Sunday, October 27, 2013

Classic sci-fi for the naive and cynical

Ender's Game

By Orson Scott Card

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

I originally wrote this review of Ender's Game on Goodreads in 2011. It was a reread, having read it first in 1983. It has been one of my most popular and controversial reviews. I have re-posted it here due to the release on Nov.1st of the film.

I believe it was A. E. Van Vogt who said, "The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 14." And in fact, much of the classic science fiction of Heinlein and others feed into the mind of the adolescent boy. The protagonist Ender is an adolescent's dream. He is alone, alienated and feels he is not appreciated for how special he is. In other words, he is the average teen male or at least how the average teen male sees himself. Add on the naive and egotistical worldview envisioned by Heinlein and it is no wonder why adolescents flocked to the science fiction pulps of the 50s. In fact it can be argued that the teen sci-fi fan of the 50s was not all that different from the Emos of our generation.

Ender's Game was written in 1986. Yet it reads very much like a Heinlein novel and the plot and themes are not all that different from Starship Troopers. Card was smart enough to add in video games and the internet as waves of the future but the old Cold War mentality and the "might is right" philosophy hangs on. This is why this somewhat sadistic journey of a six year old child to his role as sci-fi messiah is so disturbing. Ender is brilliant but it is his habit of extreme violence that attracts him to his superiors. This appears to be a virtue in the author's eyes. In fact, one of Ender's teachers spell it out in no uncertain terms.
"The power to cause pain is the only power that matters, the power to kill and destroy, because if you can't kill then you are subject to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever save you."

Keep in mind this is being said to a six year old boy.

This is the basic theme of the novel. Violence is never extreme enough if it is for a good cause. This idea is never really questioned by Ender or anyone. At the end there is a twist that appears to lay doubt. However is not the basic moral issue in question but the assumption that sets the means to the end in play

This is why I cannot give this novel anything more than two stars. Card isn't a bad writer although some of his action scenes are muddled and he had an annoying habit of changing to third to first person and back for no reason. This was his first novel but I've never read anything else by him so I don't know if he developed any better habits. But this kind of philosophy in any story, especially one that appeals to teens, is disturbing to me. I'm OK with the idea of a young boy with talent being challenged and persecuted. It is a stalwart of YA literature. Harry Potter is an excellent example. But Card seems to preach "If you can't beat them, join them but just be a better fascist than they are."

While we are on the subject, Orson Scott Card is also known for his rather conservative social and religious viewpoints. One of those is his opposition to gay marriage and his basic revulsion to homosexuals in general. So why does his book have so many scenes of young boys running around and wrestling in the nude? Not to mention that the aliens are nicknamed "Buggers". I see some major issues here. Mr. Card, please seek help.

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