Reviews

Ender’s Game Film May Not Suck?

Yesterday, the Internet orgasmed with the release of the first trailer for the screen adaptation of Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi classic about a boy who murders things. Here’s the trailer:

I’m so glad they used the Inception horn blast. I was scared for a minute that there would be one sci-fi blockbuster that didn’t use the Inception horn blast.

As some of you who follow me on Twitter know, I recently read Ender’s Game. To borrow from the late, great Roger Ebert, I hated, hated, hated, hated this book (though I still gave it two stars, probably because it was a quick read or because I’m too nice). Here’s the review I posted on GoodReads. There aren’t any huge spoilers but if you’re weird about that you may want to skip:

Once upon a time, there was a tiny 6-year old boy who all the other kids picked on. Little did they know that he was very special and all the adults secretly loved him even though they didn’t stop anyone from picking on him, and also he knew karate and he didn’t want to hurt them but he would if he had to, and it just so happens that he has to. Often. Also he spoke and thought not like a 6-year old boy but as a smug 30-year old man with a fair amount of unresolved bitterness toward his childhood.

I finished this book very quickly, not because I am a misunderstood supergenius toddler, but because if I lost any momentum at all, I’d put this book down and never again be able to screw up the energy to deal with the pretentious little prick known as Ender Wiggin.

I really wanted to like the book. The basic outline of the story is fine and even appealing to me: kids being trained with video games from an early age to join a war effort. But the writing was, at times, excruciating. To be fair, had I read it when I was a (fairly average, I’m sure) 12-year old, I probably would have found it more enjoyable. But as an (average, again) adult, I found it to be about 100 pages too long and filled with long passages during which I developed a loathing of the main character at precisely the moment when the author clearly wanted me to admire his cleverness, strength of character, and bold moral wrestling. “Ooh, how deftly he wins the admiration of his peers by suggesting that bully is gay! Aah, the psychological pain he endures at being the best at strategy and physical combat! Oh, the bravery of joking with the black boy about how he’s a n****r! Oh why can’t he find a teacher who can teach him something he doesn’t already know!”

I was also continuously distracted by sentences like, “They pushed his face backward into the door.” What does that mean? If they’re pushing his face backward, does that mean his head hit the door? His face can’t hit the door if it’s not facing it.

Anyway. The final act started off well enough and brought everything to a satisfactory conclusion, and then the book continued on for another 25 pages that should be considered by nerds to be as unconscionable as the final episode of Battlestar Gallactica, where all reason and logic are dispensed with in favor of some weird fantasy that pretends to wrap up everything in a nice and neat bow.

It’s interesting to compare this to Dune, which I read last month. Dune does a similar thing (young adult-style writing about a young boy with great powers who will save the world) but does it without making the main character insufferable. Unlike Dune, I don’t think I’ll bother reading any other books about Ender, the universe’s tiniest supergenius.

Despite my hatred of the book, I’m considering seeing the film. I like movies about kids killing each other/other things. That’s not something I realized until recently, but it’s true: Hunger Games, Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies. Yep. I’m a sick woman.

Also, I suspect that the film will take care of most of the things I hated about the book; things that for some reason other people completely overlook in the book but if it were to happen on screen they would realize how stupid it is. Like:

  • Ender is now definitely older than 6, and at an age where viewers can reasonably accept him to be the kind of supergenius he is in the book
  • I bet Ender doesn’t call anyone a n****r.
  • One of the adults (Major Anderson) is now a lady (played by Viola Davis). Equality, y’all.
  • Harrison Ford is in it. Harrison Ford was not in the book and this was clearly an oversight.
  • Harrison Ford is playing a character who, in the book, gets progressively fatter as time goes on. If this happens in the film, it could be as funny as when Lee Adama gets fat in Battlestar Gallactica and then he does a few push-ups and goes back to being super fit.
  • The ending will be better. It has to be. The ending of the book was so stupid that there’s just no way it would have survived test screenings with normal, rational adults. I must believe this in order to continue believing in humanity.

There are also a few reasons why I am considering not seeing this film. They are:

Oh, huh. I guess that was the only reason, really. Card is still alive and thus will receive a good deal of profit from this film, so it does bear remembering that he is, by all accounts, a terrible person. By the way, he does make a flimsy defense of his homophobic 1990 Sunstone column here:

This essay was published in February of 1990, in the following context: The Supreme Court had declared in 1986 (Bowers v. Hardwick) that a Georgia law prohibiting sodomy even in the privacy of one’s own home was constitutional. I was also writing this essay to a conservative Mormon audience that at the time would have felt no interest in decriminalizing homosexual acts. In that context, my call to “leave the laws on the books” was simply recognizing the law at that time, and my call to not enforce it except in flagrant cases was actually, within that context, a liberal and tolerant view — for which I was roundly criticized in conservative Mormon circles as being “pro-gay.” Those who now use this essay to attack me as a “homophobe” deceptively ignore the context and treat the essay as if I had written it yesterday afternoon. That is absurd — now that the law has changed (the decision was overturned in 2003) I have no interest in criminalizing homosexual acts and would never call for such a thing, any more than I wanted such laws enforced back when they were still on the books. But I stand by the main points of this essay, which concerns matters internal to the Mormon Church.

The “main points” seem to be that gay Mormons will destroy the Mormon Church (go gay Mormons go!) and that they should be expected to meet the demand that they never give into temptation, an idea that of course has lead to horrific pain and occasional suicides for people who live their entire lives denying their sexuality. He argues that gay people shouldn’t be imprisoned or murdered – dear lord that would be positively Old Testament! No, instead this is how they should be treated:

Within the Church, the young person who experiments with homosexual behavior should be counseled with, not excommunicated. But as the adolescent moves into adulthood and continues to engage in sinful practices far beyond the level of experimentation, then the consequences within the Church must grow more severe and more long-lasting; unfortunately, they may also be more public as well.

It’s okay though, because Card has a lot of sympathy for them after they’ve had their lives destroyed.

Anyway. Harrison Ford, a fat suit, and zero G could still be worth it!

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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27 Comments

  1. As far as I know he’s still cool with the overthrow of the government in case of gay marriage:

    “How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn. Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.”
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Orson_Scott_Card#cite_note-4

    1. Personally, I won’t be seeing the movie in such a way that I would add more dollars to his pockets (maybe on cable or Netflix later or something). I actually did enjoy the book, and I enjoyed other books and stories by him. But I just can’t give him a cent more.

      1. When I’m faced with a movie that I want to see, and can’t stand to give money to the people involved (Tom Cruise I’m looking at you) I will pick it up at my local movie resale shop or watch it on Netfilx. Sure I have to wait a little longer, but Mel Gibson isn’t getting any of my money.

  2. I agree that Ender was pretty insufferable, although much less so in the short story. I would not recommend the rest of the Ender books as he goes from an insufferable teen (I thought he was 12 or so by the time we see him in battle school, but it has been a long time) to an insufferable Christ figure who travels the galaxy for thousands of years to redeem himself and everyone else.
    What was interesting, however, was Ender’s Shadow, which tells the same story from the point of view of Bean. If anything, it makes Ender look worse and Bean is, IMO, a much more sympathetic character. He becomes a bit of a Mary Sue by the end of the books, but he is a better character.

  3. If you don’t want to give him money (which you shouldn’t – I saw him speak at a training day for work and he is extremely sexist and really into evo psych and talked about it for over an hour when he was supposed to talk about being a writer), just download it! OR if you don’t want to break the law check it out from your library!

  4. Rebecca, I enjoyed this review! It sounds like an awful book, but now I suppose I have to see the movie out of curiosity.

    In general I don’t let an author’s politics or religion etc. bother me too much. I enjoyed Heinlein despite his libertarianism andTolkein despite his Catholicism. It’s the same with people and friendships, I try not to let these things get in the way too much – why spoil a friendship that is otherwise good if you can connect on some other level? A true soulmate is rare, and I think most of us just muddle through life as best we can.

    Also, “I enjoy movies about kids killing each other”. Ha!!

  5. That trailer didn’t even give me a tickle, let alone an orgasm. It was mostly just a lot of “Look! CGI!” or close-ups of people suffering from painful gas and/or constipation. Harrison Ford was in full “I … Am … Intoning … Dramatically” mode. Le sigh. The kid they have playing Ender looks an awful lot like Frankie Muniz, which means I’d keep looking for Francis, Reese, and Dewey, and will be VERY disappointed at the lack of hilarious yet also often disturbing hijinks. Sure, there will be plenty if disturbing, but it just won’t be the same.

    And anyway, the “Orson Scott Card is an utterly horrid human being” thing is a total deal breaker for me. I don’t even want to STEAL a movie based on his hatred-infused dreck.

  6. OK. That trailer looked AWFUL! The whole point of Enders Game for good or ill (and there’s a lot of both in the book imho) is the twist ending. And it looks like they are throwing that out the window.

  7. I read a review of the book a few days ago, written on the occasion of the movie and all, what made the suggestion that Ender’s Game is, in fact, porn. But not the sexy-type porn that everyone was up in arms about.

    Ah, here it is: http://plover.net/~bonds/ender.html

    “In the best traditions of porn, each chapter is simply a build-up to a catharsis. … There is no dramatic tension or genuine excitement about any of these encounters; the only tension comes from how long the inevitable catharsis can be delayed. … To sustain this pattern, the plot is contrived to make sure that other characters always hate Ender. There is no obvious reason for him to be so despised, at every turn, by his peers: he’s a confident guy who excels at games, the kind of guy who would typically be well-liked at school. And yet, people seem to hate him a priori.”

    I don’t recall disliking the book when I originally read it long ago, but I’ve changed a lot and reviews like these make a lot of good points that I don’t know I would have been perceptive or aware enough to notice when I was a kid. I had a lot of pretty shallow and stupid opinions when I was young. Sigh.

    And, yeah, finding out just how much of a horrible douche OSC is really puts a pall over the whole thing.

    1. Interesting, but this passage is incorrect.
      “There is no obvious reason for him to be so despised, at every turn, by his peers.”
      Did this person actually read the book?
      Ender, on the shuttle ride up, is getting poke by an annoying kid named Bernard. So he grabs the kid’s arm and yanks it. Because he doesn’t get the whole null-g thing, Bernanrd ends up flying across the shuttle and breaking his arm. The teacher comes in and says, “Look, Ender is way smarter than any of you. He’s the real chance for saving the human race, so don’t mess with him.”
      After reading that passage, that reviewer can’t figure out why everyone hates him? Is the reviewer in any way familiar with the social dynamics of bullying?
      If a teacher declares you his pet, on your first day of class, you are basically, permanently screwed.
      The kids at the school don’t hate him “a priori”, they hate him because the teachers intentionally isolate him by praising him and denigrating everyone else. That’s one of the main *themes* of the book. That’s like getting angry at the JK Rowling because, in the last of the seven books, Harry actually grows up and does the responsible thing instead of acting like a petulant brat as he did for the rest of the series.

  8. Wow.
    I’ll have to read the book again.
    As a kid, I was bullied relentlessly from a very young age, mostly for being quiet and smart and not responding to the taunting in the “correct” way. In the 80s, it was basically assumed that a bullying victim should just suck it up and that somehow this would build my character – or whatever.
    So when I read Ender’s Game, I could sympathize with what they put this kid through: yes we’re going to ostracize you as the smart one; yes, we’re going to abandon you to the cruelty of your peers – it’s *GOOD* for you, honest! … in the long run.
    At the same time this was going on, yes, at a very young age, I would moralize over fighting back against the people who hurt me. I would feel *bad* if I hurt them. Weird, huh? So, consequently, I didn’t find Ender’s moralizing “insufferable” at all but simply the effect of having a conscience, some intelligence and responsibility, and wondering how much pain it’s acceptable to cause someone to get him to stop hurting me. And yeah, I was less than 10 years old when this was happening.
    I like the book because it was science fiction but it was done without making up lots of stupid words and surprising us with weird gadgets to get the hero out of trouble. The story was good and so was the pacing and I enjoyed watching the kid learn how to fight null-g battles. Maybe I’ll read it again and see if I notice the problems you notice.

    1. Interesting. And I can relate to that. I definitely identified with Ender in the early part of the book. Bullies don’t just pick on weak kids. They pick on the ones who won’t fight back, for whatever reason. When I was 10, I was above average in size and strength, but I was bullied because I would not fight in school. I have a vivid memory of the one time the two bullies attacked me after school. They were shocked that I didn’t stand there and take it like I did all day during class and in line. At one point one of them was in a head lock in tears and I was begging him to just leave me alone so I could let him go. I was desperate for them to leave me alone so I wouldn’t have to hurt them. I was much more afraid of what I could do to them then I was of what they could do to me.

      1. It’s possible that people who haven’t had this experience – that of being bullied and yet unwilling or not desiring to hurt a bully – won’t really be able understand the position Ender is in.
        But it felt like a dead-on rendition of my emotions when I was that age (six through sixteenish).
        I think that’s why Card turning out be such an enormous douchebag pisses me off so much. It’s rare that anybody actually understands what it’s like to be bullied, and the one guy who really got it has become (or always was?) this ridiculous bigot.

        1. I had a similar divide crop up with a co-worker about “The Hunger Games” last year. What he came away from the first book with was that Katniss was a cunning and vile manipulatrix who didn’t give a damn about anyone but herself. The depth of his emotion on the subject surprised me, but makes sense considering his first wife very manipulative and unfaithful.

  9. As per usual for far right figures, he misrepresents the objections to his behavior. It’s not like one article in 1990 is the only problem . He has stated that gay marriage will be the end of democracy. He sits on the board of NOM. He’s a world class homophobe regardless of that article, which was still bad and made worse by his paltry defense.

  10. Since I read this book and the follow-ups some time ago, and this particular book is one of my favorite ones, thought I gave a two cents.
    Am I the only one that thinks that one of the theme in the book is the border-line incestual relation between Ender and his sister?
    It is true that Card seems to be a douchy human being, that has little to say about his writing, which at times discusses interesting subjects, like in the case of this book.
    For me the book is about the use of the innocent as weapons of war and the shock of loosing one’s innocence when faced with the reality of things, in this case, the terrible things the innocent does when manipulated by adults.
    I could empathize with Ender, and given his strengths, I could have seen myself treating threats from bullies in the same way. Perhaps that is the main reason many of us like it.
    And as always art will suck for some and not for others.

  11. I remember this series of books being madly popular in the 90s and after discovering that Orson Scott Card was a rotten human being, deciding to never give him money. I was disappointed because I was curious about the novels, but decided to never read them. Reading this review and seeing the craptastic trailer, I’m now relieved that I didn’t miss much.

    I find most military/war based sci-fi movies and books to be the utterly and completely boring. It takes about three explosions and two volleys of gunfire before I nod off.

    However, given that Orson is such a shit nozzle, I might pirate his books and his movie sheerly out of spite, but I’ll never give him money. Never.

  12. Given the context of OSC’s background (I was brought up a Mormon too, but left) his views AT THE TIME were quite liberal. Three decades ago, the world was a completely different place. Look at what happened to Alan Turing, if you want to get a good impression of the views in the mid to late century. It’s like Wagner, you can love the music but hate the man.

    I read Ender’s game in my teens…. then my twenties, & again in my thirties. I’ve waited two decades for this movie to be made, & it makes me laugh to see these comments. Ender is bullied, yes, but he is also the ultimate bully. Part of the reason he’s selected is because he recognises the necessity of ending conflict decisively, as the Americans did with the bomb in WWII. Ender is constantly hated because Cl Graff etc manipulate events in order to toughen him up, to see how he reacts under pressure.

  13. I was 14 when I read the book.
    It made me fall in love with SF.
    The 14yo me was blown away and apparently missed the n word in there or it was edited out of my translation of the book.
    As for Card I’ve only learnt about his religious views maybe 3-4 years ago, it was a surprise to me I guess I expected all people whose writing or music i love to be “my kind of people”.
    But by that time I was already over the OSC, he was hyper-producing novels with (IMHO) decreasing quality, and/or, I ‘ve grown up.
    There’s also a question of should we judge the art based on political or religious views of the author?
    I’m not sure.
    OSC is an old stroke survivor, and he was indoctrinated as a child in some silly make-believe and then spent his whole life in an echo-chamber of fellow brainwash victims.
    And his homophobia has to be taken in context.
    I know I’m pulling this number out of my behind but I’m fairly certain that 80% of every author born in a religious family prior to 1950 is to varying degrees homophobic.
    And living in a country where every attempt of Gay pride parade has to either be protected by SWAT teams outnumbering actual participants or be aborted I’d like our own homophobes to at least come up to a level of OSCs homophobia.

    1. kalifumestokalifa – you have hit the proverbial nail on the head here….. thank you. This is how I feel. I enjoy many of OSC’s books greatly and I completely disagree with his views. SO WHAT? I think that like you have said he was pretty well brainwashed and honestly, his open-mindedness is greater than could be expected from someone raised in that manner. I have read some of his short stories that have very open thinking and cross many lines, and most of all, are not what you would expect to be “the work of a homophobe”.

      I wish people could just read the books and see the movie without thinking about the author’s personal feelings about such things…. it’s irrelevant.

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