Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ender's Shadow, chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, in which Bean is distressed that no one understands how awesome he is

(Content: racism, bullying. Fun content: more of Card's own fanfiction.)

Ender's Shadow: p. 175--217
Chapter Twelve: Roster

Pressure to get Ender to Command School because war soon et cetera.  Graff has started holding all of his secure meetings in the battleroom control centre, because it has a separate air system Bean can't creep through.  That seems like a totally reasonable solution, as opposed to, like, assigning any of your spectacularly advanced monitoring technology to follow him, or perhaps a literal person.  But yeah, reorganise your office space completely around this kid.  (Dimak says Bean has grown too big anyway, and stopped doing the weird exercises that were meant to help him crawl through ducts.)

Bean has written and anonymously published a paper, "Problems in Campaigning Between Solar Systems Separated by Lightyears", which all the staff have quickly read and pondered--somehow Graff knows Bean wrote it, even though none of the other teachers do.  (Note from the next scene: Bean literally just wrote it and left it in his directory for them to find.  How does every teacher not know who wrote it?)  It's fascinating to me, noticing how much Card gets away with people having or not having certain information in a way that the reader is meant to ignore.  Dimak likes the idea of just setting Bean loose as a theorist and forgetting military training, but Graff has already put on his xenocide boots and he's not taking them off now.  (Side note: between all his other work, Bean has now taught himself French and German so he can read treatises in their original language.  I kind of like this, on its own, the idea that he's just that absurdly talented with languages, but piling it on top of everything else still gets an eyeroll.)

Here's a bit I've never understood:
"But he believes his false theory only because he doesn't know about the ansible. Do you understand? Because that's the main thing we'd have to tell him about, isn't it?"
This is not the first or last time Graff has insisted that Ender needs to know about the ansible in order to lead the final campaign, but that has never been justified to me.  Ender always thinks he's playing games, and he doesn't need to know about the ansible to do that; it only increases the likelihood that he'll realise the games aren't games.  They even tell Ender the things Bean has guessed--that Earth already launched its fleet, that the Third Invasion is a human attack on the formics--so the only reason Ender apparently doesn't figure it out is that he's just not that bright.  That's as close as we ever get to explicit that they didn't want Ender to be the smartest person ever for their plan, but just smart enough to push the button and take the attention.

They finally try to justify the existence of Bonzo Madrid by saying Bean was partially right in his criticism of officer criteria, because they test for qualities in highly-regarded Second Invasion veterans and the war was too short to "weed out the deadwood".  Graff puts all the blame on "our tests" giving Bonzo command despite his ineptitude, and never discusses the option of, say, teacher evaluations pointing out that he's useless and shouldn't be in space.  (Remember early in Ender's Game when Bonzo was actually moderately competent because he relied on discipline?  Those were the days.)  Of course, we also theorised that Graff wants Bonzo there as Ender's antagonist, so he would talk like his hands are tied by 'the tests', wouldn't he?

Since Bean's got his own ideas about what qualities the tests are missing, Graff decides to finally make him and Ender touch: Bean is assigned to create a full army roster out of launchies and any of the soldiers currently on transfer lists.  When Dimak tells Bean this, of course, Bean rapidly figures out it's a new army for Ender (so they can accelerate him to graduation) and that they'll use the Dragon Army name because of the supposed 'curse'.  Bean is dismissed, but takes the time to talk back to Dimak further about how bad the student evaluation criteria are anyway before he leaves, and then, with no sense of irony, decides that Dimak won't fiddle with the roster as a show of power, because he's a better person than that.  Bean: calculating people's virtues so he can insult them to their face without fear of repercussions.  Charmer.

Bean's so grim writing up his roster (trying to make sure that he won't get passed over for toon leader himself, then actually having a moment of self-awareness about his narcissism) that Nikolai stops by to check on him, jokes about letters from home.  Nikolai knows Bean grew up on the street; Bean knows Nikolai was an only child and immensely spoiled because his parents had to use so much surgical intervention and embryo manipulation just to have him (foreshadow foreshadow).  They banter, Bean goes back to work with three more slots to fill in the roster.  He finally adds Crazy Tom, despite the risk of him hulking out if he disagrees with Ender, and Wu:
...which of course had become Woo and even Woo-hoo. Brilliant at her studies, absolutely a killer in the arcade games, but she refused to be a toon leader and as soon as her commanders asked her, she put in for a transfer and refused to fight until they gave it to her. Weird.
Here we have another case of a girl in Battle School who has never been mentioned before and won't be again, whose character is defined by a combination of skill and refusal to be important.  It's almost artful, to have distilled the Faux Action Girl into such a condensed form, even leaving enough room to make it clear that her comrades-in-arms "of course" found a way to combine a dose of racism with a dash of sexual harassment.  (Seriously, it sucks to have a Chinese name in these books.  Wu?  Woo-hoo.  Han Tzu?  Hot Soup.  Andrew?  ENDER.  Granted, other white people also get stupid nicknames on occasion, like Ducheval being Shovel, but that one actually gets called out and ended, while Hot Soup goes on.)

At last, after some hemming and hawing, Bean puts Nikolai in the final slot, on the basis that he won't drag the team down and Bean wants his bro to be part of the imminent sensation that will be Dragon Army, to be able to tell stories of the days when he was the legendary Ender Wiggin's school buddy.

Dragon Army assembles for the first time in their barracks, and we get the first of the truly parallel scenes--the same dialogue as Ender's Game, but from Bean's perspective and thoughts.  Ender lets them all settle in for three minutes, then calls them to practice.  Bean isn't the one who shouts "But I'm naked!" [drink!] but he is also naked, because they had to cut down a flash suit to fit his tiny monkey frame and he can't figure out some of the makeshift fasteners.  (Buttons: much harder than German conjugation.)  But Bean silently knows he's only really angry at himself, because he should have known they would go straight to practice, so he doesn't complain as he runs naked down the hall with his suit in his arms.

Chapter Thirteen: Dragon Army

In what is presumably a typo, the first two lines of faceless featureless dialogue actually end with "said Sister Carlotta" and "said Graff".  Carlotta wants Bean's genetic info to do a test (she doesn't believe he's Volescu's kid, and hopes that means it's all a lie and he'll live) but Graff confirms that Fleet scientists have already determined Anton's Key probably works exactly the way we were told.  Then they congratulate each other on how awesome their favourite students are.

This chapter is mostly Ender's Game chapter ten, with Bean's snark and narcissism instead of Ender's anxiety and narcissism.  This is the first time we've seen Bean in the battleroom, and of course he's already figured out the same thing Petra did, that the zero-G effects have to be artificial rather than a trick of non-rotation like the school claims.  Bean makes it explicit that gravity-bending machines are utterly unknown in the rest of humanity--again, why is the Fleet allowed to do this,when everyone knows there are no formic spies?  (Anti-grav never comes up in the later Shadow books on Earth, suggesting that the Fleet doesn't let that tech out after the war, either.)

Ender sends them all out in waves, and finally tells Bean that he can use a side handhold, as we know, and Bean's upfront ire ("Go suck on it") is now justified as frustration that Ender made him run naked through the halls because his suit was tricky, but takes pity for his size.  Bean just does his anti-nausea trick as he muppetflails through the room and ricochets off a side wall to join the formation.  Ender does his whole angry-drill-sergeant rant, Bean is bored, Ender teaches them "the enemy's gate is down", off they go on another leap, and Ender starts picking on Bean again to answer his various strategic questions.  We've seen this.

Bean is at first mildly scandalised that Ender doesn't know who he is already, and thinks Ender is making a fool out of himself:
"Excellent. At least I have one soldier who can figure things out." 
Bean was disgusted. This was the commander who was supposed to turn Dragon into a legendary army? Wiggin was supposed to be the alpha and omega of the Battle School, and he's playing the game of singling me out to be the goat.
It goes on, and on, like we saw before, but around the 'string bean' joke, Bean realises that Ender is successfully tapping into everyone else's resentment of him--unifying most of the army in their frustration at how the toddler keeps out-geniusing the rest of them.  Bean, of course, also thinks this is a terrible mistake because Ender is undermining his best soldier, because Bean is awesome and Bean knows it and so should everyone else.  In Ender's Game, this would have been serious; here I'm 80% sure it's supposed to be as ironic as I read it, because Bean is a jerk.

After practice, Bean and Ender have their showdown, and Bean's I-can-be-your-best-or-your-worst remarks are spun in his head as 'I will only be effective with your trust and respect, useless if you mock me', which is a hell of a retcon, but a mechanically fascinating thing to see, as a writer.  Card makes the sensible choice to not literally retcon any of the dialogue, but does his damnedest to create alternate interpretations of lines he wrote fifteen years earlier to mean something completely different.  He does occasionally add Bean's thoughts directly, almost like new dialogue, but doesn't pretend Ender picks up on it:
"So I don't even get a chance to learn before I'm being judged." That's not how you bring along talent.
Maybe the best thing about this whole thing, thematically, is that Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, when they overlap like this, are like a study in how the same events can look very different depending on your preconceptions and biases, which is supposedly the over-arching theme of Game and Speaker.  It's not great writing, but the ideas are neat, and I'd like to see a less-terrible author try the same thing in a book that actually was about that, instead of books that claim to be about that but are actually about how incredibly awesome Ender Wiggin is.

Post-argument, Bean is shaken up, and realises that he's reached the point where he can feel sick with fear even when he's not at risk of dying in a cold gutter anymore--he's counting on Ender seeing his potential and giving him an awesome future, like he did with Poke.

Chapter Fourteen: Brothers

There's not actually a whole lot to analyse here that I can see (commenters are encouraged to disagree if y'all have your own copies and thoughts), but I'll at least recap.

Graff reports to Carlotta that Volescu really isn't Bean's genetic father, though he's a close relative, and so Carlotta goes off to find Volescu's secret half-brother.  In the meantime, we're also warned that Achilles has been removed from his ground school, on Graff's decision that he's super-smart and belongs in Battle School.  Carlotta tells him that if they're both in Battle School, one will definitely die, and accuses Graff of being "determined to let them find out which is fittest in the best Darwinian fashion", because Carlotta is the best character.

In the barracks, Bean and Fly Molo (leader of A Toon and apparently therefore second-in-command for Dragon Army) get into a fight over strategy when Fly criticises Ender's fragmentation and delegation.  When Bean's snark gets too sharp, Fly rushes him, and Nikolai comes to his aid, tragically not screaming DEATH FROM ABOVE.  Han Tzu finally breaks it up, they all agree they were insubordinate, and Nikolai explains to Bean that he's tense because he's sure he's the worst soldier in Dragon.  Bean does a bad job reassuring him, because his spectacular analysis and empathy skills have been turned off this scene to show that he has flaws.

Carlotta sherlocks her way through bureaucracy and secret files to find Bean's genetic parents, discovers that they had twenty-three frozen embryos stored years ago for impregnation (the twenty-fourth was already born, Nikolai), and they collectively discover that the remaining twenty-three were stolen.  Carlotta shares as much about Volescu as she's legally allowed, and discovers that if they had another boy, they were going to name him Julian, for his father.  Dad correctly guesses that one of the twenty-three stolen embryos wasn't destroyed and has since grown up a bit, and Carlotta confirms it and promises that if she can make it happen, they'll meet one day.

Back on Battle School, Major Anderson has a chat with Nikolai, basically saying "You are literally the only person Bean likes, please keep being his friend", and Nikolai has some realistic dialogue about dissociation (thinking of himself in his baby pictures as a different person, and seeing that person in Bean), but ultimately insists that Anderson has nothing to worry about, because they're not friends, they're brothers, and it's all very heartwarming and mildly out-of-place in this book, as the only scene not from Bean or Carlotta's perspective.  I suppose it helps, in that it gives Nikolai some psychological justification for his weird attachment to Bean the jackass ultragenius, but it also just feels like a lot of self-indulgent irony, with the 'chosen brothers' secretly being genetic brothers as well, because genetics are the best everything.

Next week: Bean's secret and completely ineffectual war to proselytise for Ender and stop Bonzo.


  1. I suppose it helps, in that it gives Nikolai some psychological justification for his weird attachment to Bean the jackass ultragenius, but it also just feels like a lot of self-indulgent irony, with the 'chosen brothers' secretly being genetic brothers as well, because genetics are the best everything.
    It’s also reminiscent of the heavy-handed exchange between Miro and Ouanda about how, if Libo were his father, then they would be siblings and could never marry!

  2. "Bean realises that Ender is successfully tapping into everyone else's
    resentment of him--unifying most of the army in their frustration at how
    the toddler keeps out-geniusing the rest of them"
    These kids are in competitive teams already, yes? Ender doesn't need to set up an enemy inside the team, there are ALL THE OTHER TEAMS already out there. And, given the assholery shown between older and younger students, there are probably kids on the other teams that the kids in Dragon already dislike. Ender just needs to fire them up with their legendary "cursed" history and get them riled up to prove themselves to the other teams.

    There are ways and ways to unify teams that have nothing to do with scapegoating a member of the team! This is not effective or useful. This is just bullshit. It's no good for Bonso to slap younger kids down, but somehow from Ender it becomes a tactical masterstroke?

  3. Exactly! That's the secret. Ender does the same things as everyone else, but he does it with empathy so it's genius.

  4. (Chiming in again. (Note: I’ve just re-read ES, but haven’t read EG in 10+ years. If I get the details of EG wrong, let me know.))

    I get that by writing ES and showing things from a different perspective, Card is implicitly stating that the close third-person narration in each of these books is that of an unreliable narrator. Bean says (and means) one thing, Ender hears (and understands) something different. This is OK, and even interesting.

    The problem is that the events in the two books are often too different from each other. It is as though each of the two books exist in related but non-identical parallel universes.

    The narration occasionally switches to a non-Ender or Bean third person point of view. In EG, after Ender has ‘prevented Bonzo from harming him again’ (that is, killed him dead), Bean, an onlooker, wails unhappily as a medical tech says that everything with Bonzo is OK. Ender has already been dragged away here, so this scene is not from Ender’s point of view-- it appears to be authorial omniscient.

    Yet in the same scene in ES, Bean wails, but then walks away (metaphorically) chuckling. He knows that he has successfully fooled the stupid adult about the extent of his knowledge of (stone dead) Bonzo’s fate.

    In EG, after Ender draws his orders to Command School, Bean shows up at his cabin. They share a male-bonding moment, Ender leaves, and Bean falls asleep on Ender’s bed, gently sucking his fingers. There is no sign of that happening in ES that I recall.

    There are plenty of differences between the versions, some of them frankly irreconcilable. I’m sure OGH will note them as we go (how many Battle School kids go to Eros? Thirty-some (EG) or twelve (ES)?).

    I think that the only way they could be reconciled is if Card re-wrote the whole Ender Saga from start to finish, making changes as required to the story.

    An example of a fix that could be done: in the Revised version, Bonzo is a launchy two classes ahead of Ender. He hassles Ender from the start (because Bonzo is evil, natch). Every time Ender goes to an army, Bonzo is a step ahead in the same army: experienced kid vs. total noob, toon-leader vs. experienced kid, army commander vs. experienced kid who should be a toon leader but isn’t because Bonzo uses his power to keep the Wiggin kid down. Then when the time comes for the nekkid shower fight, it would make sense. Chronologically at least.

    My two cents, for what they’re worth.

  5. Your using Ender as a counterpoint for shitty Chinese nicknames needs to be more clearly a counterpoint, because I was confused why you'd included it alongside the Chinese names until like the third reading.