Card, Orson Scott

Tagged: Author

(1951-    ) US writer who began his adult life with activities befitting his faith – he worked as a Mormon missionary in Brazil, 1971-1973, an experience seemingly fictionalized to revealing effect in "America" (January 1987 Asimov's). He wrote several plays and other works with religious content before exploding onto the sf scene with his first published story of genre interest, "Ender's Game" for Analog in August 1977. This was nominated for a Hugo and served as the germ for the Ender series, the first two volumes of which – published 1985 and 1986 – each won both Hugo and Nebula, the first time the two major prizes had been swept in successive years by one author. But this was after his career had entered its pomp. After a highly promising start at the end of the 1970s – he won the 1978 John W Campbell Award – he entered a period during the early 1980s when that career seemed to be drifting; it was only after the Ender successes that he clearly established himself as one of the dominant figures of recent sf. That dominance extended well into the 1990s.

No secret lies behind this success, for Card has always been entirely explicit about the two factors which have shaped his career. The first is Mormonism. The gift of faith, in his case, has been a complex offering. Born and raised as a Mormon, Card came to adulthood in a family-oriented, tight-knit community whose sense of historical uniqueness was confirmed in various ways: by recurrent persecution from without, while being intermittently threatened by scandal within; by The Book of Mormon, a holy book constructed as a nest of mythopoeic, justificatory narratives through which are expounded a pattern of truly unusual historical hypotheses rich in storytelling potential, not least among these the belief that Native Americans are the Lost Tribes of Israel; and by a tradition – both written and oral – dominated by messiah-like figures of great charisma who lead their people from exile into a promised land. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Card's tales have concerned themselves from the first with matters of family and community in narratives constructed so as to unfold a mythic density at their hearts, featuring lonely and manipulative Messiah-figures who – if they die – die sacrificially, and which are open to being construed – both by those friendly and those unfriendly to the sense of mission they generate – as manifestos. When family and community are seen as the central building blocks for a world, it is possible to miss a full acceptance of the heterodox in individual lives, or (at the other end of the spectrum) of the necessity of larger and more encompassing units than communities of shared enterprise. The second factor behind Card's career is the compulsion to tell stories. If he has a genius, it is for that. (And, if he has a fatal flaw, it resides in that compulsion.) Like Stephen King, whose capacity for hard work he shares, he is a maker of tales.

Unlike King, however, Card did not begin as a natural writer of novels, most of his pre-sf work being in the form of short plays for Mormon audiences and much of his early work at book length being expansions of short stories. "Ender's Game" and the other stories assembled in Unaccompanied Sonata (coll 1981) – not to be confused with the release of the title story alone as Unaccompanied Sonata (March 1979 Omni; 1992 chap) – demonstrate a compulsive rightness of length (though at times the chill cruelty of the telling unveils a sadism over which the author seemed to have little control), but the first novels were incoherently told, if absorbing in parts. Because of Card's habitual reworking of his early work, the bibliography of his first sequence, the Worthing Chronicle, is complex. Some of the stories in Capitol: The Worthing Chronicle (coll of linked stories 1979) are journeyman work, and appear only in that first volume; both Capitol and its companion, Hot Sleep (fixup 1979), were withdrawn from circulation only a few years later in order to make market room for The Worthing Chronicle (1983), a text which reworked beyond recognition the earlier material. Finally, in The Worthing Saga (omni 1990), The Worthing Chronicle (apparently unchanged) was assembled along with six of the eleven stories originally published in Capitol plus three previously uncollected tales. Of all these versions, the most unified is very clearly the 1983 novel, which presents the long epic of Jason Worthing as a sequence of dreams – or scriptures – transmitted by Jason himself to young Lared, who transcribes them for his fellow colonists on a planet which, ages before, their ancestors settled under Worthing's guidance. These dreams – which are in fact some of the contents of the earlier versions of the long tale, here contoured and condensed into myth-like parables – tell Lared of Jason Worthing's pain-racked and interminable life as messiah and godling and Godgame magus. Lared also learns why Jason removed all capacity to experience deep pain from his "children", and why, now, he has given them pain once more. Compact, multi-layered, mythopoeic and ultimately very strange, The Worthing Chronicle of 1983 remains one of Card's finest and most revealing works.

A Planet Called Treason (1979; rev vt Treason 1988) is a much inferior singleton, though its protagonist is illuminatingly similar to Jason Worthing; but Songmaster (fixup 1980; rev 1987) is a fine rite-of-passage tale whose protagonist, a typical early Card child profoundly alienated from his family, is blessed with an extraordinary talent (in this case Music), and grows into a messianic role for which he seems preordained.

Card's career then seemed to drift. Hart's Hope (1983) was a Fantasy, obscurely published; The Worthing Chronicle appeared without much notice; and A Woman of Destiny (1984; text restored vt Saints 1988) was a historical novel about the founding of Mormonism which, in the cut 1984 version, seemed misshapen. Finally, however, the Ender books began to appear. The primary series comprises Ender's Game (August 1977 Analog; much exp 1985), Speaker for the Dead (1986), both volumes being assembled as Ender's War (omni 1986), plus Xenocide (1991) and Children of the Mind (1996); a supplemental volume, First Meetings: Three Stories from the Enderverse (coll 2002; exp vt First Meetings in the Enderverse 2003; vt First Meetings In Ender's Universe 2004), supplies tales appropriate to its title. Ender in Exile (2008) is in essence a novel-length expansion and reworking of the final chapter of the original Ender's Game but also includes a coda to the later Ender: Shadow sequence, of which more below.

As the sequence begins, Ender Wiggin is a young boy who, along with his siblings, is the result of an experiment in Eugenics authorized by the government of Earth, which is apprehensive that the Alien "buggers" will return from interstellar space and continue what seems a xenocidal assault upon humanity, and is convinced that only humans with superior abilities will be capable of defeating the foe. Ender is taken to a military academy for gifted Children, where he is subjected in the Battle Room to an escalating sequence of challenges to his extraordinary tactical and strategic abilities; eventually, at what seems to be a final game (> Games and Sports; the tale does here prefigure much of the Virtual-Reality imagery brought to the fore in the 1980s by writers under the influence of Cyberpunk), Ender defeats the "imaginary" foe only to find that via instantaneous Ansible communication he has in fact been commanding genuine human space-fleets at the ends of their long journeys into enemy territory, and that by winning absolutely he has committed xenocide on behalf of the human race. This first Ender novel was filmed – reasonably faithfully, though with some cuts – as Ender's Game (2013).

When it is discovered that the buggers had long comprehended that humans were sentient beings and had had no intention of continuing any conflict, the grounds for Speaker for the Dead are laid. In the company of his chaste sister (his demagogic brother meanwhile takes over the government of Earth), and carrying a cocooned bugger Hive Queen (the last of all her race), Ender travels from star to star for thousands of planetary years (prior to Faster Than Light developments in Xenocide, Card, unusually, obeys Einsteinian constraints on interstellar travel if not on Communications) as a Speaker for the Dead, a person who sums up a dead person's life in a terminal ceremony, and by so doing heals the community of his or her death. The action takes place on the planet Lusitania, and concentrates upon the local alien race, the Pequeninos, whose strange Biology is not yet understood and whose unravelling is fascinatingly prolonged. The novel concludes with the Pequeninos seemingly understood, the Hive Queen happy in a cave where she will breed new buggers, and Ender seeming to have expiated xenocide and become a messiah; but the human Galactic Federation is preparing to destroy Lusitania for fear of a deadly plague. Xenocide carries the plot onwards, though not to a conclusion, introducing many new characters, including a talkative AI in love with Ender; Children of the Mind moves so far into extrapolative extremes as to lose touch with the Ender who began the sequence. The later storylines are much complicated by Card's attempt, not fully successful, to envision a family complex and engaging enough for Ender to transform and (in some sense) inhabit convincingly. His frequent recourse to Pulp-magazine-style highlighting of eccentricities, to distinguish one sibling from another, grows thin in the reading; nor is his depiction of a Chinese world – run by Mutants dominated by artificially induced obsessive-compulsive disorders – fully convincing. But even in its abstracter later passages, and despite its not infrequent dependence upon trivializing tricks of plot, the Ender saga stands as one of the very few serious moral tales set among the stars.

At the same time, Card may well have felt that he had distanced himself and his readers too far from the highly vivid origins of his long tale, and in the Ender: Shadow sequence – comprising Ender's Shadow: Book One of the Shadow Trilogy (1999), Shadow of the Hegemon (2000), Shadow Puppets (2002), Shadow of the Giant (2005) and Shadows in Flight (2012) – he focuses on young Bean, who originally "shadowed" Ender during their mutual schooling, and whose own strategic genius, which manifests as an extraordinary sense of place, makes him the natural complement and potential rival of Ender. The series deals with his self-discovery (as a victim of Genetic Engineering that gave him brilliance but will kill him with progressive giantism) and the impact of his and Ender's erstwhile teammates' deployment of their only slightly lesser skills as rival military leaders on Earth. Though this secondary sequence is necessarily a shadow of the first in more ways than one, it has been executed with panache and skill; and, in the end, seems integral to the whole. Revisions to the original scenario include the renaming of the destroyed buggers – always a somewhat embarrassing term – as the "formics"; this is backdated to the early days of the saga in Ender in Exile, whose later action references and apparently concludes the Ender: Shadow series, and used throughout the 2013 film Ender's Game. The Ender: First Formic War sequence, beginning with Earth Unaware: The First Formic War: Volume One of the Formic Wars (2012) with Aaron Johnston, which is based on the prequel Marvel Comics series, is journeyman work.

Card's third sequence – the Tales of Alvin Maker, comprising Seventh Son (1987), Red Prophet (1988) and Prentice Alvin (1989), all assembled as Hatrack River: The Tales of Alvin Maker: Part One (omni 1989), plus Alvin Journeyman (1995), Heartfire (1998), both assembled as Alvin Wandering (omni 1998), and The Crystal City (2003) – returns to Earth, to an Alternate-History version of the USA. It seems to come as close as humanly possible to the telling of an sf tale as Mormon parable, for the life of Alvin Maker clearly encodes the life of Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the founder of the Mormon Church. The early nineteenth-century USA in which he grows up has never experienced a Revolution; certain forms of Magic are efficacious; and Alvin may become a Maker, one who can delve to the heart of things and transform them (and engender belief in the transformations he governs). As the sequence progresses, the Indian Nations set up a demarcation line, which is observed, along the Mississippi; and Alvin moves closer to the status of Maker, whose nature is more complex than he had dreamed. Of greater sf relevance are Wyrms (1987), another rite-of-passage tale about the assumption of role and set on a planet of some interest, The Folk of the Fringe (coll of linked stories 1989), a moderately heterodox vision of a Mormon Post-Holocaust civilization; The Abyss (1989), which very effectively novelizes The Abyss (1989); and Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus (1996), involving study and modification of the past using a Time Viewer.

Card's fourth main sequence is the Homecoming epic, comprising The Memory of Earth (1992), The Call of Earth (1993), The Ships of Earth (1994) – the first three volumes being assembled as Homecoming: Harmony (omni 1994) – followed by Earthfall (1995) and Earthborn (1995) – the last two volumes being assembled as Homecoming: Earth (omni 1995). In its use of religious motifs to characterize the start of its protagonists' return to Earth 40 million years after the last humans had left their home planet, this latter is a tale whose Mormon subtext extends very close to the surface.

Later stories are collected in Cardography (coll 1987), and almost all Card's independent short work, some of it written as Byron Walley, is assembled in Maps in a Mirror: The Short Fiction of Orson Scott Card (coll 1990; vt, with the fifth section cut, as Maps in a Mirror: Volume One: The Short Fiction of Orson Scott Card 2002 UK and Maps in a Mirror: Volume Two: The Short Fiction of Orson Scott Card 2002; further vt 4vols with the fifth section again cut, as The Changed Man coll 1992), Flux (coll 1992), Monkey Sonatas (coll 1993) and Cruel Miracles (coll 1993). This collection includes Card's Hugo-winning novella Eye for Eye (March 1987 Asimov's; 1990 dos).

By the mid 1990s, Card had written enough work for a lifetime, had transformed Pulp idioms into religious myth with an intensity not previously witnessed in the sf field, and had created a dozen worlds it would be impossible for any reader to forget. If he has had a significant failing – beyond a cruel insistence upon the moral strictures of his faith, writing at one point that adultery and homosexuality were equal (and dreadful) sins – it resides in his strengths; and if the work of the past decade or so has lessened in intensity, it may be that he has already comprehensively laid down his mission. The surety of faith, the muscle of a honed storytelling urgency which has led him to write at times as though he genuinely believed that clarity and truth were identical, the bruising triumphalism of sf as a mode of knowing: all have led this extraordinarily talented author to sound, on occasion, as though he thought the fictions he wrote were scooped from the mouth of a higher being, an impression harshened in the late Empire sequence comprising Empire (2006) and Hidden Empire (2009), where political agendas of the Right in America – previously couched novelistically in his work – were conspicuously advocated in the recounting of an attempted Left-wing coup against America, initiated by the occupation of New York with the aid of viciously-wielded Mecha; and of the new Civil War that begins with inspired resistance from the inner homeland of America. The sequence is apparently based on an unreleased Videogame, and reflects an increasing obduracy about political and sexual issues that some readers and critics have found untoward. A new Young Adult fantasy sequence, the Mithermages series comprising The Lost Gate (2011) and The Gate Thief: A Novel of the Mither Mages (2013), seems less controversial. [JC]

see also: Arts; Asimov's Science Fiction; Crime and Punishment; Destinies; The Dig; Ditmar Award; Gaia; Heroes; Hive Minds; Optimism and Pessimism; Paranoia; Seiun Award; Skylark Award; Sleeper Awakes; Suspended Animation; Under the Sea; Writers of the Future Contest.

Orson Scott Card

born Richland, Washington: 24 August 1951

died

works

series

The Worthing Chronicle

Ender

Ender: Shadow

Ender: First Formic War

Ender/Ender: Shadow: graphic novels

  • Ender's Game: Battle School (New York: Marvel, 2009) [graph: adapted by Christopher Yost: Ender/Ender: Shadow: graphic novels: illus/Pasqual Ferry and Frank D'Armata: hb/Frank D'Armata]
  • Ender's Shadow: Battle School (New York: Marvel, 2009) [graph: adapted by Mike Carey: Ender/Ender: Shadow: graphic novels: illus/hb/Sebastian Fumara and Giulia BruscoFrank D'Armata]
  • Ender's Shadow: Command School (New York: Marvel, 2010) [graph: adapted by Mike Carey: Ender/Ender: Shadow: graphic novels: illus/hb/Sebastian Fumara and Giulia BruscoFrank D'Armata]
  • Ender in Exile (New York: Marvel, 2011) [graph: adapted by Aaron Johnston: Ender/Ender: Shadow: graphic novels: illus/Pop Mhan and Jim Charalampidis: hb/Jim Charalampidis]

The Tales of Alvin Maker

Homecoming

Women of Genesis (associational)

  • Sarah (Salt Lake City, Utah: Shadow Mountain, 2001) [Women of Genesis: hb/from Frederick Lord Leighton]
  • Rebekah (Salt Lake City, Utah: Shadow Mountain, 2001) [Women of Genesis: hb/from Frederick Lord Leighton]
  • Rachel & Leah (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 2004) [Women of Genesis: hb/from Frederick Lord Leighton]

Empire

  • Empiresfgateway.com (New York: Tor, 2006) [Empire: hb/Bob Warner]
  • Hidden Empire (New York: Tor, 2009) [Empire: hb/Bob Warner]

The Mithermages

individual titles

works as editor

nonfiction

about the author

links

Previous versions of this entry

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