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.

39 comments:

  1. Wait, so the plan with The One, who is supposed to be the savior of the planet and the best battle mind ever, is to basically make sure he gets no experience at all in any sort of combat? Graff, your plan sucks. Also, Bonzo, your command abilities suck. No effective commander willingly handicaps himself and his squad. Military tactics do not work this way.

    So, then Ender uses his super-genius to analyze the battle and decide instantly more effective tactics, because he...has to deal with soldiers who are basically unpredictable? This story does not compete nor compute. Also, could Alai also be some other General's The One project? Seems like all the characters who befriend Ender or actually teach him something are head-and-shoulders above everyone else in their squadron.

    The idea is good for the battle room. It's too bad the overarching narrative can't support it.

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  2. I dunno if anyone's ever brought this up but: Team Salamander?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salamander_letter

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  3. That's interesting--Card definitely loves putting LDS references in his work (Alvin Smith becomes Alvin Maker) but I had always assumed it was just a bit of terrible wordplay on 'Salaam, Ender'. Or both. Oh god, what if it's both; what if Card made it Salamander Army because of the letter and then backformed the word 'Salaam' as something important because of that?

    I'm not sure exactly how the symbolism of Salamander Army and the Salamander letter would match up, though. Is it the letter itself and the things it claims about a prophet, or is it the forgery aspect? Card claimed quite loudly that this book contains no vital symbolism, so if it means anything (rather than just being a word he liked) it can't be a dramatic reinterpretation of the story.

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  4. "Their leader is 'young', whatever that means"
    They're probably is diapers.

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  5. As Ender's Black Best Friend, Alai is allowed to be spectacularly competent but not get any real recognition for it--in the final arc of the book, Ender considers Alai the best general in his group and insists that Alai could replace Ender himself if needed, but this is dismissed immediately by Ender's own teacher. I suppose the idea is that they think Ender must believe he can't be replaced, but Alai really sticks out as someone who should be a much bigger deal than the book seems to think he is.

    And yes, all of Ender's friends are the best ever. Shen is I think the only one who isn't talked up as a military savant, and even he joins in the final campaign. And maybe Vlad, I guess? Everyone else (Alai, Petra, Bean, Dink, all of the Dragon toon leaders) is an unstoppable badass. At least Dink makes it clear why he doesn't get promoted any further (mostly). I would have liked to see a shadowy council meeting or two in which the top generals argue the cases for their personal favourites.

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  6. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought part of the point of a military school is to teach students things like tactics, teamwork, and reserves so they don't have to figure them out for themselves. But nope, it's all about zero-g laser tag, hostile cliques, and isolating the special snowflake whose supposed superpower is empathy.

    If the human military is this flabbergastingly stupid, how is it that the aliens didn't win long ago?

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  7. The students do have classes, but those classes are apparently not that different from normal school; next chapter Ender will mention trigonometry homework. All of the actual tactical training seems to be only between students. (The launchies got some classes in zero-G maneuvers, but that was basically just prep for the games to come.) There is a weird obsession with maintaining fair competition instead of training everyone to be as effective as possible. Arguably this is to encourage creativity (they'd rather risk Earth than compromise their sink-or-swim philosophy) but since when does creativity only come around from making people build off first principles? For that matter, they're still not actually working off first principles, since students apparently indoctrinate the new kids with the established way of doing things.


    I got nothing.


    (Well, I do know that the aliens only didn't win in the Second Invasion because of a single unappreciated genius commander with weaponised empathy, just like Ender. Dunno about the first invasion, but we're getting prequel books about that now, too.)

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  8. It just strikes me as weird timing that that whole hoax letter came out right around the time EG came out. He may have put it in to reference it and then by the time the hoax got exposed he had forgotten why he chose Salamander specifically or if he did remember, figured no one else would connect the two and just left it... or came up with the pun and that made it too much a personal joke to give up.

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  9. So why does Ender need to shoot his own legs? Can't he just use them as a shield and take the (enemy) hit when it comes?



    And using his legs as a shield- all super-brilliant special snowflake Ender has done is abuse the rules of the game. Gaming the rules doesn't make for a good commander: he'll lose badly the moment the rules are gone (i.e., in a real fight). I'd love to see the results of a real firefight where Ender's side thinks their legs are impenetrable shields.

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  10. The freeze-your-own-suit thing comes up a couple of times and it never makes sense to me. Ender also snaps at someone to freeze their own elbow if they're having trouble keeping their aim straight at one point. It's clearly supposed to be some kind of 'this looks like it's stupid but it's actually beneficial' sacrifice tactic, but I don't think they generally make a good case for that in the majority of battles. There are one or two times when it does make sense, but that's when they're literally turning their own soldiers into 'armor' and need to keep them rigid to hold formation. The rest of the time, yeah. No clue.


    I do think that, from the perspective that the battleroom teaches tactical thinking rather than specific tactics, abusing the rules is probably a good lesson. It's less about 'you can shield your body with your body' and more about figuring out how to use all the tools you have available in order to win. Mind you, I'm struggling to recall when he'll do that type of thing in the final campaign, so rather than being narratively meaningful I think it's mostly just about the battleroom for the sake of the battleroom, which was the essence of the original short story.

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  11. "Ender's anger also smells like honey and cinnamon and improves cell phone reception in a fifty-metre radius."



    And it lets the cat out at night (my theory is that it's closely related to Virgin Power).

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  12. No one talks about birthdays; that's a "landsider" thing.

    On top of everything else that doesn't make any sense, aren't all the kids from Earth? They stop celebrating birthdays when they go to battleschool? Whut. I mean, this sounds like a left over thing from some work of fiction that had a long standing planet dwellers, space dwellers divide.

    As a side note, now Ender is going to take a class on how to fight? (Which, for some reason, is an optional part of military training. Whut.) So he was able to kill a kid without having any training whatsoever when he was six? WHUT. I mean, it was weird enough back in chapter one, but this just adds another layer of bizarre improbability to the whole thing.



    But then, none of this makes any sense whatsoever. I find it hard to believe it's in rules to have members of your team not enter the battleroom at the same time. If it were, lots of teams would take advantage of that for tactical reasons. So why is Bonzo getting away with it? Or, alternatively, if it is in rules, why _aren't_ teams holding people back for a second wave?

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  13. The implication, as written, is that up in space the kids are all about their new military culture in which sentimentality like birthday celebrations is rejected as something for the soft folks back on Earth. (Not that there aren't a bunch of SFF bits that Card will steadily ditch over the series. I did not include a line in which Ender talks about Valentine's failed attempt once to bake a cake, because 'no one knows how to cook anymore'. The Shadow series will be pretty clear that making food is not in fact a highly specialised skill.)


    I don't think the optional fighting and lack of training is a problem--Ender beat Stilson to death in a very straightforward and imprecise manner, not a serious tactical battle. And since Battle School isn't about training footsoldiers (and the military has many reasons to know that actual hand-to-hand combat with the Formics is a terrible idea) they haven't got much reason to make that class mandatory.


    Also edited for space was the implied rule that all members of a team have to come through their gate within the first four or five minutes. With the way the battles are implied to progress, that's enough time for, say, a scouting party to report back to their commander before full deployment, but not nearly long enough for a squad to lie in wait for the enemy team to try to complete the victory ritual.

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  14. I think it mentioned that the suits have glowing spots that stop glowing where they're shot. So the advantage of freezing his own legs would be that the legs would no longer glow, making him look paralyzed so other people didn't shoot him and hiding the glow from the rest of his suit. Although I may be misremembering.

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  15. You are correct, but they also do the leg-freezing thing in contexts where they're just attacking outright and there's no hope of camouflage. So it's a tactic that could be quite valuable in specific situations, and so they use it in every situation, which is the bit I don't get so much.

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  16. Ah, I see. So "landsider" basically equals "civilian."


    It's more that I have difficulty believing a person with no fighting experience could kick someone taller than them successfully in the chest on the very first try. Yes, kids are more flexible than adults, but just try kicking to chest height - even _your own_ chest height. It's not that easy. Nor does it seem like something an untrained person would try. Kick them in the groin, kick them in the knee, yes, but kick them in the chest? Whut.


    Ah, so they are allowed a little time with not everyone inside the room. Does anyone use that for scouting or anything?

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  17. As I recall, Ender will do the scouting thing once or twice; I don't recall it coming up anywhere else (although of course once Dragon Army forms we mostly won't hear anything about anyone else's specific tactics).

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  18. Sounds more and more like Ender being The One happens because he has a squadron of hypercompetent subordinates, but because he has special Leadership and Tactics values. The shadowy cabal meetings that determined those things must have been highly amusing for the observers.

    Also, since I think at least one strain of Mormonism believes the Mark of Cain was blackness, I wonder if that isn't why the brilliant Alai (ally) is always stuck with the launchies, because he has to be subordinate to atone for the sin of being black.

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



    This is OSC stealing from Ursula K. LeGuin and the "empty hands" arc words in The Dispossessed.

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  20. I don't think the racism around Alai is anything so straightforward as that--Card honestly believes he isn't racist, and he might be a seething font of hatred but he's not completely stupid. Ender is the only super-special student who gets hyperaccelerated through the stages of training; I'm pretty sure Alai follows the normally timeline just to avoid making Ender seem less special (and because speeding Alai up might give Ender a legitimate peer to bond with, while loneliness of specialness is a major theme of the book).


    The final campaign will definitely get into the question of whether the victory of the humans is directly attributable to Ender or the whole genius child dream team--Ender's Shadow, which is basically a 300-page case for Bean as the only one who might have surpassed Ender, takes pains to blatantly tell us that, no, only Ender could possibly have saved the day at the very end. I have many thoughts on that scene, which we may get to someday.

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  21. "I don't think the optional fighting and lack of training is a problem--Ender beat Stilson to death in a very straightforward and imprecise manner, not a serious tactical battle."



    Right...so what Ender has to try to do here is learn how to defeat somebody without killing them, although that sounds like the kind of revelation which would only fit inside another book.

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  22. Maybe what we're seeing here is the dramatization of another principle: that sometimes you have to learn how to accept damage, or even to damage yourself, in order ultimately to prevail. Think of the soldier who throws himself onto a landmine in order to save his buddies, and who does save his buddies (or most of them), but loses his own legs in the process. Few people would dispute with the idea that that kind of sacrifice constitutes victory. If you were to interpret the "Ender-always-shoots-himself-in-the-legs" thing in a similar light, the lesson you would take away is that you have to learn how to take a strategic hit, or even deal one out to yourself, for the sake of the greater good and of the bigger picture. Since this is a principle this book is presenting as always being true, the matching tactic Ender and his friends adopt never misses fire.


    One of the things Orson Scott Card is good at is something S. Meyer is also good at: they're both super fond (and really skilled) at lifting canonic scenes from other authors and other books, repurposing them, and then inserting the reworked material into their own texts. One of the oft-repeated canards in Ender's Game is that Ender is in a trap. And one of the worldbuilding foundation blocks in Dune is that Paul Atreides, his mother, and his father are all in a trap — a trap which only Paul and his mother survive. (Alia, born later, is a side issue, literally, figuratively, and all the way 'round.) When the Atreides family are readying themselves to leave Caladan and move to Dune, Lady Jessica has a meet-up with her old teacher (there's the pedagogical metaphor again) so that they can both put Paul to the test. Everybody knows what happens next; Lady Jessica's teacher zaps Paul with a terrifically painful nerve-induction technique which is meant to show whether or not Paul has what it takes. Paul withstands it, barely, and then his mother's old teacher tells him that his stoicism shows that he's "human": i.e. he's willing to lose a hand rather than his cool. The idea is that, if you're in a trap, you're supposed to be able to think your way out of it rather than gnaw off a limb to escape it. Ender's leg-shooting schtick both recapitulates and contravenes that scene. In the Ender version, we see Ender both "thinking his way out of the trap" and symbolically "gnawing off a limb" by shooting himself in the legs (the foot?) whenever he feels he's in trouble.

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  23. Of course, the funny thing about both of those is that they're actually better metaphors for gnawing off one's own hand or legs - since both are mock versions of limb loss or the pain thereof.

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  24. Seems much more likely that he picked a 'random' animal and got 37 Salamander because of this history.

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  25. 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

    He does allow his soldiers to find their own tactics and choose how to achieve the goals he gives them. Which works because the others are totally almost as smart as Ender. I don't know how this fits with the fact that most of the armies appear lousy, but if it stopped there I'd just go with it. The picture only falls apart when it comes to Ender being the One.

    Even there, if not for the context I'd excuse Card on the grounds that many discoveries ("a different orientational reference frame for fighting in zero-G") can seem obvious in retrospect. Halting problem's undecidability, anyone? But speaking of undecidability, a fool like Graff should have no way to predict who will make such discoveries. That's the part that keeps confusing me: "However did they win."

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  26. I think the explanation of leg freezing in the context of an attack is that it's easier to hold your legs in the bent-over-and-shielding-you position if they're frozen. Less effort, meaning you can pay more attention to your aim, etc.

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  27. hf, bekabot -- I'd probably be more amenable to Ender's revolutionary idea if he didn't come up with it within thirty seconds of entering the playing field in his very first battle ever. He's not basing it on any deduction/induction or logical process; he's just put in the room (in a game that he has personally admitted he is not yet very good at, even for a newbie) and *bing* the ultimate technique appears in his head. This isn't a case of him being the first one to effectively use a technique that someone else developed but didn't adequately appreciate.


    I understand, mind you, why it is that Ender needs to be the one to invent 'the enemy's gate is down'--those are the arc words, that's the final victory, that's what makes it Ender's Game they're playing. I just wish we could have seen a little more in the way of thought before he was struck by comprehensively perfect inspiration.

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  28. The aliens didn't win because they didn't *want* to, is the impression I got, what with the entire war being basically a misunderstanding...


    Although I seem to recall they did a number on a colony world in the first invasion.

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  29. The First Invasion was on Earth, and while we haven't had many details in Ender's Game, they make reference to things like the Scouring of China and imply that Earth was severely mangled in general. The Second Invasion was intercepted out around the Jupiter orbit and that was the one Mazer Rackham stopped under MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES. The aliens aren't the ones invading this time, and they don't intend to, but they're still okay with defending themselves against the invading humans.

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  30. One of OSC's bugaboos seems to be the superiority of creativity that comes from building up from first principles. There was a very weird and creepy short story he wrote that involved a young boy (what - you think it could possibly be a girl?) who is raised with all the means of making music, but completely isolated from all exemplars of prior music in order to keep his creativity pure. Then one day he hears a snatch of one of the great masters (Mozart?), and is unable to help but incorporate some of those ideas into his own music - whereupon he is immediately dumped out of his idyllic existence and never allowed to make music again.


    It makes about as much sense as expecting someone to not only write, but to write wonderful, exquisite novels without ever having ever read so much as a short story. It's utter nonsense - creativity builds on other's prior creativity - but OSC seems to be quite obsessed with it.

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  31. I'm curious whether the short story in question was meant to cast this as a terrible move or not on the part of the teachers--just from the plot synopsis, I would normally assume that it was supposed to be about a child being trained for art in some Kafkaesque setting where the adults were obviously wrong and the antagonists. In this case, I'm less sure, given that Ender is basically Captain First Principles.


    OSC has written extensively on the importance of practice in learning how to write well, but I am struggling to recall him writing about previous works that influenced or inspired him. I wonder how much he values building off previous creativity in the real world.

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  32. It's been a long time since I read the story, but my impression was that the only "bad" thing the adults had done from the author's PoV was to not sufficiently impress upon him the dangers of hearing another's music, and that the loss of music altogether from this kid's life upon his contamination was tragic, but basically his own fault.


    It was one of the most intensely creepy short stories I have ever read, and all the more so because my impression was that it was meant to be tragic, not creepy.

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  33. Was the story called "Unaccompanied Sonata"? Card said he considers it his best story. His afterword in Unaccompanied Sonata and Other Stories reads:
    "Unaccompanied Sonata" began with the thought of one day: What if someone forbade me to write? Would I obey? I made a false start then, and failed; years later I tried again, and this time got through the whole story. Other than punctuation changes and a few revised phrases, this one has stood in its first full draft as it came out of the typewriter. It's the truest thing I've ever written.
    His later anthology Monkey Sonatas has a much longer afterword where he traces its origin to an old Lloyd Biggle story, "Tunesmith", which made a great impression on him as a child.

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  34. Awesome chapter re-cap, I love Petra! I had to re-read some parts to understand them, as English is my second language, but still pretty good!

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  35. NO ONE KNOWS HOW TO COOK ANYMORE WHUT.

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  36. I get what you're saying, but by now earth has already had two space wars, and supposedly, space war is what the battle-room is supposed to teach. Creating a personal zero gee field may be new, but fighting in zero gee is not.


    Nor is the idea of "playing dead", given that submarines (the closest modern analog we have to space ships) have been using that strategy for decades.

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  37. He's probably going for the mythological salamander, rather than the biological salamander, given how he likes to give Ender all the cool stuff.

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  38. Why do Enders soldiers bend their knees when they attack

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