Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter eleven, in which we get down to the WINNING

This chapter mostly consists of Ender winning at everything.  To my shock, the first half is probably my favourite part of the entire book.  Honestly didn't see that coming.

(Content: bullying, fat shame.  Fun content: this chapter is actually mostly not awful.)

Ender's Game: p. 173--199
Chapter Eleven: Veni Vidi Vici

Ender has had Dragon Army for three and a half weeks and Major Anderson has delivered the schedule of battles to Graff, to begin immediately--from Graff's reaction, we may conclude that it is rickdiculous.  Anderson and Graff discuss the reliability of the computer projections, with Graff protesting that the computer is famously merciless:
"I just have this picture of Ender a year from now.  Completely useless, worn out, because he was pushed farther than he or any living person could go." 
"We told the computer that our highest priority was having the subject remain useful after the training program." [....] 
"My eagerness to sacrifice little children in order to save mankind is wearing thin."
This shocking turn for the not-supervillain in Graff is inspired by the work of Peter and Valentine, more specifically Demosthenes, as the nets are now filled with people speculating on how the first post-alien job for the Fleet should be to dismantle the Russian empire.  Graff considers this to be a stupid nationalistic rivalry that brings into question whether humanity deserves preservation.  Huge irony, given that the human-Formic war is ultimately a nationalistic rivalry brought about by failure to communicate; I'm going to be nice and assume Card means for it to retroactively appear that way.

Ender lies in his bunk at night, mulling his army--apparently he never sleeps more than five hours a night now, and so has plenty of time to think.  His ten outcast veterans have, in three weeks, transformed into capable leaders, so he's broken his 40 soldiers into five toons of 8, which can then split into half-toons of 4 under the the leader and secondary, which does sound interesting, although the narrative must belabour for us how most armies only practice huge mass formations with "preformed strategies":
Ender had none.  Instead he trained his toon leaders to us their small units effectively in achieving limited goals.  Unsupported, alone, on their own initiative. [....] He knew, with less than a month of training, that his army had the potential of being to best fighting group ever to play the game.
 (Ender's Classmates Are Legitimately As Smart As Him tally: 3)

Ignoring the fact that three weeks with Ender apparently turns a green seven-year-old into a devastating war machine, this is actually one of the parts I rather like, and we have been setting up for it.  Most of Ender's genius through this section of the book applies outside the battleroom: instead of constantly directing soldiers to move as he wills, he focuses heavily on training subcommanders, figures out a general shape of approach on the enemy, and then unleashes them and trusts them to do well.  There still won't be much discussion of coordination and communication during battle, but it's at least hinted at.

Ender wonders whether his army was secretly stacked in his favour with hidden potential, "or was this what any similar group could become under a commander who knew what he wanted his army to do, and knew how to teach them to do it?"  Ender's Shadow spoiler: it's the first one.  I'm a bit curious now what would happen if Ender had to work with seriously unhelpful and unsuitable soldiers.

Anyway, in the middle of the night he gets the notification that he's fighting Rabbit Army in the morning, and at 0601 next morning he's at the Dragon barracks to tell them it's time to run through the halls naked.  [Drink!]  Anyone who doesn't already sleep naked strips down, tucks their flash suit under their arm, and they jog down to the gym to warm up, obstacle course and trampoline and such.  The excitement of the incoming battle gets so high that some of them start wrestling.  Still naked.  Just sayin'.

They dress and jog to the battleroom, and along the way Ender occasionally jumps to touch the ceiling and everyone in line behind him touches the same point, and I actually kind of love this bit.  Forgetting where I am for a moment, this whole sequence evokes the atmosphere for me well--it has the energy that I love about waking up early in the morning, well-rested with the day full of potential and something big to anticipate.  The camaraderie even comes through, now that Ender has stopped with the regulation shouting.  Even the battleroom is grey-lit like the midpart of dawn.  I dunno if this bit works as well if you're not a morning person.

Ender sizes up the grid of stars in the battleroom, gives some basic directions and contingencies, and they deploy, while Rabbit Army creates their formation at the far end.  Ender reflects on how in any previous army he'd be worrying about his own place in the formation at a time like this, and I wonder why three years of following the stolid old tactics haven't damaged his genius, if we're supposed to think that actually reading about existing military theory somehow would.

The battle lasts for about a page, three minutes, and mostly consists of Ender's forces feeling bad that Rabbit Army doesn't realise how completely out-of-date formation warfare is.  We briefly meet Crazy Tom, leader of C toon, and Han Tzu/"Hot Soup", D leader. They carve up flawlessly, losing only one Dragon, even better than Ender expected.  Obviously.

Carn Carby is mild about his defeat, having only been promoted at age 12 instead of them cocky 11-year-old whippersnappers.  Ender makes a mental note to have similar dignity when he is defeated someday, a remarkable flash of humility--I said this was a weirdly good chapter.  Ender skips breakfast because food is for losers (it's not all good) and showers twice while thinking about how awesome he is.  At practice, he's back to being a hardass, but still no shouting: he just observes that their aim is still wretched and sets them to groups, and the narrative points out that one-on-one Ender is infinitely patient and constructive, drifting around dispensing advice, presumably sitting on a lotus blossom and radiating sunlight.

At lunch, he arrives at the commanders' mess, and of course on the scoreboard Dragon is top in everything, since it ranks by unweighted percentages: zero defeats, few casualties, shortest victory.  Everyone forcibly ignores Ender until Dink Meeker arrives halfway through lunch.  Sadly, the Dinktron 4X Victory And Friendship Unit continues to be a pale shadow of the original.  Ender insists that his victory was not a fluke or easy:
"Carn Carby isn't exactly on the bottom of the rankings."  It was true.  Carby was just about in the middle. 
"He's okay," Dink said, "considering that he only just started.  Shows some promise.  You don't show promise.  You show threat." 
"Threat to what?  Do they feed you less if I win?  I thought you told me this was all a stupid game and none of it mattered." 
Dink didn't like having his words thrown back at him, not under these circumstances.  "You were the one who got me playing along with them.  But I'm not playing games with you, Ender.  You won't beat me."
So much for characterisation.  Dink moves on and Ender scans the other commanders, including Petra and Bonzo.  Math interlude: commanders normally get promoted at 11 or 12, and students normally graduate at 13.  Bonzo was a commander, and not brand-new, when Ender was less than 7.  Bonzo can't be younger than 14 now, plausibly 15.  Graff is keeping him in the school for years extra for the sole purpose of being Ender's nemesis, even though they haven't apparently interacted since Ender was 8.  Graff might have sympathy for Ender still, but he's quite literally plotting Bonzo's death.

Carn Carby, at least, is a cheerful guy:
"Right now I'm in disgrace," he said frankly.  "They won't believe me when I tell them you did things that nobody's ever seen before.  So I hope you beat the snot out of the next army you fight.  As a favour to me."
He goes on about how commanders normally get a cheer when they first arrive, because they only join the commanders' mess after their first win and have several losses, but Ender obviously deserves a cheer and instead he's getting frozen out.  Ender "mentally added him to his private list of people who also qualified as human beings", because apparently the only way Commander Empathy grants you personhood is if you're kind of obsequiously nice to him personally.  Idea, Ender: maybe Petra's just wondering why the hell you didn't share your god mode strategies with her at some point over the last two years when you were her second-in-command.

Next morning, they're immediately sent up against Petra and Phoenix Army, and the Dragons are upset about the late notice and getting battles two days in a row, not believing it until A toon leader Fly Molo reads the order himself.  There's more banter and Ender and Bean snark at each other a little, in case we thought they had become friends off-page.

Phoenix Army takes out 12 Dragons before they're down, and Petra is predictably furious, but Ender figures that once he steamrolls a few more armies she'll realise she hit Dragon harder than anyone will again.  A week later, he's right--they've fought a battle every day, won all, and none have done better than Phoenix.  Ender freely tells anyone who asks how he won his latest battle, because he's done with humility and he's "confident that few of them would know how to train their soldiers and their toon leaders to duplicate what his could do".  Ender, your secret shouty training methods are basically stolen directly from TVtropes.  Tone down the ego.
There were many, too, who hated him.  Hated him for being young, for being excellent, for having made their victories look paltry and weak.
Possibly also for being insufferably smug about it?  Despite Ender's conviction that people are only people if he says so, other meatbags do have feelings and brains, and Ender strikes me as the type who thinks he's far more poker-faced and enigmatic than he really is.  The sort to think that no one around him can tell how much contempt he feels for them.  He starts getting bullied again in traditional grade school manner, shunned in the lunchroom and shoved around in the halls and pelted with spitballs.
Ender despised them--but secretly, so secretly that he didn't even know it himself, he feared them.  It was just such little torments that Peter had always used, and Ender was beginning to feel far too much at home.
I'm not buying this.  Peter is a Machiavellian egotist, a manipulator and a psychological abuser.  When would he ever have thought spitballs weren't beneath him?  Jostling people in the hall?  This is just more of the Peter-is-bad-therefore-everything-bad-is-Peter illogic.  I notice that it consistently pops up in the times when Ender is most obviously supposed to be the reader-insert for Underappreciated Smart Children.  Need to think about whether there's a clearer link there beyond simple projection of all Ender's issues onto his Evil Brother.

Ender's techniques have begun to suffuse the school again, kneeling attacks (didn't that one already become standard years ago?) and sliding along the walls to prevent flanking.  Since Ender has nothing to learn from other people (Alai is still kept away by narrative fiat) he starts spending more time in the video room, watching films of Mazer Rackham and the battles of the previous two alien wars.  He has to skip a lot of propaganda:
But Ender began to see how well the buggers used seemingly random flight paths to create confusion, how they used decoys and false retreats to draw the I.F. ships into traps. [....] He began to see things that the official commentators never mentioned.  They were always trying to arouse pride in human accomplishments and loathing of the buggers, but Ender began to wonder how humanity had won at all.
You and me and all our readers, Ender.  He tries to learn strategy from watching the aliens instead, though their overall strategy is straightforward and he sees no sign of individual ingenuity, which he blames on strict discipline.  Mazer Rackham's actual victory is also blatantly censored, with videos that show the huge alien fleet victorious over the human defences, Mazer's tiny strike force darting in, firing the first shot, and then cutting away.  This is pretty good foreshadowing on Card's part, but given the tremendous secrets involved, I am baffled as to why they'd even show that much.  Alternatively, it's at least the 2100s by now if not 2200s; they can't CGI something together for a fake battle?  After all his forethought about the internet, Card seems to have missed the potential of Photoshop.  Narratively, instead of being a big question mark, it would be an opportunity for Ender to be deeply unimpressed by the apparent ultimate final battle, and become convinced that it was fake because it looked so amateur.

Graff calls Ender into his office, where there is some notice about how super-fat the Colonel has become because god only knows; evil makes you fat or vice-versa.  It's a rather boring conversation and Ender gives terse answers to everything: how is he, how are his soldiers, why is he watching invasion vids, why doesn't he play the mind game anymore.  Ender bitterly laughs off the idea that they want him to be happy and assures them that they are succeeding at turning him into the greatest soldier ever, and asks to be given a real challenge.  They hand him the order to fight Salamander Army in ten minutes.  Dragon is still in the showers from their morning battle and practice, and again unwilling to believe it:
"Same day nobody ever do two battles!" said Crazy Tom. 
Ender answered in the same tone.  "Nobody ever beat Dragon Army, either.  This be your big chance to lose?"
I feel we're missing some fingersnaps in here, maybe a 'gnarly'.

When they arrive, the gate has been open for at least five minutes and Salamander is nowhere to be seen.  The room is bright and cavernously empty, and Ender immediately figures out that Salamander has deployed around the Dragon gate, ready to open fire as soon as they come through.  He has Crazy Tom kneel and freezes him, then has Bean kneel on Tom's legs, stick his arms under Tom's, and the result is that Bean is dual-wielding lasers inside a human armorsuit.  They set up a bunch of these, have other soldiers toss them through (facing the gate) and immediately start firing.  It takes less than a minute for the Dragons to wipe Salamander out.

Ender is furious with Anderson and has Bean describe how he'd have fought Dragon (constantly shifting movement around the door), apparently not caring that adding "As long as you're cheating [...] why don't you train the other army to cheat intelligently" will enrage Bonzo even more.  Seriously: this battle, these circumstances, it could not be more obvious that Graff meant to re-ignite their rivalry.  He is trying to get Bonzo killed.

Ender texts Bean to see him that night, ten minutes before lights out.  Bean thinks like a normal soldier, exhausted, average, which will look very weird when this scene comes back in Shadow.  Ender queries him about his performance, whether he should have been made a toon leader after all, and Bean thinks he's being baited.  Ender presses Bean to remember what the school is actually for, and Bean bursts out that it's about the war, and Ender agrees that this is why they're trying to hard to see if the students can break.
"They can't break you." 
"You'd be surprised."  Ender breathed sharply, suddenly, [...] Bean looked at him and realized that the impossible was happening.  Far from baiting him, Ender Wiggin was actually confiding in him.
Ender explains: Bean is research and development, toon leader of a special squad that's not so much Special Ops as Ridiculous Ops, because Ender realises he can't be the only source of genius in the army.
"What's the worst that could happen?  You lose one game." 
"Yes.  That's the worst that could happen.  I can't lose any games.  Because if I lose any---"
He doesn't explain, and I really wish he did.  (Bean wonders in Shadow, of course, particularly if this is just about Ender the Legendary Soldier.)  Earlier in this chapter, Ender looked at Carn Carby and tried to remember how to be dignified in defeat.  Now he's convinced that defeat means the end of all hope.  What has changed?  It's got to have something to do with the incoming war, the vids, everything.  Bonzo and Dinktron 4X are upset because of the game, while Ender trusts Bean because he remembers the alien menace, but Ender still can't afford to lose at laser tag.  The best I can slap together is the idea that Ender knows he has the potential to win everything, so if he ever loses, that means he has stopped trying as hard as he could, and he can't stop doing that because there is a war that he has to win.  That makes a certain amount of motivational sense if we assume both that Ender is right that he has the potential to beat every other commander under every possible circumstances, and that the battleroom still should be his priority while he learns more about aliens and actual space combat.  If he's wrong about either of those things, then losing a single match either means that someone else has skill comparable to his, or that he has intelligently put his efforts into fighting what he believes to be a war of survival instead of varsity laser tag.  I think these assumptions could probably use some contestation.

The lights go out; Ender gets into bed and Bean climbs in with him and for a change it doesn't brim with queer romance.  See, I don't read everything as gay.

Next week: Graff successfully reinstates gladiatorial arenas IN SPACE.


  1. Hmmm. Allowing lower officers to use their own initiative in pursuit of assigned, limited goals; isn't that the novel tactic that the Germans used in the late 19th century and through the two world wars in the 20th? Not that it didn't seem to work pretty well, but I'm having a hard time giving Ender any originality points.

  2. Perhaps the point is to see whether any of the cadets are able do demonstrate their genius by coming up with Auftragstaktik on their own?

  3. "I can't lose any games. Because if I lose any---"
    I wouldn't be the greatest in the world at absolutely everything, completely infalliable, and worthy of all the ass-kissing the author showers on me nonstop.

  4. Hell, articulating your army into units that can engage the enemy individually on their own initiative instead of creating a single massive formation is the tactical breakthrough that allowed Napoleon to dominate European warfare in the early 19th century.
    If you want to stretch the point a little, the same sort of "flexibility over mass coordination" thing was going on in battles between Greek Hoplites.
    Do they teach, y'know, military strategy at this school for super generals?

  5. Nope. That would ruin their creativity. (Which apparently is a synonym for "ego" here, since their creativity mainly consists of rediscovering strategies they could simply have been taught.)

  6. They do not.


    There comes a point in Ender's Shadow when Bean remarks that he's started getting less-than-perfect marks on his math tests, not because he can't work out complicated theorems from first principles, but because he's too tired to do so in the time allotted. Yog only knows what the actual classtime is used for. These kids spend less time in class than Harry Potter.

  7. "He starts getting bullied again in traditional grade school manner, shunned in the lunchroom and shoved around in the halls and pelted with spitballs.

    Ender despised them--but secretly, so secretly that he didn't even know it himself, he feared them. It was just such little torments that Peter had always used, and Ender was beginning to feel far too much at home.I'm not buying this. Peter is a Machiavellian egotist, a manipulator and a psychological abuser. When would he ever have thought spitballs weren't beneath him?

    Couldn't this mean: "Peter pre-emptively softened Ender up when Ender was objectively very young, which is why we later find Ender so susceptible to hack tactics? In other words, couldn't this be an attempt on the author's part to generate some Woobie-sympathy for a character he has started to present as invulnerable, instead of an attempt to smear Peter as a spitballer?

    What I don't buy is the idea that none of these young prodigies can come up with anything better than shoving Ender around from behind and making him eat by himself. They're on a space station. The Great Vacuum is right outdoors, and would constitute a beautiful threat. (Just for starters.) Everything that happens on the station takes place in a delicate, precarious, artificial environment which would be a great setting for an accident. Not that one ever has to come off, you understand, but if Ender were made to worry about such an eventuality his record might be affected...and yet none of his schoolmates AFAIK ever calculates to this effect. They don't seriously attempt to make his life real hell. He gets no death threats. He doesn't have to worry about sabotage in earnest. He's surrounded by people who (desperately) want him to succeed. To the extent he is despised, he's despised only because he acts like he's too good for the hoi polloi*, not because he's of the wrong gender or color or sexual orientation. I never could get behind the idea of Ender and a sacrificial lamb because, first, if he is one, he's a lamb which leaps at warp speed into the shambles while baaaa-ing enthusiastically, and second, he's a lamb who gets decked with velvet trappings and garlanded with gold and led into hushed assemblies full of kowtowing worshipers before the coup takes place. It's so bad that Graff and Graff's buddy engage in an opening liturgy dedicated to the Excellence of Ender at the beginning of every chapter. So, I have a problem feeling sorry for Ender (prune-hearted backbiter that I am).

    *an opinion the author seems to share

  8. Let me indulge in some creative speculation about how we ended up with the school we did.

    Card wanted Mary-Sue, I mean Ender, to be the absolute bestest general ever. Real great generals don't tend to come up with things that fundamentally alter warfare, they manage things better, see possibilities earlier, process developments faster. It's all rather abstract and "soft." Card wanted "hard" superiority, an objective ranking with Ender at waaay up at the top, hence the games.

    This introduces a new problem. For this to work, Card had to innovate small unit tactics himself, something professional soldiers and tacticians have trying to do for over a century. And even if he did, he couldn't come up with something so radically better than Ender would win by a huge margin every single time. And he needed Ender to keep winning every single time, and hence come up with game-changers a lot.
    So he ended up with preadolescents at a military school that teaches them absolutely nothing military. That way, Ender can innovate the game and win by a huge margin ever single time by using cover, reserves, coordinated assaults, and such. Or, to anyone who knows the first thing about military history, the bleeding obvious.

  9. Damn. I was hoping the Formics could be blamed for it. Or maybe the Russians and World War III. But no, we have no reason for the children to have to develop everything from the beginning. Unless there's a prophecy that involves the Chosen One being the one who can develop modern tactics from the very beginning or something.

    Also, if not being taught tactics, military history, and the things that they are eventually going to need, what the hell are these kids doing in class all day?

  10. The whole, "lots of complicated math" thing is never explained in any worthwhile fashion either, is it? I recall thinking when reading Shadow that it would have to do with navigation of ships in space or some such, but I don't recall that ever actually being something the super generals actually do.

  11. You know, I think it's funny that homophobic retrograde Orson Scott Card wound up sending Ender to the military-academy equivalent of a hippy school. Just saying.

  12. Not only do I agree with this, I think it's accidentally very revealing on a meta level.

    The kids who most identify with Ender are the ones who are not merely outcast (which sucks, we can all agree) but also feel that they are the most intelligent and their genius only brings them sorrow because there's so much pressure on them to fix everything but everyone hates them and tries to undermine them anyway. Unappreciated genius is key here.

    Ender's genius, however, consists of thinking up things that people already invented hundreds of years ago. He only appears revolutionary because he and everyone around him are completely unaware of history and the broader world. Much like how, in the real world, the ideas of the self-identified unappreciated genius tend to be things that other people have thought of already but said unappreciated genius isn't widely-experienced enough yet to know about. Depending on how insular the person is, this can easily lead to them being convinced that they are the only one with the ideas to fix the world but no one is paying attention, rather than discovering that those ideas are already out there but they ran into new problems or were more complicated than they might seem in the mind of a teenager.

    In other words, "MONEY IS JUST PAPER" can seem revolutionary to a teenager, but in order to sustain the fantasy here, Card has contrived a world in which no one else ever has thought "MONEY IS JUST PAPER" before, whereas in reality the economist's response is "Have you tried filling your savings account with goats? The ATMs are disgusting."

  13. Card makes it pretty clear that the kids at battle school aren't getting a lot of sleep, to the point that you've noted it twice, in the post and in the comments.

    Anyone who has ever had anything to do with children at all knows that 1) kids need MORE sleep than adults do, significantly more in fact. Even into the teen years, kids function best with more than 8 hours. 2) Regardless of intelligence level, insufficient sleep makes children absolutely useless for ANYTHING other than tantrums (actually this is true for many adults, too).

    I could maybe forgive Card some of his more obnoxiously bad military ideas but has the man never seen an over-tired child have a melt-down? It isn't confined to toddlers, 10 and 12 years olds do it too although admittedly they don't usually lie on the floor kicking and screaming.

    Also, in prior readings, I hadn't noticed that Bonzo should have been long gone by this point. Shouldn't there have been an enormous amount of gossip as to why Bonzo hadn't graduated to command school by now? Plus, Bonzo should now be at an age where he has had at least one major growth spurt, making him significantly bigger than everyone else. Even if he hasn't, the age difference between him and Ender would mean there is a major size difference between the two of them. If he's such a horrible bully, why isn't he taking advantage that?

  14. I'm just trying to figure out the logistics of how long these fights are. I don't get the impression that the 'battlefields' are all that big -- maybe 100-200 feet across, but spheres? How long can it reasonably take to do a laser tag battle in that space? Maybe an hour for a really involved fight? How is it then that 2 games per day are considered unreasonably taxing? The kids don't seem to spend much time doing anything else, like schoolwork, yet they apparently aren't getting enough sleep, ever? This whole setup makes no sense.

  15. We don't get an actual size for the battleroom, but it's implied to be a pretty big cube--the lasers are said to be ineffective beyond some range (I forget if it was given in hundreds of feet or yards) and the starting gates are substantially further apart than that so people can't just snipe the instant they step through. So, relatively huge.

    Then there are the flash suits they wear, which are described as relatively thick and tough (for protection), so moving around in those is taxing, and during the game kids spend most of their time moving, mostly in the form of leaping and hurling and catching themselves. Add the stress and mental exertion, and pretend for a moment that anyone in this book cares that they're eight years old, and I can see how two full hours of that could be pretty draining.

    The total lack of schoolwork, lack of sleep, and lack of eating are all pure WTF, though.

  16. I don't know... little kids have TONS of energy. They can pretty much do nothing but run around screaming for hours without too much trouble. Definitely they should be eating a lot more if they are burning all those calories, but... on the other hand I feel like heavy suits and pushing themselves around even a large room is not going to take as much energy in zero-g as we'd assume. All you have to do is kick off of something; inertia is going to do the rest of the work for you. It's not the same as a football game or something where you have to keep running AND carry all that heavy padding with you.

    On the other hand, the details of this are still ridiculous because anyone with even a little understanding of kids is going to know that there is no way you should be running a school with so many activities that the kids are only scraping by on 5 hours of sleep. Pretty sure little kids need a solid 8-9 hours, and I think the recommended amount for teenagers is like 9-10 hours a night. Just more evidence that Card has NO idea how kids or people work or how they actually develop.

  17. I caught up on, like, EIGHT of these tonight and was laughing so hard. Will, you are wonderful. And the comments are so wonderful. *happy jazz hands*

    FIRST PRINCIPLES. This is where I want to tear out my hair (though I completely agree with Genius Lemur's take on how we got here) because even IF we can do maths and tactics from first principles, are we to understand there is NO history being taught at school? You cannot teach history via First Principles. ("Assume Sumeria. Extrapolate the USA. Show your work.") And once they start learning history -- which is going to have a lot of fighting in it -- SOMEONE is going to have the bright idea to ransack old tactics for use in laser tag. And that someone will have had that idea decades before Ender Wiggin was birth-requisitioned.

    (This does not even get into my feels about there apparently being no literature or other liberal arts taught at this school. I realize Card probably thought literature wasn't sufficiently manly, but you CANNOT be all "this school nurtures creativity" and then give them NOTHING BUT MATHS. No. No. No. NO. Most people need more than maths to nurture creativity. Card has basically written a world where his magnum opus would be banned as pointless tripe not appropriate for Ender Wiggins to spend his precious genius time reading. Did Card realize this? HOW DEEP DOES THE IRONY HOLE GO??)

    VALENTINE AND PETRA. Will, you have helped me to remember why I hated all the lady characters in this book (all two of them). Valentine is a villain who CHOOSES to enable Peter's predetermined, one-dimensional, and therefore uninteresting (to me, at the time, as a reader) villainy for no good reason. At all. Seriously. Every time Valentine opens her mouth, it's to point out how horribly evil Peter is... while enabling him to be horribly evil... for no reason whatsoever. She's either the embodiment of a Weak Useless Womanly Helpmeet Stereotype or she's the worst kind of villain: the whiny kind that blames her villainy on everyone but herself. Do not want.

    Petra is basically Valentine again, but instead of internalizing Peter's villainy she internalizes Bonzo's. I mean, I totally see why she could understandably be annoyed that Ender was holding back with her when he was her second-in-command, but (a) I'm not sure that was intended, it comes off more like she's pissed at being beaten, and (b) it still comes off like she embraces the bully culture writ large EVEN AS SHE IS BULLIED BY IT for being the token girl. I recognize this is a real thing people do, but it's not the kind of Token Girl *I* was, so it made it impossible for me to like her or sympathize with her. Shunning Ender because her fellow commanders do and because she's pissed about losing (and only being mollified when it turns out she lost better than everyone else) after being friends with him for a year just felt like a huge moral event horizon for me -- not because I liked Ender but because that's just not good behavior. And, well, we'll see how she enables Bonzo soon, I think.

    Am LOVING the commentary about the nudity and homoerotic elements. I didn't see it, either, but I was very sheltered when I read the book. Delightful and conflicting.

  18. This is fix/fanfic rather than a genuine "maybe it was meant this way" because everything I'm about to say is incompatible with Ender's smirking ego...

    ..., but if we could set his smirking ego aside for a moment, I could postulate that perhaps he feels he cannot lose at laser tag because he has intuited that the stupid, sadistic teachers in charge of his existence have decided (for whatever arbitrary fucknuggetery reason) that The Chosen One Shall Never Lose At Laser Tag, so if Ender DOES lose, then they'll stamp a red FAIL stamp on his Chosen One application and he won't have his shot at the Buggers.

    This is the Remember The Titans scenario where the team has to Never Lose because the powers that be will screw them over forever-and-permanently if they lose even once. And it would even work with the delightful idea that there are multiple Graffs in the administration, each with their own chosen one. (I like to think that the guy who picked Carn is that one laid-back administrator who everyone likes immediately. He's not the best teacher in the world, but you feel like you can TALK to him. That guy.)

    But this scenario would require Ender to believe that:

    1. He's not the Chosen One, he's just a guy who has a good shot at beating the Buggers and saving humanity.

    2. That humanity is something he desperately wants to save, such that he's haunted by the thought of losing his chance to do so.

    3. That the people running the school, Graff included, are stupid squirrelbrains. Not in the "I am Ender the Chosen One" smug sense, but in the "holy crap, an infant could see that this is whole plan is a clusterfuck and the only reason they haven't is because of sweet, nourishing groupthink and good old-fashioned inertia" sense.

    So, in other words, while it's believable to me that AN Ender Wiggins could decide he cannot lose at laser tag or humanity is fucked, it's not believable to me that THIS Ender Wiggins would think that.