Sunday, October 26, 2014

50 Shades Freed Chapter 1, in which, wait--we're skipping the wedding?

Will has been banished from the country, so today we have a 50 Shades post! Wait, 50 Shades and an Erika post? On a Sunday? The world has ceased to make sense, I know. Yes, I'm still around, but shortly after the last post I did my Grandfather had been given a few weeks to live, and being one of the few local relatives in town I've been pretty busy dealing with his death and taking care of my Grandmother. I'm hoping to get back into the saddle on 50 Shades soon, but my plate is loaded, so I'm just going to throw them up when I can and not try and claim a schedule until I build up a buffer.

Now, what you're here for. I got married almost a year ago (eep) and as such I expected this book to be all wedding planning and anticipation and excitement over THE BIG DAY. I was accused of being too easygoing and relaxed as a bride, and even I got swept up in it all. My own wedding planning experience was atypical, it was pretty smooth and low stress. I only got pushback on a few little things, there were no big fights or family drama*, and because I picked the off-season had vendors competing for my business. The day itself had no real snags. Despite that, I can off the top of my head think of a lot of opportunities for tension and drama and over the top fights with intense make up scenes because weddings and wedding planning brings out weird stuff in people. You know, what EL James thrives on. So, I'm confused. The wedding is skipped over almost entirely, and we get only a few little blips of wedding planning. EL James instead skips straight to THE HONEYMOON! Sort of. I will give her credit, she's learned at least one new trick between the second and third book, and that is how to write in non-linear time. We see the Greys on their honeymoon, but it's spliced with flashbacks to montage us from the engagement to the present.

“How would you feel if I went topless, like the other women on the beach?” I ask.“Displeased,” he says without hesitation. “I’m not very happy about you wearing so little right now.” He leans down and whispers in my ear. “Don’t push your luck.”“Is that a challenge, Mr. Grey?”“No. It’s a statement of fact, Mrs. Grey.”I sigh and shake my head. Oh, Christian . . . my possessive, jealous, control
freak Christian.

Yeah Ana, don't push your luck on doing what you want with your own body! And think it's cute when you're treated like you belong to another person, not yourself. I get it, referring to someone as "Mine" or being someone's is all so terribly romantic. It's not supposed to be about ownership, it's about love and passion etc etc etc. But it isn't here. Time and time again, we see Grey treating Ana as his property. He dictates how she dresses, how she eats, he gets angry when she goes out with other people and wants her to stop working. He especially dislikes Kate, who called him out on being so controlling and being concerned with how he was treating his property Ana. He also reminds her that she belongs to him a lot. Multiple times a chapter. She will sometimes smugly think "Well, he's mine" when other women gawk at Grey (so, every random woman extra they encounter) but the frequency doesn't line up, and Ana never tries to control who he sees.

The above bolded text isn't a cute challenge like the book will try to treat it, this is a command. And when Ana disobeys (she starts laying on her stomach but in her sleep rolls onto her back) he gets mad. HOW DARE OTHER PEOPLE SEE HIS WIFE'S BOOBZ! You know, ignoring the fact that they were making out in the water in plain sight so intensely people thought they were about to bone right then and there like ten minutes ago.

Now for the wedding. It takes place six months after the end of the last book, is held at Grey's parents place, and everything is white pink and silver, which is surprising to me because neither Ana nor Grey strike me as the pink type. I guess it was his Mom? The wedding is rushed through (K, you may now kiss the bride. Cool lets party. Kate says some vague snarky but supportive stuff, Jose basically reminds us he exists by telling Ana if Grey pulls anything he's here for her, silently implying he means with his junk, just, you know, a friendly open offer).  As Grey drags Ana off before she wants to leave, insisting she stay in her wedding dress (her's at least sounds moderately comfortable? Like, no mention of bodices and corset boning jabbing into her ribs) we get a quick exchange between Ana and her Mother (with Kate hovering around for reasons?).
“You didn’t promise to obey,” she reminds me tactfully. Kate tries to disguise her snort as a cough. I narrow my eyes at her. Neither she nor my mother have any idea of the fight Christian and I had about that. I don’t want to rehash that argument. Jeez, can my Fifty Shades sulk . . . and have nightmares. The memory is sobering.
This is going to be A Thing. Ana didn't promise to obey in her vows. Grey's response was to, like a mature adult, sulk.
“I can’t believe how grown-up you look right now. Beginning a new life . . .Just remember that men are from a different planet, and you’ll be fine.”I giggle. Christian is from a different universe, if only she knew.
TEE HEE BECAUSE ONLY ONE GENDER ARE REAL PEOPLE! Men are bad at feelings and women are irrational! Wimen maek babies and menz kill bear! Have I gotten regressive enough to keep up with this book yet?

So they bail on their own wedding party to go onto Grey's private jet (uggghhh) because they're on their way to Europe! All of it! Apparently there's a private room there where they bone. The sex scenes are somewhere between funny and boring to me now.

Leaving my breasts bereft he runs his hands down my stomach, over my belly, and down to my thighs, his thumbs skimming my sex.

Ana, you're a married woman now. You can say vagina. You could before, too. Here, try it with me: v-a-g-i-n-a. Vagina! PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD STOP CALLING IT YOUR SEX.
“This is like unwrapping my Christmas presents.” He smiles up at me through his long dark lashes.“A present you’ve had already . . .”He frowns in admonishment. “Oh no, baby. This time it’s really mine.”
He says to the girl whose Mother has been married three or four times. I don't even know what to do with this scene. If I were her editor I think I'd just send it back with a bunch of question marks scribbled on it. It's a lot of tongues invading and U MAEK ME THE HAPPIEST 5EVAR type thing and it's just--why is all of their sex like this? Even when they're being kinky and weird it comes back to ILY type things like all of their conversations and fights do. They just spend a lot of time saying how much they LURVE each other and I just--what else? You say you love each other and make each other happy, but short of sexy flirting they don't really talk unless they're fighting. This may be EL James' worst case of telling-not-showing.
His lips find mine, his hands curling around my head, holding me, stilling me as our tongues glory in each other.
Do you think she has a thesaurus collection? I bet she has a thesaurus collection.
He stands swiftly and in one efficient move dispenses with his pants and boxer briefs so that he’s gloriously naked and looming large and ready over me.
 It's even funnier if you imagine the music from 2001 Space Odyssey playing here.

It turns out we were getting this flashback via Ana napping on the beach, rather than EL James embracing that not all story telling needs to be perfectly linear (still an improvement!) and she's woken up riiight before she gets the D by Grey coming back to find her topless and on her back and he is PISSED, and that's the end of chapter 1! Tune in next time to find out what punishment Grey dishes up for Ana not listening to his orders which are totes only for her own good!

Oh, right, they've been calling each other Mr and Mrs. Grey or "wife" and "husband" non-stop. It's awful.

---

*Ok, my Grandmother straight up CAMPAIGNED against me on the "no kids" thing over one cousin, but she has yet to figure out that the second I realize someone is trying to guilt trip me I stop caring, so, eh. NBD.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Eye of the World, ix to xviii, in which Will fails to keep a straight face

The first character we meet in The Wheel of Time has something in common with me, in that we both brought this suffering on ourselves.

Most of you are probably at least aware of WOT, even if you've never read it--the first book came out in 1990, which is notable for me as the first year that I was aware what year it was.  These books are old, given that the series only finally ground to its conclusion quite recently.  This brick of a book I'm staring at warily is 814 pages long and has a cover with one guy wearing vaguely samurai-ish armor on horseback (with a pair of vaguely Celtic swords strapped to his back in a questionable manner) next to a woman on a much smaller horse, carrying a staff and looking like she is small enough to curl up inside his ribcage.  If I hadn't already guessed, it became apparent to me on the first page that this book is sort of a fantasy Poe: if I were to make up a random phrase that was meant to sound like an absurd parody of sword-and-sorcery mythos, it would be indistinguishable from actual text in this book.

I am not necessarily opposed to this.

If I wanted to try to come up with objective criteria on the quality of storytelling, I guess I'd have two questions: 1) How well does the story achieve what it set out to do and be, and 2) What are the real-world implications of the story?  The works of Orson Scott Card do questionably on both these counts, because people act like they got something completely different out of the book than what is in there.  What little I know of Robert Jordan's works, and his immense, Card-eclipsing popularity, suggests to me that they succeed immensely on Criterion the First: if you want this kind of unabashed over-the-top megalomagical Epic Fantasy, they will fulfill your needs.

This blog, of course, is much more focused on Criterion the Second: who gets walked all over in the service of the story's ends?  Women?  People who are disabled?  People who aren't straight?  People who aren't cis?  People who aren't white?  Some beautiful and terrible Voltron of more than one of these demographics?

What I know in advance about WOT suggests that it's going to be heavy on the gender-essentialism and the heteronormativity.  Dunno yet about the racism, ableism, or anything else.  Dunno what kind of politics it pushes or values it assumes.  I am leaping into the unknown here.  Your fates are now bound to mine.  Let's bounce.

(Content: death, ableism, binarism. Fun content: the phrase 'Nine Rods of Dominion' is used unironically.)

Eye of the World: p. ix--xviii
Prologue: Dragonmount

The first thing that leaps out at me is that this prose is hard to read.  In my own fiction, I've been debilitatingly bare-bones about description in the past, and I think these days I still tend towards sparse narrative.  Jordan does not.  Jordan's prose is the purple of a twilight sky in the eyeblink past sunset when the reds have faded but the black of night is not yet swept over the world.  It gets distracting.  We're inside a ruined palace and I'm piecing together what's going on with the help of phrases like:
Bars of sunlight cast through rents in the walls made motes of dust glitter where they yet hung in the air.
Did you parse that sentence on the first read?  I did not.  I'm also a little fuzzy on the nature of the devastation in the palace,since "scorch-marks marred the walls, the floors, the ceilings. Broad black smears crossed the blistered paints and gilt of once-bright murals, soot overlaying crumbling friezes of men and animals", but also "colorful tapestries and paintings, masterworks all, hung undisturbed".  What kind of fire hits every surface of the room but misses all the art?  Is that supposed to be indicative of something?

Also there are corpses everywhere, all sorts, all kinds, and through it all a dude cheerfully skipping along looking for his wife.  (She's dead on the floor among all the others, naturally.  Fridged Women Tally: 1.)  He spots himself in a mirror, looking mussed, and cracks up.  There's more tons of description, including a blatant taijitu (yin-yang symbol) on his cloak, although his name is Lews Therin Telamon and his dead wife is Ilyena.  Samurai armor on the cover, taijitu on the white dude; is this a secret weaboo fantasy and no one told me?

A dude pops into existence behind Lews, wearing all black and thigh-highs, so it's safe to assume he's evil, I guess.  (Thigh-high boots, that is, but I wanted y'all to consider a different mental image first.)  He's described as "fastidious" about not wanting to touch the bodies, and I begin to wonder if this is going to be a series that requires frequent consideration of queer-coding.  He calls Lews "Lord of the Morning", and we are into Poe territory immediately, because Lews asks if the stranger has "the Voice", because it's almost time for "the Singing".

All-Black Dude immediately determines that "the taint" has taken Lews (no Significant Capitalisation?) and I'm fuzzy on whether he's the devil's lieutenant or not, because he says "Shai'tan take you" in a snappish way, but also calls Lews "Light-blinded idiot".  Shaitan is straightforwardly the Islamic take on 'Satan', though sometimes a whole class of spirits rather than one single adversary.  Guessing Shai'tan is going to just be the embodiment of evil for this world; easier to stab that way.

All-Black introduces himself as "Elan Morin Tedronai", now called "Betrayer of Hope", and I wonder why we don't get titles like that more often in real life.  We never get to say stuff like 'This is my friend Eileen, the Jailor of Infinity'.  We should start doing that.  Elan says that he's embraced his title, and it's no different from people calling Lews "Dragon", though he suspects that Lews will have some public relations problems once word gets out about the massacre--apparently Lews is the one who murdered everybody, including the wife he keeps calling for.

Let me again make the nature of this text clear:
"Once you stood first among the Servants. Once you wore the Ring of Tamyrlin, and sat in the High Seat. Once you summoned the Nine Rods of Dominion. Now look at you! A pitiful, shattered wretch. But it is not enough. You humbled me in the Hall of Servants. You defeated me at the Gates of Paaran Disen. But I am the greater, now. I will not let you die without knowing that."
I was so unprepared for this I cracked up.  THE NINE RODS OF DOMINION.  This book is amazing and I regret nothing and everything.

Elan blasts Lews with "Shai'tan's healing" which wracks him with fiery agony but finally leaves him lucid, and he notices his murdered Ilyena.  (Blonde, obvs.)
"You can have her back, Kinslayer. The Great Lord of the Dark can make her live again, if you will serve him.  If you will serve me."
There go my hopes that Elan was a third party or something.  He's just our evil god's field agent.  Oh well.  Lews says the big bad has terrorised the world for ten years, Elan snaps back that it's happened since the beginning of time, and it sounds like there's a reincarnation cycle or something, "You and I have fought a thousand battles with the turning of the Wheel, a thousand times a thousand, and we will fight until time dies and the Shadow is triumphant", so I'm vaguely intrigued by this.

Elan finally makes it clear to Lews that the big bad mind-whammied him into murdering his entire family, in revenge for Lews' last attack.  Killed his wife (Ilyena Sunhair, she's even named for being blonde), his kids, his friends, his servants.
Desperately he reached out to the True Source, to tainted saidin, and he Traveled.
One of the things about these kinds of fantasy novels (Jack Vance also reads like this) is that it can be very hard to guess when a mythical thing is plot-relevant and when it's just magibabble, since references to big arcane things are getting tossed around all over the place.  Are there a lot of False Sources?  This is that same sort of 'tell the reader nothing and let them figure it out by deduction' style of worldbuilding, which I generally like, but I'm still back wondering what the Rods of Dominion are used to Dominate and why there are Nine of them, and in fact why it's so important that there are Nine of them that the word Nine is in their name, and why they have to be summoned rather than kept in a secure closet or something.

But Lews has Traveled to a huge broad plain, where "he could sense there were no people within a hundred leagues", and begs the Light to forgive him, though he doesn't believe it can.
He was still touching saidin, the male half of the power that drove the universe, that turned the Wheel of Time, and he could feel the oily taint fouling its surface [...]
Oh.  Joy.  Our magical Source is split into male and female, in turn making those universal concepts.  Betting there's no room in there for non-binary genders (and probably not intersex people either, regardless of their gender)?  If they've determined that the Source has male and female sides, would they even be looking for one?  I predict that I will spend much of this book suggesting that each plot point would be a good time for an androgyne person to bust in with new magic and save the day.

Lews blames himself and his pride for making whatever attack provoked the big bad's revenge, trying to "mend what the Creator had made and they had broken", and he overclocks himself on magic until he turns into a colossal pillar of incandescence that raises up a huge volcano in the middle of the plain, shoving the river aside and splitting it around a new island.  Elan finally catches up and mutters about how the Dragon can't escape him so easily, et cetera.

Then we get a couple of excerpts from historical texts, talking about the end of the world, when "the living envied the dead" and the only enduring memory is of "him who brought the Shadow and the Breaking of the World. And they named him Dragon", while the second excerpt calls for "the Prince of the Morning" and the "Lord of the Dawn", and then we get what I know is this series' catchphrase: "Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time."

To sum up: big bad, eternal war, hero tried to seal big bad, fucked up, slaughtered everyone, world kind of ended but probably not really because there are fourteen books to go, and everyone is waiting for said hero's return.

Ooh, then we get a huge convenient map:


Will you look at the 90-degree angle those mountains take?  I would normally bet massive quantities of cash that nothing plot-relevant will ever happen more than an inch beyond the borders of this map, but surely with the millions of words that make up this series I'd be wrong about that?  Please?

I also have some huge questions about the borders as defined above.  Why are they where they are?  We have a lot of weirdly-bounded territories in the world, just look at the eastern US or Europe, but there's a reason for that--they're following rivers, or mountains, or some other significant geological feature.  When we don't need to do that, we end up with things like Wyoming and Saskatchewan, boxes imposed on the boredom of the ground.  Why in the world is Tear's curvy border swooping through that field?  Who owns the ground between Tear and Illian?  There are actually an impressive number of unlabelled swathes in there--is the lack of claim there going to be explained, or are they just international territory for some reason?  These are the questions that will trouble me for months to come.

That's followed by this magnificent creation:


Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but this appears to show three rivers coming out of the mountains, and somehow the middle one shatters like a river delta in the middle of a field and branches out in dozens of different directions without ever meeting up with the other two rivers that are arcing together.  And eventually all those little streams just die out, in a presumably-damp region called 'the Mire', which I could sort of accept if not for the way there are still two massive distinct rivers bordering the Mire and cutting cleanly through the land.

I realise most fantasy authors aren't hydrologists, and if an actual hydrologist wants to correct me on this, please do because I love new knowledge, but I'm like 35% sure that is not how rivers work.

This is a bit of a short post, but that's all I can handle for now.  Come back next week for chapter one, in which we meet Our Hero, who at first glance looks to me like he's going to be a humble farmboy.  I should make so many bingo sheets.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Ender's Shadow, chapters twenty-three and twenty-four, in which Bean steps aside

I almost put 'the last Card post ever' under the below 'fun content' tag, but of course then I remembered that, sooner or later, I'm going to have to do one more post on the Ender's Game movie.  So there's that, though I'm not sure when, exactly.

As I have vowed many times, I'm not doing any more Orson Scott Card books on this blog.  I'm quite done; this one is the best and I am not willing to spend any more of my life on his time.  So, enjoy the below, but next week be sure to come back for the very first post on: The Eye of the World, Book One of The Wheel of Time.

I'm going to regret this, I just know it.

But first, we've got to finish up with Card's books at least, so read on, you tenacious followers.  Y'all make this endurable.

(Content: ableism, genocide, child abuse. Fun content: asteroid dodgeball, male novelists, terrifying Space Humans, tons of fanfiction, Adam Savage, and yet more goddamn Bible references.)

Ender's Shadow: p. 352--379
Chapter Twenty-Three: Ender's Game

The opening exchange between Graff and Admiral Placeholder-Designed-To-Make-Others-Look-Better is predictable, as Graff tries to convince him to arrest "the Polemarch and his conspirators", although as I understand this world that means 'all Russians', so... that seems hard.  Admiral Placeholder of course refuses to "fire the first shot", because then he'll be blamed for the ensuing war, etc etc politics cowards whatever.  I hate Graff and I don't know who this guy is, so I can't imagine why I'm supposed to be invested in this subplot.  Anyway, it's xenocide time again and Bean is in prophet mode for Our MurderSaviour:
With Ender there,Bean immediately stepped back into his place among the toon leaders. No one mentioned it to him. He had been the leading commander, he had trained them well, but Ender had always been the natural commander of this group [....] They felt known by the one whose honor they needed. Bean simply did not know how to do that. His encouragement was always more obvious, a bit heavy-handed. [....] Ender was just... himself. Authority came from him like breath.
Card continues to subscribe to the notion that narrative 'showing' is only used for minor matters, like spending several pages detailing the logistics of crawling around inside an air duct, whereas the powerful art of 'telling' is saved for those grand moments when you need to contrast the essential natures of your dual protagonists to drive home your thesis on intelligence distinct from leadership.

Bean also informs us that Ender doesn't call on him nearly as much as he wishes, focusing instead on his besties: Petra, Alai, Dink, and Shen.  The previous book informed us that Ender analysed Bean's skills and found he floundered with large fleets but used small squadrons to devastating effect; here we're told that this was actually Mazer Rackham downplaying Bean's skills so that Bean can always be standing by to hit the button and take over Ender's leadership if Ender freezes or passes out in the middle of battle.

They hear about Mazer Rackham's 'testing' plan, which Bean pegs as suspicious, but the best part is this logical leap, when he sees the globe formation of the enemy ships that Rackham supposedly programmed, surrounding a single decoy queen:
So why would Rackham expect the Buggers to expect humans to strike for a single ship? 
Bean thought back to those vids that Ender had watched over and over in Battle School--all the propaganda film of the Second Invasion. 
They never showed the battle because there wasn't one. Nor did Mazer Rackham command a strike force with a brilliant strategy. Mazer Rackham hit a single ship and the war was over.
Just so we're clear here, I didn't snip out any text.  Bean makes a flying leap from 'Mazer, pretending to be the formics, is decoying with a lone ship, which he thinks the real formics will do, therefore there was no battle whatsoever in the Second Invasion'.  Now, okay, the leap to 'they're faking a queen therefore the queen is their weak point' is a legitimate move, cool, but the additional decision that there was no actual battle around Saturn is pure magical intuition.  Bean has no reason to believe that Mazer didn't kill the queen after a long and devastating battle of brilliant tactics.  If he won with one shot and not military skill, what's supposed to qualify him to program anything else the formics are doing in battle?  Why does one skill (laser tag, or alien empathy) keep translating into total mastery of war?

Bean similarly hears that the testing pattern is going to mimic a campaign, and he instantly concludes that all of his guesses are right, the formics have many worlds and the humans are invading all of them and the formics will learn from battle to battle because they have instant communications etc etc I am literally recapping Card recapping himself.  Also, Bean has apparently given up on his 'I must not believe my own wild theory' plan, continuing his signature move of completely changing his mind between scenes for no given reason.

Ender starts relying most of all on Petra (what happened to Alai running whole fleets himself?), and fails to notice as Bean does that she's a perfectionist and her mistakes are grinding her down.
He was so good with people, and yet he seemed to think she was really tough, instead of realizing that toughness was an act she put on to hide her intense anxiety.
Silly Ender, thinking that a girl is actually tough rather than just having an abrasive veneer covering her deeply vulnerable femininity.  Bean can't be bothered with her right now, of course, he's busy toughly weathering the total lack of recognition he gets (the others don't come to him for tactical support, except for Tom and Han) as he keeps an eye on everything and tries to coordinate behind the scenes as the battles get rougher.  Man Tough.  Man Tough Strong Do My Job Grr Whiskey.

Petra passes out in the middle of battle, Bean has to catch Ender's attention to get him to react, and they pull it together with heavy losses while Petra breaks down sobbing, blaming herself, until she's taken away to, presumably, the infirmary.  She comes back, "but her ebullience was gone", because if ever there was a word to summarise Petra's tactical brilliance, 'cheerful' is definitely it.  Not courage or determination or sharp calculation, but always having a smile on her face.  I'm so done with Card.

Petra's not the only one down this time; Vlad goes catatonic and Fly Molo breaks down laughing in the middle of battle.  As Ender keeps slowing down as well, Bean steps in more to clarify and support his orders, and he starts getting some acknowledgement and back-pats from his friends, and his heart grows three sizes, and then it's the final battle.

Graff comes to beg Bean to come up with some miracle to save the day.  (Bean is finally the only person to point out that Mazer is probably psychologically torn up and taking it out on Ender because all these pilots dying in battle are Mazer's friends from decades ago.  There's an underused concept there.)  Bean's got nothing, especially once he sees the formic homeworld and its ten-thousand-ship fleet in orbit.

I'm going to be a jackass about math one last time.  Let's assume for no good reason that the formic homeworld is about the same size as Earth.  Earth has a surface area of 510 million square kilometres.  Ten thousand ships in flight means each ship needs to cover about 51,000 square klicks  from a human ship reaching the surface.  Half that if they knew what direction the humans would come from and they've only covered that hemisphere of the planet, of course.  So, assuming a hex grid, each formic ship is, what, 120 klicks apart by land?  (I'm not adjusting distance for altitude of flight, but if they're flying above the atmosphere, it's obviously a much greater distance between ships.)  That's not going to give us the kind of incredibly tight swarm Card describes, so do we assume that means the formic homeworld is tiny?  If it isn't, then I'm less convinced that this is as hard a shot to pull off as they imply.  They have eighty ships; the formics need to prevent every single one of them from entering the atmosphere.  If we're looking at the planet from a distance like this but it's minutes away rather than days, all of the ships involved are obviously moving at ridiculous speeds, far beyond anything we 21st century humans have ever achieved, so if our only goal is to reach the planet (and both Bean and the formics see that it must be so), I feel like the formics are at a bigger disadvantage here than we think.  It's exactly the problem Bean described before: if they spread their fleet away from the surface (to keep humans from getting anywhere near firing range) they need exponentially more ships to create a thick enough field to ensure no one slips through.  How quickly can their ships change direction in space?  Can they get from the north pole to the southern hemisphere as quickly as humans can get from hovering out in space to the south pole?  What are our acceleration/deceleration parameters here?

A kindlier blogger would just say that, since Bean sees this as a hopeless fight, obviously the parameters are such that the formic defence swarm is indeed an impassable blockade, but you and I both know I ran out of kindliness long ago.

I'm mostly thinking that this whole fight could be adequately side-stepped if the human fleet contained 79 normal fighters and a single fighter with good cloaking technology to slip down to the south pole and shiv the planet.  Why don't we have that?  Why don't we have ten thousand drones whose sole purpose is to project a small Ecstatic Field and make it look like we have a fleet just as big as theirs, since it's canon that you can't see through shields?  Do they have a moon?  Have we considered busting that and just letting tidal forces obliterate their civilisation?  Have we considered using our sweet stolen gravity technology to give them a moon?  Is no one worried that they might have split off, you know, five hundred of their endless swarm of ships on a mission of vengeance against Earth weeks ago when they found out we had a planet-buster weapon and we were coming for them?

Where we were?

Ender stares in silence at all of this for a full minute before a blinking button lights up on Bean's console, which he knows will put him in command if he touches it.  Bean determines the teachers think that Ender has frozen up, while Bean knows Ender has just reached the same hopeless conclusion Bean has, and because he thinks it's a game, he's going to quit.  Bean agrees, and has nothing in mind except bitter irony when he says "Remember [...] the enemy's gate is down".

I'm fuzzy on why it's necessary that they "dodge here and there through the ever-shifting formations of the enemy swarms" and "every third or fourth move takes us closer and closer to the planet".  It's a straight line, the distances involved make the idea of a 'thick' swarm ridiculous, like flying through an asteroid belt and worrying about collisions.  If you can reach the edge of their swarm and not die, you can probably get to the far side before they can so much as track you.

But the formics don't strike (I'm not even sure if they're shooting), and Bean comes up with a series of hypotheses to explain this: they fear clustering and getting Doctored, they just have too many ships in flight for too few queen minds to effectively coordinate, and they're focused (inexplicably) on blocking the human retreat, because they "have finally, finally learned that we humans value each and every individual human life [....] but they've learned this lesson just in time for it to be hopelessly wrong".  There is much heroic talk about leaping on grenades to save your foxhole comrades, and suicide bombing, collectively and charming summarised as "insane".  Sigh.

Bean concludes that the formics aren't afraid of Dr Device right now because all the human fighters would die with the planet, and wonders whether Ender has somehow learned to empathise with them enough to predict this, but decides it doesn't matter even if it's all luck now, because either way Ender is the one who chose the tactics in this battle and all the others:
It was Ender whose previous victories taught the enemy to think of us as one kind of creature when we are really something quite different. He pretended all this time that humans were rational beings, when we are really the most terrible monsters these poor aliens could ever have conceived of in their nightmares.
For a refreshing break to a realm of more interesting science fiction ideas, allow me to recommend this tumblr compilation of notes on humans from the perspective of aliens.

Anyway, Bean gets around to feeling sorry for the pilots currently on their way to die committing xenocide at Ender's command, and he remembers Sister Carlotta's favourite scriptureAbsalom and David, and presses the fleet override button just long enough to speak to all of the pilot simultaneously (and no one else, and apparently no one notices that Bean just took control from Ender for several seconds, and how does he give control back afterwards anyway?)--
...knowing for the first time the kind of anguish that could tear such words from a man's mouth. "My son, my son Absalom. Would God I could die for thee, O Absalom, my son. My sons!"
(Bean is tragically unaware that all of the pilots are women.  Graff's obsession with filling Battle School with more boys than pants wasn't in effect eighty years ago.)

They make their final dive, they all fire (except Petra's squadron, given rear guard duty against the actual swarm), and "the ships that launched too early watched their Dr. Device burn up in the atmosphere before it could go off", because apparently it's a missile in this continuity.  Does the Device not work on gas and vapour for some reason?  But Bean gives the last ship an order to detonate their Doctor onboard, without launching, and somehow that is close enough to hit the planet.
But long before the last ship was swallowed up, all the maneuvering had stopped. They drifted, dead. Like the dead Bugger ships in the vids of the Second Invasion.
BEAN YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN THOSE VIDS OH MY GOD CARD.

Out in the hall, Bean tells the others that, yes, those cool special effects really could happen because they did happen, they just won, and Graff appears to confirm this (I guess after Ender has already passed out or whatever) and inform them that the species is dead.  Petra, of course, immediately breaks down in tears, making her, by the way, the first person to mourn for the formics, so let's keep that in mind the next time anyone talks about how magical the Speaker for the Dead was.  Dink comforts Petra, everyone leaves except Bean and Graff, who are still chatting when gunfire sounds off from the Polemarch's rebellion.  Friendly marines secure the barracks, and Graff takes Bean to the ansible room to hear the news.  The last several lines are actually pretty funny banter and all, but whatever.  People joking around corpses is standard for this book.

Ender's Game is, quite clearly, a massive exercise in putting a child in the position of committing genocide without bearing any actual responsibility for it, because he's kept unaware.  Bean, conversely, is fully aware, totally onboard, and gives the last commands that guarantee victory.  On the other hand, Ender said in Speaker for the Dead that he retrospectively would have been onboard with it if he'd known, and therefore bears equal guilt.

There's nothing much to be said about Bean's lack of thought towards the formics that I haven't said about Ender, except for this: Bean came up with his plan (the Third Invasion) because he thought there was no ansible, so the invasion fleet would hit the formics just when they found out they had lost the Second Invasion.  When he found out there was an ansible, if he'd had the slightest sense in his head, he should have realised that the formics therefore knew they lost the moment it happened, seventy years ago, and thus could have launched their own fleet just as long ago.  We don't know how humanity found the formic homeworlds, so we don't know what kind of scanning and astrometric surveying technology we've all got, but surely we might have noticed if, the first time we Doctored one of their fleets, they decided to launch a full re-invasion fleet toward Earth, or drew their forces back to defend themselves.  Nada.  The formics haven't apparently responded to anything at all.

Bean can catch the hesitation in someone's voice and from it reason his way into understanding the entire secret strategy and technology behind the whole of the Third Invasion, but the marauding monsters (with thousands of times the ships humanity can field) spend seventy years very specifically not attacking Earth again and it doesn't pique his curiosity at all?


Bean has realised that the formics are hive-minds, Bean has thought far enough ahead to realise that the formics might not have realised that humans weren't hive-minds to start with, and all the consequences that spill out of that, and he could have done so in a matter of seconds.  The screen comes up, Ender stares flatly at the impossibility of the final battle, Bean sees the thousands of formic ships that have been built and never sent to kill anyone, and when Ender finally starts giving commands, Bean shouts: Stop.  Because instead of his hopeless "the enemy's gate is down", the lesson he remembers is 'The real enemy isn't the other army; the real enemy is the teacher'.

And that's the real strength of fanfiction that Card doesn't have, here: fanfiction is created by those who adore and immerse themselves in the story, but it is also, most importantly, created by those who didn't feel like the original story was enough.

Let's take Harry Potter here, because while I've been out of fanfic for years, some of the best I still see around the web is in that world.  Harry Potter fanfiction isn't just fun for people who like the idea of wizard school, it's also vitally important for people who want to know that they exist and are good and strong and worthy magicians despite not being cis or straight or (frankly) white, and people who need more than 'all was well' and to talk about the story of recovering and not just winning.  Harry Potter fanfiction is important for people for whom it is not adequate or acceptable that Harry grows up in an abusive environment and no one ever calls Dumbledore on it, or that the youngest survivors of the war are at risk of the same treatment again, or the idea that you can tell who's good and who's bad by the colour of their school uniform.

And Card doesn't have that, here, because he mashed several stories together, he wrote Ender's Game so he'd have his divine white saviour hero for Speaker for the Dead, and it did that job and it can't be done any other way without uprooting his whole original plan, so Bean can't say any of those things, he can't be that smart, despite day after chapter after day of doing exactly that thing, again and again.  Ender's Game, for him, is already good enough.  Ender's Shadow doesn't really exist to comment on that, or to change anything except a handful of details, and then not much--we met Petra, Corn Moon, and Wu, but Bean still says there were only a dozen girls in Battle School (estimated minimum student body of 1000).  The retcons (like everyone knowing about the formic hive-mind) are obviously unintentional.

So, in the end, I have a hard time thinking worse of Bean for going along with xenocide, because even though it could have been completely in his character to understand the situation, his writer couldn't allow him to do that, because the first story was already good enough for him.

Chapter Twenty-Four: Homecoming

Graff informs Carlotta that, before they were defeated, Russia grabbed Achilles out of whatever prison they were keeping him in, being the only Battle School child not currently under I.F. guard.  Dun dun DUNNNN.  Carlotta, of course, is a protagonist and therefore has to be shocked that Graff is up for court-martial, "a scapegoat for victory".  Sigh.

When Eros has been safely reclaimed from Russian rebels, the dream team gather at last to go see Ender, who's been unconscious the whole time.  Bean recognises that Ender has been torturing himself emotionally, grieving for the formics while Bean cares less about their whole species than he does about Poke.

Then it's mostly recapping and Bean narratively informing us how true everything is: "Bean believed him""Bean felt the truth of that", et cetera.  There's also a line I never paid attention to before,"If the universe had any kindness in it, or even simple justice, Ender would never have to take another life", which I assume is an ironic nod to Speaker for the Dead and the transition of Human to his tree stage.  Meh.

Bean is the only one who already knows that Ender is the only one not going back to Earth, as part of the peace treaty that Locke put together.  Bean thinks of many reasons Ender's own brother would ban him from returning to Earth, but can't decide.  He vows to meet him one day and find out, and destroy Peter if Bean decides this was in fact a betrayal.  Which strikes me as deeply out of character for Bean, who has (until last chapter, when he signed off on the formics' death) never cared about revenge at all.  They're sent home, one by one, and that's the last mention of Ender in this book.

The last page and a half is, in a rare case, one of the best parts of the book.  The Delphiki parents gleefully await the arrival of their son Nikolai (but why now, when Bean started the ball rolling weeks or months ago and it takes so much longer to get back from Eros than Battle School?), and prepare a small feast, and they see the car coming, and it's only when Nikolai gets out with another tiny boy that dad finally tells Elena that Bean survived.  I'll include it here, for completeness, because Card is a terrible person who does terrible things, and it's important to also recognise that a person can be that and write this:
"He's been told that he's coming just for a visit. That legally he is not our child, but rather a ward of the state. We don't have to take him in, if you don't want to, Elena." 
"Hush, you foolish man," she said. 
[....] Her husband spoke. Elena recognized his words at once, from the gospel of St. Luke. But because he had only memorized the passage in Greek, the little on did not understand him. No matter. Nikolai began to translate into Common, the language of the fleet, and almost at once the little one recognized the words, and spoke them correctly, from memory, as Sister Carlotta had once read it to him years before. 
"Let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." Then the little one burst into tears and clung to his mother, and kissed his father's hand. 
"Welcome home, little brother," said Nikolai. "I told you they were nice."
This isn't a book about how hard it is to be the only special person in the room, or how morally justified murder is if we think we're threatened, or how super sad we are about the terrible things we've done for no good reason.  This is a story about what it's like to be this scrawny little genius jackass named Bean, and that is why it's better than Ender's Game.

Next week: hey, my copy of Eye of the World has a back-cover blurb from Card himself, who spoke of Robert Jordan's "powerful vision of good and evil" and "fascinating people moving through a rich and interesting world".  We're so screwed.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ender's Shadow, chapters twenty-one and twenty-two, in which Bean is not the smartest person

(Content: misogyny, emotional manipulation. Fun content: Petra Arkanian and Ace McShane are the best crossover ship.)

Ender's Shadow: pp. 319--351
Chapter Twenty-One: Guesswork

Unnamed Important Military figures (I'm guessing Anderson and... I'm going to pretend Levi as well) open by discussing the logistics of getting Ender's dream-team through all their pre-war training before they're ready for xenocide.  It really drives home just how amazingly inefficient all of their spread-out Secret Schools are:
"ISL is two months away from you,and by the time they're done with Tactical, the voyage from there to FleetCom will be four months. That gives them only three months in Tactical before we have to bring them to Command School. Three months in which to compress three years of training."
The whole 'you have eleven seconds to master this secret technique that most people have to reincarnate to spend a second lifetime to learn' is standard enough child hero fare, but our first question is why again all these various schools need to be so incredibly far apart.  I mean, Eros is only around the orbit of Mars, so we're apparently not using the Park Shift engine for cheap fast easy relativistic flight for some reason, but why are they moving around at all?  This fleet is operating on the basis that there's no difference between having your general aboard the flagship versus sitting at a desk seventy light-years away, but you need to waste half your remaining training time shipping your miracle students on a whirlwind tour of the solar system rather than just using your instant communications tech to access whatever software or skype tutoring they need in one place.  (Sure, they would need to lie properly to cover up the instant communications being used, but as we're about to see, they're already doing that, and not well.)

Also:
"I'm not faulting Colonel Graff, you understand, he had no way of knowing." 
"Knowing what?" 
"That Achilles is a serial killer." 
"That should make Graff happy. Ender's count is up to two."

They talk about how amazing it is that Ender, the team-builder, got cornered and went for a solo fight, while Bean the Lonely Loner brought together a squad for a nonviolent solution, and how that's so far against their predilections, apparently forgetting that Ender's establishing moment is killing a bully in a one-on-one fight and Bean's first moment is transforming a street gang into a sort of microfeudalistic patronage.  Also, remember how I talked about the general who picked Ender's friends for his campaign team feeling foolish once Ender decides to go the Distant Unapproachable Genius route for his leading role?  I was clearly wrong, because they didn't actually put that much thought into it.
"So send ten." 
"Which ten?" 
"How the hell should I know?  Well... Bean, him for sure. And the nine others that you think would work best with either Bean or Ender in command, whichever one it turns out to be."
So from three dozen our dream team roster has been retconned down to 'whichever ten you like, plus Carn Carby since we've already got him here'.  The world-saving world-ending assault force command group has been assembled with all the careful consideration and approval processes of a company softball team.

Bean gets his transfer orders, has a final chat with the Rabbit toon leaders about how they lost all five of their games and that's okay because they were learning improvisation and teamwork from each other, which are more important now than the ability to follow one smart guy's completely battle plan, ending with "losing is a much more powerful teacher than winning", which I feel raises some serious questions about Ender's endless winning streak in this narrative.

He then goes to have a last chat with Nikolai, who has been promoted yet again to be the new Rabbit Commander (that's just a fun phrase), and they speculate on whether it's End of the World time.  Bean says the signals are mixed; the teachers are acting like it's the final countdown, but nothing seems to be happening in the solar system to suggest they're bunkering down for an incoming invasion.  Bean says if they were going to launch their own invasion fleet, the time to do that was right after the Second Invasion.  Nikolai points out that humanity might not know where the formic homeworld is (Bean didn't think of that, especially if they don't communicate via light the way we do; Bean insists light is "still faster than anything else."
"Anything else that we know about," said Nikolai. 
Bean just looked at him. 
"Oh, I know, that's stupid. The laws of physics and all that. I just--you know, I keep thinking, that's all. I don't like to rule things out just because they're impossible."
Once again, a thing I actually really like in this book: Nikolai might not be a miracle child, but he's thoughtful and open-minded, and sometimes that means he's smarter than Bean.

Also, Nikolai was one of those who went to trap Achilles, of course, and Bean is very grateful.
"Someday," said Bean, "you're going to need me the way I needed you. And I'll be there."
Flat-out untrue; Nikolai disappears a few chapters into the next book and we will never speak of him again.  Sigh.

So they get loaded onto a destroyer for the four-month journey, and we get a full roster at last: Dink, Petra, Alai, Shen, Vlad, "Dumper", Tom, Fly Molo, Han Tzu, and Bean (Bustopher Kobayashi is of course already there, with Carn Carby).  Bean remains suspicious of Petra's reliability, obvs, but rather than resolve that sidequest just yet, he spends four months in the library reading recent Earth history, learning about how Russia threatens to conquer the world at any moment so easily.  No, for reals.
Where the Chinese simply took it for granted that they were and should be the center of the universe, the Russians, led by a series of ambitious demagogues and authoritarian generals, felt that history had cheated them out of their rightful place, century after century, and it was time for that to end. [....] Everything was in place for a vast power play the moment the Buggers were defeated--or before, if they thought it was to their advantage. Oddly, the Russians were rather open about their intentions--they always had been. They had no talent for subtlety, but they made up for it with amazing stubbornness. [....] Along with their national vigor, the Russians had also nurtured their astonishing talent for misgovernment, that sense of personal entitlement that made corruption a way of life.
It just goes on like this, vast heaving tracts of telling-not-showing about the nature of Earth back home, making up bad future Russians so Card can tell us how they extrapolate from our own contemporary Russians, generalising the millions of inhabitants of a country with "effective borders back to the peak of Soviet power--and beyond" according to some vague traits found among the ruling class of the 20th century.  I mean to say: why is this here?

(Lest we think Card is just an anti-Russian zealot, he also criticises Chinese national narcissism ("To the Chinese, once something was known in China, it was known everywhere that mattered") and the apathy of "the Euro-American nations", which is a phrase almost as hilarious as 'Judeo-Christian' is in glossing and blurring of radically different histories and traditions and mindsets into a vague 'obviously we all get along in our community of whiteness' melange.)

The actual reason it's here is so Bean can bring up Locke and Demosthenes, consider whether they might really be the same person, decide they think and write too differently despite their similar factual premises, and so write an anonymous essay to mail to both of them.  Bean, with his total lack of access to reconnaissance data, accurately draws up the Russian threat, their Obvious Strategy, and how to pre-empt it.  He is also the one to call for the Battle/Tactical/Command School kids to be sent home immediately after victory, so they won't be captured by the Russians "or kept in ineffectual isolation by the I.F."  Within days, Demosthenes and Locke both demand the kids come home (which, of course, is meant to set up the Shadow sequels, but kind of undercuts the point in Ender's Game that Locke and Demosthenes were never supposed to both throw their support behind something until it was the Big Score, saving the world from itself after Ender wins the war).

Three days later, they ship out with Carn.  We'll find out next chapter that this is because the Battle School kids are already being shipped home, but, despite Bean specifically listing, Battle, Tactical, and Command in his essay, apparently everyone back on Earth has rapidly forgotten that Tactical and Command exist.  Slapdash, which is especially weird given that this is Bean collaborating with the Wiggins, all of whom are supposed to be perfect.

Chapter Twenty-Two: Reunion

Graff and Admiral Whomeverthefuck continue to discuss the arrangements for the students at Command School, and top of Graff's mind is the insistence that "Ender can't do his job unless he knows about the ansible" whereas if Bean finds out "he'll leap straight to the core situation", and I know I complained about this last time, but once again, why does Ender need to know about the ansible in order to play his campaign?  Anything.  I will accept literally any practical reason that Ender's video game proficiency would be reduced if he didn't know about our instant communications technology.  I can't find one.  But this, we are told, is basically the whole reason that Ender and his friends never get to spend any time together apart from their voicechat during games.
"But if this is so, then Bean, is not capable of being Ender's backup, because then he would have to be told about the ansible." 
"It won't matter then." 
"But you yourself were the author of the proposition that only a child--" 
"Sir, none of that applies to Bean." 
Okay, wow, this is now also the first canonical indication that Graff is actually the one who came up with the idea that a twelve-year-old is the ideal commander for their xenocidal campaign.  Now, that's not surprising, since Graff's favourite kind of soldier is one whom he can easily manipulate into anything at a whim, but it re-re-re-emphasises the question from the dawn of time: who the fuck is Hyrum Graff?  How did he, a colonel/schoolteacher, convince the whole Fleet Command and Triumvirate to put their entire desperate suicide-mission plan on the shoulders of a child?

Of course, we know Mazer Rackham said the same thing, and Rackham's existence is secret, so maybe Graff is just the 'public' author of Rackham's plan, except this guy knows the whole plan so he must also know Rackham is still alive, so we're back to Graff being inexplicably influential even though everyone hates him and his ridiculous theories.  Graff and Rackham desperately needed to be the same character.

Now it's time for Bean to resolve the Petra plot thread, when people start for the first time talking about their pre-Battle-School lives.  Bean isn't bashful about spewing his whole street kid deal, including Poke, Achilles, and her eventual murder, which of course moves Petra to tears and she flees the room--Bean follows.  He makes an extended plea for her to tell him what she was doing when she baited Ender, how they need to trust each other, how he has "opened his soul" to them (such a natural line, innit), and Petra neatly shuts him down.
"You told me about your feelings. [...] So good, it's a relief to know you have them, or at least to know that you think it's worth pretending to have them, nobody's quite sure about that. But what you don't ever tell us is what the hell is actually going on here. [....] The teachers told you things back in Battle School that none of the rest of us knew."
Petra's wrath makes me all warm and fuzzy sometimes.

Bean is of course shocked to realise that other people are actually paying attention, and he admits that he hacked the student records and the teachers asked him to assemble Dragon Army, which similarly shocks Petra immensely, though, again, the public facts about Dragon Army (rejects and newbies) are still true, so I don't know why everyone thinks this is such a big deal.

Anyway, Petra admits that she did bait Ender in the hallway That One Time, and elaborates her plan: get into a brawl (with herself protecting Ender, and Dragons and other armies sure to join in), Ender gets punched a little but everything cools off, and all of the bullies (who hated Bonzo only a bit less than they did Ender) get bored and Bonzo loses his power to rabble-rouse.  She adds that she thinks the only reason Ender didn't go along with her plan was that Bean was in the middle of it and guaranteed to get mangled like a soft-centred truffle in a snowblower, and thus it's Bean's indirect fault that Ender had his deathmatch in the showers.  Which--I mean, Petra's not wrong about a lot of this.

(I am left wondering where Petra was the next day, when she looked around the commanders' mess that apparently only had a couple dozen kids in it and noticed that neither Ender nor Bonzo were present.  Was she just forbidden to enter the boys' showers?  There's been no mention of gendered facilities and everyone is naked all the time anyway.  Petra wouldn't have been held back like Dink was; Petra would have been this guy:


Bean admits his plan kinda sucked too, even if he doesn't like hers, and responds to mockery by telling Petra he's the best friend she's got there.  (He's apparently not paying attention to the amount of time Petra spends with Dink Meeker, Professional Decent Supportive Person.)  His evidence goes thusly:
"Because I'm the only one of these boys who ever chose to have a girl as his commander."
Bean, you colossal jackass.  You chose Poke as your 'commander' because you thought she was foolishly compassionate, and spent every moment with her meditating on how much smarter you were than her, based on no evidence except your own self-satisfaction.  No one else in your class has ever had the chance to pick their commander anyway.  What kind of self-aggrandising entitlement is this now?

Because he's such a supportive friend, Bean goes on to explain that "you're not really one of the guys" and of the estimated dozen (?!) girls in Battle School, Petra was the only really good soldier.  Bean explains that the only reason none of them have ever asked her why she 'betrayed' Ender is that they don't have enough respect for her to believe she didn't just screw up.  Because what good friends do is tell you all your other friends don't like you as much as you think they do and that you can only trust them, because they once did a Thing that objectively proves they respect women.  Oh my god.  This is, like, their first major interaction that will seed all their future trust and friendship and eventual coupling, and it reads like he's grooming her for abuse.  GET IT OFF OF ME.

They arrive at Eros, which Bean quickly realises was originally carved into a base by the formics, and thus was the goldmine of new technology like the gravity manipulators.  He concludes instantly that the I.F. never announced this because it would have scared people to learn how technologically advanced the formics were.  I think that's a really bad conclusion, because 1) a single formic ship killed a hundred million people in the First Invasion and 2) humanity has now survived two full invasions in spite of advanced technology.  We're used to overcoming enemies with advanced technology, we've been used to that forever, since long before Ace McShane beat a dalek down with a baseball bat.  I'm not sure how finding out their gravity-controlling powers were inadequate to resist the might of the human spirit would scare people more.

Because Card has reached his comfort level with gender equality, Petra gets separate quarters and the dozen boys share two rooms.  The environment creeps Bean out, but when he wakes up from nightmares, he instead realises something else is bothering him: he was talking to a technician today, someone fixing a simulator game, and commented that the thing was completely accurate except there was no time-delay for lightspeed communications, and the technician took a minute to even realise what he meant before brushing it off.  The only possible conclusion: humanity got the ansible from the formics as well.  The only possible consequent: they will wage the war from here, never knowing when it stops being simulator games and starts being an invasion campaign.

Now, within the confines that this book has given us, I do think this is at least relatively clever writing: a tiny slip-up by a technician that Bean extrapolates into all of its possible consequences, seeing how it fits with the other oddities (like how they get trained on older-model ships instead of the newest).  It's not easy to write characters who are supposed to be incredibly smart, and this kind of logical leap makes some sense.  Of course, he still hasn't resolved the question of how we found the formic homeworld (and all of their other bases, which, what?), but that doesn't come up in Bean's self counter-argument, as he tries to convince himself that this can't possibly be true because he doesn't want to get distracted thinking about people dying in space while he's leading them.

They start training with the voice command interface, and everyone takes turns being leader, but Bean declares it's obvious that they're getting set up to play under Ender, and he gets dragged before Graff to explain where he's getting all his secret knowledge.  Their real concern, of course, is that Bean has figured out The Terrible Truth, but Bean insists that if he knows anything, it's obviously not affecting his performance.  Graff laughs, turns off the recorder, and tells Bean about the Battle School kids going home, who Locke and Demosthenes are, and that they found Bean's biological family and he's Julian Delphiki, brother of Nikolai.  He grapples with this unprovoked infodump and decides he's being manipulated with sweet, sweet lies, thinks that he won't give up the name Poke gave him so easily as that, and this is reinforced when they are reunited with Ender, who quickly identifies his besties over the headset: Alai, and Bean.  It's not bad.

Next week: the finale grande, in which Bean is a willing accessory to xenocide.

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.