Orson Scott Card Should Consider Re-Reading “Ender’s Game”

As many of you have probably known since adolescence, Ender’s Game is awesome. It’s a mindblowing sci-fi book about youth, war, sacrifice and saving the planet, set about a hundred years in the future in the aftermath of a terrible alien invasion. It features zero-gravity space fights, epic nicknames, dream sequences that will creep into your own dreams and a brother-sister blogger team that literally takes over the world. I read it at least a dozen times between the ages of twelve and sixteen; I used to take it into the woods behind my house to savor it because it was so engrossing and personal that I didn’t want to risk being interrupted. Like many rich and complex works, it riffs off of whatever you give it — it’s been recommended reading everywhere from my eighth grade English class to the United States Marine Corps — but it taught me a) how to recognize bullying b) that if the definition of success within the system you’re a part of clashes with your own definition of success, you should change the system and c) about the vital and redemptive power of the kind of empathy that crosses genders, generations, social classes and home planets.

As many of you may have found out recently, the author of Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card, is not so awesome because he’s a homophobe. And not just a garden-variety homophobe, an active and virulent one.  His “ideas” about sexuality and the rhetoric he uses to support them are so backwards they’re practically elbisneherpmocni. He’s on the board of directors of NOM and he said not five years ago that “any government that attempts to change” his definition of marriage is his “mortal enemy” and that he will “act to destroy that government and bring it down” (he’s said and done many other nutso things, but why waste the bandwidth?). Card’s homophobia was just yanked back into the spotlight thanks to a group called Geeks Out, which, aiming to get out ahead of the November movie adaptation of Ender’s Game, just started up an initiative asking people to take their popcorn money elsewhere.

ALL THE REST OF THESE PICTURES ARE DRAMATIC REENACTMENTS OF ME READING ENDERS GAME AS A CHILD

ALL THE REST OF THESE PICTURES ARE DRAMATIC REENACTMENTS OF ME READING ENDERS GAME AS A CHILD

For the past few days, these two truths have been motoring around my head like opposing magnets — every time I think they’re about to snap together, one of them skitters off. It’s not my job to figure Card out, obviously. There’s no way to solve hypocrisy or diagnose the roots of prejudice based on a few in-depth interviews and intuition, no matter how much I’d like to try (*cough* closet case *cough*). But it feels like my job to figure out how I want to deal with it.

A lot of other people have this same question. Some of them have settled on a straightforward answer — the boycott. This is the position Geeks Out takes — “do not buy a ticket at the theater, do not purchase the DVD, do not watch it on-demand. Ignore all merchandise and toys. However much you may have admired his books, keep your money out of Orson Scott Card’s pockets” — and it makes sense. A boycott lets you vote with your dollars and a noisy boycott turns heads. The goal is to keep money out of Card’s pockets – and Card’s voice out of the media and the public sphere – and it’s a tactic that has worked before. Back in February, D.C. Comics hired Card to write a Superman reboot and caught enough flak for it that the artist he was working with quit the project and the whole thing was shelved. It’s working again, too — Summit Entertainment is conspicuously not bringing Card to Comic-Con.

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Then there’s the opposite side of the fence, home to the companies and groups that have associated themselves with Card. These guys take the handwashing position. For example, when the Young Adult Library Services Association was criticized for giving Card their Margaret A. Edwards Award, they issued a statement clarifying that the award is for books and books alone, and that “an author’s personal beliefs” are not considered.  DC Comics said the same thing this winter; “the personal views of individuals associated with DC comics are just that — personal views.” Those involved with the film are taking the same tack, maintaining that they’re “adapting a work, not a person.”

For the record, Card has also made a statement — he thinks everyone should just cool their jets because the DOMA repeal means “the gay marriage issue becomes moot,” and he also thinks “it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance towards those who disagreed with them.”

What if neither of these positions work for you, though? What if, like me, you are kind of selfish and would like to let your loyalties walk some middle tightrope where you can keep the good stuff about this book you loved while also turning your back on its creator? What’s the best way to hate the player and love the Game? The internet provides some answers. If you’re bummed about the prospect of boycotting the movie — a separate but related discussion — Alyssa Rosenberg over at ThinkProgress has some really good suggestions (I like the “political moral offset” one, which is like a carbon tax but for noxious ideas). And if you’re burning with curiosity about what Card could have done with Superman, “inveterate Superman nerd and gay dude” Glen Weldon can douse that flame for you.

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But my problem seems more philosophical and the Internet didn’t help. So I did what I usually do, which is turn to books. Specifically books that haven’t let me down. Such as, for example, Ender’s Game. I flipped to a page that I’ve clearly spent a lot of time with, the page where Ender is describing to his sister Valentine why he hates his destiny as Greatest Space Warrior Ever, and I read this:

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them… I destroy them.”

He’s speaking literally, but the metaphor rings true, too. Compassion with a twist. I think I might just mail Card a bunch of (used) copies of his own book. I have this suspicion he hasn’t read it in a while.

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Cara is a writing reading bicycling fiend and a lab mouse to the world. Sometimes she's also Hat Benatar. She lives in Jamaica Plain with five cool roommates and an ice cream machine, and is generally thinking about gender, words, sustainable biodiversity, and/or electric guitars. You can follow her on twitter @cjgiaimo if you want.

Cara has written 112 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    What I’ve found with Orson Scott Card’s books is that the message in the books don’t seem to match his values at all. Perhaps I am the only one who sees this. I absolutely love his books and I don’t think I’ve bought a single one as a new copy.. I will see the movie, though, because I enjoy his books a lot and I have been looking forward to a movie version for ages. I can only hope that the portion of the money that goes toward him is spent on writing a new book I can love and not on anything homophobic.

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    As a childhood fan, I felt pretty betrayed when I found out about Orson Scott Card’s homophobic spewing, and this Alexandra Petri take on the Washington Post site yesterday offers another interesting way of looking at it. Although I am still too uncomfortable with the whole situation to settle on a position I feel really good about, I do like the idea of Ender’s Game being smarter/kinder/better than its author.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2013/07/10/why-skipping-enders-game-because-of-orson-scott-card-is-a-bad-idea/

  3. Thumb up 8

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    This is one scenario where I don’t feel terrible about pirating. I’ve given plenty of money to OSC over the years and while his older books are fairly divorced from his beliefs, his newer books aren’t, and arent great enough to make up fo

    I don’t know that I will actually stream the movie though — as someone who does still love the book, (and has had to come to terms with liking art and not artists before) the preview looks like it might be pretty terrible.

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      Yeah, I’ve heard that the latest Ender books are not worth reading because he uses them as a soapbox. Where would you recommend stopping? I’ve read the first book, loved it and want to read the sequels, but I’m not sure where to begin or end because of what I’ve heard about his more recent stuff.

      (And I would be buying them used or borrowing them from the library or friends, of course. Because I don’t want to give him any money.)

    • Thumb up 1

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      I have seen this strategy posted in almost every discussion I’ve seen of this, and I have to say, I don’t think it’s a good one because at the very least, it won’t work if more than a couple people are doing it, and would cause a rather large headache for the theater.

      Opening weekend movie sales mostly go to the movie studios, but the longer a movie is out, the percentage of the sales that go to the actual theater you saw it in increase. So the longer you wait to see it, the more of your ticket price goes to your local friendly theater rather than the studio.

  4. Thumb up 5

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    I never read Card as a child. I was too busy chasing dragons on Pern or adventuring with Arkady Darell amongst the ruins of Trantor. My first exposure to Card was as a college student in his hometown, where he published a mean, picayune, weekly paper as a venue in which to repeatedly empty his venom sac on targets national and local. It’s just as well I have no nostalgic associations with this cruel little imp of a man, because he won’t get a blessed cent of mine.

    Should one wish to watch whatever piece of neoliberal propaganda Hollywood produces in Ender’s name, may I humbly suggest that one explore the wonders and joys of Bittorrent? Avast, mateys!

  5. Thumb up 7

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    Guys, this is 2013, you don’t have to torture yourself over moral dilemnas – if you are “kind of selfish and would like to let your loyalties walk some middle tightrope where you can keep the good stuff about this book you loved while also turning your back on its creator”, then just pirate the movie. Boom.

    I haven’t seen the trailer for Ender’s Game yet but I wonder how they’re going to adapt it ; if they want to keep it legal they’ll have to remove all the scenes of naked boys talking/fighting/taking long showers, and the movie would probably end up being like a half hour long.

    I don’t know if I should hate O.S. Card or pity him, because from what I’ve read the dude is profoundly messed up. He actually publicly said that he thinks everyone has same-gender attractions but that we ought to fight them (sounds familiar right?), but then he also said that he thinks people become gay after being sexually abused, and his books are full of beautiful underage boys and grown men wanting to fuck them (see : Songmaster, or his remake of Hamlet > http://www.raintaxi.com/online/2011summer/card.shtml . I’ve read Songmaster as a kid and loved it ’cause all of the subtext flew over my head and I thought it was pro-gay, actually it is horrendous).
    So yeah, I think something happened to him, and either he’s got a really weird way to exorcise it or he’s a victim turned abuser. Anyway he won’t ever be getting any of my money anymore.

  6. Thumb up 8

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    I’ve thought a lot about this issue a lot (and pitched it as an article but you go their first! and did a better job than I probably would have, honestly), because I have a lot of creators whose works I admire who were shitty people. But it’s one thing when it’s something like Wagnerian opera – Wagner’s been dead for over a century, I’m not contributing to his anti-Semitism by buying CDs/DVDs of or attending performances of his operas – and when it’s someone like Orson Scott Card.

    But I think with Card the argument of “well you’re intolerant of my intolerance!” is particularly stupid because, it’s not like he’s just another garden-variety homophobe, where he might hold hateful views but I’m not necessarily contributing to that hate by giving him money. HE IS ON THE BOARD OF NOM. By giving him money we are basically putting money into their hands, so if we’re LGBTQ we’re contributing to our own oppression – and if someone is a straight cis ally of the LGBTQ community, they’re contributing to the continued oppression of their friends and family and loved ones. How does he not understand that? He’s the one who decided to take his opinions into such a public and activist sphere.

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      It is so strange though that he wrote that book and he’s such a hateful piece of shit. Like, there are books and movies and such where I enjoy them in spite of who made them but I can see the imprint of the person behind them, and just think that they’re worthwhile in spite of that.

      But I just don’t see how someone that hateful and prejudiced toward gay people could have written a book that’s about being open-minded and where the message is that there are fundamental differences between different cultures and people that we might not understand, but have to try.

      Not to mention all those homoerotic shower and fight scenes, JFC.

  7. Thumb up 2

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    I’ve had a lot of feelings about this because my girlfriend’s favourite book is Ender’s Game, and every time I read more of his vitriol, he’s talking about us and it hurts so much. I keep going back and forth like a pendulum on how I feel about this, but ultimately, one can still see the movie without paying him – everyone else involved in the movie has already had their salaries covered, and pirating is incredibly easy.

    Another suggestion that has been proposed in our discussions is to give equal or more money to an LGBTQ* group if a movie ticket is to be purchased. (I think that money should be donated to an LGBTQ* group regardless)

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      Yeah, I remember John Scalzi used that last strategy when his fans wanted him to go to the Creation Museum in Kentucky so he could report on how ridiculous it was, and he did it only if they would raise a ton of money for Americans United for Separation of Church and State to offset the ticket price (which would support the creationist group that created the museum). Which they did, by leaps and bounds – they raised something like hundreds or thousands of dollars for AU which more than offset the $20 ticket.

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    I love the book, but movie adaptations (with limited exception) break my heart, so I can do without seeing the movie. However, I need to know if Petra has black or red hair. My childhood best friend and I have a long-standing argument about this.

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    I feel like this is one of those times when I’m gonna go all pre-teen and sneak into the movie theater without buying the ticket.

    Ender’s Game is *THE BOOK* that got me onto sci-fi as an entire genre; it had a huge impact on me, as a geeky kid who didn’t fit into the Darwinian, hierarchical beatdown that is middle school. Buuutttt I’m not about to support Orson “Crazypants Homophobe” Card and his extremist political beliefs, and I haven’t bought any of his books in years.

    Completely unrelated, but can I just say…Harrison Ford as Graff is awesome casting. Really on-point.

  10. Thumb up 11

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    “I like the “political moral offset” one, which is like a carbon tax but for noxious ideas”

    I’m sorry but that just seems like a het cis person’s way of making themselves feel better (not you Cara, Rosenberg). It doesn’t work at all though if you think about it logically.

    The studios don’t care that you donated some money to LGBT causes after watching the film, all they care about is how much it made. If it is a success, then Card will get used for more projects and make even more money off of those. He won’t go anywhere and his awfulness will continue. The only way to get him gone is to boycott the movie.

    Donate to LGBT causes because it’s the right thing to do, but don’t act like it will help or send Hollywood any kind of message. And sending a message is what really matters isn’t it?

    If Hollywood keeps making tons of money from whitewashed movies would donating money to Native’s Rights group make them stop casting white actors?

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      In fact, it undermines those very groups -they can protest and put our case to Hollywood all they like, but Hollywood will just be able to say “well, the movie was very successful, so clearly people don’t really care”.

  11. Thumb up 4

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    I never got around to reading Enders Game in high school or college even though I had friends who raved about how good it was. At this point, knowing how terrible of a person Card is, (a) I’m glad I never read it, and (b) I will never read a book of his or watch a movie based off of one of his books. I will not support him in any way. There’s a lot of great sci fi out there, I can do without these books.

  12. Thumb up 1

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    how did you know what I was thinking?
    I’ve loved Ender’s Game for fucking ever and I was so sad and furious when I learned about OSC’ beliefs and was angry that I’d bought his books.

    but I am really looking forward to this movie and I was hoping he’d stay quiet but no he’s being loud and obnoxious and ruining
    everything.

    I am definitely going to watch the movie, though. even if it means paying for something else and sneaking into this one so I don’t feel like a traitor.

  13. Thumb up 4

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    This was (and still is) one of my favorite books, but I do struggle separating the book and the author. I dislike movies in general so won’t be bothered to skip it, but it doesn’t solve the problem of how I feel about the book. I am also convinced he’s a closet case and possible victim of abuse… What else could explain the hatred? I’ve seen angry homophobic guys outed too many times over the years to not be suspicious.

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    As much as I have a distaste for the man himself, I can’t bring myself to care about boycotting the movie or Card’s other works. Yes, it’s giving him money, but what’s he gonna do, hate me a dollar more? Even if he gives it to a lobbying firm to fight same-sex marriage, he’s right in a weird way that the battle is over. Eventually there will be same-sex marriage everywhere in this country, and Orson Scott Card’s money won’t change that.

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    I never finished the book because I found its themes and characters to be creepy and authoritarian and in favor of mindless killing, so I’m surprised it resonates with so may here. I think I’m over Hollywood summer movies in general. They never seem to be very good and treat women like afterthoughts or princesses.

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    I’ve not read Enders Game but really enjoyed OSC’s short story collection Maps in a Mirror and I’m really surprised he’s turned out to be such a dick cus usually you can tell from people’s writing if they have such strong views.

    I’ll probably still read Enders Game at some point in my life though. I guess I kind of feel like the author will die and his works will endure and yeah, like they should be taken on their merit rather than the author’s views, but a massive muddy area.

    I volunteer at a local bookshop and we recently had a complaint about us stocking the Female Eunuch after someone complained about us supporting an author who has been transphobic. We had a really hard time deciding what to do with the book and I guess it is kind of a similar deal here in that the book can be valuable in its ability to make you think or feel certain things regardless of what the author thinks or feels and that can be valuable.

    In a similar vein how far should we take this? Is it only cus OSC is still alive? What about all the books that have literary (or other) merit but were written by guys who didn’t have particularly awesome views about women in general (to pick one example).

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      lol OSC is not exactly Fred Phelps grade of dickinfinity. And Fred Phelps isn’t exactly …the grade above him….as in, to my knowledge he has not written a book revelling in his own bullying and physical abuse of gay people in daylight, publicly and with bystanders’ support. Some people do not deserve to exist. Some people deserve to be made a terrifying example of.

      OSC is an innocent, powerless toddler …speaking from at least one relativistic perspective.

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