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 Itú. "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.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ender's Shadow, chapters fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen, in which Bean is a street preacher

(Content: suicide discussion, homophobia, death. Fun content: Squirrel Prophet, Bean doesn't understand algebra.)

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 religion patriotism.  But for some reason, when Valentine or Locke or Carlotta say "You should send these kids home and damn the consequences", no one says "That is literally the last thing in the entire world that we want to have happen".
"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.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ender's Shadow, chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen, in which Bean is distressed that no one understands how awesome he is

(Content: racism, bullying. Fun content: more of Card's own fanfiction.)

Ender's Shadow: p. 175--217
Chapter Twelve: Roster

Pressure to get Ender to Command School because war soon et cetera.  Graff has started holding all of his secure meetings in the battleroom control centre, because it has a separate air system Bean can't creep through.  That seems like a totally reasonable solution, as opposed to, like, assigning any of your spectacularly advanced monitoring technology to follow him, or perhaps a literal person.  But yeah, reorganise your office space completely around this kid.  (Dimak says Bean has grown too big anyway, and stopped doing the weird exercises that were meant to help him crawl through ducts.)

Bean has written and anonymously published a paper, "Problems in Campaigning Between Solar Systems Separated by Lightyears", which all the staff have quickly read and pondered--somehow Graff knows Bean wrote it, even though none of the other teachers do.  (Note from the next scene: Bean literally just wrote it and left it in his directory for them to find.  How does every teacher not know who wrote it?)  It's fascinating to me, noticing how much Card gets away with people having or not having certain information in a way that the reader is meant to ignore.  Dimak likes the idea of just setting Bean loose as a theorist and forgetting military training, but Graff has already put on his xenocide boots and he's not taking them off now.  (Side note: between all his other work, Bean has now taught himself French and German so he can read treatises in their original language.  I kind of like this, on its own, the idea that he's just that absurdly talented with languages, but piling it on top of everything else still gets an eyeroll.)

Here's a bit I've never understood:
"But he believes his false theory only because he doesn't know about the ansible. Do you understand? Because that's the main thing we'd have to tell him about, isn't it?"
This is not the first or last time Graff has insisted that Ender needs to know about the ansible in order to lead the final campaign, but that has never been justified to me.  Ender always thinks he's playing games, and he doesn't need to know about the ansible to do that; it only increases the likelihood that he'll realise the games aren't games.  They even tell Ender the things Bean has guessed--that Earth already launched its fleet, that the Third Invasion is a human attack on the formics--so the only reason Ender apparently doesn't figure it out is that he's just not that bright.  That's as close as we ever get to explicit that they didn't want Ender to be the smartest person ever for their plan, but just smart enough to push the button and take the attention.

They finally try to justify the existence of Bonzo Madrid by saying Bean was partially right in his criticism of officer criteria, because they test for qualities in highly-regarded Second Invasion veterans and the war was too short to "weed out the deadwood".  Graff puts all the blame on "our tests" giving Bonzo command despite his ineptitude, and never discusses the option of, say, teacher evaluations pointing out that he's useless and shouldn't be in space.  (Remember early in Ender's Game when Bonzo was actually moderately competent because he relied on discipline?  Those were the days.)  Of course, we also theorised that Graff wants Bonzo there as Ender's antagonist, so he would talk like his hands are tied by 'the tests', wouldn't he?

Since Bean's got his own ideas about what qualities the tests are missing, Graff decides to finally make him and Ender touch: Bean is assigned to create a full army roster out of launchies and any of the soldiers currently on transfer lists.  When Dimak tells Bean this, of course, Bean rapidly figures out it's a new army for Ender (so they can accelerate him to graduation) and that they'll use the Dragon Army name because of the supposed 'curse'.  Bean is dismissed, but takes the time to talk back to Dimak further about how bad the student evaluation criteria are anyway before he leaves, and then, with no sense of irony, decides that Dimak won't fiddle with the roster as a show of power, because he's a better person than that.  Bean: calculating people's virtues so he can insult them to their face without fear of repercussions.  Charmer.

Bean's so grim writing up his roster (trying to make sure that he won't get passed over for toon leader himself, then actually having a moment of self-awareness about his narcissism) that Nikolai stops by to check on him, jokes about letters from home.  Nikolai knows Bean grew up on the street; Bean knows Nikolai was an only child and immensely spoiled because his parents had to use so much surgical intervention and embryo manipulation just to have him (foreshadow foreshadow).  They banter, Bean goes back to work with three more slots to fill in the roster.  He finally adds Crazy Tom, despite the risk of him hulking out if he disagrees with Ender, and Wu:
...which of course had become Woo and even Woo-hoo. Brilliant at her studies, absolutely a killer in the arcade games, but she refused to be a toon leader and as soon as her commanders asked her, she put in for a transfer and refused to fight until they gave it to her. Weird.
Here we have another case of a girl in Battle School who has never been mentioned before and won't be again, whose character is defined by a combination of skill and refusal to be important.  It's almost artful, to have distilled the Faux Action Girl into such a condensed form, even leaving enough room to make it clear that her comrades-in-arms "of course" found a way to combine a dose of racism with a dash of sexual harassment.  (Seriously, it sucks to have a Chinese name in these books.  Wu?  Woo-hoo.  Han Tzu?  Hot Soup.  Andrew?  ENDER.  Granted, other white people also get stupid nicknames on occasion, like Ducheval being Shovel, but that one actually gets called out and ended, while Hot Soup goes on.)

At last, after some hemming and hawing, Bean puts Nikolai in the final slot, on the basis that he won't drag the team down and Bean wants his bro to be part of the imminent sensation that will be Dragon Army, to be able to tell stories of the days when he was the legendary Ender Wiggin's school buddy.

Dragon Army assembles for the first time in their barracks, and we get the first of the truly parallel scenes--the same dialogue as Ender's Game, but from Bean's perspective and thoughts.  Ender lets them all settle in for three minutes, then calls them to practice.  Bean isn't the one who shouts "But I'm naked!" [drink!] but he is also naked, because they had to cut down a flash suit to fit his tiny monkey frame and he can't figure out some of the makeshift fasteners.  (Buttons: much harder than German conjugation.)  But Bean silently knows he's only really angry at himself, because he should have known they would go straight to practice, so he doesn't complain as he runs naked down the hall with his suit in his arms.

Chapter Thirteen: Dragon Army

In what is presumably a typo, the first two lines of faceless featureless dialogue actually end with "said Sister Carlotta" and "said Graff".  Carlotta wants Bean's genetic info to do a test (she doesn't believe he's Volescu's kid, and hopes that means it's all a lie and he'll live) but Graff confirms that Fleet scientists have already determined Anton's Key probably works exactly the way we were told.  Then they congratulate each other on how awesome their favourite students are.

This chapter is mostly Ender's Game chapter ten, with Bean's snark and narcissism instead of Ender's anxiety and narcissism.  This is the first time we've seen Bean in the battleroom, and of course he's already figured out the same thing Petra did, that the zero-G effects have to be artificial rather than a trick of non-rotation like the school claims.  Bean makes it explicit that gravity-bending machines are utterly unknown in the rest of humanity--again, why is the Fleet allowed to do this,when everyone knows there are no formic spies?  (Anti-grav never comes up in the later Shadow books on Earth, suggesting that the Fleet doesn't let that tech out after the war, either.)

Ender sends them all out in waves, and finally tells Bean that he can use a side handhold, as we know, and Bean's upfront ire ("Go suck on it") is now justified as frustration that Ender made him run naked through the halls because his suit was tricky, but takes pity for his size.  Bean just does his anti-nausea trick as he muppetflails through the room and ricochets off a side wall to join the formation.  Ender does his whole angry-drill-sergeant rant, Bean is bored, Ender teaches them "the enemy's gate is down", off they go on another leap, and Ender starts picking on Bean again to answer his various strategic questions.  We've seen this.

Bean is at first mildly scandalised that Ender doesn't know who he is already, and thinks Ender is making a fool out of himself:
"Excellent. At least I have one soldier who can figure things out." 
Bean was disgusted. This was the commander who was supposed to turn Dragon into a legendary army? Wiggin was supposed to be the alpha and omega of the Battle School, and he's playing the game of singling me out to be the goat.
It goes on, and on, like we saw before, but around the 'string bean' joke, Bean realises that Ender is successfully tapping into everyone else's resentment of him--unifying most of the army in their frustration at how the toddler keeps out-geniusing the rest of them.  Bean, of course, also thinks this is a terrible mistake because Ender is undermining his best soldier, because Bean is awesome and Bean knows it and so should everyone else.  In Ender's Game, this would have been serious; here I'm 80% sure it's supposed to be as ironic as I read it, because Bean is a jerk.

After practice, Bean and Ender have their showdown, and Bean's I-can-be-your-best-or-your-worst remarks are spun in his head as 'I will only be effective with your trust and respect, useless if you mock me', which is a hell of a retcon, but a mechanically fascinating thing to see, as a writer.  Card makes the sensible choice to not literally retcon any of the dialogue, but does his damnedest to create alternate interpretations of lines he wrote fifteen years earlier to mean something completely different.  He does occasionally add Bean's thoughts directly, almost like new dialogue, but doesn't pretend Ender picks up on it:
"So I don't even get a chance to learn before I'm being judged." That's not how you bring along talent.
Maybe the best thing about this whole thing, thematically, is that Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, when they overlap like this, are like a study in how the same events can look very different depending on your preconceptions and biases, which is supposedly the over-arching theme of Game and Speaker.  It's not great writing, but the ideas are neat, and I'd like to see a less-terrible author try the same thing in a book that actually was about that, instead of books that claim to be about that but are actually about how incredibly awesome Ender Wiggin is.

Post-argument, Bean is shaken up, and realises that he's reached the point where he can feel sick with fear even when he's not at risk of dying in a cold gutter anymore--he's counting on Ender seeing his potential and giving him an awesome future, like he did with Poke.

Chapter Fourteen: Brothers

There's not actually a whole lot to analyse here that I can see (commenters are encouraged to disagree if y'all have your own copies and thoughts), but I'll at least recap.

Graff reports to Carlotta that Volescu really isn't Bean's genetic father, though he's a close relative, and so Carlotta goes off to find Volescu's secret half-brother.  In the meantime, we're also warned that Achilles has been removed from his ground school, on Graff's decision that he's super-smart and belongs in Battle School.  Carlotta tells him that if they're both in Battle School, one will definitely die, and accuses Graff of being "determined to let them find out which is fittest in the best Darwinian fashion", because Carlotta is the best character.

In the barracks, Bean and Fly Molo (leader of A Toon and apparently therefore second-in-command for Dragon Army) get into a fight over strategy when Fly criticises Ender's fragmentation and delegation.  When Bean's snark gets too sharp, Fly rushes him, and Nikolai comes to his aid, tragically not screaming DEATH FROM ABOVE.  Han Tzu finally breaks it up, they all agree they were insubordinate, and Nikolai explains to Bean that he's tense because he's sure he's the worst soldier in Dragon.  Bean does a bad job reassuring him, because his spectacular analysis and empathy skills have been turned off this scene to show that he has flaws.

Carlotta sherlocks her way through bureaucracy and secret files to find Bean's genetic parents, discovers that they had twenty-three frozen embryos stored years ago for impregnation (the twenty-fourth was already born, Nikolai), and they collectively discover that the remaining twenty-three were stolen.  Carlotta shares as much about Volescu as she's legally allowed, and discovers that if they had another boy, they were going to name him Julian, for his father.  Dad correctly guesses that one of the twenty-three stolen embryos wasn't destroyed and has since grown up a bit, and Carlotta confirms it and promises that if she can make it happen, they'll meet one day.

Back on Battle School, Major Anderson has a chat with Nikolai, basically saying "You are literally the only person Bean likes, please keep being his friend", and Nikolai has some realistic dialogue about dissociation (thinking of himself in his baby pictures as a different person, and seeing that person in Bean), but ultimately insists that Anderson has nothing to worry about, because they're not friends, they're brothers, and it's all very heartwarming and mildly out-of-place in this book, as the only scene not from Bean or Carlotta's perspective.  I suppose it helps, in that it gives Nikolai some psychological justification for his weird attachment to Bean the jackass ultragenius, but it also just feels like a lot of self-indulgent irony, with the 'chosen brothers' secretly being genetic brothers as well, because genetics are the best everything.

Next week: Bean's secret and completely ineffectual war to proselytise for Ender and stop Bonzo.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ender's Shadow, chapters nine, ten, and eleven, in which Bean is a god and Ender is a messiah


(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." 
"Them, sir?" 
"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 Anakin built C-3PO Bean created Dragon Army.

---

*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.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ender's Shadow, chapters seven and eight, in which Bean confirms that the author is right about everything

(Content: bullying, justification of genocide.  Fun content: Mallory Ortberg's brilliance, Amy Pond's scorn, and marquesses.  Marqueese?)

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 search history library use, and what Vauban has to do with space war.  Bean starts bluffing, improvising off the top of his head what he could learn from Vauban's fortifications, how impossible it is to create 'walls' when fighting in three dimensions to protect an entire planet, and from there leaps to the conclusion that the only defence is a faster offence.  So, in the space of a page, Bean takes us from "fortifications are impossible in space" to:
"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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ender's Shadow, chapters four, five, and six, in which Bean just barely doesn't sprint into the fourth wall

Y'know, this book really isn't as bad as Ender's Game for a very simple reason: Ender's Game is about what a burden it is to be an amazing person whom everyone else torments even though you're destined to save the entire world someday, and Ender's Shadow is about what it's like to be Bean.  Where Game couldn't go a chapter without telling us how wonderful Ender is or making proclamations on absolute human nature, Shadow is more of a straight underdog story interspliced with a bit of Science Mystery and Finding Your Family in both literal and figurative terms.  I'm finding, as I read ahead, that it's no worse than most books I intentionally keep on my shelves.  And I didn't make this blog to give maximum publicity to Orson Scott Card, so rather than detail every chapter of the book regardless of content, I'm going to start skimming to hit the interesting points.

(Content: starvation, child death, hostile teachers. Fun content: OSC writes his own fanfiction.)

Ender's Shadow: p. 54--101
Chapter Four: Memories

Graff and Carlotta, discussing Achilles and Bean, are basically a standup routine.
"He gives the right answers, but they aren't true." 
"And what test did you use to determine this?" 
"He committed murder." 
"Well, that is a drawback."
Is it, Graff?  Is it really?  But Graff tells her to forget Achilles, then, and focus on Bean.  Bean starts getting Battle School cram school, and when he's not studying, he gets to draw, or play games, or tell Carlotta about his past.  He remembers flawlessly, back to when he was only a few months old, learning to crawl, climbing out of his crib in "the clean place" (some kind of laboratory full of babies) because he had picked up from the adults that there was something bad coming.  So he hid, and a janitor found him but wasn't allowed to keep him (they're in the International Territory and he's not allowed to adopt, despite not having any kids of his own?), so Bean ran away and starved for three years until he found Poke.

Carlotta tells him that this is all impossible ("I guess that means I'm dead") unless God was watching over him, and Bean interrogates the idea that God kept Bean alive because he loved him but he let all those other kids starve   This is again a substantial improvement for Card, I think, as Bean takes a plausible atheistic stance when Carlotta says God kept him alive for a purpose:
It was like, she wanted to give God credit for every good thing, but when it was bad, then she either didn't mention God or had some reason why it was a good thing after all. As far as Bean could see, though, the dead kids would rather have been alive, just with more food. [....] Because if there was somebody in charge, then he ought to be fair, and if he wasn't fair, then why should Sister Carlotta be so happy that he was in charge?
Looking ahead to the later Shadow books, Bean never quite converts; I believe at one point after losing Carlotta he makes an off-hand reference to whatever God thinks and, when asked if he believes, responds 'More and more, and less and less', which I could take to mean that he sees more and more evidence that someone is scripting the universe, but less and less reason to believe that they're any kind of brilliant/benevolent God-figure like Carlotta believes in.  We never really get into the question of millions of starving children again either way.

The rest of the chapter is just investigation, as Bean realises that Carlotta is trying to figure out what kind of lab Bean came from, so he learns how maps work and runs away to track down the janitor with his perfect memory.  When he does, Carlotta arrives with the cops and reveals that she followed him:
"I didn't want to interfere until you found him. Just in case you think you were really smart, young man, we intercepted four street thugs and two known sex offenders who were after you." 
Bean rolled his eyes. "You think I've forgotten how to deal with them?" 
Sister Carlotta shrugged. "I didn't want this to be the first time you ever made a mistake in your life."
Sister Carlotta is probably my favourite of all Card's creations, but lest we forget she's one of Card's creations, we have the next scene.

They interrogate the janitor, Pablo de Noches, and work out that since the company who owned the space Bean came from has no existing records, it was obviously an organ farm, buying babies from poor immigrant families and harvesting them for parts to save rich peoples' babies with defects.  The inspector is the Designated Stupid Character for the scene, and so brushes all of this off as irrelevant even as he explains it to scornful Carlotta.  Carlotta insists that Bean's parents must be remarkably smart and thus prominent, and the Designated Stupid Character continues to be insightful:
"Maybe.  Maybe not," said the inspector. "I mean, some of these refugees, they might be brilliant, but they're caught up in desperate times. To save the other children, maybe they sell a baby. That's even a smart thing to do. It doesn't rule out refugees as the parents of this brilliant boy you have."
Carlotta agrees that this is possible (spoilers: no, Bean's parents aren't broke refugees) and leaves with the conclusion that Bean is a miracle, so it's time to ship him to space.

Chapter Five: Ready or Not

Graff is still snarky about Carlotta sending Bean to Battle School, despite telling her to do literally exactly what she's done, but here we get the reveal that Bean even beat Ender's test scores, to make sure that whomever Card is writing is still the smartest person in the room.

Bean explains away his initial crying in front of Carlotta as a mistake of openness that he learned not to repeat once he realised she kept secrets from him, too, and so he's distanced himself by the time she sends him to the shuttle.  He does methodically calculate that, when she hugs him, she wants to believe he will miss her, and therefore he hugs her back, playing along, in payment for the safety and food and opportunities she's given him.  He may or may not slip a 'beep boop' in there to reassure himself that he does not feel human emotions, but he also justifies it as "the kind of thing Poke would do", helping someone else when it costs him nothing.

We get the Shuttle Scene Redux, and it gives me a strange joy how thoroughly Card is writing fanfic of his own book.  He at first stares at all the other kids on the shuttle, so healthy and well-nourished, and thinks about how easily Sergeant could destroy any one of them, and he feels a brief stab of anger in his emotion chip as he wishes they knew what it was like to starve: "...the dizziness, the swelling of your joints, the distension of your barely, the thinning of your muscles until you barely have strength to stand. These children had never looked death in the face and then chosen to live anyway."  Of course, he then immediately fears that he can never catch up with anyone who's got such a head start on him, and he's torn between wanting to climb to the top of their social hierarchy or disdaining the whole thing as beneath him.

I am oddly charmed by Bean's insistence that he's a cold computer when he's actually this complete emotional mess of repressed fear and hunger and ambition and FEELS.  (He's going to fit in so well among Manly Men.)  If he stayed like this, of course, he'd be insufferable, but his whole arc is about grappling with the existence of emotions and learning to act out of compassion and reason instead of fear and mistrust.

But then we get into the actual replay of the original shuttle scene, where a teacher (Dimak) shows up and tells everyone to keep their egos in check because everyone here is at best on equal footing, if not outclassed, and some boy says that this is obviously not true because someone has to have the highest scores.  So Dimak shuts him down sarcastically:
"You, however, understand the profound truth that you must reveal your stupidity openly. To hold your stupidity inside you is to embrace it, to cling to it, to protect it. But when you expose your stupidity, you give yourself the chance to have it caught, corrected, and replaced with wisdom."
Not really a spoiler: Dimak is president of the Hyrum Graff fan club and intentionally trying to mimic his techniques with Ender.  So, while Bean's Spider-Sense warns him that he had the best scores and so he's going to end up the real target of this scene, the teacher goes on to tell the students how stupid they are, and that even if he had been wrong, it would be a waste of time to point it out.

I would like to believe that this is supposed to be commentary on the American school system, since Dimak also adds that 'teachers are powerful, students are not; don't provoke when you can't defend'.  Bean agrees with this, but silently adds that you have to notice when the teachers are wrong, you just shouldn't point it out because that gives everyone else your advantage.

I'm rarely on-board with stories where the protagonist is meant to be unlikable, but Bean is an exception and I have to conclude that it's because I do actually relate to him, once he's off the streets.  His deep social awkwardness and attempts to calculate appropriate social responses to stimuli, his 'excuse me, I didn't request to be supplied with feelings' ways.  A jackass, but one with the potential to do better, unlike Ender, who's already 'perfect' and just needs the plebes to stay out of his way.

Dimak says that this one loud student was less wrong than normal, because someone aced almost all of the tests, all of the psychology and command-relevant questions, but had terrible physical scores.  Card doubles-down for the paraquel: instead of Graff telling the group that Ender is the only one who matters, Dimak asks Bean to guess who this was, makes Bean say it, then congratulates him on his accurate self-assessment, concluding that the only thing that matters is winning the war, so worship the smart ones and hope they rain undeserved mercy on you.  Bean just thinks about how stupid his tactical advice is, recommending that no one commit to a fight unless they're sure of their advantage, and they blast off into space while Dimak replays Graff's zero-G headstand tricks.

Chapter Six: Ender's Shadow

Graff boggles to learn that Dimak apparently pulls these stunts with every launch group he brings up, because he likes the way it causes an immediate sorting-out of children into differing statuses, because Dimak is a goddamn awful teacher.  His flight summary apparently includes seven pages about how awesome Bean is ("He's cold, sir. And yet--" "And yet hot. yes, I read your report.") which I'm sure isn't meant to be a self-deprecating dig at how this series lavishes adoration on its heroes, but for one lone time I empathise deeply with Graff.

Bean concludes that, since obviously no one will help him, everyone in Battle School is either irrelevant, a rival, or an enemy, "so it was the street again".  That's an interesting frame of reference for schools--personally, all the schools I went to were either in nice enough neighbourhoods or I was out of the loop enough that I can't always relate to the things my friends remember about those days.  We get an SFFy reintroduction to Battle School life, nothing y'all don't remember, but this bit irks the fuck out of me, when older students walk past them in the halls and shout catcalls like 'fresh meat' and 'they even smell stupid':
Some of the launchies ahead of Bean in line were resentful and called back some vague, pathetic insults, which only caused more hooting and derision from the older kids. Bean had seen older, bigger kids who hated younger ones because they were competition for food, and drove them away, not caring if they caused the little ones to die. He had felt real blows, meant to hurt. He had seen cruelty, exploitation, molestation, murder. These other kids didn't know love when they saw it.
So here's a thing about humanity: we're extremely relative.  Happiness is a complicated thing, but it's getting studied, and the results are only shocking to people who think, like Bean, that feelings are calculated decisions. We compare our happiness to our environment and adjust accordingly, which is why billionaires aren't billions of times happier than people on welfare.  As someone currently dragging himself out of a kind of abrupt depressive episode like I haven't felt in years, I'm particularly aware that mental health isn't solely determined by your environment or what seems reasonable.

My point being that Bean is foolish to assume that passing insults are a sign of affection just because he's seen children kill each other, and to think that the other children are all wrong and just don't understand and appreciate the love being poured onto them.  And if those other launchies feel attacked because they are being catcalled, that's not invalid, because any hypothetical intentions don't just neutralise the distress they create.  The normalisation of 'I do this thing, even though you say you hate it, because I want to show affection' needs to be pulled out of our culture by the root.  Anything that resembles 'tough love' can fuck off.  Parents abusing children to 'toughen them up', men catcalling women on the street, children picking on other children on the playground because they don't know what to do with a crush: these things are not equivalent, but they come from a common poisoned well, and it's this nonsense.

Bean in particular gets catcalled for being so small, and thus compared to Ender.  He spends the chapter piecing together Battle School culture: older students form officially-recognised crews (armies), but while they have the potential to be bullies, they only matter because the teachers have turned them against him, so the teachers are the real enemy.  He realises Ender is some kind of celebrity, so being compared to him boosts his ego, but reduces his ability to blend.

There's more food-rejection nonsense; like Ender before him, Bean thinks they served him too much, so he shoves the excess onto other kids' plates.  On the one hand, "letting his hunger be his guide" is excellent advice; on the other, everyone we're supposed to like in this series only ever eats less than they're told.  Sigh.

The rest of his scene is wandering Battle School after lunch, figuring out how to get around, where things are, who the armies are.  He gets caught up in a class-change and catcalled more (two years later, Dink Meeker gets called out for using the exact same line about walking between his legs without touching his balls that he used on Ender, THIS IS FANFICTION) and then grabbed by Petra Arkanian, who solves problems.  She's rational enough that Bean is willing to talk to her, but he brushes her off as "a take-charge person and didn't have anybody to take charge of until he came along", so I guess we're not at the part where we're supposed to go back to liking Petra yet.  (She does, however, make the useful point that it's impossible to do anything without revealing your character to the teachers, such as how Bean's sneaking around will show his insistence on solitude and exploration.)

There's more repeating, this time without the charm, such as Bean showing up in the game room, reaching exactly the same conclusions as Ender about how badly the other kids play the game, asking for a turn, and getting laughed at (though this time they leave rather than actually following through on the offer).  There's an extended sequence about him fitting himself into an air duct just to see if he can, and figuring out that he's just fulfilling his need to always have an escape route, before he finds his barracks again (perfect memory) and settles in for naptime.

There's one more scene in this chapter, but since we've ramped up the pace, I'll leave it until next week.  What do y'all think of moving at this rate?  Anyone who's read Shadow yourselves, did I miss anything that you would have liked to see examined more?

Also, make sure to come back on Thursday for a new post from the blogqueen, especially if you know Judge Dredd.