Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Turn of a Friendly Card

Most people know Orson Scott Card as a science fiction writer. And now, I do as well. But my first experience reading Card came about in 1993. I was staying overnight with friends in Baltimore en route to that year's March On Washington for Gay & Lesbian Civil Rights and my friend Carla, who has since made a name for herself as a science fiction writer and comic artist and whom I've sadly lost touch with, told me about a book she had recently read and lent me her copy.

So it was that I sat awake on an overnight train from DC to Boston, giddy with the euphoria of having spent the day amid thousands and thousands of jubilant and proud queer folk, including some on-line friends from Texas I'd met face to face for the first time and began reading Lost Boys.

These days I tend to have a pretty live and let live attitude towards other people's beliefs and choices. But in my 20's I was pretty openly hostile towards organized religion. I believed (not unreasonably) that the religious were enemies of gay people and were in a real sense responsible for the discrimination and hate crimes many of us suffered.

Thus it was a real testament to Card's skillful story-telling that I soon found myself empathizing with and caring about a devout Mormon computer programmer, struggling to be a good husband to his wife, raise his children according to his beliefs and protect his family from dangers that seem to lurk everywhere. When I later read Card's science fiction, I would not be surprised that his agility as a novelist brought me to care about the feelings and lives of other species on distant planets; the Mormon family in Lost Boys were at least as foreign and strange to me as the Bugger Queen later would be, and incredibly Card made me understand and care about them. Highly Recommended as a psychological novel and as an introduction to Mormons.

Orson Scott Card is a prolific writer, and a detailed survey even of just his science fiction books would be more material than would comfortably fit in a dozen blog posts, so I will limit myself to discussing just two of his best and best known science fiction titles, Ender's Game and its sequel Speaker For The Dead.

Andrew Wiggin, better known by his nickname Ender is perhaps Card's most enduring contribution to the roster of great fictional characters. Introduced in Ender's Game as a six year old genius who has been selected for the elite orbiting Battle School, where the Earth is training its youngest and smartest citizens to fight an expected third attack from an insectoid race known simply as 'The Buggers' who have twice previously attacked the planet, readers watch Ender's career as a lonely and un-happy student who evolves into a brilliant leader and strategist and, after leading his fellow Battle School students to a decisive defeat of The Buggers, becomes a diplomat, statesmen and peace activist as an adult.

Much has been written of Card's concept of the zero-gravity "battle room" in which the Battle School students are trained to move, fight and most importantly think in three dimensional space, but for me this was merely an interesting footnote. As in Lost Boys, the appeal of Card's science fiction for me is his incredible gift for communicating the feelings and motivations of his characters whose psychological inner lives are the real driving force of each novel. That his ideas are often strikingly original and his understanding of scientific principles sound had made Card famous as a science fiction writer. But it his superlative talent as a psychological novelist that raises him from the ranks of mere science fiction writers to the more exalted plane of Great American Novelists. Highly Recommended.

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