Welcome to the Battle Room. Children are tossed into a chamber where gravity no longer keeps them grounded, and simulate fights that involve strategies too complex for even the most skilled chess player. Up and down no longer offer bearings, and the children must learn to orient themselves, or they'll perish. They are preparing for a war that is inconceivable in its magnitude, as they toe the line between innocence and adulthood.
Ender's Game, published in 1985 by Orson Scott Card, is a classic science fiction tale, and in November, it's being turned into a major motion picture. Unfortunately, in discussing the movie, people haven't been saying, "Hell yes, Harrison Ford is flying battle ships in outer space again!" Instead, fans have been torn apart by Card's Mormon faith and his anti-gay comments. It's time that we turn away from the scandal, and instead, consider the continuing relevance of Card's story to young generations of readers, and whether the film will live up to the story.
A group called Geeks Out has responded to Card's anti-gay comments by calling for a boycott of the film. The studio has made a point of coming out and saying that they do not share Card's views, and that the film does not even remotely touch on the subject of sexuality. (Card agrees that the subject of sexuality is irrelevant to protagonist Ender Wiggin's story.) However, the focus on the author, and not the work itself, is misguided.
The question of whether we should be judging a work of fiction based on the author can be answered by looking back at history. Edgar Allen Poe married his pubescent cousin. Hemingway was an alcoholic and is seen as a flagrant sexist. Ray Bradbury, that joyous old grandfather of science fiction, lost his virginity to a prostitute. Writers, and most people, tend to be flawed, some pretty severely so. Get over it. An age-old axiom dictates that when a story leaves the hands of the writer, the two become strangers. What the author writes, once finished, only reflects what's on the page, and not what's in the author's heart. The work and the artist are two separate entities. That is the magic of storytelling.
Ender's Game is now taught in schools alongside literary titans like Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. It won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards, which are given to the best works of science fiction. On top of that, Ender's Game has enchanted generations of young people, and encouraged them to indulge in literary pursuits.
In the book, Ender's character captures the delicate chaos that exists within everyone standing on the brink of adulthood, and his hyper-intelligence does not shield the reader from the hard truths of interstellar war. In fact, it gives them further weight. Ender's search for identity resonates with young readers, but the book doesn't bring up the idea of sexual identity, the issue of homosexuality, or even sexuality at all. In fact, the story is rather asexual, mostly because the characters are too young to have developed sexual identities.
Instead, Ender's Game introduces young readers to subjects like philosophy and the history of the Roman Empire like the shimmering surface of some strange planet on the edge of space. While Ender is in Battle School, his brother and sister begin an oratory campaign on earth using the pseudonyms Locke and Demosthenes. Much of the war strategy in the novel was inspired by Isaac Asimov's Foundation, which is an interpretation of the fall of the Roman Empire, as well as Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac, which describes a war that was fought by boys of 15 and 16.
With the release date for the film quickly approaching, fans should be less concerned with the potential boycott of Ender's Game, and more concerned with the film itself. While the film was co-produced by Card, it was directed by Gavin Hood, who's only foray into anything like science fiction was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, in which style and action far outweighed narrative and character development. There is a strong chance that Hood was seduced by the visual possibilities of sleek starships blowing up aliens in space, Molecular Disruption Devices that disintegrate large masses in seconds, and the aforementioned anti-gravitational Battle Room where young soldiers soar at each other like birds of prey. But all of these things, while undeniably cool, are tangential to the heart of the story. You could put Ender in Virginia in 1861 and have him fight in the Civil War, and you'd still have the same story, barring some futuristic speculation that can only exist in science fiction. The characters and their development are what's sacrosanct in a novel like Ender's Game, and it would be a shame to lose them to the flashy but ultimately shallow special effects.
There is one glimmer of hope, and that is Ford. Ford will play the role of Colonel Hyrum Graff, one of Ender's Battle School mentors. The decision to cast Ford as Ender's mentor can be interpreted as a sign that Hood understands the importance of Ender's Game's characters, and that he'll use the film's action as their vessel, allowing Ford's influence, and guidance of the timeless Sci-Fi movies, to shape the movie. If this is the case, then November 1 should be very exciting.
At the end of his introduction to the Author's Definitive Edition of Ender's Game, Card writes, "The story of Ender's Game is not this book, though it has that title emblazoned on it. The story is one that you and I will construct together in your memory. If the story means anything to you at all, then when you remember it afterward, think of it not as something I created, but rather as something that we made together."
It would be a tragedy if the story that we, the audience, make of the film is one of anger or hollow entertainment. It would be an even greater tragedy if all of this somehow knocked the book out of its rightful place in the cannon of meaningful science fiction. If we're lucky, Ender will debut on screen to an audience that remembers the story, not the author, and is rewarded with a true retelling.