Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter twelve, in which Our Hero gets his second kill

It's been a long time coming; here at last is Ender's completely unnecessary orchestrated deathmatch with Bonzo Madrid, Graff-designated archnemesis.  Ugh, this chapter.

(Content: adult negligence, violence, death, minor self-harm.  Fun content: the Patrons.)

Ender's Game: p. 200--227
Chapter Twelve: Bonzo

Dap, who still has a soul, has caught on to Graff's plans and filed a report, so today's Ender Time for Graff is about playing stupid.
"He feels--paternal toward the students here.  He feels your neglect of a potentially lethal situation is more than negligence--that it borders on conspiracy to cause the death of serious injury of one of the students here."
"Colonel Graff, the name of Ender Wiggin has percolated through the high command.  It has even reached my ears.  I have heard him described modestly as our only hope of victory in the upcoming invasion. [....] You have known for eight days that there is a conspiracy among some of the more vicious of these 'children' to cause the beating of Ender Wiggin, if they can. [....] And you, fully warned of this danger, propose to do exactly--" 
"Nothing. [....] Ender Wiggin has been in this situation before."
Graff and General Pace--just a second here.  This guy's name is General Pace.  PACE.  The person who is trying to stop Graff from getting Ender to kill Bonzo is named for an old word that means 'peace' and is used in the modern day to indicate 'person whom I acknowledge but disagree with'.  That is an impressive amount of meaning to fit into four letters, but seriously, Card, you named the guy who tries to prevent Bonzo's death COMMANDER WRONG?!  I am no longer sure I believe this book is real.  Am I being punk'd?

Apparently not.

So they both know that Ender has been harassed by bullies before, and Graff specifically cites Stilson as precedent that Ender can take care of himself, which is interesting to me because Stilson is also precedent that Ender absolutely will murder a kid to make himself feel safe, so I can't figure out what Graff thinks he's going to learn from this second kill.  Graff goes on about how Ender needs to know when he holds the future of the fleet in his hands that no one will come to save him, and that if he graduates Bonzo now Ender will know that he was rescued, because "heaven knows Bonzo isn't a good enough commander to be promoted on merit".  This at least collapses the waveform--we were introduced to Bonzo as hardass but reasonably effective, then told how stupid he was, and now we're told that he just sucks in general.  Yet somehow he's been able to hold command for over four years.  Graff, you know that demotions are a thing too, right?  Bonzo has been in command twice the normal length of time and we've already done the math that command positions should be rare and coveted; how has no one else taken command of Salamander?  How has Bonzo not gone wherever it is that non-commanders go when they graduate?  Where would Bonzo be if you had actually graduated him two years ago like you should have?  Is it possible he'd have found something else in life that he's actually good at, and his honor obsession might have been redirected?  What would have happened to Bonzo if he'd been given a fraction of the attention and special treatment you're giving Ender?

Graff snarks that, while he will deserve to get court-martialled and globally shamed if he is wrong, he deserves a few dozen medals if he's right, "for keeping you from meddling".  He is, without question or mitigation, a monster.

Ender is watching Bean's Ridiculous Ops toon practice weird techniques, like disarming an enemy with their feet in close combat.  Bean has somehow acquired a deadline, the near-invisible near-indestructible cord used to anchor objects in space during construction.  By tying himself to a wall, he can take a great arcing leap at ridiculous speed.  We don't find out until Ender's Shadow how he got this, but it's a bit bizarre--I can only think that Card either felt he had run out of ideas or he was just deadset on using particular scenes that he couldn't justify any other way.

As they leave practice, they start noticing the students in the halls are improbable--too many older students, too many Salamanders and others known to hate Ender, all just casually hanging around or pretending to very slowly leave the area.  The Dragons catch on, but fake relaxation.  Ender knows his army is young and worries what will happen if they're attacked now.

Petra shows up to look like a complete fool and this, again, will not be explained until Shadow.  She asks to talk to Ender, who refuses to break his stride, and when she finally jogs to catch up, she warns him that there are students planning to attack him--she admits that she hated him too after he beat Phoenix, and Ender says he doesn't blame her, which is still weird to me.  Why is the immediate reaction to losing a game in this school to hate the other commander with the fury of ten thousand suns?  Is this supposed to be part of them being realistic children?

Ender points out that they just passed a tons of kids waiting to ambush him, and asks if Petra really didn't notice them.  She angrily declares that she did not and that Ender should learn to recognise his friends.  Given that this message was useless and her attempt to deliver it was dangerous, the options are that 1) Petra is supposed to look totally incompetent here or 2) Card knew all along what she was really thinking (get in a fight, take a few punches, win, everyone will have vented their feelings and no one dies) and just waited a couple of decades to let everyone else know.  2 seems implausible but 1 seems excessive even for him.  I dunno.

His toon leaders honor-guard him to his private cabin, where he finds a text from Dink Meeker: Don't be alone.  Ever.  This is our first hint that the Dinktron 4X Victory And Friendship Unit has broken down and the real Dink Meeker is back to remind everyone that they're playing goddamn laser tag so chill out.  Ender dreams of Stilson, and sees him now as a posturing 6-year-old bully rather than a monster, but in his dreams they beat him anyway, and when Ender wakes up he reassures himself that he's too brilliant for the teachers not to protect him against real threats even if they skew the game against him.  It's a fairly neat bit of work--in a couple of paragraphs Card undercuts Ender's first kill to tell us that murdering Stilson isn't actually proof that he will still kill freely, and he assures us that Ender really is in fact counting on protection from the teachers just like Graff suspects.  Which will apparently hold him back from reaching his full potential, somehow?  That part still isn't clear, even if you buy this part.

The morning's battle is a long slugging match with Badger Army, in a thicket of stars and with Badgers recovering from partial damage over time--only complete freezes are permanent.  Dragon wins, obviously, but they've missed breakfast and Ender cancels practice, and instead naps all morning, which--upon waking--he considers "slacking off" and so forces himself to climb the rope in the gym three times before finally going to shower.  He's alone in there for some time before seven people arrive at once, led by Bonzo.  He reaches for his towel.
It wasn't there.  One of the boys was holding it.  It was Bernard.  All it would take for the picture to be complete was for Stilson and Peter to be there too.  They needed Peter's smile; they needed Stilson's obvious stupidity.
Taking a moment to note that Stilson's intelligence can apparently be judged by looking at him and that stupid people hate Ender.  Yes, folks, we're back into the Sullen Judgmental No-One-Understands-Me Smart Kid Fantasy mode.  Ender quickly decides that Bonzo is the only one he really needs to worry about--the others want to humiliate him; Bonzo wants him dead.
"You can go home and tell your father, Yes, I beat up Ender Wiggin, who was barely ten years old, and I was thirteen."

Not to interrupt the drama, but seriously.  Ender was "six years, nine months, and twelve days old" when he transferred to Salamander Army.  That was three years ago--almost exactly three years, based on the age estimates we've been given and the duration Dragon Army has been in operation (which is, near as I can tell, less than two months).  In order for Bonzo to be 13 now, he would have had to have been 10 then.  He wasn't a new commander, either--Ender told us earlier that armies normally have a game every two weeks, Bonzo declared in his first appearance that Salamander was rising out of obscurity by winning twelve of its last twenty games, and Ender also told us that commanders don't inherit the records of their predecessors, which means at minimum Bonzo had been commander for a full year at that time (40 weeks of games plus the two-month warm-up period after promotion).  In order for Bonzo to be 13 now, he would have had to have been promoted at age 9, the same as Ender, and Ender's promotion was unheard of, whereas Graff assures us that Bonzo is an incompetent fool.*

All of this can be avoided by two things: either make sure your timeline is vague, or don't seed incredibly specific information throughout the book that adds up to a blatant contradiction.  (Option three, of course, is that no one actually cares, which I imagine is what Card would say really matters--it's about the story, not about being fussy over details.  Except that this is the kind of story that falls apart because of details, and in point of fact that's perhaps the most important thing about this story: it only works if you want to believe it does.  Very meta.
"You shut up," said bonzo.  "Shut up and stand out of the way."  He began to take off his uniform.  "Naked [drink!] and wet and alone, Ender, so we're even.  I can't help that I'm bigger than you.  You're such a genius, you figure out how to handle me."
I'm going to skim the fight proper, because it is of itself just not that interesting.  There are plumbing fixtures everywhere which they realise are the key weapons.  Bonzo's stance shows that he's taken ground fighting classes more recently than Ender.  Ender starts turning on faucets for the steam, so that he'll be more slippery, with the soap and the sweat.  Bonzo declares that he's not afraid of hot water, and moves in.

If there isn't yet a pornographic parody based on this scene, there will be by the end of the year.

Dink Meeker bursts in and begs Bonzo to stop, which feeds Bonzo's need for power, but then screws up by declaring that the games don't matter, the point is the war with the aliens, and Ender might be the only one who can win it.  Dink has regained perspective, but the thought that Ender is important and Bonzo is not just locks Bonzo into murder mode and the brawl begins.
"If you touch him you're a buggerlover!" cried Dink.  "You're a traitor, if you touch him you deserve to die!"
Etc.  There is much talk of being "too slippery" and how "Bonzo's tight, hard ribs came against Ender's face" and Bonzo thrusting his hips away "to keep Ender from reaching his groin" and finally Ender smashes Bonzo's nose with his face.  Ender does his whole 'I must win extra-hard or I will have to fight this fight again' rationalisation and so sets in with further savage kicks (specifically including the groin), until Bonzo collapses under the hot spray and doesn't move.  At last the medics show up and Dink hauls Ender away to his room and tries to comfort him by telling him how awesome he is.
There was no doubt now in Ender's mind.  There was no help for him.  Whatever he faced, now and forever, no one would save him from it.  Peter might be scum, but Peter had been right, always right; the power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can't kill then you are always subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you.
Within the context of the school, sure, okay, but only to the extent that he is in an environment completely controlled by people who are actively trying to destroy him.  What isn't at all clear to me is how this is supposed to make Ender a better commander in an environment where he is supposed to lead and plan and be brilliant and, above all else, count on other people to back him up.  If I wanted to dwell on this longer, I would point to nonviolent resistance and to basically every part of human history that shows how the threat of destruction is useless against those who would rather be dead than surrender their ideals.  The power to destroy is the greatest power only as long as you assume destruction is the worst fate.  But addressing that would be another novel.  Ender bursts out again that "I didn't want to hurt him! [...] Why didn't he just leave me alone!" and eventually falls asleep.

Ender awakens again at 1820 that same day to find another battle notification--Dragon versus Griffin and Tiger at once.  The Dragons are excited; Ender goes to shower again and wash off Bonzo's blood.

In the dark battleroom, their view is immediately blocked by stars, so Ender sends Bean's Ridiculous Ops squad to scout by using the aforementioned high-speed deadline arc flight hurricane howling scorpion strike technique art move.  Bean reports that, after the first block that Dragon is assembling on, the battleroom is completely empty until they reach a fortification of stars on the far side where the enemy has gathered.
"In a real war, any commander with brains at all would retreat and save this army." 
"What the hell," said Bean.  "It's only a game." 
"It stopped being a game when they threw away the rules." 
"So you throw 'em away, too."
I can't believe they didn't use that dialogue in the film trailer.  It sounds exactly like every action movie with a maverick hero.  Anyway, Griffin and Tiger lie in wait and are eventually baffled to see a huge formation move out from Dragon's blockade--a literal wall of frozen soldiers, with a cylinder stretching back from it, tied together in a close formation with active Dragons shielded inside and firing.  Bean has used the deadline to make a giant (phallic, sorry to say it but it is) armored vehicle of boys to penetrate enemy lines.  The formation abruptly splits apart and most of it reverses direction, drawing enemy attention back towards the Dragon gate.  The Griffin leader realises something is weird, scans the room, spots a bunch of Dragons near his own gate, takes aim, and the lights come up because Dragon won.  They skipped the actual fighting portion of the battle and sent a little squad to dash through the gate.  (This is a very thematically-inspired battle, with the sacrificial shields and the complete disregard for normal safety in favour of laser focus on the goal.)

In several decades of Battle School operations, apparently no one has ever thought of just going straight for the goal.  Does Earth no longer have capture-the-flag games?  This is such a revolutionary tactic that Anderson declares they're going to change the rules so you can't go through the gate until the entire enemy army is out of commission.  Ender is first calm, then furious when Anderson walks away, but everyone (Tiger and Griffin included) just start cheering him and saying that as long as he's on one team, no match can ever be equal anyway, so forget the rules.

Ender cancels practice forever, declares he's finished with the game, and hides in his cabin until Bean arrives to tell him Dragon has been dissolved--all of the toon leaders have been promoted to command of their own armies, including Bean, the new Rabbit Leader.  Ender rants at Bean while Bean fumbles at being a comforting friend, and again I'm skimming this because it's more wallowing in Ender's angst at how he was 'forced' to beat Bonzo, and this is a much more interesting scene in Ender's Shadow.  Anderson arrives, rebukes Ender for his 'insubordination' in the game room, and then gives him a graduation slip--he's going to Command School, which Bean assures us never happens before age 16.

They leave, and Bean goes back to his bunk and tries to understand his own sorrow, until at last he realises that it's Ender, Ender is gone and Bean will never see him again.  "He bit down on his hand to stop the feeling, to replace it with pain.  It didn't help."  Wow, okay, so this version of Bean medicates with self-harm.  I had not caught that before.  That'll get retconned out.  He forces himself to calm down and fall asleep:
his breathing was quick and light.  He was a soldier, and if anyone had asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he wouldn't have known what they meant.
Bean is maybe age seven.  He's been at Battle School for a year.  We don't know it yet, but Battle School is a goddamn paradise compared to his early childhood as a starving scavenger in the Netherlands.  This school is absolutely unconscionable child abuse, but the idea that it's converted him into an adult in a matter of months still doesn't make sense to me.  It's possible to abuse people without magically causing them to mature as well.  That which does not kill you does not necessarily make you stronger.

Ender gets onto a shuttle to go home, and Graff is coming with him.  They have to return to Earth to get a long-range shuttle to fly to Command School,  and that means Ender gets to see family.  They land in Florida, and Ender finds it strange, and it's the best and truest bit of the chapter:
Everything was far away and flat; the ground, lacking the upward curve of Battle School floors, seemed instead to fall away, so that on level ground Ender felt as though he were on a pinnacle.  The pull of real gravity felt different and he scuffed his feet when he walked.  He hated it.  He wanted to go back home, back to the Battle School, the only place in the universe where he belonged.
We get a final scene with Imbu and Anderson, the new principal, discussing how Graff has been maybe-arrested by Pace and ordered to report to the Polemarch, and we get the Shocking Reveals that Bonzo is dead, not that they will tell him, and that this is the second time:
"They didn't tell him about Stilson, either." 
"The kid is scary." 
"Ender Wiggin isn't a killer.  He just wins--thoroughly."
If we're not defining 'killer' to mean 'person who kills' anymore, I am seriously not sure how to English.  Ender absolutely is a killer.  What they're saying is that Ender doesn't kill anyone they care about.  If Ender really wanted to win, if he wanted freedom, he would kill Graff, and that would scare the fuck out of them.  Then he would have taken out the greatest threat to his own safety and health.  Ender only kills the people they throw into the arena with him, and that is what makes him useful, but it does not make him innocent.

Next week: Ender breaks, Valentine fixes him, rinse, repeat.


*How much more sense would all of this make if Bonzo wasn't incompetent, but was in fact a potential Chosen One?  What if he was almost Ender, but not quite good enough, and his ego had only become his fatal flaw when Ender appeared and he realised that he wasn't Graff's favourite anymore?  What if he had gone through all of these same trials that Ender has gone through, but sometimes he slipped up, he never made it past The End of the World, he made it through two unfair fights but lost his third one, and Ender arrived and suddenly Bonzo was told that being the best student Battle School had ever seen up to now meant nothing, because they only needed one supreme commander?  What would Ender have become if, just now as he's become a commander and weathered all this abuse, some new kid showed up and was even more brilliant?


  1. "Why is the immediate reaction to losing a game in this school to hate the other commander with the fury of ten thousand suns?"

    because the author was never good at team sports as a child and did not learn the whole thing about when the game is over you can still be friends, and that rivalry on the court is not the same as rivalry off the court, and therefore cannot imagine his child characters behaving in that manner?

  2. also, "If you touch him you're a buggerlover!"-- said by a teenage boy to a naked teenage boy in a shower, anywhere, anytime... oh come on don't tell me my mind is the one in the gutter, Card. If your writing can be so laughably misinterpretable, that's the fault of the guy putting the words together, not the one reading them.

  3. I do think that this is a problematic trope, but I don't think it's just a Card thing. It seems to be common in a lot of American fiction to equate "rival" with "enemy." Japanese fiction has a fairly common "rivals as best friends" trope, but nothing like that seems at all common in American fiction.

    I tried to just present the scene as it happens and not spin it too much but oh my god it is like the most homoerotic child gladiator match in all of science fiction. (I hope that's a small category.) Ender even gets the winning strikes in while he's bent over and Bonzo is grabbing him from behind, in an arrangement that is, uh, commonly used for non-combat physical activity. If this scene were filmed as written, it would be so far beyond banned.

  5. Okay, I'm convinced. Anything deep Card was trying to say, any moral ambiguities Card was trying to include, any issues Card wanted to raise: they all ended up as rubbish. They all got overrun and shredded by Card's pathological need to ass-kiss ENDER WIGGINS, GREATEST WONDER BOY IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE.

  6. "How much more sense would all of this make if Bonzo wasn't incompetent, but was in fact a potential Chosen One?"

    It would make loads more sense, but all the same it can't be allowed, because in this book you're either It or you're Not; and Ender's It but Bonzo's Not. And that's all there is to that.

    "What would Ender have become if, just now as he's become a commander and weathered all this abuse, some new kid showed up and was even more brilliant?"

    Can't happen for the reason adduced above. But, I have to say that Graff & Co. behave as though there's an infinite supply of brilliant boys on tap: as if they just had to turn a spigot or something and the boys will come flowing out. It's pretty bizarre that they've spent all this time breeding and training Ender and then are willing (specifically, Graff is willing) to throw him away in the shower-scene equivalent of a bar fight. What's up with that? Ender is legitimately bright, and Ender is also legitimately justified (to some extent) to intuit that the Battle School Dudes have invested too much in him simply to discard him. And, in any kind of semi-realistic world, Ender would be correct: the Battle School Fellowship would have invested too much in him simply to let him die at the hands of an also-ran. Especially since there are no even-more-brilliant-and-snowflake-like lads in the pipeline awaiting their turn. But the book's emotional logic dictates that Ender has to be wrong and has to be shown that, despite being inestimably precious, he's also ever-so-disposable. That's one of the many things which does not compute about this book. The First Law of Enderics is that Ender Wiggin is the single most important human being on or off the Earth, but the Second Law of Enderics states that if he can't save himself unaided in every single conflict he encounters, he's worthless and must be allowed to expire. (The Third Law of Enderics states that it's all for his own good.) The problem is that the First and Second Laws don't jibe with one another. (If you, for example, are Princess Leia and if Obi-Wan Kenobi is your only hope, you don't send a bunch of assassins to off Obi-Wan, and if you know of such assassins, you do everything in your power to stop them.) And it's not as though the Battle School Dudes don't know how important Ender is; they do know; they repeat it to each other over and over again.

    (More about this later if I have the time.)

  7. I think that's why the relationship between Ender and Alai was not gone further into: it promised, or threatened, to go down that road.

  8. And again, we have situations that in any other school, would be considered a gross breach of safety, privacy, and the health of the students. Apparently, though, it's okay for Ender because he has to feel...helpless before he can use his fabled destructive empathy? This book seems to be less about making Ender a commander and more like pushing him into madness so they can cause a genocide and then wash their hands of him. Child soldiers is monstrous, but this should result in war crimes tribunals.

  9. Especially considering that Ender and Alai had already been rivals (soldiers in different armies for at least a year), and that Dragon never apparently fought Alai's army, it's really egregious. He just got written out by blatant narrative fiat because it would have muddled things and raised questions like "What the hell is wrong with everyone?"

  10. About the deadline... so the people in charge are okay with bringing potentially dangerous, game-changing, nonstandard equipment into the arena? Why doesn't Ender's army just put deactivated suits over their suits and make themselves invulnerable?

  11. The deadline seems really weird at this point. Ender's Shadow justifies it a little, but it only gets used for two things (Bean's single scouting flight and then tying the formation together), both of which could have been justified without it. If kids are legitimately frozen, then they should be able to bind themselves by grabbing hold--really, from the very first time I read the book, I felt like the deadline had been shoehorned in there just to make it sound more important than it was. So that leaves Bean's arc flight, which I kind of suspect was the real point--Card just loved the visual of someone flying in zero-G with an anchor that curved their trajectory. It's not even thematically tied into anything else in the story that I can see.

    Well, no, I could follow in the hallowed footsteps of hapax ("the marmalade is symbolic of received wisdom!") and argue that the deadline is representative of love itself, but I have other things to do today.

  12. I think some amount of cheating is encouraged, to make the battlefield more realistic, but cheating too much without sanction from above will get you Frowned Upon.

  13. It's not even considered cheating--Bean actually goes to the teachers and says "If you're stacking the games against us in weird ways, I want access to weird equipment too" and the deadline is the only thing that's on both his wishlist and their list of things they'll let him have. (He also requests a blowtorch, which is tragically denied. Bean is great.)

  14. Why is the immediate reaction to losing a game in this school to hate
    the other commander with the fury of ten thousand suns? Is this
    supposed to be part of them being realistic children?

    The weird thing is, I have known people like this. (And in fact we have a Funny Family Story wherein a very-slightly-younger cousin once yelled at me "We used to have so much fun before YOU LEARNED TO READ" because she was jealous that I knew something she didn't, lol. (We got past that and are good friends, and she was really young in this story.)) But it's not a UNIVERSAL trait. When I lose, I am far more likely to get angry with myself than with the person who beat me.

    For the record, I really-really-really did think that we were to take Petra as stupider than an unusually dim brick, and that anything else was a retcon. Exhibit A being that Petra spent all that time with Bonzo in the Loser Army (or whatever it was called) and yet failed to understand that her brand of camaraderie just hurt Ender way worse than if she'd left him alone. Exhibit B being that Petra was also angry over losing (which, you know, everyone is, but it smarted worse with her for some reason when I read that). Exhibit C being that Petra will be the one person who breaks down at the end. Exhibit D will be ALL THE MANY REMINDERS that girls are SO RARE at Battle School because they suck in general. And Exhibit X being that Valentine is also stupid as all get out. ("How can I stop Peter from being destructive? I know, I'll help him take over the entire world!")

    So I really came away from Ender's Game thinking that OSC hated women and thought we were all stupider than a stump. And that impression was BEFORE my feminist awakening, so. :P

  15. Yeah, the more I look at the scene the more I come to the conclusion that Petra is really just supposed to look incredibly stupid there, which is again very weird because Card still pushed hard on the idea that Phoenix Army was second-best after Dragon. Somehow she's so good that she's almost as capable as Ender, but she's also grievously foolish at the same time? No one's skillsets and competencies make sense to me in this story. And you mention being angry with yourself for losing rather than your opponent for winning--given that Petra is supposed to be such a perfectionist, and obviously pretty invested in her own better-than-the-boys persona, that would make a lot more sense for her character. Sigh.

    (Speaking of who Ender did and didn't fight, not only do we never see him up against Alai, but he doesn't get his promised showdown with Dink's army, either. Why is Graff ignoring these opportunities to test Ender's resolve? It can't be about fracturing the future command dream team, because he did get to battle Petra.)

  16. If we assume that OSC doesn't like Petra (premise A), does it follow that the only people who Ender beats in battle are folks OSC doesn't like? (I can't remember who Ender does and doesn't face.)

  17. There are gracious losers who espouse Card-approved bits of dialogue (Carn Carby commiserating with Ender after his first win; Pol Slattery saying he only wants to beat Ender in a fair match but that doesn't mean he won't try his hardest in an unfair one) but none of them are particularly developed as characters. Of Ender's closest few (Alai, Bean, Petra, Dink) Petra is the only one he ever seriously competes with. I could see Petra getting defeated as the Least Favourite Hero.

  18. Also, and I'm thinking out loud here...

    Growing up female, there are LOTS AND LOTS of examples in literature and media of women fitting horrible stereotypes of Stupid, Flighty, Incompetent, etc. while the narrative still off-handedly asserts that she's super capable off-screen. I suspect this is a combination of covering the author's ass ("I'm not misogynist! She's an ultra-good sniper!") and explaining why she's even IN the story in the first place, when someone as genuinely stupid as she would never make it into battle school / the adventurer's guild / whatever.

    How many Bond girls and action heroines are experts at some obscure field, and are constantly wrong about everything? (See also that one post I wrote about The Curse of the Smart Girl and how she MUST be wrong so that the hero can shine in comparison. It's like The Worf trope, but where she's beaten in Smarts rather than physical altercations.) How many fantasy heroines are supposed to be great warriors or wizards but are instantly defeated via the Standard Female Grab Area (it's the arm, for the record). Etc.

    When I grew up female, I recognized that this happened all the time, even if I didn't recognize it consciously. So the "characterization" that Woman A is great at X off-screen becomes almost... white noise. It's not real. It's just the handwave to explain how someone as damned stupid and incompetent as her is in the story at all.

    If that makes sense?

  19. If we're not defining 'killer' to mean 'person who kills' anymore, I am
    seriously not sure how to English. Ender absolutely is a killer.


  20. I think Petra comes off better than most Bond Girls, because her competence isn't purely offscreen, but I formed my first (and lingering) impressions of this book as a young teen much less aware of these sorts of issues. Describing her as Worf actually sounds really accurate--she is, on an absolute scale, highly competent, but on a relative scale she's constantly being put up against absurdly bad odds. She's a deadly shot and gives Ender the training and support he needs early on, but she still gets thrown into games where she's fighting off half an army herself, so she loses. She's one of the best commanders Battle School has ever seen, but she's up against Ender, so she loses. She is the most devastating tactician in Ender's command team on Eros, but she's up against the entire alien horde, so she wears down over time. Each of these things is reasonable and understandable on its own, but it's kind of INCREDIBLY SUSPICIOUS that they always happen to The Girl and not any of the rest of the group--Alai, Bean, and Dink go through the entire book without any noteworthy defeats.

  21. Interesting! Yes, I agree that if Alai and Dink (and Bean, but he's usually on Ender's team for most of the book) were getting beaten down with the same consistency as Petra, then it would probably come off differently. (Although it still wouldn't be a contextless vacuum, but it would be CLOSER to one.)

    The thing about Petra's competence was that it always seemed to me like a Useless Useful Spell. The Bugger war isn't going to be beaten by one Really Good Sniper, and even the laser tag battles are (by author fiat) more about Good Generalling rather than being a badass with a rifle.

    So she very much came across as the Bow Chick* in a lot of sci-fi / fantasy -- good at something that theoretically we're supposed to applaud her for, but in reality isn't actually useful in setting.

    * I think this trope won't make sense to the youngers, now that Legolas of LOTR fame has made archery look badass, but back in my day the Bow Chick got off MAYBE one or two arrows per battle while the Hero sworded-up legions of red shirts.

  22. Sweet, I hit a spam filter with the TV Tropes link. XD

  23. [CN: Racism, Homophobia]

    Another thing I think is interesting is how Bonzo represents a lot of American anti-European stereotypes. He's got the whole Spanish / Latin hot head stereotype to Ender's cool American strategery. He's obsessed with Manly Honor to a degree that makes him stupid and reckless (contrast to Ender's American pragmatism), but he's also effeminate with girlish lips and attractive features, because American racist stereotypes refuse to be consistent: Americans are obviously the Most Manly Of All, but not in Those Silly European Ways of manliness, OBVIOUSLY.

    I do wonder if some of the erotic / gay subtext WAS intended here at least, because it's accompanied by violence, and I think OSC would be on-board with anything which suggested that gay people are also violent. Of course, that would be violent in the Bad, Bullying, Hatred kind of way not violent in the Intent Is Magic For Ender kind of way. TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS, according to OSC.

  24. Petra's sniping is ultimately irrelevant to the way, but there is so much emphasis put on the laser tag (Ender spends all of a few weeks in his entire career not at the top of the soldier performance rankings) that I would think it's supposed to have legitimate weight as a skill. Or! It's a skill that someone needed to have so that they could spend a few pages talking about laser tag rules and techniques, and it was given to Petra because it would sound good but not actually matter much in the end.

    Petra Arkanian: CROSSBOW WORF.

  25. [CN: Attempted rape]

    I'm wondering that a little myself--again, I'm pretty sure I first read this book at 14 (in fact, almost exactly 14 years ago) and didn't really notice at the time, but the way Ender and Bonzo's fight is choreographed, it looks almost exactly like attempted rape, and given some of the other things Card has written over the years, I could pretty easily see him making that subtextual connection.

    It occurs to me that the people Ender describes as beautiful in his own thoughts, Peter and Bonzo, are not merely young boys (which was weird on its own), but according to the narrative also the two most evil people in the entire book. We've got a 1:1 relationship of Evil and Young Pretty Boys.

    (Ender will, next chapter, say that he 'remembers' Valentine is beautiful but he doesn't remember what that means anymore, which is very poetic and in the circumstances rather nonsensical.)

  26. [CN: Rape tropes]

    I definitely saw the rapeyness of the scene, because it's tied in with showers and a lifetime steeped in American rape jokes about "dropping the soap" had taken its toll. And this was the one scene where the nudity really left an impression with me, despite being ALL OVER THE BOOK.

    Beautiful Men Being Evil is definitely a trope that can go a lot of directions. The disablist version involves it being a tragedy (because beautiful people are worth more and therefore should be good because it's a loss to execute/imprison them) or shocking (because beautiful people are better and therefore it's strange for them to not be good). The misogynist / homophobic version goes the other direction; it's emphatically NOT surprising that the "girlish" (read: pretty, delicate, attractive, wev) man is evil because his nature is already lacking in proper manliness. There's also a transphobic twist that can accompany where a "girlish" man is not living up to the Platonic Ideal of Man.

    It's really difficult to tell which horrible trope OSC was chasing. Maybe all of them!!

  27. Ender's Game: Intent is Magic, the Book.

  28. At least it's only subtext; apparently Speaker for the Dead will literally just come out and say "Intent is all that morally matters".

  29. He kind of takes it up to 11, though. I can't think of that many* examples of rivals as lethal enemies in American fiction. Rivals as enemies, sure - and prone to doing jerk things, maybe up to sabotaging things. But not to the point of trying to kill the protagonist(s), just humiliate them (or possibly beat them up, but still... killing them seems like a very extreme level of the "rival = enemy" trope.)

    *Though I could simply not have read/watched the right things

  30. Oh, Speaker goes further than that!

    "Intent is magic, so now let me mansplain to everyone how an abused woman was asking for it all along and deserved what her husband did to her, he was really a great guy all along! Oh, also, everything that's wrong with our society and our strained relationship with the alien species we're trying to live alongside is also her fault. And me saying all of this in public is going to make her and her family magically recover from all of the abuse-related trauma (and fall in love with me)!"

    That is a paraphrase of an actual speech Ender gives in Speaker for the Dead. I wish I were joking.

  31. Bean and a blowtorch would have been freaking awesome. Interesting how Bean goes and asks for the playing field to be kind of equalized. Does this never occur to Ender, or would it ruin our perception of him as the Chosen One to see him actually notice how unfair things are?

  32. It's from Ender's Shadow, naturally, so it's up to us to decide whether it was always in Card's head or if it was a new bit he put in because he finally asked himself how Bean got the deadline to begin with. Even in this book, though, Bean is consistently the one to remind Ender that he needs to break more rules, and Ender is definitely much too busy being wrapped-up in his stress over passing all of the tests to think about what counts as passing.

  33. *gapes*
    Holy.... I don't even... WTF!?

  34. ""In a real war, any commander with brains at all would retreat and save this army."

    "What the hell," said Bean. "It's only a game."

    "It stopped being a game when they threw away the rules."

    "So you throw 'em away, too."
    I can't believe they didn't use that dialogue in the film trailer. It sounds exactly like every action movie with a maverick hero."

    Background music for it:

  35. It's odd that Ender has to be reminded that he should break more rules at all. I mean... isn't that his thing? Exploiting the rules and coming up with loopholes no one has ever thought of before?

  36. I think it's debatable--one of the first things Graff tells us is that Ender is malleable and will conform to others' expectations, which is why he needs to be completely isolated in order to be creative. (He makes his big-deal revolutions, like the gate-down perspective, when he's been isolated from the rest of Salamander*.) There is a weak case to be made that the reason Ender didn't implement his 'independent units' strategy in Phoenix is that Petra already had her preferred approach and he was content to go along with it and just excel within those parameters. (Why he was able to completely formulate and implement it within a couple of days of his own command is another question.)

    I would, in fact, argue that this is one of the better parts of Ender's characterisation, in that it's pretty consistent, it's a legitimate flaw, and it's even something the author meant to be there.

    *Also, oh my god, I just realised the reason Bonzo was made a commander at such a young age and kept around for so long must be that he's always been a total jackwagon and that makes him useful whenever Graff wants to put one of his favourite soldiers in an army where they will be Completely Isolated. And Bonzo is absolutely right to take it as an insult when he gets Ender, because this has happened before, and every time it's a reminder that his own success is irrelevant to the teachers; he's just a tool to help them teach through adversity. After four or five years of that, it's not surprising that he might snap and completely take on the role of The Prodigy's Archnemesis, if that's all he's been told he's good for. They want a villain, so he'll be the best villain he can be. GRAFF MADE BONZO.

  37. "They didn't tell him about Stilson, either."

    "The kid is scary."

    "Ender Wiggin isn't a killer. He just wins--thoroughly."

    Ender Wiggin is a killer. Not letting him know that he's killed these people just makes it more likely he'll kill again and do it accidentally because he doesn't know this level of violence is lethal.

    Imagine living on Vader's ship if he didn't know the people he force choked to death actually died. Imagine how much more fatal it would be to work for him in that version than it is in the actual movies.

  38. Quite so, but of course they don't want him to know that, because they absolutely want him to continue being violent (only at the people they want violence done to) without hesitation. The whole scheme that Graff puts together is 100% designed for not letting Ender know he's ever killed anyone until everyone on the kill list is dead.

  39. I'm pretty certain Ender does know that he's killed people. His exile to the Death Star Battle Station follows immediately after his murder of Stilson, and Ender knows that he took Stilson all the way down, if not that he rendered him defunct. (The Battle School, though on the surface an academy for brainiac tykes, somewhat resembles a penal colony, and Shower Scenes take place there just as they do in prison flicks.) Ender is supposed to be smart, remember; one of the most intelligent people in human history, in fact, so surely he's able to get from particulars to generalities and to draw conclusions from evidence. Ender gets into fights with people whose hash he intends to settle once and for all and he never sees or hears from those people again. What would you think in his place? Ender may not absolutely know that the people in question are dead but then OTOH, he doesn't absolutely know they're alive. If you're Ender and have to pick one option, which would you bet on? And would you have to be told every single last ever-living thing? I don't expect so.

    What Ender and the Battle School Dudes who train him all get out of the arrangement they share is deniability. Ender may know that he's killed people, but he doesn't have to know that he knows it, because the people around him are eager to protect him from the knowledge. He won't be told that he murdered Stilson and he won't be told that he killed Bonzo, and Valentine will assure anyone who asks her that he's nothing like Peter. Darth Vader has to take the deaths he causes upon his own soul but Ender doesn't share that handicap. He's not a guilty man who gets redeemed, like Vader. For one thing, throughout Ender's Game he stays a boy, so the moral strictures of adulthood don't apply to him. For another, every care is taken that he remains "innocent" — as we are perpetually reminded he is. ("Innocent", in this context, means "unknowing".) Like the Over Lord says, it's all a build-up to the moment in which Ender can obliterate a race yet bear no responsibility for it (not really) because He Knows Not What He Does. And, of course, by obliterating that race Ender helps the Battle School Dudes keep their own hands clean because he acts as their catspaw. All in all, an ingenious arrangement.

  40. Ender may know that he's killed people, but he doesn't have to know that he knows it

    This is, indeed, exactly the conclusion that Bean reaches, both about Bonzo and the final campaign. (Bonzo theoretically 'graduates'/gets expelled and returns home to Cartahena, and Ender hears about this. Graff is careful to make sure Ender has plenty of reassuring lies to explain why there's no risk of him meeting the people he kills.)

  41. It does. They get off on all charges Because Jasper.

  42. Sounds about right. And not the kind of "right" that has an actual resolution where Graff meets an untimely demise in an alleyway or by someone accidentally collapsing his house around his ears.

  43. It's incredible the amount of evil Card can fit in one book. Incredible.

  44. It just hit me what Will says about Bean getting the deadline because he ASKED. So Ender has to feel that no one will ever help him and he's completely on his own, but Bean - who you'd think might be a backup Chosen One if Ender breaks - can internalize that gifts shower you from on high if you ask. What?