Armagideon Time

Game called because of disgust

November 1st, 2013


(from Dave Langford’s review of Speaker for the Dead in White Dwarf #91, July 1987)

I would not watch the Ender’s Game movie even if Orson Scott Card wasn’t a repulsive bigot.

I was at ground zero — a suburban junior high school — when the first installment of the Ender Wiggin cycle dropped in the mid-1980s. My geeky pals were hyperbolic in their praise of the novel, and it’s easy to understand why.

“A shy, bullied kid becomes the savior of the human race by playing video games.”

That premise was a license to print money, especially in a time when geeky types existed in atomised little pockets and association with the subculture was the subject of cruel jokes and often physical torments. Ender’s travails and vindication were so eminently relatable to those experiences, which is why the books have left such an indelible mark so many developing psyches.

Not mine, though. I found their message to be creepy as fuck.

I was — and I really hate using the term — a child prodigy who was reading and doing long division while my peers on the middle of the distribution curve were still in diapers. My parents encouraged my intellectual development, but they also balked at anything that would elevate me outside the realm of my peers. I was socially awkward enough, they decided. Society was not going to make accomodations for that, so it was best I figured out how to adjust while I was still young enough to learn.

Whether or not their decision turned out for the best, it left me with a lifelong aversion to the “special snowflake” school of geek philosophy. “Don’t assume your intelligence makes you a superior creature” is what I was raised to believe, and it has (for the most part) stuck with me.

Coming from that perspective, Ender’s Game felt like an appalling (and pretty shoddily written) testament to arrogance. Where my friends saw inspirational uplift, I saw a vicarious “I’ll show them all someday” document of the sort penned by spree shooters and other dangerous loners.

“Oh, but poor Ender did suffer,” you say. Perhaps, but he also achieved his moment of problematic glory without ever having to take responsibility for his actions. “He didn’t know, so he can’t be held fully responsible for the negative consequences of his actions.”

How convenient, and how so very telling in light of the slippery solipsism which passes for geek ethics in too many quarters these days.

Like I stated above, I can see the reasons for the book’s appeal. I can even understand how an individual reader could leverage its message into a positive transformative experience. Yet like the similar self-righteous delusions of libertarianism, there’s no escaping the toxic lingering effects of such fantasies of adolescent megalomania.

Related posts:

  1. The Long Game: Long drive to nowhere
  2. The Long Game: Rough landings
  3. The Long Game: Scenes from the hatewagon

7 Responses to “Game called because of disgust”

  1. darue

    hey, thanks for saying what needed said, I agree 100% :-)

  2. damanoid

    I have never understood how this toxoplasmic turd of a novel managed to bag both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It’s one thing for a book to be a roaring success among thirteen-year-old kids, but I honestly would have expected professional SF authors with extensive life experiences to show a bit more taste.

    Even apart from Card’s loathsome personal evolution since then, ‘Ender’s Game’ is just not a very good novel. For god’s sake, the ‘chosen one’ character who is the last, best hope to end the space war is NAMED “Ender!” HIS NAME IS “ENDER.” That is a gem of hackery that even L. Ron Hubbard would have thought twice about.

    “Johnny Goodboy Tyler? No, too subtle. What about… Victor Earthfree Smartguy?”

    In summary, ‘Ender’s Game’ has always been monstrously overrated, and its baffling critical successs is clear proof that the Hugo/Nebula Awards committees were high on crack that year.

  3. bitterandrew

    Funny you mention that, because the beginning of the review I posted has Langford stating how Speaker for the Dead was destined to sweep the award circuit.

  4. josh

    While I have nothing but contempt for Card, I will say that the only message I ever got out of Ender’s Game is a strong anti-war message as it shows the corruption of kids into killing soldiers. There was no joy in their victory and in the following book Ender would go on to become a humanist and fight to ensure survival of the buggers. Maybe I’m just looking at the surface level only. I can definitely see your viewpoint and agree with it as well.

  5. damanoid

    Interesting… Though it’s been many a day since I read ‘Ender’s Game,’ it seemed to me that the book was trying to be very clear that Ender, the ‘ultimate soldier’,* is never really corrupted. At the end he’s still presented as a wounded innocent. Moreover, the book is also very careful to present everyone he kills, from bullies to aliens, as fundamentally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Mercy would be a mistake; they all “needed killing.”

    *or, really, ultimate military strategist– all the ‘soldiers’ were out on the ships being ordered to their faceless deaths.

  6. Josh

    Damanoid, I’m sure you are quite correct in your assessment of the book. It’s been years since I read it and I’ve forgotten much about it. I probably lost something in translation, I would think.

  7. Tony Goins

    Well, shoot. I’ve never read it, but now I’m tempted. It might run better as an adult, with a fully formed moral compass.

    I survived a middle-school infatuation with Piers Anthony. How bad could it be?

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