There’s been a lot of talk about the merits of separating the Art from the Artist due to the Ender’s Game movie coming out this year. It’s one of the classics of SF, but Orson Scott Card is a raging homophobe. I’ve always been fond of the Death of the Author, and I don’t want an author’s opinions and personal life affecting my judgment of their art, so I generally try to know as little about an author as possible. After all, the separation might be an ideal, but ideals are notoriously tough in practice.
On the other hand, it is fair to judge an author by his book, and interpret other statements of his in light of that judgment. When I read Ender’s Game I loved it. Bear in mind that I also loved Atlas Shrugged when I first read it – I’m a sucker for good revenge narratives. When I read Ender’s Game I was its perfect target audience – a nerdy teenage boy who felt like an outcast. I wanted vengeance on those who had wronged me, I wanted the power to crush all those before me, I wanted to express this power with extreme violence, and I wanted to be held as a righteous and blameless paragon of virtue for doing all this. Ender’s Game delivered that in spades, with a protagonist who was exactly like me (I felt) in very similar situations. There is nothing about this book I didn’t love.
Much like what happened with Atlas Shrugged, as I grew older and started thinking about it more, I grew more and more troubled by what was being supported by the narrative. In the case of Ender’s Game, it is the claim that the only way to be safe is to completely exterminate anything you feel threatened by. Up to and including genocide over what was clearly a mistake. The perpetrator of such extreme reactive violence is absolutely innocent and righteous in his actions because he felt under threat. This is a philosophy of fear, clung to by the terrified… and they will never feel safe no matter how many people they kill.
It is also absolutely unworkable in any sort of society. Pre-emptive or retaliatory violence must be moderated with the understanding that afterwards we all still have to live together. Extremely disproportionate response leads to scenarios like we saw in the recent Zimmerman-Martin exchange, that allowed a man to walk free after killing a kid because he was losing a fistfight. If this is enshrined as a legitimate reaction it leads to the conclusion that Card eventually brought us to – genocide is the only final solution to any perceived threat. Ender’s Game should be a chilling warning of that, rather than a ringing endorsement of it.
(I’m not unique in this insight of course. There’s been many great articles written about this theme in Ender’s Game, one of my favorite ones being Creating The Innocent Killer)
This portrait of Card’s mentality given his work is worrisome on its face. But even further than that, he’s a strong supporter of an organization that considers homosexuals to be a threat to America and Everything Decent In The World. If I was part of a minority (or cared for someone in a minority) that was being attacked by a group that considers themselves unimpeachably pure-of-heart, considers that minority a threat, and a well-known figure in that group has publicly shown that he considers genocide against those he sees as threatening to be acceptable if he himself is “good”… well shit, I think I’d be making a hell of a big deal about this too.
(As an aside, I fortunately don’t feel torn on the issue of this movie, because I never had any intention of watching it in the first place. I’m just not interested in seeing Hollywood screw up another SF novel. I find it interesting that everyone I know who’s said they are boycotting the movie has already read the book. The Quirrell part of me wants to say it’s not that much of a sacrifice if the book’s already been read…)
Reading “In the case of Ender’s Game, it is the claim that the only way to be safe is to completely exterminate anything you feel threatened by.” leaves the impression that you missed the part where O.S.Card throws a heavy critique at this “ultimate solution” — at the end of “Ender’s Game” and throughout “Xenocide”. Do you make a point that he criticizes it only on moral grounds, not on rational grounds?
I started typing a reply, and it grew into a full post. :) Here – https://deathisbadblog.com/the-narrative-is-the-argument/
I haven’t had this impression and certainly haven’t had “victorious and righteous” feelings, I’ve had sad feelings reading it first time in high-school (and not much of an emotional reaction rereading it recently). I agree with your general comment “A fiction author doesn’t make his points through explicit argumentation, he does so via an emotional narrative”. The story is somewhat morally corrupt but it isn’t blatantly evil.