Interview from Poland
January 17, 2002
What makes you return to the Ender series with the successive books?
Because I wrote the novel version of Ender's Game in order to provide the
proper setup for the novel Speaker for the Dead, which takes place three thousand
years later when Ender is completely grown up, Ender's Game never had a proper
sequel -- that is, it never had a novel that completed some of the questions and
issues raised by the first book.
When I realized that Bean would make a good protagonist, the obvious
thing to do was begin in Battle School and write a story that begins in parallel with
Ender's Game, but then continues with the story of what happened on Earth while
Ender was off in space heading for a distant colony world. Once I began writing
the Shadow books, Bean's story (and Petra's, and Peter's) took on a life of their
own -- I began to think of them as just as interesting to me as Ender was fifteen
years ago. I hope my readers feel the same way.
In the majority of your books, the main heros are children. Why? And how
do you know their psyches so well?
Actually, in my books the heroes are PEOPLE. But people usually begin as
children. All I do is refuse to skip the most formative years of a person's life.
Basically, I structure most of my books as biographies, beginning and childhood
and going on to death. But multi-volume series stretch that biography over more
books, so in the early book or books, the character remains a child.
Most of the important aspects of a person's character manifest themselves
when the character is quite young. And few people are able to make substantial
change in their own character when they're older. Most of the time all we manage
to do is change our role in life -- change the way we interact with other people.
That can be interesting, of course, as indeed most fiction deals with such matters.
But I find that I have to go back into the character's childhood to show who the
character REALLY is. It's as if I try to explore the actor rather than the role the
Children from the Ender series are transformed into the war-machines, but
emotionally they remain sensible, even fragile. Do you think that such a
murderous training in so early age ruined them emotionally?
I think I showed that it caused a lot of emotional damage. To take a way a
child's childhood causes many repercussions in years to come. But the intention,
in Ender's Game, was to exaggerate what we already do in time of war -- we take
our children -- at 17 or 18 instead of 7 or 8 -- and train them to submerge their
own survival instinct, and train them to kill in obedience to their officers. They go
to war and those who are actually in combat see and do terrible things. Then we
expect them to come home and lead normal lives. The miracle is that most of
them do. And children recover from terrible experiences in childhood, most of the
time. They lead normal lives -- but with problems and pain inside them that they
carry with them forever.
In science fiction there are plenty of supermen, but there are a very few
mind-super-heros. You seem to create them without any effort. Is it really
It's hard to write a character who is smarter than the writer. <grin> Oddly
enough, I'm often criticized because these genius kids "don't talk like real
children." Well, first, they DO talk like real children -- apparently these critics
haven't talked to kids very much about anything that matters to them. And,
second, they're supposed to be really smart children. So of course their vocabulary
and mastery of language will be at a higher level than some adults. But that's how
it is in the real world.
Do your religious beliefs influence your writing?
Everything that a storyteller truly believes shows up in his stories. A
portion of what a person truly believes can be defined as "religion." It has neither
more nor less influence on his storytelling than his other beliefs.
I speak, not of superficial beliefs -- opinions that you know might be wrong
-- but rather of core beliefs, things you believe so thoroughly that it doesn't occur
to you that you might be wrong. The beliefs you build your life on. We all have
millions of such beliefs, ranging from our faith in gravity to our trust in what
certain people tell us. We might be wrong about many of them. But we believe
them so intensely that there is no way to tell a story without revealing those
So I can easily avoid superficial aspects of my religion in my writing, and I
do, because there's no reason to use my stories for propaganda, it would just
interfere with their power. But on an unconscious level, what I truly believe will,
of course, show up in my work.
In the map of the future world in Shadow of the Hegemon there are a few of
today collapsed forces, i.e. The Warsaw's Pact. Do you really think that
Russia can technologically and politically catch up the West and threaten it?
(on which side would you see Poland in such a conflict)?
Russia is a young nation that is hungry for greatness. So is Poland, but a
different kind of greatness.
But Russia has more people. More sense of entitlement. Poland wants to be
left alone. Russia wants to be respected. Russia wants to GROW. That makes
them potentially great -- and potentially frightening. Will Russia "catch up" with
the west? Of course. Whenever it wants to. What role will Poland play? A lot
depends on the danger Poland is in, and the kind of nation Russia is at the time of
What I'm most interested in, though, is Poland as a young country. Of
course Poland is very old, but in fact what has happened since the late 1980s
makes Poland very young as a country that can control its own destiny and what it
will become. I doubt that my fiction will invent anything half so interesting as
what the Polish people make of their own nation.
In the Children of the Mind, you describe a sort of teleportation based on
strings theory. Do you believe in strings theory? Do you read science
I don't use string theory at all. I do keep up on the scientific literature to a
degree, but I don't have enough math even to understand string theory. What I use
in Children of the Mind is old-fashioned metaphysics, using metaphoric
explanations that, AFTER I wrote it, have been taken by some people as being
related to the metaphors used to explain string theory. No connection.
I read a lot of science, but I read far more history. THAT is what a writer of
any kind of fiction has to be thoroughly versed in. Because what we storytellers
write about is human beings, and it's a foolish writer who attempts to do it without
a thorough knowledge of what people have done over the millennia.
Your personification of the internet in the Speaker for the Dead as Jane was
a fresh, genius idea. Are you privately "close" with the computers? (Do
you like them or just treat as a tool?) Do you really think that the internet
can generate Artificial Intelligence in the future?
I don't believe there is even the slightest possibility of Artificial Intelligence
as a genuinely sentient being. The only we we'll ever create A.I. is by redefining
"intelligence" to include whatever it is we teach our machines to do. But if by
"intelligence" you mean true sentience, a true person, those who claim it is
possible are laughably ignorant of what computers do, or what the human mind
does, or both.
Have you seen Steven Spielberg's A.I.? How do you find it as the study of
sentimentality of -- an artificial, but still -- a little boy?
Haven't seen it. Don't want to. Looked boring and silly, and from what I
hear, it was.
In the interview for Fantastyka in 1997, you said that film and television are
potentially corresponding (equal status) to literature as an artistic medium.
Currently we have a boom of reality TV. Don't you find it as a symptom of
the crisis of the institution of the creator in the visual mass-media?
It was just a silly fad. It's already over. The important uses of TV and film
are as storytelling media. It is storytelling that human beings hunger for, and
always will. TV, film, and literature tell stories differently. But they still tell
stories - why people do the things they do.
Are you working on some movie-project now?
We're negotiating with Miramax on Ender's Game. I have other projects in
the works -- Enchantment is under option with a producer. And I just completed
a twelve-minute comedy. I hope to have it up online as streaming video in a few
months. Check out my websites -- www.hatrack.com and www.frescopix.com.