Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How the Skeptical Movement Ruined My Favorite Childhood Novel, Ender's Game

I was not a big reader when I was young.  I didn't read books as far back as I can remember and never found much interest in them until recently.  I remember road trips where my brothers would bring a half-dozen books to read through, while I would spend days in the car playing Game Gear (parents sometimes choose the wrong game system; they should have picked Game Boy).

One of the books that my brother enjoyed was Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. For some reason I picked it up and it was a book that I connected with and I ended up reading it cover to cover. In tenth grade our teacher asked to list all of the books that we had read, and my list contained one book.

Ender's Game is a series and to date there are 15 books in the series. I own more than half of them and have read two-thirds of them. The first read through the complete (at the time) series was when I was just out of high school. I enjoyed each subsequent book as much as Ender's Game.

A few years ago when I began reading daily, I read all of the novels that we had in the house. This included rereading the Ender's Game series. Again, I enjoyed them as much as I had the first time through, but that all changed this year, when I read Rebecca Watson's review.
I really wanted to like the book. The basic outline of the story is fine and even appealing to me: kids being trained with video games from an early age to join a war effort. But the writing was, at times, excruciating. To be fair, had I read it when I was a (fairly average, I'm sure) 12-year old, I probably would have found it more enjoyable. But as an (average, again) adult, I found it to be about 100 pages too long and filled with long passages during which I developed a loathing of the main character at precisely the moment when the author clearly wanted me to admire his cleverness, strength of character, and bold moral wrestling. "Ooh, how deftly he wins the admiration of his peers by suggesting that bully is gay! Aah, the psychological pain he endures at being the best at strategy and physical combat! Oh, the bravery of joking with the black boy about how he's a n****r! Oh why can't he find a teacher who can teach him something he doesn't already know!"
After reading her review, I really didn't want it to affect my fondness of the novels that got me reading for the first time. These were books that I had liked enough to recommend them to other people to read. I thought, that is just her opinion, I still like them. But she had planted a seed of truth that was hard to ignore, similar to being told that the food that you are eating, that you are enjoying, is made from the most undesirable of animal parts. It makes you reevaluate your tastes, and may change your preferences.

Earlier this year I read Shadows in Flight. It is one of the newer books from the series. Unfortunately I had the bad taste from Rebecca's review in my mouth. I was able to spot her arguments in the novel and they strongly diminished my enjoyment of the book, a book that I probably would have enjoyed a year ago. Damn you Rebecca!

Over the years I had heard that Orson Scott Card had made some homophobic statements but that he has recently requested that they be put in context of the time at which he made them. But last week, a few bloggers that I read realized that he made some wild political statements.

I saw them first through PZ Myer's blog, Pharyngula. I forwarded this through to the article that PZ linked to on The Bilerico Project to Card's original article posted on The Ornery American. The article contains off the wall political ramblings containing racism. He ends the article with a very confusing statement.
Just kidding. Because if I really believed this stuff, would I actually write this essay?
So how much of this stuff does he believe? Is he as mad as it appears in the article? I'll let you make up your own mind, but I would bet that he believes most of it. So my question is, should this matter? If an author is politically incompetent and a conspiracy harborer, should this have any affect on my view as his reader?

Unfortunately for Orson Scott Card, Rebecca's review probably ruined any of his other books for me, so his political and societal views will have little impact. But it would be hard for me to give my money to someone with possible celebrity influence and wild world views.

So thanks a lot skeptical movement, all I can taste is fish sperm sashimi.


  1. I remember when I started reading the Sword of Truth series. The first book was one of the most interesting and different fantasy stories I had ever read. The second and third were good too. Then something changed, something that may have been hinted at in earlier books, too. The new villains were thinly veiled communists. The hero was an unabashed fascist, intended to seem like a libertarian who was forced to use fascism to battle the mounting evil of the communists. Then he ended up living with a bunch of pacifists who were soon to be destroyed by the evil enemy if he couldn't convince them to take up arms. Pacifism was set up as being almost as evil as communism. Turns out the author was a devotee of Ayn Rand, and was basically managing to write worse books that were even more thinly veiled political screeds than her own work. Often a writer's politics will seep into their work in subtle, and not so subtle ways. If those politics are completely inimical to you, it will become impossible for you to enjoy the books. And that's OK, you don't have to read anymore.

    I finally made peace with knowing that I will never know how the Sword of Truth ends. Then they made a crappy TV show out of it, which makes me wonder how far in the books the TV executives got. Probably about halfway through book one...

    1. I loved those books so much! I read them when I was a sophomore/junior in high school and all of the political stuff flew straight over my head, I was just enjoying the story. Then right as I was finishing college I decided to reread them. What a different perspective. Dear god. They were AWFUL.

      I tried to push through them, figured I could ignore the philosophy, got through the first three but the fourth book was so absolutely racist, pro-colonialist bullshit where the uncivilized folk are taken over by the civilized folk who graciously allow them to participate fully in their superior society! How nice of those colonizers to destroy their culture and force them into theirs! but then wait oh no! all of a sudden the formerly uncivilized folk are in control, subjugating the former rules, and taking offense at every little thing, and really they didn't mean it THAT way, you're being too sensitive!

      At that point I was just like fuck this. This is so depressing. I'm done.

    2. The TV show was actually probably the best thing you could do with those books; it simply took all the high-level fantasy concepts that sounded fun, and left all the baggage.

      When it failed, it did so on its own.

      BTW, want to know how the books end? Everything continues to be awful as people are just sheeple, so finally Richard steals all the magic from the world and puts it in a special place so only super-special people like him can have it. (wikipedia actually has the snarkiest line about this: "he also creates an identical world or parallel universe to the one they're living in to which he banishes all of the people from the old world who are unable to see the benefit of individuality and prosperity.")

      And he and Kahlan live happily ever after, consigning muggles to our doom.

      And, yes, I am utterly ashamed that I read all the way through that terrible, terrible series to the end.

    3. About the same with me. I read Wizard's First Rule and enjoyed it (despite something like 300 pages of pseudo-sexual torture). The rule, anyway, once revealed was a good one.

      Read the second book and it was okay.

      I think it was the third book, maybe fourth, in which the main character uses gumption and market trading to ... I don't know, prove he was the Uber-man, or something, that I got sick of it.

      Never re-read the previous novels. That books more or less ruined the series for me.

      And the same thing happened to me as the Author here with Enders Game. I liked it when I was younger, recommended it to friends, etc. The homophobia and the racism went right over my head (white privilege, natch).

      Now I can't ignore it, nor will I support it. Too bad about the movie.

    4. What's even worse, Richard and his allies eventually commit pretty much all the crimes of opposing side: gratuitous torture, slaughter of non-combatants, use of weapons of mass-destruction, etc.

    5. As always, when dealing with Randians, you must remember John Roger's priceless quip:

      "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

      I've suffered through reading just one chapter of one deeply amateur Randian writer. All I can recall is the ending of 'The Heart of Darkness': 'The horror, the horror...'

      Similar attitudes eventually just completely turned me off David Drake's "Honor Harrington' series; although in retrospect when the chief bad guy was named 'Rob S. Pierre'

    6. Oh goody, chopped off my post!.

      What I MEANT to say was:

      Similar attitudes eventually just completely turned me off David Drake's "Honor Harrington" series; although in retrospect when the chief bad guy was named 'Rob S. Pierre' I should have known what was coming...

    7. Bill and Hillary Clinton make an appearance in the third or fourth book as the evil lecherous council member of some city-state and his manipulative eeeeevil wife who knew he was raping servant girls. I was a Young Republican at the time (I grew up in Utah) and thought even then that the caricature was over the top.

    8. David Weber writes the Honor Harrington books. David Drake write the Hammer's Slammers and Leary-Mundy series.

    9. I knew there was something wrong there, just couln't put my finger on it...thanks for correcting me....

    10. Well, I'm glad I read this, because I've stalled out in the middle of the fourth book of the Sword of Truth and was wondering if it got any better. Saved me some time there.

    11. I didn't bother with that series as it struck me not as anything different but as more of the same-old, same-old. You can see endless books like it in the fantasy section by authors you've never heard of.

  2. David Weber's "Honorverse" is pretty good. And the "Rob S. Pierre" part (i.e. a new cruel dictator comes after old inefficient bureaucracy is deposed) is unfortunately quite realistic - it has happened many times in the history.

    The Manticore Kingdom and its military is a bit of a Mary Sue, yes.

  3. I enjoyed all the different versions of Ender's Game - the novellette, the novella and the novel (Card made several attempts to get it right, but he cashed in at each stage), but the book that really did the same to me was Folk of the Fringe. Talk about creepy neo-fascist Mormon fantasies. Afterwards I have avoided anything by Card like the plague.

  4. The best way to read Ender's Game is to read only two of the series: Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow.

    Everything else has taken a right-turn to crazytown, but those two are neat. The first is buildup to the big reveal (wait, they're evil? huh.), and the second is another perspective on a very good story.

    The rest is self-indulgent tripe and a series that should never have gotten past one very good book.

  5. When I saw this article linked to on PZ Meyer's blog, I was expecting to see a link to the famous Elizabeth Radford review of Ender's Game where she effectively showed it to be an apologist novel for Hitler:

    I can't get through any of his novels now, as the "pity the ubermensch" tone just leaks from most paragraphs.

  6. One should always take the comments of a reviewer with a grain of salt and not let them influence YOUR opinion of a work. Just because one finds truth in the reviewers critique should not diminish your enjoyment of the work. Each person brings their own history to the appreciation of a novel that a critic may not. For this reason, I like to see movies before I read reviews so I can make my own judgment about the film before someone else makes comments that might color my impression.

  7. I was about thirteen when I read Ender's Game. I thought it was okay but didn't understand why people raved about it. I got about two chapters into Speaker for the Dead when I lobbed it at my dad, just barely missing his head, and asked, "Why didn't you warn me how much crap this is?!"

    He kind of winced and replied, "Yeah, well, they only go downhill from there, too...."

  8. Anyone exited to watch to movie? I would have been first in line 10 years ago. But now...maybe if it comes to Netflix streaming.

  9. I suspect a lot of people who read _Ender's Game_ originally thought that it was supposed to be a clever "twist" book where you get sucked into sympathizing with the bad guy, but he's revealed to be evil at the end.

    Turns out Orson Scott Card actually WAS on the side of the bad guy. Well, eeeewwwww.

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  11. See, you were lucky. Because I was young when I read the whole Ender series (From Ender's game all the way through the Shadow branch and all the way to Children of the Mind) no older than 17 by the time I would go through all of them. OSC was my favorite author and I actually have several books by him. My favorite was a book called Pastwatch. It was about a group of scientists going back in time to change history, get rid of slavery earlier and teach people to treat all people equally. I really identified with this book because it's such a humanistic message; treat each other well no matter the color of your skin. And the later Ender books reveal a lot of that message too! Ender helps the Queen find a new home, he helps the people understand the Piggies and treat them like people rather than animals. The messages are always about equal treatment and love.

    How brokenhearted was I when I discovered his true thoughts and core beliefs?

    I was crying for a few hours that day. Book stores are hard for me to go into now because my instinct is to go see if OSC has written anything new. Be grateful that you only lost the luster of one book series. I lost the luster of his whole works