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.