(Content: antisemitism. Fun content: Mel Brooks, cursed frogurt, Kirk.)
Ender's Game: p. 97--107
Chapter Eight: Rat
The voices in the Featureless Plane of Dialogue (this week, Graff and Anderson) are once again showing that their priorities are absolutely the best ever. Graff has asked Anderson to start preparing unfair game plans for Ender in the battleroom, intentionally weighting the odds against him. He recommends unfair star arrangements to start, but also late notifications and unequal forces*. Anderson doesn't like this.
"You're getting too close to the game, Anderson. You're forgetting that it is merely a training exercise."
"It's also status, identity, purpose, name; all that makes these children who they are comes out of this game. When it becomes known that the game can be manipulated, weighted, cheated, it will undo this whole school. I'm not exaggerating."This does not make sense to me. The smarter students know that the teachers control everything--Petra's already made that point, and Dink will again shortly. Why would it be a devastating shock to the student body to discover that the people in control of their whole lives are exerting control over an aspect of their lives? If one high school soccer team in the league were always forced to play in the snow, would every other team suddenly lose all sense of trust and confidence and start sacrificing goats to a golden calf? I'm just having a really hard time with the idea that the students are basing their whole lives around the conviction that the game is an untouchable, objectively fair representation of everyone's value in the universe and no one can ever have the odds stacked against them.
"I hope you will forgive me, Colonel Graff, but I feel that I must report your orders and my opinion of their consequences to the Strategos and the Hegemon."
"Why not our dear Polemarch?"
"Everybody knows you have him in your pocket."For some reason, the ruling triumvirate of the entire world only uses ancient Greek titles. 'Strategos' is 'army leader', 'Hegemon' is 'ruler', and Polemarch is 'warlord' and it turns out is pronounced 'pol-em-ark', not 'pole-march', which is taking some getting used to after saying it wrong in my head for fifteen years. These titles seem like they overlap a lot (even in ancient Greece). Apparently the Polemarch is commander of the International Fleet and the Strategos is in charge of the defence of the solar system, but since there are no humans outside the solar system at the time of Ender's Game... yeah, I dunno either.
"So you won't mind if I notify them?"
"Of course I mind, you meddlesome ass. This is something to be decided by people who know what they're doing, not these frightened politicians who got their office because they happen to be politically potent in the country they come from."In five books I have never understood how politics on Earth work here. Countries are democracies (mostly?) but the Hegemon is basically President of the World with unlimited power. Naturally, in a series that's all about how wonderful the special select few people are, democracy is not really anyone's favourite thing--no thank you sir or madam, we will have some nice military meritocracy please. Those are totally unbiased and have no downsides.**
"Ender Wiggin is ten times smarter and stronger than I am. What I'm doing to him will bring out his genius. If I had to go through it myself, it would crush me."How do you know that it will bring out his genius, Graff? It's never given you what you needed before. You've only had near-misses and flameouts. Is this how Mazer Rackham was trained? Actually, why isn't Mazer Rackham in charge of this training? What qualifications do you have that make you so sure your technique is the perfect recipe to make the ultimate military genius? In short, Hyrum Graff, who the fuck are you?
Ender arrives at his new dorm in Rat Army, which is a disorganised mess that makes him uncomfortable after a few weeks in Salamander's tyrannical order. The commander of Rat Army is sprawled in his bed naked [drink!] except for his desk in his lap. The commander is... how can I... look, I'm just going to let Card and Brooks explain it.
"We doing okay, Ender Bender. I Rose de Nose, Jewboy extraordinaire, and you ain't nothin but a pinheaded pinprick of a goy. Don't you forget it."
Since the I.F. was formed, the Strategos of the military forces had always been a Jew. There was a myth that Jewish generals didn't lose wars. And so far it was still true. It made any Jew in the Battle School dream of being Strategos, and conferred prestige on him from the start. [....]
If Mazer Rackham could save the world, then it didn't matter a bit whether you were a Jew or not, people said.
But it did matter, and Rose the Nose knew it. He mocked himself to forestall the mocking comments of anti-semites--almost everyone he defeated in battle became, at least for a time, a Jew-hater--but he also made sure everyone knew what he was. His army was in second place, bucking for first.Ye gods, this stuff. It's actually a pretty fair representation of how screwed racism is in the real world. The Jews are superhuman but they're also not actually special, and the kid who dares to do well in school While Being Jewish has to mock himself with his own marginalising humour in hopes of appearing less threatening and so getting less racism directed his way. This is much better than the zero-G racism from a couple of chapters ago. It's also pretty much the only time in the book that we will hear about how super-important Jewishness is in this world. I've edited out quite a chunk in the middle there; it's basically a solid page of Space Jews out of nowhere and then I'm not sure we'll ever really talk about race (or religion) again for the rest of the book. The focus makes me vaguely uncomfortable, in the same way it does when Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins write about the super-important and actually-all-wrong Jews. Especially when we're going to be shown and then told outright that Rose doesn't actually know how to be a good commander, and have it vaguely implied that his victories are actually because of his brilliant subordinate.
Just, like, as a rule, I kind of think conservative Christian SFF writers should not opine on the place of Jews in the world. It doesn't seem to go well for anyone.
"And you are forbidden to use your desk again until you've frozen two enemy soldiers in the same battle. This order is out of self-defense. I hear you're a genius programmer. I don't want you screwing around with my desk."
Everybody erupted in laughter. It took Ender a moment to understand why. Rose had programmed his desk to display and animate a bigger-than-lifesize picture of male genitals [drink!], which waggled back and forth as Rose held the desk on his naked lap.Rose explains that Ender has been placed under the command of toon leader Dink Meeker, so Ender goes to find Dink hanging out in the arcade. Dink is laconic, but bit by bit Ender finds out what's going on--Dink was actually watching Ender's training sessions with his friends and decided he had promise, so he requested that Rose trade for him. He also tells Ender to ignore Rose's orders about using his desk (and about stopping the launchy practices):
"Listen, Ender, commanders have just as much authority as you let them have. The more you obey them, the more power they have over you."This is one the one hand very deep and on the other painfully stupid. Yes, human systems only work smoothly because people constantly quietly agree to follow the rules set by those more powerful than them, so we don't constantly need enforcers. Social contract, et cetera, important realisation; fundamental concept behind the works of Gandhi. On the other hand, people who disobey, who protest, who insist on confronting the people with power (whether their CO or a politician or a schoolyard bully) can also get enforcement right up in their face. This line of logic can be used to set a person free or just to tell them that it's their own fault if they get oppressed, and it needs more nuance.
Also, as I've mentioned before, Ender never really disobeys, especially when it might prevent tragedy, so I'm not sure why we keep getting this theme popping up.
Ender finally gets to train with his whole army, unlike Salamander, except that... oh sweet Buddha... CAAARRD.
Dink trained his toon independently from the rest of Rat Army, with discipline and vigor; he never consulted with Rose, and only rarely did the whole army maneuver together. It was as if Rose commanded one army, and Dink commanded a much smaller one that happened to practice in the battleroom at the same time.
MILITARY TACTICS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY. I just--I don't even know where to start on how stupid this is. Coordination is victory--knowing who will be where and when and what they're doing, being able to move together with a single purpose. And now Rat Army, second-highest-ranked team in the school, commanded by a Magical Jew, is apparently winning even though/because it intentionally abandons 25% of its ability to coordinate. This lines up perfectly with the prior bit about lower officers sometimes being able to make better decisions than their commander, and lines up atrociously with reality.
Dink is of course brilliant, and immediately wants his soldiers to start practicing Ender's kneeling attack, but neither they nor he realise that it goes along with Ender's 'the enemy's gate is down' perspective. Which makes sense, given that everyone sticks with the corridor-gravity perspective and it's not possible to see just by watching how a person is envisioning zero gravity. What doesn't make sense is that Ender doesn't correct them either. He keeps his mouth shut and lets them continue talking about 'attacking lying on our backs'.
Ender, you jackwagon.
He's part of this army, Dink got him out of an abusive situation and gave him a real learning environment, and Ender is still holding out on his ultimate techniques--the only possible reason I can think of is that he knows he'll be in charge of his own army someday and wants to still have some advantage over this lot. He practices with them, not speaking up at all as they suffer from gravity vertigo when Dink makes them repeat maneuvers in multiple orientations. What a tool.
This is getting long, so let's skim a bit--Ender insists on practicing with his friends, and using his desk to do his trigonometry homework, which makes Rose angry. Ender slams Bonzo's strategies as well (which Rose had thought were intentional and brilliant) and takes credit for 'turning defeat into stalemate, all by himself', so Rose decides that in their next game, Ender should once again see what he can do all by himself. Two days later:
"We'll see how well you do now, Ender. As soon as that door opens, you jump through, go straight ahead toward the enemy's door."
Suicide. Pointless, meaningless self-destruction. But he had to follow orders now, this was battle, not school. For a moment Ender raged silently; then he calmed himself. "Excellent, sir," he said. "The direction I fire my gun is the direction of their main contingent."Ender launches and is halfway across the battleroom by the time Centipede Army has begun to deploy, firing furiously between his protective legs, and substantially carves up their forces in the few seconds he has before they get their bearings and freeze him. Rat Army is now at a considerable advantage, and wins the rest of the fight easily. Word gets around fast and every team in the school starts practicing rapid deployment, because Ender has once again Done A Thing and so The Game Is Changed. Several decades in operation with the smartest kids in the world and no one in the whole school has ever thought 'hey, what if we shot the other guys first?'
Some days later, Ender sticks around after Rat's practice session, because he's noticed Dink always stays behind and Ender wants to find out what's up with that. The answer, obviously, involves nakedness.
It was plain Dink expected Ender to leave. It was just as plain that Ender was saying no.
Dink turned his back on Ender, methodically took off his flash suit [drink!], and gently pushed off from the floor. He drifted slowly toward the center of the room, very slowly, his body relaxing almost completely, so that his hands and arms seemed to be caught by almost nonexistent air currents in the room.
After the speed and tension of practice, the exhaustion, the alertness, it was restful just to watch him drift. He did it for ten minutes or so before he reached another wall. Then he pushed off rather sharply, returned to his flash suit, and pulled it on.I was going to finish this scene, but we're about halfway through the chapter, so let's just leave it here, with our intensely homophobic author musing on how relaxing it is to watch a naked boy float on the breeze.
Remember, we're shifting to a weekly schedule now, so there'll be more whatnapple for you next Sunday! Tell your friends! (You know, in case you wanted to get back at them for wronging you.)
*I'm not sure if this is a fair criticism or not, but there are basically four or five ways that we hear about the battles getting weighted against Ender, and we've just been told three of them. If Anderson has a couple of years to sort everything out, I'm a little disappointed that he apparently only has one more good idea after this meeting. Which, in turn, is a criticism of Card and show-don't-tell, I suppose. Telling us that this training program will take years to develop sounds really impressive, but the payoff kind of needs to be equally impressive, and 'my boss's offhand ideas plus one other thing' is... not.
**The thing about Ender's Game is that the final chapter changes everything that came before it, which makes me wonder whether it's ultimately meant to criticise the things that it apparently valorises. Ender is the best and he wins because Graff takes risks without worrying about whether they're politically popular, go not-team! Except all of these things lead to unspeakable tragedy. But then in Card's morality, consequences don't actually matter. MY BRAIN.