(Content: ableism, homophobia, Nazi war crimes. Fun content: spaaaaaaace.)
Ender's Shadow: p. 139--174
Chapter Nine: Garden of Sofia
The tagless dialogue blocks are back to vaudeville style as Dimak and Graff discuss Bean, starting with his investigation of the emergency maps, which Graff thinks is alone worth sending him home:
"After three months in Battle School, he figured out that defensive war makes no sense and that we must have launched a fleet against the Bugger home worlds right after the end of the last war."
"He knows that? And you come telling me he knows how many decks there are?"But of course they are confident that they can deceive the infinite supergenius of Bean as long as they can find a lie he will believe, so that's no problem and he can stick around because his supergenius may yet be useful. All I can think of right now is that tugboat captain whose life Graff casually derailed into indefinite isolation because Graff couldn't be bothered to schedule his ride in advance or ask for volunteers.
Sister Carlotta, in the meantime, has met with Anton, who doesn't have a last name, ever, despite appearing in later books. Anton is another supergenius and thus very adept at exposition:
"I'm just an old Russian scientist living out the last years of his life on the shores of the Black Sea."Said no actual human ever. Anton tries to shock Carlotta by indicating that he's fantasising about her, but Carlotta is unflappable and/or has excellent gaydar*, so she just goes on to tell him what she learned: that he is cited constantly by academic papers on the subject of genetic engineering on human intelligence, but none of his papers actually exist in any other record; he never published. Now, I mean, I'm sure back in the dark ages (1999) when this book was published these things might have been less automated, but here in the modern world, Google Scholar (the godsend of students writing academic papers everywhere) can track citations in a fraction of a second, so I'm struggling a little with the idea that the government obliterated this guy's life's work, placed a chip in his head to prevent him from ever talking about it again, and put him under permanent armed guard, but they decided editing other people's bibliographies was a step overboard.
Carlotta "hypothetically" describes Bean's situation, absurdly smart and perhaps modified, and asks how she could "hypothetically" test for the change, and Anton's explanation leaps cheerfully back and forth over the ableism threshold as he describes 'savants' in less-than-clinical terms that I won't quote here and sums up with "How can they be so brilliant, and so stupid?" He almost goes on to explain his discovery, but cuts himself off, "because I have been served with an order of inhibition." Basically, he's wired into an anxiety feedback loop so that if he ever gets stressed out--for example, by talking about his work--he immediately falls into an incapacitating panic attack.
Of course, much like the bibliographies that were too much effort to scrub, this too can be overcome with a calming ritual and some roundabout dialogue, so Anton starts bantering with Carlotta about theology, and it's actually kind of entertaining (I kind of wish the later books were just about them on adventures). It's also an excuse for more of the Biblical allusions that Card never tires of, but after a couple of pages he gets around to the point, that humanity could be immortal, "but God made us with death inside":
"Two trees--knowledge and life. you eat of the tree of knowledge, and you will surely die. You eat of the tree of life, and you remain a child in the garden forever, undying."He doesn't last much longer before he stops being able to trick his own brain into believeing that he's not revealing forbidden secrets, and he collapses; Carlotta turns him onto his back--no, wrong, wrong, you turn people onto their side, Carlotta--and waits for the guard to come running.
The man was youngish, but not terribly bright-looking. The implant was supposed to keep [Anton] from spilling his tale; it was not necessary for his guards to be clever.Oh lord, not only is intelligence the only metric of human worth but now we can see it by looking at people. (The guard racks up several more insults from the narrative for the rest of the scene.) Carlotta diplomatically gets out of there rather than wait for him to wake up, which seems cold at first, but maybe she figures she is herself now a panic trigger for Anton. More importantly, she understands Anton's Key now, a genetic tweak that makes Bean an ultragenius but cuts his lifespan short, and resolves to find the person who used it.
Chapter Ten: Sneaky
Carlotta and Graff also continue bantering and it's much less entertaining (she wants more clearance, he wants her to psychoanalyse Bean), but at least for once someone points out:
"There's a war on, yet you fence me around with foolish secrecy. Since there is no evidence of the Formic enemy spying on us, this secrecy is not about the war. It's about the Triumvirate maintaining their power over humanity."This really should be a bigger deal. If Carlotta knows the Formics aren't spying on humanity, presumably everyone knows that. If everyone knows that, then the secrecy around everything--the hidden asteroid base, the fleet supposedly in the asteroid belt which nevertheless no one on Earth can see--should raise some serious questions about the decision-making processes of the people in power. Now, one meta level up, they put a chip in Anton's head rather than killing him because we're still supposed to see humanity's leaders as good people, and two meta levels up, he had to be alive so Carlotta could talk to him, but if I wanted a Doylist interpretation here, I wonder if the point of the incredibly circuitous and resource-intensive 'order of inhibition' isn't just to be able to show people that of course the government cares most of all about protecting human lives, look at all the trouble we go to, and so don't bother asking tricky questions or looking too hard at the gladiatorial arena we're building in the school showers.
Bean is finally ready to make his exploratory spelunking expedition through the Battle School air ducts, and it goes on for pages of twisting and crawling that we don't need to detail, up and down, inconveniently placed ducts that let him see teachers' quarters but not their computer screens, hot vents and cold walls (Card runs with the usual assumption that vacuum is 'cold', which is not quite as true as he'd like, but whatever). Oh--and Bean is naked the whole time. Get out your shot glasses, people, we're back in Battle School and pants are for losers who aren't secure in their heterosexuality!
Bean finds a teacher headed for a shower and decides to wait until the guy comes back and logs into his computer again (so Bean can get his password) but he hears a conversation further up the duct and goes to find Dimak holo-skyping with Graff. (Are holograms really that cheap now? Would a flatscreen not do the job?)
They're talking about 'giving her access' and 'whether the boy is human' and 'can't get him into the mind game' and 'what makes him tick, and after a page Bean realises they're talking about him: "New species. Genetically altered. Bean felt his heart pounding in his chest. What am I?" They also talk about a security breach and needing to lock him down, and, in clearly the best moment, Graff wonders if it counts as saving humanity if they only win the war by replacing themselves with a new species:
"Foot in the door. Camel's Nose in the tent. Give them an inch."
"Yes, I'm paranoid and xenophobic. That's how I got this job. Cultivate those virtues and you, too, might rise to my lofty station."This is as good a time as any to remember that, according to the story, no one but Ender could have won the Third Invasion, and no one but Graff could have made him do it, and the formics weren't planning to invade Earth again anyway, so Graff's hilarious paranoid xenophobia is the literal sole driving force behind the whole xenocide.
Bean mulls which secret he might have guessed (he suspects it's the invasion fleet, or that Battle School was created to strip Earth's nations of their future military leaders). He goes back, memorises the now-showered teachers' login, and heads back to bed, mulling his luck and figuring out very rational reasons that it was actually all a result of his own good decision-making. With that ego-stroking settled, he decides on his new plan to allay the teachers' suspicions about his character:
He had to become Ender Wiggin.This book would be both spectacularly awful and utterly amazing if the rest of it consisted of Bean's slow Talented-Mr-Ripley absorption of Ender's identity, but no luck. I'm honestly not sure what this means; I don't remember Bean doing anything to make himself look Enderier.
Chapter Eleven: Daddy
The teachers figure out what Bean's done as soon as he makes himself his own teacher-class identity, but they resolve to let him have it--if he won't play the mind game, they can see how he plays his own games, and Dimak insists he's the look-not-touch type of snooper. Bean's first priority is apparently reading every student's profile. He scored better than any of them, but he realises that everyone in Battle School is a genius, and he's not necessarily any more charismatic, courageous, cautious, or able to outguess his opponents than they are. He sets about trying to solve the mystery of Ender Wiggin, who gives so much of his time to newer, inept students instead of focusing on building himself up. There's another page of talking about how wonderful and mysterious Ender is, then bro-time with Bean and Nikolai bonding (Nikolai is dubbed "a place-holder" in his profile, sparking Bean's ire and sudden uncertainty about whether the teacher's evaluations mean anything, for Bean is a protective unknowing brother), and then it's time for another cameo, when Bean tracks down Ender's oldest friend, Shen.
Shen stumblingly explains how wonderful Ender is, trying to describe how he unified his launch group by making friends with Alai to then neutralise Bernard, and this is such an Ender-worship chapter I almost forgot which book it was:
"Ender's good, man. You just--he doesn't hate anybody. If you're a good person, you're going to like him. You want him to like you. If he likes you, then you're OK, see? But if you're scum, he just makes you mad."This is the verbatim definition of protagonist-centred morality, and the person it's centred on once murdered a child on the playground for shoving him.
All of the charisma talk makes Bean fear that Ender is Achilles again, secretly ready to kill anyone for crossing him, but that's not enough to stop his obsessive research, as he apparently continues interviewing Ender's friends and reading all the files. The deadline is closing in on war, Bean decides, as the teachers focus their attention on their favourite students ever more. Bean puts it down to career militarism, the popularity contest that gets entrenched in any institution that favours a particular attitude and look. This is interesting mostly because of Bean's thoughts on Petra Arkanian:
...who had obnoxious personalities but could handle strategy and tactics in their sleep, who had the confidence to lead others into war, to trust their own decisions and act on them--they didn't care about trying to be one of the guys, and so they got overlooked, every flaw became magnified, every strength belittled.This whole book is kind of a saving throw for Petra, telling us she's actually much better than her girls-can't-cut-it presentation in Ender's Game would suggest, but who is Card talking to at this point? Is he arguing that Petra was always good enough but people focus on the negative aspects of her character's presentation because she's a girl? Or is this just a throwaway line telling us that Petra is underappreciated in-universe? There isn't much evidence for that, since she's been promoted to commander of Phoenix Army by now and stomping all over the competition in laser tag.
Last scene for this week: Carlotta has a new security clearance and very quickly sherlocks her way back to Volescu, the scientist who ran an 'organ farm' in Rotterdam that was actually a genetic engineering lab. He's amused by her questioning:
"This is like those Nazi medical crimes all over again. You deplore what I did, but you still want to know the results of my research."The historical significance of Nazi medical experiments is something I'm not informed enough to give any kind of lecture on, although if you can stomach it there are essays worth reading. The one point I want to include is that we tend to have this idea that there are incredible secrets, the Forbidden Knowledge of the Universe, that we could get if only we were unethical enough to test it, and the reality is that this is rarely true. Humans are bright enough creatures that if we can figure out what information we're looking for, we can generally also figure it out how to get it without destroying a person. This is why Mythbusters is a great show and not a carnival of horror. Do not trust anyone who thinks the only way to learn something is via atrocity.
Volescu fills in the last blank: with Anton's Key turned in Bean's genetics, he is permanently in child-mode, learning at lightning speed, always forming new brain pathways, and always growing at an accelerated rate. By his mid-twenties, he'll be a giant, and his heart will give out from the strain. Volescu claims that he made all the embryos with his own genes, and he is therefore Bean's father, but Carlotta vows that Bean will never find this out, because dad's a monster. Quest complete! The new quest is to save Bean's life.
Next week: turns out
*I thought it was in this book, but no, here he pretends to flirt with Carlotta; it's not until book three, Shadow Puppets, that Anton says he's gay, although of course he says it in the most amazingly offensive way possible:
"...I was of a disposition not to look upon women with desire. [....] In that era, of my youth, the governments of most countries were actively encouraging those of us whose mating instinct had been short-circuited to indulge those desires and take no mate, have no children. Part of the effort to funnel all of human endeavor into the great struggle with the alien enemy. So it was almost patriotic of me to indulge myself in fleeting affairs that meant nothing, that led nowhere. Where could they lead?"
I--wow. I had forgotten just how incredibly bad this was. I don't know if Card is obsessed with genetic continuity because he's a huge homophobe or vice-versa, but if we had any doubt, that should be gone now. Where do I point to show how incredibly wrong this is? Ellen Degeneres and Portia di Rossi? Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka? Wanda and Alex Sykes? Alan Cumming and Grant Shaffer? No wonder Card is terrified of same-sex marriage; it's providing more and more concrete proof that he's been lying his whole life.
The pages that follow this are no better and maybe worse, explaining how everyone (including those rascally gays) feels an absolutely incontrovertible bone-deep desire to marry someone of the inscrutable 'opposite sex' and create children, and basically that's why Ender's Shadow is the last Orson Scott Card book I will write about on this blog.