(Content: abuse apologetics, ableism, colonialism apologetics. Fun content: pirates, Phoenix Wright, aliens Jesus.)
Ender's Game: p. 305--324
Chapter Fifteen: Speaker for the Dead
The featureless plane of disembodied dialogue is gone; Graff and Anderson are hanging out at the lakeside. We open with some gratuitous fat hatred because obviously--Graff is apparently slim again, stating that while the stress of the war caused him to gain weight, the stress of being court-martialled took it off again. He explains that he was never worried that he wouldn't be acquitted:
"As much as anything, I think the videos saved me. The prosecution edited them, but we showed the whole thing. It was plain that Ender was not the provocateur. After that, it was just a second-guessing game. [...] We got the judges to agree that the prosecution had to prove beyond doubt that Ender would have won the war without the training we gave him. After that, it was simple."OBJECTION!
It's like some kind of nightmarish reversal of presumption of innocence. Graff has apparently been acquitted because no one can prove that murdering Stilson wasn't a completely essential module of Ender's curriculum. Murder is presumed necessary unless proven optional (which I guess fits with the rest of the military philosophy we've seen so far). I hope Ender wore a helmet in the courtroom. You know, to protect him from all the kangaroos.
They also discuss how Ender is never coming back to Earth, despite Demosthenes pressuring the Hegemon. Graff says Demosthenes has retired, and refuses to reveal Valentine's identity, which I guess is a not-terrible thing to do. He does say that Demosthenes wasn't really the one who wanted Ender back on Earth--Locke did (while publicly arguing that Ender needed to stay away) and Demosthenes talked him out of it, what with the whole Invincible Warrior God-Child thing Ender would have had have going for him. They're all going to rest instead. Anderson's the new football commissioner. Graff is the first Minister of Colonization, because clearly a life in military education makes him... an ideal policy-maker for the appropriate way to organise and disperse the human population? ("The second rule of Colony Club is you do not talk about Colony Club.") Mind you, Graff does have the mind of a colonist in the old meet-new-people-take-their-land-and-commit-war-crimes style.
"As soon as we get the reports back on the bugger colony worlds. I mean, there they are, already fertile, with housing and industry in place, and all the buggers dead. Very convenient. We'll repeal the population limitation laws [...] and all those thirds and fourths and fifths will get on starships and head out for worlds known and unknown."You know, I hadn't thought about it until last week's comment thread, but why aren't there queens on any of the formic colony worlds? Why didn't Ender have to bust planet after planet to eradicate them all? And why in the world would formic housing and industry be remotely suitable for human use? Colonists are going to get to these worlds and find decaying, rusty cemetary-cities filled with the desiccated husks of millions of nightmares. Honestly, who wants to sign up for that instead of, you know, base camp? I want to hang out at base camp. Forget hive cities.
Back in space--Ender's remained on Eros for a year. He's been awarded the rank of admiral, because that's how the space navy works, obviously, and that gave him the authority to watch Graff's trial, so he knows everything now, knows how Stilson and Bonzo died, hears the case made against him by eeeeevil psychiatrists:
[He] listened as the psychologists and lawyers argued whether murder had been committed or the killing was in self-defense. Ender had his own opinion, but no one asked him. Throughout the trial, it was really Ender himself under attack. The prosecution was too clever to charge him directly, but there were attempts to make him look sick, perverted, criminally insane.Trying to court-martial a colonel by instead expounding roundabout ableist psychological slander against the colonel's prize student who is the favourite person of everyone on the entire planet does not sound like the actions of someone 'too clever'. That sounds hilariously inept. You court-martial Graff by asserting that he gambled humanity's survival on the belief that a miraculous military strategist would find a way to survive a fistfight to the death, and put it on Graff to somehow prove that it was necessary to do this, despite the thirty-six other genius commanders all performing so well without killing two classmates. Then you move on to handling Ender by screaming "THERAPY, THERAPY FOR EVERYONE, IS ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION" and so forth. Obviously.
All of Ender's friends go home, one by one, and he watches the videos of their triumphant returns, but then nothing more until the first colonists start to come to Eros, because apparently the secret headquarters of the International Fleet makes a much better docking hub than, say, the other non-secret place we know to exist that is called Inter-Stellar Launch. My god. Did they just cancel the military now that the formics are dead? Is that how that works?
The one thing he could not bear was the worship of the colonists. He learned to avoid the tunnels where they lived, because they would always recognize him--the world had memorized his face--and then they would scream and shout and embrace him and congratulate him and show him the children they had named after him and tell him how he was so young it broke their hearts and they didn't blame him for any of his murders because it wasn't his fault he was just a child--
He hid from the as best he could.Sounds about right, yeah. Ender refuses to let himself off the hook for Stilson, for Bonzo, for the entire formic civilisation, and I suspect we're supposed to think he's being too hard on himself, but anything less would be even more terrifying, and so this rings true. All too much of human history (and present) tells us how quickly we forgive murderers if they're on 'our side'.
And then one day, as Ender is helping with starship construction--he's decided he needs a new profession, also a good move--Valentine appears and asks him to go with her on the first wave of colony ships. Two years from their perspective, fifty years to the rest of the universe. Valentine implies that it's quite intentional that they would never see Peter again, and apologetically adds that she made sure Ender can't go back to Earth, because Peter is halfway to ruling the Hegemon's Council already. The war on Earth a year earlier was ended by the culmination of Peter's plan, Locke and Demosthenes combining their forces like the Wonder Twins: Shape of--an insufferable snob! Form of--a screaming racist mob!
"He decided to be a statesman?"
"I think so. But in his cynical moments, of which there are many, he pointed out to me that if he had allowed the League to fall apart completely, he'd have had to conquer the world piece by piece. As long as the Hegemony existed, he could do it in one lump."
Ender nodded. "That's the Peter that I knew."Yeah, Ender, that does sound like someone you'd feel superior too. That rat bastard of a brother of yours who just goes and benefits from saving the world. I have a wild guess that exactly zero of those still-breathing civilians would prefer to be dead as a statement on Peter's supposed moral vacuum.
"Funny, isn't it? That Peter would save millions of lives."
"While I killed billions."
"I wasn't going to say that."Well, what were you going to say, Valentine? Because that's a really weird thing to just throw in there. Peter has always been about power over people; wanting to have as many subjects as possible is exactly in-character for him. Your conviction that he's made of murderousness is fanon. But Valentine explains that Peter intended to use Ender as his last stepping-stone to planetary domination, so she threatened him with compilations of videos of him tormenting Ender as a child and pictures of slaughtered squirrels, "enough to prove in the eyes of the public that he was a psychotic killer". Remember what I said before about this book being consistently sympathetic and positive about having and handling mental illness? I take it back. Mental illness is only a reason to be sympathetic to people we like; for the people we hate, it's an incurable condemnation and a weapon to be used against them.
Valentine further explains that in her final Demosthenes essay she announced that she was going to take the first colony ship out, and for some bizarre reason Graff announced that Mazer Rackham was going to be the pilot, which probably confused a hell of a lot of people who aren't very familiar with relativistic time dilation or who would like to know what qualifies a military tactician from eighty years ago to drive a modern civilian space ark, and that Ender would be the colonial governor--though Valentine quickly adds Ender has time to cancel the announcement if he doesn't want to, which is I guess the kind of agency that you get when it's your loving sister manipulating you instead of the military dictatorship. Ender agrees, he says, because he wants to see the formic worlds and try to understand where they came from.
Just saying: not hard to empathise with a corpse.
The voyage passes uneventfully (hah, no, Card went back and wrote an entire interquel about it, which I made the mistake of reading) and years pass on the colony world as Ender learns to govern and sets up an economy and tries to study what remains of the formics. There isn't a lot, because their species had a literal living social memory and so they never kept books or whatever--though I wonder if they didn't have, say, specialised drones whose job it was to maintain continuity of thought, or if they just had flawless/eidetic memory or what. Regardless, Ender looks at their architecture: strong roofs hint that winters were hard, staked fences show that there are wild animal problems:
And from the slings that once were used to carry infants along with adults into the fields, he learned that even though the buggers were not much for individuality, they did care for their young.So, the vast majority of the population are made up of female drones that can't reproduce anyway, and all young are derived from a tiny handful of queens, but they lack the specialised labour to maintain nurseries and instead prefer to have random drones haul larvae around while they're doing agricultural work? I'm guessing this is a remnant of the original story where the aliens functioned in some completely different, vastly more humanoid way?
The colony stops caring much about what things are like back on Earth, although they hear that Peter finally becomes Hegemon. Valentine, still writing under the Demosthenes name, writes history books, seven volumes of the human-formic wars. She says she'll write one more, the life of Ender Wiggin, but Ender tries to talk her out of it. When there's a year left before the next colony ship arrives, Ender goes to scout out a new place for a village, and takes an eleven-year-old kid named Abra with him as his, I don't know, caddy. Three days away from their town, they find strange hills:
A deep depression in the middle, partially filled with water, was ringed by concave slopes that cantilevered dangerously over the water. In one direction the hill gave away to two long ridges that made a V-shaped valley; in the other direction the hill rose to a piece of white rock, grinning like a skull with a tree growing out of its mouth.
"It's like a giant died here," said Abra, "and the Earth grew up to cover his carcass."It looks, in point of fact, exactly like Fairyland in the mind game. There's an overgrown playground nearby, like the one where Ender fought the child-faced wolves. The formics built it, fifty years earlier, during the war. Ender tries to send Abra away; Abra warns Ender that it might be a trap; Ender says he doesn't care if they want revenge. They keep flying (apparently they've been in a helicopter all this time? Three days by helicopter seems like a hell of a long way between the only two human settlements on the planet) and find the cliff and the ledge and the tower at the End of the World. Ender leaves Abra in the chopper and climbs the wall. The same room is there, with the mirror that showed Peter's face, though it's just a dull sheet of metal with a rough humanoid face scratched into it. Behind that, a dormant, silk-wrapped pupal formic queen, and Ender instantly knows that she carries enough fertilised eggs to start a colony on her own. She links to his mind, the philotic effect, and Ender realises why he had so many nightmares at Eros--as the formics traced his mind back through the ansible and tried to understand him. She shows him her birth, the old queen preparing her, memories of the campaign as the human fleets destroyed the formics over and over.
She had not thought these words as she saw the humans coming to kill, but it was in words that Ender understood her: The humans did not forgive us, she thought. We will surely die. [....]
We are like you; the thought pressed into his mind. We did not mean to murder, and when we understood, we never came again. We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you, but never did we dream that thought could arise from the lonely animals who cannot dream each other's dreams. How were we to know?Ender takes the cocoon and promises to find her a world to start again. When he returns to the colony, he writes a book, a history of the formics from the memory of the queens. They lament the tragedy of the wars, and it's really very beautiful aside from the terrifying undercurrent of pro-colonialist appropriation apologetics:
But still we welcome you as guestfriends. come into our home, daughters of Earth; dwell in our tunnels, harvest our fields; what we cannot do, you are now our hands to do for us.They did 'start it', as wars of annihilation go, but it's hard not to see this as the kind of thing that makes people think it's okay to co-opt the possessions of subjugated cultures, dressing up in warbonnets for Halloween and fracking for oil on sovereign First Nation land because, really, it's all our country now and all that killing happened a long time ago and it's not like those people are really around anymore, right? And now we have the slaughtered people literally forgiving and welcoming their killers.
Ender signs this book as the Speaker for the Dead and it starts a tradition back on Earth, people who arrive at funerals and say "what the dead one would have said, but with full candor, hiding no faults and pretending no virtues", which just sounds like the most passive-aggressive eulogy in the history of I'm-just-being-honest-here. The religion spreads; among the colonies, it's the only one that matters, because apparently Jesus' jurisdiction doesn't extend into space.
When Peter reads the book, he calls Ender by ansible, seventy-seven years old to Ender's twenty-three, asks Ender to write his biography as the Speaker, and pours out his life story. (It's not told here, obviously, because it's a retcon in addition to being a huge spoiler, but since there is no way I'm wading through the entire Shadow series, I'll mention that at this point Peter is married to Petra and they have like a dozen kids.) The Hive-Queen and the Hegemon become "holy writ", because in addition to being the greatest general of all time and a starshipwright and a governor and a judge, Ender is also a prophet and poet, I guess?
One day, Ender asks Valentine to leave, says they should skip across the galaxy at lightspeed and let centuries fall away. Especially disturbing:
"We have to go. I'm almost happy here."
"I've lived too long with pain. I won't know who I am without it."Gluuuuuuuuuurge. Apparently no one else in the last decade has thought to suggest that Ender should get a therapist either. But he does have a real goal, because he needs to find a world for the formic queen to hatch, so they travel, Andrew Wiggin the Speaker for the Dead and Valentine Wiggin "writing down the stories of the living while Ender spoke the stories of the dead". And for once I don't know what happens next.
I will confess that I hated this chapter the first time I read it. What a backhand, what a theft, to have everything that the heroes suffer for be taken away: it didn't have to happen, it was a tragedy that it happened, it would have been better if they had failed. That is a bitter fucking pill to swallow, especially for a teenager who thought he was smarter than everyone else and wished he could make the bullies see just how much better he was than them. (By 'he' I mean 'me', if that could be more obvious.) In theory, it's what gives the book its weight and teaches kids the value of compassion and communication, and rescues the book from the last 300 pages of 'I have to torture him to make him stronger and save everyone' by explaining that it was all for nothing.
Except... well, the last-minute twist comes in the final ten pages and the "I did what I had to do" abuse and endangerment and murder got the whole book. They say that François Truffaut once claimed it was impossible to make a true anti-war movie because any war movie by its nature glorifies war. (I'm going to crack again and just link to TVtropes' "Do Not Do This Cool Thing"--they may be stamp collectors, but that's a hell of a collection.) The pro-empathy, anti-abuse, anti-violence message at the end of this book is about as compelling and hilarious as an abstinence message would be at the end of Fifty Shades of Grey. (Worse, actually--Fifty Shades does make sex look terrifying.) And while we might be told the war wasn't worth it, nothing has yet tarnished Ender's flawless goodness in the eyes of the narrative, despite that time he murdered a boy on the playground because they shoved him, and everything he's done since then.
After this comes Speaker for the Dead, the story that Card actually wanted to tell, for which he turned Ender's Game from a short into a novel-length backstory. In theory, that whole book is the response to this one, and I'm curious enough to keep reading it, though I'll have to track down a copy first--I think my mother still owns one. (I'm sure as hell not giving Card any more money.) And there is also Ender's Shadow, which tells Bean's story during these same few years, from childhood to the destruction of the formics, which I do own. Bean is a better person than Ender in most ways, and I think I might actually enjoy that one, which makes me want to leave it until I've endured Speaker. Not sure. Thoughts from the audience?
As a terrifying epilogue, next week I'll go back and look at the introduction to Ender's Game. It might seem weird to leave it for now, and I've wanted to make reference to it in just about every post since I started, but I've left it this long intentionally. After all, everyone in the introduction has already read the book--that's why I wanted to do so as well, and that's why it scares the hell out of me. So that'll be fun.