Saturday, October 21, 2023
Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Did they give him thirty Launchies, many of them underage, because they knew the little boys were quick learners, quick thinkers? Or was this what any similar group could become under a commander who knew what he wanted his army to do, and knew how to teach them to do it?
Even with less than four weeks together, the way they fought already seemed like the only intelligent way, the only possible way.
They may curse us and lie about us, but they’ll remember that we destroyed them, and no matter what they say other soldiers and other commanders will see that in their eyes; in those Rabbit eyes, they’ll see us in neat formation, victorious and almost undamaged in our first battle
He washed himself twice and let the water run and run on him. It would all be recycled. Let everybody drink some of my sweat today.
That's the problem with winning right from the start, thought Ender. You lose friends.
"I'll try," Carn Carby left, and Ender mentally added him to his private list of people who also qualified as human beings.
Partly because of Ender's influence, they were the most flexible of armies, responding relatively quickly to new situations.
Petra was not gracious about bowing over his hand at the end, either. The anger in her eyes seemed to say, I was your friend, and you humiliate me like this?Ender pretended not to notice her fury. He figured that after a few more battles, she’d realize that in fact she had scored more hits against him than he expected anyone ever would again. And he was still learning from her. In practice today he would teach his toon leaders how to counter the tricks Petra had played on them. Soon they would be friends again.He hoped.
A few of them sat with him at every meal, carefully trying to learn from him how he had defeated his most recent opponents. He told them freely, confident that few of them would know how to train their soldiers and their toon leaders to duplicate what his could do.
There were many, too, who hated him. Hated him for being young, for being excellent, for having made their victories look paltry and weak.
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Many times during his evening practice sessions Ender had wished that he had a hook, instead of having to rebound off walls to get where he wanted to go.
They depended on the hook, and it wouldn't do anything for them during the extra times. If they felt that the hook was their authority, their power over the other boys, then they were even less likely to work without it. That's an advantage I'll have over some of my enemies, Ender thought.
After three minutes, though many of them still weren't dressed, he ordered them out of the room."But I'm naked!" said one boy."Dress faster next time. Three minutes from first call to running out the door—that's the rule this week. Next week the rule is two minutes. Move!" It would soon be a joke in the rest of the school that Dragon Army was so dumb they had to practice getting dressed.Five of the boys were completely naked, carrying their flash suits as they ran through the corridors; few were fully dressed. They attracted a lot of attention as they passed open classroom doors. No one would be late again if he could help it.
Why am I doing this? What does this have to do with being a good commander, making one boy the target of all the others? Just because they did it to me, why should I do it to him?
On the first day even his mistakes had to look like part of a brilliant plan.
Why couldn't he talk like he always did in his evening practice group? No authority except excellence. Never had to give orders, just made suggestions. But that wouldn't work, not with an army. His informal practice group didn't have to learn to do things together. They didn't have to develop a group feeling; they never had to learn how to hold together and trust each other in battle. They didn't have to respond instantly to commands.
It represents such an abhorrent tangle of ideologies, and given Card's other stated ideologies, that's not entirely surprising.
Graff had deliberately set him up to be separate from the other boys, made it impossible for him to be close to them. And he began now to suspect the reasons behind it. It wasn't to unify the rest of the group—in fact, it was divisive. Graff had isolated Ender to make him struggle. To make him prove, not that he was competent, but that he was far better than everyone else.
"You're a full cubit taller than I am.""Cubit! Has God been telling you to build a boat or something? Or are you in an archaic mood?""Not archaic, just arcane. Secret, subtle, roundabout. I miss you already, you circumcised dog."
"Salaam, Alai.""Alas, it is not to be.""What isn't?""Peace. It's what salaam means. Peace be unto you."
Ender felt as if part of himself had been taken away, an inward prop that was holding up his courage and confidence. With Alai, to a degree impossible even with Shen, Ender had come to feel a unity so strong that the word we came to his lips more easily than I.But Alai had left something behind. Ender lay in bed, dozing into the night, and felt Alai's lips on his cheek as he muttered the word peace.
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
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!
Wednesday, September 06, 2023
No, seriously. Valentine and Peter get access to the unrestricted Internet and immediately begin creating anonymous accounts with fake identities and getting into debates.
At first Peter insisted that they be deliberately inflammatory. "We can't learn how our style of writing is working unless we get responses—and if we're bland, no one will answer."That's, like, the textbook definition of trolling from back in the Usenet/BBS days, before it just meant sending death threats to trans people.
The feedback they get helps them make their writing sound more adult, and once they do that, they can properly catfish the world's leaders. Their literal stated goal is to generate memes that influence global political agendas and eventually become so Internet famous by staging arguments with each other under their titular pseudonyms that by the time anyone figures out they're a couple of kids, nobody will be able to stop listening.
Orson "Lowtax" Card.
Valentine's character gets an offer to write a column for a west coast newsnet.
"I can't do a weekly column," Valentine said. "I don't even have a monthly period yet."
Valentine doesn't like the way Peter's forced her character to be a "fairly paranoid anti-Russian writer," so I guess Orson Scott Card invented Louise Mensch too. Look, folks, I was not at all prepared for this chapter to be so relevant to 2018. (Future Tom's note: this post was written in 2018. For 2020 readers, feel free to update this trenchant political reference to Rachel Maddow, I guess).
And when Valentine stands up to Peter?
"Are you sure you're not having a period, little woman?"
Locke gets a column in a New England newsnet, Peter talks about the Wiggin kids' collective pubic hair, and oh dear I've thrown my iPad across the room.
A few days later Locke got picked up for a column in a New England newsnet, specifically to provide a contrasting view for their popular column from Demosthenes. "Not bad for two kids who've only got about eight pubic hairs between them," Peter said.
Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Says the guy whose NaNoWriMo novel chapter titles were all quotes from T.S. Eliot poems. Glass houses, Tom.
So our opening dialogue between people who are still unnecessarily unidentified explains that Ender is so good at computer games that he found a place that wasn't programmed!
Anyway, they also talk about how the game is connected to the Future Internet and pulled up a more recent picture of Peter from the Guilford County North Carolina school system, and that's the first of a couple of times that this chapter decides to get really, really specific about geography. Once the chapter starts in earnest, we learn that the Wiggin family has moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, which is, entirely coincidentally, also where Card lives. It's fine to set stories in real places and to pull from real-life experience when you're writing, but it's weird to start developing this sense of place when you're more than halfway through the book.
We're told that Peter studies the "binding of cells into organisms through the philotic collation of DNA," and...
Peter points out that he and Valentine don't think or talk or write like other children, hanging a lampshade on the obvious. If there were any children who did talk or write like other children in this book who could provide a contrast, this might be interesting. Instead, it just feels like it's handwaving how every character has the same damn voice.
Long story short, Peter is good at intimidation, Valentine is good at persuasion, and Peter wants her help to say the right things to the right people to preserve world peace, because on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog or a 12-year-old psychopath.
Also, they call it "the nets," and that is hilarious.
Valentine's internal monologue lays the entire exchange out on the table, analyzing her character and Peter's so that the reader doesn't have to.
In a way, she actually preferred Peter to other people because of this. He always, always acted out of intelligent self-interest.
"Think what Pericles did in Athens, and Demosthenes—"
"Yes, they managed to wreck Athens twice."
"Pericles, yes, but Demosthenes was right about Philip—"
"Or provoked him—"
"See? This is what historians usually do, quibble about cause and effect when the point is, there are times when the world is in flux and the right voice in the right place can move the world."
Keep quotes like that in mind when I bring up the deeply conservative, anti-intellectual, Ayn Randian influences on this book in the wrap-up post.
Which brings us back to the conversation at the beginning, where two characters analyze the text so the reader doesn't have to. No sense trying to imagine what a character's motivation is, they'll tell you, and if your point-of-view character doesn't know for sure what another character's motivation is, they'll exhaustively examine all the possibilities. It's like the book is reading itself for you.
Monday, August 28, 2023
Remember 2013?I know, it feels like several lifetimes ago. Let me help. "The Wolverine" was in theaters (remember theaters?), but we were all still coming down from our collective "Pacific Rim" high, still using that jaeger generator. Doge memes blanketed the Internet as thickly as discourse about the sketchy gender politics of "Blurred Lines." Ted Cruz was ascendant, about to shut down the government over Obamacare and not yet reduced to picking proxy fights with Ron Perlman or stoking sieges on his workplace.And I started reading beloved children's sci-fi novel Ender's Game.Between August, 2013 and July, 2017, I read and wrote about the book for a series I called Ender Bender, which (like every series I've tried to do for this blog—remember when I tried to watch every episode of "Silverhawks"?) started out with regular posts and an ambitious plan that petered out into very occasional posting as I got busy with other things and lost interest. I returned to draft a few more posts in early 2018, intending to finally finish the series, but never published them.I'm not a person who leaves books unfinished often. I've thought about the books I've abandoned for one reason or another, and I don't think there's more than two dozen across my whole life. On the Road, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, I remember nearly all of them. Some of them I intend to return to someday.I left Ender's Game at 47% complete on my iPad.Seeing a percent next to the word "game" triggers something deep in me. I'm the guy who completes every Riddler challenge in an Arkham game. So when I found myself thinking about Ender's Game recently, I decided to see if anyone else out there was talking about how much of this book is about bigoted children who are constantly naked. I understand there's a genocide later that probably dominates most people's memories, but, like, I went into It knowing about the preteen orgy, you'd think someone would have mentioned something.In searching for discourse, I came across a series by Will Wildman, also started in 2013 (and, improbably finished in 2013 like some kind of responsible blog series), at the blog Something Short and Snappy, doing something similar to what I would start a few months later. Reading the first few posts there and rereading my own posts got me to decide that I should occasionally try to finish something.So I'm bringing Ender Bender to a close, for real this time. You can go back and read those old posts like I did, and marvel at how extremely of their times they are (I used the word "transgendered" like it's a verb! I made several references to "Welcome to Night Vale"!). And then feel free to plow ahead, because it's finally happening. The book is finished, the posts are written, and everything is scheduled (or will be before I publish this post). I hope you enjoy it, person who still reads blogs in
As you might be able to guess, I didn't write that recently. Back in 2020, when we were all going a little stir crazy, I decided to try to revive and finish Ender Bender. Obviously, I didn't succeed. I left the book at 73% and don't have a handy screenshot because between then and now, I upgraded to a different version of Marvin on my iPad.
This year, I've been trying to finish more things. I'm staring down the barrel of one of those round number birthdays and feeling some kinds of existential way. I don't know why Ender Bender is the project I settled on to finish this year. Maybe it's because I noticed that my first attempt to read Ender's Game was precisely ten years ago and that's another round number. Maybe it's because the culture war is currently engaged in genocidal moral panics involving book banning and accusations of child grooming, and this creepy-ass book's never going to enter the conversation because the author is on the same side as the Inquisitors. Maybe it's because of the rule of threes.
Whatever the reason, I did it, and I did it right. I went all the way back to the beginning this time, rather than trying to rely on memories and my own posts like I did three years ago. And I'm glad I did, because I noticed so much more this time than I did before, both because I had some idea what to expect, and because I'm just more mature and knowledgeable than I was at 29.
And so, I have finished reading Ender's Game.
Which means I need to finish writing about it. I wrote several posts back in 2020 and 2021, getting all the way up to Chapter 13: Valentine, and leaving myself cryptic notes like "remember the magicians." I'm going to lightly revise those and then bring the series to a close over the course of the next several weeks, aiming for a post each week, and wrapping up with some kind of summary. I might even watch the dingdang movie. If anyone's still out there, I hope you'll join me on this overlong journey, or at least that you'll come back when it's over.
Thursday, March 09, 2023
It is 2004. I am cautiously optimistic about the bold new direction for the Superman titles after a long period of floundering.
It is 2006. I am cautiously optimistic about the bold new direction for the Superman titles after a long period of floundering.
It is 2011. I am cautiously optimistic about the bold new direction for the Superman titles after a long period of floundering.
It is 2014. I am cautiously optimistic about the bold new direction for the Superman titles after a long period of floundering.
It is 2016. I am cautiously optimistic about the bold new direction for the Superman titles after a long period of floundering.
It is 2018. I am cautiously optimistic about the bold new direction for the Superman titles after a long period of floundering.
It is 2021. I am cautiously optimistic about the bold new direction for the Superman titles after a long period of floundering.
It is 2023. I am cautiously optimistic about the bold new direction for the Superman titles after a long period of floundering.
On paper (which is how comics are printed), this is kind of exactly what I want. Action is now a Superman Family anthology book, and while a Power Girl spotlight and Danny J. rehashing the post-Convergence Lois & Clark status quo aren't exactly what I would have pegged for the initial backups, I'm happy that the former is getting a spotlight and that we're getting to spend more time with bearded Clark and young Jon. And I'm even happier that the Steels and Kong Kenan are in the main group. With Kon, Jon, and the adopted Phaelosians, it's probably hoping too much that we'll eventually see the return of Lor-Zod, but I can be optimistic. Phillip Kennedy Johnson has earned my trust for this run, and I hope he sticks it out for awhile.
I was a lot more worried about Superman. I thought Williamson's Flash series went off the rails pretty quickly, and the entire Dark Crisis saga was bad even on a purely technical level, let alone as a satisfying story or crossover event. My experience with Williamson of late has felt like he's been reheating Geoff Johns' and Scott Snyder's leftovers, and that has not made for entertaining comics. So I was blown away by Superman #1, which managed to strike precisely the right balance of getting back to basics while introducing enough new story hooks and conflict points to make things feel fresh. The way Superman's secret got put back in the bottle was dumb (and also the second time Manchester Black has been used to do precisely that thing, two_nickels.gif) but they gloss past it nicely here to get to a situation where Lex Luthor is the sinister voice in the back of Superman's head, voicing all of his anxieties and doubts. Lois chafing under the restrictions of being the Planet's temporary Chief makes for some good character beats, and repurposing LexCorp into SuperCorp (which feels like a knowing nod to CW fans) puts Superman in a fascinating position. There's a lot of promise here, and it reminds me a lot of the Busiek/Johns "Up, Up, and Away" story from the post-Infinite Crisis era, which kicked off a pretty decent run of comics, all things considered. I hope Jamal Campbell is in it for the long haul; I'm not particularly familiar with his work prior to this, but this book looks fantastic.
Adventures of Superman: Jon Kent...remains probably the weakest link in the bunch. Giving Jon a secret identity is a good idea, and something that should have been done back at the start of Son of Kal-El (or, more accurately, should have been done for more than a few pages). Giving him the electric blue suit and powers is an even better idea (even if they keep dragging it out for no clear reason), I've been on the "give someone else in the Superman family that costume" bandwagon longer than anyone. And the series sets up some good drama in Jon's changing powers, his ability to be a civilian for the first time, and how that affects his relationship with Jay, who is publicly recognized as Superman's boyfriend.
Except that it's ditching all of that to send Jon on a multiversal trip to battle Ultraman because they finally remembered what his backstory was, and have decided that Ultraman is just Gog now. And it's all leading up to a crossover with the
Tryhard Injustice universe, and I cannot roll my eyes hard enough. It's honestly nice to see Val-Zod, a character I missed out on but who has a nice design, but Jon's current problem has a lot to do with the fact that he has no clear anchor and few connections to the regular universe, and removing him from it yet again isn't going to fix that problem. Doing it so that Tom Taylor can take a little victory lap around Superman characters he's written just feels like a major disservice to a character who's already being effectively demoted and sidelined. It's a good looking book, and I welcome the chance to see my second-favorite Superman costume on somebody again, but I kind of hope this is Tom Taylor's swan song on the Son of Steel so that someone else can give the kid a real chance at being a star.
Where does that leave us in the long run? It's hard to say. I was just musing recently about what an amazing accomplishment it was that the post-Crisis brain trust managed to churn out a weekly comic of pretty consistently high quality for the better part of a decade, and how unique that is in the history of comics as a medium. We're unlikely to ever see anything like that again, but that doesn't mean we can't have a few years of the Superman comics being Good, Actually. You could say I'm cautiously optimistic, but [calculates average] I guess we'll check back in 2.375 years and see whether or not we're onto another bold new direction.