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Michael Maiello's picture

Science Factions

Hey, wow.  This fall, a movie version of Ender's Game is coming out.  It's based on a science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, originally drafted in 1977, when I was 2 years old.  I read it in high school and I really liked it.  It's the story of Ender Wiggin, tormented at battle school as part of his training to become the ultimate weapon that saves humanity of a nasty enemy from space called "The Buggers," who remain mysterious in the first book and are explored later in the series.  

Ender's Game is, says critic John Kessel, the story of "a character who exterminates an entire race and yet remains fundamentally innocent."  It is also, he says, a story where morality is judged only by a character's intent, not the result of their actions.  That's the adult take.

The young nerd's take is that Ender Wiggins is smarter and better than all of the kids around him, but is alienated and abused and is surrounded by enemies who would actually try to kill him even if doing so might doom all of humanity to destruction.  This speaks to a certain young reader who might feel like, at school, some of those other kids would hate him no matter what he might do for them, even if he saved their lives.  You can just see it in your head, that smarmy guy telling all the pretty girls, "Geek pushed me out of the path of that bus and then got run over himself.  The spaz."  Yeah.  Fuck you, Carlos.  And fuck you for laughing, Alicia.  I died saving his life.  Wait, where was I?

Oh, yes, the book and the forthcoming movie.  So, the thing about Orson Scott Card is that he is a devout Mormon from Utah and a hardcore social conservative.  Now, science fiction and fantasy is full of Libertarian types.  The hero's journey upon which most of these stories are based just speaks to Libertarian fantasies.  So much early science fiction is about people who build space ships on their own, in secret and go out to represent humanity to the rest of reality without permission from a single government and without a thought that the rest of the world might have something to say about a self appointed scientist rocketing off to Mars to antagonize monsters.

Social conservatives are maybe less common.  These are imaginative people, after all.  Star Trek offered us the notion of "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," which sounds like a cool idea for an adult party, with the right people.

Well, it turns out that Card, while writing science fiction and fantasy, also had a whole career writing for conservative magazines and journals, very often targeting gays, claiming that they had no place in society and fighting against same sex marriage rights, bellowing the usual rhetoric about how the government should be overthrown to prevent gay marriage.  You've heard it all before, but it sucks to hear it from somebody who is a competent artist, especially when they make art that you liked in childhood and that it stuck with you.  Later, when I read Infinite Jest I was struck by how Hal Incandenza's experiences were a bit like Ender's, though far more complex -- the game of Eschaton definitely recalls Ender's training.

This guy turned out to be a homophobe?  Ugh.  Not surprising but, ugh.  Now that his movie is coming out he is criticizing his critics for being intolerant of his bigotry, just like those dummies always do.  Ugh.

Cory Doctorow, another writer I like (Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town is entirely unique, try a free copy on him), will not boycott Ender's Game.  He doesn't believe in boycotts.  I get it.  Like Doctorow, I don't demand that artists I like share my politics.  But this is out and out bigotry.

Also, as I think back to reading Ender's Game, I can't help but remember that my own isolated self was not, as some of my classmates were, even further isolated as either closeted or out homosexuals.  So, there's a bit of a slap in the face from the author to other young men and women who might have identified with the story.  "You're special and amazing," says the story.  "Oh, not you.  You have no place in society."

I don't know if I'm going to see it.  Anyone else made up their minds?

It's a good question to ask. While you acknowledge that it's not a wise idea to only enjoy works of art produced by people you ideologically align with (one would end up with a very short list), you also point to the visceral reaction bigotry evokes. 

I will see the movie because if I only partake in entertainment that holds true to my belief system I'd have to cancel my cable and internet, like an animal.

When I came back from the Pacific Islands and was really, really confused about life and the world, I attended the Church of Latter Day Saints. All the other churches weren't really open and this one was probably the most solid. I was sort of dreamwalking through life during those months so it was easy to go through the motions. When you feel a bit abandoned in life, church is a natural place to go.

One guy I met there was really in to Orson Scott Card. He was also probably the gayest man I had ever met. I mean REALLY, REALLY gay - not Christopher Hitchens experimental gay but George Michael gay. It really makes you wonder - the folks around him were certainly smart enough to realize this but almost just winked and nodded about it all instead.

It's been like that whenever I have been around conservatives and it makes all the really over-the-top homophobic essays written by conservatives just seem totally ridiculous. I'm not sure what is going on there psychologically but it's not as black and white as it would seem from the onset.

As for Ender's Game, I think this all sounds really interesting. The most exciting part is that Harrison Ford is in it. If he can make himself look good in a science fiction film at this stage in his career, I think that bodes well for Star Wars: Episode VII.

Card also wrote a comic book series called Red Prophet, which is about Mormon ideas of Native Americans and their connection to Christ. That might be a harder sell for studios but that would make one interesting movie.

Great article. Loved Ender's Game. Sorry to hear about Card's politics, but already went through that with Heinlein. I have virtually stopped attending films at theaters. Everything comes to DVD or Netflix eventually, so I'll see it there.

Go to OSC's official website and you'll find an ad for "Uncle Orson's Literary Boot Camp" at the end of July in Orem, Utah.  And what was the name of that alien race in Ender's Game?  "Buggers" wasn't it? The best way to out the guy would be to release Ender's Game: The Chicken Hawk Edition in parallel...

Heh.

Boot.  Ender.  Bugger.

Utah.

The Chronicles of Uranus by Orson Scott Card.

Chronicle of Uranus... nice :)

It just bothers me that people don't identify the Roy Cohn (and so many more) levels of hypocrisy. 

Boycotts can be a valuable tool to effect political or social change. When there's a reasonable case that a boycott will be effective in moving us forward toward the goals I support I'll support that boycott. But if they're overused they become ineffective. If I boycotted every product or company that I disagreed with politically I'd have to boycott virtually everything.

Card wrote an interesting series of books, nine I think, on Ender. One of the most famous and popular series in the science fiction genre. Which of course means he is unknown to most Americans. If this boycott is successful the only outcome will be to punish Orson Scott Card. There's no political or social effect in punishing every small time author and trying to will, in the end, dilute the power of boycotts.

 

I read Ender's Game about 10 years ago at the suggestion of my teenage nephews. Good stuff. Later, I was disappointed to learn of the author's politics and, after I had, I didn't read any of the follow up books. I'm not boycotting the series strictly because of the author's politics though. He is, of course, entitled to his views. It's just that, for me, knowing something I find distasteful about the creators of books, movies, television, or art definitely gets in the way of my enjoyment. I saw the first Transformers movie. It was fine. Then, Michael Bay revealed himself as kind of a jerk and I wasn't interested in seeing the others. Woody Allen? Ditto. 

Ooh, you're hitting close to home for me.  I love Woody Allen so much that I've defended everything he's done.  Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants...

I certainly enjoyed Ender's Game myself; it's very readable. But Card's politics, and even his right-wing persecution complex, are already visible in that book.

Ender, future military savior of humanity, was born in defiance of a government population-control policy, and other kids at school taunt him with the slur "third," for third child. That's some juicy unearned martyr points right there.

But the larger issue here is that the science-fiction community, which is small and tight knit, makes fans and other writers much, much more aware of a writer's activism than the outside world would ever be. Most of the general readership, including people who liked Ender's Game, have no idea of Card's politics. Inside the SF community, he's been going on and on about his politics, sometimes in harsh terms, for years. People inside fandom experience Card as an overwhelmingly partisan presence, which leads to a much bigger possibility of backlash.

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