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.
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.