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Author Topic: OSC's fiction and his rhetoric
scifibum
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I've been re-reading the Ender books, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind.

I'm sure all of us have noticed how new Ornery members tend to exclaim that the man writing the essays on this site certainly doesn't seem to be the same man whose fiction they admired so much. Where's the empathy and the careful attention to understanding why people do what they do? I think I'm getting to better understand how to reconcile OSC's fictional writing with his political essays.

Minor spoilers ahead, in case you worry about that sort of thing.

In Children of the Mind, Peter and Wang Mu visit a philosopher on the planet Divine Wind. In the course of their meeting they accuse him of supporting xenocide. This shocks the man, makes him angry. He claims that he would never do such a thing, that he merely seeks to understand and preserve the best of the essential character of Japan. However, by the next day he has become convinced that they were right: he simply didn't understand the effects of his writings.

In Xenocide, several of the characters on Lusitania accuse each other of wanting to commit xenocide against an intelligent alien species, or of hating their fellow humans. They are all essentially ethical people, but their stubbornness and refusal to consider other viewpoints is marked. I think the subtext is that the outrageous accusations of wanting to do evil are necessary, in order to get their attention. (I do however feel this might be a weakly supported conclusion because they seem to just dig in their heels in response.)

As I think about it, there were many, many instances in those books of people saying outrageously hurtful things to each other. In most cases it was probably meant only to demonstrate the dysfunction of the Ribeira family, or the arrogance of a character. However, there were cases such as the above where politics & science were involved.

This seems to correspond, in a way, with the way OSC writes his World Watch columns. Many of us note that he ascribes motivations such as hatred of America, willful ignorance, fervent religious faith in global warming, intent to destroy the family, etc., to people he disagrees with. A lot of us can't see the justification for the way he characterizes his ideological opposites. Yet - and this is what I'm seeing for the first time - I can easily imagine a character from the Enderverse saying exactly the same sorts of things, and getting somewhere with it.

Yet OSC's essays leave a bitter taste in my mouth, while his fiction seems to have the opposite effect. In the Enderverse, either the accusations are true - which we know because of the viewpoint which can't be duplicated in real life, not to mention the near omniscience of the character Jane - or they are effective, as in the case with the keeper of the Yamato Spirit on Divine Wind.

So I'm thinking that perhaps OSC says the things he does, the way he does, because in some way he thinks that hyperbole is the only effective way to argue, and I think his fiction supports this view in a way. It'd be condescending of me to say that OSC has written himself a part in an epic but fictional tale of U.S. politics, but that's what I'm doing. Right now I think that the empathy, reason, and insight of OSC's fiction is all a result of the omniscient viewpoint and - importantly - the scripted results, and that the contrast with his rhetoric doesn't really exist: it's just that his rhetoric is part of the same kind of story, where it shocks people into listening, or where the other players really are evil or stupid, and the results are foreknown.

I think this might be a pretty shaky analysis. I'd be embarrassed if Mr. Card read it. But I wanted to see what you all think.

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Redskullvw
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actually I think you are probably correct. I came to a simular conclusion a few years ago. The hyperbole must be intentional and it is intended to drive the interest in the debate.

His articles are thought provoking- always. The quibble is whether the other side is listening often enough to be shocked.

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scifibum
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Well, another quibble which I would make is whether it's even remotely effective in real life situations. I would say not, and it's up to the speaker to find out how to talk to his audience. They aren't going to change they way they listen in order to help him convince them.

This presumes that Card isn't deliberately pandering to a hard core right wing readership in Greensboro.

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0Megabyte
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scifibum - thats actually an incredibly interesting analysis.

Whether it's true or not is a different matter, but it's certainly an interesting thought, and I've been meaning recently to go back through is fiction. I want to see, honestly, both if what you say makes sense to me, or if I can figure something else out.

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RickyB
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Very interesting and insightful. However, in order to keep the OSC who wrote the books and the OSC who writes the columns reconciled as one man, reasonable on both fronts, you simply must assume some measure of Locke/Demosthenes, where he not only hyperbolizes, but says things that he flat out knows not to be true. You just can't reconcile the individual thinker, forever cynical of organizations, who values knowledge so much, with the lockstep follower of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld. You cannot reconcile the wise writer who described how politicians on both sides play the game, with the rabid partisan and his "I'm a real Democrat but they've *all* betrayed the party" act.

My theory is different. I think he cares more about "morals" than he does about reason. When those of "inferior morals" are by far the more reasonable, even according to his own thinking, this enrages him and drives him to bitter, defiant hyperbolic screeds. Add to that his constant burning resentment at the "elites" who shun him because of his religion and ideas (mainly the homophobia, which makes him legitimately feel like a victim of PC, and if you ask him I'm sure that somehow factors in to why Ender ain't been made yet.

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KidB
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I think there's a simpler explanation: OSC has spent most of his life writing books, and is unware of how isolated he is from everyday reality. He makes a very large amount of money by sitting at home and writing stories. He lives through books and media. He does not go into an office, or to a worksite, or a warehouse or a factory five days a week. He has not served in the military. He speaks about the world like a reader, not a doer.

I think he lives in his imagination, and in the world of his family, and that explains his books and his political writing.

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scifibum
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KidB, I know plenty of people who DO "go into an office, or to a worksite, or a warehouse or a factory five days a week" who hold much the same opinions as OSC, and even characterize others the same way. My dad is an example: the word "liberal" is an epithet when he says it. Since having a regular job doesn't preclude what OSC is doing, I'm not sure how NOT having a job would result in it.
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Pete at Home
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"When those of "inferior morals" are by far the more reasonable, even according to his own thinking"

Margin call, Ricky.

Please show any example of the above in OSC's text

<<crickets chirping>>

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Gina
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quote:
Originally posted by RickyB:
Add to that his constant burning resentment at the "elites" who shun him because of his religion and ideas (mainly the homophobia, which makes him legitimately feel like a victim of PC, and if you ask him I'm sure that somehow factors in to why Ender ain't been made yet.

I'm being the necromancer of old threads here, but I'm curious about this. Do you mean OSC has held Ender's Game back or that it hasn't been picked up due to PC prejudice? I'm a relatively new fan of the books, but I've been wondering why it hasn't been made a movie yet.

As for why people have such difficulty reconciling the fiction with the essays: Again, being a novice OSC reader I may not have seen enough to see the discrepancy, but I also know from my own experience that progressives tend to believe if someone is educated, thoughtful and reasonable, they can't possibly be anything but progressive. I know the sort of half-appalled, half-disbelieving look when people "discover" that I'm a conservative. It's like admitting that I beat my dog.

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Redskullvw
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"I know the sort of half-appalled, half-disbelieving look when people "discover" that I'm a conservative. It's like admitting that I beat my dog."

I know that look exactly. I get it frequently where I live. Then again I also know the joyful look from fellow conservatives when it becomes apparent that one more person can be added to the network without fear of recriminations. It is the inverse of the beat your dog look.

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hobsen
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The Ender's Game movie has been in development for years, and you can find the latest by searching on "ender's game" and "movie." It now says 2008, but who knows when or if it will be released.

As it seems to me, the movie has huge problems. First almost all of it takes place in the sterile environment of space, so it is devoid of scenery for the audience to admire; perhaps for that reason Waterworld is remembered as a huge flop. Secondly Ender starts as a child and ends as a teenager, with almost no love interest; I remember the reported reaction of a scriptwriter who was assigned to a movie about Wake Island and learned to his horror there were never any women there. Thirdly filming fight sequences in zero gravity probably involves big technical problems, and watching the action might be confusing.

The films about James Bond became successes because they featured exotic locales, handsome heroes with beautiful women, and amazing gadgets. They probably did not succeed because they had memorable plots. Ender's Game starts off missing two out of three of those valuable supporting features. So perhaps someone can make it a hit anyway, but how to do so is not obvious.

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scifibum
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Another challenge is getting good performances out of child actors, where they are credibly smart, capable, and brutal.

But, they made Lord of the Flies. It can be done.

On the one hand, I'm glad OSC hasn't let them put out some dumbed down techno-adventure a la "Spy Kids."

On the other hand, based on OSC's taste in movies and longstanding devotion to stage productions, I'm not sure whatever creative influence he has on the eventual movie will be entirely for the better.

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hobsen
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The comparison to Lord of the Flies is a good one, especially in reference to the difficulty of working with child actors. That had no love interest either, as I remember the story; but it had a pretty island and plenty of action, without any problems of zero gravity. But when it was released, some of its actors were too young to see it.
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Gina
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Hm, I see. You would probably have to change the story- play up some of the relationships between the children for their human interest angle. Possibly introduce Jane earlier?

How about filming Speaker of the Dead with flashbacks to Ender's Game?

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scifibum
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I like that idea, Gina. I think that would make a perfect mini-series.
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Pete at Home
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quote:
Originally posted by Pete at Home:
"When those of "inferior morals" are by far the more reasonable, even according to his own thinking"

Margin call, Ricky.

Please show any example of the above in OSC's text

<<crickets chirping>>

Ricky's response, as of 2 weeks later:
quote:

'nuff said.
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hobsen
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That would be a possible approach, and a good suggestion; and you could certainly make a good movie from OSC's writing about Ender.

But I remember attending some Biblical movie with my wife a few years after we were married. The only thing I remember about the film is that, after Judas repented of his actions and returned his pieces of silver, he went out into the courtyard and jumped into a handy bonfire. My wife and I looked at each other with our jaws dropping open, because this was such a huge difference from the two Biblical accounts of his death. Ender's Game may be much less of a classic than the New Testament; but those who choose to review the movie will mostly have been rabid fans, and tend to pan it over every difference from the book. Hopefully, since differences will be necessary, the audience of former fans will still be large enough so the movie can make a profit.

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LunaSphere
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This is a somewhat belated reply (indeed, I only recently registered for this forum because of this topic--it is one that's interested me for some time). OSC's rhetoric does seem to be in complete contradiction with his fictive works if you're only considering the first few Ender novels and at first it seems that perhaps he simply became startlingly conservative later in life.

Yet, what seems strange to me is not only that the content changes, but the form does too. Setting aside the problematic Orientalism of the Ender books, they treat ethical and political issues as if they are complex and multivalent. Yet in his “World Watch” pieces, there’s a flattening, simplifying impulse at work which is the only way to justify untenable positions. But I don’t know if this is just because he’s appealing to a certain audience in those editorials.

If you read some of his other work (Wyrms, for example, which came out between Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide I believe) you see that the dichotomy exists in his fiction too. Wyrms is a sort of horrifying book that reimagines the Ender dilemma but works towards exactly the opposite conclusion—faced with a stronger and potentially horrifying alien race, the resolution is to kill it entirely and feel morally justified in doing so (there’s also tentacle rape along the way along with terribly misogynistic conceptions of rape; overall a very unnerving book). And that justification rhetorically takes an approach similar to his articles on current events—ironing out all the socio-political complexities and simply making it a question of What Is Morally Right.

I know trying to read authorial belief through works of fiction is always questionable at best, but I’ll press onward anyway. The way he writes Wyrms, he seems to be entirely behind an ideology which is completely antithetical to the first four Ender books, just as he seems entirely sincere about the ideology behind the Ender books. That Wyrms with its terrible message of justifying genocide [xenocide I suppose] was published mid-Ender series makes the entire thing stranger.

The most logical explanation, I suppose would be that he must inhabit one of these systems of belief and must be imagining, as any good author would, the mindset of the other one. Although, jokingly, I like to imagine that perhaps, he inhabits neither. This viewpoint has the advantage of allowing me to dismiss entirely his vitriolic discrimantory and abysmally written “World Watch” column.

So, no answers to your questions Scifibum, except that I think the questions are perhaps even more convoluted.

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munga
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Hiya Luna,

Perhaps you are speaking to the idea that attracts scifi writers: the ability to create a new world with new rules, as opposed to sticking with this one that has "God" written on it, already.

Would that difference, the fact that some OSC books come out of (extrapolate) from this world and some do not, make all the difference in your analysis?

[ December 01, 2008, 10:09 PM: Message edited by: munga ]

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