Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ender's Game: why it bothers me and does that make it a good book?

     Just saw the movie "Ender's Game". Good production values, good special effects. I never managed to finish reading the book. I took the book with me when I was going to get a sleep apnea test. I read about 30 pages and found the book rather repellent. I was unable to finish it.
 
    When I have a strong reaction like this I question myself as to whether I'm justified. So I kept trying to give the story, and Orson Scott Card, a chance. Then I read about Card and didn't like some of the things he had said which it made it more difficult for me to be fair to the book.

    Now, there seem to be some people who think of this book as some profound statement about the nature of reality. Why should that be?

And if a book can create such a response in me, does that mean the book really is great?

No.

      The real question is, why do the people who like the book like it so much? I can think of two opposite reasons why people would like the book:

1. They like the heartless, militaristic, picture of the world and discipline. Ender never intentionally commits genocide, so he's innocent. See the following, and I think insightful, essay:
http://www4.ncsu.edu/~tenshi/Killer_000.htm

2. They like the end and interpret it to mean that the heartless, militaristic, picture of the world is terrible and leads to genocide, which is a bad thing.

Unfortunately, and maybe this is says something about ME, I think most people like the book because of 1. and not 2. -- and this is why I don't like them. Now, you could also like the book because it raises these issues, but that's squishy and academic, so I'll put it aside.

The wikipedia page on the book says that it has been used in military training, which suggests interpretation 1., that you suck unless you think mercilessly about life. Life is about tactics, about being cool under pressure, like Hemingway without the attempt at grandeur, and not about genuineness. Genuineness is for wimps.

    Then there's the issue of the analysis given in the above essay: that the book centers around Ender's purported innocence because a. he didn't know it was a simulation, b. he had no choice.  This is the more interesting take on the book. I also appreciate what Kessel says about 7th Grade morality. Really, you should follow the link above. It is a popular point of view that a person's intentions are all that matter when evaluating someone's actions from a moral point of view and Card does seem to push this question to an extreme, which makes the book itself interesting. But then, the ends justify the means stuff is what underlies most of the book, and despite the ending of this part of the trilogy(or however many books there are!) that I haven't read, it seems so far that this is the emphasis, and what leads me to think most people who like it, like it because of 1. -- and that's why I think I dislike the book.

    Then there's the other question, should we act in video games as we do in real life on the off-chance that it's real? That sounds like a profound, 'The Matrix' kind of question, but I don't think so. There has to be a realm of human action where we don't have to act like morally perfect beings. 



    



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