With some sympathy for Orson Scott Card

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Orson Scott Card’s best and most popular sci-fi novel Ender’s Game is being turned into a movie coming out in November. Harrison Ford is Colonel Graff. Ben Kingsley is Mazer Rackham. I’m a fan of the 1985 book, and am really looking forward to the movie. But some people are boycotting Ender’s Game because Card is against gay marriage. That’s fine. Card is wrong about gay marriage. With that said, it’s over the top to portray Card as some kind of evil Nazi. Though of course that’s what the internet is good at.

Ender’s Game is about child soldiers who ultimately commit genocide against an alien species that attacked Earth. It’s main themes are the evils of war and it’s horrible impact on the young. The book is not about gay marriage. But when someone posted this positive note on Ender’s Game to reddit:

My son just started Ender’s Game. He saw the trailer for the movie and really wants to see it. I figured he should read the book first so I gave it to him this evening and he couldn’t put it down. It makes me so happy to see him getting to experience one of my childhood favorites for the first time.

Most of the responses weren’t about father/son bonding over a classic sci-fi book, but instead ranting at the original poster because he was supporting a bigot. Sigh. There’s lot of lame bigots trolling the internet, but Card does not view himself that way. As you can see if you read what Card posted about his own views on gay marriage.

To understand Card, you have to realize to realize he’s a devout Mormon living in a Protestant/Catholic/secular country. A relevant analogy to Card might be Evelyn Waugh, who “is widely recognized as one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century.” Waugh became a Roman Catholic at 27, growing progressively more conservative and feeling out place in Protestant Britain. He was an antisemite and racist. Bad, bad, bad. And yet. Decline and Fall is wonderful, “an uncompromising and brilliantly malicious satire.” Brideshead Revisited powerfully has a soldier return to his childhood estate after it’s been ravished by war. Waugh is a throwback conservative, but one with morally serious things to say. Card is obviously not a writer in Waugh’s class, though he’s still quite good. The analogy holds. I enjoy reading Card precisely because his devout Mormon belief gives him a morally serious perspective lacking from other writers.

As an example of Card’s perspective, look at his very positive review of The Dark Knight:

There are two key moments in the film where the Joker poses terrible choices. First is the time when he puts Batman’s true love, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), and her new love, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), in another. Both are tied up, surrounded by explosives. Batman has just enough time to save one of them, but not both.

We are deliberately not told — perhaps even misled — about which one Batman is rushing to save. It is assumed — because of the romantic conventions of American movies and comic books and western culture — that he will save the girl.

But it has been established that Batman believes that Harvey Dent is a true hero, vital to the survival of Gotham City as a civil society. So his choice is, at least in his mind, between saving the city and saving the love of his life.

He chooses the city.

And this is the morally right choice. It is exactly the choice that parents make when they send their children off to war, or into the police force or the fire department. If anything, the love of parents for children is greater than the love mates have for each other. Yet, when the needs of the overall society — the city, the nation — require it, parents make the choice to permit it, even to honor and embrace letting their children go into harm’s way.

What’s interesting is Card actually misunderstood what happened in The Dark Knight, which he acknowledged (to some extent) in a later review. Batman does the shallow thing and tries to save the girl. He does not make the moral choice parents make when sending their children off to war. But until I read Card I didn’t pause to think about duty, honor, country, or that saving the girl might be wrong. I like to read Card’s movie and TV reviews now and then for exactly these nuggets of perspective. Though with the recent controversy he’s stopped writing reviews. His last one is from May.

After getting bashed on reddit, the father who posted about his son reading Ender’s Game quoted Neil Gaiman (another sci-fi writer), which is worth a requote: ”If I were only allowed to read or enjoy art or listen to music made by people whose opinions and beliefs were the same as mine, I think the world would be a pretty dismal sort of a place.”

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