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.


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