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Ender's Game and Philosophy: Genocide Is Child's Play (Popular Culture and Philosophy) Paperback – September 17, 2013
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Hats off to Open Court for what has to be one of the best books in the popular culture and philosophy genre I've ever come across. Not without some reservations, nevertheless, this one went right out of the ballpark.
I must confess I approached this book with no small amount of trepidation. I reviewed competitor Wiley-Blackwell's book on "Ender's Game" back on July 27, 2013. (Both books are heralds for the upcoming movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card's novel.) A solid effort on their part (four stars), but not as good as this book. This book hits the bulleye because of its broad coverage of philosophical material. Having read Wiley-Blackwell's entry back in July, I wondered whether the essays in Open Court's offering would cover the same exact topics. Fear not. This book could easily be used as a recommended book in an introductory philosophy class. If there was anything that I frowned upon, it was the lack of more instances of solid grounding in mentioning philosophers when developing ideas. Philosophers were mentioned, but not always. Although Wiley-Blackwell does a better job of grounding its essays by mentioning philosophers and their works, their "Ender's Game" suffered from repetitive topics and typographical errors (read my review on Amazon). As for this book's editor, D.E. Wittkower, we were thankfully spared the "curse of the book's editor". Wittkower's essay looked at sympathy and empathy as being necessary for soldiers. How can a soldier know when to "turn it on", so to speak, and when not? Plato's "Republic", Hume's "Treatise of Human Nature", and Ronald Arkin's article in the "Journal of Military Ethics" (who knew there was such a thing?) were mentioned. I questioned the use of Philip K. Dick's short story "The Defenders", but the reference to an outside work of popular culture was skillfully used to enhance the essay, rather than as a crutch. Take a bow, Dylan, you done good this time.
The essays on the popular culture and philosophy genre have shrunk over the last few years that I have been avidly reading and reviewing (and now writing) them. Back then, essays could easily hit 12 to 15 pages, but now, 8 pages, or never over 3,000 words, is the limit. The style is conversational, and the essays flow. For the most part they are engaging. Someone did their homework, and I can't recall off-hand if I saw any explicit typos.
This book earns five stars at the very least for its broad coverage of philosophers, West and East. A bit heavy on the ethics, of course, but then again, we're talking about taking children and turning then into soldiers. So, okay, ethics, especially virtue ethics, monitoring and deterrence, just war theory (with Aquinas in chp. 2, and Michael Walzer in chp. 25 - BUT WHERE IS HUGO GROTIUS???), breaking the rules, expected outcomes vs actual outcomes in ethical behavior, phenomenology, culture, consciousness, issues of power, self-defense vs murder, lies/deception/manipulation, and the parallels with Ender's world and ours with regards to drones and remote-killing. (Enough philosophy for you?) Tim Blackmore's "Push 1 for Remote War" started the collection with just this topic. However, no grounding in philosophers, which was a let-down. Machiavelli also made an appearance. Jason P. Blahuta's "Peter's Game" used Machiavelli to skillfully show how Peter, not Ender, is the true "Prince" of this saga. An excellent essay.
Perhaps the best essays were the ones that covered rarely seen territory. In the section "Who Is Ender?", we get essays that discuss Ender as Lord Shiva (Hinduism) and Ender as a Mormon. (Don't laugh, I believe them both! Ender IS both!) Queer theory was covered, courtesy of Nicholas Michaud and Jessica Watkins (a good essay, but a bit too preachy - and long - for my tastes). Finally, we have a first, I think, in that photographs were included (Yochai Ataria's "Where Does Ender's Consciousness End?"). I'm a bit undecided re including photographs in these types of books.
Collin Pointon's "Lies Were More Dependable then the Truth" started off with Isaac Asimov and ended sloppily by name-dropping "phenomenology, existentialism, philosophical hermeneutics, and postmodernism" (p.222). Everything and the kitchen sink does not an engaging essay make. An interesting idea in this essay, that today's truth could be tomorrow's lie (think racial stereotypes) was not developed. Too bad. This essay should have been left out. What also irked me was references to other sci-fi authors' works (Asimov, LeGuin, and Heinlein) and other pop culture references, e.g, Jet Li and "The Princess Bride".
There you have it. "The gate is down", but this book gets thumbs up. Read it before the movie comes out, you'll have a deeper movie-going experience. John V. Karavitis.
I found the articles very readable, entertaining, and informative but often wondered if the writers were over-thinking and/or second-guessing Mr. Card. I was reminded of my English class long ago with N. Scott Momaday when I could ace his TA’s quizzes simply by mentioning something Freudian. One can say, though, that at least no article here has become a launching platform for a PhD in philosophy…so far.
One issue that came to the fore before the release of the movie was Card’s homophobia and stand against same-sex marriage. That prompted me to write a blog post suggesting that a writer’s political or cultural views shouldn’t matter if he tells a good story. Ender’s Game is one helluva story, after all. But the article “How Queer is Ender?”, by Michaud and Watkins, treats this issue. They argue, for example, that the novel is really about Card’s gender bias and how homosexual love between males should never be consummated. I’ll leave this to the experts but modestly opine that they’re over-thinking a good story—I read the book shortly after it received the Nebula Award (it also received the Hugo Award a year later) and saw an analogy with male-only military prep schools and academies, but more along the lines of stresses induced by a competitive, testosterone-charged environment. Maybe I’m naïve.
Pascoe’s article “Humanity beyond Humanity” considers an issue treated in my own opus. Ender’s ETs are exterminated because humans don’t understand the ETs’ humanity, and vice versa. Communication between sentient species is the issue here. In my book Sing a Samba Galactica, humans use supercomputers and complicated algorithms to change the varelse status of my ETs to raman status (using Card’s terms), even when the communication problem seems insurmountable. You’d think that with all the technological wonders of the Battle School, Card’s humans would have tried this. Instead, they opted for xenocide and tricked a tween into committing it.
The Sorensen duo asks, in fact, “Is Ender a Murderer?” Recall that Ender thought he was playing a game. If he is guilty, the authors argue, moral right and wrong must depend on actual outcomes. If not, they depend on expected outcomes. I find that an interesting moral conundrum and not just one for Ender, who believes he’s guilty (the novel’s sequel studies his guilt).
I’ve mentioned only three articles out of many. They might all be second-guessing Mr. Card, but it’s entertaining reading, albeit a bit heavy.