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20. Orson Scott Card Discussion

Philip Overby

Article Team
While I know his politics have been highly divisive, Orson Scott Card has produced a lot of work, primarily Ender's Game which has made a lot of "Top" lists of all time.

I've never read Ender's Game but a lot of people have told me it's one of the best SF books they've read. I once read a book about writing SF and Fantasy by him, that I thought was pretty helpful in some aspects. It seemed to focus more on SF though, so that kind of put me off a bit.

Any thoughts on Card's work?

Note: I understand some may find it difficult to separate his work from his politics. Let's not discuss Card's politics (as that is against the rules of Mythic Scribes) in this thread. Any attempts to do so will result in me locking the thread. Fair warning. :)

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Myth Weaver
I list Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow as two of my favorite books of all time.

I list the rest of the series as pretty bad. I haven't tried any of his other stuff.

If you want my recommendation, read Ender's Game. It really is good.
I typed up the post below about a week ago in anticipation of this thread:

There are two Cards I can speak of: the Card I grew up with, and the Card of today.

The Card I grew up with was the closest thing I ever had to an idol. To me, Ender's Game was a revelation twice over. On the one hand, I had grown dissatisfied with the moral principles I was raised with--justice seemed to me a way of glorifying vengeance, and honor seemed like a self-righteous form of cowardice. Ender's Game and its sequels showed me a new way of thinking, based in a love of all life, both wicked and innocent, and a determination to protect as many lives as possible by any means necessary. I didn't know yet that this philosophy was called Utilitarianism, but in a very real sense, the Ender series is what made me a Utilitarian in the first place.

But Card had already outlined his ideas in both Treason and The Worthing Saga, and Ender's Game was where he instead took the piss out of them. That's not to say that it's a condemnation of Utilitarian principles--it's an acknowledgment of where they do not and cannot always succeed, and a demonstration of the worst possible way they could fail. Ender always makes what seems to be the pragmatic choice, according to the information he has and the outcome he expects, and over and over, incomplete information and unexpected results bring harm to those around him. Never before or since have I seen an author so thoroughly illuminate the weaknesses of something he himself seems to agree with, and it's still an inspiration to how I think and write about moral issues--it's meaningless to talk of the good your beliefs can bring about unless you also acknowledge the bad.

I'm not sure at what point Card began to change. Some people blame his Mormonism, but there's a Mormon influence even in his early stories, and they were never as narrow-minded as the stories he writes today. I removed the rest of this paragraph to avoid getting into politics.

I mentioned in the Piers Anthony thread that Anthony is #2 on my list of great authors who I think lost their greatness. Card is #1.

But enough of that! Some Card you may not have read (or heard of):

* Treason. This is a very rough attempt to illuminate the same moral principles Ender's Game took apart. In a lot of ways, Ender's Game can be read as a direct response to this book from an older and wiser author who was no longer comfortable with what he'd written. Still, just because it doesn't go quite that far doesn't mean it lacks food for thought--I like to describe it as the best L.E. Modesitt novel that Modesitt wouldn't have the guts to write.

* The Worthing Saga. This is a package deal, containing a novel and some associated short stories. The novel's okay, tossing around a lot of interesting ideas about what utopia means and whether it's even possible--I'd recommend it just for the scene where a brave little girl calls a god-figure's bluff in the most grotesque way possible. The shorter stories include some of the most powerful scenes I've ever read. (I'm something of a collector of phrases I don't think can be improved within the English language--for instance, I don't think there's a way to write an English sentence that's scarier than "Why did you let us die?" To me, the saddest sentence possible in English is the final line of "Skipping Stones." )

* Maps in a Mirror. Short story collections with no unifying theme. Quality is all over the place, but there are some real gems in here.

* Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. A time travel story about how the slaughter of the Native Americans might have been prevented. I'm given to understand that the history's pretty soft, but it gets by on strong characterization, both for the people of the present and the people of Columbus's time. (A sequel was supposed to come out in 2011, but no one's heard hide nor hair of it.)

* Lovelock: I'm having difficulty figuring out how to describe this book. Card's just the co-writer for this one, and his colleague Kathryn Kidd introduces a tendency towards grotesque comedy that interacts . . . interestingly with Card's navel-gazing. If serious themes of identity and rebellion, mixed with jokes I can't even describe on a family website, sound like your idea of a hot time, give this one a try. (Again, the sequel has been indefinitely delayed.)

* Robota: Formally, you might call this a graphic novel, but it's more like a picture book for adults, patterned as an epic sci-fi adventure. It's recent Card writing, and that means relatively weaker Card writing, but it's still good enough to support Doug Chiang's fantastic art.

* The Homecoming Saga. The Book of Mormon IN SPACE! I haven't read it, but I mention it for two reasons. 1): Card was pretty dang devout even then--when someone accused him of plagiarizing the Book of Mormon, he said that you can't copyright history. 2): It's the only Card series I know of that has a positively portrayed gay character. (In response to criticism from other Mormons, Card said that even though gayness is against Mormon doctrine, it would be bad writing to pretend that gay people don't exist. It baffles me how he went from that to the stuff he's writing today.)

* Lost Boys: This is another one I haven't read, but Randall Munroe had this to say: “Even if the dictionaries are starting to give in, I refuse to accept 'octopi' as a word mainly because--I'm not making this up--there's a really satisfying climactic scene in the Orson Scott Card horror novel Lost Boys which hinges on it being an incorrect pluralization.” Sounds intriguing, no?

Additional trivia: Card worked on the video game The Secret of Monkey Island. He wrote the insults that the characters use against each other when swordfighting. This is why TV Tropes calls him the trope namer for You Fight Like a Cow.