(Content: bullying, physical violence, reference to suicide. Fun content: Manly Rules of Warfare, a consideration of how Card is to Ender as Meyer is to Edward.)
Ender's Game, p. 27--36
Chapter Four: Launch
We begin with the Faceless Powers That Be discussing how important it is for Ender to be simultaneously isolated so that he doesn't just adopt the same kind of system everyone else lives by and lose his creativity, but also to keep him integrated with the other students (so he learns how to be A Leader).
"I'll have him completely separated from the rest of the boys by the time we get to the School."
"I have no doubt of it. I'll be waiting for you to get here. I watched the vids of what he did to the Stilson boy. This is not a sweet little kid you're bringing up here."
"That's where you're mistaken. He's even sweeter than he looks. But don't worry. We'll purge that in a hurry."Just in case we forgot that Ender is not merely a murderer, but also the pinnacle of benevolence and virtue. Since Graff already knows Ender is perfectly willing to use lethal force (at least when he doesn't know it's lethal, which is all part of their plan), I'm not sure what sweetness they intend to break him of. I suspect, based on various things, that they mean he's too nice to his friends, and he will need to be more of a stoic hardass in order to be a good commander. Possibly true, commanders do need to make painful decisions with conviction, but it feels surreal to be discussing that in regards to someone proven willing to kill.
I'm also kind of vexed by the implication that the normal training system is broken (or at least not good enough) and so it's vitally important to make sure Ender gets special treatment. Partly this bugs me because it's more all about how special and important Ender is, and how even when he goes to a school for impossible geniuses he has to go in Abusive For The Greater Good Advanced Placement. The other reason it bugs me is that it means the administrators like Graff already believe that the current 'system' is not as good as it could be, but they're not apparently trying to make it any better. They're not trying to improve the training of any of their other students because it's all about Ender. And it's not like these are footsoldiers--Battle School kids, as we were told last time, are the best and brightest of everything, and we've just been reminded that Ender will rely on them as subordinates in the coming war, so why does Graff not care if the current Battle School culture is giving them inferior training?
Anyway. The chapter opens with some competent sci-fi of the twenty boys (including Ender) getting into the shuttle to go to Battle School. There are video crews filming them leaving, which seems kind of weird--Battle School has hundreds of students and has been operating for decades, so shouldn't this type of thing be incredibly routine? We will still have slow news days in the future, I guess. Ender doesn't talk to the other boys, who are joking with each other--he doesn't think less of them, but he can't think of how to join in, so he stays apart. He does talk amiably with Graff, who reveals himself to be the Administrator (principal) of Battle School, and Ender thinks about how glad he is that he will have a friend there. Ender is six and doesn't know what foreshadowing is because he was too busy learning the rules of manly warfare (Rule #5: If this is your first night at Xenocide Club, you have to xenocide).
There's a fairly involved physical description that I always find confusing, so I will summarise rather than quoting directly. The shuttle stands upright on its launch pad, so the kids walk inside and then climb a ladder up the aisle to their seats, which are facing upward toward space. Ender notices that the walls tend to be carpeted as well so they're easy to walk on regardless of which way the shuttle orients itself in a gravitational field. He starts playing gravity games in his head, imagining that he has to keep a strong grip on his seat to avoid falling upward and out into the sky, or picturing the shuttle clinging to the bottom of the world and preparing not to launch but to plummet. Inertial reference frames are fun! On this, Ender and I do not disagree.
The shuttle launches, they rapidly escape Earth's gravitational field and become weightless, and Graff appears again, climbing 'upside-down' along the ladder and then flipping himself around because it's zero-G and you can do that. Some kids start retching from the nausea of reorientation. Ender just thinks it's funny, and giggles when he imagines opposite gravity so that Graff is standing on his head, so to speak.
"What do you think is so funny, Wiggin? [....] I asked you a question, soldier!"
Oh, yes. This is the beginning of the training routine. Ender had seen some military shows on TV, and they always shouted a lot at the beginning of training before the soldiers and the officer became good friends.Ender explains how he amused himself by mentally rotating gravity as a god would do, and Graff seems like he's going to rip into Ender for not being serious, but this book is too smart for anything that obvious.
DEPLOY TROPE SUBVERSION.
"Scumbrains, that's what we've got in this launch. Pinheaded little morons. Only one of you had the brains to realize that in null gravity directions are whatever you conceive them to be. Do you understand that, Shafts?"
The boy nodded.
"No you didn't. Of course you didn't. Not only stupid, but a liar too. There's only one boy on this launch with any brains at all, and that's Ender Wiggin. Take a good look at him, little boys. He's going to be a commander when you're still in diapers up there. Because he knows how to think in null gravity, and you just want to throw up."
This wasn't the way the show was supposed to go. Graff was supposed to pick on him, not set him up as the best. They were supposed to be against each other at first, so they could become friends later.This part is an interesting parallel to the real world, and for a fair number of readers, probably familiar. If you're the smart kid in class, or the good kid, someone who behaves, and your classmates are not, any teacher who tries to set you up as the example to follow is often just painting a target on your back. Role models we don't choose for ourselves are an imposition, not a support. If this is a book for people who think they're smarter than everyone else, a book for gifted kids who resent the unwashed masses, then this moment barely feels exaggerated: the teacher just told everyone that you're awesome and they suck, which is obviously objectively true, but now you're going to suffer for their shortcomings. Card knows his audience.
Graff leaves, some other kids snark at Ender, who is flummoxed but tries to distance himself from it, and then the kid in the seat behind him starts smacking him on the head. Ender tries to suffer in silence, Graff does nothing, and Ender realises that this hostility is exactly what Graff wanted to create, because Ender is a super-genius, but all of the other super-geniuses sitting around haven't given that any thought at all because they aren't viewpoint characters. Ender decides that, since Graff wanted this, he is once again On His Own, and so he waits, figures out the timing of the kid smacking him in the head from behind, and the next time a blow is incoming, Ender grabs the arm and yanks. Ender has forgotten about the null-gravity thing and so his assailant hurtles through the air and slams into a distant wall, badly. (Manly Rule of Warfare #37: If someone taps out or demonstrates that the author's military philosophy is the absolute truth, the fight is over.) Graff arrives instantly and a medic starts first-aiding the kid's busted arm.
Ender felt sick. He had only meant to catch the boy's arm. No. No, he had meant to hurt him, and had pulled with all his strength. He hadn't meant it to be so public, but the boy was feeling exactly the pain Ender had meant him to feel. Null gravity had betrayed him, that was all. I am Peter. I'm just like him. And Ender hated himself.'Peter' continues for some reason to be shorthand for 'incredibly violent outbursts', despite all on-page evidence suggesting that Peter's violence is premeditated, easy to predict, and seemingly has never left a lasting injury. (Again, I'm not saying Peter is a stand-up guy, but these aren't minor distinctions.) Maybe Peter has done this type of thing, but if so, we've never seen it. And if 'Peter' here actually just means means 'sadist', then Ender's recriminations are weird, because he seems to think that 'hitting someone harder than you meant to' is the same as 'cackling hell demon'. Violence is bad, discipline is good, but context matters. Does Ender hate himself for occasionally having a fleeting desire to cause pain? Because I have a lot of those too, but I have not murdered anybody, so I think he's focusing on the wrong facet of his morality, y'know? Worry about causing harm, not about wanting to cause harm. Inner purity won't actually get you very far in practical situations.
Graff tells the other kids, again, that they suck.
"You were brought here to be soldiers. [....] And when I tell you Ender Wiggin is the best in this launch, take the hint, my little dorklings. Don't mess with him. Little boys have died in Battle School before. Do I make myself clear?"
There was silence the rest of the launch. The boy sitting next to Ender was scrupulously careful not to touch him.
I am not a killer, Ender said to himself over and over again. I am not Peter. No matter what Graff says, I'm not. I was defending myself. I bore it a long time. I was patient. I am not what he said.Not Peter: confirmed. Not a killer: *bzzt*. We will eventually find out that the one previous death in Battle School was a suicide, which is not remotely surprising given that this is apparently how they treat six-year-old children.
This last bit really highlights the false dilemma that keeps ruining everything around Ender: the only responses he seems to be able to imagine are 'take all the suffering right in the face', or 'destroy them and burn their crops and hear the lamentations of their goats'. Bear it and be patient, or default to murder. I get that he's supposed to be malleable, but he instantly and completely assumes that there is never any help from anywhere and his enemies are completely implacable, on the basis that someone told him so.*
They arrive at Battle School; Ender is the last one to leave the shuttle and confronts Graff, who explains that Ender should not count on him to be a friend because his job is to make the perfect general and subordinates. (There's a bit about 'Napoleon lost and Alexander died young and Caesar made himself dictator', which I can't read without hearing Meyer talking about how much better Edward is than Romeo and Tristan and Rhett. This might be a comparison we come back to in future.) Graff tells him outright: "There's only one thing that will make them stop hating you, and that's being so good at what you do that they can't ignore you."
And... well, no. Anyone who's ever had any luck with that strategy is welcome to speak up, but that is not how things work in my experience: being awesome at what you do hopefully gives you the freedom to get the hell away from the jackwagons and only hang out with decent people, but I am skeptical that any bully has ever thought "Wow, that kid I torment regularly is way smarter than I thought; clearly we should be friends". Part of the problem here is that Graff's advice doesn't even logically flow--he's telling Ender that being awesome will make him impossible to ignore, but Ender's problem isn't being ignored, it's being hated. These are not synonyms! Maybe they are in whatever futurespeak language Graff uses. They should fix that. Invent more words.
Graff speechifies SFFily more about how the aliens are an unknowably huge threat and the rest of Earth's biosphere doesn't care whether humanity survives so their only hope is to produce the kind of genius that completely transforms the direction of human history, like the inventors of wheels and airplanes and empires. It's well-written but mostly just about telling us how important Ender is. Et cetera.
Ender moves on, and Anderson, another teacher, stops to talk to Graff, asking if 'that's the one'. Graff basically says that if it's not Ender, then the chosen one had better show up soon or they're all boned.
"The kid's wrong. I am his friend."
"He's clean. Right to the heart, he's good."
"I've read the reports."I like to think that when Anderson says "I've read the reports", he's actually thinking
"For his sake, I hope it isn't him. I do."
"Cheer up. The buggers may kill us all before he graduates."
Graff smiled. "You're right, I feel better already."Spoilers: they won't. DOUBLE spoilers: if the aliens just killed off a handful of the top military leaders, somewhere between thousands and billions of lives would be saved.
I no longer know what this book is about.
Leave your own Manly Rules of Warfare in the comments!
*If I keep referencing Ender's Shadow there won't be any point in analysing it directly after Game, but this is another reason that Bean is a vastly more likeable protagonist: for all that he's supposedly aloof and smug and isolated, he believes other people can help and he forms teams, he goes for backup, he works collectively. His biggest victories aren't about being twice as awesome as everyone else, but about bringing people together to find a third option that isn't self-destruction or outright murder. (And once again, this is something that Card himself notices, and has Bean ponder as well.) And yet we're told Ender is the great leader whose esteem everyone hungers for and who wields deadly empathy. Does not compute.