(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.