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L. Neil Smith's
Number 746, November 24, 2013

Like I said, the world is run by idiots.

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Movie Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
by Jeff Fullerton

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

Went to see the theatrical adaptation of Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game Friday a week ago. It turned out to be an excellent movie with a really good twist at the end which I promise not spoil for anyone who might be looking forward to seeing it. There was no spoiler for me, much to the surprise of my brother who saw it with me—I had never read it despite being a SF nut nearly all of my life. Recall first seeing it in paperback in the 1980s when I was in the Air Force stationed in California. Did not think about it much at the time as militaristic space operas are a dime a dozen and have my priorities as to what I choose to read.

But over the years the novel and its sequels have garnered quite a bit of reputation. Especially among the instructors of various military service academies who highly recommend it to their cadets to encourage strategic thinking.

The story begins with an aerial battle scene very reminiscent of the climactic final confrontation in the movie Independence Day with dogfighting F-15s against swarms of alien space craft to repel the First Formic Invasion of Earth. Which they manage to do after a pilot kamikazes a massive mother ship and causes the entire invasion fleet to shut down and plummet to Earth.

In the aftermath a new world order as in global government is created and organized around the effort to prevent future invasions and contain and destroy the alien menace which has been driven back to its home solar system—where a new invasion fleet is being built. It is a race against time to come up with a master strategist and strategy before the enemy can rebuild and reorganize its forces for another strike.

This is the world into which the protagonist Ender Wiggan was born.

Ender is the third of three siblings in a family selected by the state for its genetic potential to produce that strategic genius they are looking for. Indeed that is the reason the family was granted the privilege to have an additional child—as the other two washed out of the battle school. His older brother for being too violent and ruthless. His sister for being too soft.

Since I did not read the book, I took a little time afterward to study the background of the story and author. Orson Scott Card—I keep wanting to call him C.S. Lewis—because he reminds me a bit of that author in his religious themes and his criticism of genocide against aliens as a preemptive tactic to limit the threat they posed. Much like Lewis criticized the "manifest cosmic destiny" of the villain in Out of the Silent Planet. Another thing I got out of the movie was the suggestion that the government—as in the global authority that arose in the aftermath of the Formic invasion—may be worse than the threat it was created to protect humanity from. I guess an authoritarian police state that tells people how many kids they can have and engages in systematic religious persecution vs an alien hive mind is the lesser of two evils?

No surprise that the in time of war the government takes advantage of the opportunity to address secondary issues such as population control and it is presumed that it controls much of everything else in the name of the war effort. So much for my expectations that the story would be a glorification of war and sacrifice for the common good. It is anything but. The book is much more in depth than the movie which does a fair job of conveying the message that "War is the Health of the State". The aliens turn out to be a bit less evil than initially portrayed and I will leave it at that to avoid ruining the surprise for those who have yet to see the movie or read the novel.

Another theme explored in the dealings of Ender with bullies during the course of his training is the question of whether or not it is ethical to kick an enemy when he is down.

This time Hollywood did a decent job of bringing a hard SF classic to the big screen which is the exception rather than the rule. The movie was at least as well done as Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers after which they totally butchered the adaptation of his other novel—The Puppet Masters. And even more disappointing in the way they did the mini-series based on James A. Michener's Space where they spent way too much time messing around with the rescue of the German rocket scientists in the beginning at the expense of the philosophical conflicts between science and the forces of anti-science that were the hallmark of the Space Age when America was retreating in the wake of its successes. The dismantling of the Apollo Program and the knee jerk reaction against space exploration and cultural pessimism in regard to the future was one of the major disenchantments of my formative years and I have pretty much spent a lifetime in rebellion against that tide.

I like to see successful manned space mission (especially a private funded one) for the same reason I like to see a political philosophy based command and control fail.

As for the movie I give it thumbs up. It is worth seeing.

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