Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter fourteen, part two, in which the plan works perfectly

So there was no Ender post last weekend.  That was a thing that didn't happen, because my brain was exhausted from a marathon tabletop RPG session the day before.  My first attempt at GMing!  It was good times.  So, to make it all up to you, I'm going to blitz through the entire remainder of the chapter.  This is because we are friends, and not because there are a lot of 'action' sequences in this part of the book that are really easy to skim over.  It's time for the final campaign!  It is time for the game to ender.  End.  Warning: incoming game.

(Content: sexism, self-harm, genocide apologetics. Fun content: trailers that lie, Bustopher Kobayashi.)

Ender's Game: p. 273--304

Ender gets to the game room and the controls are gone, replaced with a switchboard.  He'll be playing as commander from now on, with a team of lieutenants, who speak as soon as he puts on the headphones:
"Salaam," said a whisper in his ears. 
"Alai," said Ender. 
"And me, the dwarf." 
And Petra, and Dink; Crazy Tom, Shen, Hot Soup, Fly Molo, Carn Carby, all the best students Ender had fought with or fought against, everyone that Ender had trusted in Battle School.
And the scarecrow and the tin man and so forth.  We're told there are three dozen of them in total, despite Card having run out of recognisable names after nine of them.  A couple more names will come up over the course of the chapter, and Ender's Shadow.  Vlad.  Who was Vlad?  I feel like I would have remembered a Vlad.  Still, twenty-six more unnamed heroes helping save the world!  I'm just going to assume at least one of them is named Bustopher Kobayashi.  If Card didn't want this to happen, he should have said there was only a team of a dozen.  Was he afraid Ender wouldn't seem special enough if his elite team was too elite?  Also, they made a huge deal about bringing Ender to Eros, but nine months later they ship in thirty-six more kids like it's no big thing?  And it's not like they're all the ultimate geniuses--Shen's biggest on-page achievement so far is refusing to let catcalls get to him a few years ago.  Is it just narrative convenience that Battle School's greatest students are all Ender's best friends, or are they giving him his friends regardless of their skill level?  The latter is sort of plausible, but it will fail utterly in short order.

They start having a great time with the games now that they are reunited, and over the next three weeks of practices Ender gets to know everyone's skillset: Dink is great with orders but terrible at improvisation (despite having had years more command experience than Ender--remember, he was a commander even in Rat when he had his independent toon), Bean gets overwhelmed with large groups but shreds up with a small strike force (that will get retconned to bits in Shadow), and Alai is a master strategist almost equal to Ender (not that we've ever seen or ever will see proof of this, nor will it affect the plot at all; Ender suggests replacing himself with Alai at one point but Mazer shoots it down instantly by telling Ender to "be honest").

Ender and Mazer analyse the latest practice and observe that his team basically moves like a formic fleet now, their coordination is so perfect, but they still have independent thought and innovation.  Go humanity.  So now it's time for the next course of testing, in which they'll simulate an entire invasion campaign just like the one that's going to really happen when the fleet arrives.  Mazer also takes a moment to tell Ender not to complain about how hard it is going to get, because he lost his wife to time-travel, which is a pretty good trump card.  (Did she not want to come along?  Did they think it was too expensive to send her too, ignoring as usual the possibility of compromising their own geniuses with crushing despair?)

The next morning, at 0340, Mazer rouses Ender from a dream of being vivisected and brain-scanned by the formics and takes him to his first campaign mission.  They chatter about who'll take what ships (Alai, Petra, and Vlad share a carrier's complement of fighters) and Ender assigns Bean one fighter from each carrier, which echoes back to his Ridiculous Ops squad, but seems like a terrible idea to me in this kind of scenario.  If he sees something that requires a ship from someone else's group, can't he just relay the command?  What do squadrons get out of having one of their fighters inexplicably not under their own control?

The formics have a spherical formation with an obvious core ship that Ender realises they want him to believe is the queen.  Ender ignores it and orders them to try to compress the formation, not telling his friends about Dr Device as they protest the weirdness, and then they sit back to watch as Alai's first shot devours the fleet in a chain reaction.  Mazer explains that, for a proper campaign, they had to have one fight in which the formics didn't know what the humans could do, and they'll learn rapidly from now on.  He then proceeds to critique their technique, and gets increasingly harsh--a harshness that Ender passes on to his team.
"You're too kind to us," said Alai one day.  "Why don't you get annoyed with us for not being brilliant every moment of every practice.  If you keep coddling us like this we'll think you like us." 
Some of the others laughed into their microphones.  Ender recognized the irony, of course, and answered with a long silence.  When he finally spoke, he ignored Alai's complaint.  "Again," he said, "and this time without self-pity."  They did it again, and did it right.
Their friendship withers, their trust in Ender as a commander grows, and somehow Ender knows that "it was to each other that they became close; it was with each other that they exchanged confidences", even though he never talks to them outside of game time or sees them in person at all.  Obviously, this makes them all even more effective soldiers, because the Enderverse runs on the Omelas principle and making people sad and wounded always makes everything around them better.  I bet whichever general thought they should supply Ender with his friends instead of all their assorted best students is feeling kind of stupid now.

Ender starts having more nightmares, dreaming of the Giant's corpse shaped into a formic village, and child-faced wolves that hunt him, not just the obvious threats like Peter and Bonzo, but Alai and Valentine and Dink, but in his dreams he still kills them all in the river, sobbing as he does so.  He accuses Mazer of cheating at programming the game, and feels like his dreams are being watched.  This section is just randomly trippy on its own, but it's foreshadowing a bunch of stuff, which is sort of cool.  It'd work better for me if more of the stuff it was foreshadowing was in this book and not the sequels, but this is what happens when a standalone novel gets drafted into becoming backstory for an unrelated series.

It finally occurs to Ender that all this psychological stress might be affecting his brilliance, but the first big burnout is Petra, and the contrast between the way it's described here and the way it will be in Shadow is interesting.  In Shadow she literally blacks out in the middle of a battle because eleven-year-old children are mortal; here she just makes a stupid maneuver, "and she discovered it in a moment when Ender wasn't with her" and gets shot up.  When Ender does notice, he immediately tosses command of the surviving ships to Tom and has to salvage the battle because Petra's forces were the core of his strategy.
Ender knew at once that he had pushed her too hard--because of her brilliance he had called on her to play far more often and under much more demanding circumstances that all but a few of the others.
So, I'm mixed on this.  Petra falters because she's been pushed too hard, and she's been pushed too hard because she's too awesome not to use, but "a few of the others" like Bustopher Kobayashi have been even pushed harder and they're apparently doing fine.  Ender's pushing himself even harder and he still reacts as perfectly as he can, because Petra needs handholding through emergencies?  Shen saves the day with a perfect Dr Device shot that eats a swarm of the enemy, and Fly Molo mops up.
She was not there for the next few practices, and when she did come back she was not as quick as she had been, not as daring.  Much of what had made her a good commander was lost.  Ender couldn't use her anymore, except in routine, closely supervised assignments.  She was no fool.  She knew what had happened. [....] The fact remained that she had broken, and she was far from being the weakest of his squad leaders.
I try not to link to TVtropes very often, but this is just such a flawless Faux Action Girl scenario.  Petra, we're told, is totally hardcore and badass and brilliant.  She also fails, utterly, and never recovers, and is the only girl we're aware of in the entire group.  If you believe what the narrative tells you, then there's nothing wrong with this because Petra is so strong.  If you consider the narrative unreliable for two seconds, Petra has been just barely not good enough for the entire book and of course the girl needs her hand held through everything.  This comment thread also has some good previous discussion, if you missed it.

Ender's stress continues to mount; he chews his hand in his sleep until it has to be treated by a medic, and starts getting ideas like thinking that any prior candidate who washed out died--he doesn't say whether he thinks they get executed or if they just wasted away or what, but Mazer assures him this is ridiculous and he's perfectly safe.
"I think that Bonzo died.  I dreamed about it last night.  I remember the way he looked after I jammed his face with my head. [....] My whole life keeps playing out as if I were a recorder and someone else wanted to watch the most terrible parts of my life." 
"We can't drug you if that's what you're hoping for.  I'm sorry if you have bad dreams.  Should we leave the light on at night?" 
"Don't make fun of me!" Ender said.  "I think I'm going crazy."
But Mazer remains unsympathetic and so Ender resolves not to tell him about this ever again, and continues to weaken.  The battles get worse, longer, he has to rotate commanders in the same battle, then one day Ender blacks out in the middle of practice and is confined to bed for three days, then back to battles every day.
During the night he thought he felt hands touching him gently.  Hands with affection in them, and gentleness.  He dreamed he heard voices. 
"You haven't been kind to him." 
"That wasn't the assignment." 
"How long can he go on?  He's breaking down." 
"Long enough.  It's nearly finished." [....] 
"I can't bear to see what this is doing to him." [...] 
"I know.  I love him too."
So here we have Mazer and Graff acting as audience surrogates to be ineffectually kind to Ender.  Of course this kindness takes the form of unsolicited touching and invading his privacy at night, because that is how these jackwagons roll.  Ender thinks he's dreaming it: "If there was love or pity for him, it was only in his dreams.  He woke up and fought another battle and won.  Then he went to bed and slept again and dreamed again and then he woke up and won again and slept again and he hardly noticed when waking became sleeping".

And then one day he wakes up and no one's there to shepherd him around, but he can't think of anything he could do other than eat breakfast and go to practice.  There are other people in the simulator room, but he doesn't ask; Mazer explains that today is his final exam and these are the evaluators.  Mazer adds that to switch things up, the test battle will occur around a planet, and Ender lists a few effects (gravity changing fuel costs):
"Does the Little Doctor work against a planet?" 
Mazer's face went rigid.  "Ender, the buggers never deliberately attacked a civilian population in either invasion.  You decide whether it would be wise to adopt a strategy that would invite reprisals."
Humans are raised on vids of terror; one of the famous incidents of the First Invasion was the Scouring of China; suddenly they only ever struck purely military installations?!  If they weren't slaughtering civilians, ever, why is the military so convinced this is a war of extermination?  How does this not raise any questions in anyone's minds?

Ender runs through some warm-ups with his team and muses on what training will be left for him between today and the war.
And as he waited for the game to appear, he wished he could simply lose it, lose the battle badly and completely so that they would remove him from training, like Bonzo, and let him go home. [....] Failure meant he could go home.
Then the battle appears: ten thousand formic ships swarming around a planet, constantly shifting through random patterns, versus his own twenty old-model carriers with eighty fighters.  Ender hears his team breathing heavily over their microphones (hot) and one of the evaluators swears behind him.  They start to shift nervously as they realise how unevenly matched it is.

Ender once said that all Bonzo knew how to do was fail with style.
"Remember, the enemy's gate is down."
Bean says that, and they all laugh.  Ender decides to remember that it's just a game and so to pursue a strategy that breaks Mazer's rules.  He won his last game in the battleroom by ignoring the armies and going for the gate.  ender decides that if he goes for the war crime, they'll consider him too dangerous to put in command, "and that is victory".  He orders the ships into a 'thick cylinder', to better penetrate the enemy formation, and the enemy happily engulfs him.  Supply your own subtext.  Ender's ships fly in seemingly random patterns, then at a word they burst in all directions, firing madly, then at another a dozen fighters form up on the far side of the enemy fleet and dive for the planet.  The formics cut off his escape, but he doesn't care anyway, because the only point is to get close enough to fire on the planet.

In three seconds, the planet is gone and the fleets as well, with only a few human ships surviving at the edge of the system.
Ender took off his headphones, filled with the cheers of his squadron leaders, and only then realized that there was just as much noise in the room with him.  Men in uniform were hugging each other, laughing, shouting; others were weeping; some knelt or lay prostrate, and Ender knew they were caught up in prayer.  Ender didn't understand.  It seemed all wrong.  They were supposed to be angry.
Graff and Mazer embrace him and thank him, tell him how proud they are.  Ender remains confused until Mazer explains that the entire campaign up to this point wasn't testing, but the actual campaign, humans versus formics, and Ender has just won the war forever by destroying all their queens and committing xenocide.  Ender walks out of the room, ignoring everyone, back to his room, strips down [drink!] and gets into bed.  He wakes up to find Graff and Mazer in the room, informing him that Earth has heard what happened and every government in the world has given him their highest medal.

So here, in full, is the defence of this entire book.
Ender grabbed Mazer's uniform and hung onto it, pulling him down so they were face to face.  "I didn't want to kill them all.  I didn't want to kill anybody!  I'm not a killer!  You didn't want me, you bastards, you wanted Peter, but you made me do it, you tricked me into it!"  He was crying.  He was out of control.
"Of course we tricked you into it.  That's the whole point," said Graff.  "It had to be a trick or you couldn't have done it.  It's the bind we were in.  We had to have a commander with so much empathy that he would think like the buggers, understand them and anticipate them.  So much compassion that he could win the love of his underlings and work with them like a perfect machine, as perfect as the buggers.  But somebody with that much compassion could never be the killer we needed.  Could never go into battle willing to win at all costs.  If you knew, you couldn't do it.  If you were the kind of person who would do it even if you knew, you could never have understood the buggers well enough." 
I don't know what to say to this that I haven't said before.  Ender's big thing at Eros has been lack of compassion, has been his refusal to be any kinder to his subordinates than Mazer has been to him.  If he had been given a raft of brilliant lieutenants who had never met him before, they'd have quite reasonably hated him even if he was a genius.  He's running on the love that he supposedly earned from them back when he was in Battle School.  Maybe that's why they shipped in Bean and Dink and Bustopher, so that Ender would have subordinates who would put up with his hardassedness.  'Compassion' as a superweapon would also have worked better if it were clear how it actually affected Ender's strategy--it's been a long time since he needed to, for example, identify a queen in an enemy fleet.
"And it had to be a child, Ender," said Mazer.  "You were faster than me.  Better than me.  I was too old and cautious.  Any decent person who knows what warfare is can never go into battle with a whole heart.  But you didn't know.  We made sure you didn't know."
Well, apparently any decent person except the ones who plan the campaign, deploy fighters, and pull the trigger to destroy a civilisation.  Who planned this war?  I mean, the ships have been in flight for seventy years and they successfully scheduled them all to arrive over the course of, what, two, three weeks?  Just to maximise the possible burnout of their tacticians?  The formic worlds are light-years apart and communications are instant, so there's no actual tactical value in hitting everywhere at once; they can't reinforce each other world-to-world.  The battles could have been spread out over months to the same effect.  Don't generals like Ender normally have some say in the way the war proceeds and not just individual firefights?  What was the entire invasion fleet for, anyway?  Wouldn't ansible-equipped drones have been about a jillion times more effective, what with being able to survive much greater physical stresses and save room/weight on life support?  That way those could also have been piloted by genius children who think they're playing a video game.  Has Earth ever had a competent Polemarch or Strategos or whoever planned this gong show?  (Actually, it turns out Mazer plotted the campaign.  Graff reprimands him for not leaving the minor outposts for later.  Mazer tells him to screw off.)

Anyway, just as Peter and Valentine predicted, Earth has erupted into war.  The Russian soldiers aboard Eros are leading an attack, and so Ender is locked down under guard.  He dreams, has nightmares of the Giant's Drink again and of the End of the World, where he watches the formic homeworld burst and sees the Queen except it's his mom and her children are his friends and a dying formic is Bonzo accusing him of having no honor and his reflection is Peter.  And at last he wakes up and Alai is there in his room, and there was much rejoicing.
"Some of the Russians who came in told us that when the Polemarch ordered them to find you and kill you, they almost killed him. [....] There's a million soldiers who'd follow you to the end of the universe."
Ender just wants to go home--good luck with that.  The war ends, the lights come on, and Bean enters the room, followed by Bustopher, and Petra and Dink holding hands because of course she needs a man.  They further explain the terms of the peace, stuff that won't be relevant until the second Shadow book.  The banter is mostly pretty sweet and realistic.  And maybe others don't read it the same way, but recalling what Dink taught Ender while naked in the battleroom ages ago:
"You OK?" Petra asked him, touching his head.  "You scared us.  They said you were crazy, and we said they were crazy." 
"I'm crazy," said Ender.  "But I think I'm OK."
I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the message that mental illness is not shameful, not a mark or cause of evil, and not life-defining is the only consistent positive message in this entire book.

They joke about what they'll do next, and how they'll probably be forced to go to school until they're 17 because it's the law, and the chapter has the chutzpah to give us an Everybody Laughs Ending after slaughtering an entire species.  But at least they were a species of monsters!  And the people we like are alive!  And if you talk to enough fans of Ender's Game, you'll find that some people stop here, because they aggressively miss the point.  The graphic novel stops here.  I'll be curious to see if the movie stops here.  There's one more chapter to go, and it's not easy, but it's the only chance this book has at redemption.  Next week: everything is terrible forever.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter fourteen, part one, in which Mazer Rackham doesn't replace Graff soon enough

This is the big one, the penultimate chapter in which all secrets begin to be revealed and all of the hell we've gone through up to now pays off.  As a depressing side-note, we are suddenly faced with the realisation that Graff is not only the worst person ever, but that narratively there is someone who could have filled his role so, so much better.

(Content: violence, discrimination based on fertility.  Fun content: sweet abs, Greek history.)

Ender's Game: p. 255--273
Chapter Fourteen: Ender's Teacher

We actually get both names in the first Scene of Faceless Unnarrated Dialogue--Graff and Admiral Chamrajnagar of the interstellar fleet--and it has some lampshaded poetic moments (Chamrajnagar gets mystical about the majesty of spaceflight, Graff snarks) but is otherwise pure filler.  Graff has no interest in influencing Ender's curriculum; he is "only here because I know Ender".  Funny how you keep needing other people to fix Ender for you, then.

Ender gives us some establishing SF about living on Eros--the cramped hallways cut through the stone, the weak gravity and permanent slope of the corridors, etc.  He makes no new friends, partly because he never stays in any classes for long: he attends a lecture or two, then gets some private tutoring, then immediately moves on.  For the first time in half a book, we get a sense of what he's studying: astrogation, military history ('Oh my god, 1910s Germany stole my ideas!'), abstract mathematics that he has a hard time consciously understanding but intuits easily.

The new game is the simulator, "the most perfect videogame he had ever played", which basically means an RTS.  Ender starts out playing a single starfighter, but then they scale up to squadron-versus-squadron, and the computer learns quickly from his new techniques.  With very little fanfare or acknowledgement, Ender loses quite a few games as he re-learns the same lessons he's learned twice in this book already: use all your troops in concert and give general orders instead of micromanaging.  I'm not sure how this runs into Ender's total phobia of losing games--he's realised that the simulator is Command School's equivalent of the battleroom, but apparently losing to the computer doesn't count.

After a year at Eros, he's back to winning every time, and he asks Graff if it isn't going to get harder again.  Graff shrugs it off, and the next day Ender wakes up to find an old man apparently meditating on the floor in his bedroom.
Ender got up and showered and dressed, content to let the man keep his silence if he wanted.  He had long since learned that when something unusual was going on, something that was part of someone else's plan and not his own, he would find out more information by waiting than by asking.  Adults almost always lost their patience before Ender did.
I am struggling to figure out what this could refer to.  The last time he stayed quiet and tried to watch someone else's plan in action to get the upper hand, he ended up in a deathmatch in the showers.  This only makes sense if they've continued to randomly screw with Ender's head over the course of the year he's been on Eros, which is on the one hand predictable but on the other weird that we haven't heard details.

Ender studies the old man--sixtyish, staring at him with total apathy--and asks him why the door is locked, with no response.
Ender didn't like games where the rules could be anything and the objective was known to them alone.
Which is a weirdly accurate description of the human-formic war.

So he starts exercising around the room, self-defence techniques and forms, and when he gets near the man, a hand snaps out, yanks him off-balance, and Ender tumbles to the ground, but when he looks up again the man is back in position, perfectly still.

This whole scene is such an obvious play on the enigmatic martial arts master testing a new student that I'm not sure what to say, except that it doesn't become any less stupid and orientalist when you whitewash it.  (Mazer Rackham is half-Maori, and since his other half is undefined we can probably assume it's white, but he's still not an Okinawan raising an army to repel the invaders.)
Ender stood poised to fight, but the other's immobility made it impossible for Ender to attack.  What, kick the old man's head off?  And then explain it to Graff--oh, the old man kicked me, and I had to get even.
As much as I approve of Ender's long-awaited grasp of self-control, he's still operating on the fantasythat his previous two kills (or 'fights', in his mind) were purely driven by self-defence, conveniently forgetting that in both cases he kept on attacking even once Stilson and Bonzo were incapacitated on the floor.  That's how he murdered Stilson--in Bonzo's case, it's likely that the mortal injury had already been dealt, but that didn't stop him from continuing with the kicking.  Self-defence does not include killing the incapacitated--nor do I think it can only apply when someone is actively trying to kill you.  Ender could, for example, knot up his sheets and try to bind the stranger until he can be safely detained--that might require force, but as long as it was only the force Ender needed to be assured that he wasn't going to be attacked again, rather than Ender's normal default-to-lethal, I'd have no problem with it.  Why are Ender's only settings Kill and Angst?

Wait, no, I forgot a setting: Uncomfortable Homoerotic Subtext.  It's been hours, Ender is exhausted and frustrated, so he heads back to his bed to work on his desk, and as soon as he bends over, the strange old man lunges in behind him, grabs him by the hair and the crotch, and throws him down to pin him face-first into the floor.  That's how that goes.
"I surprised you once, Ender Wiggin.  Why didn't you destroy me immediately afterward?  Just because I looked peaceful?  You turned your back on me.  Stupid.  You have learned nothing.  You have never had a teacher." 
Ender was angry now, and made no attempt to control or conceal it.  "I've had too many teachers, how was I supposed to know you'd turn out to be a--" 
"An enemy, Ender Wiggin [....] the first one you've ever had who was smarter than you."
There's an extended reflection on how the enemy is the only real teacher--nothing that folks who have been reading along can't predict, although it's got a nice rhythm.  This teacher/enemy/Shaolin master lets ender up, and Ender responds by attacking in a frenzy that ends with him against the door and the stranger sitting cross-legged on the floor again.  Dude approves, and says that he will now be in charge of Ender's simulator training, and thus things are, once again, about to get still more real.
"In this school, it has always been the practice for a young student to be chosen by an older student.  The two become companions, and the old boy teaches the younger one everything he knows.  Always they fight, always they compete, always they are together.  I have chosen you."
Dammit, Card, there are only so many times I can try to find alternative explanations for you.  That time has ended.  You brought this on yourself with your inexplicable fixation on the ancient Greek military.  You're on your own now.  If it happens again, I'm just going to link to art from Free!.

As the teacher leaves, Ender attacks him yet again, delivers a solid kick to the back before getting thrown across the room, and they both do that 'smiling while bleeding from fresh injuries because this is how men bond' thing, and Ender asks what to call his teacher, and it is revelation time: "Mazer Rackham".

The explanation is straightforward enough as to how the hero of a war seventy years ago could still be around--they put him in a ship, sped it up near lightspeed, and brought him back again for the sequel.  From his perspective, he spent twenty years confined to Eros because he knew too much, then eight years in flight equivalent to fifty on Earth.  This creates a really interesting dynamic which the book unfortunately doesn't get into at all.  When the campaign comes, the soldiers fighting it will be people Mazer Rackham knew and fought beside, but from their perspective it's only been five years versus his twenty-eight.  He's not just going to watch friends die in battle, but friends who exist exactly as he remembers them from decades ago.  Not just colleagues, but the living memories of them as they were in the days of glory that they shared.  That is a psychology and a tension that would be worth telling.  Not in this book, though!  (Or any that I know of.)

In the days that follow, Ender and Mazer bond over videos of human fleets fighting formic ships, contiguous videos instead of the patchwork ones that Ender constructed, and Ender is delighted to find that Mazer is pointing out things even he hadn't noticed: "For the first time, Ender had found a living mind he could admire."  We could read this as Ender being a total jackwagon about basically everyone he's ever heard of, but I am trying to be positive, so I instead take it as a tragic commentary on how the warped course of Ender's life has caused him to lose all awareness of or interest in people in any discipline other than military theory.  Art, science, medicine, history, whatever--plebes.

Ender finally asks to see how Mazer won the Second Invasion, after he describes himself as "the only person who had ever defeated the buggers by intelligence rather than luck".  Ender describes what he knows of the final battle: the enormous formic fleet versus the tiny human strike force, Mazer's reckless charge, a single shot, and then nothing of the battle.  Mazer rolls his eyes at what passes for secrecy and shows Ender the proper video, which shows exactly the same, except that there simply is no battle.  Mazer destroys a single enemy ship and the entire formic fleet goes dead.  Mazer fast-forwards through three hours of footage as the humans boggle.

Because we haven't complained about how geniuses are hated by lesser geniuses in a while, Mazer explains that all the xenobiologists told him he wasn't qualified to have an opinion on what happened, despite having won the battle based on his theory--that the formics are a purely hivemind race, with sentient queens but all the drones merely very complicated telepathically-controlled limbs.  Mazer identified and killed the queen, and the invading fleet died en masse.  Mazer shows Ender the videos of the formic fleet destroying the humans further outside the solar system, and Ender quickly identifies the same ship as the "I" of the fleet, which OBVIOUSLY no one else in seven decades has been able to do.

You know, Ender would be a more interesting character if his defining trait wasn't supposed to be 'empathy' but 'empathy with the formics'--if he were human on the outside, 'alien' on the inside, unsuited to normal society but serendipitously perfect for fighting an aggressive hivemind.

There's a whole lot more SF about formic psychology--why they thought nothing of killing human crews (which they assumed were mindless drones) but left mechanical transmitters running in captured ships, how they used Eros as their own base for the Second Invasion and humans scavenged gravity control and such when they took it back.  It's neat enough, but narratively whatever.  Let's talk about why Graff shouldn't have existed in the first place.

Graff's problem as a character is that he has no history.  He's supposed to be a teacher, but we never see him teach, and he definitely doesn't develop curricula.  His job mostly seems to consist of psychological analysis, except that he's not very good at that, either--he keeps relying on reports and unaccountable computer spasms and such.  His whole thing is that he somehow knows that he has to make Ender's life a living hell in order to make him a good commander, in spite of all intuition and theory and history, but we don't know where he got these ideas or why he is convinced that they will work when they never have before.  Who could have the justification for this?

Mazer Rackham.  Graff should have been Mazer--'Hyrum Graff' was a pseudonym that he could use to administrate the Battle School, only to reveal his true identity to Ender when they arrived on Eros.  Mazer Rackham does have special qualifications no one else has: based on near-to-nothing, he was able to extrapolate the nature of the formic hivemind and successfully use it against them.  For reasons they never explain (said to have something to do with 'psychology', presumably because he'd be too emotionally involved?) he can't command the Third Invasion, so he's got to replicate himself.  Whether the military had found Ender or not, Mazer was going to be around for the end of the war--that's just a fact of the way his near-lightspeed time-travel trip worked.  And then because he's a genius he quickly spots Ender and is all 'This kid is the one' and the military is all 'Whatever, loser' and Mazer is all 'Fine, you train your favourites as well but I'm going to focus on this one until you bring me one you can prove is better'.

Mazer could pull all of the ridiculous mind-torturing stunts that Graff pulls, but instead of being explained by his having attended Franz Kafka's Military Academy, they would be 'justified' by Mazer trying to inflict all the same twists that created him on Ender.  It would be a fantastic commentary on the way people often replicate the abuses that are done to them against others.  Instead of just assuming that Graff knows what he's doing and he's following some textbook, people would have much more obvious and legitimate grounds to demand Mazer explain himself, which would fit even better with the book's overall theme of 'the commoners are stupid and will try to stop geniuses because they don't understand what's good for them', which is a terrible theme but at least he could try to execute it well.

Ultimately, what does Graff bring to the story as a result of his character rather than his role?  I'm coming up with nothing.  Whereas Mazer brings a whole host of psychological questions and implications that we never get to spend any time exploring.

Where were we?  Is Mazer still talking?  Goddammit, he is.
"They probably thought they were routinely shutting down our communications by turning off the workers running the tug.  Not murdering living, sentient beings with an independent genetic future.  Murder's no big deal to them.  Only queen-killing, really, is murder, because only queen-killing closes off a genetic path."
There are a couple of reasons this bit is spectacularly stupid, the first and lesser of which is that this 'genetic path' definition of murder is a very strange position for Mazer Rackham to hold--it's kind of got to be Mazer acting as Card's mouthpiece.  But more importantly: who the fuck defines personhood based on the ability to reproduce?!  If this is taken literally, then murder ceases to be murder once a) a person has already reproduced, b) a person physically incapable of reproducing, and possibly even c) a person chooses not to reproduce.  So: post-menopause women, anyone infertile (including, for example, anyone who undergoes SRS), and all those damnable queers.  Totally not murder, because they can't have kids!  I can at this point confirm that I have found the maximum possible scorn I can have for a sci-fi author, because I cannot scorn any author more than I do Orson Scott Card.  What a tool.

Lastly for this week, Mazer lists humanity's advantages against the formic fleets: first, of course, our indomitable human spirit of creativity, allowing each one of us to be independently more brilliant than expected, while the formics rely on mass numbers and coordination of simple strategies.  Second, and substantially more impressive, is Doctor Device: the M.D. Device, Molecular Detachment, which focuses a pair of beams (they are extremely specific about this, it's a pair of beams) on matter to create an expanding field in which electrons get interrupted and all matter falls apart.  Whenever the field hits more matter, it creates a new expanding field, potentially allowing for a chain reaction that leaps from ship to ship to wipe out an entire fleet.  Bonus points to anyone who can guess how the final battle at the formic homeworld will go!

Next week: the return of everyone, ever, including that one guy, you know, the one who did the thing.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ender's Game, chapter thirteen, part two, in which Graff ruins everything again

(Content: apologetics for privilege and conquest.  Fun content: elephant art, astrothermodynamics.)

Time for Graff to justify a bunch of things that he can't actually justify and, in some cases, doesn't actually need to be justified.  I didn't notice that until Ender's Shadow, when they keep a bit of information from Bean while saying they had to give it to Ender--but I am getting ahead of myself. The point is that Graff is useless.

Ender's Game: p. 242--254

Valentine has gone, and Ender literally walks up off the beach, into the house, and asks Graff if they'll leave right away.  Have to give him points for decisiveness, I guess.  For the fifth time in the book, Ender reflects on how he's not taking anything with him, and I'm trying to find a progression now--when he left home, Graff told him everything would be provided and he didn't need to bring anything; when he joined Salamander and then Rat, he was forbidden to bring anything; when he left Battle School, he was comforted to see that Graff also came away empty-handed; now, leaving Earth, there isn't anything he can imagine wanting to bring with him.  Perhaps not a progression, then, but (if not for how bizarre some of those 'he can't bring anything' moments were) it is perhaps an interesting way of checking in on his mindset.  Ender is committed to the goal now; he's going back to school to win the war and save the world, not to do well on tests.  Not that Graff will let that go by without bludgeoning us with some blunt metaphors along the way.
"Back when the population was growing [...] they kept this area in woods and farms.  Watershed land.  The rainfall starts a lot of rivers flowing, a lot of underground water moving around.  The Earth is deep, and right to the heart it's alive, Ender.  We people only live on the top, like the bugs that live on the scum of the still water near the shore. [....] When you live with metal walls keeping out the cold of space, it's easy to forget why Earth is worth saving."
Weeeeeeelll no.  Not really, no.  (And not just because space isn't 'cold' unless you are in the shade.)  The Earth is indeed deep, but anything that could be considered 'alive' is pretty much done once you get a surprisingly short distance underground.  Then it's thousands and thousands of miles of increasingly hot stone and metal.  There are a lot of living things in the world other than humans, that's a good thing to keep in mind, but 'save the whales' and 'save the plate tectonics' are rather different concepts and only one of them makes a good rallying cry.
"We train our commanders the way we do because that's what it takes--they have to think in certain ways, they can't be distracted by a lot of things, so we isolate them.  You.  Keep you separate.  And it works."
 Just in case we've forgotten, Graff: in the seventy or eighty years since the Second Invasion, you've been running Battle School and you have never had a candidate who was capable of passing all your tests.  They fail or they burn out.  It's not that there was once a great one or two but it was long ago and they're too old now--this method has never worked.  So why, Graff, why are you so sure that the problem is with the students and not the tests? Mazer Rackham wasn't trained like this.  Mazer Rackham wasn't anything special--he was a nigh-unheard-of low-ranking commander with a history of disciplinary problems.  But we'll start getting into that more next week.

They march through the Fleet base to the shuttle; Ender notices that at first everyone pays attention to Graff with his Maximum Clearance Ball (he's carrying around some kind of pingpong ball that opens every door), but as they get into high-clearance areas they're more interested in Ender, who seems even less likely to be there.  Ultimately, just the two of them board the shuttle; Graff confirms that his only job now is to stay with Ender.  Ender thinks about what this implies for his importance, and basically starts channelling every white guy who has just stared into the face of privilege theory.
Peter could have fantasies about ruling the world, but Ender didn't have them.  Still, thinking back on his life in Battle School, it occurred to him that although he had never sought power, he had always had it.  But he decided that it was a power born of excellence, not manipulation.  He had no reason to be ashamed of it.  He had never, except perhaps with Bean, used his power to hurt someone.
I was deeply tempted to bring in Five-Tongue Fleming again to tell Ender that he is Wrong about this, but eventually I had to conclude that he is right that he did not use his power to hurt Bonzo.  He got away with killing Bonzo because he's the favourite son, the Chosen One, but I will grant that if he had been in the same situation and was not Graff's favourite, he would have killed Bonzo anyway.  (Possibly not the most sterling absolution ever.)  And in the years leading up to that point, when he could have apparently revolutionised tactics and training for Rat and Phoenix and ultimately the entire Battle School, and perhaps given insights and skills to hundreds of students rather than saving them all so he could show off when he got command of Dragon, strictly speaking he wasn't using his power to hurt people, but instead actively failing to use his power to help people.  Ender is innocent of not abusing his power by only the slightest margin, and he has benefitted from it anyway, but because he never intended to hurt people, he assures himself that he's a perfectly moral person.

Sometimes I am embarrassed for just how accurately and ruthlessly this book portrays its morality.

There's some competent SFing about the shuttle up to Inter-Planetary Launch and Graff requisitioning a ship to a secret destination.  Graff takes a moment to show affection to Ender with a gentle touch while he thinks Ender is asleep, which is shockingly not-creepy, before he gets right back to being a supervillain.  The pilot of their little ship thinks they're going to Inter-Stellar Launch, but is corrected that he'll actually be taking them to I.F. Command, the location of which which he does not have clearance to know (rather, his ship will guide him with the help of Graff's Ping-Pong Ball of Leadership).
"And I'm supposed to close my eyes during the whole voyage so I don't figure out where we are?" 
"Oh, no, of course not.  I.F. Command is on the minor planet Eros, which should be about three months away from here at the highest possible speed.  Which is the speed you'll use, of course." 
"Eros?  But I thought that the buggers burned that to a radioactive--ah.  When did I receive security clearance to know this?" 
"You didn't.  So when we arrive at Eros, you will undoubtedly be assigned to permanent duty there."
Graff adds jokingly that the war might be over in fifteen years and so the location can be declassified and their pilot will be free to go.  Seriously, this happens.  There's no advance planning to make sure a pilot with clearance is available, there are no volunteers for 'a one-way trip' to help with the war effort; Graff just decides 'You look like a convenient pilot; your life and career are now over because I need a ride'.  The pilot is predictably furious; Graff benevolently 'overlooks' his insubordination.  Skipping temporarily ahead to when they leave the ship, three months later:
The captain was bitter at having to leave his tug; Ender and Graff felt like prisoners finally paroled from jail.  When they boarded the shuttle that would take them to the surface of Eros, they repeated perverse misquotations of the lines from the videos that the captain had endlessly watched, and laughed like madmen.  The captain grew surly and withdrew by pretending to go to sleep.
Even here on a black rock in space at the end of humanity, Ender and Graff can take time to amuse themselves by bullying someone who can't fight back.  It is especially hilarious that we're told they feel like prisoners freed from jail, given that their pilot is now literally a prisoner until the end of either the war or his life, whichever comes first.  Ender Wiggin, master of empathy and sweetness.

But before that, they have three months aboard the shuttle, during which Graff jeopardises everything for no reason at all by giving Ender a lot of information that he absolutely does not need.  I understand giving him information on the formics--how they're all drones and they've never managed to hold one in captivity for long before it just fell over dead, how they lack any apparent sex organs but are probably mostly female, which doesn't stop Graff from calling them 'he'.  That's worth knowing, the hive structure and all.  What Ender really doesn't need to know about is the philotic effect: instantaneous telepathic communication, which humanity has now built into our ships.
"So they knew about their defeat the moment it happened," said Ender.  "I always figured--everybody always said that they probably only found out they lost the battle twenty-five years ago." 
"It keeps people from panicking," said Graff. [....] "We've taken some terrible risks, Ender, and we don't want to have every net on earth second-guessing those decisions.  You see, as soon as we had a working ansible, we tucked it into our best starships and launched them to attack the buggers home systems. [....] Our timing was pretty good.  They'll all be arriving in combat range within a few months of each other.  Unfortunately, our most primitive, outdated equipment will be attacking their homeworld." [....] 
"When will they arrive?" 
"Within the next five years, Ender."
Graff explains that the master ansible is waiting for them at I.F. Command, ready for humanity's greatest command to lead those ships into battle.  They want it to be Ender.  Ender says he can't possibly be ready in five years.  Graff says then they'll make do with what they have, which he immediately clarifies is "nobody".  Ender at least sees this for the transparent rubbish that it is, but thinks to himself that he doesn't need the extra motivation anyway:
I'll become exactly the tool you want me to be, said Ender silently, but at least I won't be fooled into it.  I'll do it because I choose to, not because you tricked me, you sly bastard.
Which is in turn hilarious because Ender is absolutely being fooled, and it baffles me that he doesn't expect it at all.  In Ender's Shadow, Graff specifically says that Bean mustn't be allowed to learn about the ansible because he'll guess the whole thing from that, but that Ender had to be told in order to do his job.  Except that as far as Ender is aware, his job for the next five years consists entirely of study and testing.  The entire point, supposedly, of letting Ender fight Bonzo, of bringing Valentine to fix him, was to make sure that Ender was independent and committed to saving humanity--this bit with the ansible and the five-year timeline is unnecessary for motivation.  Graff will also insist later that his whole plan desperately depended on Ender not knowing what he was doing--so why in hell is he telling Ender right now the two facts that he needs in order to puzzle it out?

The answer is of course purely Doylist: Card needs the reader to have this information so that he can spring the big reveal on us quickly later instead of having to throw in all this stuff about philotic physics and the human assault fleet in order to have it make sense.

Also, because we skipped it over--Ender asks if the Third Invasion (humans attacking aliens) is necessary, and if they aren't just going to leave us alone now that we've beaten them twice.  Graff says that they have to be safe, that the aliens already tried to exterminate us twice without provocation, and we can't risk it again.  But he also acknowledges that with the whole human fleet flying out to invade, we're defenceless on Earth and if there is a third alien invasion coming our way, we'll probably all get wiped out.  In other words, they're attacking the aliens because they might invade us again, but our military strategy is also completely built on the assumption that they aren't attacking us again, despite having had seventy years to build and launch their own fleet.

At this point I'm pretty sure that humanity's military would drastically increase in efficiency and effectiveness if they gave absolute power to one of those painting elephants.

As they take the final shuttle down to Eros, Ender asks why they're fighting the war to begin with, and Graff rattles off the list of unproven hypotheses--it's their religion, or their need to colonise, or they picked up our TV broadcasts and decided that we were too evil to be saved.  (If only they had caught the right anime series, they might think we were just delightful and ridiculous.  "My queen!  The blond ones grow delicious mushrooms to express despair!")  Graff's explanation is simply that, with the insurmountable communication barrier (their inborn telepathy keeps them from grasping how else beings might communicate) they decided we just couldn't be trusted and so had to be subjugated for their own safety, and humanity has made the same decision about them.  Basically, 'this might be an us-or-them situation, so let's assume it is and let's make sure we win'.  Graff also evopsychs about how nature can't produce a species that doesn't have a collective desire to survive, even if it allows individual sacrifice, because apparently he's never heard of panda breeding programs, but more to the point:
"As for me," said Ender, "I'm in favour of surviving." 
"I know," said Graff.  "That's why you're here."
Weeeeell, actually, Ender is in favour of defiantly doing as he pleases and handling threats to his safety through the focused application of violence.  That's not quite the same thing.  There are a lot of things Ender could have done, as we've discussed before, that would have let him survive without having to kill other children.  That is why he's there.  Because he has a toolbox full of solutions to your problems and all of them are murder.  Remember?  That's why Valentine couldn't be the Chosen One?  Yeah.  That.  It's about the killing, not the survival.  And in the end, it turns out you didn't need to make those things touch anyway.

Next week: Ender meets someone who should have replaced Graff from the very beginning.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Interlude: More of the math of dudes kissing

(Content: biphobia; transphobia and rape culture at the Dan Savage link.  Fun content: math!  No, really.  Come back!)

This may be considered a sequel to another 'enrich your life through queer math' post from my old blog.

This isn't a post about Dan Savage, but it was inspired by things he's said that really neatly embody one of the major forms of biphobia.  (He's also painfully transphobic and sexist and so many other things; I am not a fan.  I am sure he's done good things, yay for him, but he desperately needs to not be The One Mainstream Queer Voice.)

This specifically is about the idea that bisexuals--both men and women, though Savage speaks more often regarding men, obviously--are just playing around and are still going to settle down in a hetero relationship once they've had their homo fun.  The specific quote is thus: "And here’s another thing that is: Most adult bisexuals, for whatever reason, wind up in opposite-sex relationships. And most comfortably disappear into presumed heterosexuality."  The implication (often made an explication) is that we bi people are users, happy to get all countercultural with our sexytimes but ultimately intending to ditch a same-gender partner and spend the rest of our lives taking advantage of all that sweet, sweet straight privilege while leaving said same-gender partners adrift and emotionally abandoned.  (This feeds nicely into the similar claim that bi folk are all promiscuous sex-fiends, which I have laughed at enough for the time being; just noting the way one line of bigotry usually supports another.)

Now, it's difficult as hell to get actual reliable numbers on the proportions of queer folk in the world, for obvious reasons: first being that no matter how many times you swear that your survey is completely anonymous, queer people are generally going to need a good reason to single themselves out in a crowd, and 'the curiosity of straights' tends not to be it.  A quick scroll through this wikipedia page on orientation demographics shows the hilarious level of variation in surveys, ranging from 1 in 7 to 1 in 200.

Fortunately, this is napkin math, so we don't need exact numbers to prove my point.  Let us once again oversimplify tremendously and go with 10% of the population, all else equal, being in some way attracted to people who are theoretically the same sex as them (so including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and gender variants that tend to have trouble getting recognised, let alone catalogued).  That's our starting assumption: 90% straight (P = 0.9), 10% queer (P = 0.1).  You may see where I'm going with this.

I was waiting for a bus the other day and I saw this guy: gangly and a little stubbly and just generally ridiculously attractive and reading Perdido Street Station.  Knucklebite.  And I did some quick math in my head: the independent chance of flipping heads on a coin is 0.5, so the chance of getting two in a row is 0.5 * 0.5 = 0.25, the chance of getting three is 0.5 ^ 3 = 0.125, and the chance of getting four is 0.5 ^ 4 = 0.0625.

Say the chance that this ridiculously hot dude waiting for the bus next to me was interested in dudes is 0.1, like we said.  That means that, the moment I see him, if I grab a quarter from my pocket, I have a better chance of flipping three heads in a row than I have of even being the right gender for him to be attracted to me.  If any of the three are tails, sorry, he only likes women, better luck next time.

Whereas every time I meet a woman I find attractive, the probabilities are reversed: keeping in mind that both straight and bi women might be interested in me, I'd likely have to flip four heads in a row for her to say "Sorry, I only like the ladies."  (So far this has only happened 1.5 times.  The 0.5 is for when I didn't even have time to start flirting before she brought it up of her own accord.)

Most people have more than one romantic relationship in their lives before they settle down, if they are the settling type, meaning that, if not restricted by institutional homophobia, bisexuals will probably date a range of people with differing genders and orientations over the course of their lives.  And while I might be equally attracted to men and women, the feeling is not mutual.  Should I be fortunate enough to meet someone so perfectly matched to me that we decide to spend the rest of our lives together, raw probability says that person is probably going to be a woman.  That's not my evil bisexual heartless fucklust driving me to use and discard innocent gay men: that's all that math will allow.  Most of the people I'm attracted to in my life will probably be straight.  I am as upset about this as anyone I mean seriously you should have seen that guy's face I just wanted to congratulate him on owning it--

Where was I?

Oh, right.  Biphobes can shut the hell up and either do their math homework or (should they unfortunately be afflicted with dycalculia, like my lovely and non-biphobic sister-in-law) just start flipping coins every time they see someone hot, until the lesson sinks in.