ones that tell victims "We see you, and we see what bullshit you're going through":

EX: We need more rape jokes. We really do. 
I love that some people applauded that. Needless to say, rape, the most heinous crime imaginable. Seems it’s a comic’s dream, though. Because it seems that when you do rape jokes that like the material is so dangerous and edgy. But the truth is it’s like the safest area to talk about in comedy. 'Cause who’s going to complain about a rape joke? Rape victims? They don’t even report rape. 
--Sarah Silverman 

As I quoted above, comedy, at its best, should be a means to talk about the difficult and the dark to challenge people to think about it. Comedy should be a means of saying "No! I will not let this drop!" It is a way to try togame a system that tries to silence people. When people try to speak up against things that rub against people's privilege they're met with backlash of people getting defensive. If we make jokes about it, however, people don't get defensive, and suddenly we can talk about it. It's powerful. Comedy is powerful. Always supporting any rape joke because of free speech (which is not what that means--I'll get into that more at the end) is supporting rape culture. Sure, make jokes about horrible things, but when the people who are affected by these things step up and say "This is not okay" we need to listen. Rape victims are already silenced aggressively enough, do we really want to perpetuate that?

Yes, we're getting into rape culture now. 1 in 4 women are raped. Think about that for a moment. 50% of women in Canada will be abused in some form and there's a huge overlap in the men who rape women, and the men who abuse them. When comedians make jokes about how funny it is for women to get raped, get put in their place, get beaten, they ignore the epidemic levels this problem is at and they condone it. By condoning it, they perpetuate it. People will pay lip service to "everyone knows domestic violence is bad! It's just a joke!"  But here's the thing: it keeps happening. We as a society choose to look away, because it's none of our business what goes on in the privacy of people's homes, after all. So now we have a society where not only do we not interfere with domestic violence, we make jokes that are effectively condoning it, even if that isn't their intention.

Rape culture is a problem, and there's the commonly bantered around myth that "all feminists think men are rapists".  If that were true, it would make my marrying a man when I'm a bisexual woman a very bizarre choice (seriously, why the hell wouldn't I just date women exclusively?) but the sad fact is that it isn't feminists who think all men are rapists. It's the rapists that do. Seriously, go read that link. I'll wait.

People normalize their behavior. They assume everyone is stealing company stationery (or whatever their own naughty behavior they think everyone indulges in is) and it's no big deal. They assume even if other people aren't stealing stationery, they won't care because it's so minor. In this case rapists assume that their male*** peers are also predators, when in fact it is approximately 1 in 20 men. "Wait, but you said it was 1 in 4 women, right?" yup, which means the average rapist will assault 5 women in his life (about 85% of which will be known to him). So think about it next time you're in a room where there are 20 men, and we'll assume 20 women. One of those men is a rapist, probably, and 5 of those women are survivors of rape (while 5 more of some other stroke of abuse). When you make a joke about rape, you are 1) probably triggering those 5 survivors (and maybe those 5 abuse survivors, too), and 2) telling that 1 rapist in the room that you've got his back. You're confirming his assumption that it isn't just him, everyone does it. If not that, you are at least telling him "Yeah, I'll turn away and assume she was just drunk, regretted it, and called rape after the fact". If you've ever uttered that phrase, consider the social backlash women are met when they talk about having been raped, and maybe have a look at this infograph of how many rapists face any sort of legal consequence.

So what are we fighting for when it comes to rape in comedy? Is it in the name of "free speech"? People speaking out against rape jokes which ask us to laugh at the victim aren't silencing anyone - they're exercising their own free speech. Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Do we want to fight for the right of (almost entirely) white, male comedians to make rape jokes without consequences, or can we all finally just agree that sometimes people say shitty hurtful things, and holding them accountable doesn't mean we're silencing them? It means we're exercising our OWN freedom of speech. Can we agree that victims of rape get to be the ones who say what is and isn't okay when it comes to rape jokes, and listen instead of telling them to lighten up? I think comedy is important. That doesn't change the fact that we all culturally need to take stock of what we do, and don't, give a free pass on. I think we unilaterally need to strip "It was just a joke" from our cultural vernacular. It isn't a defense, and jokes should mean more than that.


*You can find his youtube channel Kick and Giggles for some sketch comedy fun or follow him on Twitter @maddoxCampbell
**I picked a random internet joke instead of an actual stand-up Comedian's because 1) I didn't want to give any credit to rape apologists, and 2) I didn't want to provide people with the platform to derail the conversation to being about some random comedian as actually a nice guy.

***Yes, men are rape victims, too, and not all rapists are men, but there are a LOT more male rapists than female, and a lot more female victims than male. However that is not what this post is about. The treatment of male rape victims is a post for another day.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

50 Shades chapter 22 in which IT'S OVER OH THANK GOD IT IS OVER

So, this is it. The last chapter of this book. Let's do this bitch!

Last chapter ended with Ana and Grey going to his parents place for his birthday party to be yanked aside by a furious Kate, wielding a copy of one of the e-mails they had discussing the sub and dom contract from book 1. To my shock and delight, we are not forced to read it AGAIN because remember how we had to read it every third chapter in book 1? Apparently James took the hint and assumed we'd remember the email.

This chapter, obviously, is a continuation of it. I'm struggling to come up with anything cohesive or interesting to say about the exchange, because it is just really badly written. Ana is FURIOUS at Kate for meddling/ruining Grey's birthday, Grey is panicked Kate told anyone, and Kate is concerned and just keeps demanding "what has he done to you?" These are all valid stances, but they're all played terribly. It dissolves into Ana saying "I love him we're getting married and this has nothing to do with you", Kate apologizing profusely, maintaining that she was "just worried", and Grey earning his title All-Frown. Rather than have people be able to walk out of a room, conversation tersely resolved, we have Grace walk in to defuse the lingering tension.

Kate is a reporter, and apparently good at getting information. Why the ever living crap is she grabbing both of them, instead of just Ana, and why is she going about it in "I AM SO PISSED" instead of sweet smiles so Grey doesn't suspect anything? I mean, in high school was she never passed the "So I think my friend's boyfriend is abusing her" pamphlet? Or she's never watched a lifetime special? If she's SUCH a good reporter, she's probably taken some psych classes to figure out how to best ply people for information, right? Everything about her approach is wrong. I get that EL James wanted to amp up DRAMA but... there are way more interesting ways to do it, you know? Everything is resolved quickly and neatly in this book, the different "dramatic moments" simply being interspersed to justify the length since there wasn't enough plot for a whole book. It's boring. Seriously, if conflicts dragged out longer than a scene, it could have some potential.

Consider this: Kate takes Ana aside, asks her if she wants to talk--gives her the opportunity but she seems strange. Ana, knowing Kate so well, knows she's trying to get information but is miffed as to what she's after. When Ana doesn't bring up the BDSM stuff, Kate can say "Listen, I found this, and I'm worried. This isn't healthy. Has he hit you? Are you okay? I'm here for you".  It is important to not be judgmental of people in abusive situations. You can't talk them out of it unless they're willing to listen, and pressing too hard will just get you frozen out and unable to help when the time comes. Again, 101 shit here.

Ana's response to Kate's questions would be an angry "Nono everything is fine I've fixed him! And this has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU" and THAT would be where Kate should lose her shit.

Kate of the Katherine Kavanagh inquisition should know how to get information, but at the same time, she is fiercely protective of Ana, opinionated, and strong willed. Or so the book keeps trying to tell us. Seeing her friend diving into what is literally a textbook case of abusive relationship (and Kate hasn't even seen how controlling he is! Just glimpses) would drive her to go from "I am trying to be kind and supportive" to "Diving into oncoming traffic to stop this mess". Kate begs Ana to listen, but Ana refuses because she "just doesn't understand him" and keeps telling her it is none of her business. This is where Kate, in a desperate, well meaning and totally horrible moment, would threaten to go public with the letter.

Yeah, how much more interesting is that than "NO I DIDN'T SHOW ANYONE LISTEN I'M SORRY I WAS WORRIED"? It would also showcase Kate's apparent tenacity.

It would be at this point that Grey, unsuspecting, wanders in and naturally catches that exchange. He starts to panic, Ana starts to panic, Kate is probably angry crying now. Grey, in a moment of character growth, explains that he's left that behind him, he loves Ana, as she is, as an equal, and she's agreed to marry him!

Kate, apprehensive, but not wanting to actually ruin her relationship with Ana "for her own good" calms down. She THEN apologizes, but keeps justifying her actions. A nonapology, really. She was scared and worried and and and! Grey is annoyed and pissed, but crisis adverted. Ana sighs, forgives her in the name of "not wanting to fight" or ruin Grey's birthday, asks for the letter (which Kate hands over, but that's fine, we all know she has another copy of it, right?) and they all leave. It's awkward, trust has been fractured in a big way, and Ana isn't sure she trusts Kate anymore, but knows she can't just cleanly cut her out because she's marrying Grey, and Kate is dating his brother, and Ana is friends with HER brother. Things would be resolved, but not neatly, and it would be way more interesting and dynamic and take more than 30 seconds.

Alas, EL James isn't great at dealing with tension and drama, so it's over about as fast as it starts, and ends with this.

“You really are okay?” she asks hopefully.
“Yes.” I grin at her, my joy returning. She’s back onside. She smiles at me, my happiness reflecting back on her. I step out of Christian’s hold, and she hugs me suddenly.
“Oh, Ana—I was so worried when I read this. I didn’t know what to think. Will you explain it to me?” she whispers.
“One day, not now.”
“Good. I won’t tell anyone. I love you so much, Ana, like my own sister. I just thought . . . I didn’t know what to think. I’m sorry. If you’re happy, then I’m happy.”

IF NOTHING HAS CHANGED WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THAT SCENE?! The only way to bring Kate up to speed on whats going on?

So off to the party, I guess?

Crap. How many people are here?
I scan the room quickly: all the Greys, Ethan with Mia, Dr. Flynn and his wife, I assume. There’s Mac from the boat, a tall, handsome African American—I remember seeing him in Christian’s office the first time I met Christian—Mia’s bitchy friend Lily, two women I don’t recognize at all, and . . . Oh no. My heart sinks. That woman . . . Mrs. Robinson.

OH MY GOD THE DUDE WITH DREADLOCKS FROM CHAPTER ONE BOOK ONE CAME BACK SO GREY COULD HAVE A TOKEN BLACK FRIEND! Amazing. He doesn't say or do anything, just there to be a face in the crowd and a nod towards Grey not being racist or something. This delights me.

Ana and Grey are facing a crowd of people, through which Elena elbows (well, I imagine she elbows) her way to the front to coo over Grey "ZOMG I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD WHY DIDN'T YOU RETURN MY CALLS?!" and ignores Ana while Grey desperately clings to Ana, trying to use her as a meat shield (I may be adding some embellishments here). Grey brushes her off--it's pretty brutal, actually--to announce he's going to marry Ana. So, his only friend in the world asks him if he's okay, expresses worry, and he may as well plant his palm in her face to cram her off to the side and announce he's marrying a woman who he's known for a month.

Lily, who is standing beside Mia, looks crestfallen; Gretchen looks like she’s eaten something nasty and bitter. As I glance anxiously around at the assembled crowd, I catch sight of Elena. Her mouth is open. She’s stunned—horrified even, and I can’t help a small but intense feeling of satisfaction to see her dumbstruck.

Yes, all of the single women are upset about this. Because by laying eyes upon Grey you want to be with him forevarz.* Awesome. Then his family are all over Ana with glee and love. Mia asks about the ring, which Ana totally didn't think about because she's sooo not a gold digger. They make the rounds and chat with Dr Flynn and his wife, who seems to imply that Flynn talks about Grey at home because that's professional, right? Flynn then chats with Grey about Leila, because patient confidentiality ain't no thang before we get to meet Ros. OH NO A WOMAN WHO WORKS WITH GREY (and the first redhead we've met).  But it's cool, she's a lesbian, so they can be friends!

I am tired of this shit. Men and women can only be friends if one of them is into the same sex? Does that mean Ros can't have any female friends? Well, at least EL James isn't trying to tell us that Grey can turn a lesbian onto men. I would need to buy a copy of the book to burn it if she were, but this is an obnoxiously prevalent trope.

More pointless nattering with characters who have no bearing on the plot, didn't exists before this scene, and I don't give a crap about. Food's served, Mia corners Ana with a cocktail that's "much nicer than champagne" (Wtf?) to ask her advice on Elliot. She likes him, he likes her, but because his sister is dating her brother he feels... awkward about dating. Ana's response is basically "Damned if I know. Try being "just friends" and ask Kate? Yeah, be friends, and ask Kate!" because people never get upset when they find out someone they were "just friends" with turns out to be harboring secret feelings for them!

Mia skitters off (which Ana remarks is impressive in her heels) and I find that of the entire cast, Mia is the only one I have any sort of mental image of. Everyone else is hair color and clothes, but Mia's personality comes out in how she moves, that doesn't happen with the other characters in the same way. After Mia flounces off, Elena saunters in, pissed and with a mission.

“Ana,” she sneers.
I summon all my self-possession, slightly fuzzy from two glasses of champagne and the lethal cocktail I hold in my hand. I think the blood has drained from my face, but I marshal both my subconscious and my inner goddess in order to appear as calm and as unflappable as I can.

IT'S MOTHERFUCKING GO TIME!!! Ana's inner goddess hands her earrings to her subconscious.

Elena tells Ana she can't possibly make Grey happy, he has needs and she'll regret what she's doing and what the hell does she think she's doing? Ana handles herself pretty well, it's a decent trash talking scene, and when Elena calls her a gold digger, Ana throws her drink on her. Before Elena can transform into a snake and try to strangle Ana, Grey walks in and finds his ex/friend dripping and livid, and his fiancee ashen and shaking and rightfully asks what the ever living crap is going on? Elena tells him Ana isn't right for him. Because that answers his question.

“What is this?” He pauses, glaring at her. “Do you think it’s you? You? You think you’re right for me?” His voice is softer but drips contempt, and suddenly I don’t want to be here.
“I was the best thing that ever happened to you,” she hisses arrogantly at him. “Look at you now. One of the richest, most successful, entrepreneurs in the US—controlled, driven—you need nothing. You are master of your universe.”
He steps back as if he’s been struck and gapes at her in outraged disbelief.
“You loved it, Christian, don’t try and kid yourself. You were on the road to self-destruction, and I saved you from that, saved you from a life behind bars. Believe me, baby, that’s where you would have ended up. I taught you everything you know, everything you need.”

Grey then tells her "No, you taught me to fuck, but it was empty. Like you. No wonder your ex left you" (ouch).

“You never once held me,” Christian whispers. “You never once said you loved me.”
She narrows her eyes. “Love is for fools, Christian.”
“Get out of my house.” Grace’s implacable, furious voice startles us.

And then Grace bitch slaps her, calls her a whore, and tells her to get out again. No, really, actually calls her a whore. I like Grace more all of a sudden. Elena bolts, and Grace asks to talk to Grey alone. Ana also bolts (although not before she listens at the door for a moment. AGAIN) to hear Grace asking "how long, how old were you?" through the door before bolting up to Grey's childhood bedroom where she reflects on what just happened.

She flirts briefly with the idea that Elena was right, that she isn't right for Grey before reminding herself that, no, she fixed him it's cool! Seriously, Ana keeps talking about how he's "in the light now" throughout this book and she's basically saying "NO I FIXED HIM" every time. It's just driving in the already dangerous narrative that women can fix damaged and violent men with love. No, these men can fix themselves with therapy, no one can fix anyone who doesn't want to be "fixed".

Ana wallows in drama on his bed for a bit before inspecting the picture of Grey's Mother to see if they DO look alike and declares the only similarity is they're both brunettes, and his Mother has lighter hair than Ana does so she's good! The fact that Grey has said he hooks up with brunettes BECAUSE they remind him of his Mother should still be enough to freak Ana out. She may not actually look like the woman, but Grey has made the connection in his head. Isn't that enough to be gross? Apparently not, since Ana is relieved and liberated by the fact that she doesn't look like his Mother and, having collected herself after ALL THAT DRAMA, goes to find Grey. He naturally is going to look for her when she wanders out and they meet on the steps and talk about what the hell happened.

It actually isn't terrible. He apologizes that she had to see/go through that, she says she's sorry he lost a friend. Grey says he'll have the salon gifted to her, as it's "the least he could do", which struck me. He denied that she helped him in the last conversation, but he had said about the same things Elena had to Ana in the past. She saved him from self destruction, got him on the right path. I think his telling her off was telling her off for her current actions, but he actually does agree that in the past she helped, and that's why he's gifting the business to her. He might say he's not that petty, but considering he wasn't willing to take five minutes to tell Ana he wasn't dead because there was another man around her... he's totally that petty. I think he feels bad about what just happened, even if he recognizes that she is/was toxic.

Next we have Grey leading Ana out to the boathouse because he filled it with flowers and fairy lights and proposes again, this time with a ring on one knee. It's a giant diamond, but apparently simple, size aside. They schmoop all over the place, the scene ends with:

I know deep down I will always be his, and he will always be mine. We’ve come so far together, we have so far to go, but we are made for each other. We are meant to be.

See? No need for a third book (I would argue no need for a second one)! Except wait! We slip back to 3rd person narration of someone drinking and smoking out from a boat, watching the Grey's house!

It's Jack, who tried to sabotage Grey's helicopter, and now that he has ruined his life is going to try to murder Grey and Ana. He also apparently has a photographic memory, which means every book he's read he has learned and memorized? It's thrown in there to make him seem actually dangerous, but I don't think that's how photographic memories work? Is photographic memory a super villain power?!

He settles back in his seat. Looks like it’s going to be a long night. He’ll stay, watch, and wait. He takes another toke of his Marlboro red. His chance will come. His chance will come soon.

I commented on the big bad Pimp from chapter 1 reading like a caricature of a bad guy. We see a lot of the same things in Jack. He's smoking and drinking hard liquor! He sneers and plans violence! This isn't a bad reaction, Grey DID just ruin his life, but... why is it here? Why could the flow have not been: Grey and Ana get back together, shit with Leila kicks up, Leila is found, Jack attacks Ana, gets fired, we get the engagement stuff and this chapter, and the stuff with Mrs. R sprinkled throughout? Then we would spend the rest of this book on Jack trying to kill the happy couple as they plan their wedding! Or whatever book 3 is. The book would have action or plot then, but no. Everything is drawn out and, when it is finally addressed, resolved quickly. There is rarely any long term impact of any of the conflicts, because they're all meant to be filler. A shot of drama to keep the pretense of a plot around, but this book is just filler, no substance. I'm at the point where I'm struggling to deconstruct it because it doesn't do anything, just wades around in its own fluff and bullshit, and it's just more of the same fluff and bullshit.


Now, some announcements of the future of the 50 Shades here at Something Short and Snappy. I will not be doing a chapter by chapter break down of "50 Shades Freed" because I just don't think there's enough new material there to keep them interesting, and I stopped drinking because of health stuff. I am going to deconstruct it still, just differently. I will read it (EVEN THOUGH IT IS OVER 500 PAGES WHYOHGODWHY) and write a series of posts about it once I have. However with it being over 500 pages, and my doing NaNoWriMo until August** I will tentatively slate the series starting back up again in September. In the mean time, Thursday updates will continue (and probably be lots of social justice stuff). I am also in the market for a new book to deconstruct (I have had enough of series, and am in the market for suggestions).

Until next Thursday, dear readers! As always, if you need a fix of me in between updates (which obviously you do because I am awesome)  you can find me on twitter @SnappyErika and I'd love to hear what you make of this sorry excuse of a book now that we're done in the comments.

*Except for Kate who has a really high Will save I guess?
**Have I been NaNoing and writing blog posts at the same time!? No, I managed to get a month's worth of posts done ahead of time. BECAUSE I AM A MACHINE!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Mid-week re-blog because it is important- Pro Choice Should NOT Mean Ableist

The very talented Elsa from Feminist Sonar went on a bit of a rant on people using disability as reasoning for being pro-choice and what ableist bullshit that is.

From the article:

"For the last two weeks I’ve been following all of the debates in MULTIPLE states as the country begins to restrict the right of a woman to make choices about her own body.

My voice has not been heard.

Representative Thompson said that children of incest are “retarded” and that they are “deformed”.

Hey, pro-choice brethren? THE ABLEIST RHETORIC HAS TO STOP.

The rhetoric that abortion is for getting rid of disabled lives, has to STOP.

The use of the words “retarded” “deformed” “broken” have to stop.


It's a short and very worthwhile read, and you can find the rest of it at feminist sonar which is an awesome blog and I highly recommend. She (and the guest writers) are talented and smart and seriously go blog binge. I know that is a thing you guys do.

I am also not posting this to open up a discussion about pro-choice vs pro-life, simply pointing out a problematic and appropriative aspect that is getting used in the rhetoric and not being called out enough. A disability is not a death sentence, and disabled people are still just that- people. I would request that commenters stick to discussion of ableism and appropriation please.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter seven, part two, in which everyone gets naked

If this were a normal month, I'd have powered through to the end of the chapter, although chapter seven is about three times as long as they have been up to now.  However, it is a National Novel Writing Month, specifically Camp NaNo, and I have like 2000 words to go today, so this normal-length post will have to do and we will still have a third part two weeks from now.  Chapter is long, y'all.

(Content: violence, bullying, implicit sexism.  Fun content: the Mighty Ducks, Schroedinger's Nudity, a Spanish pop quiz.)

When last we left Our Heroes, psychic video games told the shadowy military authorities that this seven-year-old child murderer they have brought to their space school to learn to attempt genocide on inscrutable aliens might be somewhat emotionally messed up.  (Also, sexism is scientifically justified, white kids are more racism-sensitive than minorities, and being a sadist who controls himself is worse than being a killer who didn't mean it.)

Also I guess Ender transferred to Salamander Army.

Ender's Game: p.74--84

Ender arrives in a room half-full of naked boys.  Which is to say that he arrives at the Salamander Army dorm/barracks, a team of 41 kids (40 soldiers and their commander), and his attempt to figure out which one might wear commander tags is somewhat stymied because half the kids are in their regular uniform and half are in their "sleep uniform", which is to say naked.  (I have trouble imagining eight-year-olds thinking 'sleep uniform' is the best slang for nakedness, but whatever.)  They're all talking about battles, because we are told that is all the older students ever talk about.

Finally Ender gets spotted and explains that he's transferring to the command of Bonzo Madrid--he says it as 'bahn-zo' and a student only slightly larger than him corrects him: "Bone-so. The name's Spanish.  Bonzo Madrid.  Aqui nosotros hablamos español, Señor Gran Fedor."  (My mighty intellect and Google Translate can get as far as "Around here we speak Spanish, Mister Big ____", but I don't know what Fedor is.  In Portuguese it might be 'stench'?  Anyone know?)  Ender guesses that this person is Bonzo, but is again corrected:
"No, just a brilliant and talented polyglot.  Petra Arkanian.  The only girl in Salamander Army.  With more balls than anyone else in the room."
This is hilarious--not Petra's joke, but the context around it, given that we will learn in a couple of pages that Petra has been naked this whole time.  She's probably nine years old, okay, but... I'm just saying Ender failed a spot check if he thought there was a chance she was Bonzo.  I'm going to choose to believe that Ender was totally open to the possibility that Bonzo was a trans boy, but there is absolutely zero chance Card would have been onboard with that.*

The other Salamanders mock Petra, and Petra continues to scorn them, causing Ender terrible despair because he has clearly "made exactly the wrong friend".  But then he looks at the other jeering kids, and thinks of the wolf-children from the game, then thinks of Alai and decides that there must be at least one worthwhile person in the room.  Everyone falls quiet at once, and:
Ender turned to the door.  A boy stood there, tall and slender, with beautiful black eyes and slender lips that hinted at refinement.  I would follow such beauty, said something inside Ender.  I would see as those eyes see.
This is the second preteen boy described as "beautiful" in this book and we're not even 80 pages in.  I'm not sure we'll meet any major female characters from here on out, but suffice to say we won't even get physical descriptors for them, let alone superlatives.  All of the attractiveness is saved for the boys.  The often-naked boys.  This is what I was talking about when I said it was hard to tell if this book was more homophobic or homoerotic.  (I'm sure Card would be horrified that I would dare to hint there could be something sexual about the endless parade of naked boys in this book, but--look, if this were written by an out gay author, people would be asking him to tone down the queer.)

The extra sadness occurs to me that this would probably be a good way of writing a book with a young gay hero.  He doesn't even need to know he's gay to start with, and he doesn't need to actually lust over anyone--just save the poetic descriptions for other boys, and let a naked girl literally walk right up to him and not register in the slightest.  (For real: Bonzo's beautiful eyes have now received more narrative attention than the fact that Petra is not wearing a stitch.  I'm not saying there should be any kind of lusty lingering on that, but it quite simply hasn't been noted.  She's as naked as Stilson is dead**.)

Bonzo is not impressed with his new transfer.
"How long have you been working in the battleroom?" 
"A few months, now.  My aim is better." 
"Any training in battle maneuvers?  Have you ever been part of a toon?  Have you ever carried out a joint exercise?" 
Ender had never heard of such things.  He shook his head.
He knows the rules of manly warfare, he'll make references to great figures of military history, he's at military school, and the entire planet is currently ruled by a highly militarized government gearing up for global war, but he's never heard of "battle maneuvers".  A phrase that could not conceivably be more straightforward without being on Simple Wikipedia.  "Joint exercise" is about the same, and "toon" is just a bit of slang (short for 'platoon') to disguise the question "Have you ever fought in a group before?"  I am underwhelmed, and I think if the point of this scene weren't specifically to make Ender look out of his depth, he'd have worked at least half of this out.

Bonzo goes on to explain that Salamander Army is on the rise, at a 60% win rate and with key victories over well-regarded teams, and so he thinks Ender has been sent to drag him back down to obscurity.  Petra snarks a bit ("He isn't glad to meet you") and is told to shut up as Bonzo turns the incident into a rousing speech:
"To one trial, we now add another.  But whatever obstacles our officers choose to fling in our path, we are still--" 
"Salamander!" cried the soldiers, in one voice.  [....] 
"We are the fire that will consume them, belly and bowel, head and heart, many flames of us, but one fire." 
"Salamander!" they cried again. 
"Even this one will not weaken us."
Ender tries to join in by saying he'll work hard, but Bonzo is having none of it, intends to trade him away as fast as possible, and has no faith in him, telling him that he'll get his training at someone else's expense.  Petra snarks again, and Bonzo slaps her, drawing blood with the tips of his fingernails, before telling Ender that he won't join a toon, won't take part in training, and will stay out of actual battles as much as possible.  Ender realises that he has no hope of getting Bonzo's support, and so turns to Petra again.  She didn't flinch at all from the slap, which Ender takes as a sign that she is a person worth befriending after all, because as we have thoroughly established at this point showing feelings is a mortal flaw.

Bonzo banishes Ender to his bunk at the back of the room--because the station is a wheel, the rooms curve slightly, and Ender is so far back that he can't see the door anymore.  Petra appears, and Ender, who didn't know what a 'toon' was three minutes ago, is corrected on his assumption that she's a 'toon leader'.  His exact words.  What the hell.  Anyway, Petra explains that she has a bunk near the front of the room because she has prestige (she's a sharpshooter) and because Bonzo is afraid she'll start a revolution if he takes his eye off her.  (This, of course, is the actual reward for being 'so good they can't ignore you'--begrudging recognition and resentment and having to take abuse without a word.)  Petra wants to be friends too:
"I'm a girl," she said, "and you're a pissant of a six-year-old.  We have so much in common, why don't we be friends?" 
"I won't do your deskwork for you," he said. 
In a moment she realized it was a joke.  "Ha," she said.
Petra reacts the way someone with an actual sense of humour would in these situations, and I cheer her for it.  Because she's also always awesome, she offers to help train him in their spare time.  I mean, take it as you will that the one girl in the room is the one to take a compassionate and generous stance regarding the little new kid, but it's still a completely good and unselfish thing to do, which is possibly a first for this book.  Ender says that the battleroom will be full first thing in the morning, but Petra explains that there are actually nine of them, and SFs a bit about how allowing the battlerooms to float freely from the rest of the station is how they achieve zero-gravity.  That doesn't quite make sense, and Petra knows it--the actual takeaway is that the Battle School is lying about how advanced their technology is.  Shockingly.

Ender thanks her, which she accepts in the traditional manner of the badass (pausing briefly to look at him as she slow-mo walks away, and possibly there are explosions in the background) and Ender starts playing with his desk, discovering that the security system he built for himself is gone and he can't make another--his desk is no longer secure against anyone.  The lights start to go dim, bedtime, so Ender asks for directions to the bathroom, and the boy who answers tells him he can't go naked, he has to wear his uniform at all times and he is forbidden to speak to student in any other army unless told to do so by a teacher.
"And, uh, Bonzo get mad if you skin by Petra." 
"She was naked when I came in, wasn't she?" 
"She do what she like, but you keep you clothes on.  Bonzo's orders." 
That was stupid.  Petra still looked like a boy, it was a stupid rule.  It set her apart, made her different, split the army.  Stupid stupid.  How did Bonzo get to be a commander, if he didn't know better than that?  Alai would be a better commander than Bonzo.  He knew how to bring a group together. 
I know how to bring a group together, too, thought Ender.  Maybe I'll be commander someday.
So, for the record, maybe half an hour ago Ender watched Bonzo slap Petra across the face so hard that he drew blood, but this is the part that makes Ender think Bonzo makes bad decisions.  Bullying and physical violence are one thing, but people should be allowed to wander around stark naked if they want!  (Seriously, how did Bonzo slapping Petra like that not trigger every last one of Ender's 'Peter' alerts?  Physical bullying is supposed to be the kind he's not okay with!)

Ender is taunted at first in the bathroom for being six, but then recognised as 'the kid from the game room', and smirks to himself that soon, if not in Salamander then in some other army, he'll be known as a good soldier.  He'll show them all.  SHOW THEM A--

The next morning, he and Petra are waiting for their battleroom and continue talk about advanced technology.  Ender observes that there's gravity in the corridor right outside the room, and Petra adds that the rooms still stay zero-G even when they're linked to the corridor, so it can't really be about the free-floating.  She also teasingly warns him that terrible fates have befallen those students who dared to investigate these mysteries of the universe.
"So I'm not the first person to ask the question." 
(Ender's Classmates Are Legitimately As Smart As Him tally: 2)
"You remember this, little boy."  When she said little boy it sounded friendly, not contemptuous.  "They never tell you any more truth than they have to.  But any kid with brains knows that there've been some changes in science since the days of old Mazer Rackham and the Victorious Fleet.  Obviously we can now control gravity.  Turn it on and off, change the direction, maybe reflect it--I've thought of lots of neat things you could do with gravity weapons and gravity drives on starships."
Petra goes on a bit about gravity weapons being used to tear planets apart, but Ender feels he already has the most important information, which is that the teachers do not tell the truth.  Which is a bit of a strange specific conclusion--the teachers are very manipulative, to be sure, but I can only think of two other outright lies they'll tell him, and both are major plot points.  Admittedly, keeping gravity-warping technology secret is also a very big deal, but it seems like a big deal for everyone back on Earth too, scientists and engineers, not just the students of Battle School, so maybe 'the teachers' aren't really the ones to focus on here, except to the extent that 'the teachers' represent the military oligarchy?

They practice; Petra observes that he has no bad habits and she will give him all his good ones, so she's pleased, and they cover a lot of advice for how to play laser freeze tag in zero-G, which is a fun thought experiment but not really super-relevant to our purposes here.  He is indeed benched for Salamander's actual training session, which means he sits off to one side with his desk.  Rather than doing schoolwork, he watches them, and he admits to himself that he's not nearly coordinated enough to perform the techniques that the older students can, or the formations they move in.  He is, however, the ultimate military mind, so he notices the weaknesses as well: the inflexibility of formations to respond to changing situations, the inability for individual soldiers to make decisions and take actions.

So this criticism isn't based in analysis of any kind of bigotry or unrealism or cruelty on Card's part, but a straightforward tactical question: have real armies worked like this since we left behind the age of the musket?  Formations are fine in hand-to-hand combat, but when everyone's got lasers and you can be attacked from literally any direction, surely the value of your exact arrangement is not that high?  Has anyone ever won a firefight through timely use of the Flying V?  The main purpose of a formation in the battleroom would seem to be that your frontline soldiers can act as shields for the back, but that doesn't seem to be a common technique, since the enemy is mildly surprised when Ender (obvs) eventually uses it.

Ender might feel that it's stifling for individual soldiers to not be able to improvise on the fly, but he doesn't seem to be considering the value of coordination, the impact of having many parts moving in concert, which is the actual point of having a commander on the field.  I suppose it could be a matter of degree--maybe Bonzo literally forces his soldiers to not move within their formation at all, like the boys in the gameroom kept using their same rigid patterns against Ender--but Ender sounds like he's in favour of letting soldiers constantly improvise, which sounds to me like the ongoing fantasy of the rank-and-file soldier who thinks he's much smarter and more aware than his commander and he's being held back by stupid commands.

So yeah, basically the same 'ugh it is so hard being the smartest guy in the room' as usual.

That's where we'll have to cut it off for this week, folks--tune in next time to see how Ender resolves his training dilemma, manipulates Bonzo's brawn with his brains, and how he next gets to SHOW THEM ALL when he gets into a proper battle/game.  (Spoiler: there will not be enough Petra.)


*Flash forward horror: In Shadow of the Hegemon, ages from now, it is revealed that Petra ranked so high on aggression in early observation that her parents had her genetically tested to see if she was 'actually a boy'.  Petra considers this a matter of deep shame.  I consider the fact that Card wrote all of this and editors approved it to be a matter of deep shame.  [See bekabot's comment below on why this makes no biological sense regardless.]

**I mean this comparison very literally, in the sense that both things are true but hidden from us at the time because they make the rest of the story make no sense in context.  We're told later that Stilson had been dead all along, we're told later that Petra was naked the whole time, and then it's like the waveform collapses and the book retcons itself and hopes we don't notice.  Schroedinger's plot point.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

50 Shades chapter 21 in which there is a lot of super boring sex.

Last chapter ended with Ana and Grey heading to the playroom, and this chapter opens with them getting down and dirty. It is by far the kinkiest sex they have had yet (nipple clamps, bondage, blindfolding, vibrator, and some anal play all in one session) and guys... I was bored. I can't even snark at it, I just had to force myself to not skip ahead to the end. The only point of note is that Grey commented "These toys you picked are not great for you, we need to start with other things" and swapped things around, and I appreciated him calmly, and without snark, explaining sexy time safety things with her.

After the kinky stuff, they have pretty normal sex, and Ana again is overcome with how much she loves him and how much has happened and once again, immediately after orgasm, starts to cry. Grey is, rightly so, alarmed and confounded. It's all just another chance for them to talk about how much they're in love/complete each other etc etc. More fucking and pillow talk. It's cute enough, but again, boring as hell.

Then Grey vanishes into his office to play some catch up while Ana makes lunch. We find out what the deal with Taylor's daughter last night (stomach bug that his ex thought was appendicitis), are reminded that Ana is going to see Kate in the near future (I am desperately hoping she and Elliot ALSO got engaged, not gonna lie ), and is excited to chat with Ana to tell her that) and then Grey hands Ana the phone. He called Ray.

Ana is, reasonably, pissed that she was not warned, but the conversation between the two, thought totally awkward and unrealistic, is kinda nice. "This is fast, I know he's well-to-do and eligible and everything but... so soon? Are you sure?" to which Ana's response is "He is the only one there ever has been or ever will be for me. He's my happily ever after, hellz yeah" and she sounds a lot like a 14 year old girl in love for the first time. Still, it's kind of sweet that his first concern is "are YOU sure?" and when Ana shows no hesitation, he doesn't fight back and gives his blessing.

So, after lunch, Grey asks Ana why she asked him not to take pictures because that is a really random and specific thing to ask for. Ana confesses she found the pictures.

His eyes widen in shock. “You’ve been in the safe?” he asks, incredulous.
“Safe? No. I didn’t know you had a safe.”

Someone moved them! Leila, he assumes, because those pictures (the women all knew he had them) were his insurance. If they exposed him, well, he had the means to expose them back. Grey offers to shred the pictures, and is off to work, excited when Ana says she'll bake him a cake (he requests chocolate, if anyone was curious).

With Grey gone, Ana calls her Mother, and... I thought my Mom reacted poorly when her first response to "I'm engaged" was to be mad at me for not telling her in person (we lived in different cities) then told me she'd hide it from my Dad so The Boy could ask permission, and then changed the topic from "I just got engaged" to "I'm still house hunting" and started stress crying over not having found the perfect house. That was my Mother's response, and I think Ana's Mother sounds like a downright nightmare. She accuses Ana of being pregnant (because she was knocked up when she got married with Ana), tells her it's too soon (admittedly, it IS), implies she's in it for the money, and starts bawling because her Dad is dead and repeatedly implies that Ana ruined her life to the point Ana point blank ASKS if she did (her Mother naturally tells her no but still, fuck), and then flakes off because her husband is calling. Just--wow. Poor Ana, no wonder she's so confused how to handle attention and affection from others.

Grey is back in the office, and Ana pokes her head in to let him know she's going to the store for some ingredients and he objects to her dress being too short and tells her to put on pants because apparently he's her Mom.

“What if we were at the beach?” I take a different tack.
“We’re not at the beach.”
“Would you object if we were at the beach?”
He considers this for a moment. “No,” he says simply.
I roll my eyes again and smirk at him. “Well, just imagine we are. Laters.” I turn and bolt for the foyer. I make it to the elevator before he catches up with me. As the doors close, I wave at him, grinning sweetly as he watches, helpless—but fortunately amused—with narrowed eyes. He shakes his head in exasperation, then I can see him no more.

Ana then immediately feels INTENSE FEAR because that was ballsy and risky and oh noes he'll be mad and she has so little experience with men! At the same time, she feels that she should be able to wear what ever the crap she wants, and is just conflicted. On route to the store she notices her bank account is 50k above what it should be, but rolls her eyes since this is just her life now. When she gets back, she apologizes, but so does Grey, admitting that she should wear what she wants (which is impressive) and they bone, AGAIN. That's like, the 12th time today. Just, ow. Chafing? No? Not an issue here ever? Okay, then.

There's some cake, they're schmoopy, and then off to his parents' place! Ana is reasonably nervous and excited about telling his family. I admit, I'm shocked (and kind of delighted) he hasn't gotten her a ring yet. I LIKE that he hasn't because you don't see that often, but I'm surprised he doesn't have one for her to show off to his family.

So, they get in, and before they can so much as say hello, Kate, furious, drags them both off to talk to them in private.

“What the fuck is this?” she hisses and waves a piece of paper at me. Completely at a loss, I take it from her and scan it quickly. My mouth dries. Holy shit. It’s my e-mail response to Christian, discussing the contract.

And that, boys and girls, is the end of chapter 21, and why you don't fucking print off private emails when you have a smartphone! Tune in next Thursday for THE FINAL CHAPTER! As always, comments help ease the liver pain! Till next week!