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View Diary: Orson Scott Card: What's Mainstream in the Madness (144 comments)

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  •  Brin's reading is superficial. (0+ / 0-)

    Of course, that applies to most readings of social science fiction, especially when the main characters are children and teens; people's preconceived notions about speculative fiction get in the way of any attempt to take the work seriously.

    I don't mean any insult to Brin's intelligence. He knows his stuff and I love his work (and he has great politics too!). But he is a writer, not a literary critic, and he writes in a sub-genre (hard science fiction) where the more subtle literary devices are avoided because they cause confusion.

    But he's reviewing social science fiction - a sub-genre where those same subtle literary devices are embraced. Card in particular makes extensive use of metaphor and allegory in all his work. And Ender's Game is a prime example. The entire novel is a multilayered allegory.

    Within the book's universe, Ender himself is a metaphor for humanity, which in turn is a metaphor for the United States and/or the industrialized West in the real world. He embodies us alternately at our best and our worst, our brilliance and our brutishness, our selfishness and our empathy, our fear of the unknown and our insatiable curiosity. His siblings, in yet another layer of allegory, are metaphors for the duality of his nature; their antagonistic relationship and their reluctant cooperation are metaphors for his internal conflicts and the uneasy peace he makes within himself. Peter's manipulation of Valentine mirrors Ender's rationalization of his own behaviour.

    The book invites us to examine our notions of morality, both individual and collective - our ideas about war, violence, self-defense, innocence, guilt, self-deception, and rationalization - as they play out first in Ender's life and then on a grand scale as a clash between civilizations. Much of the plot is supposed to be somewhat morally-ambiguous; Card consistently sets up situations where Ender believes he had 'no choice', and then in the aftermath makes us wonder if he really did have a choice after all.

    We're not supposed to like Ender. We're certainly not supposed to idolize him. He's as much a supervillain as he is a superhero. We're supposed to struggle to identify with him. In fact, Card's repeated heavy-handed reminders of Ender's status as a victim of circumstance are there because most readers would otherwise be hard-pressed to find any reason to empathize with him at all. And despite that effort to humanize him - or perhaps in part because of it - he still makes us feel uneasy, conflicted, and sometimes sickened. And that's the point.

    If you miss all that, the book is just a mediocre and overly-violent adventure story with an implausible and unlikable main character. There's not much to recommend it other than Card's generally-enjoyable prose. But it's hardly unique in that regard. A lot of books suck if you miss the point.

    Imagine reading Lord of the Flies or Camus's The Stranger literally without recognizing the allegory. I don't have to imagine; they were assigned in my high school freshman English class. I was an avid reader, so of course I read all my books in the first week. But at 12 I wasn't yet mature enough to recognize the subtexts on my own. So my memory of them is that they're absolutely awful, violent, gruesome, depressing books about horrible people. The Stranger also managed to be slow and boring.

    I was traumatized by the books and tuned out all subsequent discussion and assignments. But in reading about them as an adult (I'm still not brave enough to actually reread them) I've discovered that there's apparently a lot more to them than the superficial, literal stories that I remember from reading them when I was 12.

    Ender's Game has a lot in common with Lord of the Flies. In fact, it's actually a substantially more complex and challenging book. I don't think everyone necessarily has to like it, but it should at least be treated fairly.

    "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

    by kyril on Tue Aug 20, 2013 at 11:57:36 AM PDT

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