Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Comic Panel Wednesday: Yeah, This is Weird

From Green Lantern 55, by Geoff Johns and Doug Mahnke. I'm not going to lie: this is the first time I've gotten misty-eyed over a red-ring empowered kitty cat that's swearing vengeance for his fallen mistress among the skulls of his enemies. First time... so far.

Must be from reading all those stories in Patricia Highsmith's The Animals-lover's book of beastly murder. The moral of the book? Treat animals with respect. Don't mess around with animals--they'll mess back, and they're not constrained by human social niceties.

Later Days.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

G20 Follow-Up

I dunno if I'll get around to any Whovian scholarship today, but I thought I'd give the last post a bit of a follow-up for the sake of closure. Kudos to Scott for rising above and beyond in providing a counterpoint for my argument (see the comments in the last post, if you haven't already). And I'd like to express my admiration for friends who spent portions of the last few days in Toronto protesting and reclaiming their stuff from police seizure. I've got a lot of respect for anyone willing to take a stand for what they believe in. And finally, here's a link to a column in the Toronoist by Chris Bird, who was a journalist covering the G20. His frustration with the event captures my own, only expressed in a far more eloquent and informed manner.

Later Days.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I was flitting back and forth between three potential topics, so I decided to split the difference and do a paragraph on each. They're wildly different in terms of tone and scale, so bear with.

1) Squinty McGee rides again. Due to unfortunate circumstances over the weekend, my glasses have been rendered irrevocably unwearable. That means I've had to revert back to the circa 1990s model. They're largely inefficient, since I've gotten way more nearsighted since then, as well as bizarrely scratched, and, as I'm now recalling, pinch the right ear in a particularly unpleasant way. I've booked an eye appointment, but apparently thirty seconds after the optometrist opens is too late, as I was informed that the last slot for today had just been taken. They can fit me in on Thursday. I just hope I'll be able to order some new contact lenses immediately. The salt in the wound (besides losing an expensive frame) is that the missing glasses themselves were only meant to be temporary; if I had renewed my contacts as I was supposed to months ago, I'd have been wearing them, and everything would have been fine. I should probably count my blessings that I found the giant 90s glasses--the next step back after those is the 80s style glasses, which look a little something like Bill Haverchuck's spectacles from Freaks and Geeks. And note I got these 80s glasses in 1994. Today at Experimental Progress: how to be retro before it's cool.

2) G20 Summit. I've been publishing links to this site on my facebook status--I don't do it for all the posts, because I don't want to inundate people with the things, but I like to spread word when I think I'm talking about something interesting. This is the first time I've hesitated to post that link because I'm worried it may get me in trouble with a few friends; all I can say in my defense is that I'm not just baiting for the fun of it here. I've got some honest concerns, and I'm more than willing to listen to anyone's arguments to the contrary. So... here we go.
I've never been in a protest before, myself. There are a number of reasons for that, ranging from the pathetic (there's a part of me that's almost sycophantically loyal to a given system) to the practical (a protest in rural Saskatchewan is a protest of one, more often than not) to the honest (there's very few topics I don't feel ambiguous about at some level, and thus I'd feel uncomfortable protesting on either side). Being a disciple of the liberal arts, however, I've got some friends who have a pretty established history of protesting, including the summit, and I've got nothing but respect for their dedication to the principles and their actions. That said, let me go on to say something entirely disrespectful to protesters en masse: I've got serious doubts that they do any good. Especially in terms of the G20 protest--between the reports on violent protesters and violent police reaction (or preemptive violent police action, in some cases), I haven't really heard a clear statement on what they're protesting. Given the numerous different factions involved, I'm not sure there is such a statement.
It reminded me of Norman Mailer's account of the March of the Pentagon in 1967. In that case, the goal was a little clearer (anti-Vietnam), but there were so many groups involved that success becomes an uncertain thing to measure. Mailer's participation seemed to boil down to two main reasons: he was asked to raise awareness through getting a public arrest, and he wanted to prove some sort of point to himself about his own masculinity. Strangely, it's that second one that resonates most with me. Not the masculinity, so much--we all know you're a male, dear, stop fretting, it's starting to look silly--but the involvement because there's some deep personal goal or even quest that's being pursued. I don't know if there's many topics where I can claim that personal connection, but I've got a great of respect for anyone who is willing to follow wholeheartedly a cause he or she is passionately committed to following.
If nothing else, the protest has shown how draconian our police force can be, and if that's all that's all we learn (besides the relative inefficiency of the G20 concept, but we knew that already), that's worth knowing, and responding to. I'm pretty sure that Mr Harper et al will find that Canadians don't really like storm troopers in their major metropolitan areas, and hopefully, in the future, they'll think twice before volunteering to host the conference in our backyard.

Okay, that went on way longer than I thought it would. Seems kind of silly to launch into a review of the last season of Doctor Who. So... tomorrow, then.

Later Days.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Wednesday Comics: Real Heroes Make a Splash

I know this is kind of late, even by my standards, but... I think it's worth it. From Tick: the New Series 4. Soldier onward, brave Canuck.

Later Days.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Friday Quotations: A Proust Triad

"Every love is an exercise in depersonalization on a body without organs yet to be formed, and it is as the highest point of this depersonalization that someone can be named, receives his or her family name or first name, acquires the most intense discernibility in the instantaneous apprehension of the multiplicities belonging to him or her, and to which he or she belongs. A pack of freckles on a face, a pack of boys speaking through the voice of a woman, a clutch of girls in Charles' voice, a horde of wolves in somebody's throat, a multiciplicity of anuses in the anus, mouth, or eye one is intent upon. We each go through so many bodies with each other. Albertine is slowly extracted from a group of girls with its own number, organization, code, and heirarchy; and not only is this group or restricted mass suffused by an unconscious, but Albertine has her own multiplicities that the narrator, once he has isolated her, discovers on her body and in her lies--until the end of their love returns her to the indiscernible."
--Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, "1914: One or Several Wolves?"

"But Dad was always reading something. Should we have been suspicious when he started plowing through Proust the year before? Was that a sign of desperation? It's said, after all, that people reach middle age the day they realize they're never going to read Remembrance of Things Past." Alison Bechdel, Fun Home.

Later Days.

Wearin' next to nothing 'cause it's hot as an oven

I was going to do another book review, but decided not to for two reasons: 1) my only two finished books at the moment are Seth's "It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken" and Douglas Coupland's "Generation A." One I'm not entirely sure how I feel about, and one I hated a great deal while grudgingly acknowledging its value. Either way, the review required a weekend post, because it's going to take a while. 2) Since returning from hiatus, I've dipped into the Book Review well pretty deeply.

That's largely because I'm not doing a lot else at the moment. I won't be teaching again till January or so, my course work is over, my studying is over, there's no conference on the horizon, and there's not much to report on the running front. (For the record, I've been taking some time off after pulling a muscle in my foot. Lame, I know, but when walking causes you to scream-slash-swear in pain, it's time for a fortnight break.) The reading is the majority of my time--reading for my dissertation, and reading for myself. I mean, I could talk about how the comps went, or how the move went, or how the trip to Montreal went, and I will, at some point, but for the moment...

For the moment, it's too damn hot.

Understand that I have spent most of my adult life--from about seventeen on--living in basements. My last year at home, I moved into the basement bedroom. My second year at rez I lived in a basement dorm room. My first two years living with my brother, I lived in a basement apartment. My final year in Saskatchewan (to date), we moved into a house, and I got the basement bedroom. And then I moved to Ontario, and got a basement apartment that I lived in for nearly two years. And then I moved in with two lovely fellows and suddenly I'm not in a basement anymore.

There are some disadvantages to a basement dwelling. It's easy to slide into hermitism, for example. If there's flood damage, you're the first to get the worst. But what I never appreciated until I left mine was that it also protects you from one of the most horrible truths that humanity does its best to ignore: Summer is the worst.

Don't get me wrong. Generally speaking, I like the heat. I like summer outfits, and ball games, and sitting on the patio, and the summer sports. After a childhood of complaining very loudly, I'm even starting to see the appeal of the summer camping trip. But when you don't have a basement dwelling place to retreat to, you start to realize the awful truth: summer is frickin' hot.

And my room seems to be the hottest of all summer locale. It is significantly hotter than anywhere else in the house. I've tried everything to cool it down: a fan for circulation, keeping the doors and windows open during the night, and the window closed during the day. Operating on the theory that my computer hard drive was the culprit, I even turned off the machine for hours and hours yesterday. Nothing makes a difference. On average, I'm consuming at least half a liter of water every night because I wake up every few hours sans blankets, covered in sweat, and severely dehydrated. It's not entirely unbearable, because, well, I'm bearing it. But it does make me think that maybe all those cave-dwelling dwarves from Lord of the Rings were onto something. Until they hit that Nazg├╗l, anyway.

Later Days.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Book Review: Brother Assassin by Fred Saberhagen

"What are these berserkers? I know they're something terrible, but.."
"Well, they're machines." Derron sipped his tea. "Some of them are bigger than spaceships that we or any other Earth-descended men have ever built. Others come in different shapes and sizes, but all of them are deadly. The first of them were constructed ages ago, by some race we've never met, to fight in some war we've never heard of.
"They were programmed to destroy life anywhere they could find it, and they've come only the Holy One knows how far, doing just that."

--Brother Assassin, Fred Saberhagen

First, take a moment to appreciate the solemn awesomeness that is the name "Fred Saberhagen." No other name even comes close. Okay, maybe Frank Stilettocloditz, but that name was made up by me a few seconds ago, so it doesn't count. Mr Fred Saberhagen is a sci-fi/fantasy writer. While I've heard the name before, I've never actually read anything by him. Judging from "Brother Assassin," Saberhagen specializes in the "pulp" section of science fiction, as this book, billed as the second in the Berserker series, is one of the pulpiest sf's I've read in a long time.

The plot is that the Berserkers, a race of alien-made machines, are bent on exterminating all life in the universe, as the quotation above suggests. This book chronicles three of their attempts to destroy the people of Sirgol. The catch is, by the beginning of the book, they've almost already won. The surface of the planet is uninhabitable scorched earth, with the surviving 10% of the population dwelling in caves underground. They can't beat the berserkers, but the berserkers can't get to them. The stalemate is broken when the berserkers realize the unique thing about Sirgol--its composition allows for localized time travel, so the berserkers can defeat by humans by travelling back in time and disrupting their history enough so that by the time the beserkers start their attack on the planet, the people are so technologically behind that they can't muster any defense at all. The story, then, has the berserkers attacking at three key points of history: the invention of the written language, the consolidation of territory by a past king, and the publication of a paper on physical dynamics.

First and foremost, then, what we've got is a time travel book. The presence of time travel creates a few necessary plot points for Saberhagen to clog up. First, he establishes that the very first colonists of the planet accidentally fell back in time in a process that erased their memories--this mechanic begs for presence of a few amnesiac/presumed time-travellers, and thus we have the love-interest, Lucy Gray. Second, if the Time Corps can find the exact moment of intrusion of the beserkers in the time stream--the keyhole, they call it--then they can send their own forces back to prevent the total collapse. Thus, the beserkers can't attack in any point, and need to act subtly if their presence isn't to be detected. Finally, due to some sort of time rule, people from the present can only be sent so far back into the past before they have to use mechanical proxies. Think Avatar, but clumsier.

The third element comes into play in the first and second stories. In the first one, the lead character, Derron Odegard, first saves Lucy Grey in the present, then travels via robo-proxy to the far past to save literacy from the Berserkers. Once there, he enables one of the locals, Matt, to save the day, and takes Matt back to the future with him, to save his life. Sadly for Derron, Lucy is strangely attracted to dynamic verve of this past-dweller. Thus ends part 1. In Part Two, Matt is convinced to take the place of King Ay, a royal ruler that was supposed to consolidate the Sirgoloids before a Berserker ate him. (In fact, due to the entirely plot-constructed time rule above, Matt is the only one who can do it--no one from the present can be present in the far past that long.) Think The Prisoner of Zenda, but with a giant robot. Finally, in Part 3, Derron himself goes back to preserve the life of Vincent Vincento, a Galileo analog who must be convinced to recant his paper, in order to write a more significant one later, rather than be burned at the stake for heresy.

The book gets increasingly more complicated and cerebral with each subsequent adventure. The Part 1 is a reasonably straightforward fight scene. Part 2 introduces a wrinkle in the motivations of the parties involved--the Time Corps are trying to get Matt killed in order to pinpoint where the keyhole is, and the Beserkers are forced to preserve him for the same reason. And Part 3's resolution revolves around Vincento's ego, the Foucault Pendulum, and a false feint, as the Berserkers' real target shifts suddenly. While it's still pretty "us against them," there is a move towards sophistication that's welcome.
The characters, on the other hand, are pretty stock fare. Matt, Derron, and Lucy are all pretty standard sci-fi tropes. Matt is the man from the past who is more in tune with what's "really" going on than his futuristic forebearers; Derron is a detached man from the future who needs to learn to love again; and Lucy is essentially a trophy for the last man standing.
The Beserkers are slightly more interesting, and I like how Saberhagen brings them into the plot's theme. One of the benefits of fiction is that you can create an entirely unambiguous evil onto which all fears of the Other can be projected. The Beserkers have the cold, heartless mechanics of machines, but also the mindless destruction implied by their name. The Time Corps, it's implied, have started to move towards the Beserkers' soulless detachment, as evidenced in their callous treatment of Matt and Derron's general detachment from everything. The emotional climax of the story comes when Derron takes a page from Matt's book and learns to love again (no, really, that's what he learns), and the fight against the Berserkers climaxes at the point where one Berserker has been made so versatile that it becomes susceptible to emotion.
It's perfect solution to the robot problem. Sherry Turkle, in Life on the Screen, argues that machines have replaced animals as the Other than humans compare ourselves to in order to define ourselves. Specifically, we see how our machines that are like us, reject them, define exactly what makes us different, then slowly allow machines to cross over that newly defined line, and start all over again. It's the exact path Saberhagen takes: the Berserker is defined as different because it lacks the capacity to feel, then it gains that ability and rises to the human level.
Two final points: First, given that it's a time travel story intimately connected to a planet's history, I wonder why Saberhagen didn't just make the whole thing Earth to begin with. Why re-invent the wheel (literally) when you already have a perfectly good planet? If it was a new history, I could understand that, but the Sirgolins seem to follow Earth's development pretty closely. The only reason I can think of is that it allows him to fudge some of the details to fit the plot, when he sees fit. Second, the moments of history chosen--the development of the written language, the rise of the medieval leader/conqueror, the triumph of humanist science--creates a very interesting reflection on exactly what ARE the key moments of history. Again, using a different planet allows Saberhagen to hand-wave a claim that these aren't necessarily the important bits of OUR history, but they do present a very humanist/Eurocentric/positivist kind of world view.

Bottom line: there's not a lot of depth to the story, especially character-wise, but there's just enough going on to make it interesting as it progresses. And at 220 pages, it's not like it's asking for a huge portion of your time.

Later Days.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Plan B

Well, after the usual two posts, I guess it's time to address what I've seen, done, and had done to me during my hiatus. We'll start with the last: the oral defense of my primary comprehensive examination in multimedia. I went into the defense with a plan:

Despite months of preparation, I would would be unmistakably flustered during the defense. This defense would become increasingly noticeable to the examining professors, as my answers became more and more incoherent, unintelligible, and bizarrely critical of Canada's foreign policy. In the end, they would have no choice but to fail my defense. Under the University of Blank's English Department's policy, I would have five months to prepare for a second attempt. Though I study almost constantly, my confidence is shattered, and further fractured through a series of nervous breakdowns. The actual defense is even more disastrous than the first, as I descend into entirely undecipherable nonsense, except for one long passage in which I insult my examiner's credentials, values, and ancestorial lineage.

At this point, I will be asked to leave the program. After failing to find employment in the Ontario area, I move back to Saskatchewan. I return to the other half of my undergraduate double major, and enroll in the University of Somewhere Else's Mathematics grad program. However, due to my lack of confidence and over five years away from the discipline, I soon find the work load overwhelming, and drop out of a second graduate program. Realizing that my life is spiraling out of control, I take the advice of family and friends and enter into long sessions with a life guidance counselor. Working together, we investigate the roots of my self-destructive behavior, and forge a new direction for my career.

Following in the footsteps of my parents, I enroll in the University of Somewhere Else's education college. Though the entry interview is nearly disastrous, I pull through largely as a result of the college's strong need for male teachers; my dual English and mathematics background is also an asset. As a mature student, I pass quickly through the program and soon possess a Bachelor of Education. Given my rural upbringing, I apply to every municipal division I can, reasoning that there is less competition for these positions than the city postings, and that I would be able to adjust to the environment quickly. I find a post, and settle into my new job. I meet a woman at this town, and appeal to her through the joint benefits of her being over thirty and desperate, and me being someone she hasn't known since the day she was born. We marry, and though she wasn't what I had been looking for and I wasn't she was looking for, we quietly settle down into some sort of life.

Eight years later, she leaves me for a younger man. I return to my spiral of self-loathing and recrimination, and drop out of sight, eventually changing my name to Bryce Larkin, and no one ever hears from me again.

But I passed the defense, so I guess I'll have to go with Plan B.

Later Days.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wednesday Comics: It Hurts to Laugh

This one violates my "one panel, no, I mean, one page" rule, but... it's probably my favorite single Joker/Batman exchange outside of the animated series. It's from Brian Azzerello and Lee Bermejo's Orignal Graphic Novel, Joker.

Later Days.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Book Review: Ender in Exile by Orson Scott Card

"Monogamy is what works best for any society in the long run. That's why half of us are born male and half female--so we come out even."
--Ender in Exile, 2008

"Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those whoflagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society." Orson Scott Card, 1990

" If America becomes a place where the laws of the nation declare that marriage no longer exists -- which is what the Massachusetts decision actually does -- then our allegiance to America will become zero. We will transfer our allegiance to a society that does protect marriage. We will teach our children to have no loyalty to the culture of the American elite, and will instead teach them to be loyal to a competing culture that upholds the family. Whether we home school our kids or not, we will withdraw them at an early age from any sense of belonging to contemporary American culture." Orson Scott Card, 2004

This is going to be a long one, folks. I'm going to spend some time on my feelings of Card's politics, my history in reading his books, the series as a whole, and, at the end, just for the novelty, I'll look at the book itself. To start:

I believe that Orson Scott Card fits under what I'd define as homophobic. I recognize that he is far more tolerant than some, and that his position now may not be the same position he took 7 and 20 years ago (though I don't have any reason to believe it's different, either). But when you imply that sedition is an appropriate response to government sanctioned same-sex marriage and you compare an adult homosexual to a sweaty teenager who can't control his urges, you've entered a mindset that I wouldn't, under any circumstances, support.
Unfortunately, from my perspective, at least, Card is also a pretty damn good sci-fi writer. The question is, if I'm really so deadset against his politics, how do I justify continued reading of his work?
Note, first, that I'm not questioning Card's right to have these views; free speech for a free society, and so forth. I'm questioning my own potential hypocrisy in supporting the works of someone whose views I find morally repellent. Further note that, technically, I didn't buy the book. I took it out from a public library. That's not a way out, though; rather than contribute finances directly, I'm contributing to a set of statistics that suggests the book and the ideas behind it are popular. It's a different level of complicity, but not really a different kind.
For the counterview, I think one of the best arguments can be found here: /news_index.php?story=24627. It's for another Card product entirely--the video game Shadow Complex, loosely based on his Empire novel (but not loosely enough that Card doesn't collect royalties from the game). The game's adaptation was written by veteran comic book/sci-fi writer Peter David, who, as a left-leaning Jew, is about as far from Card, the right-leaning Mormon, as you can get. And in this article's comment section, he presents a compelling case against boycotts. He argues that a boycott is just financial censorship, that it valorizes the people you're boycotting among their core supporters. And if the larger company backs down, then the boycott is another step to making products that are as bland and self-sanitizing as possible. Rather, he argues, the best way to fight an idea is with a better one.
Like I said, it's a compelling argument. It appeals to democratic, community-based principles, and it's unflagging in its support of free speech. And it's not even an argument that I disagree with. In my comp defense, one of the examining professors asked me how I'd respond to someone who objects to game studies on the grounds that games promote violence, and my response was--after some hemming and hawing--that if they did cause violence, it's all the more reason to understand their effects, and that banning isn't a solution, because the ideas just go underground. But my professors weren't really satisfied with that answer (largely because I stalled for the time to come up with that argument by giving another argument, that the "magic circle" allows people to tell the difference between games and real life, an argument that contradicts a third, previous argument), and neither am I. Engaging with an argument changes it, and changes the way people view it--by blogging about and reading Card's books or studying violent games, I'm in part complicit in their perpetuation. Neither view, to me, presents a clear moral ground.
To sum up, then: How do I feel about continuing my reading of his work? I AM DEEPLY AMBIGUOUS.

Part of the issue for me is that I've been reading his books for a long, long time. There's a history there; more precisely, they're a part of my history. I came across the book in my grade 10 English class; we were doing a "sci-fi novel" unit, and we had to choose a novel to do a group book report on. Card's "Ender's Game" was my choice. It was one of the longer books, so I was prepared to do it alone; I remember being quite gratified that some other kids were willing to give it a chance just because I was reading it--I thought they valued my opinion on what makes a good book. Considerably later, I figured out that what they really wanted was someone to do their work for them--which I did, since I was the only one who actually finished the damn book in the group, and I wanted to pass, thank you very much. Luckily, the teacher realized that I was the only one who'd read it, and did everyone else's work for them. Or unluckily, if you consider the result of that revelation to my social status. High school is a complicated time.
The point of this anecdote, however, is that the premise of the book struck me immediately as appealling: children are chosen at a young age to train at a military facility to fight a race of alien invaders, and they train through the use of war games. Recall that I read this book about 10 years ago, and at the tender age of 16, I already found game-based sci-fi narratives to be pretty interesting (which bodes well for my future career). I didn't actually read any of the subsequent books in the series; Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind all came much later. But I do remember that Ender's Shadow came out during my last year of high school, and for a long time, it held the status of my favorite book. The idea was that it told the exact same events of Ender's Game--but from the point of view of a different character, Bean, rather than Ender. Every conversation both are present for turns out the same way, but with a vastly different interpretation. The transformative power that a change in perspective could bring to a narrative struck me, and left a longstanding mark. (Sidenote: I was so enthused about the book that I blabbed about it at length during a book report project that year. And opened old wounds, as one of the students who had attempted to read the original with me thought I was rubbing his failure to complete it in his face. High school PoC could NOT catch a break.)

Further investigations into Card's writings never quite reached the same level of quality for me. There's a few reasons for that. First, the sequel works mentioned above, Speaker for the Dead, and so forth, are all very different from Ender's Game, though they star the same protagonist. Essentially, in the end (spoiler alert), Ender gets tired of his war memories and guilt and commits a sort of psychic suicide. After a few thousand pages and four books, that's a downer ending. His other two main series--Homecoming, in which colony of people returning to Earth after years of being away; and the Tales of Alvin Maker, an alternate reality 19th century America where magic, or "knacks" are commonplace--are much more overtly influenced by Card's religion, Mormonism. In Homecoming, the characters discover scripture written on buried gold tablets, and Alvin Maker is very obviously an analog of Joseph Smith, the founder of the religion. It probably reflects my own feelings towards Mormonism than anything else, but when these influences are more overt, I find it harder to take the books at face value--or rather, I'm a lot more uncomfortable with what those face values are. The other major series is the sequel to Ender's Shadow; in general, the Shadow books are more politically based than religious, and I find them fairly entertaining, if a little revisionist in their white-washing of Peter Wiggin. Somehow, despite being a genetically-altered super genius mutant, Bean manages to be a more relatable protagonist than Ender.

So, if there's anyone still reading, it's time to say a few words about the book itself. It's another book that fleshes out the between-scene events of Ender's Game--specifically, it happens, as Card tells us in the afterword--between Chapter 14 and Chapter 15 of the original book. It starts nearly immediately after Ender defeats the aliens, follows through his exile to Earth, his discovery of the dormant hive queen of the aliens, and the beginning of his search for a new home for her. And if that sounds like a spoiler, then frankly, I'm about 25 years too late; this is exactly what happened in the original book, only in twenty so pages rather than 450. The question is, then, what the new version brings to the table. There's essentially three plot climaxes: Ender's confrontation with the admiral conveying him to the Shakespeare colony, Ender's guilt over committing xenocide and confusion about why the aliens let themselves be killed, and Ender's confrontation with Bean's lost son, wrapping up some loose threads from the Shadow series. The first element subsumes the first 300 odd pages of the book, only to get wrapped up in an almost perfunctory manner (it also unbalances the book fairly severely, as the climax and colony sections seem almost like afterthoughts in comparison). The second element, which bears much of the emotional drive of the book, is a fairly moot point; those who've read the first book already know that the aliens allowed themselves to be killed because they'd already planned to hide their last queen. And they also know that Ender's guilt will be overcome because he has to find the queen a safe place to live. And those who've read the entire Ender series know a much more depressing answer, that Ender never gets over his guilt, and eventually sacrifices himself over it. You could argue that not every reader will have read Ender's Game and know how things turn out but... first, why would you start a series with the sequel? Second, if you haven't read at least Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, and Shadow of the Giant, then the third element, the supposed climax of the story won't really mean much, because it's all things happening to characters you don't know.

So the interesting part, then, is less the plot than how it's told and what themes it draws on. The book is heavy on dialogue, which has always been a draw for Card's work. It's not an easy task to write really witty dialogue. It's even harder, I think, in the scenario Card has set up; Battle School is supposedly a compilation of the greatest child geniuses the world has ever known. That means you've got a full cast of children to write for, and children who are supposed to radiate intelligence in everything they say. And they have to sound intelligent in such a manner that the reader doesn't find them ingratiating. It's a difficult balance to get right, and to his credit, Card does it well. In terms of themes, the book has two major ones: survivor's guilt, and the need for family roots, both genetically and physically. Survivor's guilt--or maybe killer's remorse-- has always been Ender's issue; I honestly don't have a lot to say about it, other than it's so ingrained in his character that I didn't even notice it until Card brings it up at the end, at which point it seemed both thunderously obvious that it was there, and that it was absolutely essential to the story. The other theme is family, which shows up over and over again: in the drive to perpetuate the species, in Ender's parents' emotional struggle over forcing their son into exile, in Bean's son's warping at the hands of his surrogate mother, and even in small things such as Graff's repeated statement that his children are the colonists and the children of Battle School, rather than any of his own.

Essentially, Card presents the case that the best actions are those that are predicated in what's best for the human, or sentient, family, and those that are motivated for promoting the individual are selfish, and immature--an idea easily reflected in his views on homosexuality.

So we're back we've started. Rather than run in circles, I'll just draw to a close. To sum up, then: Ender in Exile doesn't tell anything that's absolutely new; it really can't, as a piece that fits between other parts of a vast tapestry. I'll fully admit that there are two specific moments--when Ender writes a letter to his parents after years of silence, and when he acknowledged the role Bean played in Ender's Shadow--when I actually sighed out loud in satisfaction, as literary tensions that are over a decade old are resolved. I think that's the key thing here. The book is, at its core, for people such as me, who have grown up reading the series, and, for better or for worse, grown up engaging the morality it presents.

Later Days.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Tomorrow: a classic, super ramble-y book review. But for now: Person of Consequence, PhD Candidate.

Later Days.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Quotations: You Don't Want to Know Where They'd Put the Extension Cord

"We speak (and hear) --- and for 5000 years have preserved our words. But, we cannot share vision. To this oversight of evolution we owe the retardation of visual communication compared to language. Visualization by shared communication would be much easier if each of us had a CRT in the forehead."
---1987 report of the National Science Foundation, Visualization in Scientific Computing

For the non-computer historian in the crowd, CRT stands for Cathode Ray Tube, which looks like this:

Imagine one of those shoved right above your eyes. It's sort of an entry from the steampunk school of cyborgs.

At any rate, this is supposed to be the day of the glorious return. And it is. Sort of. Unfortunately, there's been a change of schedule. My oral exam hasn't quite happened yet. Apparently, when I read the department regulations--"all oral defenses will be held within two weeks of the written examination"--I missed the fine print: "except when they aren't." So the exam's scheduled for Monday. And though I complain, it works out better for me; I could really use this weekend to study. But that also means there may not be much content till Monday rolls around. Please stay tuned; the future will hold witty insights, book reviews, trip details, and other scintillating bits of information. For now, however, just reflect on the wisdom of the computer scientists of yesteryear.

Later Days.