Ender's Shadow: p. 101--136
Chapter six ends with Carlotta viewing the very same plastic-lidded toilet tank that Bean hid within, and confirming his story with the janitor, Pablo de Noches. In case we forgot, he is a not-very-bright unpretentious blue-collar sort of man, who saved Bean because "I thought God was the baby. Jesus say, if you do it to this little one, you do it to me." Card never seems to have room in this series for people who are neither supergeniuses nor hapless oafs. (Pablo seems to struggle with speaking Common, but he and Carlotta only slip into Spanish for one line each, and separately. Card's insistence on shoving bits of Spanish in and making his character fumble through English the rest of the time is especially weird in a novel where it's so easy to just say "Carlotta asked him in Spanish", but then we wouldn't get the awkward sentence structure that Card prefers in order to showcase ethnicity.)
Carlotta works her way through various theological thoughts about the beast of Revelation ("the Bugger, the Formic monster") and the false prophet, and how wonderful and impossible Bean is, and returns home to start researching genetic engineering and to seal up all of Bean's clothes and bedding for DNA evidence. She figures he's either the saviour or the antichrist and either way she wants to know, so, high-five to her.
Chapter Seven: Exploration
We open with the teachers discussing their student tracking data, which has picked up Bean's twenty-one minute post-lunch tour from last chapter, but the data in question is hilariously, implausibly bad. Just so we're clear:
"Tracking the uniforms that departed from the mess hall and the uniforms that entered the barracks, we come up with an aggregate of twenty-one minutes. That could be twenty-one children loitering for exactly one minute, or one child for twenty-one minutes. [....They arrived] spaced out in groups of two or three, a few solos. Just the way they left the mess hall."These folks are running uniform-tracking software that knows who's wearing what suit (as soon as they palm into the system for lunch) and tracks how long uniforms aren't where they're supposed to be, but somehow it was overbudget for them to actually track which uniform goes where when. But if they know what the arrival pattern back in the barracks was, they must be tracking that somehow--I am struggling to imagine any kind of tracking system that would allow them to collect only the 'aggregate' without actively throwing out more information that had been given to them freely.
Atrocious security is kind of a theme in this chapter: Dimak arrives to teach them all how to palm into their desks, and because there's an empty bunk available, Bean takes the opportunity to use his left hand to palm into that bunk's system as well, so he has two computer accounts. The computer keeps a tally of how many accounts there should be, and so one other kid is locked out of the system until Dimak overrides it. Bean concludes that they know what he's done, and so he will use his second account to keep a secret diary of secrets that will distract the teachers while he does all of his actual private work with his main account. I'd like to think that the Battle School teachers are prepared for 'look over there, a distraction!', but this is Bean, so probably not. He also instantly sees through the reverse-psychology that Dimak uses to encourage them to play the Mind Game, by telling them they're only allowed a few minutes after their homework is done.
More touring, the gym, the arcade, and Bean waxes philosophical about the existence of bullies, no longer fighting over food and survival, but still enforcing a social order by shoving little kids out of the way as soon as their mandated turn is over. Bean observes and complies dispassionately:
No point in getting emotional about anything. Being emotional didn't help with survival. What mattered was to learn everything, analyze the situation, choose a course of action, and then move boldly. Know, think, choose, do. There was no place in that list for "feel." Not that Bean didn't have feelings. He simply refused to think about them or dwell on them or let them influence his decisions, when anything important was at stake.
This is it. This is peak Objective Man. I CHOOSE NOT TO BE AFFECTED BY EMOTIONS, says the five-year-old knot of fear and ambition. I can't adequately respond to this myself, so I'm just going to ask Mallory Ortberg to tell four minutes of male novelist jokes while I compose myself.
(Fun aside: my brother, a former reservist officer, was taught to follow the OUDA Loop to avoid locking up in field situations: Observe, Understand, Decide, Act. That's basically identical to Bean's process, making it possibly the most accurate bit of military theory in this whole series.)
Ender isn't in the arcade, of course, but Bonzo is, and he attracts Bean's attention by being the only one who hates Ender. Bean investigates, first learning that random passers-by think Bonzo is "contemptible", and then directly asking Bonzo to tell him the truth about Ender, "because you won't lie to me". Bean, of course, secretly believes that Bonzo will do nothing but lie, and so is thoroughly prepared when Bonzo recaps Ender's time in Salamander, how Ender navigated the teachers into getting him his own practice time in the battleroom (which Bean thinks is an impressive solution) and adds interjections like "I'm not stupid!" (which Bean thinks is a guarantee of stupidity). Bonzo insists that Ender's disloyalty means no commander in the school wants him, but at this point Ender is either the best soldier in Rat Army or the second-in-command under Petra Arkanian's Phoenix Army, so presumably that's not true either.
Bonzo moves on, having made his plans to violence Ender clear, and Bean silently concludes "If they leave you in command of an army for another day, it's just so that the other students can learn how to make the best of taking orders from a higher-ranking idiot", which... is that true? Bean's word is gospel, generally, but we never really have resolved the mystery of how Bonzo got to be a commander, not just briefly, but for five nonlinear years when the Battle School structure allows at most a single-digit percentage of students to ever get any time in command. I'm sure in some prior post I theorised this very thing, that Graff keeps Bonzo around specifically to play the villain to Graff's Chosen One(s), but I so did not expect that to become canon.
Back in his room, Bean writes a fake diary entry, in which he pretends he's planning to assemble his own street gang and model himself off Achilles, and then tries to fall asleep at the designated lights-out. He overhears other children crying, homesick, and mulls how much he's not like them. He doesn't have feelings. He just plans his ascension to command and thinks about how silly empathy is even if it makes Ender strong because it also makes people stupid like how it got Poke killed and then what are these tears on his pillow that is ridiculous.
Back on Earth, Graff emails Carlotta to ask who Achilles is, and they power-play at each other a bit until Graff skypes with her. Carlotta plays ignorant, talking about the mythical Achilles until she finally corrects Graff that the bully's name is pronounced "ah-SHEEL. French." She instantly sees through Bean's diary ruse, counsels Graff on not underestimating Bean, and lets on that Achilles is probably a murderer. (As someone who runs a tabletop RPG, I reach helplessly at the book, trying to stop Carlotta from telling Graff that this new upstart protagonist has a ready-made villain to face in dramatic conflict to further his character arc at the end of Act Two.) Carlotta asks in return for information on illegal human genome projects from the last decade:
"I think you're going to end up relying on this boy, betting all our lives on him, and I think you need to know what's going on in his genes."Author's genetic inevitability and evo-psych fetish: sated. I didn't really notice this bit when I first read the book, but after the obsession with genetics in Speaker for the Dead, I wonder if they don't literally mean that Bean's psychology is going to be determined more by the consequences of genetic engineering than it is by the environments and unaware, unmodified people he's growing up with.
Chapter Eight: Good Student
Three months later, Bean is getting perfect scores on every test and the teachers think he's spending all his free time reading seventeenth-century treatises on military fortifications. He is, of course, actually hacking their system (slowly, in a refreshing burst of omniscience) and just making it look like he's reading the works of Vauban and Frederick the Great. He manages to assemble, out of emergency maps, a rough schematic of the entire Battle School, seven times larger than most students believe it is (nine decks per wheel, not four, and three wheels, not one), and makes plans to go spying through the air ducts as soon as possible.
Dimak pulls him aside to ask Bean how he's doing, socially, and comment on his lack of friendships. Bean attempts to bluff his way through obediently, but trips up, which I like in the same way that I always feel relief when Our Heroes actually screw up:
"And don't think we haven't picked up on the way you obsess about Wiggin."
"Obsess?" Bean hadn't asked about him after that first day. Never joined in discussions about the standings. Never visited the battleroom during Ender's practice sessions.
Oh. What an obvious mistake.This of course also neatly explains why Ender's never heard of everyone's favourite bunny-muppet when they do finally meet in Dragon Army.
Dimak also confronts Bean about his
"So we build a fleet as quickly as possible and launch it against their home world immediately. That way the news of their defeat reaches them at the same time as our devastating counterattack." [....] it dawned on him that he was right about everything "That fleet was already sent. Before anybody on this station was born, that fleet was launched."Bean also found a copy of Ender's Game in the library.
Now, that's a neat conclusion, sure, but I'm not sold on it being the only conclusion. Like: Bean notes that the larger their 'fortification' is, the more they get stretched out, so protecting the entire solar system is impossible, but he also notes that the only thing they need to protect is Earth, so I'm not sure why we should care that we can't protect the whole system. He notes that only one ship needs to get through in order to devastate the planet, as they saw with the famous Scouring of China, but if they had the resources to create an invasion fleet immediately after the Second Invasion, could they honestly not construct an adequate planetary defence in another seventy years? (What are all their ships doing, if the supposed big defence fleet out in the Belt doesn't exist? How many people know the truth about the fleet and how has no one else figured it out?) They have the Ecstatic Shield installed in enough places around Earth to prevent nuclear weapons from ever being used effectively, and if you can stop a nuke in flight, you can stop a ship as well. What kinds of assaults might Earth not be safe from? I can think of two options:
- Relativistic bombardment. Ramp a ship up to near-lightspeed, aim it at Earth from light-years away, and go. It doesn't even need to be a ship; it can just be the heaviest rock you can strap engines to. This technique is not, to our knowledge, used by the humans or the formics in any war, which suggests to me that it's impossible or there's some easy defence they've already figured out, like Star Wars interdictor fields that kill warp drives and make said projectiles easy catches.
- Doctor Device. Humanity has no reason to think the formics know how this works, since we came up with it on our own, but anyone smart enough to invent such a thing would have to realise that it's the greatest planet-buster imaginable. (I forgot how great that comment thread about the Doctor Device was; if you're a physics nerd you should go read it again.) So, while it's certainly terrifying to think that they could invent one and bring it to Earth, we've got an ultimate weapon against them, we know how their queens work, and we would leave behind no evidence that they could use to reverse-engineer it if we dusted their incoming fleet.
I mean to say, it's one thing when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, and another if you give an entire planetary fleet an unstoppable force to swing, an immovable object to hide behind, and exactly one thing to protect. They thought this was a worse plan than their desperation xenocide fleet?
Anyway, Dimak brushes this off and leaves, but Bean saw him sweat, and spends some time mulling why the Fleet would bother hiding this Obvious Truth from everyone. He's also read enough of human military history now that he can make all the references to old wars that people kept spewing in Ender's Game, and he concludes, like Dink Meeker, that the Fleet exists instead to keep Earth from imploding into a vortex of global war and to keep the child-geniuses out of nationalistic hands. He's sure this plan is doomed to fail, and thus he needs to make friends with his classmates, the future warlords of Earth.
A kid named Nikolai apologises to Bean for telling Dimak that Bean stole his password, and asks what Bean was doing rummaging in the station maps.
Until this moment, Bean would have blown off the question--and the boy.And you have no idea how hard I'm resisting the obvious military-school-queer-subtext jokes, but (spoilers) Nikolai is actually Bean's twin brother, so I'm not going there.
Instead, Bean shares his discover of the other two wheels and five decks, and Nikolai suggests that those parts were never actually built, but the maps remain because bureaucrats never throw anything away.
"I never thought of that," said Bean. He knew, given his reputation for brilliance, that he could pay Nikolai no higher compliment. As indeed the reaction of the other kids in nearby bunks showed. No one had ever had such a conversation with Bean before. No one had ever thought of something that Bean hadn't obviously though of first. Nikolai was blushing with pride.Ye gods, Bean is supposed to be the one no one really likes; why is Nikolai blushing already? But they start talking and socialising like real people, including one girl who is named here Corn Moon and then never mentioned again, ever, in this or any other book, quality representation, well done.
Next week: the only kind of acceptable gay man in Card's world is one who has been punished, tamed, and speaks only of regret for his forays into forbidden knowledge.