Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Ender's Game

The Devil's in the details, and while mentally reviewing the little novel called Ender's Game, it's easy to forget just how densely packed it was with secondary characters and sub-plots, how many catchphrases, how many ideas, how many brief fleeting images it threw at the reader. I won't bother with the recent movie adaptation except to say that it should have been much much longer in order to accommodate its source material. Though it was a very enjoyable movie, Hollywood's procrustean two-hour limit kept it from being a truly great representation of the novel. I mean, for the love of space cowboys, you had Ben Kingsley. Give him more than ten lines!

But even laying Obi-Ben Kingslinobi aside, Ender's Game is so packed because it takes its audience's familiarity with a lot of popular tropes for granted. It is a SciFi fan's SciFi book in many respects. The Buggers necessitate no lengthy explanation. The book was written, after all, decades after Starship Troopers. We didn't require detailed descriptions of how fighter craft look and maneuver either; Card assumed we'd seen Star Wars. Dune had already paved the way for a brilliant messianic youth in a hostile environment. We were familiar with the notion of navy-themed starship crews in leotards from Star Trek.

However, the mark of good Science Fiction is growth past gimmickry into conscious purpose, and here Ender's Game struck a happy middle-ground. I get the impression that this was not a book Card was particularly interested in writing. It's composed in a different, less affected style from later novels in the series or what I've read of his other works. This seems to be the one book in which Card did not get bogged down in his own personal agenda. It lacks his awkward attempts at justifying blind faith and religious indoctrination, or his desperation to gain credibility as a serious author by focusing on lengthy humanistic explorations of his characters' interpersonal relations. If this is what happened when he dropped his personal conceits and just wanted to get through writing a catchy story, then the man should be made to write unpleasant material more often. Ender's Game is, in its barrage of ideas and its lack of facetious literary window-dressing, brutal - and a wonderfully superior piece of work for it.

This is, after all, the genre of ideas.

As for what we the public have made of this lovely gem, well, tongues will wag.
For all of us who were once clever children constantly demeaned and discounted by the world around us, Ender and Battle School represent pure catharsis, the truer pre-iteration of Hogwarts, an ivory tower based on intellect, creativity, personal ability and not arbitrary, nondescript magical specialness.
Humanist criticism has been leveled at it much the same as it has toward Lord of the Flies and for the same reasons, but that's as irrational as every mother ignoring her oldest baby beating and berating her younger siblings into line. We are born as apes and apes are not nice people.

The most topical criticism comes from what's commonly called the liberal left wing in the U.S., from squeamishness and an anti-stoic preference for favor-currying and toadying as a means of allowing oneself to be dealt with by one's enemies. This is not a novel that'll ever sit well with false radical pacifists. I'd rail against that self-deceiving bovine narrow-mindedness, but Card himself did such a wonderful job of providing both argument and counter-argument pertaining to violence that there's little to add. By the end it is as much a condemnation of military aggression and a demand to leash the dogs of war as it is a justification or call to arms. That the book can be purposely misrepresented and promoted by the military as pro-war propaganda is only marginally worse than attempting to denounce it as such. Blunt instruments are sometimes necessary. The ability to orient ourselves properly is the first requirement for a correct plan of action. The enemy's gate is down.

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