Interview by Kristin Galetta and Justin Goldner
Those lucky enough to be at the Free Library of Philadelphia on September 21
were in for a treat. In an intriguing, two and a half hour presentation, acclaimed
science fiction writer Orson Scott Card discussed his writing style, his current
projects- which include an Ender's Game movie-and later, in an exclusive
Merionite interview, his feelings on September 11, religion and true love.
Best known for the beloved Ender's Game series, which remains on LM's required
sophomore reading list, Card's writing has been described as "science fiction for
those who don't read science fiction." Rather than focusing solely on plot, Card
devotes his attention to his characters, the people who "build communities," which
earn his books the universal appeal that much other science fiction lacks.
"I don't write themes in my fiction," Card said. "I write about grown-ups. "For his
distinct, oral writing style, Card said he draws on his theatrical background and
such influences as Shakespeare and Bradbury, as well as his broad taste of music
which he listens to as he writes. "I avoid beautiful writing," Card said, "because
then the reader steps back to admire the writing, and it stops the story cold."
Instead, Card allows his characters to carry the story, and lets the beauty come
through in their interactions. After the presentation and Shadow Puppets book
signing, the latest installment in the Ender's Game series, Card stepped outside for
an exclusive interview with two Merionite reporters.
Shadow Puppets and Shadow of the Hegemon deal with a lot of
political issues. What was it like writing Shadow Puppets in the aftermath of
September 11 and the events that followed?
Writing Shadow Puppets, that was a real challenge. I was
writing it in January. The war in Afghanistan was still going on and I didn't know
how things were going to turn out. Yet the novel, which takes place in the future,
had to take into account the history of relations between Islam and the West. I
didn't necessarily put down how I thought things were going to come out or
certainly how I thought things should come out; I put down what I thought would
keep my books from being out of date twenty minutes after I finished them. I had
to have a generic outcome that could still fit, even if we lost or won.
Basically, I left the implication that there had been multiple wars between Islamic
countries and the west in general, and that way I didn't have to specifically say
what had happened with ours. But I tried to be optimistic too. For example, I still
have an Israel in the future. I hope there will be, because I think would be one of
the worst acts in human history if Israel were destroyed.
Do you believe in the ideals in your books such as true love in Enchantment,
and how do you approach them when you write?
It's dangerous to try to guess what I believe from what characters believe in
my books. I have them say what they believe, and what they believe is usually
quite different from what I believe. My characters have their own opinions and I
try to be faithful to them. Sometimes I'll happen to agree with one of them, and I
hope I don't make it too obvious that I think that one is smart and the other one is
dumb. I figure my readers can sort things out.
At the same time, my unconscious beliefs show up in my fiction all the time
without my even being aware of them. These beliefs are things I believe in so
deeply that I am not even aware of them as beliefs, I just think that's the way the
world works. These will show up subtly in why things happen, not in character's
viewpoints, and will therefore be far more influential than anything one character
says in his or her own words.
As for believing in true love, I don't. I don't think Enchantment says that there is
such a thing as "fated love" or "this is the one for me;" I don't think that's true at
all. I think that any two people who are willing to work hard can make a marriage
work. Some will make it work better than others, and some will have more fun
making it work than others, but I do not believe that anybody has a one and only
love. People who think that way are the ones who follow their emotions, instead
of having even an iota of intelligence about whom they marry. They usually end
up either divorced or extremely unhappy, because emotions fade. If everything
depends on emotion, or even sexual desire, it's going to go. It's going to
disappear. But if it's somebody with whom you're a good friend, with whom you
could build a partnership and with whom you want to share every enterprise of
your life, then even after the romance fades, its still there. The good stuff's still
How about religion? You explore that in a lot of your books as well.
What I'm doing with religion in my books is not preaching my religion, but
showing human beings who have a religious life. Most human beings have a
religious life, and all human beings do have a religion. The ones who think they
don't have a religion are simply the most fanatical. They are so fanatical that they
believe other people have religions and what they have is the truth. People who
think this way are usually oppressive. In my experience, everybody I've ever met
who says, "Oh, I don't have a religion" is in fact very intolerant of other people's
religious beliefs. I believe that to write honestly about human beings you have to
include the idea of their religion, whether they think they have one or not.
I think that fiction writers who write characters who have no religion, no religious
life, are simply lying in a way. They're leaving out some really vital stuff and I
think that's a mistake.
At the very moment, if you had to pick your favorite book, what would it be?
Favorite book, almost impossible. A prime candidate would have to be
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It really is a monumental work of literature
that changed the shape of everything for us. Beyond that, the most important book
in my life might well be Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. I read
it too young, when I was 10 years old, and it shaped my life knowing that there
was that much evil possible in the world. I wouldn't hand it to a 10 year old
myself, but my sister, who was reading it in high-school, in all her innocence gave
it to me. I cried over and over again in that book. It was just so horrible to realize,
it still breaks my heart to think of things that were done in Nazi Germany, but its
been part of what I do as a writer ever since.
[Interview by Kristin Galetta and Justin Goldner, with editing help by Liz Sher
Published in "The Merionite" -- the school paper of Lower Merion High School
in Ardmore, Pennsylvania -- 11 October 2002 on page 11.]