Friday, August 09, 2013

Ender Bender 1: Introduction

I'm reading the edition of Ender's Game from 1991, in which Card writes a new introduction for the then-six-year-old book. It's largely unremarkable, and there were definitely bits I skimmed over. But right as I was about to skip to the presumably meatier first chapter, I hit a paragraph that stuck out. Card's talking about how the germs of this story came from reading Asimov's Foundation; and thinking about war, specifically the Civil War as viewed through the lens of Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac. Here's the interesting bit:

I learned that history is shaped by the use of power, and that different people, leading the same army, with, therefore, approximately the same power, applied it so differently that the army seemed to change from a pack of noble fools at Fredericksburg to panicked cowards melting away at Chancellorsville, then to the grimly determined, stubborn soldiers who held the ridges at Gettysburg, and then, finally, to the disciplined, professional army that ground Lee to dust in Grant’s long campaign. It wasn’t the soldiers who changed. It was the leader.

Really? The soldiers didn't change from Fredericksburg to Gettysburg? That seems pretty damn unlikely. I suspect there were lots of changes in the soldiers. The draft didn't begin in the North until after Fredericksburg, for one thing. And just as a layman with no particular knowledge of the Civil War, I imagine that soldiers who were in battle after battle would have gained valuable experience dealing with the Confederate forces. Skilled soldiers would have moved up the ranks. New recruits would be trained specifically to fight against the South. Troops would have had more time to reach the front lines from other parts of the country. Weaknesses in Confederate strategy would have been communicated through the ranks. Union victories would have boosted Union morale and demoralized Confederates. Maybe there were other factors that I'm not aware of, since I have a high school-level knowledge of the Civil War, but Card seems to be suggesting that if Grant had been leading the Union army at Fredericksburg, they would have been a "disciplined, professional army" instead of "a pack of noble fools," and presumably would have similarly ground the Confederate troops to dust. My understanding of the Civil War is limited, but I highly suspect that Card's here is so simplistic as to be insulting to all the people at all ranks and levels of service who fought under his orders.

This leads Card into wondering what kind of training future soldiers would receive to fight wars among the stars; he concludes that it'll be something like zero-gravity Lazer Tag, which is superior to the "rigid and formal [...] meaningless marching and maneuvers that still waste an astonishing amount of a trainee's precious hours in basic training in our modern military."

At least according to Wikipedia, Orson Scott Card has no military experience. No word on how much Lazer Tag he's played.


I also have no military experience, but it seems like marching and maneuvers have purposes beyond just combat simulation, like, say, training individual people to act like a cohesive unit, to follow orders quickly, to have a fall-back plan when things do go wrong. Driver's Ed courses don't put inexperienced student drivers in the middle of Nascar tracks; in order to be able to cope with unexpected and chaotic conditions, it seems like it's generally a good idea to have some degree of basic...training.

Other insights from Card: Archaeology is boring! More boring than dentistry! It's also a "semi-science." The arch-homophobe who thinks there was no gay rights movement in the '80s was heavily into theatre. He rewrote lots of "lousy scripts" because of dull speeches. I can't wait to see how that plays out. Especially since he says he wrote sci-fi without knowing anything about the clich├ęs of the genre...Card's beginning to sound like one of those magically insufferable people who thinks one can excel at anything without any experience or research. I mean, at least I looked at a Civil War timeline before I started this post. Also insufferable:
The attacks on the novel--and on me--were astonishing. Some of it I expected--I have a master's degree in literature, and in writing Ender's Game I deliberately avoided all the little literary games and gimmicks that make "fine" writing so impenetrable to the general audience. [...] If everybody came to agree that stories should be told this clearly, the professors of literature would be out of a job, and the writers of obscure, encoded fiction would be, not honored, but pitied for their impenetrability.
That is amazing. "People hated this book because I don't subscribe to the man's ideas about what makes literature great. I wrote for the dummies who can't understand 'fine' writing." I know how I'm responding to my bad reviews from now on.

He goes on to call out a guidance counselor who disliked the book because of its unrealistic portrayal of gifted children (and says others had the same complaint), but says basically "nuh-uh, it's totes realistic" and goes on to suppose that the backlash is because the novel is kind of a revolutionary manifesto for children to rise up and throw off the shackles of adult oppression. I exaggerate only very slightly.

At this point I'd like to point out that I intended to make this a short post, just riffing off that first bit about the Civil War. I didn't know how far down this rabbit hole went, and I'm sorry.

Most of the rest of the introduction is given over to letters from a group of gifted children and a soldier, which allow Card to pontificate about the nature of fiction and how his story is used by different academics and military teachers. He says "All these uses are valid; all these readings of the book are 'correct/' For all these readers have placed themselves inside this story, not as spectators, but as participants[.]" Presumably, then, the critics and that guidance counselor had incorrect readings, because they were just "spectators."

I honestly thought I could set aside my contempt when going into this, but here we are.

Since I'm grasping for something nice to say, I like that Card says he thinks the 'true' story is the one created by the reader bringing their experiences (though not experiences working with actual gifted children for your job) to the table. I think that interpretive level, that silent conversation between author, text, and reader which produces so many different, varying, mutually exclusive takes on the same literature, is a vital part of what makes literature so powerful and fascinating, and I'm always dismayed when authors condemn certain readings or viewpoints as illegitimate. So I'd be more apt to accept Card's statement in support of that view if he hadn't spent the first part of this introduction casting aspersions on certain readings, critics, and the rest of literature.

Next week: Chapter 1.

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feipeng wu said...
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