Monday, November 4, 2013

Game Over

I didn't go see Ender's Game this weekend but I did once read the book. So here's a review that'll hopefully score me some more blag traffic!

The one thing that always confused me about Ender's Game was how everyone insisted the titular Ender Wiggins was some sort of tactical genius. Yeah, I know there's supposed to be some stuff about loyalty and friendship and the horrors of war and blah blah blah... But all I ever heard from sci-fi nerds is how clever the main character was.

So I read the book and his brilliant battle tactic? More dakka. Really. No feints, no deftly timed maneuvers, just "Ender smash!" Threw me a bit...

In fairness, while zero-g training, Wiggums figures out that his team can use their own legs as a shield for the opposing team's fire. Because it's just lazer tag and differentiates between vital organs and extremities. But this doesn't change the essential plan of four yards and a cloud of bullets. And he sticks to the same kill 'em all style all the way through, until he's vaporized the alien homeworld while thinking the whole thing was still just training. And the character bits in between all the shooting in a white room... it's thoroughly forgettable.

In fact, that's a good way to sum up the entire book. Not bad, at least not enough for me to work up a good rant. It just kinda sits there, like mayonnaise. Which shouldn't be surprising, being a Mormon's attempt at grafting Starship Troopers to The Forever War.

So then why is Endgame so popular in nerd circles? I propose it has nothing to do with the story or the prose style - which is godawful, though still not enough for a proper hate-down. No, Eddie Wiggles is a popular genre character because he is the embodiment of the common Waffentwerp fantasy - the smart dork triumphing violently over everyone and everything.

It's a distinctly teenage boy mentality. It's always the put upon dweeb and the triumph is always of some violent or martial sort. Luke Skywalker, Paul Atreides, that goon from The Last Starfighter - all nobodies who redefine themselves through violence and all beloved by the real losers out there. In Paul's case, he goes on to seriously question what his killing name has wrought on the universe but the fandom doesn't usually dwell on that as it gets in the way of giggling over all the badass wormriders. Badass is the whole raison d'etre of these characters - and Ender - as far as the geek hordes are concerned because being badass - wreaking tremendous, righteous violence - elevates one from the loserdom that is the common American male's everyday existence.

And finally, it's a fantasy because it supposes that "genius" in war is even a factor. Ulysses S. Grant, a truly great general, saved most of his genius for logistics while Robert E. Lee was off doing the romantic tactician stuff. Grant won. Napoleon packed the Grand Armee with as much cannon as it could hold, like the battalions of Gustavus two centuries earlier -

Okay, so More Dakka is a highly effective strategy. But it doesn't take a whole lot of thought. The stuff that does - insurgency, counter-terrorism - takes a little more smarts but then only a little. You'd think twelve years of irregular, asymetric warfare would have taught people this stuff. Osama bin Laden scored one heck of a tactical victory on 9/11, but he also believed in Allah. Not a Mensa candidate is what I'm sayin'...

But there's nothing badass about any of that. So rather than a film treatment of the long grind and moral ambiguity of warfare, we get Indiana Ford and Ass Butter acting out the power fantasies of a Mormon milquetoast. Go read up on the Thirty Years War or the Battle of Rivoli if you wanna know what military genius looks like. If you wanna see Ender's genius, do a Zerg rush in Starcraft.

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