GREENSBORO, North Carolina — 'Twas a Merry Christmas for Orson Scott Card fans.
Two, count 'em, two new Card books hit the shelves: "Pathfinder" and "The Lost Gate."
"Pathfinder" follows the story of Rigg Sessamekesh, a lad who can see where people have gone before. "The Lost Gate" explores what a world would be like with something like wormholes popping up at someone's whim.
Both are vintage Card, with characters and worlds created out of an original mind.
How does he do it book after book?
"Ideas are cheap, and they come constantly," Card said. "The real problem is recognizing when an idea is cool enough to be worth spending time on."
And how does he keep the complexities — such as time travel, space folds and eternal pathmaking — from overwhelming the story, the author and the reader?
"I realized that my characters, young teenage boys, would absolutely insist on trying to make sense of what their time travel abilities say about how the universe works. Their minds are boggled, and so I showed that consternation and fascination to the reader. Some critics have thought that I spent too much time on it, but I was true to my characters — and I bet very few teenager boys think I spent too much time on it."
He creates the environments using extrapolation, the stock in the trade of science fiction writing.
He asks himself what would change in the way people live and relate to one another if society ever had a particular power or machine or knowledge. How would it affect daily life, social behavior, social hierarchies, laws and customs?
"In the case of 'The Lost Gate,' we have a family whose ancestors had godlike powers and were, in fact, regarded as gods by ordinary mortals on Earth. But since then, they have been cut off from the source of their power on another world, and their power has diminished accordingly," he said. "So they have a sense of entitlement and deprivation: They should be powerful, and yet they are not, and thus they are aggrieved. They are also torn: The person who deprived them was a gatemage, and therefore gatemages can't be trusted and must be killed.
"At the same time, the only hope of restoring the ancient powers is to reopen the gates, and that would require a gatemage. It would also require breaking all our peace treaties with the other families and reopening a war. Yet, if they had a connection to the other world, they would have far more power than the others, and they would win that war.
"How does that affect the life of a family, to have such knowledge and inner conflicts?
"Let's just say that my conclusion was: Nobody can trust anybody, the conflicts are a continuous sore, and the whole culture of the family is riddled with resentment and grievance. Very few nice people would emerge from a family culture like that," Card said.
Card explained it wasn't his decision to release the two books together. "Each publisher chose a release time related to their perception of how the novel would fare in the marketplace."
Simon and Schuster chose the Christmas season to maximize potential gift sales. TOR chose the doldrums right after Christmas, a time when a book that is not a gift, but one people buy for themselves, thinking the book will have a better chance of getting attention. They are both good strategies. It's merely coincidence that they're six weeks apart," Card added.
For those waiting for the movie based on Card's signature novel "Ender's Game," Card and the moviemakers are still working things through.
"I'm still waiting to see a script that actually relies on 'Ender's Game' itself as the source of its scenes and characters. Up to now, the writers all seem determined to write their own story using my title and the names of my characters.
"The trouble is that none of them is remotely qualified to write a story like 'Ender's Game.' The producers and I have worked out exactly what scenes and plotlines from 'Ender's Game' and 'Ender's Shadow' should and should not be included in the script, but the writers all think they know better. They don't," Card said.
Card said when he writes a book, he comes at it with a story to tell, one he cares about and believes in — "not in the sense of factuality or historicity, but rather in the sense that it is mythically true, that the world really does work as I show it working, that humans do things for the reasons that I say.
"All I concentrate on is making sure that what happens is truthful and significant within the rules of the story and that I write it clearly enough that the readers will be able to construct a powerful version of the story in their minds."
Card is aware that his Ender story (which predicted a future filled with the Internet, cell phones and digital realities) changed his world and that of many of his readers.
"Without me, 'Ender's Game' would not be required reading for thousands of suffering schoolchildren," he quips. "I extrapolated from the technological advances I thought of. I got some things right and completely missed other things.
"But that's OK — when real tech advances came along, people in the real world did no better at foreseeing all the consequences of the new technology. Nobody foresaw Internet porn, for instance — but we should have, given the anonymity of the nets. After all, I saw the political possibilities of that anonymity for a couple of kids who wrote brilliantly but would never have been taken seriously had their ages been known.
"In my defense, though, I must say that my story was not about Ender's Game itself as the source of its scenes and characters.
"I only spend my storytelling time on elements connected to my characters, and so I didn't so much miss many of the web's features today as not even look for them. The story was not about the future of the nets; it was about these kids in a particular fictional time of war."
Card said sci-fi writers agree that they are never predicting the future, just commenting on human nature and how behaviors and relationships change over time and with changing circumstances.
Meanwhile, he lives in the real world, as a successful Mormon writer in a highly competitive market.
"I live in the real world, with my family, in my ward, in my town. I change the world exactly as everyone else does — making it worse for some as I make mistakes or behave badly or carelessly and better for others when I notice a need and help to fill it, or treat others with kindness when I did not have to.
"We all do this. In fact, one can say that we all create the world together day by day."
Sharon Haddock is a professional freelance writer with 30 years' experience, 17 of those at the Deseret News. She has a personal blog called Grandma's Place: sharonhaddock.blogspot.com/