Monday, December 12, 2011

Book Review:: Ender's Game

Orson Scott Card is an author who's words I've read several times and nodded along too in agreement, and yet I had never once read any of his fiction. I've read works of his dedicated to the craft of writing and his knowledge there finally convinced me to make reading Ender's Game a priority.

Ender's Game closely follows Andrew Wiggin, known as Ender, as he is selected and groomed for a great destiny within the military defence of Earth. In this future, mankind has found an uneasy peace on earth after surviving two waves of invasion from a ruthless alien race known only as "buggers". As a planet they collude to build a massive fleet and harvest from the brightest and best children the future stars of this war machine.

Ender is one such child, only he is worked harder than all the others, as he is the most promising. The story does a wonderful job, in the classic "hard SciFi" way that focuses primarily on the technology and the world around it, of unfolding a detailed "what if" scenario to completely flesh out the world and events to follow.

It asks and answers questions such as, how do you train children from a young age to be armies, to lead armies? How do you train them to fight in zero gravity? To think in zero gravity without the limitations of earth-like thinking? How do you fight an interstellar war? How do you help children cope with the mental strain?

Much of the novel is gruelling, and tortuous as we follow along through Ender's trials and triumphs, such as they are, and it is all fascinating. I did feel it wore on me. There wasn't much for hope, or compassion in this story, and there felt to be precious little positive emotion in it. I believe this was by design as Orson Scott Card set out to make us understand the unbearable cost of what was done and from the payers perspective, from Ender's.

Many people will and should enjoy this book, especially young people, because in many ways it celebrates the ability of youth to achieve great things and is at it's heart an underdog story, albeit a brutal one.  Given the main events it'd be easy to expect this to be a cautionary tale, but only in the final pages does this really occur and then it feels more like a segue into a sequel then any real message.

My main complaints against the book are it's muddled theme especially in regards to the end. While this is written and titled as if it's the story of Ender, it's treated in end and at various stages much more like the story of Earthlings in the Third Invasion. I think this allowed OSC to explore many more ideas he had but ultimately took away from the power of his central material and at various times made us more interested in largely unimportant characters (Ender's siblings).

I guess in the end I just wished there had been some moralistic message after going through Ender's trials with him. What was there was handled in such a wash of denouement exposition it didn't really resonate. Orson Scott Card exhibits a very analytical understanding of cause and effect in relation to human emotions, relationships, and society and science. His work is solid and well written here, but to my disappointment, it is not Lord of the Flies in Space.

I give Ender's Game 9/10.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Importance of Capturing the Spark

Laying in bed the other night I was suddenly struck by what seemed an extremely cool idea for a story, so, as I've read I should, I grabbed my iPhone from the nightstand and jotted it down as a note for later.

This is what I wrote,
Soul sipper soul light
Flicker of detectable flame of life of magic user. One is dead steady black flame, etc
Illegal to sip souls, addicted to it was a game for rebellious youth. Now killer...
When I read it now I can only guess what was meant by "etc" or the ellipsis "...". The moment of clarity has long passed. Aside from the obviously vague items, most of this takes a fair amount of reconstruction and imagination to turn into anything useful, and yet it's enough to spark a creative process down a pathway my mind has been once before. The ideas may be terrible, cliche and tired, or impractical for a story of any real length but I certainly can see the value in capturing a moment's creative spark for later.

This got me thinking of the Moleskine I had carried around last year during my writing classes and writing experiments. Hadn't I kept a section as a journal of story and scene ideas? Once I had its leathery cover in my hands and had removed the elastic binding, I flipped it open to the very back and amongst others found these little dusty turds.
A battle or ritual with Prime Evil leaves a mark. Protag now struggling to fight [Prime Evil] climactically discovers the evil is inside him and was all that time. Becomes blured borders between identities IE. Horror Harry Potter

Data heist from High Security data centre, no one expected physical attack, Maybe Botnet DDOS misdirect attack (paid some kid/fallguy)

Encryption with a human key/cipher. Either genetic or something taught/learned.

Maybe nothing special there but some things to get me thinking. Flipping around I found the Scene Ideas/Chance Moments sections and was truly struck by some of the scenes I had seen in my real life or imagined.

Teens raving about "Bees! Bees! They are really important. If they die we die."

Two super goths [Editor's note: I don't know proper terminology] as a couple, him an Alice Cooper, her female Marilyn Manson (eyebrows shaved painted white with drawn eyebrows) and between them, cute normal little girl in My Little Pony clothes. [their daughter]

Near office buildings gust of wind catches yellowed leaves of branches and they dance in a column through the intersection catching the sun and turning into Golden Dancers in the middle of the air over the busy, distracted masses.

Elderly man waiting forlornly, solemnly, at a set chess table in the library/park no longer waiting for an opponent who will never arrive again. Staring at me.
As I read those now, some of them seem interesting, and some of them strike me deeply as I remember exactly what I had seen or imagined. Each of them could help break a spell of writer's block or be included to flesh out an otherwise mundane scene.

If nothing else, these captured little sparks of creativity and observation, so hastily preserved in ink like so much dinosaur DNA in amber, have prompted me to finally break the multi-month draught of postings on this blog. And that alone is proof of the importance of capturing the spark.