I went through an Orson Scott Card phase while I was in graduate school. I started with his most famous novel, Ender’s Game, which I enjoyed immensely. I then proceeded, over the next year or so, to read all of the novels he had written to that point.

At that time I didn’t know anything about Card as a person, but there were clues in his novels. Though I enjoyed most of his novels, there were a few lemons in the batch as well. Most egregiously, there was an awful piece of dreck called Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus. The title should have been a giveaway.

Then there was his Tales of Alvin Maker series. I rather liked the first three novels. The religious overtones were hard to miss (Alvin Maker was pretty clearly Jesus), but they were not overbearing and didn’t spoil anything for me. Alas, Card’s restraint failed him in the later novels, and I felt like I was just reading Christian propaganda.

I learned that Card was a Mormon by reading his novel Saints, which was a fictionalized account of the history of the Mormon church. At eight hundred pages, it’s a big novel. The first two hundred or so zip about very nicely, but then the Mormons show up and the book goes downhill. Among other things, the novel contains a defense of polygyny, which, it turns out, has nothing to do with male dominance over women.

All of which is my long-winded away of introducing the real subject of this post. The movie version of Ender’s Game is about to come out. Normally that’s the sort of movie I’d look forward to seeing. The trouble is that Card turns out to be something of a lunatic when it comes to politics, especially on the subject of gay marriage. You see, he has sometimes been in the habit of saying things like this:

How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.

That strikes me as a bit overwrought.

Realizing that these views might now hurt his bottom line, Card has issued a squirrely little statement:

Ender’s Game is set more than a century in the future and has nothing to do with political issues that did not exist when the book was written in 1984.

With the recent Supreme Court ruling, the gay marriage issue becomes moot. The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution will, sooner or later, give legal force in every state to any marriage contract recognized by any other state.

Now it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.

A second ago he was calling for the violent overthrow of any government that dares to legalize gay marriage. Now he’s asking for tolerance. You know, for those who disagreed. What a charming fellow.

Here’s another interesting response to Card’s statement.

So, I think I will just take a pass on this particular movie. I suspect that’s not a big sacrifice, since, science fiction movies being what they are, it’s likely to be disappointing anyway.

Alexandra Petri takes a different view:

If you are only willing to support artists who agree with you, you wind up stuck with a lot of mediocre art. That people hold views you share does not mean they will write better books than people who go home and do horrible things to their house pets. If only there were some correlation. It would be so much easier. But given the choice, I’d rather have despicable artists and great art than creators with sedate, tolerant lives who made things that were dull and ugly. If you believe art changes things, of course that’s what you want. The more good art you have, the better for humanity.

Very eloquent! But we’re talking about Ender’s Game here, not great art. And we’re talking about an especially vicious advocate of a view that has been harmful to people I actually know. Perhaps it reflects badly on me, but those considerations would make it more difficult for me to enjoy the movie.

On the other hand, I do still like Harrison Ford…

Comments

  1. #1 Shiva
    paris / france
    July 17, 2013

    How enlightening!
    As to your last statement, you can just watch Indiana Jone’s series
    ;o)

  2. #2 Andre
    July 17, 2013

    Very nice post. Thanks for including Alexandra Petri’s view, I hadn’t seen that and it’s an interesting counterpoint. I’m pretty sure I’m going to skip this movie because (1) Orson Scott Card is clearly a world class asshole, and (2) I have a clear image of the world in the book from my readings of it as a young teenager through my college years that I don’t want destroyed by the movie forcing its images on me.

    That being said, I think your art comment is a little bit of a cheap shot. I’m not sure who would say this novel is “great art” but it’s undeniable that this book has had significant cultural impact on modern science fiction. (Also, Petri never calls it “great art” and in fact expressly admits that it clearly is not.)

    Yes, we’re talking “genre fiction” here but for my generation of sci-fi fans (and current sci-fi authors/creators), it will likely remain cherished (for those able to separate the artist from the art) or at least profoundly influential.

  3. #3 Mu
    July 17, 2013

    I’m not a big fan of OS Card, so I thought Ender’s Game was a good read. His later books in that series clearly has some serious bleed-through of his politics and morals, and I quit buying his stuff. But I’m even less enamored with trying to put modern day political correctness on stuff written decades ago. People are criticizing Huckleberry Fin and Uncle Tom’s Cabin as too positive on slavery, or there was recent attempt by a German publisher to clean all children books of “bad words” like negro and gypsy. Same applies to OSC on gay marriage. It was written 20 years before Lawrence v. Texas, and no one would have predicted the rapid change in public opinion on the subject at that time.
    I probably won’t see the movie either before it makes free cable, but that’s because it’s basically a one-gag story. And once your read it it’s hard to be surprised a second time, independently of how well the movie is made or what the author thinks on other subjects.

  4. #4 Jonathan Lubin
    http://www.math.brown.edu/~lubinj/
    July 17, 2013

    I kinda liked Saints, it made it clear to me why I’m best off avoiding Mormons, except of course for the fallen-away ones. But I stopped reading all his novels when the antigay smell got too strong to ignore.

  5. #5 Eric Lund
    July 17, 2013

    I first read Ender’s Game as a grad student in the early 1990s. The edition I had included commentary by OSC that made it clear he had a Mormon background (he grew up in Utah and had been a missionary in Brazil), but at the time I didn’t think anything of it; my then Congressman, the first Democrat to be elected from that district in more than 70 years, was Mormon, too, and as has been pointed out above, gay marriage wasn’t even on anybody’s radar at the time. His Homecoming series included a gay character among the core group (DISEMVOWELED SPOILER: h mrrs th nrdy grl), but how he handled that character was the only evidence I saw in the 1990s of his later views of his views on homosexuality (like Jason, I read the first three books of the Alvin Maker series, but I stopped buying his books after he came out as a flaming right winger), and that’s circumstantial evidence at best, as many people who had similar attitudes toward homosexuality as OSC expressed via this character’s interactions did not become as virulently homophobic. And while OSC clearly thought that everybody should have a religion, I didn’t see any evidence of him insisting on people being Mormons.

    OSC is one of the various public figures who went over the edge (at least overtly) in the wake of 9/11. Shortly thereafter, he wrote a novel that at least implicitly endorsed the George W. Bush view of the world, and in his public statements about that novel he explicitly endorsed that view. That’s when, and why, I stopped buying his books. I had seen the Christopher Columbus novel in bookstores, but I never read it. Of the stuff I read, I didn’t see anything that told me OSC held extreme views.

  6. #6 Wally P
    July 17, 2013

    When I first read Ender’s Game, I thought it was spectacular. It was only after the space of many years and, in particular, reading john kessler’s essay discussing the problematic morality that lies at the heart of the work’s appeal that I’ve found the novel itself to be objectionable. That OSC and his politics don’t seem to be a particularly appealing is really just further justification. Ender’s violent acts are reframed and repackaged to elicit the utmost sympathy. It was so persuasive that I didn’t even notice until much later that the novel’s moral code sanctioned the most violent, lethal retaliation on the assumption that anything short of full force would only lead to future fights so you better take your enemy out in one blow. Through this lens, murder becomes sympathetic, genocide a reluctantly dispatched duty. And there’s plenty more to find questionable in the sequels, rife with allegories of white supremacy and outrageous racial/ethnic stereotyping. The works themselves are problematic enough that I don’t have much interest in the film. I’ve always been struck by the too-narrow scrutiny the author’s politics receives as compared to the many problematic elements of his fiction

  7. #7 eric
    July 17, 2013

    Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy.

    How incredibly ironic, coming from a Mormon who is defending monogamous marriage.

    Alas, Card’s restraint failed him in the later novels, and I felt like I was just reading Christian propaganda.

    To be fair, this happens to activist artists of all political bents, not just conservatives. The pattern seems to be: produce good art (here, stories). Become successful at your art. Realise you now have an audience for your political message. Begin focusing more on political message and less on artistic merit (here, story quality). As a result, produce crappier art.

    If you want a liberal example of this phenomena, I’d offer Sherri Tepper. Same genre (sci-fi novels). Like Card, she produced some excellent early novels, such as Grass and Raising the Stones.Then somewhere along the way she decided every novel must beat the reader over the head with feminism or environmentalism. So her later novels are ham-handed, completely transparent, and generally stink (all IMO of course).

  8. #8 deepak shetty
    July 17, 2013

    On the other hand, I do still like Harrison Ford…
    I have the same problem with Bill Willingham and Clint Eastwood.

  9. #9 Joe Shelby
    July 17, 2013

    My problem with his non-defense goes right back to that Mormon polygamy thing. Here he is saying government can’t (re)define marriage, yet the only reason his church survives politically and the primary reason that Utah is even a state is because the Mormon church acquiesced and got rid of their polygamy, changing their definition of marriage to meet the government’s.

    Now, his statement may be taken as a case of “we did it once, and we shouldn’t have”, but that’s not how he expressed it. He expressed it as if governments simply can’t redefine what God has created, as if it had never happened before.

    The church’s position on marriage is as flexible as their positions on race: well, it is as God always intended, except when we tell you that he tells us it isn’t.

  10. #10 Joe Shelby
    July 17, 2013

    Oh, and that was ignoring the whole idea that tolerance requires acknowledgement of equality. I accept and tolerate that he has an equal right to say what he wants regarding this issue.

    I do NOT accept that his view is equal in validity, value, or morality than mine, but rather far less.

  11. #11 AbnormalWrench
    July 18, 2013

    I was also a huge fan of Ender’s Game, and Card’s books in general when I was younger, although I have to say I was always pretty disappointed with his other series, when compared to Ender’s Game. I didn’t really get the Alvin series until many years later (I was completely naive to religion back then, let alone Card’s agenda), but I found that series absurd because how ridiculously powerful Alvin was. I really dislike books that the have characters that have seemingly limitless powers (the most egregious example is David Eddings Belgariad series).

    However. Before you swear off Card completely, there is some real comedy-gold in his later books. If you are even slightly politically aware, and find Steven Colbert funny, you must must MUST read Card’s recent super-hyberbole, to the point of valid wondering if it is poe, “Empire”. Just read some of the reviews on Amazon. It is simply unbelievable to read. Every page is filled with far right red meat propaganda, conspiracy theories, and faux-patriotism, all presented as heart-felt and legitimate, and as you will see when you read the author’s notes at the end, not a single sentence of it was meant as a joke.

  12. #12 Valhar2000
    July 18, 2013

    I noticed the problems Wally P mentions with the content and themes of Ender’s Game when I read it, but I enjoyed reading it anyway. To me, it seemed like a story in a dystopian setting, and I interpreted what happened accordingly.

    I was disappointed by later books in the series, in which aspects of previous books that I had thought were clever where retconned into mundane retellings of stale Christian ideas. An example of this is how Jane was at first an AI that emerged spontaneously from humanity’s computer networks, but later it turned out that she began to exist when she was given a soul. From new and interesting (to me, at the time) to old hat.

    A friend of mine, who lent me the books in the first place, told me that subsequent books keep getting worse in that respect.

  13. #13 Reginald Selkirk
    July 18, 2013

    It’s even worse than you depict it. Card has not simply made statements about his personal internal beliefs, but he is on the board of NOM, the National Organization for Marriage. He hasn’t just been talking the talk, he’s been walking the walk; a hateful small-minded walk.

  14. #14 Raghu Mani
    July 18, 2013

    Frankly, I am torn on this. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan of Orson Scott Card. However, I have always loved the first two novels of the Ender series – I am probably one of the few who thought that Speaker for the Dead was slightly better than Ender’s Game. As regards the rest of his books – I don’t particularly care for them. The Alvin Maker books that I read did nothing for me and his attempts to extend the Ender Series were positively tedious. However, I do have always had the highest opinion of the first two Ender books – and while I always knew he was Mormon, the impression I got reading those books was that he had a somewhat liberal outlook.

    Given this initial impression I got from reading his books, it was a huge disappointment for me to find out what a bigot he was in reality. So, I am in the middle of this big debate with myself. The Ender fan in me is extremely eager to see the movie while pretty much all my other instincts are telling me not to. Part of me is hoping that the movie gets terrible reviews – which would get rid of the constant temptation I have to go and see it :-)

    – RM

  15. #15 JimV
    July 18, 2013

    I got through “Ender’s Game” about 20-30 years ago, thought it typically super-hero escapist stuff, didn’t find the set pieces used to establish the hero’s superiority awe-inspiring, and never felt the need to read anything else by Card. My main criticism is the cardboard nature of his characters. I can’t remember except vaguely any other characters but the hero. It was a long time ago, but I read “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “The First Circle” earlier and I still remember all those characters.

    I still remember him finally “solving” his computer game at the end by losing his temper and smashing the giant. Didn’t seem like a very interesting game.

    I didn’t know he was a Mormon, wing-nut, homophobe until now. I will have to try to resist the temptation to conclude I can detect jerks by the weaknesses in their writing – but if you don’t have a good heart it is bound to show in your characters, isn’t it?

  16. #16 Greg Esres
    Memphis
    July 18, 2013

    Now he’s asking for tolerance. You know, for those who disagreed. What a charming fellow.

    Not my reading; he’s being sarcastic. He’s expecting a lack of tolerance and probably hopes no tolerance will occur so that he can nail them for hypocrisy.

  17. #17 tomh
    July 18, 2013

    Along with everything else, while trying to sound knowledgeable about legalities, he manages to be dead wrong about the Full Faith and Credit clause also.

  18. #18 Max
    July 18, 2013

    Card doesn’t like “marriage” being redefined? Isn’t the Mormon definition different than everyone else’s already? And are there other words he’s against changing the definition to? Good luck with fighting changes in language. I hope he never uses the word “bachelor.” It doesn’t mean anything close to what it used to mean. (A young man preparing to be a knight.) Then again, he himself has accepted the change to the word “gay,” so at least he’s that much progressive.

  19. #19 proximity1
    July 20, 2013

    Ha! I can’t pass this a*opportunity to agree with you on practically every point here. I’d never read OSC but if you spend any time selling books, you can’t help being impressed by the number of people who buy and gush praise over his fiction. So, at last, I broke down and bought a used copy of EG to see for myself. I never got far into it. Why is this the object of such cult devotion? I asked; and only a little later, Why am I reading this? It’s really pedestrian stuff. I put the book down soon, and I’d already found aspects of the hero figure–actually I can’t now find the right term, since it has been so long since I have read the book. For me, neither the protagonist nor the work’s author have to be moral exemplars. So, not only do I agee with your views here, I also agree with those you cite by Alexandra Petri. Some authors (like some actors) are jerks but produce brilliant work. And some are jerks who produce mediocre stuff, or worse. I don’t have to approve of the author to find a work of fiction or non-fiction worthy of admiration. The two aspects are independent. Being a great fellow socially or morally won’t help a person be a brilliant writer any more than being a jerk will improve prose or poetry.

  20. #20 Rob MacKinnon
    Ontario, Canada
    July 22, 2013

    Well said. My heart is heavy when I realize that I enjoyed directing O.S.Card’s transliteration of Taming of the Shrew. I also added Ender’s Game to the reading list of our high school English department. I was looking forward to the movie version until today when I heard the GeeksOut representative explaining how my money would go to support a view I find totally abhorent. I think I will be one to Skip Ender’s Game.

  21. #21 sean samis
    July 22, 2013

    I’ve been away and only saw this post yesterday. I tire if boycotts of books/movies/what-have-you because of some complaint with the author’s beliefs. I loved the book, I’ve wished for a movie for a long time, I’m going. OSC’s beliefs are disagreeable, but he’s not the only one who’s livelihood is threatened by a boycott that will not change his mind anyway.

    sean s.

  22. #22 Juice
    July 22, 2013

    I just took a dump on the sidewalk. I couldn’t hold it. Sorry, biological imperative trumps law.

  23. #23 Mike H
    July 23, 2013

    Pablo Neruda and Charlie Chaplin were Stalinists.

    HG Wells was a eugenicists.

    Oscar Wilde was a pederast.

    Roman Polanski drugs 13 year old girls and analy rapes them.

    Why should I reject someone’s creative works because of their personality flaws?

  24. #24 bjhlodnicki
    Indianapolis, IN
    July 24, 2013

    Mike H.–
    So, other artists have held abhorrent political and social views…
    Go ahead reject them as well. These are our dollars and our views and we can choose who we support in whatever their endeavors. AND WE CAN CHOOSE TO BOYCOTT PEOPLE AND WORKS OF ENTERTAINMENT for the same reasons.

  25. #25 Mike H
    July 24, 2013

    bjhlodnicki – i don’t reject any of their art, I judge it based on its merit and I loved Enders Game.

  26. #26 bjhlodnicki
    Indianapolis, IN
    July 24, 2013

    You have that right.
    But we who find OSC’s politics unacceptable have our rights as well.
    We can also inform the rest of the public about his objectionable anti-equality stand. And they can choose to support friends and family who are gay or a stranger who believes that there should be no equal justice for gay people.

  27. #27 proximity1
    July 25, 2013

    RE: …” i don’t reject any of their art, I judge it based on its merit and I loved Enders Game.”

    Compared to what?

    I’d be interested to have, just briefly–(though, today, “briefly” doesn’t amount to anything anymore) :

    1) a general idea–supported by examples–of what you read or had read by the time you took up OSC and were delighted by it; it’s important to see not what you’ve read since but what you then had in reading experience–since it’s that person you were then who was enthralled by “E’s Game”,

    2) what you then and now consider good, very good, excellent writing–from what you’ve read,

    and 3) what you’d argue as the case for why someone who hasn’t yet read OSC should try his work.

    For me, OSC’s writing wasn’t worth my time. I suspect that this was mainly because it didn’t compare well with what I’d already developed as my views of quality writing and I suspect that this is an important factor in understanding how the great majority of his fans are delighted by his work– perhaps in part that is because they have so little experience with other and much better writing–or maybe no experience at all with those. Many readers of OSC take up EG in their teens or soon after, as in the example case of JR, who tells us he went through an OSC phase–though his was later, in graduate school.

    By the time I tried reading OSC, I’d left science fiction behind almost entirely in my pre-high school reading and my favorite writers were or had been Arthur Conan Doyle, and later, James Thurber, E.B. White, Russell Baker (the NYTimes columnist), Art Buchwald, Mike Royko, George Orwell (mostly for his non-fiction), and philosophers, with, at the top, Bertrand Russell–who won a Nobel Prize for literature. Other writers whose work formed me were Twain (Samuel Clemens), and later, Ambrose Bierce. P. G. Wodehouse is a master storyteller and genius of wit. So are S.J. Perelman, who wrote for The New Yorker in the glory days of Harold Ross and numerous others of the Algonquin Diningroom’s Lunchtime wits–Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, F.P. Adams, and, not least, H.L. Mencken’s collected columns also helped form my tastes.

    C. P. Snow is still the model of what I consider a master novelist and the fiction writer I most admire and whose talents I most envy. I was also–before trying to read OSC’s Ender’s Game, powerfully influenced by the (brilliant, in my opinion) literary criticism of the late John W. Aldridge, a writer with whose name I doubt more than a very few readers here have ever been acquainted. In Aldridge I found someone who saw things as I did and who explained how and why he read literature the way he did with great skill and power. Readers and contemporary writing suffers today because so few people have had the benefit of the thinking of Aldridge.

    Among science fiction writiers, I’d mention Walter Miller Jr’s A Canticle For Leibowitz as an example of fine fiction writing; I also admire Harlan Ellison’s writing and what little I’ve read of Ray Bradbury. And, as a youth, I loved the television series The Twilight Zone.

    By reason of a reader’s acquaintance with the people cited above, and related reasons–it was too late for me to find OSC interesting enough to have a place on my bookshelf by the time I came to trying “E’s G”.

  28. #28 Reginald Selkirk
    July 25, 2013

    Off-topic – you must report on this news story:
    Chess game ends in long standoff with Bellevue cops

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  31. #32 Kel
    July 28, 2013

    I’ll probably wait for Ender’s Game on DVD, mainly for the reason that most sci-fi is disappointing and I’ll wait to see how critics assess it.

    As far as OSC goes, I thoroughly enjoyed Ender’s Game, found Speaker For The Dead overtly moralistic, and haven’t read anything else. I wouldn’t boycott the movie based on his views, as reprehensible as they are, for the same reason I wouldn’t stop reading Robert Heinlein despite him being militaristic and right-wing. I’d really start to be worried if I have to vet authors for their personal views.