Sunday, September 28, 2014

Ender's Shadow, chapters eighteen, nineteen, and twenty, in which Bean doesn't murder anyone

(Content: ableism, discussion of murder. Fun content: a slow loris, the return of the whatnapple, and the best part of this book, in the midst of some really impressively bad writing.)

Ender's Shadow: p. 276--315
Chapter Eighteen: Friend

Graff and his unnamed boss (General Levi?  The Polemarch? We don't know, and I suppose technically it doesn't matter) have a terrifying conversation about sending Ender or Bean to Command School.  Graff insists that Bonzo's death "was not foreseen", and the boss counters that "this is precisely the level of violence you anticipated. This is what you set up. You think that the experiment succeeded."  I think the evidence is pretty solidly against Graff here, given that he's basically recreating the Stilson fight.  'Murder twice, xenocide once', as the proverb goes.  But we knew that--the best addition here is this particular Total Logical Disconnect:
"Didn't he inform you that it was Bean who may have pushed Bonzo over the edge to violence by breaking security and informing him that Ender's army was composed of exceptional students? [....] Bean was acting to save his own life, and in so doing he shunted the danger onto Ender Wiggin's shoulders. [...] When Bean is under pressure, he turns traitor."
Not a word of this makes any sense.  First, what 'security' was breached by Bean telling Bonzo that Ender got assigned good soldiers?  Bean was commanded not to talk about his assignment to create Dragon Army, but just saying 'Dragon Army are all really smart and underappreciated' is the kind of assessment anyone could make, especially Bean.  Second, how is Bonzo supposed to be provoked by hearing that the game was stacked against him?  'Hey, you know your most hated foe who's getting all this credit as a genius for winning his battles?  Well, his subordinates are brilliant.'  That is the opposite of provocation--that's an opportunity to say that Ender is just skating on his advantages and actually has no personal skill.  The provocation would be 'Ender is so much better than you that he could win if Dragon Army were mops in wigs and flash suits'.

A rare portrait of C Toon with Bean's squad (not pictured: Ducheval, or dozens of naked children).

Lastly, it should be a matter of record that Bean made every attempt to call in the existing authorities--people whom, on paper, he's supposed to rely upon to solve these problems--to stop Bonzo, and was denied.  Bean got himself out of a dangerous situation and then immediately attempted to access overwhelming forces to prevent that danger from threatening anyone else.  A slow loris could see through Graff's argument here.

A rare interview with the rejected jurist for Graff's court-martial (she was removed after asking a question about jury nullification).

There's still the final laser tag match to go, Dragon versus Tiger and Griffin, with one more bit that technically isn't a retcon--Bean is pushing Ender through the whole way, reminding him to act, and as soon as Ender has his plan (the full-size armored transport made of soldiers) he slots himself into the formation and puts Bean in charge of the whole the-enemy's-gate-is-down plan.  Bean thinks about how they won this fight on Ender's reputation, which scared the other armies into inactivity, but that won't matter in the war to come, which is as close as we get to anyone acknowledging that laser tag is not meaningful campaign training.

Y'all will recall that last chapter Bean merrily hopscotched between a burning passion to be the very best like no was ever was and a humble conviction that only Ender's glorious mind matters.  He has finally located his sweet spot, as the fanatical self-effacing disciple:
If it could be done, Ender was the one who would have to do it. All those months when Bean refused to see Ender, hid from him, it was because he couldn't bear to face the fact that Ender was what Bean only wished to be--the kind of person on whom you could put all your hopes, who could carry all your fears, and he would not let you down, would not betray you. 
There's another layer of WTF to dig through, but let's just wallow in this one for a moment: ignoring the life-changing experience that was Ender's Game, what do we actually know about Ender in this book that justifies Bean's opinion of him?  Who has relied upon Ender so far?  When has he proven that he 'would not betray you'?  When has he had the opportunity to betray anyone?  All of his interactions with Bean have been hostile until he finally gave Bean the Meaningful Man Nod Of Approval and gave him his special ops team.  Apart from that, they've all had a fairly normal relationship with Ender as their teacher.  He puts his trust in them, which is nice, but what have we seen that would cause all the Dragons (specifically chosen by Bean for their lack of prior interaction with Ender) to adore him so?
I want to be the kind of boy you are, thought Bean. But I don't want to go through what you've been through to get there.
...Bean remembered falling into line behind Poke or Sergeant or Achilles on the streets of Rotterdam, and he almost laughed as he thought, I don't want to have to go through what I've gone through to get here, either.
TOO LITTLE TOO LATE, CARD.  Bean is, by my estimate, not quite six yet, meaning that less than two years ago (a quarter of his life, granted) he was literally starving in the gutter, and his first thought upon seeing how tired Ender is after all this laser tag and murdering a dude in the showers is 'I wouldn't want to have had his life'.  Yes, Ender killed a kid a couple of hours ago and I imagine that weighs on a boy, but up until this day what terrible trials does Bean imagine he's had to endure in order to get here, apart from being very good at laser tag?  Bean knows nothing about Ender's life!  Bean doesn't know about Stilson.  Bean doesn't even know about Peter!

There's the rest of the super-dramatic scene with Ender declaring "The game is over" and practice is cancelled forever, and everyone goes back to their bunks, where Bean finds a transfer slip making him the new commander of Rabbit Army, and all the other toon leaders are commanders now as well.  They all want Bean to bring Ender the news, but Bean stops by Rabbit Army first, where the ranking toon leader tells him that a lot of commanders just graduated (Bean says precisely nine, to make room for the nine Dragons moving up), but he describes it like this:
"A lot of commanders," said ItĂș. "More than half."
Y'all.  Send help.  Nine commanders cannot possibly be more than half of Battle School, can it?  Fewer than eighteen armies?  Even the wiki lists twenty-one, and implicitly there are many more.  (The scenes in the commanders' mess hall become way more pointed if there are only two dozen people in there; how could Ender and Bonzo not have been constantly running into each other all month?)

Bean and Ender have their final face-to-face talk, which isn't all that different from the first go-round except that Bean has a lot of 'I already know that' monologue going inside his head when Ender says stuff that Retcon-Bean obviously figured out ages ago, or saying things like "He had it coming" about Bonzo and then flinching and mentally chastising himself for how terrible that is to say.  Eventually Anderson arrives to spare us any more of this scene, to tell Ender he's going to Command School.
He turned to Bean, took his hand. To Bean, it was like the touch of the finger of God. It sent light all through him. Maybe I am his friend. Maybe he feels toward me some small part of the... feeling I have for him.
Y'all know I strictly ship Ender/Alai, but we can all agree it's hard not to read that as hella gay, yes?  Not respect or admiration or fraternity or even just flatly and unabashedly calling it love, but "...feeling".  I'm having Fifty Shades flashbacks.
For some reason what came into Bean's mind was the moment when Poke handed him six peanuts. It was life that she handed to him then. 
Was it life that Ender gave to Bean? Was it the same thing? 
No. Poke gave him life. Ender gave it meaning.
YOU'RE ALL PLAYING LASER TAG.

Anyway, Bean resolves to keep being awesome at his studies and games in the hopes that one day he will impress the teachers so much that they'll bring him back to Ender's future army, and the chapter mercifully ends.

Chapter Nineteen: Rebel

Bean is immediately notified that, with half new commanders, they're all to start eating in the commanders' mess immediately (not wait for their first victory), and since Ender's Game doesn't discuss Battle School from this point on, Card finally gets around to observing how badly it's designed:
Standings and scores! Instead of fighting the battle at hand, those scores made soldiers and commander alike more cautious, less willing to experiment. That's why the ludicrous custom of fighting in formations had lasted so long--Ender can't have been the first commander to see a better way.
That's reasonable on the face of it, but that suggests that, rather than being super-brilliant, Ender is simply the first person stubborn enough to insist on trying something new, which... really?  Petra or Dink weren't daring enough?  Dink doesn't even like the fame and glory side, he just loves laser tag!

Bean does another tabletop speech calling them to shut down the boards and instead play purely on the basis of creativity and experimentation, learning from each other above all else.  (An idea he came up with now that he's part of the legendary and defunct Dragon Army that devastated the standings flawlessly for about a month.)  Eventually everyone gets on board, and Dink, most senior student in the whole school, agrees to take it to the teachers or they all boycott the games.  Then it's time for Bean to properly meet his new army, which he speechily does, saying he called them to back up Ender (when they thought he'd be ambushed in the halls) because he was sure they were honorable soldiers whether they liked Ender personally or not, and etc flattery gets you everywhere.

He's corrected on one point--he's not the only new Rabbit, because they just got a brand new transfer student: Achilles.  Bean wonders if the teachers imagine Bean will be able to help Achilles adjust to the school faster, but he's also fourth-wall-crackingly aware: "Maybe he's here to be my Bonzo Madrid."  Achilles starts telling street stories, but Bean shuts him down and demands his authority be respected, even though he can see Achilles renew his plans for murder.
For the first time, Bean understood the reason Ender had almost always acted as if he was oblivious to the danger from Bono. It was a simple choice, really. Either he could act to save himself or he could act to maintain control over his army.
I--what?  How exactly would it have undermined Ender's glorious aura of command if he had actually said 'Bonzo is a goddamn menace and he needs to stay the fuck away from me'?  Everyone's supposed to love Ender unconditionally.  Is Card telling us that the essence of command isn't actually the charismatic bond of trust, but James-Bond-esque cool necessary for snappy one-liners and slowly walking away from explosions?  Is this like "never let them see you sweat"?  Whatever.

Chapter Twenty: Trial and Error

Carlotta immediately gets on Graff's case about Achilles being removed from his school which was inexplicably in Cairo, I guess for exoticism points.  She lists more suspected kills: Achilles apparently took out Ulysses before he was removed from Rotterdam, a teacher he hated at his first school, and the surgeon who repaired his leg--anyone who mocked Achilles or saw him in a state of weakness.  Graff insists he'll send a message up to Battle School, despite having been removed himself.
"If you let Bean come to harm, God will have an accounting from you." 
"He'll have to get in line, Sister Carlotta. The I.F. court-martial takes precedence."
Oh, now he gets a court-martial.

Bean has a private bedroom now as commander, which means he can pry open the upper air intake vents rather than just the little outflow vents at floor level, which means he can get into ducts big enough for any child to fit inside.  I have no idea why the air intakes are larger than the outflow vents, but I am not a space architect.  The point is that he clambers in there and starts setting a trap.

There's an extended sequence from Achilles' point of view, which is undoubtedly edgy if you're into close-third-person scenes from the perspective of serial killers.  Not really my jam.  Achilles is very excited about laser tag, although his mentor Ambul made the 'mistake' of laughing at him while he was frozen.
People shouldn't do that. It was wrong, and it always gnawed at Achilles until he was able to set things right. There should be more kindness and respect in the world.
That's basically this whole section in a nutshell: Achilles of course doesn't think of himself as evil, he just thinks that failure to respect his glory is Wrong and it can only be made Right via murder.  It goes on like this for a while as he plots Bean's death.  He also disdains Bean's delegation tactics in battle, thinking to himself that it's all about authority and submission of soldiers to their commander's will.  Of course, in a massive swerve:
No one but Achilles seemed to understand that this was the great strength of the Buggers. They had no individual minds, only the mind of the hive. They submitted perfectly to the queen. We cannot defeat the Buggers until we learn from them, become like them.
No one but you understands that, Achilles, because the fact that the formics are a telepathic hive-mind with no thoughts or will save for that of the queen is Mazer Rackham's crackpot theory and a matter of inconceivable military secrecy so there is literally no way a street urchin like you knows it oh my god Card read your own book.   ...Where was I?  Achilles is going to kill Bean, somehow.

Bean calls Achilles into his private quarters and explains that Ender wasn't a genius at all--he just learned all the other commanders' plans and teachers' schemes in advance by spying on them through the ducts--and he needs someone he can trust to help him carry on this legacy of glorious cheating.  Achilles buys it completely, because the universe always bends to his will, and they scramble naked [drink!] into the vents.  Achilles internally monologues about memorising the path and looking for opportunities to get his hands on something lethal.
...When Achilles grieved for the child, his tears would be real. They always were, for there was a nobility to these tragic deaths. A grandeur as the great universe worked its will through Achilles' adept hands.
So basically Achilles is who Ender would be if Ender saw himself the way the book treats him.

They get to a downward shaft in a larger room (I don't know why a space like this would exist) and Bean lies about the deadline, saying they have to use it to safely rappel down to the teachers' level but it cuts the skin if it slides, so the only safe method to pull on it is by tying it tight around your torso.  (The slow loris was also not convinced by this plan.)  Achilles plans out how he'll get Bean trapped, hanging in mid-air by his waist, as he plays along with the plan, but of course Bean gives the order and as soon as Achilles has a tight loop on himself, he gets yanked up into the air himself by someone hiding on the shadows with their hands on the other end of his line.

And this is it, the best part of the whole damn book, because Bean neutralises Achilles, gets him hanging helplessly, and then beats him with words:
"First thing is, you forgot where you were. Back on Earth, you were used to being a lot smarter than everybody around you. But here in Battle School, everybody is as smart as you, and most of us are smarter. You think Ambul didn't see the way you looked at him? [....] And since we just had a case of one kid trying to kill another, nobody was going to put up with it again. Nobody was going to wait for you to strike. Because here's the thing--we don't give a shit about fairness here. We're soldiers. Soldiers do not give the other guy a sporting chance." 
[....] He had forgotten that when Bean said for Poke to kill him, he had not just been showing respect for Achilles. He had also been trying to get Achilles killed. 
[....] "Bring me a teacher, I'll confess." 
"Didn't you hear me explain how stupid we're not? You confess now. Before witnesses. With a recorder."
For once--for once--I buy it.  I am convinced by these characters: that Achilles would be this smart and still make these mistakes, that Bean would plan ahead like this and set this trap, that the other students would back him up.  One chapter and done.  This is the kind of solution that a genius soldier protege should finagle, not walking into a shower-arena for single combat and expecting the best.  This is for once rare moment a scene that gives me what I want from this story and not what I expect due to narrative tradition.

And it's Bean's crowning achievement, because he rejects killing.  He wants Achilles gone, and he could get away with murder here, he says as much (no one would ever find Achilles' body if they just left him there next to the air purifiers), but he is going for institutionalisation, and he's winning by creating a plan that relies on the help of his genius friends, instead of going solo like the wunderkind.  Graff's last act was to put someone in Battle School who would pose a threat to Bean, same as Bonzo to Ender, and Bean goes off the playbook.  If Ender were capable of this, the penitent formics would still be alive instead of dying in a cosmic catastrophe.

Achilles confesses to all seven murders and et cetera et cetera he's "insane", as if sanity is a meaningful predictor of violence (spoilers: no it fucking isn't), and Bean leaves Achilles hanging there as he and his four comrades leave without letting him see their faces.  Achilles is basically all 'I'll get you next time, Gadget' in his head, plotting how he'll have to one day kill every Battle School student to cement his control over the world, because Achilles is the villain of the next two Shadow books as well, but for now he's done with, because, as noted, Bean is better than Ender.

Next week: Petra makes a saving throw and Bean reads ahead in the script.

39 comments:

  1. (no one would ever find Achilles' body if they just left him there next to the air purifiers)

    Now, see, if I were running a space station, I'd probably arrange for the air purifiers to have regular hands-on maintenance, and I'd also have some kind of monitoring system to measure the quality of the air passing through them. I dunno, call me a Nervous Nellie but that just seems like an important thing to do if you DON'T WANT EVERYONE TO DIE. So I'm guessing this isn't the ideal location for stashing a rotting human corpse.

    Also, why would hiding his body even work? Students have already been murdering each other. If Achilles vanishes without a trace, they'll know someone killed him and they'll search every nook and cranny until they find him. What, is Bean going to claim he snuck out an airlock and parachuted back to Earth?

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  2. Anton, Anton, Anton. You seem to be thinking that for some reason just because the air purification system is the only thing keeping the most important thousand or so humans in existence from dying in the incredibly hostile environment of space, and there is literally a door right there which Bean and company waltz right through that for some reason this area should receive regular attention? Of course not. That was a test and you failed. That's exactly the kind of superficial conclusion that Graff knew would trip up normal humans like you and me, and that is why we are not suited to space war.

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  3. and he would not let you down, would not betray you.

    Never gonna make you cry, never gonna saaay goodbye...

    (Oh come on, we were all thinking it.)

    (Well, okay, at least one of us was thinking it.)

    No one but Achilles seemed to understand that this was the great strength of the Buggers. They had no individual minds, only the mind of the hive. They submitted perfectly to the queen. We cannot defeat the Buggers until we learn from them, become like them.

    The phrasing of this makes it sound like Achilles is going to try to assimilate humanity into a hive mind. I enjoy assimilation plots, but somehow I doubt he's actually planning anything nearly that fun.

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  4. I would not put it past Card to rickroll his readers as that's what all the cool kids are doing 500 years later

    also, seriously, Achilles is going to be the recurring villain for the other books? What, wasn't that loser with the revenge fetish from "Meet The Robinsons" available? Sheesh.

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  5. Since I'm not going to do any more of these books and this is the last time we see Achilles in this one, allow me to summarise: everyone goes back to Earth after the war, Achilles somehow manages to get power in Russia and enact a plot to kidnap a bunch of Ender's besties, including Petra, but he gets found out so he flees to India (still with Petra in a semi-damselled state) and Bean goes to Thailand because they're the only ones with a hope of opposing him. (Achilles, in one conversation, brokers a peace treaty between India and Pakistan. Petra's assessment is literally "What the hell did I just watch happen?") Eventually they drive Achilles out of India but it turns out he was actually running a deal with China the whole time. In the following book, Achilles manages to almost steal the post of Hegemon from Peter, but they finally manage to trap him somewhere in... Brazil? And the best part of that book is that Bean's partner from Thailand, Suriyawong, spends the whole book being the only person focused and smart enough to bluff Achilles until he can finally betray him at the last moment and save the world. I love long cons.


    But in all of that we've got Petra getting steadily more declawed and intent on Making Babies and specifically having Bean's kids before he dies (she even gets an epilogue bit about regretting spending so much time literally saving the world from war when she could have been raising her dozen infants), and Anton being a spectacularly self-loathing gay, and it's just not worth it for the sake of what's basically a novelisation of a game of Risk.

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  6. Eeeeek!

    I don’t care anymore what you do with sheep – just please don’t kill me with mops!

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  7. Guy from Airplane! #1: "Should we turn on the runway lights?"

    Guy from Airplane! #2: "No...that's just what they're expecting us to do."

    Graff: "BRILLIANT" *scribbles furiously in his military strategy notebook, which is covered with Garbage Pail Kids stickers*

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  8. Achilles apparently took out Ulysses before he was removed from Rotterdam, a teacher he hated at his first school, and the surgeon who repaired his leg--anyone who mocked Achilles or saw him in a state of weakness.



    How are these only suspected kills? At what point did he become the World's Greatest Criminal Mind? He stabbed Poke and dumped her in a river. Where she was IMMEDIATELY found. The group of street kids figured out that he was the killer, pretty much instantly. Carlotta knew he killed her, also. ...


    Oh.


    Oh my god.


    It's not that Achilles has actually hidden any of his crimes. It's that no one does anything about his crimes. No one goes to the authorities. Or even the authorities don't do anything. What the fuck even IS this world? Or is it all Graf's doing? Except Carlotta didn't go to the authorities with her suspicion/knowledge either.


    Well, I gotta say all that shit with Peter in the first book is looking a lot more sensible. Of course his parents wouldn't do anything about him. There IS nothing to do about him, except hope he doesn't kill them (or the other kids) in their sleep.


    And I think it's pretty much canon at this point that Peter was disqualified from Battle School because he wasn't usable as a puppet.


    Which is actually what the monitors are looking for. They're looking for violent, screwed up kids that they can use.


    (Though this doesn't explain the few Battle School kids in Ender's Game who didn't seem fucked up. Unless they were scouted by someone other than Graf. Or... or something.)

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  9. There's some vague handwave about 'not enough evidence to convict', according to Carlotta, although she did tell the doctors to check her surgeon friend's body for injection marks and that is how they determined she was murdered, rather than just suffering a random heart attack. How it's possible that Achilles' teacher and then his doctor both died under mysterious circumstances and yet no one responsible for deciding whether Achilles should go to Battle School gave so much as a side-eye to this news, I do not know. Graff at least has the excuse that he was fired before Achilles was shipped up, but presumably Graff isn't the only person who does the paperwork on these things?

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  10. Well, that's more than she did for poor Poke.


    But I'm still having trouble seeing him as this brilliant serial killer. Almost everything that was supposed to make Bean or Achilles look smart back in the early chapters was based on the powers that be having not acted in plausible ways to begin with. (Never mind the whole problem of Poke having been right about Bean's plan.)


    And this whole thing is just ludicrous anyway. He's a kid still, or he wouldn't have been sent to Battle School, but we're supposed to believe that he had the ability to procure poison that would mimic a heart attack, sneak out of wherever he was staying, find the surgeon who operated on him, somehow subdue her without leaving any marks, and inject her with the poison? And then prevent her from getting help while the poison took affect and she died. And then dispose of everything that could tie him to crime, and sneak back to wherever he was staying?


    ARE YOU SHITTING ME?

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  11. I have no idea if this is canon or not, since I don't know where it comes from, but ansible.wikia has Bean's heights over his life, and they are hilarious. He was ten inches tall when he was four. (And parkouring across the rooftops of Rotterdam.) And died at the height of 14'8.5". Which is a mere six feet, nine inches taller than the tallest human on record (verified).

    I am not making this up



    Any idea how that matches up to canon? I mean, is it the wiki makers or Card who have no sense of scale this time? (Or both.)

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  12. I haven't seen anything in the books I've read (which includes all four of the main Bean books but not Shadows in Flight) to suggest anything as ridiculous as Bean being less than a foot tall at the start of Ender's Shadow. My god. I know he ends up being enormous (there's some implication or even outright statement that it's his skeleton the formics used to make the 'real' Giant's Drink scene where Ender finds the hive queen's egg), but literally one foot tall when he arrives at Battle School?

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  13. That's good. Well, half of that's good. If his height is supposed to be anything even vaguely approaching the 14'8.5" they give, that seems biologically unlikely (or flat out impossible). Never mind the logistics of a person that size.


    I wonder where they got the numbers from, though. They don't seem generally given to making up information not in the books. It's odd.

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  14. Oh, but he subdued the surgeon with his brilliant mind. You see, he took two tongue depressors and jabbed them into her back so she would think it was a gun and would be so focused on that she wouldn't notice the injection. Yes, really.

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  15. "That's reasonable on the face of it, but that suggests that, rather than being super-brilliant, Ender is simply the first person stubborn enough to insist on trying something new, which... really? "


    My interpretation of that passage was that other commanders could conceive of strategies like Ender's but, not being the super genius chosen one, they wouldn't be able to implement them without a period of adjustment where they lost battles and dropped in the standings and no one was willing to take that risk.


    "I--what? How exactly would it have undermined Ender's glorious aura of command if he had actually said 'Bonzo is a goddamn menace and he needs to stay the fuck away from me'? Everyone's supposed to love Ender unconditionally. Is Card telling us that the essence of command isn't actually the charismatic bond of trust, but James-Bond-esque cool necessary for snappy one-liners and slowly walking away from explosions? Is this like "never let them see you sweat"? Whatever."
    This is a pretty common understanding of leadership, especially military command. The idea is that the commander must always appear to have all the answers in order to maintain the trust of their subordinates and so they have to pretend to be perfectly in control at all times. This totally contradicts the whole "trust the toon leaders and give them autonomy" thing but I doubt it was thought through that far.

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  16. "So basically Achilles is who Ender would be if Ender saw himself the way the book treats him."
    +1000

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  17. I believe Card would insist that your disbelief of such fantastical children is only proof that you're a boring old grown-up who was probably a boring child. That's kind of the feeling that I got from the intro he wrote for Game. That he knows about super awesome kids who are super awesome (because he's implied to have also been super awesome kid and now super awesome adult), and anyone who doubts his child characters at all is just a mean old fuddy-duddy who Doesn't Get It.

    It's one of those irritating defenses. Either you can agree with him and be one of the cool kids or you can call him on his bullshit and give up your coolness membership card. For me, I don't need any Card-based accolades.

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  18. "(there's some implication or even outright statement that it's his
    skeleton the formics used to make the 'real' Giant's Drink scene where
    Ender finds the hive queen's egg"
    Howwwww did they use his adult body to make a thing when he was still a wee little sprout when they all got killed? Did his bones time travel backwards?

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  19. Yes, those books were excruciating painful FAIL. Ugh. Why doesn't he have an editor who goes, no one wants to read characters who will look up from the page and nag the reader about not being married and having babies!

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  20. Did you ever see that episode of Red Dwarf where Rimmer was extolling his prowess at Risk and telling Lister about the games in detail? something like "Then I rolled a five, but he rolled a three so I had to change my plans.... and I rolled a one!"


    That's how I imagine the next books are if as described they're the novel versions of Risk and it's totally understandable why you would not want to touch them with a 900 foot dreadnought.

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  21. Would it actually rot, though? Rotting is a biological breakdown that happens because of microbes, so if there aren't any of those in the space station, it would end up as a mummified corpse, not a rotted one.

    I mean, your point still stands, I'm just wondering if space corpses would rot or not. Is there enough bacteria just inside the body's natural biome to begin the rotting process? Obviously we're not going to get any worms in the air ducts, and if it's right by the purifiers perhaps those are the only bacteria that will interact with the body at all. A brief google search has not told me much.

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  22. Is that really any more bizarre than everything else Card's expected us to swallow?

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  23. If only he'd put half the effort into writing that he put into coming up with his defense...

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  24. He headed out to space before he died, so that the zero-G could help him live longer. But I haven’t read Shadows in FLight either.

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  25. That's a good question, and probably depends a lot on details of the space station we don't have. People certainly are going to bring their own germs with them and it's possible - depending on how cargo is treated - that others will arrive with whatever is shipped to the station. If food is grown in the station, as opposed to being shipped from Earth, that would be another source of microbes in the general environment of the station.


    Mummification might be more likely. But I suspect the body would still smell in the early stages, and there's still the basic fact that the air purification system probably gets at least weekly maintenance. Bean seems to have failed How to Hide a Body 101. (Or Card has.)

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  26. In specially built spacecraft? Regardless of whether the heights given on the fan wiki are right, it sounds like he was definitely larger than your standard human. We don't generally build craft for outsized people.

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  27. Yep yep. Google "human microbiome". There are actually more bacterial cells than human ones in and on the body--gut, respiratory tract, naughty bits, corneas and skin. They're much smaller than human cells, of course, so they only make up a couple percent of your body mass, but there's definitely enough to start a body rotting. There are also fungi and even some small animals, like the notorious eyelash mites.

    A lot of this stuff could be purged by a disinfectant program before people came on board, but that's not usually a great idea health-wise; these microorganisms are beneficial in various ways, including helping with digestion and immune functioning.

    I'd be surprised if there aren't flies and other scavenger insects on the station, too. I mean, their containment protocols don't prevent children from scrambling through the ducts unnoticed, they're not gonna stop a fly.

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  28. Ah, thank you. I know about the biome, just couldn't determine if it was enough by itself to rot a corpse! Looks like natural mummies all require low temperatures to freeze the human microbiome, like the Iceman and Incan mummies.

    Science!

    Also you're probably right, that station is probably filthy, haha.

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  29. I laughed so loud at this post that someone walked in here from the kitchen (3 rooms away) to ask if I was reading that deconstruction blog again.


    My basic feeling of the next books was that they would be worth reading if the focus on Suriyawong. Definitely the best part, by far. The ret-conning of Ender's parents is actually rather impressive.


    Number27's idea that none of the other commanders were willing to risk losing for a time makes a lot of sense. It takes a high level of maturity, a willingness to sacrifice the ego now, and ability to plan for the long future to take that kind of risk. None of these qualities is particularly present in children. Genius children might manage one or two but kids who are getting really strong messages about how smart they are, how important they are, how the fate of the world rests on their ability to WIN? Not a group likely sacrifice the ego. Which is a shame because I, at least, learn a helluvalot from my mistakes, ie the times I wasn't full of WIN.

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  30. Admittedly, mummification can be done with high temperatures. But it needs to be, like, Sahara high. (The corpses of the early Egyptians were naturally mummified by being buried in hot sand). And like depizan says, you'd probably get some smell anyway before the body completely dries out.

    It can also be done by storing the body in anoxic water, like you get in bogs--not enough oxygen to sustain decomposer bacteria.

    Also you're probably right, that station is probably filthy, haha.

    Yeah, really, any station with a large-sized human population is gonna get filthy. House dust is largely shed skin cells, after all. I'm sure the soldiers on board spend most of their time cleaning every inch of the station over and over again, just like in the Navy.

    Of course, at Battle School the people on duty never glance up and notice the dangling corpses, because the enemy's gate is down.

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  31. and Bean goes to Thailand because they're the only ones with a hope of opposing him.

    Argh. Why can no one else oppose him? Achilles is smarter than everyone on the Asian continent put together? And bulletproof? Being insanely smart does not usually make you politically invincible.

    I thought Card was maybe getting over his "everyone except my pet characters is useless" disease, what with Bean's speech about how everyone at Battle School is as smart as Achilles. But...no?

    (And here I shall plug Gunnerkrigg Court, as the quintessential kid's webcomic where everyone turns out to be more useful and competent at something than you'd expect.)


    Achilles, in one conversation, brokers a peace treaty between India and Pakistan.

    I know I shouldn't ask this, I really shouldn't ask this, but...how? And do the officials he's talking to realize that he's a former street urchin and admitted serial killer who failed out of Battle School?

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  32. I should specify that Bean determines that *Thailand* is the only place with any hope of defeating India (because they have an air force that can perhaps match India's incomprehensibly vast infantry) and therefore he goes there because he wants to be part of the fight. It's not as terrible as it could conceivably be.


    Achilles winning over Pakistan in a single chat, however... let me go check that chapter...


    Yeah, so, Achilles basically says that Pakistan and India are obvs the Best Countries and they could each rule half the world if they weren't always at each other's backs, and suggests that if only they could each have their empires for a few centuries and begin to see each other as friends, then in the peacetime that followed, all of south Asia would convert to Islam in a single sweep. Petra WTFs appropriately, and chalks it up less to Achilles being brilliant and more to Pakistan and India being at that time conveniently ruled by people who already want to declare peace and he just understood how to manipulate them well enough to get them to admit it. That or, of course, witchcraft.

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  33. It's not as terrible as it could conceivably be.
    Yeah...Thailand having a massive air force any time in the near future is fairly implausible, but at least it's a different kind of implausible than Card's usual.
    Yeah, so, Achilles basically says that Pakistan and India are obvs the Best Countries and they could each rule half the world if they weren't always at each other's backs,
    Oh, right. Because nations are always happy to let their bitter rivals rule half the world, provided they get the other half. That's why the Cold War never happened.
    and suggests that if only they could each have their empires for a few centuries and begin to see each other as friends, then in the peacetime that followed, all of south Asia would convert to Islam in a single sweep.
    Well! That sounds like an outcome that wouldn't worry India at all.
    Petra WTFs appropriately, and chalks it up less to Achilles being brilliant and more to Pakistan and India being at that time conveniently ruled by people who already want to declare peace and he just understood how to manipulate them well enough to get them to admit it.
    Because the primary obstacle to peace between Pakistan and India is that their rulers just don't say they want peace often enough. If only they'd have, like, a peace summit or something. That would do the trick.
    These books, man. I dunno.

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  34. Because the primary obstacle to peace between Pakistan and India is that their rulers just don't say they want peace often enough.


    I don't understand. Are you implying that, once the respective leaders of your Earth nations have determined they will cease war, there could still be rogue elements of defective drones who would continue to make cross-border assaults? How could they resist the infinitely compelling mindsong of the hive-queen--I mean, prime minister? What is this human nonsense?!

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  35. would upvote you twice for the Gunnerkrigg Court mention, because OSC's idea of kid genuises wouldn't last ten minutes in the court.

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  36. Anton_Mates: Thanks for this morning's coffee-splurt-laughter!

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  37. That settles it — Bean is magic. ("Magic Bean.") I always thought he sounded more like a pixie or a brownie or a lemur or a larva or a sprite than a kid, and here's the proof.

    Hm. Ten inches tall. That's only four inches taller than the Geico lizard.

    But wait a minute...what about his head? Bean's supposed to have an awesome genius head stuffed with an dumbfounding genius brain. How big is that head, and how large is the brain? Do the head and the brain make up part of Bean's ten-inch height (I would think so) or does Bean measure ten inches up to the neck? If Bean's awesome head is counted as part of Bean's ten-inch height, how much of that height does the head make up? What would be the height of a decapitated four-year-old Bean? And could the body of a boy only ten inches high support the weight of the head of a kid of average size (not to mention a head which is bigger, if Bean's head is bigger?)

    Does Bean look like those caricatures in old-timey political magazines (sometimes you see the same kind of thing in more recent ones) where there's a little bitty politician body supporting a large, grave politician head? (In a flash suit?)

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  38. Maybe he had it crowd-sourced.

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