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Orson Scott Card on Fiction and Political Fabrications

By Marissa Vogt

CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

“You don’t understand me, I don’t understand you, but we both understand Ender Wiggin,” said author Orson Scott Card in his talk this weekend on Middle East politics.

Card, author of Ender’s Game and arguably one of the most famous science fiction writers, spoke in 10-250 Sunday night about his opinions on Israel and conflict in the Middle East. The event was co-sponsored by MIT Students for Israel and LSC.

Following the talk was a lengthy Q&A session, with question topics ranging from advice on writing revisions to Noam Chomsky to plans for a movie version of Ender’s Game. While some of the audience members said they disagreed with Card’s political views, nearly all expressed admiration for Card’s novels.

In addition to the speech, Q&A session, and a book signing session held after the event, Card agreed to an interview with The Tech:

TT: So, first of all, what do you think of MIT? Have you been around the campus at all?

OSC: Oh, it’s one of the most important prestigious universities in America. I can’t even believe that I’m allowed on the campus. I would never even have dreamed of applying here as a student and I’m in awe of people who can be here and function well.

TT: Something that a lot of people are interested in is, how is the movie version of Ender’s Game coming along?

OSC: The simple answer is, the Web site’s still got the -- I always put up whatever information is true, which frustrates people because of course they want to have all the rumors. But I’m in a position to know that the rumors either aren’t true or I can’t talk about it.

Where we are is Wolfgang Petersen is slated to direct. It’s in the hands of some wonderful writers who I hope will do an outstanding draft. I’m being talked with and consulted on this, and I have every confidence in every person involved, from the studios on down. Everybody involved with it right now is terrific and I really think we’ll have a good movie when we’re done.

TT: When do you think it would come out?

OSC: Well, you never know until the script is right. As soon as the script is right, then they’ll start setting a schedule. But I’d rather have us wait two years and get the script right than finish it up in March and have it out in 2006.

TT: Will you be casting children, is that the plan?

OSC: Yeah. I mean, we have to. It’s an important thing to me that Ender be a child, that he be well before puberty, that there be no love interest, that there’s no sex, that he’s a kid young enough that he’d actually believe what adults told him.

TT: Is it going to be a children’s movie?

OSC: No. I mean, there are children who’ll go because they love the book, but it’s very strong. I actually am not sure I would ever have chosen it to give to children. I didn’t write it for children, it’s written for adults.

TT: Ender’s Game?

OSC: Yeah. I make no concessions in vocabulary. It’s actually a hard book, but kids read it because they care about the story so they go past the hard words, or some of them even look it up and learn it. But it’s definitely not a [young adult] book.

The rule in children’s fiction is that the hero should be two years older than your target audience. Ender starts this novel at the age of 5, who’s my target audience? (chuckles) It’s those 3 year olds that I was aiming at. No, it’s an adult novel that children also seem to like.

TT: Have your own children read your books?

OSC: Yeah, but we’ve never made them. They reach an age where they’re curious what it is Dad actually does, and then we make sure which book that they read, so we don’t want to discourage them...

TT: As they’ve grown up, has that influenced your writing at all?

OSC: Some things. When I wrote Xenocide, one of the reasons that I felt a real urgency to write about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is that my kids had mild cases of it. Nothing life-destroying, but my daughter was a hand washer, and it was tough on her. She had a hard time getting that under control. My son was a counter. He couldn’t do things unless he counted. You know, most adolescents actually go through an OCD phase. But that showed up, and you know, I take incidents from their lives but I never base characters on living people...

TT: How do you feel about the military’s being influenced by your book?

OSC: I’m proud that they have found it useful in training leaders. Nobody thinks it’s useful for tactics, of course, because they’re not fighting three dimensional wars in space against hive-minded aliens. But it’s been used both as sort of a morale builder and as a leadership training device, but the ironic thing is that it’s not a pro- or anti-military novel. I’ve read a lot of military history and what I tried to reflect was what I found in the history.

When I was very young, I read Bruce Catton’s trilogy The Army of the Potomac, which is serious history, so I was reading in some ways over my head, but very good in the detailed day-to-day life of the soldiers, the misery, the suffering, and the number of soldiers who died for the sheer stupidity of their commanders. When I talk about the Iraq war being amazingly good and clean, it’s that we have so little stupidity compared to most wars...

So when I was writing Ender’s Game, this was a no-holds-barred account of military life in training. There are bad commanders and good commanders, and it’s the bad commanders that are used most in training. That is, they say, why was Bonzo a bad commander? What is it that made this person ineffective? And that’s cool, if Ender’s Game can be used to help people be aware of bad command strategies, bad leadership, so they can correct it, then I feel like I’ve maybe contributed...

TT: Another question, and I certainly don’t mean it with any disrespect: earlier you criticized Noam Chomsky for his political views and the fact that he’s a linguist by training. What do you think it is that qualifies you to speak on the Middle East, on politics?

OSC: Nothing qualifies me. Evaluate what I say by the ideas, as I evaluated him. And when I did reality checks against the idiotic, immoral, anti-American, vicious things he says, I find him a moral wasteland, and a fool. And I’ll defend that with anybody, and I’ll get out the books and the sources and the documentation...

TT: Without going too much into your political views--

OSC: That’s fine. I mean, I was brought here because of my political writings. If I had been brought here as a science fiction writer, I would have kept those out of the discussion as much as possible. But when I’m brought here to talk about Israel because of political writing that I did, I assume they know what they’re getting in for.

TT: -- where does the inspiration for your political writing come from?

OSC: I just look at the real world and I read everything I can get my hands on and I try to find out the truth as best I can. When I find that the truth isn’t being told widely and that the story that is being widely reported is misleading or leading us into bad decisions, then I do my best to try to balance it with the best and most powerful rhetoric I can to defend what I see as the best course of action...

TT: How do you reconcile things for people who respect you as an author but might not agree with your political views?

OSC: All I tell them is, I hate every word that Barbara Streisand has said about politics and I love her singing and I listen to her songs. I disagree with a lot of people and I still respect their art and find value in it.

At the same time, if somebody really loves my books, loves those stories, what they’re doing is they’re embracing my worldview. They may not agree with me on the specifics, but they dwelt in my mind for the length of time that they were in that book, and they weren’t uncomfortable there if they liked the book. So maybe they really ought to -- instead of just assuming that because I disagree with them I must be wrong -- maybe they ought to do some of the research I’ve done and find out why I believe the things I believe...

TT: Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between Valentine and Ender? Maybe where the inspiration for that came from?

OSC: I don’t know, what are you asking about about the relationship? It is what it is, it’s there in the book.

TT: Well, they’re very close, and it seems that a lot of that, in Ender’s Game --

OSC: A lot of that?

TT: The relationship, the closeness --

OSC: They’re very close in that she’s the only sibling, the only root that he has back on Earth. So that’s who he clings to as the person that represents human life to him. What else does he know? He was alienated and isolated in school. His older brother was a nightmare to him. His parents are quite distant in the book as it’s presented... Of course he clung to her as his only friend, outside of battle school.

What I’m wondering is if you’re trying to raise the issue that was raised by one moronic essay years ago that tried to charge an incestuous relationship. You’re surely not suggesting that in any way, are you?

TT: No.

OSC: Okay. Good, thank you. Because as you pressed on that one I thought, “what are you getting at?”

TT: Well, certainly not a sexual like incestuous, relationship, just a very close relationship.

OSC: They’re close, but not really that close. I mean, you have to realize the last time he actually saw her before he sees her again for a few weeks at the lake was when he was five... They have to find out who they are all over again when they meet again in the end. What makes the relationship work -- and this is true of all human relationships -- is even though they don’t know each other, because we never know each other, they’re committed to making it work. They’re committed to still being close even if they’re wrong about each other or they don’t like what the other one did. And that’s what makes a good marriage work...