Those of you who throw the occasional glance at my twitters will know that the reason for my silence is that I have been in Germany for the last week, celebrating Easter with Kirsten’s family. Limited net access via dial-up meant no site updates. There was fairly little to report really. I probably needed the quieter change of pace after the events of the last few weeks and Kirsten’s little sister, Nele, is adorable to play with. You’ll find some pictures at the bottom of this post.
I finally sank my teeth into Ender’s Game, a science fiction novel from the mid-80’s which has long been popular in the States but made less of an impact here, Asimov still taking the role that Orson Scott Card seems to hold on the other side of the Atlantic. The driving force was that Jane bought me a copy of the book a while back and I picked it up while at my parents’ house and realised I had not yet read it. Starting on the way to Germany I devoured the entire thing in a couple of days. Although the story is compelling with humanity isolating and training young children as future commanders in a desperate war against an alien threat, its moral implications (in particular the depersonalisation of warfare) form the real core, explored through the character of the innocent child-come-warmaster Ender. Towards the end the story
Arguably the most interesting part is the introduction added by the author six years after the book was first in print. He discusses how it grew out of the central concept of battle room (a zero gravity wargaming arena in the style of laserquest, required to force pupils to think and strategise in three dimensions rather than the usual two of ground warfare), but even the epic story of the conflict between mankind and the alien “buggers” could only come alive when told through the eyes of a compelling individual like Ender Wiggin. He parallels this with the epic sci-fi history of Asimov’s Foundation, which comes alive only through the careful and uncannily accurate calculations of psychohistorian Hari Seldon.
He also discusses controversy which surprisingly emerged not so much from the content of the book, but rather the apparent disconnect many found with its child protagonists. These are the most intellectual six children the world could find to train, so their thinking is very adult. While their manner of speech may not seem entirely realistic, he argues the thought processes are and this is at odds with society’s depersonalisation of the child. He goes so far as to describe them as a self-perpetuating underclass, suggesting those who were most aggravated by the book were those who rely upon this very situation (such as child counsellors). Meanwhile the book has gained a massive youth following amongst intellectual loners (I mean this as a purely descriptive term, to be an intellectual when young virtually guarantees a sense of loneliness) who are able to empathise with the way these children are used.
It is easy to pick examples of how we underestimate and sometimes write off the abilities of children, even in the smallest of things. I recall playing with a very young boy who had been given a new toy, consisting of a foam missile launched from a tube via a rudimentary foot powered air pump. As we played I explained how it worked with the air being forced through the tube to launch it. Another adult in the room smiled pleasantly at me, commenting that he was far too young to understand. Imagine her surprise as ten minutes of playing later, the boy explained its workings to someone else. Equally this is why Nele so adores me when I visit Germany. It is probably not so much me as the fact I treat her fully as a person in her own right, despite the limitation of our language barrier. This must be unusual for her in a world where she is generally surrounded by busy adults.
A final note for Ender fans is that game developer Chair are currently making an Ender’s Game title for Xbox Live Arcade, apparently focused around the battle room concept. The idea is certainly an intriguing one and the potential scope for 3D zero-gravity wargames is fantastic (given their previous game Undertow, one imagines third person action or strategy is more likely than an FPS) but equally the potential for an unsatisfying waste of the IP must weigh heavily on the developers and fans alike.