The Library Basement
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Tag Orson Scott Card

Readings for November 2015

We happened to welcome a new baby to our family near the end of the month, so I feel lucky to have completed what I did.

Xenocide by Orson Scott Card

XenocideAs I began Orson Scott Card's Xenocide, third in the Ender series, I quickly fell into the same joy which accompanied Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, the first two books in the series. Card's craft is storytelling first and science fiction second, as it should be. In this novel I particularly appreciated the mixing of religion (not just religious themes, mind you) into science fiction.

Card sets the stakes high in this novel, with the opening plot on a course to the destruction of a planet full of colonists along with two (or three?) entire sentient species. The addition of a new characters on another world - some obsessive-compulsive whose attention to detail is put work in service of an empire - adds a good counter-balance, keeping Ender's universe from becoming too in-grown.

What spoiled the book for me, to a degree, was Card reaching too deep into fantastic world-building in order to elucidate the mysterious connection between Ender's mind and that of the Hive Queen, the Pequeninos, and Jane - the ghost in the machine of the interplanetary communications network. It's not that Card's plot device is too fantastic, it's that it arose in a series in a way in which I feel it violated the reader's expectations. Card set the stage one way, and dramatically shifted it later. Probably the brightest spot coming out of this plot shift is that we get to see a bit of Mormon theology shining through: namely the implication of the pre-existence of souls.

As anyone can tell by reading the front-matter, the Ender saga is far from over. However I think I'll leave it here. It has been quite enjoyable, but it is time to move on to new stories.

Anarchy and Christianity by Jacques Ellul

I have probably read three or four works on Christian anarchism, but Jacques Ellul's Anarchy and Christianity is now my favorite. This is definitely a good read with its emphasis on nonviolence and neither seeking nor serving political power.

I have slowly been making my way through his seminal work The Technological Society. Once I complete that, I am planning on putting together a "Quotable Ellul" piece with quotes from each of these works.

Readings for April 2014

Reading continues.

Micro by Michael Crichton

There was a time in life when I was devouring everything by Michael Crichton I could get my hands on. As time went by my tastes have changed. And with the passing of Crichton, there were not more opportunities to read his work anyway. Except that his estate had arranged for posthumous releases of works in progress. The first was Pirate Latitudes, which I found to be decidedly half-baked.

This new offering, Micro, is co-authored by Richard Preston, so it has a more finished feel to it. And it is a vintage Crichton story-line: corporate use of bleeding-edge technology leads to mayhem. I will warn the reader that the premise of this book is essentially "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" in an action/adventure format. I would recommend this for any die-hard Crichton fans out there.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

I really loved Ender's Game, so I've had its sequel Speaker for the Dead queued up for quite some time. I also studiously avoided seeing the film adaptation of the former. Orson Scott Card once again came through with a very thought-provoking tale, well-executed in the science fiction genre.

Card's fiction seems to always address religion, though in this novel it is a major theme. You have the Catholic colony on a lonely planet reacting to the intrusion of the Speaker, who is a sort of "priest" for a new "humanist religion." The Speaker is of course Ender, who through relativistic spaceflight is still running around thousands of years after his xenocide. Ender gets the opportunity for a chance at redemption, as it were, because for the first time since the buggers, humanity has discovered a new sentient species.

I have only read three Card novels, but they have all stuck with me. He is an excellent story teller, and he does not let his genre get in the way. Rather he uses science fiction to create the alternate realities in which tough questions can be addressed. In other words, he is very much like LeGuin, and I love him for it. Recommended.

Periodicals

  • Harper's April 2014
  • Tin House 58
  • Harper's May 2014

Readings for April 2012

I had quite a productive month reading.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Pillars Of The EarthFaithful readers may recall that my wife and I started a tradition that we would choose a book for each other in March. I lost a bet and got two books, but it was just as well. Of course this novel was long enough that I did not complete it until early April.

The Pillars of the Earth was a pleasant read. The first aspect which appealed to me was the setting. I really found the medieval England portrayed in the novel compelling. Reading about a totally different time and place can be quite thought-provoking.

But the real showcase is the cast of characters. Follett creates a lot of interesting and relatable characters. Prior Philip, Tom Builder, Ellen, Aliena, and Jack are all lovable in their own ways. And you love to hate the antagonists. Add in a good plot and some fascinating bits about historical architecture, and you've got a great read. Recommended.

Periodicals

  • Scientific American March 2012 - Julian Dibbell reports on the developments of decentralized mesh networks. This article does a great job pointing out how the current access to the internet via ISPs betrays the intended "web" architecture. Mesh networking is seeking to correct that structural flaw.
  • Harper's April 2012 - Charles Glass writes a fascinating (and at times disturbing) report of the "private security" industry.
  • Biblical Archaeology Review July August 2011 - I have gotten quite behind on this periodical. Luckily they are fairly short reads and there are not many issues a year. I've resolved to read one a month. As usual, this issues had some great articles and pictures.
  • Tin House #51 - I am still so pleased with this subscription. A lot of great stories and essays in this one. I particularly enjoyed the interview with Robert Krulwich and Jab Abumrad from Radiolab.
  • Harper's May 2012 - I found the report on "The Decline and Fall of Public Housing" by Ben Austen to be really interesting. Growing up in Portland I did not know much about it.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I should be somewhat ashamed as a sci-fi fan that I had never read this novel. It is a classic, and for good reason. The premise is awesome, the characters and plot are superb. There is also the minor fact that Card seems to have made some strikingly accurate predictions about the future of technology and gaming.

As in The Worthing Saga, it seems Card intends the novel to make the reader think. It worked for me, and I found my mind returning to the closing action of the novel throughout the days after I finished it. I think some people may think the end is a bit of a curve ball, but I found it to be vintage Card. Recommended.

The Theodicy of Worthing

Orson Scott Card's The Worthing Saga is an excellent read. I bought the novel on a lark with some gift card money, and I don't regret it. Card's storytelling has got me itching to beginEnder's Game, among others. One of my favorite features of the Worthing story is that it fits well with my hobby horse, sci-fi and theology.

The story of Jason Worthing is at its core a theodicy. In place of God are men with advanced technology and enhanced genetic abilities, but the question of evil is the same. If someone could prevent pain, why wouldn't they? Card makes a decent argument regarding the problem of evil through the story. I'm not sure it would convince anyone to change their minds on the matter, though I can't say for sure. As for judging the quality of theodicy, I'm not sure where to start. It works for me, but I come at it with a biased perspective. However, I can say that I think science fiction (or literature in general) is a much better medium for theodicy than theological treatise.

The theodicy is not particularly well disguised, nor do I think it is intended to be. The intent is clear from fairly early on in the novel. But it doesn't get in the way. The story and characters are compelling enough in their own right so that some readers might even miss the greater theme yet enjoy the collection nonetheless.

Like all good sci-fi, The Worthing Saga uses scientific or futuristic metaphors to tell a good story. The scientific aspects are really fascinating, and there is a lot of room to spin off and tell more good stories from the premise. Indeed, the last 150 pages or so are actually short stories which are not directly related to the Worthing plot. Card does an excellent job engaging the imagination, and making you want to read more, or perhaps even write your own.

Another fascinating aspect of this book is its apparent compatibility with Mormon cosmology. Card is a Mormon, so as I was reading I kept an eye out for references to his religion. If you are familiar with LDS theology (though perhaps I am ignorant), gods are very much like men with advanced technology and enhanced abilities. So the story fits well with the fundamentals of Mormonism. I must confess, I think it would be pretty fun to be a Mormon theologian. Maybe I'll look up some LDS theology and have a read.

Read this book. And keep an eye for other good science fiction.

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