Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Ender Bender 16: Chapter 9, "Locke & Demosthenes" (Part 3)

I never thought I'd be relieved to be following Ender's exploits again. 
Nothing was different, nothing had changed in a year. Ender was sure of it, and yet it all seemed to have gone sour.

Ender and his friends have risen up in the world, even the teachers respect him, but he's sad because none of his peers treat him like a peer. Gosh, maybe it's because he's spent the entire time that he's been here in Battleschool acting like he's superior to everyone.

So he wallows in self-pity, then plays his video game. Orson Scott Card invented GamerGate.

Some dwarves have made a village out of the giant's corpse, but Ender just can't figure out how to get past the castle at the End of the World, where he always sees his brother's face and he always dies. Card may have been able to predict 4Chan, but he couldn't predict GameFAQs.

And just like that, we're back to Valentine. Military officers are at her school, and she's afraid that her secret identity's been exposed. But no, Colonel Graff has come at great expense to ask her why Ender keeps seeing Peter's face in the computer game. In the future, the Internet and Message Boards exist, but not Skype (2020 Tom's note: this paragraph was written in 2018. Readers in 2020 should substitute Zoom in this very timely technology reference). The fact that the Colonel is asking Valentine about a game she's never played and a brother she hasn't had contact with in years is lampshaded, but Graff threatens the Wiggin family if she doesn't share her insights.

So Valentine relents and describes Peter's bullying and manipulation tactics, and his threats to murder his siblings. And then she falls into a shame spiral about how she's been pulled into Peter's plans and abandoned Ender, in case you wondered whether the other female character in this book has any individuality beyond her relationship to male characters. Graff convinces her to write a reassuring letter to Ender, to tell him that he's not actually like Peter, which would likely be more convincing if she knew about what Ender's been doing that makes him feel like he's going down that path. There's a bit more of "the military is mean and unfair and shitty for no reason," but Valentine eventually gives in because she's ultimately kind of spineless and there's a "you can't fight city hall" message woven throughout this book.

Which is maybe the part that feels the most out of place from a 21st century standpoint. For all that Ender's Game presaged the world of modern YA, with fantastic schools where exceptional young people are sorted into competing teams and get caught up in a larger conflict, most of them involve some degree of rebellion against an oppressive state. Even the Harry Potter series—and I think there are a lot of comparisons to be drawn between Card and Rowling both as writers and as people—which is ultimately about protecting and maintaining a rightful state system, has the heroes fighting back when that system is corrupted. But in Ender's Game, at least this first book, for as sinister and incompetent and oppressive the government systems are, no one ever even discusses overthrowing them or rebelling against them. "The adults are the enemy," but unlike every other enemy in this book, no effort is made to fight them, let alone leave them so completely destroyed that they do not try to start another fight.

Maybe that's later in the series? I doubt I'll ever know.

So Ender reads the letter. She calls Peter a "slumbitch" and misspells "psychoanalyze" in ways that are apparently distinctive to Valentine even though we've never seen her do any of those things in the book up 'til now. They're payoffs to things that have never been setup, callbacks to details that were never called forward, like so many of the moments in this book. We get some waffling about whether or not Valentine actually wrote it and whether or not it matters because it wasn't her decision to write it and it had to have been approved by the military, which leads us right back into how the military is bad. And look, I'm not unsympathetic to that point of view, I just think I come to that conclusion from the exact opposite position as Card.

Ender cries, then loads up his video game, and for the first time in awhile I feel a sense of verisimilitude. Been there, buddy.

He decides he's not going to play their games anymore and so he plays their game some more in protest. But this time he doesn't kill the snake, he kisses it, and then it turns into Valentine and kisses him back. Instead of Peter, the mirror shows them their fursonas, and then they get to advance past the room where Ender had been stuck.

2020 Tom's note: There's no way it actually gave Ender and Valentine fursonas. That was a joke I came up with in 2018, clearly.

She arose from the floor of the tower room and walked to the mirror. Ender made his figure also rise and go with her. They stood before the mirror, where instead of Peter's cruel reflection there stood a dragon and a unicorn. 

Huh. Orson Scott Card predicted FurAffinity.

Valentine gets a letter from the Strategos, and I don't think we've been told before that his name is Shimon Levy, which feels oddly reminiscent of the "male witch" Isaac Horowitz from Christian rapper Carman's "Witch's Invitation." I suppose it's not so much offensive as stereotypical, but boy oh boy. Anyway, Valentine wins an award for her assistance to the war effort, but won't actually receive it until the war is over. She's angry at how she's been used and goes passive-aggressive through her online avatar, and god I hope this is the last I have to read of this plot cul-de-sac.

2023 Tom's Note: it's not!

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