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.


  1. "Petra still looked like a boy"

    Does "naked" mean something else, like "wearing underwear" or have human genitals evolved? Last I knew, genitals were fairly distinctive looking even at eight. Considering your first footnote, I'm going to assume that human genitals have evolved in some fashion. (I'm also going to bang my head on a wall for a bit, because _really_!?)

    In further nitpicking, I can't work out how you slap someone with just your fingernails, much less do so hard enough to draw blood. It seems far more awkward than just slapping someone. (I experimented using my own arm. The results were not impressive.)

    And I still don't really understand how the battle school thingy operates. Especially with regard to Ender. I also maintain that if you know how to create The One, you should be able to do whatever it is you want The One to do yourself, or, at a minimum, you should be able to create The One without having to wait around for them to be born. Seriously, The One is not compatible with anything vaguely resembling science fiction. Also, it seems like they're taking risks with Ender's training that could lose them their One.

  2. 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.

    Close order formations (i.e., standing shoulder to shoulder), no. But formations, in the sense of relative positioning, are still important - arranging soldiers or vehicles so that they can quickly and effectively respond to threats, and cover the blind spots of others in the group, etc...

  3. I assume that Card intended "Petra still looked like a boy" to mean 'no mammary swell'. Now, granted that most people shouldn't be spending conversations staring at each other's crotches, but it's not like no one's going to notice, and Battle School has some students as old as 13--puberty is a thing and these kids have most definitely not been raised in a gender-free or even gender-equal environment, so it's a safe guess that they are not all going to be high-minded disciples of Socrates. (I've read that Socrates was considered weird in his time for refusing to get sexy with his students; correct me if I'm wrong.) The point is, yeah, Ender may have failed his spot check (he doesn't even say "Petra was naked" later, he asks "wasn't she naked?") but that's not going to be true of everyone. I don't even know.

    Regarding the slapping, it's presumably a backhand and Bonzo has mighty yet shapely fingernails, well-manicured to a fine edge.

  4. Good point on the 'fields of fire' kind of formations. I'm a bit skeptical of how effectively those can be rigidly pre-planned in an environment that has little to no consistent terrain, but we are supposed to believe this is the old and ineffective way of doing battle, I suppose.

  5. The book - at least the copy I have - specifies that he (somehow) only struck her with his fingernails, which is either pretty well impossible or, like BaseDeltaZero suggests, a scratch and not a slap. Perhaps Card wanted his scratching her to sound more manly.

    There's another odd thing about the training that just struck me - I think this is the first book I've encountered that assumes a space war will include foot soldiers in spaaaaace. I'm terribly confused about how that works as well as why one would want to fight that way.

  6. It's pretty clear in my edition that it was a full slap, but that the fingernails were responsible for drawing blood--maybe that was changed as well to appear less over-the-top abusive?

    The battleroom is definitely not meant to be actual training for actual foot-soldiers-in-space combat; it's just a game that starts getting kids thinking tactically and about zero-G environments. For children especially, starting with something highly tactile and interactive rather than simulated ships on screens is probably a good idea (to the extent that 'training child soldiers' can ever be a good idea).

  7. The copy I have was printed in '86. Perhaps somewhere in there they cleared up the bizarre description, because what mine has is just flat out weird: "Madrid stepped closer to the girl and slapped her across the face with the back of his hand. It made little sound, for only his fingernails had hit her." Cue me going "Wha?"

    Oh good. (For certain values of "good.") The battleroom was confusing me. Then again, I find the book nearly unreadable. I think Petra is the first character who's even vaguely interesting and the premise gets a flat "no" from my brain. So I notice weird things more than I follow the plot.

  8. "Flash forward horror: In Shadow of the Hegemon ..."

    Admission: haven't read it.

    " is revealed that Petra ranked so high on aggression..."

    Sounds odd to me, because Petra isn't particularly aggressive in this book. She's extroverted and smart and she's exacting with herself about her own behavior: in other words she's a good illustration of the modern type of girl who is a superb accomplisher and who thinks she has to do everything perfectly all of the time in order not to be scorned and/or despised. These are ideas which have some basis in reality, but how Petra's demeanor translates as "aggression" I'm not sure.

    "...that her parents had her genetically tested to see if she was 'actually a boy'.

    Weird, because women who are genetically XY don't usually look or act "masculine". (Scare quotes because this passage reveals that there are masculinity-ideas at play within it which don't have much to do with actual physical or behavioral maleness.) Lots of them are insensitive to androgen/testosterone and consequently they display an absence of male traits (like body hair, for example). Plus, though they've got XY genetics, they're not male, so they can't be described as "actually boys".

    Not related: Bonzo is a Disdainful Beauty. He is also a Fascinating Androgyne, a position Petra is deprived of because Bonzo took it first. Petra is a Den Mother.

  9. I'm pretty sure that in Card's mind the fact that Petra is an assertive perfectionist and not just a fountain of nurturing means she's 'aggressive'.

    I'm going to go back and add the 'science does not work that way' tag to the post, though--thanks for the extra info. Card makes me sad once again.

  10. "...Petra is an assertive perfectionist and not just a fountain of nurturing..."

    First, not arguing, but second, for what it's worth, Petra does nurture: she's the first person we've seen in this book who acts toward Ender in a nurturing way, without visibly calculating as to what she can get out of him first. (Valentine attempts to support Ender but she's not much good at it; the vibe the reader gets of her is that she's got her own battles to fight and that she's preoccupied with those.) Not only that, Petra nurtures Ender in such a way as to save his pride: she makes their team-up sound more like a bargain between equals ("I'm a girl and you're a pissant of a six-year-old") than like a favor an older hand is doing for a younger and greener one. It's true that the team-up will pay off for Petra in the long run, but she doesn't know it at the time.

    The problem seems to be that Petra is nurturing (supportive of Ender) while being smart and driven too (unlike fade-away Valentine, who is smart but introverted and who keeps her place). Not that there's necessarily any dissonance there; Petra is a portrait of a type of girl who is so familiar that most of the people here, like most of the people everywhere in RL, have probably met at least one of them. But the author, or the narrative voice, or whatever, seems to perceive that a dissonance exists. Here's why I think this is so bizarre: a few years after Ender's Game was published, J. K. Rowling got immense milage out of a character of Petra's type: Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books. Hermione and Petra track each other closely from the startpoint at which they both walk up and make friends with the hero. Can you imagine Rowling writing a novel set in the Potterverse in which a spear-carrier character reveals that Hermione in childhood tested out as so aggressive that her parents had her genetically tested to see if she was actually a boy? No? Didn't think so. (Although since Hermione would have been a witch in a Muggle household, one can picture her parents getting her genetically tested because they're worried about other things.)

  11. Honestly, the battle room seems like it should be over in roughly three seconds as there's absolutely no means of defense. It starts with both teams more or less facing each other, no cover, and weapons that are effectively instant. Which, admittedly, might be a fairly accurate representation of the hilarious overpoweredness that is 'Doctor Device'.

  12. There is one source of cover, which won't be introduced until next post--the huge hovering cubes that the kids call 'stars'. It's implied that there are usually enough of them that armies can't just fire on each other right out of the gate, and that you have to keep a beam on someone for a second in order for the hit to count, especially at long range. The one time there really are no stars and no distance (Dragon's showdown with Salamander), it's emphatically and intentionally what military experts refer to as 'a gong show'.

    As bad as many of the things Card brings to this book are, I think zero-G laser tag is a legitimately cool concept and would totally sign up for it myself.

  13. 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'.

    I've decided that a lot of this must be deliberate, especially from the military. Likely enough it represents the stupidity of atheist materialism, as pictured by an author who has no idea what that would look like.

    You pointed out earlier that Supervillain Graff wanted to remove Ender from his group before he made any friends (despite claiming explicitly that he could have friends, just not parents). You noted that if he didn't form a relationship with Alai, which changes one or both of them dramatically, Graff's plan would fail. So it only works because a superior officer overrules him. We'll later see the consequences when he clashes with a different superior and gets his way. This has nothing to do with atheism, but Card may think that it does.

    Likewise, he may want us to question the military's genetics-based and monitor-based certainty that Only Ender Can Save the World.

    Problem is, if I go with this interpretation then Graff's ultimate success baffles me. We can't explain it just by pointing to Mazer Rackham's special perceptions, because Mazer seems to follow Graff's plan. Maybe Card sees successful predictions more as a tool of Satan than as a test for truth?

  14. Wait. Petra is the only girl in an "army" of boys, she's naked with the rest of them, yet Ender is supposed to keep his clothes on around her or Bonzo gets mad? Anyone else think Bonzo is abusing Petra more than just physically and verbally?

    Also, for Ender to understand why Bonzo would get mad if others were naked around Petra would mean that the six year-old understands some amount of the mechanics of sexuality. If that's true, then precisely WHAT THE HELL, military oligarchy? Even though the book is older than the public revelations of military assaults on co-soldiers and civilian populaces in the U.S., history is pretty well littered with instances where women and boy soldiers don't mix at all.

    If Graff and company know this, then they either trust that pre-pubescents and adolescents can display professionalism grown adults cannot, or there are multiple programs afoot to find The One, and Petra is some other General's champion in the arena.

  15. 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'.

    You know, outside of the obvious gender essentialism, this doesn't really seem to take into account the way aggression actually works.

    Even if there were significant differences in the distribution of base-level aggression between boys and girls, aggression is so situational that those differences would inevitably be overcome by differences in circumstances (eg. a girl with low base-level aggression who felt constantly threatened would almost certainly act more aggressively than a boy with high base-level aggression who felt comfortable with his environment and himself). The military can only base their analysis on displayed aggression -- they can't calculate base-level aggression because they have know way of understanding the degree to which the children perceive themselves to be threatened.

    Reasonably speaking, if Petra's level of displayed aggression was much higher than expected, the first thing to look into would be the degree to which she felt threatened, not whether she was "actually a boy." -_-

    (In any case, the gender differences in aggression are small enough that Petra would have to be in the top fraction of a percent as far as aggressive tendencies were concerned to be suspicious... and in that case, her parents would probably wonder whether she was "too aggressive to safely interact with other kids" before wondering whether she was "too aggressive to be a girl." =P )

  16. Yes, the zero-G laser tag is both cool and sounds like a lot of fun. I will give Card full credit for coming up with interesting technology (some of which parallels real tech developments, like the very tablet computer like "desks"). I just wish they weren't attached to a story that's a near continual headdesk for me.

  17. Aashyma Never WouldJuly 11, 2013 at 2:56 AM

    This is a military school-why on earth are Madrid's fingernails long enough to draw blood? I wasn't allowed nails longer than my fingertips in high school-and it was only a semi private institution.

    I'm fairly sure it's part of uniform and such: short hair, clean shaven, shirt fingernails-all especiially nails, so you don't tear them on anything.

    Also, Madrid sounds like a Shoujo manga villain from the '70s

  18. apropos of nothing: these reviews need more Whatnapple. Because WHAT

  19. I think Card's just really bad with biology. See also: his xenobiologists in Speaker for the Dead looking at an (apparently) all-female species and saying "Golly gee we have no idea how this could happen it's not like <a href=">Earth</a> has anything like this at all, no sirree."

  20. Supervillain Graff

    And now I'm picturing Harrison Ford dancing like Rob Zombie's son in the video for Powerman 2000's song "Supervillain." What has been seen cannot be unseen.

  21. or there are multiple programs afoot to find The One, and Petra is some other General's champion in the arena.

    As with a lot of things, in any other story this would be a fascinating concept. How would the various competing generals decide who won? Who gets to sit in the Big Tactician's Chair? How do the various egos clash when the pet projects learn about them being pet projects?

    I am rather sickened by the ideas you bring up here. I can't attribute that subtext to OSC's writing, but it certainly stands as a point of him not considering the consequences or interpretations of his worldbuilding.

  22. Worry not. There's plenty in the actual text to have to gnaw on.

    Although there is an amusing image of Ender's Game actually being the script for a season of Survivor: Formic Wars Edition...but it would still require the participants not be very young children. Because they are, it's probably closer to Battle Royale.

  23. Awesome post, Will. :) (Though I can't think of anything to add beyond WHAT.)

    I never liked Petra, and I'm trying now to understand why. I didn't like ANY of Card's female characters, though, and I have a vague recollection of feeling like they conformed to stereotypes rather than being fleshed out. Maybe I didn't like how passively Petra accepts Bonzo's abuse -- if she's such a good sharpshooter, can't she jockey for a transfer? Is that even an option in this horrible school? -- or maybe I didn't like how she was immediately Ender's friend despite clearly having enough of her own problems that maybe she wouldn't want to antagonize Bonzo further by befriending his newest focus of hatred.

    Which isn't to say that none of this is realistic or that I haven't been there and done exactly that. (Well, minus the fingernails. But other things that were just as, if not more so, abusive from male peers in academy.) But there was something about how matter-of-fact Petra takes everything that comes, without a peep of complaint, that bothered me. Even Ender is allowed to be annoyed at Bonzo; Petra never seems to be.

    Then, of course, there is the fact that Petra, by being the only girl, is both the Smurfette and the Exceptional Woman all rolled into one. And, iirc, she will fail first and fail badliest of all the sub-generals. It just felt like such a disappointment when I got there, like Card was telling me all over again that even the most Exceptional Woman is still not as good as the Exceptional Men. *sigh* Maybe I only hate her in retrospect for that.

  24. Disliking all of Card's female characters isn't exactly difficult given how few there are, especially at this point. Petra and Valentine are the only ones of note here, and Valentine is the Familial-Love Interest and Petra is the Token/Exceptional Girl, so they're not exactly full of depth and human expression.

    That said, I personally do like Petra most of the time. I don't get the impression students have the ability to apply for transfer, only to request it from their commanders, so she's stuck in Salamander for now. She'll get promoted to commander of her own army within a couple of years, and be recognised as one of the best (the only one who ever comes close to beating Dragon in a fair fight). I don't think I'd characterise her actions later as 'facilitating'--she tries to walk into an ambush with the intent to win the brawl but on the assumption that by taking a few punches they will assuage the bullies' need to show off, which might seem very reasonable to her if she's made a practice (under Bonzo) of enduring just enough abuse to let Bonzo cool down (abuse obviously doesn't work that way, but these are children, nominally).

    As for her collapse at the end--well, there's a lot to be said there, so I will leave it for now (although others may discuss as they like).

  25. Yeah. I think it's entirely possible that my dislike of her has less to do with her character as written and more to do with the fact that it feels like Card is saying there's really only two acceptable ways for me to be female. And both of them (Valentine and Petra) are never As Good as the Exceptional Man on the field. Which is kind of a big "fuck you" to women, especially after all the other gender essentialism about Valentine and girls in Battle School and Petra being "almost a boy" and etc. etc.

    TL;DR: I'd probably hate her less if there were a different author writing her.

  26. "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."

    Re-reading this, aside from the homoeroticism, what strikes me is that I believe it's the first time Ender admits he would follow someone, that someone is a worthy leader—and it's based on looks alone! WTF? Sure, he respect Graff and other adults, but that is because they're adults and military officers. I mean, a full colonel, of course the aspiring boy-soldier respects that. But first time he really expects leadership from a peer it's because the peer is . . . pretty?

    The nudity here, especially from Petra, is just plain-out creepy, too. Unless they were ordered to sleep nude (or not given anything else to wear) it seems odd and they certainly would not have allowed Petra to be naked with a bunch of pre-teen boys. I just don't see that nor why it's in the story. The nudity in the shower fight makes sense and is very well done in that it conjures a return to Greek traditions in combat and works very well (pity it wasn't better done in the film, though—almost all the power of that scene was lost).

  27. I suspect Bonzo's beauty is supposed to (among other things) emphasise that people who look like good leaders don't necessarily have the skill to go along with it, and to suggest that Ender isn't so perfect that he can't be swayed by stories that say all the heroes are also super-hot. But that's not much of a theme and it really gets overwhelmed by the creepy exoticism and conflicted homoeroticism, I think.