This would be a really good scene if it were set in a different book.
Ender's Game: p. 227--242
Chapter Thirteen: Valentine
No clue who's handling the Faceless Featureless Plane of Dialogue duties this week, except that one of them's spoken with Graff. The I.F. has apparently learned how to track IP addresses through more than one link and finally discovered that Valentine and Peter are Demosthenes and Locke. They're freaking out because:
"The Wiggin is a third. They are one and two."
"Oh, excellent. The Russians will never believe--"
"That Demosthenes and Locke aren't as much under our control as the Wiggin."They are for-reals referring to Ender as The Wiggin. That's apparently how he's known in the highest ranks of the International Fleet. Amazing. Also, as much as the International Fleet is supposed to be International, I'm not really seeing how they aren't just Americans. Apparently the Hegemon is American, all the Battle School teachers are American, and they refer to "the Russians" as a completely separate group. I find all of these machinations a lot less interesting if this really is just a flat repetition of the Cold War, with the USSR reborn as the bad guys to the I.F.'s NATO. The idea of the I.F. as the neutral global party trying to keep its constituent parts from fighting is much more fun. There's a bit later that talks about how "the Second Warsaw Pact was not abiding by the terms of the League" but since the League is apparently as mighty as the U.N., it's still just regular nationalism. (I'm not even sure what this is for, unless it becomes relevant in the later Ender books somehow? It doesn't mirror the human/formic war in any illuminating way.)
More to the point, the I.F. folks are GOBSMACKED that Valentine could be writing Demosthenes and Peter writing Locke, given that Val is all that is good and light "and the boy has the soul of a jackal". (About five pages ago we watched Ender fight Bonzo to the death, but as long as he was sad about it, apparently that's cool.) The fact that they can work out that Locke and Demosthenes are siblings working together and yet still be baffled that they're writing against type is also some pretty convincing evidence further towards the conclusion that at this point in humanity's future, we're all goddamn stupid. No wonder being pretty good at laser tag is enough to get military high command turning your name into a title with the definite article. (The Wiggin: worst timelord ever?)
The I.F. are, for the moment, just going to confirm that Locke and Demosthenes don't have any secret connections or agendas, but they're aware that if they wait too many more years to expose them, there'll be no shock value left and they'll be taken seriously even if everyone knows who they are--which, they think, also might not be a bad thing if the Russians really are planning war. Of course, if the Russians are 'planning war' then they've apparently been massing troops on the borders for two years and yet the I.F. hasn't been able to confirm it despite having satellites scattered across the entire planet. (They also think that Demosthenes might be useful to have around if the Russians are planning war, because apparently xenophobia is awesome for making good decisions?)
Valentine is still having fun with it, though--her columns are read across the country, she nudges politics a little here and there with donations to candidates and causes, and she gets diplomatic/furious/interrogatory letters from heads of state to read with her brother. Normal bonding stuff. They still fight sometimes, because Demosthenes is more popular than Locke--'he' gets invited to serve on some useless blue ribbon panel, and Peter is jealous that dignified statesman Locke isn't getting the same attention.
Graff arrives to pick up Valentine from school and take her to see Ender--the dialogue isn't bad, particularly for Valentine, but it's patter. The point is that Ender doesn't want to see anyone, doesn't want to do much of anything, but they've cajoled him into meeting with Valentine. Val is skeptical about what he's asking her to do, but Graff lets drop that he is one of the six people in the world who know Demosthenes' real identity. So: blackmail, cool. Is there anything about Graff that isn't supervillainous? I'm honestly trying.
Ender in this chapter is almost animalistic, like he's spent the last years on a deserted island punching leopards and never having any human contact, rather than playing laser tag in space. It's an interesting characterisation, the idea that he's been boiled down to this utilitarian instrument and doesn't know how to navigate humanity anymore, but I really don't think it's justified by what we've seen over the last few chapters. He's had friends and enemies and triumph and sorrow and pain, and I don't think any of it adds up to forgetting how to people. So while I like bits like this, I wish they were justified:
Ender didn't wave when she walked down the hill toward him, didn't smile when she stepped onto the floating boat slip. But she knew that he was glad to see her, knew it because of the way his eyes never left her face.It's not that this is bad writing, but that it's unjustified writing. Unearned things are hollow, which I might say is the four-word explanation of what's wrong with most stories that have super-perfect protagonists.
They talk awkwardly and finally manage to reconnect over how terrible Peter is--Ender has built a raft, which he connects to the wooden block buildings he and Valentine would build as infants, ones that would stand up even with their obvious supports removed, and Peter would in turn remove the important ones and leave the obvious ones to turn them fragile even though they looked fine. I hope the metaphor is intentional, because it could be great--Ender and Valentine made things that stayed strong even when they looked broken, and Peter made things that looked good but fell apart at a touch. One side substance, one side style. The problem, of course, is that Ender and Peter are basically the same, both care very much about their appearance (Peter wants to be the respected leader, Ender wants to be the perfect commander and won't ever apologise or ignore a game for any reason) and both have plenty of substance (they both want to befriend or kill everyone).
They swim a bit, then sunbathe. There's a wasp, which Valentine notices but decides to ignore: Let it walk on this raft, let it bake in the sun as I'm doing. Ender crushes it instantly, saying that this breed attacks unprovoked and he's been studying pre-emptive strategies.
Which: again, no. Ender does not do pre-emptive strategies. He didn't try to find a way to stop Bonzo's plotting or resolve it before it became a deathmatch. He didn't try to integrate with his fellow students in a way that might give him mutual friends or allies the way he already saw work with Alai and Bernard. He didn't try to force Graff's hand by bringing the teachers into it in advance. Ender doesn't do pre-emptive. Ender waits to be provoked before he kills. Ender does justification. Pre-emptive strikes have to be justified, but justification does not make pre-emptive.
Valentine tells Ender about Peter's plan and how they might take over the world. She says they can all be Alexander the Great, which possibly misses the central concept behind 'unilateral dictatorship'.
It's hard to do a meaningful recap/analysis of this chapter, because it is a recap/analysis of itself. Ender talks about the games, the way they change the rules whenever they feel like it and he tries to escape but they drag him back. Valentine acknowledges that she's there to do the dragging. Ender says he honestly doesn't care about anything anymore, and mentions that they won't let him see the secrets of Mazer Rackham's victory, which matters to him because he needs to understand them. EMPATHY EXPOSITION TIME.
"Being here alone with nothing to do, I've been thinking about myself, too. Trying to understand why I hate myself so badly."
"Don't tell me 'No, Ender.' It took me a long time to realize that I did, but believe me, I did. Do. And it came down to this: In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him."What was I saying about unearned characterisation earlier? He murdered Stilson because he didn't understand the difference between bullying and gladiatorial arenas. He made Bonzo's hatred of him worse and worse over the years because he didn't know or care to know what mattered to Bonzo. And he was able to kill him in the end, not because he understood everything that mattered to Bonzo, but because he knew how to goad Bonzo into a disadvantage. That took a bit of taunting about honor, nothing more.
Let's have at this a little deeper: if Ender truly understands someone, everything that matters to them, then why is he never able to offer them another way out? If he really got what made Bonzo tick, why was there a deathmatch instead of a speech saying 'I know what you really need, and here's how we can do this with neither of us dead'. The simple answer for the Bonzo case is that what Bonzo really and truly wanted was Ender's death, so there wasn't anything else that he could offer. That is the only way to justify Ender's self-defence kill. But that flows backwards as well, because it means that if Ender destroys someone and he really understands them, he had no choice except to destroy them. That's the inescapable conclusion: Ender destroys people by understanding them, and he only destroys them because he has no other choice, otherwise he wouldn't have done it, obviously, because he loves them.
Ender's empathy assures us that everyone he kills must die.
"I think it's impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them--"
"You beat them." [....]
"No, you don't understand. I destroy them. I make it impossible for them to ever hurt me again. I grind them and grind them until they don't exist."After all this time, I can't but read this as a meta-admission that this whole book is a geek fantasy about revenge against bullies.
It occurs to Valentine that, much as Peter has found a way to channel his energy 'constructively' and now plays politics instead of torturing bystanders, Ender has changed too, and really might be the more dangerous one now. Well. I say 'now', I mean 'hey remember when he murdered a kid at the start of this book?' They acknowledge this, as Valentine semi-defends Peter and comes to the conclusion that the three kids aren't really as different from each other as the Battle School testers claimed.
"We aren't just ordinary children, are we. None of us."
"Don't you sometimes wish we were?"
She tried to imagine herself being like the other girls at school. Tried to imagine life if she didn't feel responsible for the future of the world. "It would be so dull."On the one hand, children are our future. The ones who truly do their best to change things for the better deserve to be celebrated. On the other, I'm willing to bet that there are a lot more who think of themselves as wearily bearing the fate of humanity on their shoulders because the idea that other people are also competent and important is weird and foreign to them.
Valentine decides that, no matter how unmotivated Ender thinks he is, he still has too much ambition to really have stopped--he wants her to get him moving. Of course, when simple 'don't you want to be the famous hero' fails to work, she moves on to emotional blackmail:
"When you were little and Peter tortured you, it's a good thing I didn't lie back and wait for Mom and Dad to save you. They never understood how dangerous Peter was. I knew you had the monitor, but I didn't wait for them, either. Do you know what Peter used to do to me because I stopped him from hurting you?"I realise that there are many times when implying is more effective than detailing, but it's just really hard to be sold on how awful Peter is when we only see him do it once and have every reason to believe that incident was exceptional. But that aside: this is brutal, and I wish we got more of Valentine's story, because her life is a parade of terrifying and courageous decisions made to try to save other people (Ender, then Peter, now the world) and I would like to know her better. Yes, she fits the usual female stereotype of being the nurturer and passive/reactive and servant to men, and we need many more characters who aren't that because sweet jebus, but all the same: I wish I knew more about Valentine.
Valentine decides at last that what weighs on Ender is Peter, undefeated--no matter what enemies he faces, the memory of Peter having power over him is inescapable. Ender corrects her:
"You don't understand. [....] I don't want to beat Peter."
"Then what do you want?"
"I want him to love me."
She had no answer. As far as she knew, Peter didn't love anybody.It does seem plausible. Then again, all the way back in chapter two, we had Peter coming to Ender's bedside to weep and beg forgiveness and swear that he loved him, and I wonder what this story looks like from his perspective, too, and whether they aren't all rubbish at empathising. The fact that everyone apparently knows Peter was monstrously broken as a kid but no one has tried to help him kind of contributes further to the idea that all of these monsters we supposedly meet (Peter, Bonzo, and Ender whether they admit it or not) are the direct result of Graff's meddling and negligence. By taking up his heroic blogging crusade, Peter has done more to heal himself than anyone else ever did.
They drift back to shore and Valentine swears to Ender that she loves him more than ever, no matter what he decides, and she leaves and doesn't expect to be forgiven again, because she knows she has convinced him to go back to his studies. Being the motivational object is a terrible job.
Next week: more Graff than anyone should ever have to listen to.