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Repost: Hey, Orson Scott Card…

There are some excellent science fiction/fantasy series out there: A Song of Ice and Fire, The Foundation Series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Earthsea, Middle-Earth, The Gap Series, the Sprawl stuff from William Gibson (Neuromancer, et al), the CoDominium series from Niven and Pournelle… and Orson Scott Card’s Ender series.

Highly recommended reading, all of them.

However, there are some marks against a few of them. Not Earthsea – criticizing Earthsea’s fightin’ words in my home. Same for Tolkien, even if the writing gets woodener and woodener as time goes on.

A Song of Ice and Fire is fantastic, but not likely to be completed in my lifetime at the rate the author’s going.

Gibson’s Sprawl series (Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, and Burning Chrome) was excellent as well, but lacked a unifying thread. I call it “the Sprawl series,” but I don’t think Gibson would have the same name for it. It’s powerful, but lacks a central identifying theme.

Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant deconstructs the hero archetype so well that in some ways it’s hard to accept him as a hero at all – his rejection of himself is the only saving grace, and it’s still a brutal read. The same goes for the Gap series, also from Stephen R. Donaldson. Plus, his prose is… lurid.

The Foundation is full of rock-ribbed competents or snivelling whiners; everyone wears hats. (Competent person? Good guy. Incompetent or cruel person? Bad guy. Hats, in other words.)

The CoDominium stuff is really good, but also … hmm. “Realistic, given suspension of disbelief” might be the best compliment and explanation; the realism means there are shades of grey (the good guys and the bad guys are identified mostly as protagonists/antagonists, rather than as being good or evil.)

It’s marvelously complicated, and sometimes the denouement is more realistic (and less satisfying) than it could be (i.e., you don’t get the Death Star exploding, you get the Death Star being taken over after surrender by the Empire.) Thus the grand finale tends to end with what seems underwhelming by comparison to its more flashy compatriots.

Enough of those, and on to Ender.

Ender’s Game, and its sequels (Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind, along with Ender in Exile) are really, really good. Ender’s Game is a very influential book, and deservedly so, even if the picture of exceedingly bright children is, um, exaggerated. It encourages confirmation bias on the part of the readers, you could say, many of which identify readily with Ender’s situation even if it doesn’t apply whatsoever.

However, Orson Scott Card caught the George Lucas bug somewhere, and he has chosen to emphasize one who started out as a fairly minor character in Ender’s Game, a small lad named Bean.

Bean’s precocious. Amazingly so, actually; he’s a genetically altered human, one who never stops the infantile growth cycle, leading him to maintain a constant growth rate (thus small early in life, only to die young of a body that won’t stabilize its size.) He’s massively intelligent, as his brain never stops forming the linkage rate that babies enjoy.

As a secondary character, he’s fascinating.

As a primary character, all he does is detract from Ender, who is – to my mind – a far more tragic and far more compelling protagonist.

Bean is Orson Scott Card’s Superman. Endlessly intelligent, assured and confident in his abilities, inerrant, Bean’s only weakness is his long term future, when he will die of an overstressed heart. There’s no drama in his path, because he learns of the circumstances of his death, and lives until then. As Superman, he casts a shadow over everything in Ender’s universe.

And… really? The one casting that particular shadow should be Ender. He’s the one whose growth arc is uncertain. Ender’s the only one who might fail.

In fact, in an entirely regrettable retcon, Ender did fail, only to have Bean rescue him. Way to maintain a hero, Mr. Card.

Ender’s drama lies in how he survives everything, how he uses everything; in the original book (pre-retcon!), Bean makes a wry comment and Ender ties it all together to strive for victory.

In the retconned history, Ender despairs and Bean points the way, deliberately. Rescuing Ender, who’s been taught never to expect rescue.

Invalidating Ender’s role.

So stop it, Mr. Card. Let Bean survive as an interesting storyboard character, providing color to a beautiful tapestry; let him die. Let us enjoy the drama of Ender.

Oh, wait — too late. You’ve already killed Ender by giving him a Superman. I don’t forgive you for wrecking a wonderful story just because you found another Jar Jar. It’s not really my childhood you’re screwing with, but a fictional childhood I’ve been happy to associate with. Stop it.

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