Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Steampunk Shakespeare done right

The Vintner's Tale: An Adaptation 
of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

By Claudia Alexander

(Emerald Phoenix)

     I can’t really claim to be “reviewing” this book, since I haven’t read it, at least not in this particular iteration. I did read a substantial chunk of it under the title “Leo’s Mechanical Queen” in the scarcely marketed, stealth steampunk Shakespeare anthology The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter, and thought it was one of the highlights of the book. It remained true to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale while transforming it into a true steampunk alternate history/culture story, set in a world where Louisiana was never sold to the U.S. by Napoleon, and with a Creole/voodoo culture.
     My only complaint with the original story was that it was a little too short, its ending a little too abrupt, to fully stand alone as a steampunk reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s play. In fact, it fell just short of fulfilling that promise.
     That this volume exists suggests that perhaps the story was longer originally, and it was the editors who lopped off a bit of the ending, along with other, perhaps more judicious, excisions. Its still short for a standalone book -- it’s more of a chapbook, only 48 pages -- but that may be precisely the proper length for the story. I think I must buy it, and recommend it to one and all.
     That said, there is no indication in the summary or details on or the book that a large chunk of this book was previously published as part of another book. As I’ve written before, this particular steampunk Shakespeare anthology -- while heavily promoted while the editors were looking for submissions -- has scarcely been mentioned by any of its editors, writers or even its publisher since. 
     That Claudia Alexander doesn’t mention it either is a curious conspiracy of silence. 
     Since the writers were to be exclusively paid by royalty, not an advance, perhaps Alexander has received no payment yet, and therefore sees no reason to promote it? Given the lack of buzz about the book since publication, I’m sure she sees no advantage in bringing up the connection. I even wonder if she has had the rights returned to her in exchange for silence about the whole debacle.
     Whatever the reason, I’m glad the story will now reach a wider audience, and I hope some of the other Omnibus authors’ stories follow suit, particularly Tim Kane's The Malefaction of Tybalt’s Mechanical Armature (an American Civil War-set retelling of Romeo and Juliet), Ruth Booth's Much Ado About Steam Presses: A Scandal of Minor Importance (a steampunk explanation for Don John's behavior in Much Ado about Nothing), both of which I liked but felt were a little too truncated. (Rebecca Fraimow’s Measure for Steel-Sprung Measure might also benefit from such expansion, though much more work  is needed. I liked the concept, but it’s little more than an anecdote as is.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

'Eighty Days' and '80 Days'

Cover image from Random





Eighty Days: Nellie Bly 

and Elizabeth Bisland's 

History-Making Race 

Around the World

by Matthew Goodman
(Ballantine Books)



 Around the World 

in 80 Days

by Jules Verne
(Oxford University Press 
and others)


     March 18 on The Diane Rehm Show radio program, author Matthew Goodman was discussing his new nonfiction book Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, which also led to some discussion of Jules Vernes 1873 novel Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-Vingts Jours (or Around the World in Eighty Days), which inspired the events upon which Goodmans book reports. It sounds interesting, and Id like to read it, but I also want to re-read the Verne original.
     Once upon a time, Verne was thought only fit for the childrens section of the library and bookstore in the English-speaking world, while hes more highly though of in his native France. One of the reasons is the translations, which in America in particular are so poor that they get the science wrong that Verne tried so hard to get right, even when he was speculating on future science. The translators frequently cut passages or even chapters also. Today there are many modern translations of Verne, but there are so many more poor translations that finding the good ones is difficult. Its also costlier, because the poor ones are out of copyright, and so come in inexpensive editions, frequently with illustrations, while the new translations require payment for the new translators.
     There is a modern translation by William Butcher of 80 Days from the Oxford University Press for about $10 (paperback). Ive been looking for modern Verne translations at bookstores for the past several years, and have never seen this one.

Cover image from Barnes and
     Meanwhile, Barnes and Noble has the hardcover collection Jules Verne: Seven Novels, which includes an older translation of 80 Days, plus six other novels, for $20. For the Nook e-book reader, you can get those seven plus 22 other titles for $2.99 total. (You can also read many for free at Project Gutenberg.) The best deal you can get for modern translations is Frederick Paul Walters Amazing Journeys: Five Visionary Classics for $25. 

The cover of my first “Around the World in 80 Days.” (

     That America has been so unkind to Verne is just bad manners, since Verne was so kind to the U.S. No chauvinist (in its original sense of being a partisan for the French), Verne frequently had American heroes in his books.

      Though the protagonist of 80 Days is an Englishman, and his resourceful manservant is a French, there are Americans in the second half of the book.
     The first version of the book I read was not a modern translation, but it had two virtues besides the entertaining plot much appreciated by the preteen me: It was both annotated and illustrated.

     The story, unlike many of Verne’s best-known and most popular works, does not involve science fiction of any kind, and features an unexpected romance.
      Phileas Fogg, an independently wealthy Englishman who is punctilious to an extreme degree, has just taken on a new manservant, Jean Passepartout, when he -- impulsively but impassively -- bets that he can travel around the world in no more than the 80 days that a recent newspaper article shows is hypothetically possible. This occurs at roughly the same time as a bank robbery by a man who is similar in appearance to Fogg, leading the policeman Fix to pursue him, believing the tour of the world is merely a ruse to elude capture. Along the way, Fogg spends almost half his fortune (the other half is tied up in the wager) to overcome obstacles and problems that delay his timetable. He also rescues Aouda, a young Indian widow who was going to be burned alive with her late husband’s body (a practice called suttee). Back on British soil, Fix arrests Fogg just as he seems sure to win his bet, putting into doubt whether the misidentification can be cleared up in time. Verne’s denouement is clever and satisfying.
      Goodman’s Eighty Days is the true story of two women reporters, including the famous Nellie Bly,  who separately attempt to beat Fogg’s record in 1889. Bly even meets Verne along the way, who blesses the enterprise and hopes she will succeed.

      There have been many TV and film adaptations of the novel, including the 1956 film version starring David Niven and Cantinflas, a 1989 TV miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan and Eric Idle, and a 2004 steampunk film version with Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan. None, in my opinion, are very good. (There was a 1981 TV movie The Adventures of Nellie Bly, starring Linda Purl as the reporter, but it apparently covered her early career, not the trip around the world.)
     Much better, strangely, were The Three Stooges Go Around the World in a Daze (1963), a film sequel in which Fogg’s great-grandson attempts to replicate the tour without using Fogg’s half-a-fortune to aid him (but with Moe, Larry and Curly Joe), and a 1972 children’s animated TV series version in which Fogg makes the bet with a Lord Maze to prove hes worthy of his daughter, Belinda. Mr. Fix is a henchman sent to prevent Fogg from winning the wager (it deviates from the novels plot, but does so in a mostly entertaining way for its youthful audience). There was also an unresolved 1969-71 cartoon sequel, Around the World in 79 Days, a segment of the Cattanooga Cats TV show, in which another descendant of Fogg -- a teenage great-great grandson -- and his friends attempt to beat the original time in order to receive an inheritance. They make the tour entirely by balloon, in the producers’ mistaken belief that this was how Fogg made the voyage originally. It was not, although Fogg and Passepartout do start off their trip in a balloon (possibly as a tip-of-the-hat to Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon) in the 1956 Mike Todd production.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Is Intelligent design religion?

Image from HarperCollins

Monkey Girl: 
Evolution, Education, Religion, 
and the Battle for America's Soul  
by Edward Humes 
(Harper Perennial)

Image from Wikipedia

Of Pandas and People: 

The Central Question 
of Biological Origins 
by Percival Davis and Dean H. Kenyon
(Foundation for Thought and Ethics)

     There are those who believe the universe is too irreducibly complex to be the result of random processes, such as natural selection and evolution. They are called intelligent design proponents. A devout colleague of mine suggests they aren't all religious, but the only example I can find is Bradley Monton, author of Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Broadview Press). (Philosopher Jerry Fodor and cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, authors of another often-cited book by intelligent design proponents, What Darwin Got Wrong, do not discuss intelligent design per se, only their problems with Darwinian evolutionary theory.)
     My own views on the subject are based upon the research and interviews I did for a Macomb Daily article on the 2005 Dover, Penn., school board case (if you're wondering why a Michigan journalist wrote about a Pennysylania lawsuit, it was because Ann Arbor's Thomas More Law Center was the school boards counsel), as well as the November 2007 Public Broadcasting Service NOVA television documentary “Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial,” and the book Monkey Girl.
     (I haven't read Of Pandas and People, but since it plays such a large part in the case I've listed it as well. It's now out-of-print, but has been supplanted by the same publisher's The Design of Life: Discovering Signs of Intelligence in Biological Systems by William A. Dembski and Jonathan Wells.)
     Basically, the lawsuit was about whether intelligent design was creationism, because the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled creationism as religion, and thus barred from teaching in public schools. (In Dover, a statement about intelligent design being an alternative theory to Darwin's theory of evolution was required to be read before the class, and that copies of the intelligent design text book Of Pandas and People were in the school library.)
     Creationism states that the world was created by God as it says in the Bible, and that consequently the Earth is less than 10 thousand years old. Intelligent design states that the universe is too complex to be created by random forces and therefore must have had an intelligent designer (maybe God), but makes no claim as to the age of the Earth.
     The problem from the scientist's view is that there seems no way to test whether or not there is a designer. It can be argued or deduced, but not shown. Many scientists also see intelligent designer as code for God.
     The Thomas More Law Center had wanted a test case for intelligent design that could be taken all the way to the Supreme Court, but were thwarted when the district voters replaced all of the board members (at least all of the ones up for re-election that year) who supported the intelligent design statement before the verdict was reached. When the judge ruled against the old board, the case died there since the new school board wasn't interested in litigating the case.
     My biggest problem with intelligent design or creationism is: so what? Aside from its religious agenda -- There is a God -- how does it help us understand the universe? Is the intelligent designer still making things happen, making cells reproduce, making the Earth rotate and circle the sun? If so, there's no need to study anything. We just all need to pray. If, however, we live in a world of physical laws, where agriculture is needed to make things grow, engineering and maintenance are necessary to keep machines running and water drinkable, human thought and effort are necessary to create new and better products and devices, then science is necessary. Intelligent design is not, except in the same sense as religion and philosophy.
     In Dover, at least some of the opponents of intelligent design in the school were religious, were devout, but didn't want religion intruding into science. In Matthew 20:20-22, Jesus said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's. I feel public school boards should keep religion out of the science classroom. If you want to convince me that intelligent design isn't religion, I need more than one atheist's opinion to convince me, and at least one theory about who is this designer if he isn't God.

     My original article, slightly edited from draft, is reprinted below.

By Stephen Bitsoli

Macomb Daily Staff Writer

     In 1925, a Dayton, Tenn. high school substitute science teacher named John T. Scopes was put on trial for the crime of teaching evolution. Although Scopes lost the case (he was fined $100, with the conviction overturned on a technicality on appeal), the anti-evolution movement was given a black eye.

     In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law mandating the teaching of creationism (basically the biblical story of the creation of the Earth and Man) in science classes, on the grounds that it wasn't science and advances a religious doctrine in violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

     Now evolution is in the courts again, this time in Dover, Pennsylvania, facing off against another alternate theory of human development known by its proponents as intelligent design. Its critics call it creationism in a white coat.

      Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District is a case in which eight families are challenging a school board decision that before evolution can be taught, the instructor must read a one-minute statement that says evolution has gaps that some believe can only be explained by intelligent design, and informing them that a book in the school library will explain the concept if they want to read it.

     The American Civil Liberties Union is plaintiff counsel, while the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center is defendant's counsel. The ACLU claims that intelligent design is religion masked as science, and is in fact just creationism under another name. Creationism, the belief that the Bible's explanation of human (and earthly) origin is literally true, has been ruled religion by the U.S. Supreme Court, and hence illegal to be taught in American public schools. Proponents and the Thomas More Law Center claim that intelligent design isn't creationism, isn't religion, and the school board wasn't teaching it by requiring that a one-minute statement be read.

     Richard Thompson is chief counsel for Thomas More Law Center, but he said he wasn't the lead counsel in the Dover case, just one of three. The others are Patrick Gillen and Rob Muise. 

     The case was concluded (Nov. 4). Following three weeks during which both sides can file pleadings, the judge will begin deliberations. A verdict is expected before January.

     By that time, eight of the nine members of the Dover School Board will be out of office. They were defeated for reelection by a slate of Democrats who vowed to reverse the intelligent design decision (though voters may have been unhappy at the publicity and the cost of litigation too).

      It was unclear at press time if the election results will affect the expected appeals. Before the election, Thompson told The Macomb Daily that regardless of which side prevails, appeals up to the U.S. Supreme Court were almost certain.

     Thompson insists that intelligent design isn't creationism in a white coat but a competing and perhaps complementary scientific theory.

     Creationism, Thompson said, starts with creation stories within Genesis and uses them as a basis.  From the Bible creationists deduce that the Earth (if not the universe) is only between six and 10 thousand years old, not four-and-a-half billion.

     Intelligent design, Thompson said doesn't address the age of the Earth, and It doesn't deny there has been change over time in living organisms. (ID proponents) look at empirical data and come to a different scientific conclusion than evolutionists, Thompson said, namely that life is irreducibly complex and couldn't happen by accident or natural selection. He repeated the example given by Michael Behe, a Roman Catholic microbiology professor who testified at the Dover trial, of bacterial flagellum, which has a fully functioning motor with 40 moving parts ... all of which had to be in place to have any value. 

      Thompson has also insisted that intelligent design isn't religion. Yet on the Thomas More Law Center Web site, it states that its raison d'etre is to defend religion: The Thomas More Law Center is a not-for-profit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life. Our purpose is to be the sword and shield for people of faith, providing legal representation without charge to defend and protect Christians and their religious beliefs in the public square.

     After the Nov. 8 election, another religious observer, televangelist Pat Robertson, denounced the citizens of Dover for ousting the school board for religious, not scientific reasons. According to the Reuters news service, Robertson said, If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God. You just rejected him from your city. Intelligent design seems, at the very least, to have a strong religious component.

     Regardless of what happens (in the Dover case), Thompson said, the genie is out of the bottle. You're going to see intelligent design popping up all over the country.

     Intelligent design isn't a monolith, Thompson said. He advised be careful that you're not speaking with a closet creationist. The National Center for Science Education details one such disagreement in an article called Discovery Institute and Thomas More Law Center Squabble inAEI Forum.” 

     Thompson acknowledged that one board member in Dover had wanted to add creationism to the curriculum, until informed that the U.S, Supreme Court ruling precluded it. When some Dover residents contacted Thomas More about other ways of balancing evolution, Thompson said, we told them about intelligent design.

     Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said flatly that Intelligent design is another word for creationism, period, and that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that you can't mandate creationism be taught in public schools. I don't think it even has a scientific veneer. The agenda behind this is the teaching of religion in public schools.

     She referred to testimony that suggested the author of Of Pandas and People, the intelligent design book in the Dover School libraries, originally used the term creationism and later substituted the term intelligent design. (In the original manuscript, there was at least one example of sloppy search-and-replace of creationists with design proponents: it read cdesign proponentsists.) They're just not happy with (the U.S. Supreme Court decision).

      Paul Drummond, a science consultant for the Macomb Intermediate school District, president elect of the Michigan Science Teachers Association and executive director of the Metro Detroit Science Teachers Association, said I don't consider (intelligent design) a science. More, he said, it's not a theory. A theory is not just an opinion. It's much more rigorous.

He quoted a statement from the National Academy of Sciences which states that a theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that incorporates tested hypotheses, laws, facts and inferences.

     Intelligent design, as Drummond understands it, holds that there are some things that exist in nature, such as the human body or a leaf, so complex that suggest there is an intelligent design behind them, an intelligent designer.

     Drummond said that science is one way of knowing things, but not the only way. It doesn't have a market on truth, but it is different from philosophy or theology, which Drummond said is the proper place for intelligent design. Science looks at what is the evidence, what is testable.

     By contrast, questions such as “ Is there a God? or (is there) life after death? are outside the purview of science, Drummond said, and are properly the purview of philosophy or theology.

The reason intelligent design isn't science, Drummond said, is because it doesn't lead us to anything that could test the existence of a designer.

     Intelligent design proponents, such as Michael Behe, instead find holes or gaps in evolutionary theory, even propose tests for how you could test evolution (one suggestion: study 10,000 generations -- about two-years’ worth -- of a bacterium and see if it produces a variation or mutation as complex as the motor-like bacteria flagellum) without testing them themselves.

     Behe's own fellow faculty at Lehigh University issued a statement that the (Department of Biological Sciences) faculty are unequivocal in their support of evolutionary theory ... . It is our collective position that intelligent design has no basis in science, has not been tested experimentally, and should not be regarded as scientific, while noting that The sole dissenter from this position (is) Prof. Michael Behe.

     Intelligent design proponents, Drummond said, claim there is a debate in the scientific community about evolution, but There is little or no debate on whether evolution has taken place, only the mechanism.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Frank Miller's Sin City and The Spirit

     I noticed that The Spirit was showing on cable this morning, which reminded me of a glaring example of artistic hypocrisy.

From The
     The Spirit was a film adaptation of Will Eisner's The Spirit, originally a comic book insert in Sunday newspapers, 1940-1952, since many times re-printed in magazine, paperback and hardcover formats. Eisner was a comic book pioneer, and The Spirit is fondly remembered and admired for its storytelling, humor and invention (although the caricatured depiction of some of the people of color are cringe-inducing; that of The Spirit's assistant, young black man Ebony White, is particularly bad, although the character himself developed from comic relief to a balanced and sometimes noble character). Eisner's panels seemed almost cinematic. The action might change only fractionally from panel to panel, like a camera pan. The stories were basically realistic -- after the origin, in which private investigator Denny Colt is believed dead because he was doused with a chemical that causes suspended animation -- though he frequently added surrealistic or even science fictional elements. Strong and attractive women characters, many villains, were often featured.
     Eisner only did The Spirit for a little over 10 years, and there were times when he was in the military or working on other projects where he had others -- including cartoonist Jules Feiffer -- assisting or completely illustrating (maybe writing, too) the stories for him.
     Many people have contemplated filming The Spirit, but -- aside from a little-seen TV film in 1987 -- nothing came of it until Frank Miller’s 2008 movie version.

     I've enjoyed comic book artist/writer Frank Miller's work since an early story in the fanzine Space and Time. (It was crude, both in art style and subject. A sword-and-sorcery parody written by and starring the magazine's editor, it dealt with the hero saving a young woman from becoming a sorcerers virgin sacrifice by, um, making sure she was no longer qualified.)
     The next time I saw his work, it was his debut on Marvel's Daredevil title as artist. Eventually he became both writer and artist, followed by a brief return as just the writer. I read every issue. Around this time, he did the first Wolverine mini-series (artist), the Daredevil spinoff Elektra: Assassin (writer), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (writer/artist), Batman: Year One (writer) and Martha Washington: Give Me Liberty (writer).
     I didn't read his first Sin City story when it debuted, though I saw the graphic novel in bookstores and glanced through it.
     I also missed his first films, the screenplays for the Robocop II and Robocop III sequels, but I knew he wrote that he wasn't happy with the changes and hassles involved in working in Hollywood. When Hollywood came calling, interested in film versions of his Sin City work, he said no (unlike his Daredevil, Elektra and Wolverine work, he owned the rights).
     Then director Robert Rodriguez auditioned for the job by making a short film based on a Sin City vignette. Rodriguez used the original comics as storyboards, making a completely faithful adaptation of the original. It not only followed the comic closely, but looked like it, mimicking the stark black-and-white of the original pages with computer generated sets and splashes of color. Miller liked it. No doubt he also liked that Rodriguez planned to offer him a co-directing credit (since he would use the original comics as storyboards throughout). The resulting Sin City (2005) film was a popular and critical success, with a celebrity cast including Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Toby Maguire, Jessica Alba and others.
     Then, in 2007, Miller produced a film adaptation of his 300 graphic novel. It was also successful.
     Apparently Miller now liked or trusted Hollywood a little more, and wanted to try his hand at directing. He was offered The Spirit.
      Given his own treatment by Hollywood, and his pleasure with works that were almost obsessively faithful to the original, Miller did likewise. That is, is he adapted The Spirit with obsessive faithfulness ... to Sin City. Yes, the film looked like Sin City, even though The Spirit wasn't a black-and-white comic but a full-color comic. The storyline and characterization of The Spirit also more closely resembled Sin City (and Millers Batman) than Eisners original comic. Eisner's Spirit was plucky and puckish (think James Garner in The Rockford Files).
     To be fair, The Spirit was a seven-page comic book with storylines that rarely extended beyond one issue, so you couldn't stretch one plot out to 90 minutes without a lot of padding. Sin City comics were much longer, but it took three storylines to make a full-length film. Still, what was the point of changing the tone that dramatically if Miller liked and respected the originals?
     Miller also uses the names of several of Eisner's women characters, but alters them almost beyond recognition.
     Then there's the arch villain: The Octopus. The Octopus was The Spirit's only continuing villain (a few female villains recurred, but they were more attractive nuisances than threats). The problem with putting him in a film is that his face was never shown, and he had no overall master plan. He was a villainous Everyman, an opportunist. In one story, he might be looking for buried treasure. In another, he might be after the plans for an atomic bomb. Another time, he might want to silence a former cohort who can identify him to the police.
     As played by Samuel Jackson, he is a scientist after the blood of Herakles (Hercules to you) to gain immortality, who accidentally gave The Spirit the ability to instantly heal all wounds (like Wolverine) during an earlier experiment. The Octopus also seems to have similar abilities, and has genetically created a bunch of stupid, disposable clones as henchmen.
     Miller hasn't been faithful to the look, the personalities or the plots of Eisner's The Spirit, and the film flopped. A faithful adaptation of Sin City succeeded. Is there a connection? I hope so.
     Miller's punishment may be that he is again persona non grata in Hollywood. An anticipated Sin City sequel still hasn't materialized (Rodriguez has moved on), possibly because of how poorly The Spirit did. The ruthless parody of 300, Meet the Spartans, might also have something to do with it. A proposed Miller version of Buck Rogers was also cancelled. Maybe he should stick to comics.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Orson Scott Card, Superman and Same-Sex Marriage

     (Despite the title of this post, there is very little about Superman here. Sorry.)
     Orson Scott Card, author of the award-winning science fiction novel Ender’s Game -- soon to be a major motion picture, as they used to say -- is in the news lately for another reason: same-sex marriage.
     Card is supposed to be writing an issue of one of DC Comics Superman titles, but his opposition to same-sex marriage has led the artist on the project to drop out and to calls by the LGBT community and comic fans for DC to fire Card and/or to boycott the comic if and when it is published. Others are calling for a boycott of the Ender’s Game film, even people who say the book is one of their favorites. 
     (Ender’s Game is scheduled for release Nov. 1, and stars Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis and Abigail Breslin. In the meantime, you can like or comment on its Facebook page or read the short story -- it's in Maps in the Mirror and First Meetings in Ender's Universe -- or the Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel.)

The original short story version of "Ender's Game" is included in this anthology. (Cover image from

     I haven’t read anything by Card in years. When I read him, I mostly read his short fiction, including the original short story version of “Ender’s Game.He has pretty much stopped writing short fiction since completing the stories collected as The Folk of the Fringe, set in a post-apocalyptic America where the Mormon communities of the western United States are the only region rebuilding and thriving. He was critical of some aspects of Mormonism in those stories, and he never espoused polygamy (I don’t recall that he specifically criticized it either, but I don’t suppose there was any need).

     Of his novels, I read Ender’s Game (didn’t like it; it seemed bloated after the short story), A Planet Called Treason (both the original text and the revised version, titled simply Treason) and his novelization of James Cameron’s The Abyss (an atypical, well-written novelization, fleshed out with behind-the-scenes information that never came out in the film, making the actions of the aliens in particular much more comprehensible and interesting).

     I didn’t know much about Card’s political leanings (as opposed to his religious ones) except that he objected to the portrayal of a literally evil Richard Nixon (in the possessed-by-demons, wants-to-destroy-the-world sense) in Michael Bishop’s novel The Secret Ascension (later reissued under its original title of Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas, (a novel inspired by Philip K. Dick’s paranoid novels of the 1970s, in which Nixon or a caricature thereof was portrayed as evil). Around my house and circle of friends, you couldn’t overestimate Nixon’s evil, so I suspected Card was somewhat conservative. On the other hand, he might just have felt the portrayal was a little unfair. (To be fair to Bishop, his Nixon became pure evil sometime during his second or third term as president, after the time of his resignation in our reality, so he wasn’t saying that our Nixon actually was evil.)


     Anyway, Card is an observant Mormon who has come out against gay marriage in religious, political, sociological and biological terms. He rejects the idea that he is a homophobe because he says that is a term to describe someone who is pathologically afraid of homosexuals and commits violent acts against them. Since he has worked with and has friends who are gay, he’s not a homophobe, q.e.d. He also says that a 1990 column in which he said laws against sodomy should be kept on the books but only rarely enforced was a moderate position, one that got him labeled pro-gay by fellow Mormons.

     (One of his essays about homosexuality is online here, and a specific screed against same-sex marriage here and on the scientific findings about the causes of homosexuality here).

     Card doesn’t merely disagree with same-sex marriage, but sees it as an assault on the institution of marriage.

     In one of the links above, he asks, “How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.” (He doesn't say that he agrees with that statement, only that he thinks it is a possible consequence of redefining marriage to include same-sex marriage.)

     At the same time, he concedes that there are worst threats to marriage than same-sex marriage, most caused by heterosexuals. He doesn’t seem very interested in outlawing divorce without cause or marriage without procreation, however. Maybe since these are already law of the land, he sees this as a lost cause. (He’s also against abortion, but doesn’t propose a change in that law either. Again, maybe he sees no point in trying.)

     Still, I now find one aspect of Ender’s Game telling in one regard. (There may be SPOILERS ahead.)

     Ender’s Game depicts a future Earth in which we are engaged in a protracted war against aliens. The war has continued for so long and so exhausted our resources and manpower that children are now being trained to command remote-control spaceships using controls sort of like video game consoles (maybe the 1984 film The Last Starfighter was influenced by this? The short story was published seven years before that film was released). Ender is the best and brightest of these.

     As writer and critic Norman Spinrad pointed out in a 1987 column, while in the short story the aliens are unnamed, in the novel they are called “Buggers.” (In Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, a likely influence on Card’s story, the aliens are called Bugs). Given Card’s position on homosexuality, and the meaning of the word buggery, this is either a neat coincidence or Card intentionally or subconsciously having Ender commit the necessary but immoral act of killing buggers, i.e. those who commit buggery. 

     (Some of Spinrad’s essay, “The Emperor of Everything,” from his book Science Fiction in the Real World, can be read here.)

     On the other hand, Card has Ender regret and repent of (at least some) of his Bugger-killing, and -- despite some out-of-context quotes by Card -- Card is not threatening violence to enforce his beliefs. He is engaging in exercise of his free speech. He may even be (as he says) the voice of moderate opposition.

       Card has continued to write novels, mostly multivolume series (and longtime readers of this blog know how I feel about most multivolume series), including at least another seven books in the Ender universe. 

     The last time I really paid attention to his writing was when he wrote a horror story, “Lost Boys,” with himself and his family as characters (the first-person story specifically mentions that he wrote Ender’s Game), in which one of his sons is killed by a serial killer and returns as a ghost. Like many, I wondered if the use of his family meant that something similar had happened to one of his children, and thought it in bad taste either way. There was so much negative reaction that Card wrote an essay explaining and defending the story. 

     No, none of his children was killed by a serial killer, but the son who died in the story could have been a subconscious evocation of a real son who has cerebral palsy. He said he needed to incorporate his real-life details in order to write the story (as many a ghost story told around the campfire do) and, when he later tried to change them, felt it was like killing or denying his child. 

     (Later, when he expanded the story to make the novel Lost Boys, he did change all the names and background, however.)

     For the record, I don’t agree with Card on same-sex marriage, but I wouldn’t hesitate to read one of his books or stories because of it. If I vetted every writer out there before reading their books, I’d miss a lot of good books. Conversely, if I only read books based on whether I agree with the author on political or philosophic matters, I’d read a lot of crap.

      As for Superman, nothing Card could do with him could be as bad as the last three Superman films. He can make him a Mormon for all I care, so long as he tells a good story.

     What Card believes may influence his writing, but if you liked Ender’s Game or any of his other works, you can still read them with a clear conscience. I recommend the mammoth short story collection Maps in a Mirror: The Short Fiction of Orson Scott Card and The Folk of the Fringe. Treason is fun, too, and The Abyss is good, much better than the film (it seems to be out of print, but they may have it at secondhand shops). Norman Spinrad has much praise for Hart’s Hope and Songmaster (which, Spinrad wrote, follow the template of the Hero with a Thousand Faces, although he thought Ender was a variation on the SF masturbatory fantasy he calls The Emperor of Everything). I still plan to at least start his Alvin Maker series, too, which seems an interesting quasi-Mormon/American Indian fantasy set in an alternate 19th century America.