As I have vowed many times, I'm not doing any more Orson Scott Card books on this blog. I'm quite done; this one is the best and I am not willing to spend any more of my life on his time. So, enjoy the below, but next week be sure to come back for the very first post on: The Eye of the World, Book One of The Wheel of Time.
I'm going to regret this, I just know it.
But first, we've got to finish up with Card's books at least, so read on, you tenacious followers. Y'all make this endurable.
(Content: ableism, genocide, child abuse. Fun content: asteroid dodgeball, male novelists, terrifying Space Humans, tons of fanfiction, Adam Savage, and yet more goddamn Bible references.)
Ender's Shadow: p. 352--379
Chapter Twenty-Three: Ender's Game
The opening exchange between Graff and Admiral Placeholder-Designed-To-Make-Others-Look-Better is predictable, as Graff tries to convince him to arrest "the Polemarch and his conspirators", although as I understand this world that means 'all Russians', so... that seems hard. Admiral Placeholder of course refuses to "fire the first shot", because then he'll be blamed for the ensuing war, etc etc politics cowards whatever. I hate Graff and I don't know who this guy is, so I can't imagine why I'm supposed to be invested in this subplot. Anyway, it's xenocide time again and Bean is in prophet mode for Our MurderSaviour:
With Ender there,Bean immediately stepped back into his place among the toon leaders. No one mentioned it to him. He had been the leading commander, he had trained them well, but Ender had always been the natural commander of this group [....] They felt known by the one whose honor they needed. Bean simply did not know how to do that. His encouragement was always more obvious, a bit heavy-handed. [....] Ender was just... himself. Authority came from him like breath.Card continues to subscribe to the notion that narrative 'showing' is only used for minor matters, like spending several pages detailing the logistics of crawling around inside an air duct, whereas the powerful art of 'telling' is saved for those grand moments when you need to contrast the essential natures of your dual protagonists to drive home your thesis on intelligence distinct from leadership.
Bean also informs us that Ender doesn't call on him nearly as much as he wishes, focusing instead on his besties: Petra, Alai, Dink, and Shen. The previous book informed us that Ender analysed Bean's skills and found he floundered with large fleets but used small squadrons to devastating effect; here we're told that this was actually Mazer Rackham downplaying Bean's skills so that Bean can always be standing by to hit the button and take over Ender's leadership if Ender freezes or passes out in the middle of battle.
They hear about Mazer Rackham's 'testing' plan, which Bean pegs as suspicious, but the best part is this logical leap, when he sees the globe formation of the enemy ships that Rackham supposedly programmed, surrounding a single decoy queen:
So why would Rackham expect the Buggers to expect humans to strike for a single ship?
Bean thought back to those vids that Ender had watched over and over in Battle School--all the propaganda film of the Second Invasion.
They never showed the battle because there wasn't one. Nor did Mazer Rackham command a strike force with a brilliant strategy. Mazer Rackham hit a single ship and the war was over.Just so we're clear here, I didn't snip out any text. Bean makes a flying leap from 'Mazer, pretending to be the formics, is decoying with a lone ship, which he thinks the real formics will do, therefore there was no battle whatsoever in the Second Invasion'. Now, okay, the leap to 'they're faking a queen therefore the queen is their weak point' is a legitimate move, cool, but the additional decision that there was no actual battle around Saturn is pure magical intuition. Bean has no reason to believe that Mazer didn't kill the queen after a long and devastating battle of brilliant tactics. If he won with one shot and not military skill, what's supposed to qualify him to program anything else the formics are doing in battle? Why does one skill (laser tag, or alien empathy) keep translating into total mastery of war?
Bean similarly hears that the testing pattern is going to mimic a campaign, and he instantly concludes that all of his guesses are right, the formics have many worlds and the humans are invading all of them and the formics will learn from battle to battle because they have instant communications etc etc I am literally recapping Card recapping himself. Also, Bean has apparently given up on his 'I must not believe my own wild theory' plan, continuing his signature move of completely changing his mind between scenes for no given reason.
Ender starts relying most of all on Petra (what happened to Alai running whole fleets himself?), and fails to notice as Bean does that she's a perfectionist and her mistakes are grinding her down.
He was so good with people, and yet he seemed to think she was really tough, instead of realizing that toughness was an act she put on to hide her intense anxiety.Silly Ender, thinking that a girl is actually tough rather than just having an abrasive veneer covering her deeply vulnerable femininity. Bean can't be bothered with her right now, of course, he's busy toughly weathering the total lack of recognition he gets (the others don't come to him for tactical support, except for Tom and Han) as he keeps an eye on everything and tries to coordinate behind the scenes as the battles get rougher. Man Tough. Man Tough Strong Do My Job Grr Whiskey.
Petra passes out in the middle of battle, Bean has to catch Ender's attention to get him to react, and they pull it together with heavy losses while Petra breaks down sobbing, blaming herself, until she's taken away to, presumably, the infirmary. She comes back, "but her ebullience was gone", because if ever there was a word to summarise Petra's tactical brilliance, 'cheerful' is definitely it. Not courage or determination or sharp calculation, but always having a smile on her face. I'm so done with Card.
Petra's not the only one down this time; Vlad goes catatonic and Fly Molo breaks down laughing in the middle of battle. As Ender keeps slowing down as well, Bean steps in more to clarify and support his orders, and he starts getting some acknowledgement and back-pats from his friends, and his heart grows three sizes, and then it's the final battle.
Graff comes to beg Bean to come up with some miracle to save the day. (Bean is finally the only person to point out that Mazer is probably psychologically torn up and taking it out on Ender because all these pilots dying in battle are Mazer's friends from decades ago. There's an underused concept there.) Bean's got nothing, especially once he sees the formic homeworld and its ten-thousand-ship fleet in orbit.
I'm going to be a jackass about math one last time. Let's assume for no good reason that the formic homeworld is about the same size as Earth. Earth has a surface area of 510 million square kilometres. Ten thousand ships in flight means each ship needs to cover about 51,000 square klicks from a human ship reaching the surface. Half that if they knew what direction the humans would come from and they've only covered that hemisphere of the planet, of course. So, assuming a hex grid, each formic ship is, what, 120 klicks apart by land? (I'm not adjusting distance for altitude of flight, but if they're flying above the atmosphere, it's obviously a much greater distance between ships.) That's not going to give us the kind of incredibly tight swarm Card describes, so do we assume that means the formic homeworld is tiny? If it isn't, then I'm less convinced that this is as hard a shot to pull off as they imply. They have eighty ships; the formics need to prevent every single one of them from entering the atmosphere. If we're looking at the planet from a distance like this but it's minutes away rather than days, all of the ships involved are obviously moving at ridiculous speeds, far beyond anything we 21st century humans have ever achieved, so if our only goal is to reach the planet (and both Bean and the formics see that it must be so), I feel like the formics are at a bigger disadvantage here than we think. It's exactly the problem Bean described before: if they spread their fleet away from the surface (to keep humans from getting anywhere near firing range) they need exponentially more ships to create a thick enough field to ensure no one slips through. How quickly can their ships change direction in space? Can they get from the north pole to the southern hemisphere as quickly as humans can get from hovering out in space to the south pole? What are our acceleration/deceleration parameters here?
A kindlier blogger would just say that, since Bean sees this as a hopeless fight, obviously the parameters are such that the formic defence swarm is indeed an impassable blockade, but you and I both know I ran out of kindliness long ago.
I'm mostly thinking that this whole fight could be adequately side-stepped if the human fleet contained 79 normal fighters and a single fighter with good cloaking technology to slip down to the south pole and shiv the planet. Why don't we have that? Why don't we have ten thousand drones whose sole purpose is to project a small Ecstatic Field and make it look like we have a fleet just as big as theirs, since it's canon that you can't see through shields? Do they have a moon? Have we considered busting that and just letting tidal forces obliterate their civilisation? Have we considered using our sweet stolen gravity technology to give them a moon? Is no one worried that they might have split off, you know, five hundred of their endless swarm of ships on a mission of vengeance against Earth weeks ago when they found out we had a planet-buster weapon and we were coming for them?
Where we were?
Ender stares in silence at all of this for a full minute before a blinking button lights up on Bean's console, which he knows will put him in command if he touches it. Bean determines the teachers think that Ender has frozen up, while Bean knows Ender has just reached the same hopeless conclusion Bean has, and because he thinks it's a game, he's going to quit. Bean agrees, and has nothing in mind except bitter irony when he says "Remember [...] the enemy's gate is down".
I'm fuzzy on why it's necessary that they "dodge here and there through the ever-shifting formations of the enemy swarms" and "every third or fourth move takes us closer and closer to the planet". It's a straight line, the distances involved make the idea of a 'thick' swarm ridiculous, like flying through an asteroid belt and worrying about collisions. If you can reach the edge of their swarm and not die, you can probably get to the far side before they can so much as track you.
But the formics don't strike (I'm not even sure if they're shooting), and Bean comes up with a series of hypotheses to explain this: they fear clustering and getting Doctored, they just have too many ships in flight for too few queen minds to effectively coordinate, and they're focused (inexplicably) on blocking the human retreat, because they "have finally, finally learned that we humans value each and every individual human life [....] but they've learned this lesson just in time for it to be hopelessly wrong". There is much heroic talk about leaping on grenades to save your foxhole comrades, and suicide bombing, collectively and charming summarised as "insane". Sigh.
Bean concludes that the formics aren't afraid of Dr Device right now because all the human fighters would die with the planet, and wonders whether Ender has somehow learned to empathise with them enough to predict this, but decides it doesn't matter even if it's all luck now, because either way Ender is the one who chose the tactics in this battle and all the others:
It was Ender whose previous victories taught the enemy to think of us as one kind of creature when we are really something quite different. He pretended all this time that humans were rational beings, when we are really the most terrible monsters these poor aliens could ever have conceived of in their nightmares.For a refreshing break to a realm of more interesting science fiction ideas, allow me to recommend this tumblr compilation of notes on humans from the perspective of aliens.
Anyway, Bean gets around to feeling sorry for the pilots currently on their way to die committing xenocide at Ender's command, and he remembers Sister Carlotta's favourite scripture, Absalom and David, and presses the fleet override button just long enough to speak to all of the pilot simultaneously (and no one else, and apparently no one notices that Bean just took control from Ender for several seconds, and how does he give control back afterwards anyway?)--
...knowing for the first time the kind of anguish that could tear such words from a man's mouth. "My son, my son Absalom. Would God I could die for thee, O Absalom, my son. My sons!"(Bean is tragically unaware that all of the pilots are women. Graff's obsession with filling Battle School with more boys than pants wasn't in effect eighty years ago.)
They make their final dive, they all fire (except Petra's squadron, given rear guard duty against the actual swarm), and "the ships that launched too early watched their Dr. Device burn up in the atmosphere before it could go off", because apparently it's a missile in this continuity. Does the Device not work on gas and vapour for some reason? But Bean gives the last ship an order to detonate their Doctor onboard, without launching, and somehow that is close enough to hit the planet.
But long before the last ship was swallowed up, all the maneuvering had stopped. They drifted, dead. Like the dead Bugger ships in the vids of the Second Invasion.BEAN YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN THOSE VIDS OH MY GOD CARD.
Out in the hall, Bean tells the others that, yes, those cool special effects really could happen because they did happen, they just won, and Graff appears to confirm this (I guess after Ender has already passed out or whatever) and inform them that the species is dead. Petra, of course, immediately breaks down in tears, making her, by the way, the first person to mourn for the formics, so let's keep that in mind the next time anyone talks about how magical the Speaker for the Dead was. Dink comforts Petra, everyone leaves except Bean and Graff, who are still chatting when gunfire sounds off from the Polemarch's rebellion. Friendly marines secure the barracks, and Graff takes Bean to the ansible room to hear the news. The last several lines are actually pretty funny banter and all, but whatever. People joking around corpses is standard for this book.
Ender's Game is, quite clearly, a massive exercise in putting a child in the position of committing genocide without bearing any actual responsibility for it, because he's kept unaware. Bean, conversely, is fully aware, totally onboard, and gives the last commands that guarantee victory. On the other hand, Ender said in Speaker for the Dead that he retrospectively would have been onboard with it if he'd known, and therefore bears equal guilt.
There's nothing much to be said about Bean's lack of thought towards the formics that I haven't said about Ender, except for this: Bean came up with his plan (the Third Invasion) because he thought there was no ansible, so the invasion fleet would hit the formics just when they found out they had lost the Second Invasion. When he found out there was an ansible, if he'd had the slightest sense in his head, he should have realised that the formics therefore knew they lost the moment it happened, seventy years ago, and thus could have launched their own fleet just as long ago. We don't know how humanity found the formic homeworlds, so we don't know what kind of scanning and astrometric surveying technology we've all got, but surely we might have noticed if, the first time we Doctored one of their fleets, they decided to launch a full re-invasion fleet toward Earth, or drew their forces back to defend themselves. Nada. The formics haven't apparently responded to anything at all.
Bean can catch the hesitation in someone's voice and from it reason his way into understanding the entire secret strategy and technology behind the whole of the Third Invasion, but the marauding monsters (with thousands of times the ships humanity can field) spend seventy years very specifically not attacking Earth again and it doesn't pique his curiosity at all?
Bean has realised that the formics are hive-minds, Bean has thought far enough ahead to realise that the formics might not have realised that humans weren't hive-minds to start with, and all the consequences that spill out of that, and he could have done so in a matter of seconds. The screen comes up, Ender stares flatly at the impossibility of the final battle, Bean sees the thousands of formic ships that have been built and never sent to kill anyone, and when Ender finally starts giving commands, Bean shouts: Stop. Because instead of his hopeless "the enemy's gate is down", the lesson he remembers is 'The real enemy isn't the other army; the real enemy is the teacher'.
And that's the real strength of fanfiction that Card doesn't have, here: fanfiction is created by those who adore and immerse themselves in the story, but it is also, most importantly, created by those who didn't feel like the original story was enough.
Let's take Harry Potter here, because while I've been out of fanfic for years, some of the best I still see around the web is in that world. Harry Potter fanfiction isn't just fun for people who like the idea of wizard school, it's also vitally important for people who want to know that they exist and are good and strong and worthy magicians despite not being cis or straight or (frankly) white, and people who need more than 'all was well' and to talk about the story of recovering and not just winning. Harry Potter fanfiction is important for people for whom it is not adequate or acceptable that Harry grows up in an abusive environment and no one ever calls Dumbledore on it, or that the youngest survivors of the war are at risk of the same treatment again, or the idea that you can tell who's good and who's bad by the colour of their school uniform.
And Card doesn't have that, here, because he mashed several stories together, he wrote Ender's Game so he'd have his divine white saviour hero for Speaker for the Dead, and it did that job and it can't be done any other way without uprooting his whole original plan, so Bean can't say any of those things, he can't be that smart, despite day after chapter after day of doing exactly that thing, again and again. Ender's Game, for him, is already good enough. Ender's Shadow doesn't really exist to comment on that, or to change anything except a handful of details, and then not much--we met Petra, Corn Moon, and Wu, but Bean still says there were only a dozen girls in Battle School (estimated minimum student body of 1000). The retcons (like everyone knowing about the formic hive-mind) are obviously unintentional.
So, in the end, I have a hard time thinking worse of Bean for going along with xenocide, because even though it could have been completely in his character to understand the situation, his writer couldn't allow him to do that, because the first story was already good enough for him.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Homecoming
Graff informs Carlotta that, before they were defeated, Russia grabbed Achilles out of whatever prison they were keeping him in, being the only Battle School child not currently under I.F. guard. Dun dun DUNNNN. Carlotta, of course, is a protagonist and therefore has to be shocked that Graff is up for court-martial, "a scapegoat for victory". Sigh.
When Eros has been safely reclaimed from Russian rebels, the dream team gather at last to go see Ender, who's been unconscious the whole time. Bean recognises that Ender has been torturing himself emotionally, grieving for the formics while Bean cares less about their whole species than he does about Poke.
Then it's mostly recapping and Bean narratively informing us how true everything is: "Bean believed him", "Bean felt the truth of that", et cetera. There's also a line I never paid attention to before,"If the universe had any kindness in it, or even simple justice, Ender would never have to take another life", which I assume is an ironic nod to Speaker for the Dead and the transition of Human to his tree stage. Meh.
Bean is the only one who already knows that Ender is the only one not going back to Earth, as part of the peace treaty that Locke put together. Bean thinks of many reasons Ender's own brother would ban him from returning to Earth, but can't decide. He vows to meet him one day and find out, and destroy Peter if Bean decides this was in fact a betrayal. Which strikes me as deeply out of character for Bean, who has (until last chapter, when he signed off on the formics' death) never cared about revenge at all. They're sent home, one by one, and that's the last mention of Ender in this book.
The last page and a half is, in a rare case, one of the best parts of the book. The Delphiki parents gleefully await the arrival of their son Nikolai (but why now, when Bean started the ball rolling weeks or months ago and it takes so much longer to get back from Eros than Battle School?), and prepare a small feast, and they see the car coming, and it's only when Nikolai gets out with another tiny boy that dad finally tells Elena that Bean survived. I'll include it here, for completeness, because Card is a terrible person who does terrible things, and it's important to also recognise that a person can be that and write this:
"He's been told that he's coming just for a visit. That legally he is not our child, but rather a ward of the state. We don't have to take him in, if you don't want to, Elena."
"Hush, you foolish man," she said.
[....] Her husband spoke. Elena recognized his words at once, from the gospel of St. Luke. But because he had only memorized the passage in Greek, the little on did not understand him. No matter. Nikolai began to translate into Common, the language of the fleet, and almost at once the little one recognized the words, and spoke them correctly, from memory, as Sister Carlotta had once read it to him years before.
"Let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." Then the little one burst into tears and clung to his mother, and kissed his father's hand.
"Welcome home, little brother," said Nikolai. "I told you they were nice."This isn't a book about how hard it is to be the only special person in the room, or how morally justified murder is if we think we're threatened, or how super sad we are about the terrible things we've done for no good reason. This is a story about what it's like to be this scrawny little genius jackass named Bean, and that is why it's better than Ender's Game.
Next week: hey, my copy of Eye of the World has a back-cover blurb from Card himself, who spoke of Robert Jordan's "powerful vision of good and evil" and "fascinating people moving through a rich and interesting world". We're so screwed.