Pax Wiggina

It's amazing to me how one can read a really good book so many times and miss little things on every reading, so that each time you re-read it you notice something new. (With a poorly written book this does not seem to be the case -- read it once, suck everything you can from it, discard husk and walk away. I pride myself on not assigning that kind of book unless absolutely necessary; it's sometimes necessary when I'm teaching disciplinarily-based IR courses, because there are badly-written books which are nonetheless important to have read, but not in a course like this ... but I digress.) Of all the books we're reading this semester, Ender's Game is probably the one I've read the second-most times over the course of my life. (Yes, V for Vendetta would the the one I've read the most.) I remember first hearing of Orson Scott Card in about 1986 when the novel won the 1985 Hugo and Nebula awards, although I don't precisely remember from whom I first heard Card's name; I do distinctly remember reading the novel in my room at boarding school, having that same experience that so many bright kids did when reading this novel: wow, that's my life! Thereafter I became a Card fanatic, hunting down obscure little novels like Hart's Hope and Hot Sleep, and generally waiting with great anticipation for the man's next work. Remember, this was in the old days, before the InterNet; there was no Hatrak River online community to join, and it was rare to meet another geek like myself in person . . . so I re-read novels. And re-read novels. And re-read novels.

I must have read this novel about twenty times -- and that's just in high school.

So it's safe to say that I've probably gotten everything out of this book that I'm likely to get out of it, right? Wrong. The words on the page may not change from reading to reading, but I sure as heck have. So has Orson Scott Card's corpus of work, both fictional and -- I was about to say "non-fictional," but some might question whether his political commentaries are in fact works of non-fiction, so I'll just elave it at that. Both of those changes, I think, alter the book in subtle ways: points previously seen but not grasped rise to the fore, significant scenes lose their significance, sudden reveals and plot twists are no longer as surprising (but I think Card'a good enough writer that even if you know what's going on when Ender is working with the simulator on Eros and commanding his battle school buddies, you still feel Ender's gut-wrenching outrage on pp. 296-298. That even I, who have read this more times than is probably healthy, can still feel that is a testimony to Card's skills as a writer.

So, in brief, what's changed? I'm not going to go into biographical details about myself, but suffice to say that in high school I didn't care all that much for or about politics, so I kind of breezed through the bits about Peter's plans for world domination -- the idea of kids being taken seriously based on their arguments and not on their ages appealed to me, and the obvious parallels between the root ability of the three Wiggin children (to know the other, and to know them completely) which set up a series of moral dilemmas (is Ender like Peter? would Valentine be able to kill if the situation required it?) made sense. But the actual content of Locke and Demosthenes's programs? Never paid it a second thought. I know I read those words, and I've checked my earlier editions to make sure that Card didn't slip things into the present Author's Definitive Edition -- and no, they were there all along. But literally, this is the first time I actually noticed that Peter Wiggin was striving for "a Pax Americana through the whole world" (p. 132).

There are other examples, like the fact that I never remembered that Ender's mother was established as a Mormon in this novel; I thought that was a new addition in the parallel Ender novels that discuss Peter's rise to power. But the Pax Americana thing really struck me this time. In part I think it's because Card's subsequent political commentary -- unapologetically, even brashly, pro-American -- makes me more aware of those moments in his novels where characters say and do things that involve praising America and American liberal democracy (even when, in extreme situations, the civil liberties usually associated with that liberal democracy have to be set aside in order to ensure survival . . . gee, does that sound familiar). In part it's because Card's triumphalism, like Peter's, doesn't really give reasons for the superiority of the American system; it just relies on oppositions (America/terrorists in Card's political commentary, or America/Warsaw Pact in the novel) and clearly steers the reader towards the first term rather than the second one. No one, least of all Peter, questions whether a Pax Americana would be the best way of spreading the human race into the stars -- this despite the fact that the most impressive focusing of human effort for the previous eight decades or so has been through the virtual dictatorship of the I.F.! Given that evidence, why wouldn't a more authoritarian system of governance be more effective than a liberal-democratic one at moving people off-planet into space? Peter, and I think we can infer Card, doesn't even regard this as a question worth asking.

Card used to be my favorite living science-fiction author. But his most recent novels kind of turned me off, especially his re-writing of key moments in Ender's Game through the parallel novel Ender's Shadow, a book I rather liked up until the end when Bean, not Ender, is the one who figures out how to win the final battle with the buggers, and figures out that it's actually the final battle with the buggers. Then there was his criticism of Star Wars, pretty much an unforgivable sin in my book. And then there came along Iain M. Banks, and I had a new favorite to replace the old one. But still I marvel at his talent -- his talent as a writer, if not his talent as a political scientist.

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