Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An Ender Sidebar

kw: book reviews, science fiction, space fiction, political fiction

Testing limits is a process of crossing them repeatedly, in both directions. So-called "cross-genre" or "multi-genre" writers are really limits testers, Orson Scott Card exemplifies the breed. His "Ender" series (two disparate series), while appearing as military space fiction, is really political fiction in a space setting. Once you have read most of them, you realize that Ender and his brother Peter are mirror images: almost identical but with a twist. The "Alvin Maker" series, ostensibly magical realism, is psychological exploration, as is the "Homecoming" series. I have read none from his other series.

But as I read A War of Gifts, a novelette in the Ender series, I found myself wondering, not for the first time, "Why are Card's positive protagonists so neurotic?" Sometimes it reminds me of my favorite neurotic writer, Isaac Asimov, who was also a limits-explorer, one who cut his writer's teeth on robots exploring the universe of the "Three Laws". Asimov identified with his robots to the point that, when in late life he brought together the "Robots" and the "Foundation" series, he made his favorite robot into a god. He'd been working up to that for decades, most notably with "Bicentennial Man", who became human rather than divine..."a little lower than God" to quote the Psalmist.

But we were talking about Card. Is he as neurotic as Asimov? Having lived among Mormons, I don't automatically label them crazy at the outset, and I don't think so here. Rather, Card is more consciously exploring limits than many others.

This offering is about offerings, or Christmas gifts, to be precise. It begins with a most painful caricature of pseudo-Christian fanaticism, and I almost put it down at that point. Fortunately, Card is wise enough, and knows the Bible well enough, to expose the falseness of this particular sect while maintaining the integrity of faith in general.

What I found fascinating was not the rebellion of a space-bound mini-world full of brilliant children against their military mentors. Rather, it was the very adult attitudes of two of them, Dink Meeker and Andrew (Ender) Wiggins, though they are presumably in the 8-10 age range. I've been fortunate to spend time with some of the brightest kids around, the kind that need a special IQ test to find out they are 180 or so (It's energizing and exhausting, as I limp along with a mere 160). Though they have remarkable stability and focus, they are still children, and I find the children depicted in A War of Gifts rather incredible.

But the story, as all of Card's are, is a story of redemption, and this being the "Ender" universe, it is Ender who must be the suffering redeemer. Sobeit.

A closing word on the use of "Spare the rod and spoil the child" and "beat your son with a rod, and you will save his soul from hell." These word were written by Solomon. Do you know who Solomon's older half-brothers were? Amnon, who raped his half-sister Tamar, and Absalom, Tamar's full brother, who murdered Amnon and later rebelled, driving his father David the king, from Jerusalem. The Bible story makes it clear that Absalom went to hell, and the familiar Proverbs are Solomon's exaggerated rebuke of his dead father David for being one "who never asked his sons, 'Why have you done this?'."

Parents! Do Not use these verses in Proverbs as justification to beat your children!! There are much better ways to correct and discipline a child. Do not teach them that you believe violence solves anything. You just make them more prone to violence themselves.

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