Editors: D. E. Wittkower and Lucinda Rush

Publisher: Open Court

ISBN-10: 0812698347

ISBN-13: 978-0812698343

Good sci-fi stories are often morality plays. That’s what made the original version of Star Trek exciting and revolutionary—many of the stories, often lifted from sci-fi literature—focused a spotlight on moral issues by reducing them to their bare essence. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, is an example of a novel-length morality play that contains many moral ambiguities, as analyzed in this collection of philosophical articles.

I found the articles very readable, entertaining, and informative but often wondered if the writers were over-thinking and/or second-guessing Mr. Card. I was reminded of my English class long ago with N. Scott Momaday when I could ace his TA’s quizzes simply by mentioning something Freudian. One can say, though, that at least no article here has become a launching platform for a PhD in philosophy…so far.

One issue that came to the fore before the release of the movie was Card’s homophobia and stand against same-sex marriage. That prompted me to write a blog post suggesting that a writer’s political or cultural views shouldn’t matter if he tells a good story. Ender’s Game is one helluva story, after all. But the article “How Queer is Ender?”, by Michaud and Watkins, treats this issue. They argue, for example, that the novel is really about Card’s gender bias and how homosexual love between males should never be consummated. I’ll leave this to the experts but modestly opine that they’re over-thinking a good story—I read the book shortly after it received the Nebula Award (it also received the Hugo Award a year later) and saw an analogy with male-only military prep schools and academies, but more along the lines of stresses induced by a competitive, testosterone-charged environment. Maybe I’m naïve.

Pascoe’s article “Humanity beyond Humanity” considers an issue treated in my own opus. Ender’s ETs are exterminated because humans don’t understand the ETs’ humanity, and vice versa. Communication between sentient species is the issue here. In my book Sing a Samba Galactica, humans use supercomputers and complicated algorithms to change the varelse status of my ETs to raman status (using Card’s terms), even when the communication problem seems insurmountable. You’d think that with all the technological wonders of the Battle School, Card’s humans would have tried this. Instead, they opted for xenocide and tricked a tween into committing it.

The Sorensen duo asks, in fact, “Is Ender a Murderer?” Recall that Ender thought he was playing a game. If he is guilty, the authors argue, moral right and wrong must depend on actual outcomes. If not, they depend on expected outcomes. I find that an interesting moral conundrum and not just one for Ender, who believes he’s guilty (the novel’s sequel studies his guilt).

I’ve mentioned only three articles out of many. They might all be second-guessing Mr. Card, but it’s entertaining reading, albeit a bit heavy.

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