Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for Xenocide

April A-to-Z: must-read books

Ender’s Game (1985)
by Orson Scott Card
(1951-) USA

The American political anti-terrorism action-drama debacle I’d previously read did nothing to prepare me for the very significant collection of insights Card would reveal in novels Ender’s Game and (even more so) in the sequel. Dynamite stuff in terms of morality and the psychologies of war, tribal structures and the developing minds of youth, which can only be properly explored in this sci-fi speculative world, free of our North American blinders and prejudices. What a wonderful surprise. Add some wildly inventive ideas around biological evolution and society and human socio-political structure and this is simply the best brand of sci-fi around. A rather stunning achievement which all becomes far more evident in book two: Speaker for the Dead.

I found it challenging to relate to the main characters or to understand why they had to be so young. I wanted to imagine them as young adults but I must trust Card’s priorities. He clearly knows what he’s doing. His intelligence is apparent.

This is a must read for any youth or adult with any use at all for sci-fi or anyone remotely open to giving the genre a chance. And if you’ve seen the Ender’s Game movie which touches on book one only, do not let it stop you. The film amounts to a vacuous teaser trailer for the book which runs a thousand times deeper and yet doesn’t even compare to book two. If you’ve yet to see the movie though, for goodness sake, wait. Don’t let it spoil the book’s powerful climax. And whatever you do, don’t cheat yourself by reading Ender’s Game without going on to Speaker for the Dead. Ender’s Game is primarily a critical prologue to the real tale.

A passage:

   “I thought you were my friend.” Despite himself, Ender’s voice trembled.
   Graff looked puzzled. “Whatever gave you that idea, Ender?”
   “Because you—” Because you spoke nicely to me, and honestly. “You didn’t lie.”
   “I won’t lie now either,” said Graff. “My job isn’t to be friends. My job is to produce the best soldiers in the world. In the whole history of the world. We need a Napoleon. An Alexander. Except that Napoleon lost in the end. And Alexander flamed out and died young. We need a Julius Caesar, except that he made himself dictator, and died for it. My job is to produce such a creature, and all the men and women he’ll need to help him. Nowhere in that does it say that I have to make friends with children.”
   “You made them hate me.”
   “So? What will you do about it? Crawl into a corner? Start kissing their little backsides so they’ll love you again? There’s only one thing that will make them stop hating you. And that’s being so good at what you do that they can’t ignore you. I told them you were the best. Now you damn well better be.
   “Look Ender, I’m sorry if you’re lonely and afraid. But the buggers are out there. Ten billion, a hundred billion, a million billion for all we know. With weapons we can’t understand, and a willingness to use those weapons to wipe us out. It isn’t the world at stake, Ender. Just us. Just humankind. As far as the rest of the biosphere is concerned, we could be wiped out and it would adjust, it would get on with the next step in evolution. But humanity doesn’t want to die. As a species we have evolved to survive. And the way to do it is by straining, and straining, and every few generations, giving birth to genius. The one who invents the wheel. And light. And flight. The one who builds a city, a nation, an empire. Do you understand any of this?”
   Ender thought he did, but wasn’t sure, and so said nothing.
   “No, of course not. So I’ll put it bluntly: Human beings are free until humanity needs them.”

Ender’s Game (1985)
Speaker for the Dead (1986)
Xenocide (1991)          
Children of the Mind (1996)
Ender’s Shadow (1999)
Shadow of the Hegemon (2001)
Shadow Puppets (2002)
First Meetings (2002)

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