Orson Scott Card (2009)


This piece comes from Death Ray 17, published originally in 2009. Seeing as Ender’s Game is out at the pictures now, I figured I’d put this up. I think this is one of my favourite interviews, too; Card is so deliciously outspoken.

I’ve a number of these  long interviews with major science fiction and fantasy authors, but they take time to format, time when I should be writing.  So enjoy this one, the next may be a while in coming…

Capped words all Card’s own.

Outspoken, passionate, committed to his beliefs and prolific in his writings, politically Card is one of the more interesting writers in the genre working today.

There are books we all love, the ones we’ve all read, whose stories we know and treasure. The Dunes, The Lord of the Rings and Illustrated Mans of the world. The books that form the backbone of the SF commonality (is it right to call it a community any more? It just seems too diverse). These are the books we long for, and dread, will be made into movies, the interpretations of which we argue over.

And then there are books that really affect people; these are much rarer.

Orson Scott Card has written one of those books: Ender’s Game, an almost perfect mirror where what you see reflected in it is what you brought with you. It’s about the extreme means taken, to whit, brutalising a little boy into becoming the best commander in history, in order to prevent the destruction of mankind. Many different people see many different things in it, and it has become popular with groups as diverse as alienated gifted children and US Marines.

Card’s also a prominent Mormon, (he even spent a couple of years as a missionary in Brasil) and there’s an iron rod of morality that runs through his books as a result. He’s the possessor of complex views, which he airs in talks, essays and in a weekly newspaper column. He often draws fire from all camps for one politically charged statement or another. Admirably he refuses to be pigeon-holed. Though his comments on the legitimacy of gay marriage have raised some eyebrows on the whole his passionate views speak of one wholly pertinent truth: life isn’t so simple as choosing a political stance and taking away a whole bundle of interconnected issues; each issue should be examined on its own merits. [Note from 2013: Now I don’t have to butter people up for media purposes, I’ll say I find some of his views pretty dodgy. But I’m all for a separation of art and artist – because he doesn’t endorse gay marriage (I do), it doesn’t make him less of a storyteller.  I will say, however, that his rant about the lunacy of buying into bundles of beliefs through self-identification with one “side” or another is totally spot on, it’s a cause of immense frustration to me too. I think he and I could have some marvellous pub time debates– if Mormons drank. I admire his conviction, if not all of his convictions.].

There’s a side of him that’s keen to pass on his experience, he’s written two books on writing, taught for a while at university, and now runs a yearly literary bootcamp whose attendees are chosen on merit and who generally go on to become published writers themselves.

Card’s latest Ender book, Ender in Exile, was out recently in the US [Note from 2013: At the time of this interview]. We got in touch with him to talk about his life, his works, and the tricky issues he confronts in his writings.

Orson Scott Card Fact File

Born: 24 August, 1951

Where is he to be found? Card lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, which played an important role in the final stages of the US Civil War, though he’s originally from the West Coast.

What’s he do now? He’s always writing, is Card, and has just released the tenth in his Ender’s Game series. Called Ender in Exile, it is a direct sequel to Ender’s Game, coming before the events of Speaker for the Dead. He also finds time to teach, direct local theatre, and be an active member of the Mormon church.

What’s he famous for? The Ender series is Card’s… calling card, for want of a better phrase. He has another series, Alvin The Maker, set in an alternative 19th Century America where minor magical powers are commonplace and the US never formed.

Who is he influenced by? History has played as big a part in forming Card’s mentality as SF, including the novels of Joseph Altsheler, Elswyth Thane, Margaret Mitchell (Gone With the Wind) and Mark Twain (particularly The Prince and the Pauper). The factual books of Bruce Catton and William L Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) also had a big impact. Broadway is another formative influence – showtunes were big in the Card household, and Card has played a few instruments in his time. But the biggest impact has come from his religion.

Q&A

Death Ray: You are a man, I think, that confuses many Americans, in that your diverse political, scientific and religious views make you extremely difficult to pigeonhole. Have you always been brave enough not to fall into step with the herd and stick to your guns?

Orson Scott Card: It’s not a matter of bravery, just of common sense. Right now we live in an era of utterly insane political categories. Why should the fact that I oppose the death penalty (for practical reasons dealing with confidence in our verdicts) mean that I must therefore support abortion? (I support it only in first trimester, for victims of rape and incest, or when physical health of the mother is at stake.) Why should my support for the war against terror mean that I must also support an absolute right to gun ownership of every kind here inAmerica? (I can’t see a reason for anyone but police and a few licensed people to own handguns, and I see no reason for anyone to have assault weapons. “gun collection” is not a right, anymore than “drug collection” would be.)

Within the pigeonholes, too, there are absurd contradictions. Why, as a committed supporter of protection of the environment and endangered species, must I automatically believe in the dogma of anthropogenic global warming, which is anti-scientific at its core? How can anyone simultaneously believe that differences between men and women are entirely social and/or environmental in origin (the hardcore feminist stance), while differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals are absolutely irresistible and totally physical in origin? The actual scientific evidence, as well as common sense, suggests the opposite in both cases – and belief in these dogmas seriously hampers any serious effort to better the situation of members of all these groups.

Why, because I believe in absolute equal treatment under the law of all the races does that mean I should somehow think it’s a good idea to give mortgages to people whose income or credit history suggest that they are unlikely to repay them? These are, once again, opposite premises. Why, because I believe governments are incompetent to manage the economy, does this mean that I must therefore give corporate managers complete unregulated freedom to deform the economy in their own interest?

In short, I don’t have any particular courage, I simply find that a person of intelligence cannot believe in the dogmas of EITHER major political group. If you are guided by history, science, and logic, you will find there is no political party you can join, no platform you can endorse, and no hope of finding candidates who are not beholden to idiots by the time they take office.

I became a Democrat in the era of Daniel Patrick Moynihan – intelligent, able to accommodate other points of view, compassionate, but well aware that it does the poor and minorities no favour to infantilise them with handouts that don’t help them take part as adults in the real world. A strong national defense AND international relations that don’t try to force unready economies to compete in a global free market – especially when that free market is actually fake, as the major powers all subsidise their agriculture while refusing to let poorer countries protect theirs.

Why, if I oppose dictatorial judges making new laws that cannot be repealed without extraordinary effort, does that mean I am a “fascist”? I would think that makes me a Democrat! Why, if I think gay marriage confers no rational benefit to homosexuals while causing serious deficiencies in the whole society’s ability to channel our children toward healthy adulthood, does that mean I want people to beat and kill homosexuals? The insistence of both Left and Right to interpret the slightest disagreement with them as advocacy of the most extreme and evil views ever held (i.e., you’re either a Nazi or a Communist) is the enemy of public discourse. you can’t possibly reach workable compromises if you don’t tolerate the slightest deviance from your party line.

Here is the irony. there is NOT ONE POSITION I have taken on any issue that does not represent the moderate-to-liberal view of the world as of 1975-1985. Yet the hate mail I receive is unbelievable in its childishness, violence, and obscenity – all because I’m not completely in line with insane, fanatical viewpoints of Left or Right.

If I had written a science-fiction novel in 1980 that depicted this election year and the behavior of the press and both parties (but especially the New Puritans of the PC Left), NO ONE WOULD HAVE BELIEVED IT. Science fiction has to be plausible. History only has to be accurate.

DR: In connection with that, why do you think modern culture insists everything is boiled down to soundbites?

OSC: The problem is not soundbites (“Give me liberty or give me death” – quick, recite the rest of the speech). The problem is the ideological groupthink of the Leftist media – i.e., almost all of it. It is phenomenal that their ignorance of most Americans is such that they really seem to believe that Fox News is full of “rightwing lies.” The fact is that by watching only Fox News, I will hear strong advocacy of Left and Right – and accurate information about news. whereas if I watched the “mainstream” media, I would not believe that the basic conservatism of the majority of Americans even existed except as a lunatic fringe. I live among those majoritarian Americans; I know them well. I also know members of the academic/literary/media elite and can, if forced to, speak their language fluently. I would rather trust the future of America to the former than the latter –because the former live in the real world.

DR: After decrying soundbites, here’s a cheap journalistic trick: If we could do such a thing, what would the “Card Soundbite” be?

OSC: “‘Can’t we all just start from the assumption that the other guy has legitimate desires and fears, and try to accommodate each other?” OR: “No group should get things ALL their way.” OR: “If you think the other guy is wrong about everything, YOU are the dangerous fanatic.”

DR: You are anti-violence, commendably. Yet have a remarkably pragmatic view towards the military and war. This especially confuses some left-wingers: how can you have one and not the other? What do you say to those who do not get this, but who still rely on the US military to protect their right not to get it?

OSC: I have never met an “anti-war” activist who is not, in fact, very much pro-war. They are just opposed to particular wars for particular reasons. They deplore horrors like the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia and Darfur, the slaughter of the Desaparecidos in Argentina, etc., etc., with the attitude, “We have to stop this now!”‘ but don’t understand that you can’t negotiate a stop to such things, you can only stop them with a clear demonstration of the will and power to force them to stop. Period. Negotiations only work between opponents with shared or mutually compatible interests, or when the power differential is enormously lopsided. Unless the good guys have both the power and the demonstrated will to use force against those who thrive on the use of force, then the bad guys will ALWAYS get their way and the whole world will be brutish, oppressed, and poor.

They always seem to agree that WWII was necessary to defend against great horrors, but don’t seem to understand that WWII’s worst horrors could have been completely prevented if Britain and France had acted, in 1937 or 1938, as George W. Bush acted in 2002 and 2003.

A strong American military is and must be the policeman if the world, if only because we really ARE the good guys, leaving countries we defeat in war FAR better off than they were before, and only we have the power to intervene where intervention is possible. When people say, “We can’t be the policeman of the world,” I ask them to extend that metaphor to their own neighborhood. if NOBODY is the policeman of your neighborhood, how long do you think it will remain a good place to live? The fact is that even in countries where public opinion is anti-American, there are many who harbour the secret hope that someday they might have the freedom and prosperity that America offers.

More to the point, the pax Americana that the US military imposes on the world is the basic condition of world prosperity. Withdraw it, and in the chaos that follows EVERYBODY gets poorer, and the marginal nations starve. “Pax Americana” is the right term, too: The peace that allows world commerce to thrive, enriching all (though unevenly, of course), exists only because American arms enforce it; but the more people around the world believe we have the power and will to go to war to protect the downtrodden and thwart the would-be conquerors and oppressors, the LESS force we have to use. Our war against terror was only made necessary because Congress reneged on our promise to South Vietnam and cut them off from resupply, and then Congress and presidents like the spineless Reagan and the foreign policy hobbyist Clinton encouraged terrorists to believe we did NOT have the will to resist them. Small actions taken at the right time can prevent the need for large actions later. It’s a fact of history – but the people who can’t understand my point of view on this and see some contradiction between peace and a strong military seem to be the same ones who know nothing truthful about history.

DR: Despite being anti-violence, do you not think it’s a tiny bit fun? Very few entertainments have an absence of conflict, and this conflict often gives rise to violence. Why do you think something can be exciting and be fundamentally wrong at the same time?

OSC: Conflict and violence are part of stories – which is where they belong. Stories (and storytelling media like games) give us vicarious memories of violence that didn’t actually happen. Good stories show which fights are worth fighting and which fights are mere bullying; we are given, through stories, a moral context for violence. I am always amazed at the people who can’t seem to understand that fiction is a way of getting important experiences without actually having to live through them. and the right stories can help create a society that uses violence only rarely, and only appropriately.

If the police did not have the ability and right to use violence under certain limited circumstances, we would inevitably be ruled by the mafia, or, as they called them in another era, “feudal lords”. If the good people do not have the power to use violence according to certain predefined rules, then the bad people will use violence with no rules at all. There is no other choice in the real world.

So I write stories that depict acts of violence; the readers sense the importance of these actions; and those who live in my fictional worlds get my version of when violence is legitimate and when it is not – along with all kinds of other moral views of reality. This is not because I’m preaching – I eliminate preaching whenever I catch myself doing it in my fiction – but because it is impossible to write fiction WITHOUT revealing what acts I think are important, which ones I think are defensible, which are required, and which are horrible.

There are fictional stories and games (and, for that matter, “reality programming”) that I think is morally despicable. My answer is to write MY stories and hope that enough people embrace my worldview that the Grand Theft Auto worldview will be replaced – at least in the minds of a civilized majority.

DR: One of your great gifts seems to be writing stories that people take and make their own. Although a fine attribute in a storyteller, do you find it a curse too? Do people think they know you through your works? I ask this as one interviewer seized on you saying I paraphrase “My elder brother was really quite mean to me, and that was frightening at the time” to mean “I was abused as a child”. Mostly because, I think, she took her own trauma into your book with her and thus thought she saw it in you. I digress here, but she also saw in Ender’s Game the message that the ends never justify the means, whereas I kind of took it absolutely the other way.

OSC: In Ender’s Game, the things done to the children in battle school were awful – just as the things we do to young people in the military are awful – but they also were understood to be absolutely necessary for the survival of the species. This is the constant quandary of civilization: Nobody gets to live exactly as they want to, and some people make sacrifices much greater than other people, and some people are absolutely ruined by the way society works: And yet this can be essential for the survival of a basically good civilization! Civilizations that do not demand sacrifices from their citizens do not last very long. Nor do civilizations that do not believe in their own rectitude, at least with some degree of fervency (i.e., patriotism or crusading spirit). Excesses of these attributes are destructive; absence of them is destructive. Why can’t people see that successful civilizations and communities require a constant seeking of the balance between sacrifice and fulfillment? Whenever one group demands total fulfillment of their desires at the expense of others, they are oppressors; only in the finding of balances can reasonable contentment be achieved.

So in Ender’s Game, the children – especially Ender – really suffer. But the adults imposing this training are also Doing the Right Thing. General Eisenhower (and the other commanders and governments) sent thousand of soldiers to certain death or permanent maiming on D-Day. Quick, raise your hands: How many of you think the world would be a better place if they had not done so?

DR: I know Ender’s Game is popular in the US military, with gifted kids, with all kinds of people. Do any groups champion your stories that you fundamentally disagree with?

OSC: Of course. That’s not under an author’s control. I can only hope that other people see that theirs is an eccentric reading, not the one I intended.

DR: Do works of fiction stand aside separately from their creators, as their own entities?

OSC: Stories are inextricably entwined with the teller of the tale. The talemaker is not ADVOCATING all that he depicts, but he is saying that this is how the world works, and these are the acts which are noble or base, admirable or horrifying, necessary or wasteful, etc. By the end of the story, you have a pretty good idea of the world the talemaker thinks he or she lives in, or wishes to live in, or fears to live in …

DR: Do you as a writer have any obligation to either them or their readers once they have been printed?

OSC: If I found that something I wrote was, through misunderstanding or changing interpretation because of social evolution, now causing harm, I have an obligation to rewrite or withdraw the work in question. Of course. the problem is SEEING such harm AS HARM. There are readers who hate Ender’s Game, but I find that they have invariably misread it – usually because they simply tune out key statements. Often the people who hate Ender’s Game do so because they WANT to hate it – therefore they ignore anything that is not hateable, and assume that I am advocating anything I depict at all – even when I show it is despicable. I can’t rewrite my work so that malicious misreaders cannot twist the meaning of it. I can only rewrite it where even honest readers might misunderstand – THOSE flaws I can fix.

DR: You, like many storytellers, enjoy adding detail and shades of meaning to your worlds through sequels. What do you think the attraction is for writers in revisiting their creations?

OSC: Money. Nobody ever wrote a sequel, as far as I know, when they had no idea that anybody would buy it. Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings – agreeing to do so before he even had a trace of a story to tell – solely because The Hobbit had sold well and the publisher wanted another Hobbit book. Do you think if nobody had bought Ender’s Game, you would have seen Ender show up as a character in any other books? But sequels can, if the writer cares and has learned anything since writing the first book, be better than the original. That’s certainly what I try for every time.

DR: How do you find the time? You do so much!

OSC: I don’t do half as much as I should.

DR: You have one eye on theatre drama at all times, it appears. What’s the attraction there, and why not go further into it on a professional basis?

OSC: Because I actually believe that gay and straight society should be able to coexist without either side trying to destroy the legitimate concerns and desires of the other, I am regarded as an evil monster by the New Puritans of the Left. Since that group absolutely rules in the American theatrical community, I confine my efforts to community and educational theatre in sympathetic communities. And since there is no money to be made in those venues, I can only indulge it as a hobby from time to time, rather than making it a serious part of my career.

DR: Speaking of which, I hear you are writing an Ender’s Game script. Is this true?

OSC: I was till I had to set it aside to respond to this interview <grin>.

DR: The Alvin the Maker books give a great deal of respect to Native Americans. How do you think Americans feel now about how the US was born?

OSC: The true history shows great wrongs done by both sides, and aspects of both cultures that should have been different. The stronger side won (welcome to history) but it was stronger for sound, predictable, reproduceable, and largely inevitable reasons. There were monsters and monstrous acts, but in the main, both societies did all they did because of the way their communities were set up. The Indian ways of life in America ultimately were unable to compete with the developing European-immigrant patterns, but still helped shape them over time. Not every European-immigrant society was superior; you’ll note that only the United States became a world power, and that was partly an inheritance from what had developed in England. The innovations in America had something to do with all the experiences of American culture, which included both wars with and borrowings from native Americans. I don’t condemn anybody; I deplore the evils that happened, but also accept that nothing is allowed to endure unchanged. We might be wistful or nostalgic about what was before, but our job is to adapt and change what we have now to make it better – fairer, but also fitter to survive, and the latter is more important, as history tells us, than the former.

DR: Both your major series deal, in part, with children. Why?

OSC: The most important events – revelation and formation of character – take place in childhood. If you are writing a story about character, and start when the character is past childhood, it’s like starting a history of the American Revolution with the surrender at Yorktown.

DR: Your Intergalactic Medicine Show seems to be going well. Do you think this is where the future of short fiction lies, on the internet?

OSC: The writers, artists, and editors involved with IGMS are doing a superb job. But the readers are not showing up. I can’t continue losing money on it forever. When publishers sponsor online magazines – as Baen, TOR, and others are doing – it can be chalked up as an expense of “finding new writers” and “promoting our books”. They can afford to lose money for a long time – because to them, it’s not that much money, and they see benefits down the line. But when writers IGMS discovers get book contracts, it’s not with us, it’s with a publisher – so we don’t reap those benefits of discovering writers! The short fiction market is vital – but it is not sustainable. Most people would rather watch an episode of Lost or Big Bang Theory than read short stories, and why not? Magazines featuring new writers will be a mix, a grab bag; a TV series is likely to have consistently professional level writing and acting. And watching TV is easier. TV now fills the niche that short stories used to fill in the overall culture. And now that science fiction is a mature genre, the hunger for short stories is largely gone.

But I still have hopes that eventually people will return to reading short stories. If I knew how to make that happen, I’d do whatever it took in short order!

DR: You have given a great deal of support to new writers and the craft of writing through your instructional books, literary bootcamp, and your teaching. Is this a form of paying forward for you? Or is it because you are fascinated with the art of writing?

OSC: I try to understand the art of writing, and when I learn something, I pass it on. In this I’m only following what I’ve seen other writers do before me. The REAL criticism of any art deals with explorations of how it’s done, what techniques work and which don’t. Academic-literary criticism did science fiction a great favour by despising and ignoring it – we were free to develop REAL critical standards instead of phony ones – and the real criticism ultimately is about teaching the skills of writing and storytelling.

DR: How do you reconcile your faith and your science?

OSC: I apply the same standard to both: Does it work in the real world, as an explanation of why things happen as they do? The difference is that with religion, the experiment is performed in the way I live my life and the way others that I know well live theirs; with science, the experiments should work regardless of the character or life choices (but not regardless of the integrity and thoroughness) of the scientists performing them. It just means that faith requires more work. But religions that don’t demand any life-change from their members, or that do not adapt to a changing environment, or that adapt so readily that they maintain no continuity – such religions die as surely as scientific theories that don’t fit all the evidence that comes along.

Eight of the Best

Historical drama, criticism, poetry, stage direction, blogging, teaching… It’s only when you see the breadth of the fields and media Card works in that you being to realise just how much work he does. A small flavour of his diverse portfolio is presented on this page.

Ender’s Game (1985)

The winner of four awards, including the Nebula and Hugo, Ender’s Game is the novel that Card is best known for. It was his first major sale, initially serialised and published in Analog from 1977, being fully novelised in 1985. An initial reading might convince one of its excellence because, like so many great SF novels, it sports a killer twist. The impact of twists are fleeting, though. We all know who is father to Luke Skywalker now, after all. But Ender’s Game has persisted past this stage of its existence. Many love it, some decry it for moral simplicity. It is undoubtedly important.

The story concerns Andrew Wiggin (he calls himself Ender, as his sister could not pronounce his name correctly when she was young). In Ender’s future world, humanity is at war with an alien insectoid race (formally the Formics, informally the Buggers). Six-year-old Ender is the only child who shows the promise to become the Alexander the Great-level tactician needed to win the conflict. But at what cost? His personality needs pressure to force this him to become the warrior humanity needs, and much indignity is heaped upon him.

Ender’s Game is an effective parable, one whose audiences are diverse as its possible interpretations, but to me it means this: In these libertarian days, where concern for ourselves trumps other considerations, Ender’s Game gets right to the heart of the matter. What is the actual higher good – the needs of the many, or the rights of the one?

Seventh Son (1987)

The first novel in Card’s Alvin the Maker series, as equally extensive as the Ender Sequence. The Alvin novels are set in an alternative early 19th century universe with two important differences to our own: North America is a continent divided between various European powers, independent colonies and Native American Nations; and magic, albeit often of a relatively minor nature, is real. Alvin is the seventh son of a seventh son born into a family migrating west, a potential “Maker” – one of the rare few powerful magic users.

The series carries many echoes of Card’s mormon faith. Like Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Alvin makes his way westward, and tries to realise his visions of a new community, in his case the Crystal City. Other parallels can be drawn directly from the life of Jesus, such as Alvin first building a bridge over, and then holding back, the Mizzipy River. Like Ender, Alvin is in some respects a second coming, but one to a world where the miraculous is near commonplace.

Seventh Son, then, introduces us to Alvin’s early years as he struggles to survive the distant yet malevolent attentions of the “Unmaker” (the series has the conflict between creation versus destruction close to its heart). As in the Ender books, family, sacrifice and destiny all have a role to play, though Seventh Son is less self-contained than Ender’s Game.

Seventh Son was nominated for both the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards for best novel.

Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show (2005-present)

Ever since the demise of the pulp market, a hardcore of fans have yearned for more short stories (a lot of others agree, but are not always willing to pay, which is the problem!). The Internet has stepped into the gap to a degree, its non-traditional distribution methods allowing the creation of numerous webzines who have short fiction at their heart. Card undertook to launch one of these himself in 2005. Though he passed the editorship on soon after the magazine was launched, he remains publisher and executive editor.

Card has an avowed interest in helping out new writers, he runs various workshops, including a yearly bootcamp, and had a stint as a university lecturer (he took a prolonged break after essays his students wrote about their home life made him realise he should spend more time at home with his youngest child). The Intergalactic Medicine Show continues this impulse, featuring many stories from newer authors. Most issues also carry a story by Card set in the Ender universe, as well as a variety of columns, reviews and interviews.

However, as Card reveals in the main body of the interview, the zine struggles. We recommend giving it a try, it’s a snip at $2.50. It’s available quarterly from Intergalactic Medicine Show, and there is plenty of free stuff to read on the site too.

Ultimate Iron Man (2005-2008)

One of Card’s only comic enterprises saw the author take Marvel’s armour-suited superhero into the Ultimates universe. Unlike in the original version, Ultimate Iron Man‘s alter ego Tony Stark is a form of mutant. An accident pre-birth has left his brain diffused throughout his body. This makes him a genius, (and handily invulnerable to headshots). But leaves him in chronic agony. His almost-as-gifted father invents a skin-tight biosuit to help young Tony from suffering, but, as he later discovers, booze is the only thing that stops him from feeling the pain at all.

Presented as two five-part miniseries, Ultimate Iron Man is an origin story. The first Ultimate Iron Man series is classic Card, following Stark’s childhood and youth. Stark is a talented youngster put in harm’s way by his own unique talents and the machinations of the adults around him. The second ties up events set in motion in issue 5 of the first volume.

As in much of Card’s work, Ultimate Iron Man mixes realistic science fiction (the Iron Man and War Machine suits that Stark develop are not as “magically” sophisticated as those in the mainstream Marvelverse, and require a small team to assemble and maintain them) with Christian themes of innocence, suffering, sacrifice and temptation.

Speaker for the Dead (1986)

The immediate sequel to Ender’s Game came out one year after the first volume. That year Card won the Nebula and Hugo awards for best novel again, making him the only writer to date to win both best novel awards in two successive years. It was the beginning of what

Speaker for the Dead has Ender leave Earth with his sister Valentine. During his wanderings, he establishes a new religion based on compassionate remembrance. He eventually arrives on Lusitania 3500 years after the Bugger War (he’s only 35 due to relativity), a planet with a great many mysteries…

Card continues on with the theme of Ender’s selfless suffering. He now calls himself Andrew, as Ender is reviled for the xenocide perpetrated on the Formics. Yet he goes on trying to help humanity, and ultimately saves it again.

Speaker for the Dead is awash with thought-provoking SF concepts that, including Card’s take on physics (including a “soul particle”), the ecology of Lusitania, and the Hierarchy of Alienness, all of which mark a move away from the hard, military SF of Ender’s Game.

Some critics (notably John Kessel) have felt uneasy about Ender’s “innocent ” (A weakness of Ender’s Game is that we are often told how good he is after he does something bad, but rarely see him do good). Speaker for the Dead perhaps compounds this by adding a layer of moral superiority to Ender’s actions.

The Ornery American (2001-present)

Card maintains a formidable web presence. His Hatrack River website is frequently updated with blogs, news, audio files and writing lessons. It also plays host to Uncle Orson Reviews Everything, where Card makes sterling efforts to do just that.

Hatrack River is only one of six Card websites. Among the others is his political blog The Ornery American. Here you can his weekly political essays. Ornery, so the site tells us, is from early colonial English for “ordinary”. As Card knows, it also means ill-tempered in the modern tongue of our transatlantic cousins. It is, dare we say, appropriate, for Card is not one to shy away from ardently putting a point of view across. Of which, he has a great many.

Essays dating back to 2001 are archived on the site. They provide a fascinating insight into the mind of Card. He appears to the average Englishman as a dyed-in-the-wool Yank, yet he draws the fire of both sides of the bipartisan divide in the US. Just when you have him pegged for a homophobic Republican, he’ll write something only the most liberal Democrat would say.

Great! We say, because politics aren’t as simple as a voting card makes them sound. Card at least sticks to his own worldview. If only he were not so angry. One thinks that it is not so much the man’s politics that rile his critics, but his mode of address. His essays spit fire like crackling M16s, they take no prisoners. That’s ornery.

Ender’s Shadow (1999)

Ender’s Shadow is an unusual book. It is not a true sequel, but a parallel novel. It follows Bean, whose hellish early life on the streets of a decaying Rotterdam throws Ender’s privileged upbringing into stark relief. It transpires that Bean is a more important figure in the salvation of Earth than we previously thought. For a start, he is more intelligent than Ender, having been genetically engineered. His body, including his brain, will never stop growing. Like Card’s take on Tony Stark, this brain anomaly grants him superior think-power, but carries a heavy price. In Bean’s case, he will die because between the ages of 15 and 25.

Ender’s Shadow adds a further layer of complexity to the initial novel. Bean is less of a saint than Ender, and we see how Ender’s rough treatment of Bean affects him. We also discover that without Bean’s friendship and help, Ender would have failed.

Ender’s Shadow is the first book of four, The Shadow Quartet, which tells us in more detail what happened on Earth after Ender departed. At the climax Bean leaves Earth with those of his many children who share his syndrome. He hopes to stay alive long enough through the physics of relativistic travel that a cure may be found. To date he remains in space, hoping.

Robota (2003)

Cool art and SF go together like peaches and cream. Card’s worked or had input into several comics – he wrote Ultimate Iron Man. The first parts of Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow have recently been adapted as miniseries for the medium by Marvel, while the Alvin series has had an ongoing comic from Dabel Brothers since 2006.

Robota was something a bit different. Film designer Doug Chiang approached Card to write a story for an art project he’d been developing: an illustrated novel that brought together Chiang’s love of robots and dinosaurs. Card penned the tale from Chiang’s notes – on a sister planet to Earth,  two billion years in the past, robots, humans and sentient animals live in harmony in a society grounded on alien technology. Time passes, things are forgotten, and the robots wage genocidal war on all life. The plot follows Caps, a man awoken from a capsule with no memory of who he is.

The amnesiac or misplaced hero drinking in wondrous and unfamiliar sights is a shonky device, and sets the tone for the volume. It’s a strange book, beautifully illustrated by Chiang whose impressive visual imagination is working at full pelt. Though beautiful, it’s more like the production notes for an unmade George Lucas (with whom Chiang does much work) film than a novel.

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