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Art From Artist: Ender's Game and Orson Scott Card

Never before have I so wanted to know the details of a film rights contract.

Orson Scott Card's descent into political maelstrom is probably one of the most head-scratching conundrums for science fiction fans since the invention of Jar Jar Binks. I came to the Ender series late, having read almost exclusively in the Star Trek world through much of my formative years. But when I discovered Ender, I discovered him.

Even as a young adult, Card's work kept me enthralled. As a young newspaper intern in Tennessee, I once, er, extended my lunch break by ten minutes because I was that close to the end of the newest Ender book and I could not set it aside to return to the newsroom until I knew what happened. Shhh, don't tell my old boss.

I think Salon's Steven Lloyd Wilson captured best the conundrum facing fans: it's not just that OSC is a staunch conservative espousing extreme homophobic opinions. Heaven knows there are plenty of science fiction writers with controversial or unpopular opinions, and I think we all defend their right to say what they think as loudly as they like.

No, it is the nature of Card's work that makes his political stances so difficult to understand. Wilson encapsulated it better than I ever could:

What I cannot quite wrap my mind around is how the mind which wrote such a beautiful meditation on empathy can be the same one that argues for the violent overthrow of the American government because of its failure to ban gay marriage and to outlaw homosexuality generally. Card describes in a fair amount of detail the advocated program of state-sponsored shaming he is in favor of. There’s a cognitive disconnect here, of how someone can advocate the minimal government of libertarianism while in the next sentence saying with a straight face that the government should regulate the sex lives of its citizens, but that’s run of the mill hypocrisy as far as political conversations go. I’m more confounded by the cognitive disconnect between the empathy required to create Ender and the callousness required to insist that you have the right to use violence to tell other people how they should live their lives.

The exploration of religion as both a positive and negative force, the need for open-minded tolerance among those who are different, advocacy of people's rights to form a family of their choice... these are all themes in the Ender books. When Demosthenes writes that families should have the right to have a third child if they please, it is a violation of everything their society believes, and advocating the freedom of choice for families.

But the man who wrote that also wrote that a government that permits gay marriage should be taken down by armed rebellion, that every homosexual marriage is a direct threat to his own. "Cognitive disconnect" is the nice way to put it.

Most of the time I can separate art from crazy artist. I can recognize that Tom Cruise used to be one hell of a good actor (circa Born on the Fourth of July) and Mel Gibson still is (circa Braveheart). I can even get behind supporting art with which I do not necessarily believe, because it is good art. But there also comes a point where I need to keep my money from going to people actively using it to harm others, and Card is on the board of a national organization doing its level best to stamp out marriage equality.

Now Ender's Game will be a movie. Obviously the film execs are hoping to capitalize on what they are billing as the boys' version of The Hunger Games, but that's because film executives are soulless and don't know what they're talking about. They are smart enough, however, to keep OSC as far away from the spotlight as possible - I'd be stunned if they were stupid enough to send him to San Diego Comic-Con, which (as some have pointed out) is rather like promoting Harry Potter without J.K. Rowling. Still, it's safer than putting Card in front of a packed ballroom for Q&A.

Thus we come back to the contract. Because if Card has already been paid for the Ender rights, then the cost of my ticket will only go to the people who adapted, developed, acted and shot the movie. I'm okay with those folks getting my money.

On the other hand, if Card gets a piece of the back end (pardon the expression), I have to think twice about it. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, mind you: there's still a lot of people involved who may have made great art out of Card's novel, which was itself one of the greatest science fiction novels in the English language. Come on, producer-folk: tell us if it's safe to give you our money.

Because I want to see it, with every fiber of my SF-nerd being. Will Ender learn more than zero-G battle tactics? Or did they take a treatise on personal freedom and forgiveness of one's fellow alien and make it into just another adventure? Is this the real book that captivated me in the parking lot of my first newspaper, or is it just Tron-meets-Hunger Games?

Mostly, I want to see if the boy who learned the hard way that violence and intolerance gain us nothing but death survives onto the big screen.


Mitzi Trout

So, I'm with you on the rights contract, and I don't want to give him more money. I've missed out on several movies that I've REALLY wanted to see, because I refuse to give Tom Cruise money. But none of them were books that I wanted to see made into a movie since I first read it. This looks so well done, that I'm not sure I could stick to that. *sigh*

Unfortunately, the thing that people have so much trouble understanding (how Card can write tolerance but be so intolerant), I kind of get. OSC is Mormon. He used Ender's Game. and the subsequent sequels, to promote religious tolerance - to show that Mormons "aren't all that different from other Christians". As a matter of fact, Ender's parents are Catholic and Mormon, to show that "gosh, you guys may think of Mormons as cultists, but look, we're more similar than you think in these ways." He did, in fact, have an agenda in the writing of this book, but the tolerance lesson - obviously - was only meant to help tolerance towards Mormons. I don't think he expected the tolerance lesson to be generalized as much as it was.

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