Ender's Game: p. xi--xxvi
It's not really the point, but I'm kind of amused that Card opens the introduction by saying the first thing he wanted to do for the new hardcover edition of Ender's Game was to "fix the errors and internal contradictions and stylistic excesses that have bothered me ever since the novel first appeared", and I wonder if no one else has ever pointed out that, for example, Bonzo's timeline is complete nonsense. There, now we've got the pettiness out of the way.
Card says that Ender's Game started with speculation fuelled by Asimov's Foundation series and trying to imagine what the future would be like if technology advanced but people mostly didn't, except for the few people "who, not through genetic change, but through learned skills, are able to understand and heal the minds of other people". Not sure what to make of that when there's such a huge undercurrent of 'breeding true' in Game which gets bumped up to literal genetic engineering in Shadow. The healing, I assume, doesn't refer to Game but to Speaker, because if it refers to anything in Game that is hilarious.
The military side of Game, Card explains, was largely drawn off Bruce Catton's "Army of the Potomac" trilogy, which involved the Union having a fantastic army but no general to match Lee until Grant, who lost so many soldiers but always made their deaths count.
It was because of Catton's history that I had stopped enjoying chess, and had to revise the rules of Risk in order to play it--I had come to understand something of war, and not just because of the conclusions Catton himself had reached. I found meanings of my own in that history.If you stop enjoying chess because you realise it bears no similarity to real war, I'm not sure you ever really understood the point of chess, or games in general. (Okay, I lied, the pettiness is not out of the way.) I will refrain from commenting on the meanings that Card drew from military history any more than I already have, which you may recall was when I pointed out that Card/Ender determined that the best soldiers are isolated, lonely, afraid, angry, and untrusting.
And even though I could not then have articulated what I understood of military leadership, I knew that I did understand it. I understood, at levels deeper than speech, how a great military leader imposes his will on his enemy, and makes his own army a willing extension of himself.This actually does match up okay with military modern theory as I understand it--the goal of combat as the Canadian Forces phrase it is 'to impose our will upon the enemy throughout their depth', basically meaning that the fighting is over once you are in such a good position that you can demand the enemy stop fighting. This is what they teach you in some of the very first officer leadership courses, so I'm not sure it's quite the level of numinous epiphany that Card is phrasing here, but I haven't read Catton, so I can't comment.
Card then goes over his thought processes in creating the battleroom, which he states will clearly be used in real military training some day if there is "a manned military in space", leading me to wonder why it's in use in Battle School when they don't seem to have any use for footsoldiers. He pauses to tell us all how unbearably boring archaeology is (sorry, Alex) before summarising the rise of his writing career in plays and short stories, leading to the publication of Ender's Game as the unexpectedly-improved retroactive backstory for the story he really wanted to tell, Speaker for the Dead.
It's not hard to find a record of how incredibly popular Ender's Game is. Card recognises that there are some people who also hate the book--the degree of hatred astonished him. As noted before, he says he expected some of it because, while he wrote in 'layers of meaning' for anyone who cared to analyse them, he also made it as accessible a book as he knew how, and thus those ivory-tower snobs felt that it was crude and were terrified of literature that didn't need them. Et cetera.
[...] A guidance counselor for gifted children reported that she had only picked up Ender's Game to read it because her son had kept telling her it was a wonderful book. She read it and loathed it. Of course, I wondered what kind of guidance counselor would hold her son's tastes up to public ridicule, but the criticism that left me most flabbergasted was her assertion that my depiction of gifted children was hopelessly unrealistic. They just don't talk like that, she said. They don't think like that.Card goes on to explain how Game scares people because it asserts that children are people and not just simplistic little monkeyfolk; how he is writing from his own sense that he has always been a complete person with fully developed thoughts and feelings. I agree that what changes in us is our ability to predict, to express ourselves and--I might argue most importantly--our ability to empathise with others. What's unrealistic about the children of Ender's Game to me isn't their complexity but their narrative convenience: the way Bonzo looks at Ender and on sight, without a word, knows that he has met a great and compassionate leader who will crush his dreams. The way Ender can be at school for a few months out of his seven years of life and suddenly not know what it means to 'just live' like an ordinary civilian. The way Graff (not a child, but no more realistic) can somehow know the perfect way to raise the perfect general despite apparently no one else approving or even recognising his strategies which have never worked before. There are reasons that these people don't feel like people to me, and none of them are Petra Arkanian using the word 'polyglot' at age nine.
Also, I think there might be a difference between saying 'my son loved this book but I hated it' and 'hey everyone my son has terrible taste in books', and Card's inability or unwillingness to consider this might say something about the objectivity of aesthetics in his views.
Because the book does ring true with the children who read it.He includes a letter from a girl named Ingrid on behalf of a dozen friends, all gifted teenagers at a two-week summer residential program at a university.
We are all in about the same position; we are very intellectually oriented and have found few people at home who share this trait. Hence, most of us are lonely, and have been since kindergarten. When teachers continually compliment you, your chances of "fitting in" are about nil.
All our lives we've unconsciously been living by the philosophy, "The only way to gain respect is doing so well you can't be ignored." [....] However, in choosing these paths, most of us have wound up satisfied in ourselves, but very lonely. [....]
You couldn't imagine the imapct your books had on us; we are the Enders of today. Almost everything written in Ender's Game and Speaker applied to each one of us on a very, very personal level. No, the situation isn't as drastic today, but all the feelings are there.I don't want to single these kids out--that would be stupid, millions of people have read this book and I think Card is not wrong when he says that the people who love it best are the people who feel that it is deeply personal, that they are Ender. Card also says that adults tend, not to identify with Ender, but to love or pity him. One option is that this is a matter only of condescension, but another is that people don't stay one way for their whole lives. As the popular wisdom goes, when we think about who we were a decade ago, most of us will agree, perhaps with reluctance, that we were bloody stupid. And all probability is that a decade from now, we'll look back on our current selves and think we were/are bloody stupid. This, in my opinion, is a good thing and vastly preferable to the alternative, that we never grow and improve.
And just maybe it's a good thing if we grow up and we stop thinking of ourselves as the forever-shunned unmatched genius on whom everyone is counting to save the entire world because they're all so inept and they need us even though they hate us. Yes, kids need someone to identify with, and maybe that means they need to identify with someone who has the same misconceptions they do. That's not something to be ashamed of. But I wonder how much people remember that the ultimate secret of Ender's Game is that everyone was wrong the whole time, they were saving the world from a threat that didn't really exist, and they were so focused on their own egos and their imagined victories that they hurt and killed other children along the way.
Maybe sometimes people pity Ender, not because they don't understand him, but because they know what's coming when he gets some perspective.
There is a second letter excerpted, from an army helicopter pilot in Saudi Arabia, written during the first days of aerial assault in the Gulf War. Ender's exhaustion in the book resonated with his own experiences in training and gave him inspiration to keep going. He tells Card of their conditions, of the way outdated equipment keeps betraying them and people die from stupid mistakes, and suggests that maybe Card and his other favourite military author, John Steakley, could collaborate on a story of helicopter pilots of the near future.
Card goes on to tell us what this means--that this aviator did not read the book as a scare-quotes "work of literature" but "as epic, as a story that helped define his community", which... is not actually something the guy says in the portion of the letter that gets excerpted. Hm. Anyway, Card sees this as the man hoping for "a 'speaker for the dead' and for the living". Author as eulogist. It's an interesting idea, at least.
Card dismisses the idea that we read fiction "to be impressed by somebody's dazzling language--or at least I hope that's not our reason", because apparently fuck Shakespeare. (This might explain why he was apparently unconcerned about the atrocities he visited upon the play Hamlet in his inconceivably homophobic fanfic, which is so incredibly disgusting that I will not link to anything about it and I advise no one to google it. If it's too late for that, then you know what I mean.) Anyway, he starts waxing on the mythic truth of fiction that allows us to identify "our own self-story" and then lists many examples of different people using Ender's Game as a text or subject for analysis in schools and papers and suchlike, which is a little funny after his earlier dismissal of angry lit profs who hated him for not writing something indecipherable.
All these uses are valid; all these readings of the book are "correct."YOU HEARD HIM HE SAID IT ENDER/ALAI IS CANON NO TAKEBACKS.
The story of Ender's Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it. The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it, not as something I created,but as something that we made together.This, ultimately, is actually what I hope for more than anything. Because this book is so very popular, and we have just spent eight months looking at all of the reasons that is terrifying, but "Ender's Game" as a cultural phenomenon isn't the words on the pages, it's the storystuff bouncing around inside millions of heads. And if those people are better than Card, then there's a chance they were in it for the lessons that it mostly doesn't teach, about remembering that communication can change everything and that trying to be someone's friend when no one else is willing just might be a small and vital step on the path to saving the world. Or destroying the world. Just... be careful with the world when you're making friends, I guess?