Sunday, July 30, 2017

Ender Bender 13: Chapter 8, "Rat" (Part 4)

Three years later and I'm still in "Rat."

As you might have noticed, I gave up on Ender's Game some time ago. But all the talk about Ready Player One and the terrible excerpts from it brought to mind Card's overrated masterwork. So I went back and re-read the posts I wrote, then re-read the book up to where I stopped, and while I think there were a couple of places where I was unfair, I think I stand by my thoughts. This book is Not Good, but I feel compelled to follow it through to the end. At least for now.

So I sat down to write the next post in the series, having finished Chapter 8, but apparently I started writing this post sometime between the last post and now. So what you're about to read is a collaboration between myself and a past version of myself, the sweet summer child who didn't know what horrors would be wrought by the years 2016 and 2017. Enjoy!

Fun fact: this book has fifteen chapters. I guess that makes this a little over halfway, right? That's something.

So Ender and his dwindling group of friends practice, and again their practice is attended by older boys from other armies. Instead of cataloging who's present, they shout abuse, which begins to wear on the launchies.

"Listen to them," Ender said to the other boys. "Remember the words. If you ever want to make your enemy crazy, shout that kind of stuff at them. It makes them do dumb things, to be mad. But we don't get mad."

It's pretty good advice as long as your enemies are young children who speak the same language as you. But we're in a space station full of young children who are mandated by law to speak the same language, so no problem, right? It's not like there's some inhuman alien menace that these kids might someday try to cow into submission by shouting playground taunts at or anything.

Shen gets the younger kids reciting the insults like mantras, which naturally upsets the older boys, who jump in for a real fight. Some of the kids are frozen and can't fight back, but that doesn't mean they can't be useful!
Ender and Alai decided to throw a frozen soldier in the face of an enemy. The frozen Launchy struck helmet first, and the two caromed off each other.
I had to look up "caromed" to make sure it wasn't a typo, and based on the definition I found, it still might be. Looks like Card consulted a thesaurus rather than a dictionary for that one, or maybe got a kickback from one of those SAT vocabulary book publishers. Anyway, glad that frozen kid was wearing his helmet, hope it's well-cushioned!

Naturally, this escalates the battle. But even though the other boys are older and more experienced, they don't know how to work together like Ender's ragtag group under his expert command. They position themselves to maneuver around the older kids, who have blundered out into the middle of the arena where they have no cover and no ability to move under their own power, which says wonderful things about the quality of training at this facility, doesn't it? You know, the advanced future military training at the elite military training center that Card has presented as training soldiers better than modern militaries with their useless marches and drills and learning not to get caught out in the open and surrounded?

Ender goes for the sacrificial move, heading toward the frozen kid he'd just used as a weapon, who was no longer frozen. This moment makes it fairly clear how little we've been told about how this whole "freezing" mechanic works; I understand not wanting tedious technobabble infodumps, but there's a middle ground between that and "looking like you're making up the rules as you go along." Some authors can pull that off well, but so far Card is not one of them.

As the enemies come after Ender, he notices that Stilson is with them. Stilson, you may recall, is the bully that Ender beat to a pulp back at the beginning of the book. Ender then, immediately, notices that Stilson isn't with them.

Yeah, I don't know either. Like, there's no edit here, no ellipsis:
Ender was startled to see Stilson's face among them. Then he shuddered and realized he had been wrong.
The sentence adds nothing to the moment; the next bit is Ender realizing that this is just like the situation with Stilson, then outlining details of the situation (there's no leader, these boys are much larger, they're in zero-g) that are totally different from the fight with Stilson.

It would be one thing if Stilson were actually there, brought up by the same administrators who want to put Ender through all sorts of hell to make him a better soldier. It would be another thing if Ender had a flashback, or just noticed the similarities, but its portrayal here, with our omniscient narrator saying that Ender saw a thing, then that he didn't, feels like cheap manipulation or bad writing or both. It's the Goosebumps chapter ending scare that I brought up in a previous one of these posts, but without the page turn to make it effective.

One of the boys catches Ender, who kicks at him hard enough to tear his ear. This, of course, causes Ender to go full-on Buster Bluth for causing other people pain.
Then he breaks the kid's nose by headbutting him.

Ender naturally beats all of the older kids, winning him the admiration of the other launchies, who praise him with their awful, at-least-a-little-racist slang. Also, one of the older kids was Bonzo, Ender's old commander who had hit him a couple of times already, which I guess wasn't relevant before or during the fight.

Later that night, Ender checks on his assailants, finding that their injuries have been chalked up as accidents, meaning nobody will get punished for the skirmish. Then he plays the fantasy game on his computer, where it shows him a picture of his brother in a mirror. I'm pretty sure this means that Orson Scott Card invented Creepypasta.

Ender learns that other commanders approve of his practice sessions and send some older kids down to join them, and act as muscle against the bigger kids. He can't get the game out of his head, though, and wonders what the military wants from him. Also, for a paragraph here at the end, it lapses into first-person narration for no discernible reason.

So, that's the end of "Rat," but I wanted to bring up a couple of things I noticed on this read-through that I missed before. First, when Ender's hearing Dink's conspiracy theory about the Buggers, Ender says "I'm not like my father," interrupting Dink in what seems like a meaningful way. And maybe it would be, except we don't actually know what Ender's father is like. We know that his father is a Polish Catholic who distanced himself from the religion but practiced in secret, like Ender's mother, and that's about it. This feels like it's meant to be a significant line, an important thing to say, but it tells us nothing because it's a comparison to an unknown quantity.

Also in this conversation, Dink says "Your grandparents weren't born yet when Mazer Rackham wiped [the Buggers] out." Which means that the big war was several generations ago. All that would be fine and great, except for that bit where Ender said his "great great grandpa would have sold" Alai's grandfather. Did...did slavery make a comeback? Are Alai and Ender meant to be incredibly advanced, highly precocious children except when it comes to the perception of the passage of time and how many generations it's been since Emancipation?

Or was Card just working out his best comeback for someone trying to tell him he said a racist thing?