DecENDER: Chapters 14-15 Roundup (Week 5)

Originally posted here.

The long-awaited…

The last two chapters of this book seem to be about four chapters long. I mean, they move along so quickly that you’re hardly aware of any chapter breaks, but the information in those chapters is dense. It probably doesn’t help that time is so severely compressed in the conclusion of this book. It goes from weeks to years passing very quickly.

Mazer Rackham (not Cat Rackham) sneaks up on you, doesn’t he? It’s, in some ways, obvious that he is the old man when we first meet him. At this point in the book, it’s too late for a completely new character. Rackham’s been referenced but not described or explained until this point—it has to be him. He’s pretty brutal to Ender, both physically and emotionally. I’m not sure at which point he stops controlling the simulations and they become real battles, but my assumption is that it is very early on, perhaps as soon as the other kids join in.

Think back on the descriptions of the “simulations”. How crazy is it to think that all of those are actual battles costing real lives? It’s interesting to see these characters in a new context. They’ve built Ender into the commander he is, and now they must follow his instructions relatively unquestioningly. There are nice character bits with each of them, but Ender is more and more alienated from them as time goes on.

Speaking of alienated, Ender becomes more and more alienated from time and his own life as the battles continue. He sleeps and is tormented by…something (honestly the dreams were a bit tedious to me at this point, knowing the ending) and wakes for battles. He survives and thrives through his test by “giving up” in the same way he gave up to win his final battleroom game (nice bit of foreshadowing, that)—completely destroying the buggers homeworld. He then sleeps through the attempted coup afterwards.

At this point, the book goes into exposition mode and zooms us forward at increasingly quick rates. Ender becomes a war hero. He reunites with Val. Peter becomes president/dictator/hegemon. Ender and Val become colonists. Ender finds the last remaining queen bugger. Ender writes a history and becomes the figurehead of a new religion. Whoooosh.

It reminds me of the last quarter of Dune except with Ender refusing to take the reins like Muad’dib did. I’m overall disappointed with the ending of Ender’s Game. I understand it set up a series, but the part I care most about (battles, interpersonal bits) is left by the wayside at the end in service of endless dreams and world/religion-building. It remains a great book. Thoughts?

DecENDER: Chapters 12-13 Roundup (Week 4)

Originally posted here.

How brutal are these two chapters? Ender’s Dragon army is forced to fight more unfair battles until Ender stops caring and his army is able to win through sheer force of his apathy. Then they are disbanded. Ender is attacked in the bathroom by a much larger, much angrier boy. Ender survives. (We learn that Ender has killed Bonzo and his previous bully before he left Earth, though he has no idea.)

Then Ender goes on sabbatical. He refuses to countenance Command School or even the thought of battling ever again. His sister is brought in to persuade him to get over himself and do what’s good for humanity. Val has trouble balancing what she considers her real self with the stronger and stronger personality of Demosthenes—a personality which works against her in two ways. Demosthenes is more hawkish than Val and is her liability that Graff uses to get what he needs. She indirectly points Ender’s mind into going back into battle while acknowledging that he will become less human and more of a “monster” in both of their eyes. Ender knows his fate is inevitable but fights it with an almost agressive apathy that is only broken by his love for a Val that hardly exists anymore.

Two action-packed chapters left! See you next year!

DecENDER: Chapters 9-11 Roundup (Week 3)

Originally posted here.

Peter and Val: bloggers. I mean, that’s pretty much it, right? They’re going from lively comment-makers to bloggers to columnists on the future-world Drudge Report and Huffington Post. They’re doing what some people assume Glenn Beck and the Fox News set are doing, but in a way would make Glenn Beck cry with envy. These two geniuses are starting to take over the world. Megalomaniacal Peter is thrilled, but Valentine is worried, especially when she realizes that “reasonable people” like her father are being swayed by her arguments. It’s a very prescient view of the way the internet is being used in politics today, though it does feel reasonable unattached to Ender’s plight in Battle School.

Dragon Army is a pretty kickass name. Ender does a good job of living up to the name with his army. The kid has a good sense about people, considering his typical anti-social bent. He can control an army easily, but has a lot of trouble maintaining any sort of working relationship with anyone. Bean seems like a likely candidate for friendship, if Ender can balance his desire to push him and not be too much of a dick at the same time.

Ender’s strategies are pretty impressive, but honestly, the Battleroom game is very rigid. The ideas of formations in toons (short for platoons) remind me very much of the Redcoats in the early American Revolution battles. Ender’s positioned Dragon Army like the American revolutionaries—breaking ranks, shifting formations, moving towards a more guerrilla type of battle. I expect to see the progression to guerilla fighting to continue and deepen as the book progresses. Assuming Bonzo doesn’t break Ender’s face first.

Discuss with #decENDERwk3 and #decENDER, as usual.

Merry Christmas!

DecENDER: Chapters 6-8 Roundup (Week Two)

Originally posted here.

These last three chapters have been all about Battle School and, specifically, the Battleroom. What a concept—a gravityless room where an especially advanced (and competitive) game of laser tag goes on. I can’t think of an activity that 7-12 year old kids would enjoy more. Honestly, I would love to play that game, but I’m getting older and I know how much I would hurt the evening after a game like that.

In the Battleroom, Ender delivers further on his strategic brilliance, but also excels at diplomacy (forming his alliance with Alai and thus Bernard), and spatial thinking. His ability to immediately reorient himself is key and I think it’s going to make a difference going forward.

These three chapters also show life in three very different Armies. He finally comes into his own with his launch party, making a true friend (possibly his first besides his sister) in Alai and bringing the group together. In Salamander unit, he’s treated as the lowest of the low. He learns to gain the upper hand in that situation too—gaining another ally in Petra and an enemy in Bonzo. In Salamander army he studies the game while maintaining friendships with his launch and teaching them what he has learned.

Finally he is deposited into some sort of secret tactical strike force in an otherwise disorganized army: Rat. His new leader seems to have big plans but is unwilling to let the teachers control him. Dink’s awareness of his entire situation (rather than just the game or just the army or just the battle school) is the first time we’ve been given any reason to really think critically about what is happening to Ender. How reliable is the information we’ve been given about the Bugger Wars? What’s the ulterior motive of Battle School? (As an aside: what do you think is the nature of Petra’s relationship to Dink? Is romance something that’s even allowed at Battle School?)

And what is the purpose of the Giant’s Game? This group of chapters is bookended with discussion of that bizarre video game. It seems pretty psychedelic and the visuals remind me a lot of some of the Moebius drawings coming through this blog [occasionally NSFW]. Interesting to think that, in 1977 (when this book’s first excerpt was published), there was no technology that could produce the visuals as described in this book. Now it just sounds like a particularly surreal RPG.

A lot of the technology in this book (besides things like an implanted monitor and, you know, space travel) was likely fantastical at the time but seems almost commonplace nowadays. Ender’s computing Desk sounds similar to iPad with maybe some 3D capabilities. Being able to migrate Desks with no loss of data is pretty reminiscent of so-called “cloud computing.” I mentioned earlier that the Battleroom guns are essentially laser tag with some special suits. What else exists in our world and Ender’s world but didn’t exist in Card’s when he wrote the book?

As usual, use #decENDERwk2 for this week’s discussions on Twitter, and#decENDER for general thoughts. Please comment below—post your thoughts, answer some questions, ask your own!

DecENDER: Week One Recap, one week late

Originally posted here.

Um, so…yeah. Sorry about the lateness.

Ender’s Game! What a group of chapters. Card seems to have written this book with increasingly long chapters, so we get five chapters in the space of about fifty pages. We’re quickly introduced to (1) Our character, (2) his background, (3) his future, (4) his competition, and (5) his new life.

Being a kid is brutal. Ender exhibits a tactical mind right off the bat—he is willing to both know and do what needs to be done, but he is remorseful when he causes pain. It seems they are grooming him for some type of command; it’s the perfect disposition for “civilized” combat: savage but human.

Being a genius is tough, too. Ender’s clearly far beyond his launchmates when it comes to his brainpower (don’t forget that he’s a six-year-old!) but he knows when to hide it and when to let the brilliance shine through. I’m sure most of us have experienced a time where you hold back for no other reason than to keep everyone from hating you. No one wants to be the “know-it-all” and be resented by the people that you show up. Ender’s got a lock on that.

Interesting is his moral compass. Ender clearly knows what needs to be done even if what he wants is completely contrary. This is both exhibited in his putting bullies in their places as well as leaving his sister home with his sociopathic brother. His sense of duty is stronger than his will, and he seems to resent it.

Thoughts, etc? Comment below or use #decENDERwk1
(posted before midnight of the second week! that has to count for something!)

DecENDER: Why Ender’s Game?

Originally posted here.

Day One: Complete. Did you start Ender’s Game today? (Full disclosure: I didn’t. Maybe I’ll get to it at bedtime…) I’m pretty stoked about this book group. Please tell your friends and get them in on our club!

People have asked why I chose Ender’s Game for the December Book Club this year. I had toyed with the idea of doing the second Dune book or reading some Philip K Dick or William Gibson before I settled on Ender’s Game. The reasons I ended up choosing Ender’s Game are similar to the reasons that I chose Dune last year:

  1. It’s a science fiction classic.
  2. It’s a book that most people haven’t read or haven’t read for years.
  3. It’s easy to find.
  4. It requires little prior knowledge.
  5. It’s hugely influential.

Arguments can be made for plenty of Gibson or Dick stories for most of those points (and I am not beyond choosing, say, Neuromancer, for another book club choice), but I felt like Ender’s Game was a good populist choice. Plus, it’s a relatively easy read compared to the slog that Dune can be, and I wanted to have fun with this (and finish the book in ONE month).

DecENDER: Reading Schedule

Originally posted here.

December Ender's Game Schedule

(Monday – Sunday, with recaps on Sundays here)

Dec 1-5: Chapters 1-5
Dec 6-12: Chapters 6-8
Dec 13-19: Chapters 9-11
Dec 20-26: Chapters 12 & 13
Dec 27-31: Chapters 14 & 15

It averages to about 70 pages per week—the book is a relatively quick read, so don’t be intimidated.

I’ve opened up the blog for questions and for blog post submissions—if you have a question or a cool image/link/etc. that pertains to Ender’s Game, please feel free to send ‘em in!

As always, the twitter hashtag is #decENDER and you can follow the blog posts and more @dec_ender.

Thanks for reading!

Dunecember: End of the Story Discussion

J. Scott Campbell's Frank Herbert

Have you finished Dune(cember)?

I have. Let’s talk. Continue reading

Dunecember: Week 8 Roundup

Japanese Dune Cover

Here we are: halfway through book three, most of the way through Dune. Crazy things are still happening: our main character(s) are still finding their place in their world. The protagonist and the antagonist haven’t even met yet, and we’ve only got about 50 pages left (plus the appendices)!

Thus far in Book Three, the focus has partially been on bringing the Atreides crew from Book One out of hiding. We find that, two (or is it three?) years later, Thufir Hawat, the mentat, is still in service of the Harkonnens. He has been busy, however. We find that he is playing multiple sides against each other, making it look as if each is the sole beneficiary of his schemes. Taking his sketched-out plans on the whole, it looks like he is going for revenge against the Baron, his chosen successor, and the emperor. His plans are also working to drive Arrakis into the hands of Paul, though he may not know it.

A word on the Baron real quick: I think Herbert’s emphasis on his huge fatness belies the power, intelligence, and scheming that the Baron seems capable of. He has plans layers and layers deep, keeping everyone who could be of any use to him beholden to him in some way. Every person who works with him or deals with him has an exploitable weak spot that the Baron is not afraid to take hold of and squeeze. This guy is a pretty great foil compared with the young, quick Paul. And they haven’t even met!

At the end of our section, Gurney Halleck (how awesome of a name for a fighting man is Gurney by the way?) rejoins Paul and Jessica. He has spent the time as a spice smuggler, and is still motivated by thoughts of revenging his Duke. He’s not the schemer that Hawat is, but it seems he was, in a way, the soul of Duke Leto’s former crew. He provides some of the more emotional moments in the book, I think.

Paul’s story is really coming to a head as a bildungsroman. He’s fathered a child. He goes through the Fremen rite of manhood in catching and riding a maker. He’s gone from reacting to things that are happening or are about to happen to planning for the future. Paul seems to have a lot of schemes laid out as well. I really really like his philosophy of compromise. He sees two distinct futures ahead of him and constantly tries to have it another way. It’s, in a certain sense, youthful rebellion; it’s also the sign of someone who refuses to just accept his fate and give up fighting. I am thoroughly convinced by his speech explaining the compromise of being leader while keeping Stilgar alive and in charge of the seitch (it makes Stilgar…governor while Paul is…president?). And I think he is up to some craziness with the ending of the chapter. What he has decided to do makes sense with his take-charge-instead-of-waiting method of leadership, even though it’s nuts.

This is our last week! Read to THE END OF THE BOOK! I’ll try to get a roundup in by Thursday or Friday, and then write another one for some Appendix discussion. Also this week I am looking to have some guests discuss their favorite characters or scenes or locations or technology or whathaveyou in Dune. Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in sending me ~500 words on stillsuits (or whatever).

The picture up top is stolen from Brandon Graham’s livejournal. He’s one of my favorite comic book guys–his book King City comes out roughly monthly from Image. And, because I haven’t made a Star Wars connection in a while: Fremen with stillsuits = Tusken Raiders???

Dunecember: Weeks 6 + 7 Roundup (Book 2)

What a crazy couple of weeks for Paul and for Arrakis. Actually, I don’t know how much time passed during Book Two, but I get the feeling that it was not a long period of time. It may have been shorter than two weeks. But we read the section in two weeks, so I’m just going to go with that.

This was the setting-things-up section of the book. The first part gave us the facts about the planet and the characters. We learned of the political situation and were given some insights into what was going to happen (and some things that only might happen). This part placed all the pieces in motion. Betrayals were handed out, as were executions. Partnerships were formed, and titles were distributed. It seems that everything was laid out for the commencement of the action–the forward movement–of our last section.

I’m going to stick to my format from last time and bullet out some of the important plot points from the last ~160 pages:

  • The Atreides have lost Arrakis to the Harkonnens–everyone’s believed dead except Hawat.
  • Paul and Jessica survived in the open desert and were initiated into Stilgar’s Fremen tribe
  • Paul > Lisan al-Gaib/Usul/Paul Muad’Dib
  • Jessica > Reverend Mother
  • Baron Harkonnen > Still a bastard

There is an insane amount of detail and complexity I am leaving out here, but, well there you go. The ending scene of Book Two was pretty dense with information. Jessica becoming a Reverend Mother seems to have awakened her generational insight while also awakening the child growing inside her. The spice that Jessica consumed and transformed is enjoyed by a drug in the seitch “orgy” which may be as much or more metaphysical than it is physical (though it seems that Paul and Chani–Liet-Kynes’ daughter–do get physical). The whole thing reminded me of that scene in Matrix Reloaded, except without Keanu Reeves’ naked butt.

We’re caught up to this post in DHarbin’s Dune book club. Read his stuff for more insight–and his comments for actual discussion!

Next week, we’re reading to around page 437–the chapter that begins “How often it is that the angry man…” and ends with “His body had slowly acquired…” Enjoy (I’ll round it up, I promise!)