Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ender Bender 10: Chapter 8, "Rat" (Part 1)

Colonel Graff and Major Anderson, those are our adult conversation partners. I know they've both had their names said earlier in the book, but I'm writing them here so I can look it up easily and stop forgetting. Colonel Statler and Major Waldorf. Got it.

Graff's trying to pressure Anderson into rigging the games, messing with the students to put more pressure on. There's a lot of back and forth about the battleroom games, what their purpose is and what they mean, and I had to keep going back and counting paragraphs so I could figure out which side each talking head was supposed to be on. Anderson wants to preserve the games as the status symbol that they've come to represent for the kids, Graff wants to put Ender through the ringer. It's hard to find any sympathy for Graff when he's so myopically, obsessively focused on one kid and trying to structure the entire system around that one kid, while Anderson understandably has an entire school full of future soldiers to consider.

There's some "well I'll go over your head" back and forth, which brings us to this:
This is something to be decided by people who know what they're doing, not these frightened politicians who got their office because they happen to be politically potent in the country they came from.
Haha, yeah, that civilian oversight of the military is so lame, amirite?

There's also "Ender Wiggin is ten times smarter and stronger than I am," which I can't help but read as "Ooh, Poochie is one outrageous dude." Graff goes on a bit about how he could never withstand what he's putting Ender through. Why he thinks it'll an unanswered question.

And then we start the chapter proper in a not unexpected fashion:
"Ender Wiggin, the little farthead who leads the standings, what a pleasure to have you with us." The commander of Rat Army lay sprawled on a lower bunk wearing only his desk.
Flatulence? Check. Characters talking about how great Ender is? Check. Young boys unnecessarily naked? Check and then some. Meet Ender's new commander, Rosen. And if you thought there might be some issues with characters like Alai and Petra and Bonzo, then let me reassure you: Card was just warming up.

"We doing OK, Ender Bender.
Oh hey, it's the title of this series!

I Rose de Nose, Jewboy extraordinaire, and you ain’t nothin but a pinheaded pinprick of a goy. Don’t you forget it."

Since the I.F. was formed, the Strategos of the military forces had always been a Jew. There was a myth that Jewish generals didn’t lose wars. And so far it was still true. It made any Jew in the Battle School dream of being Strategos, and conferred prestige on him from the start.
Okay, that is some serious Protocols of the Elders of Zion stuff--and the irony that I very nearly typed "Enders" there is not lost on me. So, everyone's forced to give up their religion, except the Jews? Or is Jewish being treated more as an ethnicity here? And either way, Jewish generals never lose wars? I don't even know where to begin, except to say that reading this reminded me of those "none of the Jews came to work on 9/11" conspiracy theorists.

It also caused resentment. Rat Army was often called the K*** Force, half in praise, half in parody of Mazer Rackham’s Strike Force.
You have got to be flipping kidding me.

I wonder how many kids learned the k-word from this book. I suspect it's a good deal more than learned the n-word from a few chapters ago. I distinctly remember that my first exposure to that particular anti-Semitic slur was in a Wizard Magazine article, which discussed that the word had appeared in an issue of X-Men, as a typo that was meant to say "killer." I don't know why Card thought it important to dredge up for this tasteless throwaway line in service of describing a tasteless stereotype character who might as well be voiced by Jackie Mason and drawn like a character from a Chick tract. Maybe the word was more common in the mid-'80s, or maybe anti-Semitism is more widespread in the places Card frequented in younger years than they appeared to be throughout my development.

Either way, what the actual hell? And it goes on.

There were many who liked to remember that during the Second Invasion, even though an American Jew, as President, was Hegemon of the alliance, an Israeli Jew was Strategos in overall command of I.F. defense, and a Russian Jew was Polemarch of the fleet, it was Mazer Rackham, a little-known, twice-court-martialled, half-Maori New Zealander whose Strike Force broke up and finally destroyed the bugger fleet in the action around Saturn.
Those Jews notably don't get the credit because they're politicians, even though Card's stance that the leadership of the military and not the individual soldiers deserves credit for successful battles. Leadership only counts if it's not civilian leadership.

If Mazer Rackham could save the world, then it didn’t matter a bit whether you were a Jew or not, people said.
But it did matter, and Rose the Nose knew it. He mocked himself to forestall the mocking comments of anti-semites—almost everyone he defeated in battle became, at least for a time, a Jew-hater—but he also made sure everyone knew what he was. His army was in second place, bucking for first.
"Almost everyone he defeated in battle became, at least for a time, a Jew-hater."

You guys, I don't even know at this point. It seems like the only consistent thing in this effed-up future is the hate. Prejudices never go away, it's just that minorities learn to laugh at them (like Alai), use them (like Rosen), or accept them as the natural products of biology (like all the women).

And six-year-olds sling around ethnic slurs as meaningless jokes. Including our hero, everyone.

This scene keeps going, despite all sense of tact and dignity, and it just becomes more and more baffling.
"We only got three rules here. Do what I tell you and don't piss in the bed."
Ender nodded. He knew that Rose wanted him to ask what the third rule was. So he did.
"That was three rules. We don't do too good in math, here."
The message was clear. Winning is more important than anything.
I'm glad Card spelled out that clear message, because I certainly wouldn't have gotten "winning is everything" from "we're bad at math." Somewhere along the way in my English education, I was told that you shouldn't write things like "it is obvious" or "it is clear" because if it really were those things, you wouldn't have to say them. It's nice that Card has decided to ignore those rules, just as surely as he ignores that "show, don't tell" one, and the "revise your rough draft" one.

Though I'm sure that Card probably thought that having a Jewish character be bad at math was as subversive as having the black character (mostly) not talk in the AAVE-style slang.

Rosen is placing Ender in Dink Meeker's [pla]toon, and tells him not to use his desk, because he doesn't want genius programmer Ender messing with his program.

That program?
Everybody erupred in laughter. It took Ender a moment to understand why. Rose had programmed his desk to display and animate a bigger-than-lifesize picture of male genitals, which waggled back and forth as Rose held the desk on his naked lap.
Well, there's some verisimilitude for you. If the years of being in schools have taught me anything, it's that no matter how advanced a technology is, some guy is going to draw a dick with it.

Ender finds out that Dink specifically requested him, and begins a habit of offering sage cynicism that continues throughout the chapter.
"Listen, Ender, commanders have just as much authority as you let them have. The more you obey them, the more power they have over you.
That's so deep, man. Dink is our resident James Dean.

Ender gets to have a more active role in the battles this time around, but while Dink enthusiastically trusts Ender's zero-g instincts, he doesn't entirely understand them. Because that's not something you'd eventually get used to or figure out the more you did it over several years or anything. It's certainly not the kind of thing that adult astronauts who spend just a few months in space adjust to so fully that they have a hard time readjusting when they return to Earth. But I guess a few hours each week in battles is different from full-time zero-g.

So if zero-g combat and coordination is so important, why have gravity in the rest of the station?

Ender's tactics catch on, despite the other soldiers' reluctance and inability to totally intuitively comprehend the relevant physics. I know, how gauche. Being part of a real army makes Ender even more popular among his launch group.

Back in the barracks, Rosen reminds Ender that he was ordered not to use his desk. And the Ender who was smugly polite to Bonzo is nowhere to be found in this exchange. He's been emboldened by Dink's cynicism, clearly:
Ender set the desk on his bunk and stood up. "I need trigonometry more than I need you."
Rose was taller than Ender by at least forty centimeters. But Ender was not particularly worried. It would not come to physical violence, and if it did, Ender thought he could hold his own. Rose was lazy and didn't know personal combat.
Yes, our Jewish character is lazy, lewd, unserious, and only interested in moneywinning. Keep subverting those tropes, Orson!

There's some back-and-forth about how Ender disobeyed commands in his last army too, but of course it's a good thing because Ender did it. Naturally, this leads to retaliation, as Rosen decides to throw Ender out into their next battle all on his own.

And, naturally, Ender turns it into a victory:
It was Centipede Army, and they only began to emerge from their door when Ender was halfway across the battleroom. Many of them were able to get under cover of stars quickly, but Ender had doubled up his legs under him and, holding his pistol at his crotch, he was firing between his legs and freezing many of them as they emerged.
No subtext there, no siree. So Rat Army wins, in no small part due to Ender's efforts, and this kind of ambush attack becomes a trend. And Ender stops being the first in the standings but then he gets better and becomes the best fighter ever always forever.

We'll leave it there for today. Next time, things get weird.

1 comment:

SamuraiFrog said...

I've been missing this series and I really hope it continues soon. I think what you're doing is invaluable.