Ender's Shadow: p. 218--275
Chapter Fifteen: Courage
The pre-chapter Warm-Up Show With Carlotta And Graff is mostly a bunch of Ender's Game name-dropping, referencing how Demosthenes is riling up the nations of Earth to demand their supergenius commander-children back after the war. Now, at this point, we've established that the sole reasons for so much Fleet secrecy (the location of Eros, the imaginary war fleet massed in the asteroid belt, technology like forcefields and gravity control) are to keep Earth nations from tearing apart the planet before we can kill all of the formics, because the last thing we want is to go down alone. The reason for all of the Fleet's secrecy isn't to protect Earth from the formics, but to limit the damage from the inevitable Earth-based wars when the supergeniuses go home and get
"You and I can't do anything about the fact that world war will certainly come. But we can do our best to make sure these children don't become pawns in that game. [....] Give them their chance to play."Well done, Carlotta, that is exactly what Jesus would say in your place. There is a huge war coming and the best you can think of is 'let's make sure the free-for-all is properly filled with children with the talent to destroy whole worlds, who have explicitly been selected for training if they were malleable enough to be pushed into doing so by adults who don't answer their questions'. Sigh.
It's time for Dragon Army's first battle and Beantron coolly calculates that everyone else is nervous. He eventually acknowledges his own nerves, expressed in silent watchfulness, but goes to shower and mull how he'll one day be taller than anyone, mightier, the most beloved son of humanity regardless of his genes, "greater than Wiggin", which is super left-field to me. They're children who haven't done anything yet and he's already thinking of Ender as a rival ("Lee and Grant [....] Bismarck and Disraeli. Napoleon and Wellington"), convinced that Ender feels the same and so keeps him down to avoid building up his own competition. (Bean already decided Ender isn't like that, back when he analysed Ender's free-time practices and their methodology, but why would Bean remember that? What? Perfect memory? Naaaah.)
Ender shows up in the showers as well because Bean is late--a scene not in Ender's Game, which would have rather changed the tone of that first battle chapter, I feel. Ender and Bean snark at each other and Ender leaves with Bean's towel so he'll have to walk through the corridors naked [drink!], and Bean is still attacking himself for freezing up in fear (now, in the showers, and in Rotterdam, when Achilles had Poke, and before that when Poke had Achilles bleeding on the sidewalk). This is one of the better aspects of Bean's characterisation, I think, if only because it's a real flaw, it's emotional, and it's presented as something that he's always had and always just brushed off before now.
Nikolai appears, having successfully outwitted the greatest genius in the world through the clever ruse of saying Bean had Secret Diarrhea and didn't want to tell Ender for fear he'd have to sit out the battle. He also has Bean's towel, and they bond more about how scared they are before rejoining the team. The battle proceeds from Bean's limited point of view as a member of Tom's C Toon, somehow stealthily circling around Rabbit Army to attack from behind despite essentially no cover. There are some fun SFy zero-G tactics that try very hard to sell us on the idea that Ender's orientation (enemy's gate = down) is so counterintuitive that Rabbits continually fail to expect attacks from the south/below. Bean then goes rogue, leaping off without orders and taking out the last of the Rabbit strike force solo before they freeze him, making Bean the anonymous sole casualty mentioned in their first game.
At breakfast, Bean is on an adrenaline high and can't stop talking about how awesome Ender is, because apparently his hunger to be 'greater than Wiggin' forty minutes ago has already been subsumed once again into his role as prophet of the one true god.
"And that's because Wiggin isn't just thinking about Battle School and standing and merda like that. [....] He's thinking about how to beat the Buggers. [....] He wants to come out of this with him and the toon leaders and the seconds and if he can do it every single one of his soldiers ready to command a fleet against the Buggers if we have to."
And then, the next day when they get word of their second battle so soon, Bean decides/realises that the timeline is super short and the only thing the teachers care about is testing and graduating Ender as fast as possible.
So it's already too late for me. Wiggin's the one they've chosen to rest their hopes on. Whether I'm toon leader or not will never matter. All that matters is: Will Wiggin be ready?Bean's ambitions are all the hell over the map this chapter, eh? But Bean decides that there will probably be plenty of war post-Third-Invasion for him to make his name in, and so he needs to build up Ender, despite their continued animosity. I mean, I sort of like that he's got ambition, but it's also weird that all of his ambition is military for no apparent reason. He's got no interest in solving any of Earth's other problems, putting his attention anywhere other than xenocide, despite his total despair that he's ever going to get recognition in Battle School or join the campaign. (Actually talking to Ender again is not on his prophet checklist, so resolving their problem like that is out of the question--he actually considered it, "then common sense prevailed". What?)
He wanders to the arcade, briefly accidentally plays the Giant's Drink, runs off when the computer (still with its difficulty setting jammed to Fuck With Your Head And Damn The Consequences) gives the giant Achilles' face, and gets cornered by Bonzo. Bean, of course, pulls the same there-is-no-honor-in-beating-up-a-little-boy approach that Ender will use, and so doesn't get too roughed up at first, although after flinging some insults he does get choked a bit. Bonzo calls Ender a "catamite", which is an interestingly specific choice on Card's part--Bonzo's a villain and always wrong, so we could take this as indicating that homophobia is bad, but there's still enough room to just assume that, objectively, that's a bad thing to be and therefore an appropriate insult for any occasion.
In the aftermath, Bean inexplicably refuses to tell Nikolai who choked him, but reports the incident to Dimak, who of course brushes it off, given that he's under orders from Graff and he's probably already taken odds from his bookie.
Chapter Sixteen: Companion
Oh my god this is the worst random musing in this whole book--Carlotta and Anton discussing suicide:
"We get used to everything. We find hope in anything. [....] In my view, suicide is not really the wish for life to end. [....] It is the only way a powerless person can find to make everybody else look away from his shame. The wish is not to die, but to hide."
"As Adam and Eve hid from the Lord. [....] If only such sad people could remember: Everyone is naked. Everyone wants to hide. But life is still sweet. Let it go on."Where do I even begin? Okay, first: here is an international breakdown of suicide help lines, here is a major Canadian network, and here is a major American network. In case any of those are relevant to anyone, ever.
Second, of all of the topics for a random throwaway conversation to promote the author's pet theories and then never address again, suicide has to be the worst possible option, and at the very least Card's editing staff should have stopped him. At least he gave genocide a whole second book to discuss--but seriously, a random toss-off exchange between two character who already agree with each other and just want to indulge each other's brilliant theological references? Pull up your pants, man, there are children present.
Third, is it just me, or is this a very well-off-white-man theory to have? Just last chapter we had Bean telling us that fear takes on a totally different form once you're secure enough in life that you fear shame more than personal deprivation, and now we have Card telling us that shame is the real reason people kill themselves? Maybe it's the only reason he can ever imagine, but as we've noticed before, Card has serious trouble accepting that most people don't have the same thoughts and experiences he does, and zero grasp of clinical depression.
And let's not ignore the elevated rates of suicide among queer youth, which are already known to be associated with bullying and institutionalised discrimination. I can't decide if Card is saying that a kid (who gets bullied all day at school and comes home to homophobic or transphobic parents and gets online and gets harassed by other gamers or bloggers or whomever) who finally ends up killing themselves is just succumbing to their own shame at how twisted and broken they are, or if he's saying that all that bullying wouldn't bother them so much if they just imagined Jesus hugging them more. Either way, what a colossal jackass.
Moving on to Battle School again--Dragon Army gets worn down, winning game after game, until the fateful match with Salamander, their second battle of the day, with an open room and Salamander already deployed around Dragon's gate. They do their makeshift-armorsuit trick, devastate Salamander, and Ender loudly has Bean, the Littlest Space Marine, explain how Bonzo could have won by keeping up constant movement. Bean of course thinks this is needless provocation of Bonzo, which finally gives us something interesting:
Did he do it deliberately? Wiggin was always in control of himself, always carrying out a plan. But Bean couldn't think fo any plan that required yelling at Major Anderson and shaming Bonzo Madrid in front of his whole army.
Why would Wiggin do such a stupid thing?This is interesting to me simply because, if Bean is right and Ender is smart (things we can generally rely upon, in-universe) this suggests that Ender really is trying to provoke Bonzo, and if that's true, then he's either trying to make Battle School so dangerous for himself that they pull him out, or he's already trying to goad Bonzo into a deathmatch. Chalk up another point of evidence for Team Premeditation!
Bean's started getting less-than-perfect math scores because he's too busy thinking up tactics, both for laser tag and space war, and one day decides to snark his way out of a math test by writing:
2 + 2 = π(sqrt(2 + n))
When you know the value of n, I'll finish this test.Which, I mean, not to try to out-jackass Bean, but n = ((4/π)^2) - 2. Pi is irrational, so we can't actually write it out in numeral form, but that doesn't make it somehow not a number. Maybe this is just a notation error and n wasn't supposed to be included in the square root? I'm not sure.
The last scene for this chapter is also kind of fun, because it's a scene that was from Bean's perspective in Ender's Game, and here it still is, but with substantially more complicated internal dialogue. When asked to assess himself, Bean doesn't mention any of his new retconned achievements like being a source of constant new ideas and analyses to Tom, because "that would be brag and borderline insubordination", although if Tom hasn't mentioned any of that to Ender, Tom's also kind of a jerk. Bean instead only report on his "public record", his accuracy and survival stats. When Ender prods him into talking about the bigger picture of the war, Bean's choice to sit on the floor and not meet his eyes is now justified by Bean's fears that in the panopticon they are awlays watching his face and he mustn't give away how much he's guessed about the coming invasion. Ender assigns Bean his special Ridiculous Ops toon, asks him to come up with stupid ideas, and as they settle into bed, Bean mulls much longer and adds two more assignments for himself--support Ender's prep for space war, and find some way to strip Bonzo's support, "so that, in the crunch, he would have to take on Ender Wiggin alone or not at all." Ah, Bean, so redundant.
Chapter Seventeen: Deadline
Entertaining but irrelevant dialogue about whether to bring Achilles up to Battle School. They have every reason not to, but by sufficient willful misinterpretation of psych data, Graff can justify it and try to bump the kill count a little higher before he's shipped away.
The first part of this chapter, as Bean assembles Ridiculous Ops, is actually pretty good, because it's character stuff with people leaning up against their flaws (Bean's emotional hunger, Tom's anger problems) and doing better at overcoming them, because they've learned to trust each other more, and no one says or does anything morally reprehensible for multiple pages. It's a good run.
One of the recruits is called Shovel, but he's white, so he protests his stupid nickname, and Bean takes him seriously.
Bean thought back. Shovel's real name was Ducheval. "You prefer 'Two Horses'? Sounds kind of like a Sioux warrior."Which: first, no it doesn't; second, 'two horses' would be 'deux chevaux', 'du cheval' means 'of horses' and Bean should know that because he speaks French; third, why is that Bean's go-to reference when he speaks like a dozen languages and has apparently already absorbed the history of the Western Hemisphere for the last thousand years? The only reason we would think 'Two Horses' sounds like a funny name is because when people call me William they've forgotten or they never knew that it means 'Iron Helm' (or, as I prefer to translate it, 'Metalhead').
Graff, Dimak, and Dap are all arguing (both of them protesting Graff's plans to set Ender and Bean into deathmatches with their archnemeses), and Graff is not interested in this because "Self-doubt was the one thing that neither candidate could afford to have. [....] The boys had to face their worst fears, knowing that no one would intervene to help." Dimak points out that this theory is "completely unproven and unprovable except in the blood of some child", which I guess is the first canonical confirmation we've had that Graff really did invent his educational practices out of nowhere, rather than being taught this kind of thing as standard practice. Graff is the embodiment of author fiat.
Bean arrives and tells us all things we know--time is short, the rules are changing, you need Ender tested fully, you're testing our resourcefulness so give us some resources--and ultimately wears Graff down into letting him browse the school inventory once. Thus Bean acquires the deadline, used to tie things together in space, thin and strong and impossible to cut except with a blowtorch.
"This is what I want."
"Just one?" asked Dap, rather sarcastically.
"And a blowtorch," said Bean.Now that would have been a game of laser tag worth seeing. 'The enemy's gate is wherever the hell I decide it is'. They have their practice, and when they leave the battleroom, the halls are full of Salamanders. It's time for Petra's next big moment/failure, asking to talk to Ender in the halls while bullies prepare to ambush him.
Either she was a perfect actress or she was oblivious, Bean realized. She only seemed aware of the other Dragon uniforms, never as much as glancing at anybody else. She isn't in on it after all, thought Bean. She's just an idiot.Which is about what we were left thinking in Ender's Game, although in a few chapters she'll assure us otherwise. Bean's solution, instead, is to rush for the Rabbit Army barracks and tell them Ender is in danger, to fill the hallway with witnesses in case something happens (though of course it doesn't), and thereafter Bean sets up a rotation of constant watch on Ender--mostly. Apparently no one is willing to skip lunch--they already missed breakfast, but given that apparently everyone we like is obsessive about not eating, you'd think someone would sit it out. Ender, of course, just promises not to leave his quarters and everyone goes along with it because the narrative demands it.
Bean goes because he needs to make a speech on the lunch tables like a YA slice-of-life protagonist. He hits all the classic points, like shutting down a bully with bad grades--"Your scores are pretty much in the bottom ten percent in the school, so I thought you might need a little extra help"--and starting a slow clap--"how many here think that Ender Wiggin is the one commander we would all want to follow into battle? Come on, how many of you!" [....] Pretty soon, the whole room was clapping. Even the food servers.--and of course, that high school classic, latent homophobia--"Anybody who raises a hand against Ender Wiggin is a Bugger-lover!"
As we all know, and as Bean apparently completely failed to notice, neither Bonzo nor anyone else who really wants to murder Ender is actually in the lunchroom, and by the time Bean pieces everything together, Bonzo is dead and Dink is helping Ender back to his quarters. Bean takes a moment to remind Dimak that he can't legally use a 'just following orders' excuse if Graff commanded him to allow the deathmatch to happen, and then goes to flop in his bunk and think about useless he is:
I'm just a street kid whose only skill was staying alive. Somehow. The only time I was in real danger, I ran like a squirrel and took refuge with Sister Carlotta. Ender went alone into battle. I go alone into my hidey-hole. I'm the guy who makes big brace speeches standing on tables in the mess hall. Ender's the guy who meets the enemy naked [drink!] and overpowers him against all odds.
Whatever genes they altered to make me, they weren't the ones that mattered.We come again to the sort of central conundrum of this story, which is that they're all super-wrong. The xenocide isn't necessary, the Third Invasion isn't necessary, which means nothing that anyone achieves in this book was actually necessary and it would have been better for everyone overall if someone else had been in charge. So if the thesis of this book is that the most important elements of a leader aren't the brilliant intellect and infinite knowledge and memory types of things, but magical charisma and unflinching willingness to kill in an instant, are we still supposed to believe that Ender is ideal? Or do we consider that someone else being in charge might have actually dodged the tragedy and Ender might not be the objectively perfect person they assume he is? Do we believe Bean when he says his genius isn't so important? I suspect we're still supposed to, but as ever, I don't see why.
Next week: Bean properly demonstrates why he's better than Ender.