(Content: sexism, gender essentialism, reproductive coercion. Fun content: the mighty warrior Stefen Colbear.)
Ender's Game, p. 16--26
Chapter Three: Graff
This chapter's exchange on the Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue is brief and regards how much Ender loves Valentine ("our weak link" who "can undo it all"), and Graff's plan to ensure that she does not:
"I'll lie to him."
"And if that doesn't work?"
"Then I'll tell the truth. We are allowed to do that in emergencies. We can't plan for everything, you know."Excellent work, unaccountable military authorities! I appreciate a we're-allowed-to-tell-the-truth-in-emergencies joke as much as anyone, but I think it's worth noting that your lies have, within the last twelve hours, resulted in the unanticipated murder of a child by another child and, within the last few years, probably psychologically and emotionally warped untold numbers of other children, so your continued casualness mostly reads as pure sociopathy. I get using grim humour in order to stomach doing terrible things, but so far, given the way you've talked about your monitoring technology allowing you to experience the sensations and emotions going through these kids' heads, this entire testing process looks hideously gratuitous. They really have not made it clear what made this last series of brutal events so important. This should be the part where Graff explains it all. (Spoiler: NOPE.)
It's the next morning, Ender is having breakfast and reflecting on facing Stilson and his gang at school. At long last, it appears to have occurred to him that he can't really guarantee that they won't just beat the hell out of him in revenge today. He's pretty sure they won't, but he's still afraid and doesn't want to go. There's some plausible banter between the sons and parents, although Mrs and Mr Wiggin remain about as deep as a lunch tray--he's reading the paper and responding only when needled (Peter makes a joke about obviously getting all of his genius genes from mom); she's trying to convince Ender to eat more and he's suggesting she should hook him up to a breakfast IV.
The table beeps, meaning someone rang the doorbell, and the camera shows a man from the International Fleet, "the only military uniform that meant anything anymore". Which is kind of strange, since later books and even later events in this book will make it clear that Earth still has a lot of big, well-equipped, highly trained militaries that aren't the IF. Why don't those mean anything? I guess because the IF gets to make shadowy decisions to let people die at their whim? Also because they're in charge of maintaining the shields that prevent international nuclear attacks. They have their fingers on the buttons that make all the other The Buttons irrelevant, which sounds like a good job to be in.
No one says it, but everyone makes it clear that they think the IF dude is here for Ender, which of course sets Peter off a bit, but that gets cut off when they reveal that Stilson is "in the hospital".
Ender shook his head. He had expected someone from the school to come about Stilson, on an officer of the fleet. This was more serious than he had thought. And yet he couldn't think what else he could have done.We've already belaboured everything else he could have done, with options heavy on 'running' and 'getting help from the many nearby adults'. But no, the world's greatest strategic genius can only think of one hyperviolent way to solve his problem. What the hell. Anyway, the IF dude asks if Ender can explain himself, and Ender cannot, because "he was afraid to reveal himself to be any more monstrous than his actions had made him out to be". Ender hopes they'll just punish him and get it over with. This is the same kind of self-loathing (but lack of repentance) that Peter displayed at the end of last chapter, not that I'm surprised neither of them realises it. THERAPY. THERAPY FOR EVERYONE.
Time for some longer quotes, because this is another foundational chapter. Card lays the groundwork early and thick.
"We're willing to consider extenuating circumstances," the officer said. "But I must tell you it doesn't look good. Kicking him in the groin, kicking him repeatedly in the face and body when he was down--it sounds like you really enjoyed it."
"I didn't," Ender whispered.
"Then why did you do it?"
"He had his gang there," Ender said.
"So? This excuses anything?"
"Tell me why you kept on kicking him. You had already won."
"Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too. So they'd leave me alone. [....*] You took away the monitor," Ender said. "I had to take care of myself, didn't I?"Mr Wiggin says Ender should have asked a grown-up for help, but the officer cuts himself off and introduces himself as Hyrum Graff, director of the Battle School, and invites Ender to enter their program. Mrs Wiggin rightfully freaks out and ironically asks if they'd be offering him a medal as well if he'd killed Stilson. Ender asks why they're letting him in now.
"The final step in your testing was to see what would happen when the monitor came off. We don't always do it that way, but in your case[...] It isn't what he did, Mrs Wiggin. It's why. [...] It wasn't a charade, Mrs Wiggin. Until we knew what Ender's motivation was, we couldn't be sure he wasn't another--we had to know what the action meant. Or at least what Ender believed it meant."I suppose that Graff is stopping himself from saying "we couldn't be sure he wasn't another Peter", reminding us of course that there is a vast difference between Ender, who dispassionately murders an incapacitated child in order to intimidate the others, and Peter, who threatens and torments his siblings to cope with his inferiority complex. Those are clearly totally different things. INTENT: STILL MAGICAL.
If I wanted to be charitable for a change, I'd suggest that Graff is pleased that Ender is thinking in terms of long-term strategy, but knows that they will have to school him in discipline and threat assessment and considering all tactical responses, but the book is going to remain pretty consistent on the idea that Ender's limitless willingness to destroy is exactly what they want. I'm not sure why that's supposed to be so valuable, since there are lots of people obviously willing to destroy pretty much anything to win, and Ender's real gift is supposed to be his empathy, which he has tremendously failed to display in this incident.
Graff explains that Mrs and Mr Wiggin already gave their consent for Ender to go when he was born, so now it's just Ender's decision, since they only take volunteers for officer training. There's some sales-pitching; Graff says that any student who's ever made it through first year at Battle School has become a commissioned officer, and none has ever retired from a position lower than CEO of an interplanetary ship, and also I guess when they hiccup they emit a flock of eagles? It's pretty obviously the greatest thing ever for anyone, the only job worthy of Ender's time, and everybody will be ashamed to be so much less awesome when they meet him.
The only extant portrait of Commander Mazer Rackham.
Graff and Ender speak privately, and Graff admits that Ender won't be able to see his family again for a decade if he goes. Ender privately thinks that this is a good thing because Peter presents a legitimate threat to his life. Graff adds that he has seen enough of the monitor recording to know that Ender won't miss his parents, which brings up yet again: what do those monitors actually monitor? Do they get feelings? Are they straight-up telepathic bonds that let people hear his thoughts? Because it's very weird that they seem to be able to read his mind but they still think they don't know how his brain works.
"You'd be amazed how sensitive the instruments are. We were connected directly to your brain. We heard all that you heard, whether you were listening carefully or not. Whether you understood or not. We understood."Graff also says that Ender's parents won't miss him for long--not because they don't love him, but because they are Secretly Religious and have a complicated relationship with family size. Dad, John Paul Wiggin (formerly Wieczorek) was seventh of nine children.
Nine children. That was unthinkable. Criminal.
"Yes, well, people do strange things for religion. You know the sanctions, Ender--they were not as harsh then, but still not easy. Only the first two children had a free education. Taxes steadily rose with each new child. Your father turned sixteen and invoked the Noncomplying Families Act to separate himself from his family. He changed his name, renounced his religion, and vowed never to have more than the allotted two children. He meant it. All the shame and persecution he went through as a child--he vowed no child of his would go through it. Do you understand?"Except not really, because John Paul and Theresa Wiggin are still religious (she's Mormon and tries to hide that she was born in Utah). They gave their kids saints' names, and one of the things their religions agreed on was big families, which Ender simultaneously symbolises (a forbidden but permitted Third) and shames them for (because they dare not have more kids and they feel like they should). What could be more fun than competing forces of cultural and governmental reproductive coercion? This is all very interesting backstory and could make for a good premise for a book. Too bad it won't be relevant ever again in this novel!
Graff further entices Ender by describing the Battle Room, the original concept from which the rest of this story sprawled out, but we don't need to cover that yet. Ender asks if all the students are boys.
"A few girls. They don't often pass the tests to get in. Too many centuries of evolution are working against them. None of them will be like Valentine, anyway. But there'll be brothers there, Ender."
"Peter wasn't accepted, Ender, for the very reasons that you hate him."
"I don't have him. I'm just--"
"Afraid of him. Well, Peter isn't all bad, you know. He was the best we'd seen in a long time. We asked your parents to choose a daughter next--they would have anyway--hoping that Valentine would be Peter, but mildly. She was too mild. And so we requisitioned you."Girls: evolutionarily predisposed to not be useful. And let's again be clear here, Valentine and Ender are both empathetic, but Ender sometimes chooses to be brutally violent and Valentine does not. That's why they're taking him and not her. I get that they only want soldiers who will commit to battle, but the case so far for Ender Wiggin being their greatest hope ever seems really patchy.
"Our tests are very good, Ender. But they don't tell us everything. In fact, when it comes down to it, they hardly tell us anything. But they're better than nothing."
Stilson: dead because 'well, this test won't tell us much, but it's better than nothing'.
Graff goes on, saying that the IF has a much better fleet than they did eighty years ago when the aliens first ravaged Earth, but they need a general, and the only reason they defeated the Second Invasion was because they had the most brilliant commander in history, Mazer Rackham. It's a pretty good speech, but I think this post has been quote-heavy enough already. Card is a capable writer and he knows how to make this kind of propaganda and declamation shine. (Backhanded compliment, but so it goes. I do sincerely think these sequences are done well, though.)
"I'm afraid," said Ender quietly. "But I'll go with you."
"Tell me again," said Graff.
"It's what I was born for, isn't it? If I don't go, why am I alive?"
"Not good enough," said Graff.
"I don't want to go," said Ender, "but I will."There's no packing, just tearful goodbyes and dad promising to write and Peter shouting 'kill some buggers for me' and Valentine begging him to come back some day, and then they're gone.
While rife with the usual sexism and excuses for needless cruelty that suffuse the book as a whole, this chapter is easily my favourite so far, and pretty much where I think the book actually begins. Chapter one exists so Card can make a statement about how personal virtue can excuse stunning atrocities, chapter two exists to try to convince us that Ender and Peter are radically different. Chapter three gives us backstory, worldbuilding, and presents Our Hero with a real choice to jump at the call of adventure and try to save the world, or stay in that which is familiar and safe where people love him. It's relateable, it's sympathetic, and it doesn't depend on us thinking that Ender was totally justified in murdering a bully. If this novel were about the story instead of The Philosophical Point, this would be chapter one.
And I should note that Card agrees with me there. I mentioned in comments previously that I once met Card; I was at a reading/signing when Ender's Shadow was published, and he was talking about the various iterations of the Ender's Game movie scripts that were cycling along. He noted that, in the script, he'd had to cut Stilson because in a movie that level of violence wouldn't work for introducing the main character. As much as I support the idea that books can tell stories that movies can't, I think it's important to note that books put us inside characters' heads and in movies we just watch them like they're other people. In this, movies are vastly more like the real world than books are. And I think there's a big point to be considered when the daring and brilliant opening chapter to your novel falls flat when presented in a format that more closely resembles reality.
Come back next Sunday for the first installment of the Book Club with chapter one of Cat's Cradle, and of course don't miss the unbearable writing of EL James in Erika's next Fifty Shades post this Thursday!
(Also, we appear to have adopted rot13 for ciphering spoilers on this blog, which can be translated on rot13.com if needed. That's just for things that aren't Ender's Game, though; spoilers for the book are free game. Stilson is dead, by the way.)
*This snips a passage about how Ender hates to cry and is ashamed to be seen doing so by his parents and a military man, because that is obviously a healthy sentiment to have been instilled in a six-year-old boy. No one says anything about it--his father doesn't reprimand him for showing weakness--so how the hell did he get this idea established in his head? Manly warfare? Don't cry? Who is teaching him these things before the age of six?