Sunday, August 18, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter nine, part one, in which blogs are taken seriously

(Content: animal cruelty, threats, discussion of mental illness. Fun content: Greek and Russian history, Tenacious D, Fred Clark.)

I've been looking forward to this one for months.  Required reading: Randall Munroe on Locke & Demosthenes.  After that, how much is there left to say?  I don't know!  Let's find out.

Ender's Game: p. 120--138
Chapter 9: Locke and Demosthenes

In today's 15 minutes of Ender Time, Graff is demanding that Major Imbu find out which sothothic horror programmed the video game that keeps psychoanalysing Ender better than anyone else does.  (Although given the apparent level of inductive reasoning among the I.F. brass--hmm, this six-year-old murderer might have violent tendencies--that is not hard.)  Last week, of course, it showed Ender his brother's face in a mirror instead of his own, because symbolism.
"I don't like having the computer screw around with Ender's mind that way."
I'll wait for everyone to stop laughing before we continue.  The zone name 'The End of the World' is distressing Graff.  Imbu hypothesises:
"You've been isolating the boy.  Maybe he's wishing for the end of this world, the Battle School.  Or maybe it's about the end of the world he grew up with as a little boy, his home, coming here.  Or maybe it's his way of coping with having broken up so many other kids here.  Ender's a sensitive kid, you know, and he's done some pretty bad things to people's bodies, he might be wishing for the end of that world."
Major Imbu is way better at this than Graff.  Maybe he should start a blog.

Graff is especially confounded by the photo of Peter because it's so new, more recent than anything in Battle School or any other I.F. computer.  The game AI apparently had to go and actually steal a picture from the Guilford County school computers.  As this chapter illustrates maybe more clearly than any other, Card successfully predicted a whole lot of technological advances of the modern day, tablets and blogging and internet communities, but he did not see facebook coming.
"His brother is dangerous, his brother was rejected for this program because he's one of the most ruthless and unreliable human beings we've laid hands on.  Why is he so important to Ender?"
"One of" isn't good enough; Battle School only takes the most ruthless and unreliable human beings.  (I'm repeating myself, but I'm still struggling to grasp how Ender murdering a schoolyard bully for pushing him around can make him appear more reliable and... ruthful.)
"Honestly, sir, I don't know.  And the mind game program is designed so that it can't tell us.  It may not know itself, actually."
Who the hell thought it was a good idea to program a video game to think for itself, intentionally place kids in psychologically destabilising scenarios, freely requisition whatever information it decides it wants from any computer system on Earth, and be completely unaccountable to everyone?  They might as well just let the Joker be the guidance counselor and have HAL run the battleroom.  The fact that Earth isn't a smouldering clod of ash is obviously proof that the aliens aren't actually trying to invade, because it's sure as hell not the brilliant military scaring them off.

Back to Earth!  It's Ender's eighth birthday and Valentine is commemorating it with a small fire in their backyard at the new house in North Carolina.  (This chapter is a huge timeskip.  You may recall that Ender's seventh birthday was during his few weeks in Salamander Army, and we'll get to his ninth before the chapter ends.*)  She thinks about how often they used to write him letters, but they slowed and stopped when he didn't respond, and finally moved to a new city.  She is sure their parents did it for Peter: that living among trees and small animals, so that nature, in as raw a form as Mother and Father could conceive of it, might have a softening influence on their strange and frightening son.  and, in a way, it had.  Peter took to it right away.
I'll spare us all the details of what Valentine has found in the woods, but suffice to say that she knows Peter has been going off on cheerful nature hikes with his desk and a sandwich, and then catching, torturing, and killing squirrels.
At first she was horrified, and nearly threw up at dinner, watching how Peter ate so vigorously, talked so cheerfully.  But later she thought about it and realized that perhaps, for Peter, it was a kind of magic, like her little fires; a sacrifice that somehow stilled the dark gods that hunted for his soul.  Better to torture squirrels than other children.
Valentine might be a genius but she is apparently not familiar with the link between animal cruelty and serial killers.  People occasionally bring this idea up, that if you 'vent' your dangerous/harmful impulses by giving into them in some lesser way, you will somehow make yourself healthier than if you held them in.  As if the whole of the planet isn't proof that emotions can be practiced, that we teach ourselves how to react and how to feel.  Stereotypes. Bigotry.  Abuse, whether mental or physical.  There's a pretty solid link between animal abuse and a history of being abused.  Everything gets easier after the first time.  I really hope we're supposed to think this is the stupidest thing Valentine has ever thought.

I don't know whether to detail the rest of Valentine's terrible psychological assessment or not--it manages to be ablist while trying not to be, as she muses on how Peter "was not insane" because he has impulse control.  That's not a good definition of insanity.  (Strictly and literally speaking, nothing is a good definition of insanity other than 'mental unhealthiness', and I think it's pretty clear Peter does have that.  But sure, let's just tell the twelve-year-old with a militarily-screwed-up home life and a completely inadequate school system that his problems are all his own fault because he's just a bad person.)

She doesn't fear Peter's idle death threats anymore, either:
He would only do it if the advantages outweighed the risks.  And they did not.  In a way, she actually preferred Peter to other people because of this.  He always, always acted out of intelligent self-interest.
Really?  What advantage does he get from torturing animals in a way that can clearly be linked back to him if anyone went looking (say, if Valentine decided to show their parents, which she does not because she thinks they're too stupid to see through Peter's 'whole new boy' façade**)?

Peter moves on from death threats to world politics, and Russian troop movements:
"You know Russia?  Big Empire?  The Second Warsaw Pact?  Rulers of Eurasia from the Netherlands to Pakistan?" 
"They don't publish their troop movements, Peter." 
"Of course not.  But they do publish their passenger and freight train schedules.  I've had my desk analyzing those schedules and figuring out when the secret troop trains are moving over the same tracks.  Done it backward over the past three years.  In the last six months, they've stepped up, they're getting ready for war.  Land war."
Card wrote this during the early 1980s, when the Cold War was still a thing.  Given how many writers back then now look silly for assuming the USSR would hold together indefinitely, I have to give Card some credit for writing world politics such that he could make the USSR the bad guys of the future even if the current situation changed.  (If nothing else, he could say the place fell apart during the first alien invasion.)

Peter and Valentine apparently talk about world politics regularly, and are such geniuses that they see the truth that everyone else misses:
They had become quite deft at sifting accurate information out of the stories of the hopelessly ignorant, gullible new writers.  The news herd, as Peter called them.
Card's predictions about the type of people who would become avid bloggers are scarily accurate.  I bet in the Enderverse Peter Wiggin invented the term 'sheeple'.  Anyway, Peter and Valentine, super-geniuses with apparent access to incredibly comprehensive information on international rail transit, have managed to come to the same conclusion that Dink Meeker did in a cave with a box of scraps sitting in a tin can in space and thinking about human nature.  But sure, the only reasons they didn't go to Battle School were that Peter was too violent and Valentine too empathetic.

We are reminded again about how empathetic Valentine is as she thinks about how good she is at manipulating people by seeing what they like about themselves and flattering them.  (Peter is said to see what they hate about themselves, for use in bullying, but apparently that doesn't count as empathy because Card doesn't know what a sociopath is.)  She can manipulate people at school, and her parents, and even Peter which scares her, because apparently even Valentine is distressed by the idea that people who do terrible things aren't indecipherably inhuman.  First mental illness is scary because it doesn't make sense, and then because it does.  You can't win.

Peter goes on about how he and Valentine may be children but they don't act like them or write like them, and how in times of crisis the right words can change everything.  He cites many people, including Demosthenes, and flatters Valentine by asking:
"Haven't you ever thought of a phrase, Val, a clever thing to say, and said it, and then two weeks or a month later you hear some adult saying it to another adult, both of them strangers?  Or you see it on a video or pick it up on a net?" 
"I always figured I heard it before and only thought I was making it up." 
"You were wrong.  There are maybe two or three thousand people in the world as smart as us, little sister.  Most of them are making a living somewhere.  Teaching, the poor bastards, or doing research.  Precious few of them are actually in positions of power."
I read these things and try to remember if I ever identified with them; if I thought of myself in my teens as one of the few smart people with the potential to think freely and speak meaningfully.  I honestly don't remember.  It sounds like me, and yet on my first read-through I was still totally on Ender's side regarding Peter Wiggin, The Adversary Who Is Called The Devil, so maybe I was too busy being disgusted by his evil.  (This chapter, with the animal torture, is the height of Peter's evil and hereafter will largely be ignored and, I would argue, retconned out of existence by the time of Shadow of the Hegemon, four-ish years later.)

Peter's plan to blog his way to power depends first on getting an adult's internet access--apparently they can use whatever fake names they want on the web but they can't avoid being designated as children on their own accounts.  He wants Valentine to make they case to their father, by telling him how worried she is that Peter is getting unstable and backsliding to his sadistic ways because he can't talk to his real intellectual peers and get the respect he deserves.  If this is supposed to parallel kids who act out in school because the lessons are too easy for them, it's a really creepy parallel.

Valentine brushes Peter off, reminding him that he was making death threats a few minutes ago, and he starts a spiel about how he's wanted to ask her to do this for a long time but he's been afraid--afraid that she wouldn't believe in him, or that she would stop him because she saw him as a nascent evil overlord.
"I was a vicious, nasty brother.  I was cruel to you and crueler to Ender before they took him.  But I didn't hate you.  I loved you both, I just had to be--had to have control, do you understand that?  It's the most important thing to me, it's my greatest gift, I can see where the weak points are, I can see how to get in and use them, I just see those things without even trying. [....] I'm going to rule, Val, I'm going to have control of something.  But I want it to be something worth ruling."
Is this 'I have a gift for seeing the weak points and where to strike' common in other people's experience?  Because I have seen a remarkable number of people describe themselves like that (including myself) and I'm not sure whether it's a thing smart people do or a thing that everyone does but only 'smart' people think it makes them special.

Peter's entitlement here is perfect: the conviction that he will change everything if only he doesn't miss opportunities because he's too young and people don't appreciate that if he is the only one who understands how the world needs to be run.  He is every teenager, especially the (legitimately) intelligent ones who feel that they are staggering geniuses tragically unappreciated by those around them.  There is a foreword to this book, which I have been struggling since the beginning not to quote, because I want to save it for the end, but--this is one of the parts to remember, when we get there.

Also, both siblings Godwin Peter, independently (Valentine in her thoughts, Peter out loud).  Peter goes on, and Valentine believes he is both sincere and manipulative (manipulating her by being sincere for once when he normally lies) by saying that he is also afraid that he's going to become a tyrant, but he believes that with Valentine's constant presence and partnership he can be good.  Valentine thinks that she wants to believe this too, because it means that she can be good while still satisfying the power-hunger that she tries to pretend she doesn't have too.

I do not believe for one instant that Peter or Valentine couldn't do Ender's job.  They are the same person thrice over: 'I'm so smart that I am compelled to dominate no matter what, so I had better angst about whether I am morally pure'.  God, that was like crack and Fruitopia to teenage me.  Not because I believed it was true, but because I loved the fantasy that it could be.

So they get online and basically start trolling:
They needed respect, and that they could earn.  With false names, on the right nets, they could be anybody.  Old men, middle-aged women, anybody, as long as they were careful about the way they wrote. [....] Of course they were not invited to take part in the great national and international political forums [....] in the lesser conferences, where common people commented about the great debates, they began to insert their comments.  At first Peter insisted that they be deliberately inflammatory.  "We can't learn how our style of writing is working unless we get responses--and if we're bland, no one will answer."
Based on my web experience, if they want people to react, their best bets are to be funny or to promote one side of the status quo that a large part of the population already agrees with.  Still, they get responses, and hate mail.  The weird thing is that the hate mail is apparently constructive criticism?  I mean, sure, you can see what people take easy shots at, but I'm less clear on how hate mail is a good way of figuring out what parts of your writing are seen as "childish and immature".

Then they get serious, with Peter taking the west coast and the screenname Locke, and Valentine taking the south under the name Demosthenes.  They go everywhere together, plotting and writing and using sockpuppets to throw in further ideas to the conversation.  Peter is super-intense about keeping their writing styles dissimilar so that (when people start trying to figure out who they are, because of course they will) they won't think there's any chance the two are collaborating.
They began composing debates for their characters.  Valentine would prepare and opening statement, and Peter would invent a throwaway name to answer her.  His answer would be intelligent, and the debate would be lively, lots of clever invective and good political rhetoric.  Valentine had a knack for alliteration that made her phrases memorable.
Alliteration always aggregates into an avalanche of actual attention.  Or maybe it sounds stupidly twee and childish.  But sure.  This is, of course, the GIRAT Conundrum, that when a character is the Best Writer Ever in a written story we eventually need some evidence and it's hard to fake The Best Writing Ever.  (The solution, of course, is the Tenacious D Stratagem: write essays that other people are writing about Locke and Demosthenes and their ideas.  Card will do this later; he does make some good decisions.)
Then they would enter the debate into the network, separated by a reasonable amount of time, as if they were actually making them up on the spot.  Sometimes a few other netters would interpose comments, but Peter and Val would usually ignore them [....] Peter took careful note of all their most memorable phrases and then did searches from time to time to find those phrases cropping up in other places.
Card accurately predicted people googling themselves.  This is pretty comprehensive.

After seven months, Demonsthenes gets an offer for a weekly column in a major California newsnet.  She takes it, of course, and gloats a bit about being more popular than Locke, but a large part of the reason seems to be that Demonsthenes is a paranoid xenophobe who rants about how the Russian Empire needs to be dissolved, and (as throughout time immemorial) bigotry has a huge automatic audience.  Peter's plan is for his own persona, Locke, to be the one who is ultimately given actual power once he's seen as the voice of reason, the Martin Luther King to Demosthenes' Malcolm X.

Their father starts reading from Demosthenes at the dinner table, talking about how once the Formic War is over they can't leave half the world as serfs to 'hegemonist Russians', which I hope is supposed to be hilarious, when we've been told that the literal global Hegemony is run out of North America.  Valentine is sad, because she thought "only fools" would listen to Demosthenes.  Valentine is only now catching on to what we realised back in chapter two, which is that her parents are twits.  (Or faking it, according to the later books.  But I'm pretty sure that's not what Card had in mind at this moment.)

Locke gets picked up by a New England newsnet specifically to counterpoint their super-popular Demosthenes column.
"Not bad for two kids who've only got about eight pubic hairs between them," Peter said. [Excuse me, I have to go throw up forever.]
"It's a long way between writing a newsnet column and ruling the world," Valentine reminded him.  "It's such a long way that no one has ever done it." 
"They have, though.  Or the moral equivalent."
Not that Peter explains who he thinks is a good example of this.  We'll cut off there for this week, but first a tally: Card successfully predicted big-name bloggers, sockpuppets, the end of the USSR, and the continued popularity of vitriolic jingoism.  He completed failed to predict facebook, lolcats, upvotes, or blog deconstructions.  I think we all know which have had a bigger impact on the social role of the internet in the world.

Come back next week to see Ender develop and be cured of depression because clearly Card is a master of how psychology works.


*On the one hand, I understand the relevance of timeskips in fiction, but on the other, they almost always frustrate the hell out of me because they are so badly conveyed.  For an example of the worst: The Walking Dead TV series did an eight-month timeskip between seasons two and three, during which no one died, no one new joined the group, no interpersonal relationships changed, and everyone travelled in circles.  It was just an excuse to skip over a pregnancy.  The one good example I can think of is Battlestar Galactica, where the one-year timeskip covered multiple marriages and births, new friendships forming and dissolving, political shifts, personality changes, and it took half a season before we fully understood everything that had happened.  My point is this: if you're telling a story where huge changes occur every few hours, and you skip ahead two years and tell the audience "Uh, yeah, coincidentally everything slowed way down while you weren't looking", I am unimpressed.

**Blogger and/or Chrome wants me to spell 'façade' as 'facade', because apparently fuck French.  Sigh.


  1. Card apparently also failed to predict doxxing someone via their IP address. Peter and Valentine would have been outed and upvoted to the front page of Reddit in a New York minute.

    also, this episode's vocabulary words are "sothothic" and "ruthful." I will endeavor to use them in conversations during the week.

  2. Re that link on Godwin's law – did you follow the link it gave to the Usenet post where Godwin first formulated his law? I wonder how many of us here realize who had just been called a Nazi. Content note for homophobia if you read the rest of the thread.

  3. Oh wow, serendipity.

    I'm not sure it's loading properly for me, or if I'm just bad at navigating archived usenet discussions, but the gist of it is appears to be about whether Orson Scott Card's writing should be sanctioned due to his incredibly intense and public homophobia, the year after his famous 'Hypocrites of Homosexuality' article was published? And, as is predictable for the internet, the Just Like The Nazis accusation was levelled against the people who were discussing a boycott of books (rather than perhaps the guy advocating for ostracising a chunk of the population for not following his interpretation of his religion)?

    Everything that blogs must converge, I guess.

  4. And the really sad thing is, you make this all sound much more sensible than the book does. Adding five to ten years to all the kids ages might make suspension of disbelief easier, but, damn, I'm seriously starting to wonder if Card has ever interacted with another human being. Ever.

    Peter and Valentine's interactions just read wildly off, at least to me. Partly it's too much telling on Card's part, but a lot of it just doesn't make any sense. (And that's beside the waffling on whether or not their parents know about Peter. Half the time they're apparently not supposed to, and the other half of the time they know and are afraid of him, or something. Is there no professional help in this reality? WTF?) Valentine and Ender are both bizarrely self-aware and unable, as far as I can tell, to use that self-awareness.

    Or I'm just unusual in how much of a differences knowing I'm being manipulated makes to me. It makes me angry, and it makes me want to strike back. It does not make me want to go along with the manipulation.

    Which may also be why I wish the Formics would wipe the universe of these people. Some of the side characters are fine, even likable, but Ender and his siblings are profoundly unlikable, at least to me. And there's little about the human world of this book that makes me want to see it saved. We can beam Dink, Alai, and Petra to some better universe and let the Formics win.

    I suspect this book's popularity only makes sense if one was a smart kid who felt under appreciated. If you weren't, it's just a giant pile of WFT.

  5. Deliberately inflammatory posts for the purpose of inciting angry responses, using sockpuppets, and paranoid xenophobic rants? They aren't bloggers, they're TROLLS.

  6. I suspect this book's popularity only makes sense if one was a smart kid who felt under appreciated.

    Fascinatingly, I've heard something similar said about Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. This isn't exactly a ringing endorsement to either book.

  7. To be fair, there are plenty of columnists and radio and TV personalities who are basically trolls, so it's not a huge leap for Card to think that internet trolls might become columnists. It does seem oddly telling that he's confused bloggers and trolls, though. (And the business of them being paid in airtime seems awfully convenient.)


    Card is so clearly writing wish-fulfillment fic. I'm not sure why it's so hard for me to have the sympathy I normally have for that. This certainly isn't any worse than Oh, John Ringo, No. Maybe the lack of self-awareness on the part of the author? Maybe I'm just being a jerk. I'll try to be less of one.

  8. While Card doesn't use the phrase "IP address" IP addresses existed from 1974 and Card did (I think) know about them - he describes Valentine and Peter layering their use of the Internet via a series of nested accounts that one can read as obscuring their shared IP address. Note that Johann Hari managed to create multiple Wikipedia editor personas for himself for *years*, including a main one 'David r from meth productions' which he mainly used to edit his own Wikipedia page and the Wikipedia pages of people who had annoyed him, by means of shifting IP addresses so that he could post something on a Wikipedia Talk page and then respond to it using a different IP address: so it is possible, even if Card doesn't make it look particularly plausible.

  9. Loved XKCD's comment on this part of Ender's Game:

  10. Oh. My. Godwin.

    dying forever, brb.

  11. Is this 'I have a gift for seeing the weak points and where to strike' common in other people's experience? Because I have seen a remarkable number of people describe themselves like that (including myself)

    I certainly don't think I have such an ability. Taken in isolation, this could easily just mean that I'm especially bad. However, I have also noticed that when I operate under the assumption that other people know my weak points, it tends to cause unnecessary escalation: I yell at them for poking at me, they were unaware of poking me, believe I am making the first move, and retaliate. I seem to be correct far more often when I assume that any pokings that can reasonably be construed as accidents are.

    (Bearing their ignorance in mind is a tricky task, especially when angry. I'm working on it.)

    I don't think I've seen very many people admit to knowing others' weak points without being told. Interesting that you have.

    God, that was like crack and Fruitopia to teenage me.

    You like Fruitopia?
    (I had some once, because the movie theatre had a deal for a free "soft drink" if [some qualification I met without trying] and I hate carbonation. Not only would I not spend money on it, now that I know what it tastes like I wouldn't take it for free.)

  12. Fruitopia had a different mixture in its very early years, which had drastically less sugar and actually tasted like fruit. So, back when I was reading Ender's Game for the first time, it was delicious. I'm not sure how long ago that was, but it was a long time. I have avoided it for years myself, but I still have a positive association.

  13. *Gollum-like shriek* You had to bring up Oh, John Ringo, No. I'm reliving the dirty-old-man chills. Maybe it's just me, but I find intellectual self-stroking more palatable than literal self-stroking.

  14. If John Ringo didn't fully admit that that series of his is twelve kinds of wrong, I'd find it a whole lot more disturbing. That he admits it, and had a good attitude toward the Oh, John Ringo, No blog post makes it... better? I don't know. I certainly don't want to _read_ them, but I'm no more disturbed by their existence than by the existence of the myriad of kink appeal fanfics out there.

    Which is why I'm not sure why Ender's Game annoys me so much.

  15. Possibly because Card doesn't think there's anything wrong with it and dismisses anyone who doesn't like Ender's Game by stating they're jealous or threatened by its simple brilliance? I'm not aware of any criticism he's ever acknowledged as even potentially valid.

  16. Which is extra-interesting, because of all the stuff that's retconned later.

  17. That could be it, all right. It's one thing to write wish fulfillment fic (and/or Id fic) and acknowledge it as such, and quite another to proclaim it srs bzns and get all huffy when people point out its flaws.

  18. "Still, they get responses, and hate mail. The weird thing is that the hate mail is apparently constructive criticism?"

    "Your most implacable enemies are your greatest teachers" = overt theme of Ender's Game.

  19. Fair point, but normally there's at least a little more nuance to it--Ender doesn't learn superior laser tag tactics by analysing the jeers that random nobodies throw at him, or learn ship combat from people who don't believe in the alien hivemind theory. (Peter and Valentine learn from arguing with each other as well, which is a stronger parallel to Ender and Alai developing new techniques by doing random stuff in the battleroom.) I can't think of another case where the criticisms of the plebes are indicated to be highly valuable insights for Our Heroes to refine their technique.

  20. And that's beside the waffling on whether or not their parents know about Peter. Half the time they're apparently not supposed to, and the other half of the time they know and are afraid of him, or something. Is there no professional help in this reality?

    The implication seems to be that their parents did in fact have some sense of how bad Peter could be when he was younger (no idea how or when) but now believe that he's completely changed. Though still some waffling--their fear now seems like it is only appropriate if they knew exactly how dangerous he was to Ender, and if so they really, really should not have allowed the scenario in chapter 2 (Peter in charge with no adults around) to form.

    As far as the world as a whole--most of it doesn't seem that different from our actual Earth, really. We're just focused on a handful of Super Special people who are mostly awful.

  21. Just want to say I'm loving this. I just read Ender's Game for the first time a couple weeks ago because I got tired of hearing so many references to it and being out of the loop. It was fun, in a junk food way, but I couldn't get over what an enormous Mary Sue Ender was. In this chapter, probably the height of ridiculousness, we see his siblings are just as bad. I read that xkcd a while ago, but I didn't realize that that was literally what happened in the book. Hilarious, indeed. Keep it up.

  22. 1. You're right. But2. The situation is a little different, while remaining fundamentally the same, and here's why.2(a). Sidenote: in all of these examples one of the covert themes of Ender's Game, the theme which says most people and creatures are refuse for burning, stays depressingly the same, yet plays out in different ways. For instance:2(b)Ender and Alai on the one hand and Peter and Valentine on the other track each other exactly; the parallel couldn't be closer. To an uninformed outside observer, Ender and Alai might appear to be each other's enemies, which they in fact are not. They are, instead, companions in battle and friendly rivals, and they work out their tactics in concert. In a precisely similar way, to an outside uninformed observer, IOW to a mass media consumer in the Enderverse, Locke and Demosthenes might appear to be enemies, which, again, in fact they are not. They are quarrelsome siblings, but they're in cahoots. They work out their tactics in concert just as Ender and Alai do. But to people not in the know, to plebes and to readers, to gullible swayable masses (et cetera) they must appear at times to be at each other's throats. Card is telling us that he, as they author, holds all the (um) cards, whereas we, his readers, are apt to get tricked.3. Bear in mind that these two pairs (Ender/Alai and Peter/Valentine) are not enemies though they may appear to be so and that the lessons they learn from each other via their rivalry, valuable as those might be, are not the most intense or final lessons of this book. Ender and Alai face many levels of actual enemies, including the dudes who are running the Battle School but, most pre-eminently, the Formics themselves. Ender and Alai are pretending to want to kill each other, so as eventually to be able to demolish the Formics. How does this apply to Peter and Valentine?4. It applies to Peter and Valentine insofar as, just as Ender and Alai have to learn how to defeat the Formics by playing at defeating one another, Peter and Valentine have to learn how to defeat the public by playing at defeating one another. The main difference inheres in the fact that Ender and Alai are ultimately fighting against members of another species but Peter and Valentine are fighting against members of their own. The "bad reviews" (aka interplanetary warfare) the military system of Earth receives from the Formics result in the creation of Ender, who is destined to defeat the Formics. In extremely similar wise, the flamings the Wiggin siblings from their non-fans instruct them as to how to reply. The idea is the same in both cases, the goal in the one instance being the conquest of space and the goal in the other being the conquest of Earth.

  23. Wait, so Valentine goes along with this idea because she thinks, when the time comes, she can basically manipulate Peter into not behaving with them the same way he has before? That seems less than brilliant, but that's a theme for all the Wiggins at this point. The formics could easily defeat the humans again, if this is the best we're throwing out at them.

  24. "The formics could easily defeat the humans again, if this is the best we're throwing out at them."

    Well, humans are bastards. One might be smart and say that there's no need for the Formics to defeat the humans because the humans can be depended to defeat themselves; probably in the context of the book it's truer to say that the humans have gotten so good at defeating themselves that once in a while they can take a break from defeating themselves and overcome less villainous races, such as the Formics.

    (Last rotten remark of the week, I promise.)

  25. Well, Will aptly points out that all three Wiggin children lack the scruples that might have lesser beings hesitate before assuming the mantle of Omnicidal Maniac. So it would be entirely fair to say the humans win because they're willing to do what a civilized race would not, not because they are tbe superior beings.

  26. They can't really believe he's changed or he couldn't use the threat of backsliding the way he does. Hell, the very fact that he can threaten that is proof that he's not changed. Are we supposed to believe that Ender and Valentine are wrong and the parents know Peter's...whatever he's meant to be? That instead of the parents being not too bright, as Ender and Valentine assume, they're afraid of Peter (and somehow willing to leave their younger children alone with someone -they-'re afraid of??? Hello, child protective services?). I just don't know what to make of the inconsistencies.

    If you assume an unreliable narrator, it's easy to put a whole new interpretation on events - the Wiggins are allowed to have a third child because their children seem perfect for a fall guy for xenocide - they just need one who's sufficiently manipulatible and homicidal. On the third try, they hit the jackpot. The parents are actually in on the whole thing and some events - like Ender and Valentine being left alone with Peter - are actually part of the experimentation. Battle school is weird because, again, they're trying to find the perfect fall guy - someone they can manipulate into killing the Formics, but who will seem like an innocent child. (Not sure how this theory saves this take over the world by blogging business, but otherwise...)

  27. Well, you've got the book, so you can see how he 'threatens' backsliding--by showing anxiety tells and saying "If you guys think it'd be better for me not to interweb so much, I'll stop--I'm sure I can keep myself under control this time, hand tremor, hand tremor". And, again, since the Wiggin parents haven't yet been retconned into geniuses, they ignore this. (Which I expect has a lot to do with smart kids feeling like their parents are so tragically easy to manipulate. It comes up a lot.)

  28. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to program a video game to think
    for itself, intentionally place kids in psychologically destabilising
    scenarios, freely requisition whatever information it decides it wants
    from any computer system on Earth, and be completely unaccountable to
    everyone? They might as well just let the Joker be the guidance
    counselor and have HAL run the battleroom.

    This part I understand now (unlike Peter, who I associated with Dogbert when I first read this. So he's taking over the world, sure, why not.) For context, Card apparently believes that computer programs need a soul added by soul magic before they can make decisions on their own. (The magic comes later in the series.) They can carry out instructions brilliantly, and find the answers to absurdly difficult questions, without a soul. But they won't take over the world and use all available matter for computing power even if you accidentally tell them to (say), 'Output the name of the best candidate and a description of the best training regimen, do whatever it takes.' You can even tell them to 'Produce output that alters the brains of your subjects - either by guiding them in the game, or by explaining the situation to them - in such a way as to achieve certain goals in reality,' and it won't thereby create a super-intelligent zombie army or anything. (Well, not in an unintended way.) Killing humanity would take a Soul. This despite the fact that Ender will in fact destroy a somewhat human-like species by following orders, and will do so in a remarkably computer-like way.

    The Mind Game program or some such Soul-less AI explains why they keep calling Peter horrifyingly ruthless. It noticed his resemblance to Dogbert, calculated that 100% of people in this group had taken over the world (or just decided Peter wouldn't put up with its manipulations, as someone here mentioned) and output a warning that its users completely misunderstood.

    Now Graff has some genuine insight as an educator into children's minds. This is probably Card's hand-wavy explanation for why Graff is telling the program what to do. The person who can ask the right questions should control the program, right? We see that the Super-villain cares about Ender in a twisted way, and we see that he has misgivings about the training regimen later. But he allows the computer to override his feelings (as Card must want us to think of it) and makes himself too machine-like, following the crazy instructions he thinks the computer gave him. From the program's perspective (if it cared, which it apparently doesn't) Graff is messing with the parameters of the computer's answer - probably by combining the answers to two or more different questions, one of which tells him to make the hypothetical subject commit murder.

  29. Hm, darn. (I haven't made it to the end of the book.) I give up. There's no spin to put on any of this that makes it make sense.

    And, yeah, his threats of backsliding are just bizarre. The parents have to know what he does for them to work, yet they're treated so lightly, I just don't know what we're supposed to make of them. Then again, I could say that of much of the book. Things happen and I just kind of stare at the page in bafflement.

  30. I don't have such a weakness-sensing ability either (with the exception of team sports) and my experience about accidental pokes* matches Brin's; but I've asked a couple of friends who do claim such an ability what it's like from their side. As far as I can tell it's something akin to how bullies focus on a target, or interrogators question a suspect, or even how fortune-tellers cold-read a mark - a combination of heuristics, practice, and real-time observations that inform educated guesses about what a given target will find provocative or intolerable. Because I'm on the spectrum and do a poor job of both reading and giving off social signals, they've told me I'm *harder* to manipulate from a cold read than most people would be - for instance, just acting sad isn't enough to nudge me into offering help or sympathy; they have to spell it out, which would make most observers suspicious. Now that we're friends, of course, manipulating me would be easier.

    Not coincidentally, they're both accomplished GMs.

    *note - When someone like this does provoke an angry response, of course they're going to say it's accidental, because that's the polite reply *and* the one that restores (some) trust. It's also a data point about how the poked person reacts. I tread on people's feelings quite a bit because of failure to read social signals; my GM friends have told me that over time, they've been able to distinguish my pattern of true cluelessness with no benefit to me from the sort of pattern that would emerge if I were either intentionally grooming someone or trying to provoke them. I still assume that when I get poked it's an accident and the person probably meant well, but I also remember it, just in case.

  31. What’s odd is how much Card’s own blogging sounds like Demosthenes.

  32. I love this post. I have to ask this though, because I read the paragraph 3 times but I still didn't really get it. Do you think Peter and Valentine didn't get into Battle School because they are too smart or... please elaborate for me.