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bear by san

You know where it ends usually depends on where you start.

ellielabelle: A briefer brief history of time (via coalescent)

Locus Awards Finalists

Was gonna collect some links myself, but nihilistic_kid did it for me: "RESPECT MP George Galloway smacking the shit out of the Senate."

st_crispins (a fan writer) with a bit of a rant on writer's accountability to the reader, which I think applies to pros as much as anybody else. Yes, I have an obligation to my readers to tell the best story I can, as competently as I can, and to reward their readership and attention with my finest craft. On the other hand, I hear some of the horror stories about writers who are far more popular than I am being dictated to by the fans as to how their books or characters should develop, and I just laugh.

If I did it the way I did it, I had a reason for how I did it. Dissenters are welcome to email me and bitch about my choices. I'll even respond politely.

But unless they have a pretty well thought out rationale expressing how they think I failed to meet that contract, well, I have to agree with st_crispins. Remember. The reader has to live with that book for three hours, and spends seven bucks on it. I have to live with it for a year or more, and will probably re-read it seven or eight times before it's in print.

Which is not to say that readers aren't entitled to have opinions on what writers write, even violent ones. Of course they are. But dictating to another writer what they should write is right up there with teaching pigs to sing. Criticism is different from direction. Get your butt in the chair for a few hours a day, seven days a week, and write what you want to read. It's what I do when a story aggravates me. (See the post entitled Darth Continent, below, for an example.)

On an extension of the topic of reader response, I was very impressed by John Kessel's essay on Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game ("Creating the Innocent Killer"), links to which are currently flying around the internet like pachinko balls. In the interests of fairness, I will say that I enjoyed Ender's Game when I read it, but there was something about it which nagged at me in an unsettling fashion afterwards, and though I continued reading the series (through to Shadow of the Hegemon, so really, I think I put my time in on this one) I found the moralism behind it increasingly distressing.

John's essay has crystallized that unease I felt into an opinion. To wit, specifically, it struck me when I read these books that they were lacking in irony. I didn't feel that the author understood the irony in the violence the book condoned as opposed to the violence it decried, and that moral absolutism manifested in some interesting doublethink. In particular, the book purports to be about the moral superiority of the weak defending themselves from the strong (Ender against the bullies, the humans against the Buggers) but what it demonstrates is that moral authority flows, as it were, from the barrel of a gun.

Because Ender isn't weak. He's more powerful than any of the bullies who threaten him. He may appear weak, and the narrative may treat him as weak... but the development of the story undermines that. We're told, in other words, something different from what we're shown.

It's a pretty sleight of hand trick. But it troubled me. And John's nailed down why.

In the interests of fair reportage, a link to a Google cache of Mr. Card's response on his Hatrack.org site:

Do keep in mind that John Kessel really hates me and my whole career, and that this "article" is an unvarnished attack on Ender's Game as the most evil book published in the history of science fiction.

Progress notes for 18 May 2005:

Whiskey & Water

New Words: 1,556
Total Words: 80,769 / 91,000
Pages: 364

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
91,000 / 160,000
(56.0%)
Reason for stopping: quota, end of scene, sleeepy.
Mammalian Assistance: Paladin has been behind the chair all morning
Stimulants: earl grey
Exercise: gothercise, walking
Mail: nomail
Today's words Word don't know: ghosty
Tyop du jour: ...they'd been rubbing their hands over soft, silvery schist and the flames of compressed mica had coated their fingers and palms
Darling du jour: n/a
Books in progress, but not at all quickly: Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver; various things I'm critting in draft.
Interesting research tidbits of the day: n/a
Other writing-related work: got a bunch of ideas for Carnival scribbled down longhand, good evidence that it's still bubbling away back there.

Comments

Nothing to do with Ender, but I'd thought you'd like this news re: Sheckley.

http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2005/05/18/cultura/1116419560.html
If only I spoke Spanish *g*
The translation's in places a bit surreal, mind you...
This exegesis of Ender's Game puts Card's recent slam of Star Trek into a new light, doesn't it?

Would you care to elaborate on the new light you feel it casts?
I expected the Card response to be...y'know, a response. From someone who had read the article, for example. Apparently not.

Sigh.

This is exactly the same persecution slight-of-hand many of the worst flavors of Christian are trying politically. I can definitely sympathize with their urge to classify other forms of Christian as "not like me" -- boy howdy can I -- but the "we're the weak ones except that we're strong; we're persecuted except that most people really agree with us" is getting old.
I'm declaring a moratorium on persecution. Anybody persecuting will be shot.

Oh, wait.
Maybe if Card had actually read the article he would be in a better position to judge. It could have been an interesting debate. Unfortunately, I'm left with the "But I always liked him" whining, young Skywalker-like, around my skull.

Waitaminnit ...

Some people think Ender's Game is an example of "moral fiction"? Seriously? I'm amazed, just amazed. Where did they *get* that idea? It's a dark and terrible story, and the only moral I can see in is that life is hell, whether you deserve it or not.

Re: Waitaminnit ...

I remember being a little shocked that Card thought of Ender as innocent. I thought of him as a state created monster.
Thanks for the link. The Kessel is a brilliant piece of criticism, and it made me realize that Ender's Game is wish-fulfillment in much the way that Dragonflight is.
I just wanted to thank you for the link to the essay on Ender's Game. It was a truly brilliant essay and it encapsulated and made concrete a lot of material that has been bothering me for years about Card's writing, and that book in particular.

I did like that book a great deal when I was in seventh grade, but to quote another writer (one you will probably recognize), "I never wanted power so much as when I was sixteen years old." Moral power even more than temporal, I think.

I hope you do not mind if I share the link.
Radish!

Um, sorry. It just got out. You're very welcome.

And not at all, share away. That's the way the internet works.
Thanks for that link -- it partly explains why I always felt creepy after reading that book, and why I eventually gave up reading Card altogether.

Though now, knowing what I know about Card, reading those repeated references to "the buggers" might have been enough on its own.

The link to Card's response doesn't seem to work.
The cache seems to have been removed.

Interesting. *g*

franchises

A lot of SF writers wind up with the franchises, in nothing else because (a) they sell and the publishers like them and (b) it saves you having to come up with a new shiny idea twice a year.

Which is, I must say, not easy.
It's sort of the opposite sensation I get from Octavia Butler's Adulthood Rites, where they make me deeply uncomfortable and I get the sensation that they're supposed to. As in, they question a moral framework, rather than advancing one.

Which is to say, actually, that Card's work makes me uncomfortable for the same reasons Heinlein's does, or Niven's. When all the 'good guys' espouse the same philosophy, and aren't allowed to fail significantly, you start to think that maybe the author's preaching a bit.

And it gives me a wiggins.
Odd. I read Ender's Game as a story about how innocence DOESN'T get you off the hook. To my eye, Ender is presented with a full share of culpability for the genocide, as well as for the deaths of the other boys.

But this is one of the reasons that I don't like to get into discussions about what the author meant -- if the author had truly had a clear meaning, one that he or she wanted narrowly interpreted, then the author should have written an essay.
*g* This isn't about what the author meant, however; it's about what the critic sees as the implications, conscious or subconscious, of his work.

That's what literary criticism--done well--is all about. Picking out layers, some of which are subliminal or even transparent to the author. We are usually very, very blind to nuances in our own work--and especially those that reveal our own internal biases.

Unlike (or like, if you prefer) Ender's intention, the author's intention doesn't relieve him of responsibility for what goes on the page.

And conflicting interpretations are part of the game.

Mincing words

Having recently read Ender's Game for the first time and being fairly blown away by it, I would have to disagree with the concept of Ender being on the most basic and inherent level some horrible, heinous being for his actions.

The actions were in fact horrible and heinous. And while Ender was far from "weak", he was guileless. Perhaps "ingenuous" would be the best word-- he was unaware of how he was being used and believed, unequivocally, that what he was playing was a game. True, a game evil by its very nature, but at no time presented as anything other than a cruel game.

I won't deny responsibility for exterminating an entire race. I merely think it's possible to be both responsible and innocent as well, i.e. - faulty car brakes lead to hitting and killing someone who is crossing the street, or perhaps more on target-- someone pushes you against someone else, using you to knock someone else off the edge of a cliff.

It's gray.

Re: Mincing words

Sure, and that's another perspective on it.

As I said, I rather liked the book. But it left me uneasy, and John's pointed out the cause of the unease--which is while *I* know Ender is gray, I am not certain the narrative knows it. I suspect the narrative sees him as a martyr.

And that leaves me uncomfortable.