Monday, January 30, 2012

- Ender & The Hunger Games

It’s a total aside, but in thinking and talking about the impending ‘Hunger Games’ movie with my daughter this weekend, I find I have another story on my mind. So while I'm waiting for my current simulation to finish running, I wanted to say something about my favorite scj-fi book of all time – “Ender’s Game”.

For those of you who haven’t read it (shame on you) Ender’s Game tells the story of a gifted boy who is sent to an orbital military training academy to learn to command the forces of earth in repelling a fleet of hostile aliens. Earth has developed captured alien technology to allow for instantaneous communication across any distance, but is still limited with regard to travel. So the human attack fleet has been sent generations ago, and while they travel across the galaxy, slowly aging at relativistic speeds, humankind has devoted itself to training the kinds of leaders it will need to command the fleet when it finally arrives. Ender is one of the candidates for that role.

In the past, I’ve talked a little about what it was like to grow up as an outlier. Ender is the epitome of that. Even in a “battle school” comprised of the global best, he’s lonely, isolated, and desperate for acceptance. He’s a sensitive kid, who out of necessity is being summarily tortured by his surroundings as the military commanders of the battle school struggle to meet their deadline. They know that what they’re doing to him is impossibly cruel – but with the survival of the human race at stake, they believe they have no alternative.

If there is a single issue that makes that story particularly gripping, it’s that one. The cruelest people in the book all have unimpeachable motives for their cruelty. Unlike the Hunger Games, there are no truly two dimensional villains in Ender's world. Fear and envy of Ender’s talents among his peers plays a small role, but it’s really the people who care the most about Ender who are the most horrible to him. In fact, even the aliens, who at their first meeting slaughtered humans with no more regard for life than a person would mourn for a trimmed fingernail, turn out to be quite sympathetic (in an involuntarily nightmare inducing way) in later books.

It’s a story of incredible depth, complexity and charm. There are heroes, villains, monsters, and friends. The heroes end up as the villains, the villians as heroes, and the line between victor and victim in nothing but blurred. I don’t know anyone who’s read it who hasn’t said that it’s among their all time favorites of sci-fi. So why I wonder has such a spectacularly wonderful book written all the way back in the 1985 not been made into a movie when, subsequent books have?

The answer seems to be politics.

The author, Orson Scott Card is a Mormon, and has been relatively plainspoken when it comes to political issues. But the thing that really seems to have annoyed the literary critics is that Card treats all the violence and cruelty in the book as justified. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t believe that violence isn’t justified sometimes, but Ender’s Game was published before Fox News and the internet, when a leftist worldview held a unilateral stranglehold on the voice of the media.

The very thing that made Card’s book rich and real to it's fans was the thing it was panned for among critics. And even as the 'Ender' fan base swelled to massive proportions and the book won award after award, it was very vocally criticized and Ender was compared to... (wait for it) ... Hitler. The upshot of it all seemed to be that in allowing Ender to be truly ‘better by birth’ and fairly violent besides, Card stepped on too many progressive toes.

Now though, A more balanced world view seems to be bubbling up in Hollywood and it seems that they are finally rethinking Ender. IMDB shows a 2013 release date for a film, and Card himself has been involved in a screenplay, so it’s unlikely to be too dumbed down. That's a good thing because the fans of this work will be almost as tough to please as those of Ayn Rand. Everyone who knows Ender already loves him and it would feel like a terrible betrayal to see a two dimensional Jonas Brother breaking into a song about being sent to command school. But hopefully it won't go that way.

IMDB shows Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff, and Ben Kingsley as Mazer Rackham. Asa Butterfield has been cast as Ender. I hope they all do the story justice.

As an aside, the United States Marine Corps lists “Ender’s Game” as part of it’s recommended reading for officer candidates. I find that not at all surprising.


Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

Never read the book, but I have heard of it.

Hopefully they won't do what was done to Heinlein's 'Starship Troopers'. The screenplay oozed with contempt for Heinlein's vision, turning what could have been an excellent sci-fi story into a real, frivolous, POS.

Tom said...

Yeah, that would be the negative example. I'm hoping that the hunger games can provide a better one. I'm encouraged because Card is still alive and involved with the project.

I don't trust Hollywood, but I do trust Card. Ender is his kid after all.