Ender’s Game

29 Oct

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I interviewed Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender’s Game, in January 2002 a little over 4 months after 9/11. By then he had authored 87 other books, including Hugo and Nebula Science Fiction Award winners as well as New York Times bestsellers. At that time I was a contributing editor and staff photographer for, and getting interviews published in, the Wittenburg Door Magazine. The article/interview was published later that year, and I have included some excerpts from it that relate to Ender’s Game. The entire article/interview was over 9,000 words so over half of it got cut.

Bob: In the latest introduction to Ender’s Game you mention that Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy had a strong influence on you and you also mentioned the importance of Tolkien’s work. However, you make an interesting comparison between writing fantasy and science fiction and I’m going to quote here, you say: β€œIn science fiction however, the whole point is that ideas are fresh and startling and intriguing.Β  You imitate the great ones not by re-writing their stories, but rather by creating stories that are just as startling as new.” Please elaborate on that.

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Orson: I really have nothing to add to it. Of course, in a way, that can be misleading, so let me subtract from it.Β  Because there are those who think what they need to do with science fiction is come up with a β€œcool new idea.” I tell my writing students: β€œThere are no new ideas.” In terms of story, we’re going to tell the same stories over and over again, but with different twists and turns and causes of relationships. So that what makes the story worth telling is that the writer believes in it and cares about it, and then hopes to find readers who will also believe in it and care about it. Science fiction novelty is superficial. What’s new is the surface of the story. Down underneath, fantasy, science fiction, fiterary stories, they’re all the same stories that we’ve been tellingΒ  ever since human begins gathered around campfires and told stories. There’s nothing new, because there’s nothing new in human relationships. We haven’t changed.

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Bob: When you look at science fiction writers, primarilyΒ  H.G. Wells or Jules Verne…

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Orson: Well they were actually before science fiction. They didn’t think of themselves as science fiction writers. And nobody else did either. They were not separate from the mainstream. They were writing their own kind of work, and it was startling, and fresh, and new, but they were not writing in genre. They were writing within general literature.

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Bob: Would you consider them to be prophetic?

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Orson: Oddly enough, less prophetic than people give them credit for. Other people had already thought of all the ideas that they talked about. You know visiting the moon had been talked about before, time travel, submarines all these ideas had been around. The thing that Jules Verne brought through was a sense of wonder and a touch of verisimilitude. You could actually start believing that such a thing might really be done. And the same thing with H.G. Wells. They started extrapolating how it would change the world if these became available to people, instead of leaving them in the realm of magic or the gods. It became something that might be practical. At the time that Wells and Verne wrote, technology was transforming the world around the reader. The reader was more able to believe that the events in the story could actually happen in the real world. That was the transformation. Most science fiction is not prophetic in a sense of forecasting change, in forecasting technological changes. What it really is, is extrapolative. We tend to do a pretty good job of exploring what might be the result in our society if a certain change came. We aren’t that good at predicting which changes will come, but we’re not bad at predicting how human beings will adapt to the change,Β  if it comes.

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