Saturday, May 07, 2022

SF Luminaries: Orson Scott Card

Gavin Hood, dir.: Ender's Game (2013)

Back in the early nineties when I was working as an English tutor at Auckland University, I was asked to supervise a research essay by one of the undergraduates. It was on Science Fiction, so no-one else felt sufficiently qualified, I suppose.

I don't remember all that much about the project, but I do recall some very interesting discussions with my supervisee about the overall tenor of SF as a genre. There's always been a good deal of talk - mainly by the more starry-eyed writers in the field - about the 'sense of wonder' and imaginative openness encouraged by its speculative, open-ended nature.

Orson Scott Card: Maps in a Mirror (1990)

However, I'd recently been reading Orson Scott Card's short story collection Maps in a Mirror, and its general tendency seemed quite otherwise. What stood out most for me in his work was an obsessive preoccupation with violence. There was one story in particular whose protagonist was killed in the most gruesome manner, then repeatedly revived by the authorities for further executions: his crime of dissent was such that mere death was regarded as insufficient punishment.

That's not all there was to the story, mind you. Its hero was finally sent into exile as the government had failed to break his indomitable will, so there was (at least ostensibly) a 'moral' purpose to it all. But the sheer detail supplied about the various methods of execution employed by his oppressors showed a kind of sadistic glee which seemed, to say the least, a little troubling.

Frank Herbert: The Dosadi Experiment (1977)

It put me in mind of Frank Herbert's late novel The Dosadi Experiment, which extended his notions on the necessity of extreme suffering to "train the faithful" (as expounded in Dune and its sequels) to almost ridiculous extremes. The more oppression is heaped upon people, the more likely it appears to be - in Herbert's view, at any rate - that you will end up with a race of super-beings.

I'd long been aware of the quasi-fascistic tendencies of (especially) the later work of Robert Heinlein and other Campbell-era SF writers, but this seemed an even more extreme doctrine - one which operated behind the overt scaffolding of the stories to imply a more sinister agenda.

I suspect that the student I was supervising began to think that I had a real bee in my bonnet on the subject of these subliminal themes in contemporary SF. He certainly showed little patience for the subject. At the time it seemed to me a legitimate exploration of the figure in the carpet for at least a few of its principal exponents, however.

Recently I've been catching up with some of Orson Scott Card's work from the thirty years since that short story collection, which spanned only the first two decades of his career. It's been a very interesting experience. He's always been a prolific writer, as you can see from the (partial) listings below, but of late a good deal of his energy seems to have gone into comics, games, and collaborations with other writers rather than the paperback novels that made his reputation.

Orson Scott Card: The Ender Series (1985-2008)

The first, and undoubtedly the best known of his story-cycles was first known as the 'Ender's Game Trilogy', then the 'Ender's Game Quartet', and finally the 'Ender's Game Series' as successive volumes were added.

The original 1985 novel, an expansion of his 1977 Analog novella "Ender's Game", remains an SF masterpiece. The ethical dilemmas involved in training children for a war which only they can win - without telling them that that's what you're doing - remain sharply relevant to this day. And the 2013 feature film did a pretty good job of encapsulating these themes in its (inevitably) truncated form - except for Sir Ben Kingsley's "Kiwi" accent, that is, which had to be heard to be believed.

After that things got a bit more complicated. First Card decided to send his hero off on a series of relativistic hops through the universe which took him a couple of thousand years into the future; then he landed him on a planet where the literally 'inhuman' values of another alien race, the Pequeninos (or "Piggies"), led to an even more complex conflict and the threat of another Xenocide.

This new conundrum takes a good three volumes to resolve, mainly owing to the tendency of Card's characters to sit down and talk things through - at inordinate length - on a regular basis. In the process Ender gets married to a typical Card heroine: stubborn, irritable, and prone to taking perverse, self-destructive decisions whenever reason threatens to prevail. I'm not quite sure what that implies, but it does make you wonder a bit about Card's own personal experience in this area ...

Orson Scott Card: The Shadow Series (1999-2005)

But wait, there's more. Meanwhile, back on earth, the cast of the original Battle School set up to defeat the Formics (or "Buggers") are all still battling to restore the government of Earth to its proper state of blind obedience to the Hegemon, Ender's sociopathic brother Peter. All of that takes another four (or five, depending on how you count) volumes to settle.

Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnston: The First Formic War Series (2012-14)

I can't speak to the events in the First (and now Second) Formic War Trilogies, as I haven't read them. All one can conclude is that any rumours of Ender's having actually ended hostilities with the Formics at the conclusion of Ender's Game appear to have been greatly exaggerated.

Nor has this series of spin-offs concluded as yet. And presumably there are many hardcore fans out there who are still anxiously watching this space ...

Orson Scott Card: The Tales of Alvin Maker (1987-2003)

Card's second major series is the alternate-history, American-frontier saga collectively labelled the (tall) Tales of Alvin Maker. Card's Mormonism comes through far more strongly in these books than in the Ender ones. Nevertheless, his vision of a North America half of which still belongs to the Native American tribes is a strangely inspiring one. And there's an infectious exuberance to (especially) the early volumes in the sequence which keeps you reading even as they become gradually more and more encumbered by plot and backstory.

There is still, apparently, one volume of tales to come, though I have my doubts about that. Card has a tendency to divide and subdivide his novels into they fill two or three volumes rather than just the one he originally promised. And his characters are so very, very talkative.

Orson Scott Card: The Homecoming Series (1992-95)

A good example of this is the series above, originally intended as a trilogy, which grew into a huge, sprawling, five-volume saga.

I think that if I knew more about The Book of Mormon (had read it, for instance), I might be better equipped to judge these books. It is, it seems, a 'Science-fictional" version of the major events in the Mormon scriptures, which may account for the extreme perversity of many of the characters' basic motivations.

The hero, Nafai, for example, seems almost infinitely long-suffering, and his evil, plotting brothers, Elemak and Mebbekew, almost impossibly villainous. There is a certain narrative drive which kept me reading, but it does seem to be intended for a more specialised audience than most of his other fiction.

C. S. Lewis: The Cosmic Trilogy (1938-45)

What, then, is one to conclude about Orson Scott Card? Ender's Game remains a fine novel. Many of his other novels are also well worth reading, too - particularly the 'Alvin Maker' series. I wouldn't myself say that his experiment of mixing Mormon themes with the matter of conventional genre fiction has been a particularly successful one, but then the same could easily be said of other such ideologically driven Speculative Fiction such as C. S. Lewis's Interplanetary trilogy, or even Charles Williams' theological thrillers.

So I find myself inscribing a tick in the "yes" column, despite my reservations about the endless blah-blah in (especially) his later books, and despite my nagging suspicions of a certain residual sadism and misogyny at the root of much of his fiction. Once again, the same could be said of many canonical authors, and this inference remains, in any case, a debatable one.

Orson Scott Card: Assorted Enderverse Comics (1938-45)

Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card
(1951- )

    The Enders Game Series:

  1. Ender’s Game. The Ender Quartet, 1. 1985. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1988.
  2. Speaker for the Dead. The Ender Quartet, 2. 1986. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1986.
  3. Xenocide. The Ender Quartet, 3. 1991. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1992.
  4. Children of the Mind. The Ender Quartet, 4. 1996. A Tor Book. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 1997.
  5. Ender's Shadow. 1999. The Shadow Saga, 1. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2000.
  6. Shadow of the Hegemon. 2000. The Shadow Saga, 2. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  7. Shadow Puppets. 2002. The Shadow Saga, 3. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 2003.
  8. Shadow of the Giant. 2005. The Shadow Saga, 4. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 2006.
  9. First Meetings in the Enderverse. An Orbit Book. London: Time Warner Books UK, 2003.
  10. A War of Gifts: An Ender Story (2007)
  11. Ender in Exile (2008)
  12. Shadows in Flight. The Shadow Saga, 5 (2012)
  13. [with Aaron Johnston] Earth Unaware. First Formic Wars trilogy, 1 (2012)
  14. [with Aaron Johnston] Earth Afire. First Formic Wars trilogy, 2 (2013)
  15. [with Aaron Johnston] Earth Awakens. First Formic Wars trilogy, 3 (2014)
  16. [with Aaron Johnston] The Swarm. Second Formic Wars trilogy, 1 (2016)
  17. Children of the Fleet. Fleet School (2017)
  18. Ender's Way: short stories (2021)
  19. [with Aaron Johnston] The Hive. Second Formic Wars trilogy, 2 (2019)
  20. The Last Shadow. The Shadow Saga, 6 (2021)
  21. [with Aaron Johnston] The Queens. Second Formic Wars trilogy, 3 (tba)

  22. The Tales of Alvin Maker:

  23. Seventh Son. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 1. 1987. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1989.
  24. Red Prophet. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 2. 1988. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  25. Prentice Alvin. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 3. 1989. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  26. Alvin Journeyman. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 4. 1995. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  27. Heartfire. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 5. An Orbit Book. London: Little, Brown and Company (UK), 2001.
  28. The Crystal City. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 6 (2003)
  29. Master Alvin. The Tales of Alvin Maker, 7 (tba)

  30. The Homecoming Series:

  31. The Memory of Earth. Homecoming, 1. 1992. Legend Books. London: Random House UK Ltd, 1993.
  32. The Call of Earth. Homecoming, 2. 1993. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1994.
  33. The Ships of Earth. Homecoming, 3. 1994. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1995.
  34. Earthfall. Homecoming, 4. 1995. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1996.
  35. Earthborn. Homecoming, 5. 1995. A Tor Book. New York: A Tom Doherty Associates Book, 1996.

  36. Women of Genesis:

  37. Sarah (2000)
  38. Rebekah (2001)
  39. Rachel and Leah (2004)

  40. The Empire Duet:

  41. Empire (2006)
  42. Hidden Empire (2009)

  43. The Pathfinder Series:

  44. Pathfinder (2010)
  45. Ruins (2012)
  46. Visitors (2014)

  47. The Mithermages Series:

  48. The Lost Gate (2011)
  49. The Gate Thief (2013)
  50. Gatefather (2015)

  51. Miscellaneous Novels:

  52. A Planet Called Treason [aka Treason (1988)] (1979)
  53. Songmaster. 1980 & 1987. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1990.
  54. Hart's Hope (1983)
  55. Saints [aka Woman of Destiny] (1983)
  56. Wyrms. 1987. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1988.
  57. with Lloyd Biggle, Jr.] Eye for Eye / Tunesmith. Tor double novel (1990)
  58. Lost Boys (1992)
  59. [with Kathryn H. Kidd] Lovelock (1994)
  60. Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus (1996)/li>
  61. Treasure Box (1996)
  62. Stone Tables (1997)
  63. Homebody (1998)
  64. Enchantment (1999)
  65. [with Doug Chiang] Robota (2003)
  66. Magic Street (2005)
  67. [with Aaron Johnston] Invasive Procedures (2007)
  68. A Town Divided by Christmas (2018)
  69. Lost and Found (2019)

  70. Short Story Collections:

  71. The Worthing Saga. ['Capitol' (1979); 'The Worthing Chronicle' (1982)]. A Legend Book. London: Random Century Group, 1991.
  72. The Folk of the Fringe. 1990. A Legend Book. London: Random Century, 1991.
  73. Maps in a Mirror. 1990. 2 vols. A Legend Book. London: Arrow Books Ltd., 1992.
  74. Keeper of Dreams (2008)

  75. Poetry:

  76. An Open Book (2004)

  77. For Children:

  78. Magic Mirror (1999)

  79. Non-fiction:

  80. Listen, Mom and Dad (1977)
  81. Ainge (1981)
  82. Saintspeak (1981)
  83. Characters and Viewpoint (1988)
  84. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (1990)
  85. A Storyteller in Zion (1993)
  86. Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction: Volume One, First Contact (2007)

  87. Edited:

  88. Dragons of Light (1980)
  89. Dragons of Darkness (1981)
  90. Future on Fire (1991)
  91. Future on Ice (1998)
  92. Masterpieces (2001)
  93. The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology, Volume 1 (2002)
  94. The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology, Volume 2 (2003)
  95. The Phobos Science Fiction Anthology, Volume 3 (2004)
  96. Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show (2008))

Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game (1985)

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