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Creating the Innocent Killer
October 31, 2013 7:54 PM   Subscribe


 
How has "Creating the Innocent Killer" not been on MeFi before?

Let's have "Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman" as well, since we're on the topic.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:05 PM on October 31, 2013


It was linked in this thread. And this one.
posted by straight at 8:10 PM on October 31, 2013


Doh! My search fu is dumb.
posted by Jpfed at 8:12 PM on October 31, 2013


Does it include homo-erotic scenes that ultimately make you hate the gays?
posted by Windopaene at 8:23 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Having just seen the movie, at the LGBT screening, natch, the film actually does a moderately good job of undermining the fascist overtones. The first three quarters of the movie could pretty much be shot by Riefenstahl; it looks like an unironic Starship Troopers with more Stabbed In The Back myth and inherent critique of hero worship as childish.
posted by klangklangston at 8:28 PM on October 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


On another message board I frequent, someone was wondering what the big deal with Ender's Game was, so I directed then to that link.After all these years it's stilla great reference.
posted by happyroach at 8:31 PM on October 31, 2013


In Ender and Hitler it is hypothesized that Ender is Hitler.

In Harry Potter vs. Enders Game it is hypothesized that Harry Potter is Ender.

Conclusion: Harry Potter is Hitler.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:43 PM on October 31, 2013 [15 favorites]


Conclusion: Harry Potter is Hitler.

He's not the Antichrist, he's a very naughty boy!
posted by Artw at 8:56 PM on October 31, 2013 [11 favorites]


Ron Marz: Playing the Boycott Card?
posted by Artw at 8:57 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Blergh. The Ender is Hitler thing has always bothered me a bit much. Card fabricates an innocent perpetrator of genocide. That perpetrator then discover that he committed unwitting genocides and spends the rest of his life trying to atone for it.

There's no indication that this is a Hitler analogy other than OMG GENOCIDE=HITLAR. There's even less reason to believe that Ender's Game is a Nazi apologia, given that it seems quite clear that the book's moral stance would condemn Hitler without hesitation.

All said, it's a competent book but nothing special. The author is kind of a douche (okay, a lot of a douche), but that doesn't make his works necessarily Nazi propaganda.
posted by 256 at 9:02 PM on October 31, 2013 [31 favorites]


Conclusion: Harry Potter is Hitler.

Alan Moore? Is that you?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:03 PM on October 31, 2013 [5 favorites]


Agreed with 256, except that I think Ender's Game and its immediate sequel are masterpieces. (The final two books in the quartet are excellent as well.)

I already made my argument for that in this thread, so yay I get to sit what will surely be this repetitive slog of a thread out.
posted by Rory Marinich at 9:10 PM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


In Harry Potter vs. Enders Game it is hypothesized that Harry Potter is Ender.

reminds me of Brian, a guy I used to work with, who used to rant on about the Beatles being godlike and the Stones being Satanic, and how the Christ was physically present at Woodstock, and the Anti-Christ at Altamont yadda-yadda-yadda. He also worked Peter Gabriel into it, the archangel being named Gabriel yadda-yadda-yadda.

I lost track of Brian a long time ago. The guy had a drinking problem.
posted by philip-random at 9:10 PM on October 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


I already made my argument for that in this thread, so yay I get to sit what will surely be this repetitive slog of a thread out.

I hope it's not a repetitive slog. The article I linked does not advance (or even take particularly seriously) the idea that Ender is Hitler and doesn't talk much if at all about whether Ender's Game is "good" or "bad" as a book. It has subtler points to make about how personal responsibility is portrayed in the book. The degree to which those points figure into the conversation (as opposed to the pre-existing Hitler/homophobe baggage that the book has accumulated) is entirely up to us as thread participants.
posted by Jpfed at 9:21 PM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


I already made my argument for that in this thread

In a nutshell, while I think you can read the book(s) that way, I don't think they were actually written that way. My view is more in like with Kessel's - Card uses a series of cheap rhetorical tricks involving Ender's inner monologue to make us feel bad for him when, if viewed objectively, he's just as big a psychopath as everyone else in the book. Plus I think the mass appeal of the book has little to do with any of the points you make. People really just like the wish fulfilment aspect.

I'm glad you enjoyed the book and found it interesting on a different level. But most people just like reading a book where someone gets beta up for being mean to the reader's stand-in.
posted by GuyZero at 9:21 PM on October 31, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's so surprising that Ender's Game came out a year after Stars In My Pocket like Grains Of Sand.

Well, it's surprising that anything came out after Stars In My Pocket like Grains Of Sand. If I'd been a writer then, particularly a science fiction writer, I probably would've given up.
posted by koeselitz at 9:23 PM on October 31, 2013 [10 favorites]


Has Card written a formal response to these essays, challenging them or articulating something else? I've heard about his ranting confrontations with the authors of various essays, but never seen anything more formal.
posted by fatbird at 9:38 PM on October 31, 2013


Let me update my question to ask if Card's response to Radford's essay is online.
posted by fatbird at 9:51 PM on October 31, 2013


Will Wildman's ongoing Ender's Game deconstruction is well worth reading.
posted by problemspace at 9:54 PM on October 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Real life on this topic is far more relevant than fiction.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:57 PM on October 31, 2013


Ironmouth: "Real life on this topic is far more relevant than fiction."

Maybe for you, but some of us aren't into watching Starcraft tournaments.
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 PM on October 31, 2013 [4 favorites]


Real life on this topic is far more relevant than fiction.

but poetry is still better ...

take me disappearing down the smoke
rings of my mind through the foggy winds of time down
past the frightened leaves and lifeless frozen trees
way down to
the windy beach far from the
twisted reach of crazy sorrow


apparently, it's all in the line breaks
posted by philip-random at 10:27 PM on October 31, 2013


wackyparsed this as "John Stossel explores the morality of ..." and my eyes flashed red and steam poured from my ears and then
posted by mwhybark at 10:39 PM on October 31, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ender's Game and its immediate sequel are masterpieces.

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

(speaking of masterpieces . . . . .)
posted by soundguy99 at 11:07 PM on October 31, 2013 [16 favorites]


People really just like the wish fulfilment aspect.

Of being haunted for all time by everything, even whole civilizations, turning to ash at your touch? Oh yeah, that's my #2 fantasy (#1 is being the first rockstar/president).

I do think that Card tries to bind the reader really tightly to Ender's POV, but not because it's so awesome to be Ender and OSC wants readers to experience that, or because he's got much of a soft spot about Ender himself. My takeaway from Ender's Game was that, in the grand scheme of things, Ender being a good person or an innocent or whatever *doesn't matter,* he still causes massive pain and destruction. In fact, his "goodness" and "innocence" were tools that people used specifically and nurtured specifically in order to get him to cause sufficient pain and destruction for their liking. And *those* people, the people who ran the battle school, for example, were also (like Ender) relatively accessible to the reader in terms of POV and also (like Ender) were never painted as "evil," just not-terrible cogs in the machine, and the damage they wreaked was also pretty horrible (including on Ender, who didn't particularly like or respect them).

To me, the book is actually very nihilistic. If the reader is tightly bound to Ender's POV, it means he can't write off the horror that Ender causes as "oh well, he's just a bad guy." He's not, it's just that it doesn't matter. Being a "good" guy isn't a protection, it doesn't stop him from committing atrocities. And if the reader is *really* tightly embedded in Ender's POV than he's sort of implicated, too -- anybody could do something horrific and thinking of yourself as the hero or the good guy (or even being the hero or the good guy) doesn't change that.

How OSC himself would describe it, I don't know. The essay itself opens with this quote by him:

"Partly because it won't reflect the storyteller's true beliefs, it will only reflect what he BELIEVES he believes, or what he thinks he should believe or what he's been persuaded of.

But when you write without deliberately expressing moral teachings, the morals that show up are the ones you actually live by. The beliefs that you don't even think to question, that you don't even notice-- those will show up. And that tells much more truth about what you believe than your deliberate moral machinations."

Which makes me think that he probably ascribes to the same theory as my writing prof in college: what a writer says about his own work is bullshit. So I don't really think it matters how OSC himself would describe it.

Yeah, to sum up, this essay seems to spin off into the idea that Ender is OSC's "mary sue," which to me misses the point of the story altogether.
posted by rue72 at 11:18 PM on October 31, 2013 [14 favorites]


In Rory's essay about Ender's Game and Speaker, I think he does identify something that Card really is on about--disconnections that disrupt moral reasoning--that Kessel doesn't identify and doesn't really account for except to posit it as part of the structure of Card's 'all intention' moral stance. The weakest part of Kessel's argument is his handling of Ender's remorse as gratuitous and self-serving. it's hard to avoid the conclusions that Card really is trying to acknowledge the consequentialist side of the moral calculus of Ender's action, because, if nothing else, Card is a perfectly reliable narrator of Ender's internal state--being so is central to the gag the whole book sets up. A "self-lacerating innocent", as Kessel characterizes Ender in Speaker, is paradoxical because implicit in Ender's innocence is proper moral functioning. Either Ender is justifiably self-lacerating, in which case he's not innocent, or his self-directed torment is masochistic and not a little insane; and this is a character who's been set up (and later consciously acts as) a perfect judge of moral quality.
posted by fatbird at 11:39 PM on October 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


This talk about how Card wrote a series of book uncritically lionizing the genocidal murder Adolph Hitler makes me consider how much easier my life would be if all bad things in it were actually part of the same thing.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:19 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


This would probably be my least favourite essay out there, if it wasn't for the even more palpably absurd Hitler essay. The reason is that it tends to inform reviews like this one which appears to argue that Enders Game the film should have not been like Enders Game the book. Which, I dunno, makes me feel like maybe if you hate the book so much you shouldn't read it? Also, as the commenters do point out, Kant thought intentions were more important than actions, and its not clear that he was a facist.

Look its difficult to detatch Card now from Enders Game. He's an awful person with awful views, who has recently written some realllly bad fiction. I think Rory's essay captures most of my feelings on why Enders Game is good.

It is possible to read the book in a way that agrees with the author, certainly, but I think its possible to not do so as well. On intentionality, one through line is that Ender continually declares that the best way to end a conflict is to deliver a blow so stunning and final that it prevents the possibility of come back.

But look at the consequence of those actions. Two of them result in young boys dying, and the final one ends in the annihilation of a race which was even then attempting to communicate with the humans through rather flaws means. Its not clear that the intention "to prevent conflict from reoccuring" is a good one here. And note that this belief is one that is instillted in him by his teachers. They push him to a point where he believes it is the only choice. This is a classic millitristic point of view. Look at torture in 24. Its presented as the only choice to save lives, so of course its justifiable. And thats because the writers have set up events to look that way. In Enders Game the commanders continually put Ender in situations where he feels there is only one course of action, when really there were many. You could easily read the book as saying that a rush to action, even when it feels like it is the only course of action, is simply not the correct one. Had Ender simply taken punishment from those children, he would have been rescued by the adults who would not really let him die, and the children would still be alive. Had Ender truly refused to partake in the battles, there would have been no come back invasion from the Buggers, who had at this point determined that the humans were not like them, and both humanity and the Buggers could have flourished.

Should we condem Ender for his actions and behaviour? Well thats unclear, and up to the reader. I appreciate that the essayist believes that the author wants us to like Ender, and thats probably true, hes the protagonist of the novel after all. But I think we can still like a character while deciding that the choices they made were the wrong ones.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:49 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's a book you read when you'e a kid that speaks to you because you feel special and unappreciated, and you simultaneously want that to be acknowledged and want to avoid adult responsibility. You also want your emotions taken more seriously, because you don't understand that adults understand you're emotional intelligence is not as honed. In Ender's Game, your desire for specialness and irresponsibility gets coddled, and your false estimation of your emotional intelligence gets explained away as adult deception.

The right and wrong of Ender Wiggin is a non-issue. The situation around him is ridiculous: an artificial environment designed to beg sympathy out of immaturity or nostalgia. It's a variation on the same moral bad faith as those pro-torture arguments based on torturing a guy to disarm a bomb, and just as this scenario is portrayed in 24 as pop propaganda, the book is embraced by militarists for replacing moral reality with a truth-suffocating fantasy scenario.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant occasionally comes up here on the blue in the context of problematic messages about gender, because Thomas Covenant rapes the first woman to show him kindness in The Land, the series' fantasy world. I won't deny there are differences because of the nature of the offense at all but taking the admittedly difficult (perhaps impossible) step of setting that factor aside, Thomas Covenant, like Ender, believes he's in a simulation (a dream) with no real moral consequences, and has been preconditioned by forces outside his control to jump at the chance to at least pretend to immoral behaviour, in the simulation.

But I think many people are more likely to give Ender Wiggin a free pass. Certainly, Card does; Ender feels sadness and regret, but of anything these confirm him as a moral person. Events essentially assure him that what he did had sentimental consequences, but they are not convincingly moral consequences, because despite what Card does to muddy the issue, morality is not mere sentiment--there's more to it than how you feel. The Covenant books take the position that the reality of Thomas Covenant's situation has nothing to do with the morality of his actions, and that morality is ultimately internal.

So there's something insidious about Ender's Game, in that by absolving Ender Wiggin it recommends a strategy of finding refuge in how things are represented for us, instead of how we can internally navigate them. One could easily get more innovative and develop a genocidal Chinese Room scenario, where actions are broken down further into unreal-seeming, trival actions that when combined, allow corporate immorality but the individual pretense of innocence--and this is, in fact, similar to the strategies used by actual corporate bodies, and actual war criminals, to avoid culpability--or like Card, to argue that profound regret and restitution based on a feeling of guilt should be enough for a pass: that immorality through a sufficiently clever instrument leaves one with "self-lacerating innocence."

Then again, I really like shooting aliens in Halo, so what do I know?
posted by mobunited at 2:04 AM on November 1, 2013 [29 favorites]


Look its difficult to detatch Card now from Enders Game.

Is it so hard for people who like Ender's Game to believe that there are some people out there who dislike Ender's Game for reasons other than OSC?

But I think we can still like a character while deciding that the choices they made were the wrong ones.

For me, I don't like him for both his choices, but also the way he thinks about them. I mean, I've liked characters in fiction that don't make right choices, that are murderers and criminals. But for Ender, the way he's a victim seems like at best whiny-ness, and at worst self-delusional rationalization. It's probably also the way Card writes: He seems to switch between portraying Ender as a peerless fighter and strategic thinker, BUT then also see him as someone that is a defenseless child going up against bigger opponents, a David against many Goliaths. But, it doesn't work.
posted by FJT at 2:55 AM on November 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


My impression on finishing this article was Ender = Tony Blair = the Messiah/a very naughty boy.

In his post-rationalisation of the Iraq war, after all of the elements of the prospectus he'd used to justify the war at the time had been shown to be rather shaky, Blair relied heavily on the intentionality defence. It didn't matter what had actually been the case before the war, or what had happened during or after it, the important thing was that his intentions were above reproach.

The last time most of us hear the intentionality defence is the school play ground "I didn't mean it Miss!" - which is fair enough for Ender as he is a kid. The evil that his teachers do is to stunt his growth at exactly that point - the bonsai Messiah.

The problem with intentionality, again exemplified by Blair, is that the only person who can fairly judge you is yourself - because you are the only person with (in theory) the full knowledge of your intentions. All that those people out there can see are your actions, which count for nothing...
posted by dudleian at 3:41 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I tend to agree with Rory. There's no denying it's a powerful book, even if you don't like what you think is its message.

Orson Scott Card went through a religious reconversion some time after writing Ender's Game. I don't think it's necessarily that helpful to compare his opinions after that with the content of Ender's Game: it might as well have been written by a different person.

I think people can be a bit too simplistic when it comes to interpreting books in terms of moral messages and role models. Books ultimately reflect a reality where morality isn't as simple as "if something terrible is done, an evil person is to blame".

Consider the bombing of Hiroshima. Albert Einstein wasn't an evil person when he altered the US government to the possibility of nuclear weapons: he just thought it would be more dangerous if they were ignorant of it. Harry Truman isn't normally considered an evil person, but he authorised the bombing believing it was a better alternative to an invasion of the Japanese mainland. Robert Oppenheimer wasn't a particularly evil person in his role in the Manhattan Project. Colonel Paul W. Tibbets wasn't a particularly evil person, but he dropped the bomb rather then disobey his orders assuming that he knew better than the planners about how to win the war.

Sometimes, horrific actions are performed not because of an evil villain, but because a sequence of reasonable people choose what seems to be the best of the available options. In acknowledging that, Orson Scott Card isn't the one being childish.

The morality of Ender is deliberately ambiguous. That's one of the points of the setup. If morality is entirely attached to consequences, Ender is immensely evil. If morality is entirely attached to intentions, Ender is wholly innocent. It's the ambiguity that makes it interesting. If Card came down clearly either way, the book would cease to be interesting.

There's a lot of guesswork about Orson Scott Card's sexuality, based on the frequent homoerotic imagery of his pre-reconversion books, and his strong post-reconversion denunciations of homosexuality. We don't actually know anything about what really goes on in his head. But suppose that he really is someone with homosexual inclinations, whose religious beliefs tell him that homosexuality is evil. If so, would it really be surprising if he wrote a heartrendingly powerful book on the theme of whether evil comes from your intentions or your actions?
posted by TheophileEscargot at 3:47 AM on November 1, 2013 [31 favorites]


I enjoyed the book as a kid and enjoyed the sequels to a large extent as well. Most, if not all, of the philosophy probably went over my head at that age but at least it acted as a gateway drug for science fiction that eventually lead me to things like Excession or The Quantum Thief.

Ender's Game might be badly written, bad science fiction, or just bad generally. There were also other books that I know I had to have read (all that time in the library or bumming around Barnes and Noble) that I have absolutely no memory of, so at least it has memorability. Each of them was also one in a series of reads that slowly introduced me to better and better books (amidst the piles of shit).

Though whether it was memorable for the content or because every 20 months or so someone brings it up in conversation (something that's never happened to say, the Rogue Squadron books) I couldn't say.
posted by Slackermagee at 5:00 AM on November 1, 2013


Rory Marinich: “Ender's Game and its immediate sequel are masterpieces.”

soundguy99: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Oh, he knows. I probably disagree with him on this one, but if anybody knows what a masterpiece is, it's Rory Marinich.
posted by koeselitz at 5:15 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


would it really be surprising if he wrote a heartrendingly powerful book on the theme of whether evil comes from your intentions or your actions?

I think his stance against gay marriage etc comes more from a place of, "Everyone must marry and have lots of kids." If you see yourself as a devoted member of a precarious tribe, the idea of genocide/tribal extinction is not something that needs abstraction to the idea of Evil, to be bandied about in some fancy post-Christian philosophicatin'. It's obviously the worst possible thing, and it's pretty universal that no one wants to see beauty and mystery disappear from the world. So I don't think Ender's game really has a theme of evil in general. It looks like it's about a special misunderstood tribe going extinct, and that's what it's about.

I don't think Card's a deep moral thinker. For him, being anti-gay is pretty much directly: more gayness -> fewer babbies -> tribal extinction, nuff said.
posted by bleep-blop at 5:17 AM on November 1, 2013


Ender's Game might be badly written, bad science fiction, or just bad generally.

One of the problematic aspects of the book is that it's NOT actually badly written, and NOT bad science fiction - particularly in relation to most of what is published in the genre - but it does have a very troubling ethical subtext. Saying "it's just a crappy book, he's a hack writer" is a cheap out.

I mean, criticizing it as a poorly-written book is not only incorrect, but really misses the point entirely. (It reminds me - on a lesser scale - of people who criticize terrorists, like the 911 hijackers, as "cowards" - an simplistic schoolyard insult which just doesn't make sense given the context, missing the point of the horror of the act.)

I also suspect that a lot of people who read Card's more recent screeds against gay marriage or climate change science haven't actually read his early books and assume someone who holds such views must be an idiot, and likely a bad person to his core - because his positions harm them or people they care about - and that an idiot and bad man must simply not have been capable of writing a worthwhile novel, period.

This is the sort of fallacy many liberals and progressives (including myself) easily fall into when responding to positions they are outraged by, and it bites us in the ass every time, underestimating and condescending to intelligent conservative opponents / writers / thinkers.
posted by aught at 5:57 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am inordinately proud of myself that I intensely disliked Ender's Game immediately upon reading it, many, many years before discovering that Orson Scott Card is an immense jerk.
posted by Flunkie at 5:57 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I read Ender's Game as a child, and liked it very much, as others have said, for the alienation of being a smart kid and feeling like adults were not, could never, be a refuge. I thought it was a neat book.

But it was not until I became an adult, and had myself served in a war, that I really understood the absolute genius of Ender's Game and some of the sequels - and some of the themes that had gone completely over my head until then really came back in full force. It is not, as Kessel argues, a situation of creating an innocent killer. It's about understanding - truly understanding - that even the actions you think are best and bravest can have chilling consequences. That your kindness and good intentions are not a defense, and your brilliance can be used by other people for evil ends.

I wish I had read it that way then, or read it when I was a little older, as a teen. I might have still enlisted in the Army, but I might have thought more critically about my work in the intelligence field. I might have thought more critically about what the end consequences of my work were. Instead, I found myself entranced by puzzles that the three-letter-organizations I worked with provided me. Because they were puzzles - that's what they do, to detach the thinkers from the death, they give you a piece, something to figure out, something to understand and explain. They never complete the chain, tell you which piece of intelligence caused bombs to fall or a raid to pull out a family.

And so now, when I read Ender's Game - and I have read it since - I read it less as a brilliant-child story, and more about a story about what happens when children - and when you join the military as a late teen or very early twenties, you are still effectively a child - go to war. About the process of dehumanization that starts early, about the way that consequences are dismissed so that you can become what you are meant to be - a killing machine.

Orson Scott Card was born in 1951 - he would have been in his late teens and early twenties during the Vietnam War. It is likely that he would have known other people who participated in that war, who came back conflicted, who had gone with the best of intentions and only later discovered that there is no way you can participate in a war and keep your soul intact. There is no way, even with the most idealistic of intentions, you can keep your hands clean of blood. He would have seen his friends struggle with some of the same themes that Ender, in the later books, struggled with.

It is, in my view, not an absolution, but an explanation. And a warning.
posted by corb at 6:23 AM on November 1, 2013 [38 favorites]


I don't think Card's a deep moral thinker. For him, being anti-gay is pretty much directly: more gayness -> fewer babbies -> tribal extinction, nuff said.

I don't have anything but indirect evidence for the idea, but I think it's more complicated than that. I think Card's relationship to his own sexuality may have been complicated by a childhood sexual trauma. This is based only on my own intuitions and some vague memories of comments Card has made in the past elliding homosexuality and pedophelia, so it might not be worth much, but what if Card does have homosexual impulses but believes that they are not a reflection of his true sexual identity but only a symptom of child sexual abuse? It's a common belief (though as far as I can tell there's little actual data to support the belief in one direction or another and I don't mean to argue for that claim myself) that abuse by a same sex abuser makes it more likely the victim will be attracted to members of the same sex in adulthood. It's at least supported by the data that childhood sexual abuse can complicate the development of healthy adult sexuality, as a much higher proportion of child abuse victims become child abusers themselves. If Card does have homosexual tendencies, but sincerely believes that his impulses are not a reflection of his true, natural sexuality, but only a hateful reminder of the abuse he experienced as a child (which please be clear I'm only speculating about, but doesn't seem too far-fetched given Card's noted preoccupation with imagined links between child abuse and homosexuality).

For instance, Card once wrote: "The dark secret of homosexual society—the one that dares not speak its name—is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally."

That seems to me to be the most likely explanation for Card's homophobia. I think he believes his awful experience of being "initiated into homosexuality" by abuse is the norm, and condemns homosexuality generally on that basis.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:26 AM on November 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Orson Scott Card went through a religious reconversion some time after writing Ender's Game.

That explains quite a lot.

Yeah, I can't see Ender = Hitler. Hitler damn well knew what he was doing and he wasn't prodded/manipulated there.
posted by tilde at 6:28 AM on November 1, 2013


Also in the evidence toward the view I expressed above, Ender's Game itself is about a child taken and manipulated by more mature adults into doing things he later realizes are evil.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:29 AM on November 1, 2013


First things first: if you're a scifi fan and haven't read it yet, grab a copy of The Secret History of Science Fiction, co-edited by John Kessel. It's a fantastic collection that explores the area between literary and science fictions, with lots of great stories by Michael Chabon, Connie Willis, T.C. Boyle, Thomas Disch, Don Delillo, Ursula K. Le Guin, George Saunders, etc. The introduction alone, which jumps off from the thought experiment Jonathan Lethem once posed - "What if Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow had won the Nebula in 1973?" - is worth the price.

That out of the way, Kessel's essay on Ender's Game is a classic - thoughtful, challenging and careful in its description of Card's "brutally effective" mechanism for producing sympathy for Ender:

Card sets up Ender to be the sincere, abused innocent, and rigs the game to make us accept that he does no wrong. I see the entire purpose of the "remote war by game" trick in the novel as a device to make this argument plausible

I also really like the part at the end where he tries to understand the novel's popular appeal:

Ender gets to strike out at his enemies and still remain morally clean. Nothing is his fault. Stilson already lies defeated on the ground, yet Ender can kick him in the face until he dies, and still remain the good guy. Ender can drive bone fragments into Bonzo’s brain and then kick his dying body in the crotch, yet the entire focus is on Ender’s suffering. For an adolescent ridden with rage and self-pity, who feels himself abused (and what adolescent doesn’t?), what’s not to like about this scenario? So we all want to be Ender. As Elaine Radford has said, “We would all like to believe that our suffering has made us special—especially if it gives us a righteous reason to destroy our enemies."

And this:

Ender never loses a single battle, even when every circumstance is stacked against him. And in the end, as he wanders the lonely universe dispensing compassion22 for the undeserving who think him evil, he can feel sorry for himself at the same time he knows he is twice over a savior of the entire human race.

God, how I would have loved this book in seventh grade!....The problem is that the morality of that abused seventh grader is stunted. It’s a good thing I didn’t have access to a nuclear device. It’s a good thing I didn’t grow up to elaborate my fantasies of personal revenge into an all-encompassing system of ethics.


Even if you decide not to accept Kessel's conclusions about the trickiness of Card's methods (intentional or not) in the book, it's a sharp essay that any fan of the book should engage. Thanks, Jpfed, for posting it to the front page as the movie opens.
posted by mediareport at 6:33 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I can't see Ender = Hitler.

You should read the linked essay. Kessel specifically distances himself from Elaine Radford's position on that point. And Radford herself, at the top of the link in the first comment here, acknowledges that Kessel's essay "supercedes" her own.
posted by mediareport at 6:35 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry, mediareport, I was going off of the first response in the thread - I did read the essay a while back but should refresh it.
posted by tilde at 6:37 AM on November 1, 2013


That's understandable; the confusion between Kessel's essay and Radford's earlier "Ender = Hitler" piece has done a disservice to Kessel's essay for decades now. It's a bit unfortunate that the first comment here was a link to Radford.
posted by mediareport at 6:38 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I tend to think Card's novels are distinctly American; if we're discussing them in terms of themes, meaning, and applicability, we probably have to view them in that light. Or we might discuss form and style a bit more, something a lot of discussions of genre fiction simply avoid entirely. For example, it's interesting to look at just where and when Card moves between free indirect discourse and fist-person narration, and how aphoristic statements function in the text. Card doesn't strike me as a formalist writer, but that (in connection with Rory's old essay) suggests that the formal features of Ender's Game represent a window into the ways the novel's moral thinking functions.

Despite Card's claim that "everything takes place in Ender's head," it's a book in which only provides a first-person perspective most of the time, but sometimes slips into something much closer to third person, particularly where violence or realizations occur. The effect is that moral epiphanies occur in instances of external crisis, usually conflict or its aftermath, rather than through deliberate reflection. Ender tends to present aphorisms which are presumably the result of reflection or cultural conditioning, but as early as the first chapter we see these as results of unseen processes rather than seeing the processes themselves.

While the book itself presents a process of indoctrination or manipulation and revelation, as a result, encounters with truth take the form of sweeping revelations, among which the climax is only the most powerful. Morality and conscience are externally generated; Ender's innate skills tend more towards fine and complex mechanical manipulation than real reflection. There's a very strong tendency to treat truth and reality as objective and external; for a first-person narrative, it's remarkably anti-subjectivist in many respects. Even the moment of cataclysmic empathy for the Formics' queen relies on a kind of direct, pure access to her unmediated consciousness; a pseudo-technological ability to see into the self of the Other becomes the condition for empathy, the possibility of moral realization. "Speakers for the Dead" can tell the entire, true story of the deceased to everyone else; mediation through a speaker becomes access to truth, and implicitly narrative can escape partiality.

The book therefore seems to define violence as a failure state for intersubjectivity, and in turn it seems to treat failures of intersubjectivity mainly as problems of access to information or objective fact. Narrative becomes the mechanism of access and revelation, and the notion seems to be that an unbiased account of subjectivity, external to culture, is possible, but in most cases only retrospectively and only after the being understood is all but lost.
posted by kewb at 6:46 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Before I knew Card was such a jerk, I loved Ender's Game so much it influenced the name I gave my son (my son's name is "Ander" which I took to in no small part because it sounds a lot like Ender). I loved Ender's Game when I first read it, but it's hard to even go near it now. I wish I could read it to my son--before he was born, I looked forward to reading it with him some day-- but now I just can't stomach it. I've considered it a couple of times when we were looking for a new book for bedtime reading, but every time, even considering it just makes my blood pressure go up.

As for Kessel's critique here, I think Kessel overstates how binary Card's morality is. I don't think Card adopts an "only intentions matter" moral pose (versus an "only outcomes matter" one); that's exactly why Ender has this weird, dual aspect of being both innocent and self-punishing in everything post-Speaker for the Dead. Of course the actual consequences matter. As do the intentions. Ender really is conflicted and caught at the intersection of his intentions and their awful results.

Even law recognizes that we have to take both intent and real consequences into account in any reckoning of justice, and law is inherently more rigid and less subtle than any well-developed ethical system. I think Kessel takes Card's moral argument to be more absolutist than it really is.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:50 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I'd put Ender's Game as a reflective entry in the American tradition of coding the historical violence of expansion in "redemptive violence" narratives, one which is very ambivalent towards that tradition but which doesn't really want to completely abandon it. It's a series that relies on the constant discovery of New Worlds and on the conflicts between human settlers and native lifeforms to provoke a violence leading to regretful, usually belated understanding and towards possiblities for mediation. It's notable that Ender's resocialization occurs through a second bout of violence in a human settler colony in Speaker for the Dead, and that the problem of transcultural conflict is solved by the revelations of objective, biological fact as mediated through the same "telepathy as empathetic/narrative technology" mechanism as in the fist novel's conclusion.

The novels speculate that an objective, retrospective view of violence can successfully mediate individual relationships to the violence of the past, and that individual conscience rather than a society ultimately becomes the repository of guilt and the site of redemption.

The American as conscientious individual, not American society and economy, remains the subject of American history in the end. But violence always seems a necessary precursor to understanding; it's as if the novels can't really imagine an intercultural encounter that isn't a war or a colonization, nor a solution that isn't achieved through necessarily belated objectivity. Technology works as a method -- a somewhat slow and indirect method -- of moral revelation, which is conflated with objective access to understanding in a variety of ways. The American technocratic present and its presumed potential to transform subjective misunderstanding into objective knowledge redeems, but must always begin from, the American imperialist past and its violence.
posted by kewb at 7:07 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


In a nutshell, while I think you can read the book(s) that way, I don't think they were actually written that way. My view is more in like with Kessel's - Card uses a series of cheap rhetorical tricks involving Ender's inner monologue to make us feel bad for him when, if viewed objectively, he's just as big a psychopath as everyone else in the book. Plus I think the mass appeal of the book has little to do with any of the points you make. People really just like the wish fulfilment aspect.

This is interesting to think about in terms of this interview Card recently gave. In it, he says about writing the script for the movie:
As it’s written, Ender’s Game is unadaptable. The book takes place entirely inside Ender’s head. If you don’t know what Ender is thinking, he’s just an incredibly violent little kid and not terribly interesting. You have to find ways to externalize what he’s thinking. But he can’t be the kind of person who explains himself to other people. That would weaken him.

With all my scripts, if you had read Ender’s Game you would say, wow, he nailed it. But if you hadn’t read the book, then you would have no idea what all the fuss was about.
I find it fascinating that Card fully recognizes a common critique of the book, but kind of dismisses it entirely: sure, Ender looks look a garden variety psychopath in every way if you only examine his external actions, but when you know what he's thinking, it changes everything. The central problem never gets confronted, and I think that's deeply problematic. Card has had a lot of time and opportunity to revise Ender's story since he first wrote it, but he's stuck to his guns on the worst aspects of it.

(Also of interest in that interview: Card's winning formula eventually was to make a "buddy-movie" with Ender and Bean, which the director changed to Ender and Petra. Hard not to raise an eyebrow at that given the controversy around Card's thoughts on gender and sexuality.)
posted by kjh at 7:17 AM on November 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


One thing I think which helps support Kessel and undermines some of the claims in this thread is that it seems to me that the book does present the preemptive strike against the buggers as necessary and correct. As Kessel discusses, the "war crimes" trials faced by Graff and Ender are presented as fatuous, and they get off scot free. IIRC correctly, even in Ender's mind-meld with the bugger egg at the end there's a bit where the bug kind of sighs and is like, "it's a pity we didn't understand each other, you're right we probably would have destroyed you eventually." I think the book presents Ender as authentically feeling guilt, authentically suffering, but it never says he was wrong to do what he did. This hurts me more than it hurts you, that's the model, the cry of the parent as they haul out the belt. Kessel has the right of it there.

I'm no longer an English major so I haven't done the close textual analysis that would help support this reading, but one of the things I felt most profoundly and found most disturbing in reading it is that the book is an argument for the closet. Every national inclination to love and tenderness in Ender is crushed, as it must be, for him to reach his actually potential, become not only a full member but a leader of his society and serve his true purpose, and by the end he comes to submit to this necessity and enforce it in others (e.g. Bean), for their own good. The lonely post genocide ender is not unlike a closeted man --- despised and rejected for what he is even as he himself struggles eternally to atone for that sin. And all this is presented as noble, admirable. It's really really creepy on a number of levels.
posted by Diablevert at 7:21 AM on November 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Just in on the twitter feed: The Daily Beast talking about EG as required reading for new US Marines.
posted by aught at 7:31 AM on November 1, 2013


I actually think I was a little too harsh on the essay up thread. Its a good essay, and powerfully written. My frustation with it comes with people who read it ang go "ah Enders Game is about this so I can then ignore it". You see this all the time, where someone tells you that the hidden message of the Incredibles is essentially libertarian and therefore not worth watching, for example. I think there is a lot to be gotten out of a decent text, and this is just one reading. Of course if you hate the writing then you're probably not going to think theres much to engage with there.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 8:01 AM on November 1, 2013


one of the things I felt most profoundly and found most disturbing in reading it is that the book is an argument for the closet...The lonely post genocide ender is not unlike a closeted man --- despised and rejected for what he is even as he himself struggles eternally to atone for that sin.

I would pay money for a close textual analysis that supports the above thesis in depth.
posted by mediareport at 8:05 AM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Daily Beast talking about EG as required reading for new US Marines.

Ugh, there it is, right there on the shelf for enlisted readers, putting it in the company of Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage, Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels, and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. (One of these things is not like the others...)

Please note that, tellingly, it's not among the novels recommended for officers. Maybe there could be a write-in campaign to replace it with, say, Heinlein's Starship Troopers, or Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, which have the additional distinction of having been written by veterans—unlike that pro-Dubya, pro-GWOT, pro-Iraq invasion chicken hawk Card.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:26 AM on November 1, 2013


the book does present the preemptive strike against the buggers as necessary and correct.

I had totally forgotten Card chose to use this word. As I have written before, I think Ender's Game is Card novelizing what I speculate to be his personal and direct experience of child abuse, and that experience underlays his homophobia. This would tend to support that thesis.
posted by mwhybark at 9:20 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I should note that from my memory, these are suggested readings rather than mandatory ones.
posted by corb at 9:42 AM on November 1, 2013


I would pay money for a close textual analysis that supports the above thesis in depth.

Well, I was looking around for the bit where the bugs confirm they would have killed humans again --- it's a bit more complicated than that, or at least that bit might be earlier in the novel than I thought it was; instead the bugs stop once they realise that the beings they're killing are intelligent, and accept that the humans are justified in seeking revenge and forgive them --- but anyway, came across a couple suggestive lines. When Valentine meets Ender at the end of the book and convinces him to come to a colony, she tells him:

"Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to fulfil the roles given to you by good people, people who love you."

And Ender's final lines the book are

"We have to go, I'm almost happy here."
"So stay."
"I've lived too long with pain. I won't know who I am without it."

The pain is his guilt, of course, but Ender is defined not only by his guilt but by his self-suppression, that's part of the pain that makes him who he is.

I wouldn't hang a whole argument on two lines alone, but they're good examples of what I mean; the book is filled with examples of the righteousness of submitting to a false face, in order to serve some larger societal demand. Graff does this, Ender does it, Valentine does it. Even Peter does this, channelling his sadism into his ambition, blackmailing Valentine into helping him. Both of them lie about who they really are and their true beliefs in order to manipulate others in their writing. And in the end, Peter is incredibly successful at this, instituting a kind of Pax Romana which brings peace and prosperity to the whole human race. I must be cruel to be kind is the book's other motto, and this is seen as just: Graff's decision to coerce Ender is the right call, and so are Peter and Valentine's lies, and Peter's hypocritical Locke persona.
posted by Diablevert at 9:49 AM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


the book does present the preemptive strike against the buggers as necessary and correct.

I hadn't even noticed that coincidence before:

bug·ger 1 (bgr, bg-)
n.
1. Vulgar Slang A sodomite.
2. Slang A contemptible or disreputable person.
3. Slang A fellow; a chap: "He's a silly little bugger, then" (John le Carré).
v. bug·gered, bug·ger·ing, bug·gers Vulgar Slang

posted by saulgoodman at 9:57 AM on November 1, 2013


As far as I can tell, Card was raised Mormon. His great grandmother was a daughter of Brigham Young.
posted by drezdn at 10:05 AM on November 1, 2013


it's a bit more complicated than that, or at least that bit might be earlier in the novel than I thought it was; instead the bugs stop once they realise that the beings they're killing are intelligent, and accept that the humans are justified in seeking revenge and forgive them

Which is exactly the reaction Ender has when the human race as a whole rails against his mass murders, come to think of it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:11 AM on November 1, 2013


Yeah it seems to have taken Card 10 years and 4 books in the series before realizing it would be a good idea to have a name for his signature alien race which wasn't also a slang term for anal penetration.
posted by localroger at 10:14 AM on November 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


Would we really characterize the attack against the Formics as a "preemptive strike?" It's been years since I've read the books, but I believe they attacked humanity first, twice, in our own star system with no obvious attempts to communicate with us. I think if I was a citizen on this version of Earth I would vote to launch a fleet against them as well.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 11:14 AM on November 1, 2013


Wasn't it revealed later in the book that the initial skirmishes between the aliens and humans had actually secretly been provoked by the humans? I think it turned out to have only been military propaganda (unless I'm mis-remembering) that the aliens attacked us without provocation; Ender eventually also learns that we started it.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:20 AM on November 1, 2013


They did, but with a big enough gap between the two attacks (and between the second attack and the setting of the novel) that they were categorized as discrete "wars" with beginnings and ends.

The Formics/Buggers did attack unprovoked, IIRC; the big revelation was that they had a hive mind and no concept of an intelligent species that didn't have one; thus, they considered blowing up a few unfamiliar spacecraft the equivalent of a half-hearted punch on the arm, because they didn't (they thought) actually kill a mind.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:27 AM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had totally forgotten Card chose to use this word.

It's kind of funny that they carefully excise all bugger and butt references from the script then hire a Butterfield as Ender.

Okay, probably not that funny...
posted by Artw at 11:35 AM on November 1, 2013


Relevant:

Confessions of a Drone Warrior (gq.com longform)

Touches on "moral injury": "It represents a tectonic realignment, a shift from a focusing on the violence that has been done to a person in wartime toward his feelings about what he has done to others—or what he’s failed to do for them."

Yes, they do read Ender's Game.

Depressing read, watch out.
posted by sidereal at 11:48 AM on November 1, 2013


Blergh. The Ender is Hitler thing has always bothered me a bit much. Card fabricates an innocent perpetrator of genocide. That perpetrator then discover that he committed unwitting genocides and spends the rest of his life trying to atone for it.

I have encountered very few critiques of Ender's Game which point out that, like, one of the biggest emotional moments in the book is when Ender takes the alien egg so that he can - against the wishes of basically all humans - find a place where the alien species can live again.

See, Orson Scott Card is so loathesome - it's really difficult to get my head around his work. He's just so fucked up. And yet, I tend to disagree with most of the critiques I read of him.

The thing I worry most about, when talking about him, is that if it wouldn't be better just to have the absolutist critiques - if trying to talk about his work in any kind of sympathetic light at all isn't just causing more harm and pain to women and queer folks. I feel like maybe my responsibility is to the people he injures, and that his actions have removed his work from any kind of serious consideration ever regardless of its content.

At the same time, his work seems like this weird, pathetic, abject thing that flaps around awkwardly - less of a jockish bullying thing and more of a panicked-nerd-pushed-to-the-wall.

To me, the real reason that Ender's Game is fucked up is that it normalizes suffering. The moral of most of Orson Scott Card's stories is that if you're smart, or moral, or special in any way, the world is going to use that to hurt you and you have to put up with it for the greater good. There's this fetishization of suffering that is really creepy, but it's creepy because it's a way of telling people to tolerate their own abuse. Ender, Alvin Miller, Anssett, Orem, Patience - pretty much the heroes of every important Card novel - are all people who are abused for the greater good, and whose big moral journey is about learning to accept their abuse as necessary and moving past it without anger. But there's also this buried, eroticized pleasure in being wronged and in pain.

Now, the people who write all the "ressentiment and the nerd boy" essays about Card read this as "these stories are about fantasizing that you are special and that you are wronged because you are just too special-wecial and that therefore you are entitled to hurt others". I think that's the wrong reading. I think the narrative is "you really are 'special' in some way (smarter than average, talented somehow) and you're also being abused in some way, and you rationalize the abuse by saying that you can only do your Important Thing if you also learn to accept your own abuse".

The abused heroes in Card are several times contrasted with characters who are abused but who are also angry - and those characters commit villainy, like Asineth in Hart's Hope, because they are not able to accept that their abuse was needed for the greater good.

I think this is incredibly horrible, but I also think it's not about vanity or the various charges usually leveled at nerdy guys. These are books about abused kids rationalizing their abuse.

Elsewhere on the blue today, there's that horrible story about the poor little girl who was locked in a closet by her abusive parents - one of her sisters, who was otherwise not abused, was forced to help care for her.

If you've read as much Orson Scott Card as I have, you recognize that this terrible real-life thing is like a story in Folk of the Fringe.

Card is always thinking about what it is to sin unintentionally or through neglect. And very often, the characters are not off the hook for it - consider the townspeople in Red Prophet. In that book, everyone associated with the massacre at Tippicanoe is cursed of God, even the people who stood aside, because those people chose not to intervene.

I think that one reason people have trouble with Card's work is that it isn't satisfyingly moral and it doesn't conform satisfactorily to the norms of the moment. But I think there are times when it does describe certain kinds of guilt and sin very well - the way the townsfolk live after they've participated in the massacre at Tippicanoe, for example. They're punished, but they don't curl up and die. I think the readers want - especially now, when it's much harder to ignore the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas - for those townsfolk to all be evil, and for them to all be horribly punished and curl up and die. They aren't and they don't, and this puts the reader squarely up against the moral obtuseness of the world - that we can know how things should be, we can know the terrible gravity of an event, and yet somehow the mere stupidness of living goes on, an event that's so terrible that it should stop the world on its axis happens and yet nothing stops. Punishment isn't enough, can't be enough.

I remember reading Ender's Game in college and I kept running up against the idea that there was nothing that could be done that would fix things, by the end. Even if Ender and all his enablers were executed on global TV, it wouldn't undo what had happened. The very best that could possibly be done was what Ender did - to commit to telling the story and to try to revive the alien species, and that was not even a millionth of enough.

I assume that the writing of Ender's Game was entwined with the writing of the short stories in Folk of the Fringe, Wyrms and Red Prophet, all of which are also about genocide and most of which are far more directly about the genocide of indigenous people. As I've mentioned elsewhere here, I find it hard to hate Card totally because those were the first books I ever read - as a white kid in a very racist town in the eighties - which clearly came out and said that genocide was genocide, it was terrible and that the history of white people in the Americas was always going to be marred by it unless some titanic amends was made.

The problem with Card's writing about genocide is that in its emphasis on incommesurability and tragedy, it closes off actual political solutions - everything happens at the level of myth and epic and fate. (Although at least in Red Prophet we see clear examples of white people's political lies and double-dealing.) The problem of the "innocent killer" isn't that it's wish fulfillment about real situations, but that it blinds you to the political nature of genocide.

On another note, I think Card's politics got WAY worse in the nineties. Songbird and Wyrms, for instance, are incredibly fucked up about homosexuality and abortion, but at least they're fucked up in this sort of complicated, not-totally-unsympathetic way, whereas later on, Card is just basically one giant right-wing talking point.
posted by Frowner at 12:09 PM on November 1, 2013 [26 favorites]


I've never read Stars In My Pocket like Grains Of Sand but I just skimmed the Wikipedia synopsis and am adding it to my to-read list.
posted by eustacescrubb at 12:43 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This thread is good evidence of why Ender's Game is an important novel. Not because of the writing (which can get a bit... turgid), but because it can be used to discuss some very important issues: abuse, warfare, innocence, guilt, genocide, etc. It also provides an opportunity to examine the author and his motivations, regardless of whether you side with him, or find him to be the worst part of humanity. I don't agree with Card or his politics, but I did feel empathy for Ender and my wife and I were able to discuss the novel as we read it at much deeper level than we would have been able to if it were the latest episode of "American Ninja Warrior" or whatever.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:58 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Frowner, thats a great essay on Card's writing. I think you're pretty much on point about some of the essential themes in Card's work.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 1:28 PM on November 1, 2013


I've never read Stars In My Pocket like Grains Of Sand but I just skimmed the Wikipedia synopsis and am adding it to my to-read list.

Fair warning that it's the first part of a two-book story, but Delany has never written the second book - and says it's unlikely he will (for a variety of reasons that make sense but I won't go into here). It's still very much worth reading, but you're going to be twitching to read the conclusion once you finish this book. If it's any consolation, you'll only start that twitching / craving now, while some of us have been doing so since 1985.

Back to Ender's Game -- I've been thinking about this thread all afternoon while I work. One difference between how I think about the story of Ender's Game today versus when I first read the original story when I was in high school is highly realistic video gaming. My tween nephews play Call of Duty on the xbox and routinely "kill" large numbers of enemies in quite graphic ways via this stunningly realistic game; it's hard for me not to see as a proto-Battle School. To me it makes the story both more pertinent and more troubling.
posted by aught at 1:35 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


at the LGBT screening

Now that's an interesting idea.

Also, I wanted to commend mobunited's comment as being particularly insightful. I'd follow up by saying that something that struck me about the book is how it feeds into the resentment of the precocious child--that feeling of being better than others and not only not celebrated for being so but actively being picked on for it. In my experience, the people that were really into Ender's Game--not just loving it, but puzzled and seemingly even a little hurt that I didn't share their high opinion of it--had a ton of childhood baggage that they hadn't worked through yet.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:26 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Now that's an interesting idea."

Lionsgate put it on and gave free tickets to pretty much any LGBT organization that wanted to go. I figured it was my best shot to see the movie without putting anything in Card's pockets.
posted by klangklangston at 2:51 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


This thread is good evidence of why Ender's Game is an important novel.

All bestsellers, whether The Lord of the Rings or The Da Vinci Code, may be considered important novels from a critical viewpoint, though not necessarily an aesthetic one. Card certainly is trying to work out a lot of his political ideas, his religious/moral preoccupations, and his deeply repressed neuroses through a science fiction novel. Although he now does this overtly in his repugnant socio-political screeds, the Hugo-winning Ender's Game does rate as more than the simple space opera escapism that still characterizes the genre in mainstream opinion. Norman Spinrad was doing all that and more, quite intentionally and consciously, along with much black humor, in his brilliant satiric sci-fi pulp parody The Iron Dream ("Extraordinary"—Ursula K. Le Guin).

The Nebula Award–nominated Iron Dream purports to be the 1954 Hugo Award–winning novel Lord of the Swastika by an alternate universe's Adolf Hitler who emigrated to America instead of going into politics. It's a daring literary high-wire act which Spinrad creatively distances from the easily recognizable sci-fi tropes it turns inside out, such as how a "just war" by oppressed humans against "mutants" is a thin cover for genocide. Card's more straightforward attempt to address these themes simply doesn't have full awareness of his project or critical perspective on his predecessors (Heinlein, most obviously). Indeed, the chief difference between the two is that Spinrad's nominal protagonist is a typical pulp hero in so many respects while Card's, playing on his readers' sentimental sympathies, is just a kid. No doubt if Ender's Game were published today, it would be edited down into the YA category.

The other difference is that while both writers are notable figures in science fiction, Spinrad is an interesting person and Card is an asshole. Authorial fallacies aside, that counts for something.

On preview:

Though neither Kessel nor Radford mention The Iron Dream in their essays, the latter does point out that Spinrad has already critically dissected Ender's Game. Here's a relevant excerpt from Spinrad's Science Fiction in the Real World:
Talk about sympathetic heroes with whom the reader can identify! How about a sexually arrested adolescent who becomes the savior of the human race through his prowess at war-sports and video games? How about two other sexually arrested adolescents who take over the world as electronic fanzine letterhacks? This is as close as identification of the audience with the hero can get — the identification figures are the audience’s fantasy images of themselves. {...}

The bulk of the novel is something of a guiltless military masturbation fantasy, nicely epitomized by the fact that all the action takes place in war-games frameworks. Only when Ender is consumed by guilt after he learns that the final game was real does Card turn the moral tables and make a perfunctory anti-war statement, a thematic turnaround that, in plot terms, seems to come from deep left field.
It's almost as though Card deliberately set up his first novel to push as many of the sci-fi readership's buttons as possible with a sympathetic protagonist, and then once he had an audience, he got up on a soapbox and started to tell people what he really thought about war, leadership, state surveillance, etc. Then again, when he calls the Iraq War "the best-run war in American history", maybe he's still devoted to writing fiction.
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:16 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I could assign new soldiers SF to read, I could certainly find far, far better things than Card, Heinlein, or Haldeman.* Tiptree, LeGuin, Vonnegut, Shute, Heller... Even if Ender's Game or Starship Troopers ultimately decide that genocide isn't a super-great idea, they have to think long and hard about it. There's a lot of great war SF that instead devotes its time to more serious questions, like how to avoid these things in the first place, and how to clean up the crap left to us by the psychopaths who repeatedly decide that it's a tough call, but this time it's justified.

*(Haldeman may count as more anti-war than I give him credit for; it's a long time since I read The Forever War, and my skepticism may be misplaced.)
posted by chortly at 4:31 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aaaaand if anyone is wondering what is wrong with the world nowadays, while they are making $100 million movies out of $DEFICIENCY $EPITHET like Ender's Game, Norman Spinrad has been reduced to what amounts to self-publication and as far as I can tell his latest book is only available as an ebook.
posted by localroger at 4:38 PM on November 1, 2013


Spinrad! Man, there's a neglected great. Geez, used to reread the Void Captain's Tale biannually. Biennially? Once every couple years.
posted by mwhybark at 5:04 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's a damn shame about Spinrad. One of the problems, though, is that his best-known book is probably still The Iron Dream, and good luck getting that adapted. (I could actually imagine a pretty good adaptation to be made from it, especially if the adapter beefed up the framing story to show more of Hitler's science fiction career, and maybe just included periodic scenes from Lord of the Swastika instead of the whole thing, but the movie would then be taking the piss out of not only science fiction and fantasy in general, but SFF fandom as well, and you could probably imagine how well that would go over.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:45 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Warren Ellis did a pretty good adaptation of Bug Jack Baron.
posted by Artw at 7:27 PM on November 1, 2013


Hallowe'en Jack, I suspect you could get quite a movie out of Child of Fortune. It would take a lot of pruning of course, but Spinrad would probably understand that.
posted by localroger at 7:40 PM on November 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I cannot remember where, so [citation needed], but years ago I remember reading Card's own word on the inspirations of Ender's Game, and it was what corb said: Vietnam. We made soldiers, and they did what we made them do, and things broke and things were lost in the process. It's just easier to see it when it's happening to a little kid than to an ostensibly adult 18-year-old draftee.
posted by eritain at 8:50 PM on November 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also: But whether or not Ender’s battle simulations were practice or real, the ultimate purpose of any practice was to enact such destruction in reality. Ender and his commanders were aiming for this battle and they all knew it; thanks to the trick played on Ender it just happened sooner than it would have otherwise.

Except we are told in plain language that this was not Ender's purpose when he called for the destruction of the planet: His purpose was to do something so barbaric in what he thought was the game, that he would never be judged fit to wage real war. It's in the book. Missing this point makes me pretty skeptical about the rest of the analysis.
posted by eritain at 9:10 PM on November 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Haldeman may count as more anti-war than I give him credit for

Haldeman hated war with the unqualified passion of a thousand supernovae. The Forever War is a reduction to absurdity of the way the Vietnam War looked to those who were forced to wage it.
posted by localroger at 6:40 AM on November 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


Except we are told in plain language that this was not Ender's purpose when he called for the destruction of the planet: His purpose was to do something so barbaric in what he thought was the game, that he would never be judged fit to wage real war. It's in the book. Missing this point makes me pretty skeptical about the rest of the analysis.


Mmmmm....yes and no, I think. I re-read the passage and you're right, Ender does think that by "winning" the test in this way he will be cheating, disqualified, that they may send him back home like they did to the Spanish boy (whom he at least subconsciously knows he killed). But he also compares the final test explicitly with the final test he was given in Battle School, where he also faced overwhelming odd and had to resort to "cheating" in order to win, and also meant this "cheating" to serve as a final gesture of defiance. And what did they do when they did that? Promoted him. In fact, that's what's happened every time he's cornered and demonstrates his ruthlessness in the book --- Ender wins, and by winning, advances.

It's an interesting divergence between the character's perspective and the narrative's, and I think part of what the essay is getting at. Ender the character doesn't consciously sign on for genocide. But the book never suggests that this genocide is not necessary.
posted by Diablevert at 2:08 PM on November 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well it seems I am going to be seeing the movie tomorrow with my Dad. That ought to be interesting.
posted by localroger at 7:15 PM on November 2, 2013


Frowner, thanks for that comment. I completely agree with you about the suffering angle in his books, though I hadn't put a finger on it before. That also seems like the theme du jour a few years back- 24 was a good example. Hard men making hard choices in a hard world, blah blah blah, as though there were no other options. That resonated with me when I was a teenager because I was suicidally miserable and felt trapped.

I love Ender's Game and I don't understand the hate people have for it. I can understand "meh" but hate?

I haven't read it since I was in my early 20s and I remember being the only one of my friends to like Xenocide, and what I remember getting out of it was that adults/authority are potentially seriously flawed. They really believed they were on the side of the angels in this book but theirs was an outdated, emotional fanaticism, panic and xenophobia left over from the buggers' first attack. The kids' whole training and brainwashing has been a result of an obsolete and unnecessary mode of thinking, and it wiped out a species (mostly).

The other part I got out of it when I was a teenager was that even kids need to think about their actions, and they shouldn't just do the "I was just following orders." I grew up with a super authoritarian dad, so that might be why I got that out of it. I knew that I would do what I was told because I was assured that I simply didn't have enough data to make decisions for myself. (I bought that crap for far too many years, btw.) And that authority figures likely have motivations of their own, that may not have to do with my best interests, even if they think they are.

The Vietnam metaphor makes a lot of sense to me. When I was a teenager I though 18 year olds (soldiers) were grown ups, but damn if they are not. They are kids.

And now I just watched the movie and liked it fine, but it was dull to watch- everything was grey, and the music was very overbearing. I don't remember the next 2 books having any action, so I doubt there will be sequels.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:42 PM on November 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have never read Ender's Game, and sometimes when these threads come up I feel like I should read it, just in order to participate. Well, I haven't read it yet, everything I gather about the plot of the book has been from other people's synopses. Please keep that in mind as you read the following:

What I think is central here, and for some reason I don't see anyone mentioning, is the nature of the chain of causation here, the mechanism between Ender playing the simulation and the wiping out of the Buggers.

Thought experiment. You have a gun pointed at someone. You pull the trigger. The bullet flies through the air, it strikes his heart, kills him dead. You are certainly at fault there.

Experiment two. A gun is held in place by a brace, pointing at the (immobile) victim. A string is tied around the trigger, and you hold the string. You pull it, the gun goes off, killing him. You are certainly at fault here too.

In #3, the string is tied around the end of a lever; the other end rests against the trigger. Pull the string, shift the lever, bang, dead. You are also at fault here.

You can put as many links in the chain as you want and it won't absolve you of anything, because you understand the implications of your action. You know what pulling the string will do. It is no different from pulling the trigger yourself -- indeed, pulling a trigger on a gun isn't a direct kill-someone act, there has to be a bullet in the gun, then the trigger strikes a chemical charge, causing an explosion, propelling the bullet, piercing the heart, causing it to cease pumping, meaning blood doesn't flow, causing oxygen starvation in the brain. Direct causation is actually very elusive; when you look hard enough, very few things are If This Then That, there's nearly always a Rube Goldberg machine involved. (Because of the nature of our universe, it's possible for something to go wrong at any link of the chain, although unlikely enough that most times we don't often consider the possibility. That's off the subject anyway.)

Let's say there's a madman, of the Saw variety, in the mix. He sets up the apparatus, with the gun and victim and string, in another room, takes the other end into your room, and gives it to you and says, if you pull it, you'll get a surprise. Well, you do. In this situation, it seems obvious the madman is at fault. He has turned an innocent act into a dangerous one.

How is Ender's Game any different? Ender is you, the Buggers are the victim, and the madman is the system, the government, military and population, that put together the mechanism between Ender's will and the destruction of the Buggers. And it's an elaborate mechanism indeed, involving huge fleets of spaceships, the simulation, and the communication between them. It seems like a textbook case of a sick society to me. And if they're training kids, through Machiavellian means, to become military geniuses by manipulating their childhoods, that's just the dot on the exclamation point, to me.
posted by JHarris at 1:28 AM on November 3, 2013


(And forgive me if all of this is obvious, it certainly seems that way to me, but it's a reading that seems always missing. Is it that it's too obvious, or that I'm missing something?)
posted by JHarris at 1:38 AM on November 3, 2013


How is Ender's Game any different?

Well there is the point in Speaker for the Dead where Ender admits that he'd have done the same thing even if he had known it was real.
posted by localroger at 5:27 AM on November 3, 2013


Is it so hard for people who like Ender's Game to believe that there are some people out there who dislike Ender's Game for reasons other than OSC?

Never read his stuff, and had in fact never heard of the guy or the book until the Superman kerfuffle arose. It seems to me that the most vocal dislikers do tend to stress how much they hate his politics and how that overrides the quality of his work and insist that he should be boycotted and blacklisted (bit of irony there, coming from the left) for those politics, so yeah, other reasons do tend to get outvoiced. Politics are simply more fun than aesthetics.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:38 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, in case anyone wants to track down Card's response to Radford, I misremembered CLC as LR when I wrote the asshat article. So:
"A Response to Elaine Radford"
Contemporary Literary Criticism, volume(s) 279:140
via
posted by localroger at 8:00 AM on November 3, 2013


There's nothing fun about the politics of OSC for me. I really wish I could compartmentalize the work from the artist and just enjoy Ender's Game still, but I can't. I think I'd feel the same way if I found out my favorite children's book was written by Jeffrey Dahmer (not that OSC merits comparison to a serial killer, but to illustrate the general point that regardless of theory, separating the art from the artist isn't alway as easy as it sounds),

And there's nothing contadictory about Leftists boycotting intolerant speech or parties who promote intolerance. Leftists and liberals or whatever you want to call them since the days of the founding have always acknowledged that freedoms come with responsibilities too. It's only more recently that this bizarre way of looking at freedoms as absolute goods in every case with no awareness of social responsibility required has become so widespread, as far as I can tell.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:36 AM on November 3, 2013


Card has been trumpeting his loathsome politics ever since going big on his site, ornery.org, a decade ago, and his "war watch" columns, which I believe started being written for the local newspaper. As I wrote last time he came up, Card was a lesson for me in how much an author stacks the deck in favour of whatever moral lesson he wants to convey. So when I realize how loathsome his politics are, I can't help but view his work suspiciously, and feel a need to be on guard for subtle effects that lead up to the same politics that I reject when offered straight up. Especially in narrative work, the author's politics are not irrelevent in the interpretation.
posted by fatbird at 8:47 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


And even moreso when the author is consciously writing agenda driven narrative. John Ringo's editorial stances are all the reason you need to never, ever pick up one of his novels.
posted by fatbird at 8:48 AM on November 3, 2013


John Ringo's editorial stances are all the reason you need to never, ever pick up one of his novels.

except, what if you'd never heard of John Ringo? And you started working a new job in a field you'd never worked in before, and some of your new co-workers (cool, emotionally well-balanced people for the most part) insisted that you had to read one particular novel by him, even if it was ostensibly a book for children. And so you read it and you found it compelling indeed, not just in terms of its narrative force, but also in its themes, the things it seemed to be saying about children, violence, war, the human psyche (and soul) in general. What if you genuinely liked it as a solid piece of time-well-spent?

That's how it worked for me with Card and Ender's Game. Am I to now turn around and say, nah, it was a bad book, full of dubious political intentions and manipulations, and thus I can't recommend it? And further, I must now boycott the movie even though I've yet to hear anything substantive about it, pro or con.

Personally, I prefer to say, love the book, hate what the author has since become. Accept that I live in that sort of reality, that humans are not just static things, that we all change with time and circumstance and not necessarily for the better. And to condemn the good work that some current asshole did in his past is to throw beautiful baby out with slimy bathwater. In other words, it's to everyone's loss.
posted by philip-random at 10:51 AM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well there is the point in Speaker for the Dead where Ender admits that he'd have done the same thing even if he had known it was real.

I'm of two minds there:

1. It could just be a classic case of authorial retcon. Are the original Star Wars movies made worse by the prequels? Anyway, that's a different issue; you can either treat the book on its own or the book in content with its sequel.

2. If he admit he would have done it, then the whole issue is simplified. If they had told him he'd do nothing different, so go ahead and discard all the details about the kids Ender killed, the game and the culture that made it, because he's guilty. Unless it would have been an accident, that he didn't play the game with the intent to obliterate but to dissuade, like the kids, in which case, again, it's the culture, for manipulating Ender into not realizing the results of his actions are fatal, not discouraging.
posted by JHarris at 11:32 AM on November 3, 2013


JHarris --

Ender doesn't know it's real and the people who know it's real (arguably) didn't intend genocide or even perhaps consider Ender's genocidal actions as a possibility before they happened. It's a bit more complex than your synopsis. Perhaps you should read it before attempting to explain it to others who have read it.
posted by jclarkin at 12:34 PM on November 3, 2013


Well, it's not so much trying to explain as see if I get it right. Everyone puts Ender's Game in these particular terms, but don't mention the nuances you or localroger mention. It seems intractable, and I'm wondering how it can be. But I will duck out now.
posted by JHarris at 1:10 PM on November 3, 2013


Am I to now turn around and say, nah, it was a bad book, full of dubious political intentions and manipulations, and thus I can't recommend it?

I read excerpts from it now and see exactly those intentions and manipulations, that I missed when I was 15 because I was too busy feeling validated. Sure, Card is an ongoing process of a person, as are we all. I'm not saying we should burn the book. I don't see, though, why I have to pretend that the wellspring of Card's virulent homophobia and fascist regard for moral norms enforced by the state, is totally and completely separate from the waters that carried Ender's Game out of his head.

I don't have a problem with re-evaluating my earlier enjoyment of the book and finding that enjoyment of it to be... well, immature in the way that 15 year old boys frequently are.
posted by fatbird at 1:10 PM on November 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


fair enough, fatbird.

I read Ender's Game as an almost 40 year old and (as I already said) "... found it compelling indeed, not just in terms of its narrative force, but also in its themes, the things it seemed to be saying about children, violence, war, the human psyche (and soul) in general."

I can also read Ezra Pound and TS Elliot today and not see only a future fascist and anti-Semite, and listen to early Bob Dylan and not see only a future fire and brimstone Christian (for a while anyway),

I guess I liken it to my relationships with certain friends I've had over the years, people whose company I once enjoyed immensely but not so much anymore because of subsequent bullshit they've perpetrated. Should I now write them off entirely, including past things they did and said that enhanced the quality of my life at the time? I choose not to.
posted by philip-random at 2:13 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


And there's nothing contadictory about Leftists boycotting intolerant speech or parties who promote intolerance. Leftists and liberals or whatever you want to call them since the days of the founding have always acknowledged that freedoms come with responsibilities too. It's only more recently that this bizarre way of looking at freedoms as absolute goods in every case with no awareness of social responsibility required has become so widespread, as far as I can tell.

That's fine, so long as we all agree on what social responsibility means. Or whether there are things that are intolerable. ("I know there are people in this world who do not love their fellow human being and I hate people like that!") This could get us into a long discussion on things like who's leftish and who right, like the first Alien and Sedition Act and the fact that for decades before the Civil War you could not send abolitionist pamphlets through the US mail, never mind Lady Chatterly after WWI - but let's not.

Enough to say that you sound like you're very dangerously close to advocating censorship here, censorship based on what you think is the correct way of thinking. I certainly hope I'm wrong. The First Amendment is one thing I truly cherish about this country. I like reading POVs I disagree with. They make me think. I recognize also that disapproving of one aspect of a man's writing does not mean disapproving of all of it. Baby and bathwater sort of thing.

But back to crushing the intolerant. If we applaud the denying of Mr Card his Superman gig because he holds intolerant views, then logically we must applaud the blacklisting of say, Dalton Trumbo, a talented screen writer whose politics were wicked, and yes, intolerant.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:16 PM on November 3, 2013


Am I to now turn around and say, nah, it was a bad book, full of dubious political intentions and manipulations...?

...Personally, I prefer to say, love the book, hate what the author has since become.


But the discussion of rejecting Ender's Game because you don't like Card's politics outside of the book is really a derail from the subject of the post. John Kessel's article is about almost entirely about the text of the novel, and what he thinks is immoral about the story it's telling. You might disagree with him, but if you find Kessel's argument convincing, I'd hope you'd be willing to revisit your opinion of the book.

And his argument essentially is that Ender's Game is a powerful telling of a dangerous myth that already has it's teeth sunk pretty deep in the American psyche. It's the myth of the innocent victim, backed into a corner so that he has no choice but to horrible, unavoidable things, for which the circumstances render him blameless.

Card sets up the story so that Ender gets to be this ruthless, sadistic, badass who crushes all his enemies, and yet Ender is somehow, simultaneously, the tragic victim of the story. It's Ender's suffering that tugs at our heart, not the suffering of the people / beings he hurts.

This is the sort of story America tells itself to justify killing 100,000 Iraqi civilians. "We are the real victims! We were attacked! We have no choice! It's self-defense! We were backed into a corner and brutal, deadly, total victory was the only option!"
posted by straight at 3:13 PM on November 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


but I don't buy that, straight. It's too much of a stretch. And I do seriously doubt we'd be having this discussion (and whether John Kessell would even have written the essay) if Mr. Card hadn't proven to be an asshole subsequent to his writing Ender's Game.

I do see how a lot of the book's themes and situations can be problematic, and such discussion is interesting to me. But ...

This is the sort of story America tells itself to justify killing 100,000 Iraqi civilians. "We are the real victims! We were attacked! We have no choice! It's self-defense! We were backed into a corner and brutal, deadly, total victory was the only option!"

That kind of stuff is all in the first few chapters of Ender's Game. What happens in the climax/denouement is that Ender is deceived/betrayed into committing a genocide. He does not consciously murder an entire planet. He just wins a game by pushing the rules, albeit in a manner that those deceiving him had hoped he would.
posted by philip-random at 3:30 PM on November 3, 2013


And I do seriously doubt we'd be having this discussion (and whether John Kessell would even have written the essay) if Mr. Card hadn't proven to be an asshole subsequent to his writing Ender's Game.

We are almost certainly having this discussion here and now because Card is such a flaming public asshat, but I am fairly sure we would have Kessel's review regardless of Card's politics. Like Radford's much earlier article it was originally written for a review journal normally frequented by other writers and professionals rather than the general public and it is entirely concerned with the text of Ender's Game and its interpretation.

The fact is Ender and Speaker are very problematic works. They ask us to accept monstrous conclusions and offer mostly reflexive empathy as justification. The circumstances created to arouse that reflexive empathy are very artificial and do not hold up very well to anything resembling a close analysis. They are very carefully crafted pillars for a moral argument -- "if you really understand somebody it's impossible to hate them" -- which is, if you think about it outside of the carefully built framework of the novels for about five seconds, is at best laughably stupid.

I happen to agree with Radford that Ender is Hitler; I was there while she assembled the 100+ page documentation package that accompanied her submission to Fantasy Review. But that doesn't even matter. In his rebuttal to Radford Card explicitly rejects the idea that the road to Hell could possibly be paved with good intentions. And if you were raised in certain mostly Southern Evangelical circles this is a trope you received at least once a year; God could of course forgive Hitler because God is just that awesome. The situation for Mormons is even loonier because you do not even have to personally receive Jesus into your heart to be SAVED!!!!, your relatives can arrange it posthumously. Which is, incidentally, why the world's most extensive geneological library is located in Salt Lake City.

The thing is, if intentions matter instead of actions, any action can be justified and even seem virtuous no matter how much hurt it causes. But this is not how most actual widely accepted moral systems work, and with damn good reason.
posted by localroger at 4:49 PM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


They are very carefully crafted pillars for a moral argument -- "if you really understand somebody it's impossible to hate them" -- which is, if you think about it outside of the carefully built framework of the novels for about five seconds, is at best laughably stupid.

this generalizes something which is specific. That is, Ender's Game concerns a character named Ender, a little kid in a unique situation. And in that situation, via deception and manipulation by his "handlers", he commits genocide. He's anything but everybody, and yes, I found it very easy not to hate him.

To carry this through and suggest that Ender is Hitler (no, I haven't read Radford's documentation) is bizarre to me, knowing what I do of Adolph H's biography. Other than the actual act of genocide (in Hitler's case, intentional and unsuccessful; in Ender's case unintentional and successful), the only way to see a commonality is to somehow assume that Hitler was schizophrenic, and somehow being manipulated by godlike voices in his head. Because he was anything but manipulated by anyone in the material realm. He was a self-made man all the way, from the extreme poverty of pre-WW1 Germany through the horrors of the war itself, to the extremes of its aftermath. He had his own agenda and he saw it through.
posted by philip-random at 5:23 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Philip R, I just came out of the movie theatre and this statement about being impossible to hate someone you truly understand is not just stated, it is displayed onscreen as the opening slide for the movie with the attribution "A.E. Wiggin." Whatever you may think of the morality being taught, do not lose sight that Ender's Game is at its heart a morality tale. It is meant to be generalized, which is why it is so finely crafted to draw the empathy of disaffected nerds. If it cannot be generlized then it has no reason to even exist.

As for things other than attempted genocide that link Ender and Adolph, there's losing virginity at the age of 37, quasi-incestuous relationship with older sister, weird fixation with being a third child, and let's not forget (had Hitler taken the path so many of his associates did) landing in a Portuguese speaking colony to make a new life. If those weren't enough there are lots of other details which I don't recall at the moment, but it made for a very damning package. It is not just "Hey genocide !!!" It could not have happened by accident and could only have happened with a detailed reading of Hitler's biographies.

The very weird thing is that, in his rebuttal, Card himself seems completely ignorant of all this, and denied in print that things are in Ender's Game which are in fact right there in print, cited by Radford with page numbers and Xerox copies. This is why I have wondered aloud if Ender and Speaker are even Card's work. The fact that it took five years to get around to writing the sequel everyone thought would be coming the next year suggests that something rather profound went wrong.
posted by localroger at 5:47 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


the Hugo-winning Ender's Game

The Hugo and Nebula award-winning Ender's Game

The Nebula Award–nominated Iron Dream [...] Card's more straightforward attempt to address these themes simply doesn't have full awareness of his project or critical perspective on his predecessors (Heinlein, most obviously). Indeed, the chief difference between the two is that Spinrad's nominal protagonist is a typical pulp hero in so many respects while Card's, playing on his readers' sentimental sympathies, is just a kid.

Eh, you're putting Spinrad's novel on a pedestal it doesn't really deserve to be on. I've brought it up multiple times here on Metafilter because it is extraordinarily important in concept and the genre needed such a work to be written. But as important as it is, it's rather mediocre in execution.

Card's novel is just as important to the genre and rather better executed. Sure, it's less ambitious and one can disagree (and I have in the past) whether a well-executed work of lesser ambition is worth more or less than a less well executed work of greater ambition, but I don't think one can simply call TID the greater work, full stop. It just didn't have the impact nor was it executed well enough.
posted by Justinian at 5:47 PM on November 3, 2013


Out-of-universe, Orson Scott Card does seem to have set up the setting to make Ender almost blameless for his hugely violent actions.

In-universe, fuck the Formics. They killed a hundred million humans without so much as an introductory hail. There was no first contact; they might as well be a literal pestilent swarm. They didn't even behave like sentients. The destruction of their homeworld carries no more moral weight than removing a hornet's nest.

Remember the Scathing of China. Remember the Battle of the Belt. Long live Mazer Rackham.

Out-of-universe, the xenocide accusation really doesn't make sense as a potential war crime until after the egg was discovered and the Hive Queen and the Hegemon was written. If humanity had the resources and ability to pen the Formic fleets to a restricted section and prevent them from launching further incursions, maybe that would have made preemptive strike more of an ambiguous move. But up until then, all we read about the Buggers is that they are incomprehensible and relentless. They have no redeeming traits at all. Might I suggest an alien race resembling big cats?
posted by Apocryphon at 6:14 PM on November 3, 2013


Philip R, I just came out of the movie theatre and this statement about being impossible to hate someone you truly understand is not just stated, it is displayed onscreen as the opening slide for the movie with the attribution "A.E. Wiggin."

can't argue with that ... but the rest (all the Hitler stuff) just remains bizarre.

It's been a while since I read Ender (over a decade) but what I remember about his pre-recruitment childhood had no commonality with Adolph H's, who had a brutal father, adoring mother, both of whom died while Hitler was still young, so he was effectively orphaned into extreme poverty ... and forgotten about by the world until a couple of decades later when he started to make a name for himself in Weimar Germany.
posted by philip-random at 6:15 PM on November 3, 2013


Card sets up the story so that Ender gets to be this ruthless, sadistic, badass who crushes all his enemies, and yet Ender is somehow, simultaneously, the tragic victim of the story. It's Ender's suffering that tugs at our heart, not the suffering of the people / beings he hurts.

Ender's handlers manipulate him into thinking he's a tragic victim in order to make him ruthless enough to commit the atrocities they need him to commit. If Ender were able to accurately estimate his strength and aggression relative to others, he might show mercy, so he's manipulated into massively underestimating it to convince him that mercy isn't an option...

Just as his society at large (not to mention his handlers) are likewise manipulated (ie, manipulate themselves) into thinking of themselves as tragic victims of the buggers, and therefore massively underestimate their strength and aggression relative to the buggers, and thus are convinced that mercy isn't an option.

That's hegemony in action.

The very weird thing is that, in his rebuttal, Card himself seems completely ignorant of all this, and denied in print that things are in Ender's Game which are in fact right there in print, cited by Radford with page numbers and Xerox copies. This is why I have wondered aloud if Ender and Speaker are even Card's work. The fact that it took five years to get around to writing the sequel everyone thought would be coming the next year suggests that something rather profound went wrong.

I think he's a complex person. He has his own reasons for his political stances, and what he says about his work in public, and why he chose to write and publish in the first place. He's an enigma to me, and I honestly don't ever expect to understand any of those reasons. I also get the feeling, that seems to be echoed quite a bit on this thread, that there's likely more to Card than what meets the eye, but I have no idea what specifically that "more" might be. He seems to be wearing a mask, but I don't know what his face looks like behind it.

However, I don't think understanding Card as a person and understanding one of his works is one and the same -- I think a piece of art is a separate thing from a person and has a life and meaning of its own. For a lot of people, that's the point of creating a piece of art -- that the creation isn't the creator. And judging from the quote by Card that Kessel puts at the very beginning of his essay, that's Card's stance, too.

Besides, in this case, there's the practical impossibility of *not* separating Card and Ender's Game: in order to discuss and understand someone's authorial vision, you need to take more than one single piece of work into account, yet with Card it's impossible to critique more than one at once because his body of work is so schizoid (especially when you take his non-fiction also into account) that there's no single coherent conclusion that, seems to me, to could apply to all of it.
posted by rue72 at 6:24 PM on November 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


Philip R, Ender had a brutal father and older brother, an adoring mother, and he was taken from them young effectively orphaning him into a system where he had little control over anything that happened to him. Don't forget that in order to get Ender to the front while still an empathy-worthy child, the Hitler stuff has to be compressed a bit. Ender doesn't have a Beer Hall Putsch and the reinvention that followed that. Ender doesn't publish a novel titled My Dream. He doesn't have the time because in order to make the story's moral point he has to get to the genocide while he's still an empathy-worthy tween.
posted by localroger at 6:24 PM on November 3, 2013


Also: Let us consider one thing. Hitler and Ender both lose their virginity at the age of 37.

Not 36, not 38. 37.

Now, losing your virginity (if you ever lose it at all) later than your mid 20's is kind of unusual in the Western style culture where Ender seems to live. Yeah he has some serious issues, but one could easily imagine a scenario where the Savior of HumanityTM would be besieged by groupies. One could imagine a scenario where he is so consumed with bitterness he never has sex at all. But he does, finally, find affection and stick his schlong in a girl. At the age of 37. How the fuck often does it happen like that? And if it had to, why not 32 or 41 or any of a span of years around that point in life?
posted by localroger at 6:41 PM on November 3, 2013


Ender doesn't have a Beer Hall Putsch and the reinvention that followed that. Ender doesn't publish a novel titled My Dream. He doesn't have the time because in order to make the story's moral point he has to get to the genocide while he's still an empathy-worthy tween.

... except Ender is manipulated toward his actions. This is fundamental to the story. Hitler wasn't. There were many who thought they were manipulating Hitler and they generally discovered that precisely the opposite was going on. When he didn't need them anymore to advance his power, they were killed or otherwise neutralized.

I'm guessing if there's any analogue to Ender in Hitler's Reich, it would be somebody like Rommel. But I can't really comment because I don't know much of his story.

Also: Let us consider one thing. Hitler and Ender both lose their virginity at the age of 37.

I admit, that's odd if it's not somehow intentional, but it hardly seals the deal on Card's intentions, conscious or otherwise. I mean, when Hitler was 37, he was still just getting started with his Reich building (barely out of jail) and well short of becoming the Monster that history will never forget. Is Ender even a teenager when he perpetrates his genocide?
posted by philip-random at 6:58 PM on November 3, 2013


I mean, when Hitler was 37, he was still just getting started with his Reich building (barely out of jail) and well short of becoming the Monster that history will never forget.

Well Ender can't be exactly Hitler because Ender is Hitler perfected to drive home a certain moral argument. And that involves a few compromises. The really damning thing is that there is so much the same about Hitler and Ender despite the differences of their circumstances.

Card could have given Ender his first sex act at any age, but he chose 37, the age Hitler got his. He could have made Ender any birth order, and he could have made birth order not a big deal, but he made Ender a third and he made it a big deal, as it was for Hitler. Card could have given Ender a whole range of potential confidantes, but he gave Ender an older sister, like Hitler, with whom he had a relationship so close that one reading their correspondence might assume they were lovers or married, as was the case with Hitler and his sister.

One of things as coincidence, maybe. But how many coincidences does it take to punch through that this was a deliberately created thing? It was an active deception. That is the reason Elaine Radford wrote her article. She thought Card was planning some kind of reveal.

Radford later repudiated that idea because, as she said on her blog, it would require Card to have a sense of humor which he very obviously does not possess.

For my part I don't know how Ender and Speaker got written. But either somebody who knew a lot about Adolph Hitler wrote them, or it's time to buy a lottery ticket.
posted by localroger at 7:12 PM on November 3, 2013


I dunno, the only think that seems weird in all that coincidence is the 37 year old virgin thing. Everything else wouldn't make me think twice. Admittedly the 37 year old virgin bit is a pretty big one...
posted by Justinian at 7:19 PM on November 3, 2013


Well it's been a loooooong time so I don't remember the rest of it, but it was not a coincidence. There were lots of other things, far more than made it into Radford's article. It was actually kind of ridiculous how blatant it was.
posted by localroger at 7:26 PM on November 3, 2013


What happens in the climax/denouement is that Ender is deceived/betrayed into committing a genocide. He does not consciously murder an entire planet. He just wins a game by pushing the rules, albeit in a manner that those deceiving him had hoped he would.

That is exactly what people are objecting to. In the story, Ender is innocent. We're enjoying a story about someone who innocently commits genocide. It's not his fault. Ender's the real victim of the story, the one whose suffering we're supposed to care about.

Likewise, we tell ourselves stories in which we are really innocent of the horrible things we do or that are done on our behalf. 100,000 dead civilians in Iraq, but America is the real victim here, right?
posted by straight at 7:52 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eh, you're putting Spinrad's novel on a pedestal it doesn't really deserve to be on.

Well, me and Ursula K. Le Guin, who, after all, knows a thing or two about thought-provoking, morally challenging science fiction. The Iron Dream certainly isn't a subtle work, even as satire. It takes its over-the-top conceit as far as it can go, rooting out analogues for all of Adolf H.'s monstrous pathologies in sci-fi pulp clichés. Once it's been read, however, it's rather hard to take adolescent power/persecution fantasies at face value when they crop up in the science fiction genre. In that respect, it's quite successful as a novel.

Meantime, while Spinrad's critique of Ender's Game is only part of his incisive essay "Science Fiction vs. Sci-Fi", he's far from the only one who recognizes the toxic geek wish-fulfillment at the heart of Card's attempted morality tale. Here's another takedown:
In the Introduction to my edition of Ender's Game, Card quotes a handful of military men who've written to him to praise the book—and crows that it's taught at military school as a kind of military management textbook. That's always struck me as weird, but this essay has suggested an explanation for that feeling: these army guys like the book, sure, but not because it offers insight into military training, or tells a particularly good or realistic story about soldiers. Rather, it offers a moral justification for the abuse/reconciliation cycle of military psychology: a fantasy vision of bastard superiors who end up blameless (the abusive father with epaulettes), violent acts whitewashed of moral ambiguity, genocide shrugged off with a 'They told me to' shrug. It reads as the self-righteous defense of a soldier in God's army, and it's by no means wrong to be put off by such a thing.

Needless to say most of the people I know who Really Love the book aren't soldiers, they're socially-malformed geeks who're attracted to the 'meritocratic' vision of the genius freak, 'precociously' outwitting everyone around him, morally pure though his thoughts are bloody and selfish, who wins battles with his brain but secretly is almost superhumanly effective at physical tasks - which you'd never guess to look at him. Card's writing comes, I think, from a more plainly geeky wish-fulfillment urge, and is a way of placing the misunderstood genius/asshole at the center of the moral universe.
Maybe if Card had really wanted to write a sci-fi novel addressing the Vietnam-era military's brutalization of draftees to fight a savage, failed war—say, a Full Metal Jacket answer to Heinlein's Starship Troopers—he would not have made his protagonist a super-special persecuted wunderkind but instead just an ordinary person caught up in the enormity of vast events. Since he quite deliberately did not, it shouldn't be a surprise that he'd turn out to be a cheerleader for G. W. Bush, a wartime leader without any real experience of war, convinced of his own righteousness in a fantasy crusade.

At any rate, the tepid opening weekend box office for the Ender's Game movie is on a par with the mediocre, Scientology-infused After Earth (and looks even worse overseas), so we can hope at least that the Card's sequel won't be adapted for the screen.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:01 PM on November 3, 2013 [3 favorites]


Maybe if Card had really wanted to write a sci-fi novel addressing the Vietnam-era military's brutalization of draftees to fight a savage, failed war—say, a Full Metal Jacket answer to Heinlein's Starship Troopers

Wouldn't he be mostly recreating The Forever War at that point?

Well, me and Ursula K. Le Guin, who, after all, knows a thing or two about thought-provoking, morally challenging science fiction.

We must have read Le Guin's essay differently. She admires it greatly (as I do) but certainly she had caveats having to do with the execution and it's inability to sustain itself at novel length. She herself says the tension lags and that many of the people who read it all the way through will be those cheering along with the protagonist rather than those who are moved by the critique of that era's SF.

Which is my point; It's almost as hard to read something deliberately written (even with Spinrad's obvious skill) as a bad pulp novel as it is to read an actual bad pulp novel. Whatever you think of Card, Ender's Game is executed well enough to have been found eminently readable by generations of readers.

You'll no doubt point out that lots of people find The Da Vinci Code readable, to which I would respond with Bradbury's Defense.
posted by Justinian at 10:48 PM on November 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW I went back and re-read the essay you were referencing since its been a long while, and Le Guin talks about people's misinterpretation of Spinrad's novel as a risk he is taking rather than a certainty, so add that as a caveat to my comment.
posted by Justinian at 10:52 PM on November 3, 2013


Roger, sorry I've read the Hitler essay if not the full document, and its a coincidence. A surprising one inplaces, but a stretch in others (Ender did not have a brutal father!). Even if they share some biographical similarities, its pretty hard to say Hitlers intentions are good!

Look, I think its not actually that unreasonable to say that if someone didn't know that pressing the big red button which everyone is telling them they absolutely must press or else things will be terribly bad would actually kill everyone on planet blarg isn't actually culpable for the deaths on planet blarg. But the thing is even though Enders Game could make those arguments it doesn't, completely. Ender certainly feels the guilt as if he had culpability, and spends the rest of his life attempting to atone (perhaps because, as he says in Speaker of the Dead (does he? I don't remember this) he would probably have done it anyway).

Lets say that Card intentionally made Ender Hitler. He could then go to his far right buddies "hey, check it out, Ender has some biographical details in common with Hitler. Hell, they didn't have sex until they were 37 and they went to a portugese colony. People seem to think Ender is a pretty cool dude. Therefore, because they share some biographical details, their completely different actions AND intentions relating to genocide mean that both of them are guiltless and awesome!" It just... doesn't seem that likely to me?

You know when I was younger I read about how the moon landings were faked and was quite impressed until I thought about it a bit longer. Ender being Hitler is conspiracy style level of arguments, frankly. It has the same over reliance on meaningless coincidences and not on the actual substance. Ender being a useful Hitler analogue only makes sense if the detail of what they did is similar. Which is absolutely is not!
posted by Cannon Fodder at 12:37 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cannon Fodder, as I said earlier it doesn't really matter whether you accept the Hitler analogy or not. The moral center of Ender's tale is a load of crap. The key exchange between Radford and Card was that in her essay, she said the road to Hell is paved with good intentions and in his rebuttal, he explicitly said no it isn't.

But it is.
posted by localroger at 5:36 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


In-universe, fuck the Formics. They killed a hundred million humans without so much as an introductory hail. There was no first contact; they might as well be a literal pestilent swarm. They didn't even behave like sentients. The destruction of their homeworld carries no more moral weight than removing a hornet's nest.

Their technology at the time was vastly superior to human technology. They had faster than light travel and instantaneous communication across vast reaches of space. You know any hornets that got that?

Further, Mazer Rackman deduces the nature of their being during the second war and uses it to destroy them. At that point in the story, they could have attempted to communicate. Ender himself raises the idea that the buggers might have turned tail once they realised that humans were sentient, that that's why there hasn't been a third war until the humans initiated. He turns out to be right about this, but Graff in the book and, I'd argue, the book itself dismisses this possibility, saying that the only possible reasonable course is elimination of the threat, i.e. genocide. And Ender basically seems to accept this.

To borrow a character from an entirely different universe, do you think Picard would? Or Kirk? I can't imagine so. Faced with a test that called upon them to destroy an entire sentient species, I'd think they'd be more inclined to reject the terms of the test and find a novel solution. (Now that I'm thinking about it, actually, isn't there a TNG episode where Picard essentially has a chance to infect the Borg with a form of computer virus, killing them, and declines to do so?)

What makes the book intriguing and powerful is that it does very well at twisting your brain into believing its logic. Reminds me of Humbert Humbert in that way. The difference is that Humbert and Nabokov knew Humbert was a monster, and part of what he was trying to show you was how easy it is to sympathise with a monster, if he speaks prettily enough...Card doesn't seem to know it.
posted by Diablevert at 6:52 AM on November 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


Now that I'm thinking about it, actually, isn't there a TNG episode where Picard essentially has a chance to infect the Borg with a form of computer virus, killing them, and declines to do so?

Yes: I, Borg is the episode in which they have a Borg ("Hugh") in custody, and they have the opportunity to implant it with a computer-destroying paradox before re-establishing its link with the rest of the Borg. They believe this would destroy the whole collective, so they don't go through with it.
posted by Jpfed at 7:46 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Faced with a test that called upon them to destroy an entire sentient species, I'd think they'd be more inclined to reject the terms of the test and find a novel solution.

That's what Ender was trying to do, though, in a much less mature way. I haven't seen the movie, but in the book his handlers essentially use reverse psychology to guide him into destroying the homeworld, by letting him come up with the move himself. The idea in his head, if I remember the scene right, was to freak them out about how bloodthirsty he'd become, if "simulating" an exploding planet didn't crash the "game" completely. It was a ragequit.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:39 AM on November 4, 2013


The idea in his head, if I remember the scene right, was to freak them out about how bloodthirsty he'd become, if "simulating" an exploding planet didn't crash the "game" completely. It was a ragequit.

As I mentioned above, I reread that passage the other day, and I think that reading is a little too simplistic. Yes, Ender thinks to himself that perhaps by doing this he will break the game, be seen as cheating. But that is never ever what actually happens in the book in the several situations which directly parallel this final test --- instead, when Ender is as viscous as possible, and proves himself willing to win at any cost, he is rewarded. His beats his childhood bully and goes to Battleschool. When he kills Bonzo and cheats to win against impossible odds at Battleschool, he is promoted to Command. Simply accepting Ender's internal self-justification as the "truth" of the book is dangerous, to me. Ender is manipulated. Ender doesn't know. But does Ender suspect? Answer foggy, try again later. He certainly suspects he killed the Spanish boy. And he certainly knows that being an utter bastard has never gotten him anything but more respect and power from the powers-that-be, in his world. He thinks he's trying to escape. But can he really think he will? Is that really the reasonable inference for our rational, logical, ruthless, cold-blooded little prodigy to make? Breaking his toys has never got him anything but bigger tougher toys to break.
posted by Diablevert at 9:04 AM on November 4, 2013


Lets say that Card intentionally made Ender Hitler. He could then go to his far right buddies "hey, check it out, Ender has some biographical details in common with Hitler. Hell, they didn't have sex until they were 37 and they went to a portugese colony. People seem to think Ender is a pretty cool dude. Therefore, because they share some biographical details, their completely different actions AND intentions relating to genocide mean that both of them are guiltless and awesome!" It just... doesn't seem that likely to me?
You completely misunderstand why some people think Ender is standing in for Hitler. It's not that $BAD_GUY is guiltless and awesome, it's that God is awesome because He is capable of forgiving $BAD_GUY, and that if you want to become more Godlike in your own outlook you need to cultivate the ability to understand and forgive such people yourself, as God can and does.

This is the entire point of the movie's tagline, which was so important that we are pounded over the head with it as a text slide before the movie even starts. Whether you accept that Ender is standing in for Hitler or not, the fact is that it is baldly stated as the story's central lesson that you cannot hate what you understand and you cannot understand someone well enough to destroy them without also feeling love for them.

We are encouraged not to look too hard at these ridiculous statements because they seem reasonable when applied to the emotionally crippled, abused prodigy whose story we are seeing, but there is nothing about those statements that would not apply equally to the actual historical Hitler if you don't put some qualifiers in there. And Card is not putting in those qualifiers. Ender Wiggin exists precisely to distract you from what those statements really imply.
posted by localroger at 9:19 AM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Further, Mazer Rackman deduces the nature of their being during the second war and uses it to destroy them. At that point in the story, they could have attempted to communicate. Ender himself raises the idea that the buggers might have turned tail once they realised that humans were sentient, that that's why there hasn't been a third war until the humans initiated.

I'm going to chalk this off as incomplete world-building because the focus was on other things (including, for some weird reason, the neo-Cold War politics in the background that serve as a springboard for Peter to became supreme ruler.) But having thought this over, the depiction of the Formics works narratively for three reasons:

1. As Ender himself discovered in the book, it seemed like there was scant footage of the Second Invasion and actual details of their dreaded enemy was very scanty. This illustrates the lengths to which the administrators of the school constructed the reality of the situation to the students.

2. There's a modern anti-war message there that can be grafted upon it- how remote technology dehumanizes the enemy, enabling easier atrocity. I'm dubious as to whether this message was intentional from the text, given that this was written before the advent of drones (Though wasn't "Nintendo warfare" a phrase coined in the first Gulf War? But that still predates the book and the story). This can still be a valid (if not intentioned by the author) way to reconcile how the Formics are presented as completely unsympathetic and unknowable until the ending, with how they were still sentient and it really was xenocide after all.

3. Maybe, the aliens are just a prop, just like the Earth politics are a prop for Peter/Valentine. OSC intentionally chose bugs from space because they were a cliche, a convenient threat to humanity to fight. Understanding them is no more necessary than understanding the Angels in Neon Genesis Evangelion. At the end, revealing their true nature is necessary to fully condemn Ender, and to set up his redemption cycle in the sequels.

He turns out to be right about this, but Graff in the book and, I'd argue, the book itself dismisses this possibility, saying that the only possible reasonable course is elimination of the threat, i.e. genocide. And Ender basically seems to accept this.

In-universe, okay maybe the aliens had retreated and were planning on leaving humanity alone. But come on, they still struck first, and multiple times! We had to be sure that they couldn't do it again. Was it xenocide for humanity in Pacific Rim to nuke the kaiju home dimension? Was it xenocide for X-COM to destroy the Sectoid base on Cydonia? Was it xenocide for Jeff Goldblum to infect the Independence Day aliens with a Mac virus?

To borrow a character from an entirely different universe, do you think Picard would? Or Kirk?

Ask the same question to Picard about the Borg after Wolf 359.

Their technology at the time was vastly superior to human technology. They had faster than light travel and instantaneous communication across vast reaches of space. You know any hornets that got that?

It's sci-fi, yo. For all we (humanity placed in that situation) know they were biomechanical robots or meat puppets controlled by some other species. And even at the end we discover that they were a hive mind where individual drones weren't really sentient, don't we? Technology proves nothing!
posted by Apocryphon at 10:24 AM on November 4, 2013


'Ender's Game' Opens Strong But Won't Spawn a Franchise, Say Analysts

"The film did not draw well from young adults, despite the book's popularity," MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler wrote in an investors note on Monday...Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. analyst Ben Mogil reiterated his projection that Ender's Game, which has a $110 million budget, will generate about $75 million in box office.
posted by mediareport at 10:36 AM on November 4, 2013


Eh, who cares about a franchise. Speaker is really the only other worthwhile novel and it's not exactly cinematic. Although the Gloriously Bright bits of Xenocide are much better than the surrounding material.
posted by Justinian at 11:00 AM on November 4, 2013


Was it xenocide for humanity in Pacific Rim to nuke the kaiju home dimension? Was it xenocide for X-COM to destroy the Sectoid base on Cydonia? Was it xenocide for Jeff Goldblum to infect the Independence Day aliens with a Mac virus?

Each of those examples is slightly different from Ender's Game though:
  • In Pacific Rim, Charlie Day's character has a successful mental link established with the Kaiju brain, which tells him that the Kaiju are weapons in a plan to colonize the Earth and exterminate humanity.
  • In X-COM, there's a bad ending where humanity is hosed, so you know what happens if you fail.
  • In Independence Day, one of the aliens mind controls a doctor (played by Data) during a botched autopsy and tells humanity to DIE directly.
posted by FJT at 11:32 AM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


To borrow a character from an entirely different universe, do you think Picard would? Or Kirk?

Ask the same question to Picard about the Borg after Wolf 359.


Aside from The Borg, (SPOILERS for DS9 ahead... SPOILERS),

SPOILERS!

The Federation* does set in to motion a virus that could lead to the death of all of the changelings. *Well, Section 31, but no one aside from Bashir/O'Brien try to put a stop to it, including Sisko.... (END SPOILERS)
posted by drezdn at 6:45 PM on November 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rany Jazayerli's essay in Grantland, "Stranger in a Strange Land", about how the book's themes shaped his youth, as its author grew more and more extreme, is first page material.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:02 PM on November 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Apocryphon. Wish that was what we were discussing here. This all comes toward the end of the essay ...

I respect those who choose to boycott the movie, but I also politely think they're missing the boat (and, from the early reviews, a pretty good film). It's not just that I think boycotting a movie is kind of an intolerant way to combat intolerance. It's not just that if we're going to boycott a work of art because of the behavior of the artist, there are better places to start than with a man who has expressed hateful words but hasn't broken any laws.

No, the main reason boycotting Ender's Game is counterproductive is that the theme of the story itself is the best repudiation of everything for which Card has come to stand.

That theme is perhaps best expressed in a passage from the original sequel to Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, which was published in 1986. It is a very different kind of book; while Ender Wiggin is still the main character, it is set thousands of years in the future, and the adult Ender has long left his soldier days behind and morphed into a philosopher/prophet.

[...]

Toward the end of the book, Ender is talking to a Portuguese Catholic boy named Olhado. Ender says:

"Science refuses to admit any cause except first cause — knock down one domino, the one next to it also falls. But when it comes to human beings, the only type of cause that matters is final cause, the purpose. What a person had in mind. Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart."

That's what Ender's Game is all about, really. In order to defeat the buggers, Ender has to figure out their tactics. In order to figure out their tactics, he has to understand them. In order to understand them, he has to stop hating them. Empathy leads the way to victory, but it also leads the way to emotional devastation, because how can you live with yourself if you've defeated an enemy you've grown to love?

posted by philip-random at 10:14 PM on November 4, 2013


I just stumbled on that, too, Aprocryphon. Good reading.

I have been reading the film reviews, and as far as discussion about the LOOK of the film, I'm beginning to guess that it's 100% dependent on whether a person watched it in 3-D IMAX or not. We saw the regular old 2D one and it was very dull, flat, and grey. I had a hard time picking out the people from the background. Sounds like it's worth shelling out for the 3-D (if you're not one-eyed, like my dad, anyway. Sucks to be him these days.)
posted by small_ruminant at 10:16 PM on November 4, 2013


Ask the same question to Picard about the Borg after Wolf 359.

Picard did want to go through with it- especially after talking with Guinan! That's one reason that the episode is interesting- the normally wise characters are unbalanced by their respective traumas. It's left to Geordi and Crusher to plead the case against genocide.
posted by Jpfed at 4:10 AM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rany Jazayerli's essay in Grantland, "Stranger in a Strange Land", about how the book's themes shaped his youth, as its author grew more and more extreme, is first page material.

It was an interesting read, but it just seems to circle back to "you have to be tolerant of the intolerant", which is a well tread point here on Mefi that has been refuted. In addition, Card wrote Ender's Game 28 years ago, watching the movie provides insight into Card from 28 years ago, not who he is now.
posted by FJT at 2:13 PM on November 5, 2013


watching the movie provides insight into Card from 28 years ago, not who he is now.

hence this:

No, the main reason boycotting Ender's Game is counterproductive is that the theme of the story itself is the best repudiation of everything for which Card has come to stand.
posted by philip-random at 3:01 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


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