Critics, community and 'Ender's Game': An interview with Orson Scott Card

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31 2013 9:50 a.m. MDT

OSC: That’s always such a worry. ... My heyday with "Ender's Game," I am not worried by the fact that this book, which was really rather early in my career — I’d written four or five books before it; it was my first story that was published — I’m not even trying to match. Everything that I write, I would like to have reach as large an audience as possible, and if it surpassed "Ender’s Game," I’d be thrilled, but I’m not trying to compete with myself. I did the best job of telling that story that I could at the time. When I go back and adapt it, I cringe at a few things ... because I’ve learned a lot. But I also don’t try to fix problems. I am thinking of a new edition of "Ender's Game," not to fix things that are broken but to reconcile the contradictions between the different times I went through and told the story. ...

Let’s just say that each story gives its own set of problems, and meeting those challenges is all a writer can hope to do. Some of them I succeed better than others. "Ender's Game" seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people. I have no idea why. If I could do it every time, I would. But I am happy with the readership that every single one of the books has achieved.

DN: Do you feel like "Ender’s Game" is your best piece of writing?

OSC: No, far from it. But it’s my most resonant story. It was written in 1984, and I was 33. I’ve learned a few things since then. I’ve written many books that I consider to be better works of art and even some stories that I feel more emotionally involved with. I think that the two series that I just began — "Lost Gate" is the first of the Mither Mages books, and "Pathfinder" is the first of a young adult trilogy — they're as good as anything I’ve ever done. "Pathfinder" is probably my best science fiction. Period. Better than "Ender's Game" for taking the possibilities of the science fiction genre and spinning a yarn. And they're building up their own audience, each of them. ... They have a life of their own, so we’ll see where they go.

DN: Have you come across any kind of article about you that you really felt captured the essence of you as an author?

OSC: That would be hard because I don’t read articles about me. I have other people read them and tell me if there's something I need to deal with. It just makes you too crazy. I mean, I bring a set of communitarian values to my fiction. Not my plan, just who I am. But I think it's partly the experience of being Mormon — or maybe it’s my communitarian values make me very compatible with being a Mormon — but Mormons all live in these little villages where we’re intensely involved in each other's lives, where our roles shift from time to time, so we’re constantly moving into new roles and positions within Mormon life. So that colors and affects my fiction. ... What I find interesting is the people who commit and keep their commitment at great personal cost, the grown-up story, the story of parents, the story of people who sacrifice for community but stay in it and have to live in the mess they made. ... They don’t take off their mask and go back into society under another name. They have to be who they are, wear their own face in their community.

This has made some critics very uncomfortable right from the start. And as my politics diverged from the political correctness that has captured the left — I mean, (in) 1976 I was a Daniel Patrick Moynihan liberal Democrat — and without changing any of my principles, I’ve now become quite a right-winger in the eyes of the left. And I’m a little baffled by it because I’m a liberal and they’re not. They’re repressive, punishing, intolerant of the slightest variation, absolutely the opposite of what it means to be a liberal. But that’s the way it goes. They still get the label. I am the fact of what it meant to be a liberal. I find the most liberals who feel like I do among people who are labeled as conservatives. It’s a very odd thing.

But that political thing has affected the criticism of my work. And it would just make me crazy to read asinine, irrelevant comments by critics who think they’re saying something intelligent.

You see, what happens is, if you respect a writer, then you talk about the work. If you disdain the writer, then you try to psychoanalyze the writer and figure out why would he write this. And that’s all I get from science fiction literary elite. If they mention my work at all, which they rarely do, it’s to dismiss it and to psychoanalyze me, which they are incapable of doing since they’ve never actually formed the kind of community bonds that my fiction always depends on. They have no idea what I’m talking about. They couldn’t produce that fiction if they tried because they don’t share those values. But readers do.

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