(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.