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Ender's Game Review (plover.net)
46 points by markessien 2441 days ago | 99 comments



His basic argument holds truth though, there are pornographic elements in most created works, i.e. elements created strictly to gratify or comfort the reader in some specific way. This is why we instinctually pigeonhole and look down upon genre fiction writers, because their primary task is to comfort the reader, not to challenge or engage in a dialogue with him.

Let's break down the different genre's and see what belief systems they seek to gratify. Feel free to add your own:

1. Detective Novels - Sherlock Holmes is fun to read because his adventures take place in an environment in which the details of a man's appearance, speech etc. can predict with 100% accuracy his psychology and plans.

2. Horror novels - Many horror novels play on our desire to believe that we can overcome "the other" through some human act. In Dracula, for instance, the vampire is defeated by meticulous planning, organizing, and above all else, the sharing of information. Modernity vanquishes the old world scourge. For people who get off on organization, that novel tweaks your pleasure sensors left and right.

3. Science Fiction - Depends a bit on the sub-genre. Hard science fiction offers scenarios in which numbers and logic reign supreme. Softer science fiction, a la Star Wars, is often really just fantasy in another cloak...

4. Fantasy - Fantasy gratifies our desire to believe that those passing, semi-eccentric thoughts we all harbor from time to time, are really the laws that govern the world. Wish-fulfillment narratives are really just the exploration of ideas that pop into everyone's head from time to time.

To put it in hacker terms, works of genre fiction create systems where the requirements never change. Much like video games, the rules are set in place early on and strictly adhered to. This is immensely comforting. On a personal note: it's also fairly disturbing. For about 20 years now, my mother has more or less read a book a day or so, from cover to cover. She has a full-time job (teacher) and was always around to do mom stuff when I was a kid, but she spends her nights up reading. One could argue that this is awesome, but it's not. Because she's reading genre fiction.

She gets the latest romance novels every Wednesday and has them finished by Sunday. That leaves her two days to work through other genres. A few years back, her Monday-Tuesday books were gay Vampire romance novels. Before that it was detective novels. Every time I visit, it's some new sub-genre I've never heard of.

We're all entitled to our quirks and interests, but I would argue that what she is doing is self-medicative and produces no other value. She never has anything to SAY about these books. They prompt no insights into life. She never wants to talk about them with us when we try to engage.

And I think that's what this article is getting at, tracing out this masturbatory impulse in an oft-praised work. We need to be aware of this stuff so we can appreciate and steer clear of it when we don't want it.

Now, I would argue that the best genre fiction can and often does create social good beyond medicating sad, frustrated people. The Harry Potter books created community and sparked copycats. That's more or less good. The Star Wars films stoked a lot of imaginative response and prompted a lot of people to make interesting films. That's good too. The trouble is the books that are meant to be held in.

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"Genre fiction writers... primary task is to comfort the reader, not to challenge or engage in dialogue with him"

By "comfort" if you mean "entertain," then yes, all (not just genre) fiction writers should tell a good story if you want a wide audience.

The attempt to boil down entire genres to a single fetish (belief system) gratification is extremely dismissive. Sure, you can find examples of formulaic, bad prose in genres, just as you can find excellent writing. A number of authors try to get their work classified away from science-fiction or another genre just because of this stigma.

The linked article claims Ender's game is "porn" but his definition of porn is not like mine. Porn has little narrative structure. There's almost no story. There's no 3D characterization or character development. There's no conflict.

If the definition of porn becomes any work with elements that gratify a reader's particular needs, then which successful works aren't porn? The most erudite, soul-searching work gratifies a philosophical fetish.

And if your definition of value is tied to creating insight or facilitating discussion, then that's a clear difference between a work like Ender's Game and the serial romance books your mom reads.

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I don't mean to dismiss. I love genre fiction myself. All the works listed above in my post are things i've enjoyed and mulled over. Eventually though, I started getting curious about 'why' I enjoyed them so much. When I read Dracula, objectively a poorly-written novel by someone who's other works were hardly well-considered, why did I like it so much? What was it about this novel that made me enjoy it so much while others in my literature class thought it was terrible?

I agree that calling Ender's Game "porn" doesn't work, and it doesn't work because he's really arguing that it has pornographic elements in it, not that the entire work qualifies as "porn." I disagree with his central thesis but see some truth and value in the argument he's making. Ender's Game does and has provoked a lot of great discussion, in the original poster's POV though, those elements were drowned out by the more legalistic, fetishistic elements.

And I do draw a distinction between being provoked to thought and exploration vs. being provoked to feel warm and numb inside. We should dismiss neither, but recognize them for what they are. Sometimes you want and need to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sometimes you reach for Trois Coleurs: Blue. Sometimes you build a new killer flash game to run on Kongregate. Sometimes you build a robotic arm. Both serve solid, tangible purposes, but I think its important to recognize what those are and how they're doing it.

Last point: Jurassic Park is a book I loved dearly as a kid and I'd place it in a similar boat, some elements that provoke discussion, some elements that are there to get the reader off. Both have a place.

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I'd upmod you a hundred times if I could, even spending my karma to do so.

You might be interested in the concept of Monomyth: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth

Further, the writings of Jung (and his intellectual descendants) on Archetypes might interest you. A further offshoot on this front is the Masculine Psychology movement of the latter half of the 20th century.

If we view psychology as the study of a set of stories and the way that people relate to stories, it is much more useful than dismissing it because of its (often) poor or nonexistant scientific rigor.

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This is a crock. The device of having a despised outsider turn out to be a hero is extremely common not just in sci-fi but in heroic tales generally. And the argument about each chapter being merely a build up to a catharsis could be made about pretty much any thriller.

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"There is no dramatic tension or genuine excitement about any of these encounters" .. yet he also says "The disturbing thing about Ender's Game is that Card is a good craftsman of prose; he makes the pages turn, he's an effective manipulator." How do you get readers rushing to turn pages when there's no dramatic tension or involvement with what the reviewer declares "blank" characters?

The reviewer neglects the structure of the academy breeding competition, instead assuming that everybody hated Ender just because he was better than them. The school is a crucible and it's not just Ender that's under pressure. I could go on here, but it seems like the reviewer's distaste for the author's viewpoints has heavily influenced how he read the book and interpreted the themes.

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Yeah. I always thought that the best part about Ender's Game was how it worked as a critique on academics. Getting older, the "who's to blame for genocide" bit got old, but the part that remained strong was the sequence about how the different groups approach academics and the game, and how kids brought up in high-competitive schools become very obsessive, rarely for any good reason.

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The secret of selling a million copies in any genre is having your main character suddenly find out that there's something that makes him different from everyone else. And the English language already has an excellent word to describe books/movies like this: masturbatory.

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That's also the secret to getting an interesting plot easily.

It comes up so often in fiction because it's interesting. And it's possible to get things more complex and keep it interesting, but it's much, much harder. Even Ulysses, which is famous for being about an ordinary person going about an ordinary day, has the main character a Jew in Ireland - which is rare - and adds Dedalus, who is too smart for his own good.

Difference equals interest. That's not masturbatory. That's fact.

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I have to disagree. The idea that we're going to wake up one day and something is going to happen that's going to make us better or more important than everyone else is pretty much the dictionary definition of masturbatory.

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I don't know about you, but I'm already better and more important than everyone else. :-P

But I think that Card needed that character for his story. I've read his original novella, and Ender's not quite as ridiculous in that one, and it doesn't work as well. Card needs a completely outstanding hero or his idea doesn't work.

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Read your Joseph Campbell before categorically dismissing half of all fiction in human history.

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I've pretty much dismissed all fiction for the reason that unalone mentions: fiction is designed to be interesting. And I don't like reading stuff that's interesting. I mean I do occasionally, but it rarely holds my attention.

edit: I have wanted to read Campbell for awhile though, maybe that will be my next book.

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> And I don't like reading stuff that's interesting. I mean I do occasionally, but it rarely holds my attention.

I can totally relate: I hate food that tastes good, and breathing oxygen.

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Humor, as pg succinctly puts it, comes from novel breakages. (There are academic studies confirming this.) So keeping that in mind, it's possible that something can be objectively funny without anyone actually finding humor in it. (For example, if they don't see the breakage or they just don't care.)

Interesting works the same way. Something can be objectively interesting without anyone actually finding it interesting.

If this sounds funny, it's because words are defined as used. And there are certain words that are used differently than what they actually mean. For example, if I asked you for an interesting idea you wouldn't tell me the number of penguins in Antarctica, because we all accept that a fact is different than an idea. But if you look in a dictionary, you'll see the word idea defined as if it were a fact, even though we all agree that it's not. Why? Because in practice when people use the word idea it's almost always in the context of "give me an idea of how big this room is" or something like that. I.e., in most cases idea is used as a synonym for fact, even though we agree that this isn't what an idea is. You'd have to look in a really good dictionary and scroll all the way to the bottom of the list of definitions to even get a hint that this is the case, and even then they won't give you a good working definition.

So what is interesting? Unalone nails it when he says something different. That is, something that breaks with our mental models of how the world works, but without actually suggesting a new set of more accurate schemas (which would be insightful.)

I prefer reading insightful stuff to interesting stuff, which is why I say that reading stuff that's interesting (objectively) doesn't hold my (subjective) interest.

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Objectively... funny? As in, if the entire human race disappeared and no other beings capable of abstract thought existed, certain things would have the qualities of funny?

Expound.

Also, "there are certain words that are used differently than what they actually mean." Huh? What is the inherit meaning of a word? Do words exist somewhere, true, pure, fixed in meaning, waiting to be used- and they are used, horribly, by every passing stranger, growing uglier and more cynical each day as they begin to believe the lies about the true nature of their "meaning?" (Yes, I just conflated linguistics and prostitution.)

I think your distinction between objective and subjective is really the distinction between popular and particular. For example, I know the Mona Lisa is popularly meaningful, and I acknowledge that, but I in particular am unmoved. It is a perfect way to avoid argument. Who tries to avoid argument on the internet? You are no sage.

However, your use of the word "funny" in the first paragraph to mean "humor," and then in the third paragraph to mean "a little off" is actually quite clever, as you were discussing novel breakages and the unexpected ways in which words acquire new meanings. You cunning linguist, you ;)

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"Do words exist somewhere, true, pure, fixed in meaning, waiting to be used"

I don't think so. But I think when we talk about, for example, an idea, there is some consensus that we are talking about a mental model of the way something works, the way something could work, or the way something has worked previously. (For sufficiently large definitions of something.) And if I asked you whether or not a fact was the same as an idea, you would agree that it was not. So our collective agreement on what the word means doesn't differ from the dictionary definition because it comes from some platonic ideal, but rather the definition in the dictionary is wrong because of a quirk in the way dictionaries are made.

"Objectively... funny? As in, if the entire human race disappeared and no other beings capable of abstract thought existed, certain things would have the qualities of funny?"

All humor comes from something being novel or broken relative to a set of existing mental models. When I say something can be objectively funny, what I mean is that something can be objectively novel or broken in relation to an existing mental model, whether or not anyone else realizes it.

So, can something be funny independently of humans?

Imagine if you will something being novel or broken relative to a mental model that no one actually holds. Is this funny? Clearly it can't be subjectively funny to anyone, because the humor is relative to a belief that no person holds. But can it be objectively funny, in sort of a mathematical sense? I don't see why not.

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"All humor comes from something being novel or broken relative to a set of existing mental models. When I say something can be objectively funny, what I mean is that something can be objectively novel or broken in relation to an existing mental model, whether or not anyone else realizes it."

So you're saying that something can be objective subject to its relationship with something else. Isn't that subjective?

"I don't see why not."

Well. Going along with your definition before, the one regarding that study, you need to realize that there is no way of quantifying the unexpected. Take Monty Python. They and their fans showed that you can take something unexpected and, by repeating it, make it more expected and therefore less funny, subjectively, over time. So the joke is subjective in terms of who it appeals to.

Now, you couldn't quantify something like the humorous value inherent in the Spanish Inquisition Sketch, and here's why. The primary punch line relies on the knowledge of the fact that "I didn't expect the bloody Spanish Inquisition" is a snippy, commonplace response to somebody's becoming overreacted to something. In order for "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" to be funny, you need to understand a) the perception that the preceding dialogue is indeed snippy, b) the understanding that the lead-up line is a gross exaggeration, and c) the knowledge of what the Spanish Inquisition was, and why they are, in fact, unexpected.

The problem is that all three of these things are subjective. You said it yourself: animals wouldn't find it funny. And the reason for that is that our humor is largely based on notions about our society. They're only funny subjectively within our society. Without the society, there is no humor inherent in many of these things. That also explains why infants laugh so much at funny noises. When you're young, these things are entirely unexpected. The older and more sophisticated you get, the more you come to expect from things and the harder it gets to produce a funny response. And people evolve their responses at different speeds. I don't laugh at very many jokes anymore, because between dedicated study and a set of rude friends, I've heard an incredible variety of jokes and humorous situations. The comedic shows I watch tend to be the ones that are more focused on craftsmanship rather than on the unexpected. When I do find a new type of humor, my response is delightedly juvenile - and usually, my responses to other forms of humor are lessened. This is all entirely subjective. You can't define it. You can monitor it, as that study did, but that's something different entirely.

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"So you're saying that something can be objective subject to its relationship with something else. Isn't that subjective?"

Two is larger subjective to its relationship with one, but two is objectively larger than one.

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First off, "two is objectively larger" is silly. If you're comparing two to one, then there's subjectivity involved. Rather, your argument is like saying two is objectively large, period. That's something that you can't do.

But humor isn't as harshly defined as the number system is. Rather, defining humor like that would be like saying "the sound of the word 'two' is objectively greater than the sound of the word 'one'." Once you say that, you need to define what those sounds actually mean, determine the numeric value of each, and then make the comparison. Until you do all those things - and all of those things require subjectivity within the confines of a language - then the sound of the word "two" has no meaning. The concept of two is objective, because mathematics deals only with objectivity. But humor doesn't have such harsh definitions, none of it is objective, and you can't limit it in a way that makes it objective.

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Similarly, the word "humor" can mean both "response to something funny" and "state of mind." That's what makes "objective humor" kind of hard.

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No. Absolutely not. There is no objective study of humor, or of interesting. You can't manufacture it. Different people find different things funny for different reasons. I've taken classes in stand-up comedy, improv comedy, and in general dramatics, and this is the big thing that we learn. While humor can be analyzed, and while there's a craft inherent in modeling a joke, that doesn't make humor objective. And it's the same thing with interest. Some people find things interesting that aren't interesting whatsoever to me. The same is true in reverse.

I mean, thanks for agreeing with me, but from what you're saying here I think that you're saying something pretty nonsensical. "Interest" and "insight" aren't objective standards. It's entirely subjective, through-and-through. If you don't like reading because you don't find it interesting, then it's not interesting to you. It's not objectively interesting whatsoever. And usually, insight and interest are matched. If something's saying something new, then it's both insightful and interesting, precisely for the "different" argument that I made before.

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"There is no objective study of humor, or of interesting."

From Paul McGhee's paper Cognitive Development and Children's Comprehension of Humor:

This study investigated the relationship between children's level of cognitive functioning (according to Piaget's theoretical framework) and their comprehension and appreciation of humor based on violation of cognitive expectancies. A distinction was drawn between novelty and incongruity humor, differing in the nature of expectancy violation represented. [...] Analyses of age differences indicated consistent significant increases in comprehension with increasing age for all humor stimuli. Similar analyses for humor appreciation yielded no significant age differences.

This was done in 1971, when we didn't know nearly as much as we do now about the validity of Piaget's framework. If this research was redone today with more modern techniques and cognitive development theories the results would be even more telling.

And if you look at the prior research this paper cites, it's clear that there is an objective basis for humor and it's been carefully studied.

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The problem, as I stated before, is that the idea of "humor" is in itself subjective. There's an objective basis for "cognitive expectancies," but that isn't the only aspect of humor as we define it with language.

For instance, there's slapstick humor, which derives from being over-the-top. There's absurdist humor, which relies on the unexpected. There's clever humor, which is funny because it requires effort to understand it, and so there's a congratulatory aspect to it. There's dark humor, which - at points - doesn't trigger any laughter at all, but which still must be included under the umbrella.

I'm certain that you can measure certain parts of humor. But at the same time, while there's a physical part of us that derives humor, that does not make humor itself objective. The fact that every single person has different objective reactions makes humor inherently subjective, even if there's a physical element to be studied and torn apart.

It's like - I said this in another thread - the testers who try to analyze creativity. There are certain ways that you can identify a creative person. The problem is, none of those ways are perfect and all of them are thwarted by different studies. While you can test creativity and create an objective model, you'd only be fooling yourself.

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But all of the different types of humor you listed rely on something being either novel or broken or both. The only difference between the different types of humor is the degrees of novelty or breakage, as well as the emotional valence, timing, and delivery.

Also, I understand that humor, as experienced, is subjective. But if you look at a piece of text it is also possible to objectively say whether there is something novel or broken relative to a given set of existing mental models.

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Not all those types of humor. Dark humor doesn't require any of them. Have you ever read Beckett? A lot of his humor comes not from the unexpected but from understanding: his characters are so incredibly detailed, and in such a dark world, that the way they talk is darkly funny because you have sympathy for their situation. It's not humor where you ever once laugh, but it's still humor.

Nabakov's style in Pale Fire similarly defies description: it's never once laughable, but it's certainly humor. The comic Achewood has moments like that, also: you find yourself laughing but there isn't any quick analyzable reason. It's not always about a broken situation.

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Haven't read them, but I'm guessing the reason there is no haha moment is because, quite literally, there is no moment-- explaining why the world is broken requires several hundred pages and only becomes apparent in light of the whole. Like a Woody Allen movie. It's funny but there is no point at which it's funny.

edit: So a few years ago I was attempting a startup with a cofounder who I really liked. Within about two months of starting his mom committed suicide, his high school gf died, and he came down with mono. True story. Is it funny? It's fucking hilarious. Why? Because people aren't supposed to be that unlucky. It shouldn't happen. It violates our beliefs about how the world is supposed to work.

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Woody Allen isn't what I'm talking about. He's very specifically focused around punch lines. He's clever with them, he doesn't use them like many other people, but at the same time he is still very focused on actual funny reactions.

As you're arguing this you're changing your definition. You began by arguing that humor's objective and capable of measurement. Now you're saying that you can achieve it without ever having a singular funny moment. The problem is, your making that argument is countering your claim that there isn't any subjectivity to humor. You're splitting what humor is into several categories, and that invalidates the original claim. Plus, see the statement that I made before about the definition of humor: it doesn't just mean funny.

This is the problem we get into: while the English language can be said to be objective, it's only objective because words can mean many things at once. It's objective in a very complex way. And because of that, attempting to prove a point about objective humor like you did by citing that study is proving the point by ignoring everything but a very slim definition of a single word. That's not a good point to make, if you're losing out on the broader connotations of what humor is.

And your original point wasn't about humor. It was about interest. The two pertinent definitions: "The state of "wanting to know or learn about something or someone," and "The advantage or benefit of a person or group." You claim that fiction holds objective interest. That statement is false on both definitions. A person's want to know something is subjective. I find Ulysses a fascinating read because I think that Joyce's hypothesis that the human mind is in and of itself a heroic triumph is one that makes for incredible prose. You wouldn't think that. Therefore, you lack that subjective interest. Similarly, if it bestows an advantage to particular people (as the other definition goes), then it's not objective, because it happens differently for different people. So interest is subjective, same with insight and humor.

(As for this humor study: while I really do love the fact that science discovers more and more about the human mind, you can't cite a 30-year-old study and say that humor's been defined. Creating an objective study of humor is only valid if the result is a method of quantifying humor. And you can't quantify it by looking at reactions to already-formed comedy: you'd have to prove that it's possible to produce humor and predict the reaction ahead of time. So even if humor was only "funny" and not any of the other branching definitions, that study would prove a very slim aspect of humor's definition true and nothing else.)

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"The problem is, your making that argument is countering your claim that there isn't any subjectivity to humor."

I'm not claiming there isn't any subjectivity to humor, I'm claiming that it is objective as well as subjective.

When I say that humor is objective, I mean there are several patterns underlying what can make something funny. (You yourself said you enjoy discovering new kinds of humor, and kinds of humor implies underlying patterns.) I believe that it is possible to discover these underlying patterns, and then make a determination as to whether a statement falls into one of these patterns or not. This can be done independently of whether or not a person exists who can see that the statement falls into one of these patterns.

But I also believe that humor is subjective, in terms of the feeling we get when we hear something funny. I don't believe that this can be quantified or measured-- when I say that humor is objective, I simply mean that a binary determination can be made as to whether or not a statement falls into some underlying bucket.

"And your original point wasn't about humor. It was about interest. The two pertinent definitions: 'The state of 'wanting to know or learn about something or someone," and 'The advantage or benefit of a person or group.'"

My belief is that the first dictionary definitions you list is a symptom of interest, but not what makes something interesting.

The Baillargeon paper I cited talks about how babies look longer at impossible events. For example, if you create an illusion whereby you drop a toy and it appears to fall through a table, the baby will look at that longer than if the toy lands on the table like its supposed to.

Interesting is very easy to define: Anything that violates our expectancy of how things are supposed to work. (Insight and humor are specific subsets of 'interesting'.) In practice you wouldn't describe something that was insightful or funny as interesting, for the same reason you wouldn't call a senator a congressman even though a senator is a congressman.

Anyway, it is this violation of expectancy that makes us want to know or learn something. In other words, when our expectancy is violated we naturally want to either find some new schema, or else amend our previous schema to make it more accurate.

Anything that violates our expectancy is interesting in an objective sense. And things that violate expectancy do generally hold our attention. But not always. The reason being that insightful writing is even more compelling than writing that is merely interesting, so it tends to steal our attention away.

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When I say that humor is objective, I mean there are several patterns underlying what can make something funny. (You yourself said you enjoy discovering new kinds of humor, and kinds of humor implies underlying patterns.) I believe that it is possible to discover these underlying patterns, and then make a determination as to whether a statement falls into one of these patterns or not. This can be done independently of whether or not a person exists who can see that the statement falls into one of these patterns.

Okay, then. That makes sense. I don't know if from that you would be able to quantify humor like you mentioned before, but yes: there is rhyme and reason to it.

Anything that violates our expectancy is interesting in an objective sense. And things that violate expectancy do generally hold our attention. But not always. The reason being that insightful writing is even more compelling than writing that is merely interesting, so it tends to steal our attention away.

I still don't agree with that - I think that there's more to "insight and interest" than just declaring objective tags to things. I have easily learned more from reading fiction than I have from reading nonfiction. But I see where you're coming from.

Now I have to go and upvote this whole discussion. This was one of the best I've had on this site. Thanks a ton.

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"I think that there's more to 'insight and interest' than just declaring objective tags to things."

What makes something insightful is a whole other discussion, which probably it would be best not to go into here lest pg shit himself when he checks his threads page.

"Now I have to go and upvote this whole discussion. This was one of the best I've had on this site."

Same on both counts. Thanks. Discussions like this help immensely to strengthen my writing, in terms of having someone to try to break my ideas and force me to express things with more clarity and precision.

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I don't know, while I might agree that what qualifies as 'interesting' probably is subjective, I think that insight is concrete enough so that you could objectively state whether some was or not with relation to the author or the audiance.

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relation to the author or the audiance

But that makes it subjective, doesn't it?

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Yes, but it can be objectively subjective; or rather, it is subjective, but in a different sense.

To illustrate, the phrases "The audience finds this interesting," and "The audience finds this insightful," are both subjective in the sense that their truth-value is dependent on the subject (different speakers likely would have different perspectives,) but they are objective in that, given a particular subject, they are either true or false. So: ojective in the particular, and subjective in the universal. The difference is that the later can depend on factors that are external to the subject, are objective and can be shared.

A phrase (or whatever) can be insightful with respect to a particular context if it adds something that was not previoulsy present in that context. So an analysis of Hitler (for example) revealing him to be a raving ego-maniac would have been insightful in the early thirties when most people had rather more benign opinions of the Nazi party. Released today, the same analysis would be rather less insightful. Given that when people use the word 'insightful,' they usually are speaking from a particular context (usually shared with the listener), the word can be said to be used objectively.

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Okay. So, objectively when regarding a large mass of people.

My only objection to that would be that again, an audience can vary wildly in different conditions. My professor gave an "enlightening" lesson on Delicious to my class, that the audience (college freshmen) on a whole found insight from. But the same lesson to, say Hacker News, would be far less insightful. You could get two different objective readings for the same material. Or am I missing something in what you said?

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No, that's about it.

I just annoyed when people are too quick to insist that something is 'subjective' as a means of dismissing it's relavence or importance, so I tend to be picky about it.

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That's fair enough. I only did it in this case because the argument is so specifically about objectivity.

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No, because insightful isn't relative to a person's innate aesthetic preferences, but rather it's relative to the cognitive models they use to understand the world.

In the same way that one mathematical object can objectively be larger than another mathematical object, one mental object can be objectively insightful in relation to another mental object.

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The difference is that there's a physical reality to size. Insight is subjective by default. Even if you make a standard for monitoring it, your standard is going to be subjective.

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"I might agree that what qualifies as 'interesting' probably is subjective"

Baillargeon, R. (1994) How do infants learn about the physical world? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 3, 133-140.

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Man was that snarky.

You read fiction for the things that interest you. If an "interesting" thing doesn't hold your attention, it's not interesting. I find that some authors remain interesting upon multiple rereads, while others fall apart rapidly. But fiction can say things that nonfiction can't, because with fiction you can create an entire artificial construct just to prove a point.

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> Man was that snarky.

Yes. We methane-breathing anti-gourmets are known for our occasional lapses into snarkishness.

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The idea that we're going to wake up one day and something is going to happen that's going to make us better or more important than everyone else is pretty much the dictionary definition of masturbatory.

Well, maybe not the dictionary definition.

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I like some of these stories, and I think you're being a little unfair. The pattern of the child who turns out to be magic, or the loner who becomes a hero: these are archetypes that touch something deep in human beings. Sure there can be an egotistical - I'm using a less vivid word than yours :) - element to how we identify with heroes. But I think on a deeper level, it is a universal experience and not an egotistical one.

Take for example The Matrix - I really liked that movie when it came out, and part of what I enjoyed was the story of Neo turning out to be The One, and I certainly identified with that character. But so did everybody else who enjoyed the movie. If it were pure egotism, the enjoyment wouldn't be shared. Instead, you'd get arguments like "I'm Neo!" -- "No you're not, I am!" That doesn't happen with the best of these stories.

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Ugh. My kingdom for a submission down arrow.

Citing Jesus and mocking Christianity as part of reviewing Ender's game totally jumps the shark. This is such an obvious troll, I am utterly disappointed that Hacker News has collectively up-modded this close to the top of the front page (as I write this). I thought this community was better than this.

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I am utterly disappointed that Hacker News has collectively up-modded this close to the top of the front page (as I write this). I thought this community was better than this.

Yeah, I thought the same thing. I considered killing it, but it didn't seem quite deliberately dishonest enough.

I just took "it's porn" out of the title. I suspect that's why this got so much attention.

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That was definitely part of it. But it's also that Ender's Game is such a widespread book, and that its showing up here was slightly unexpected and unprompted. The fact that it appeared was curious in and of itself.

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I think the article is valid discussion point. Getting rid of things you disagree with, or you feel are wrong is like burning books because they do not agree with your ideology.

There are very few movies with 100% positive ratings, because people always disagree. If a person disagrees eloquently, then he should be given forum to make his point. Diversity of opinion is the engine for progress.

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"I think the article is valid discussion point. Getting rid of things you disagree with, or you feel are wrong is like burning books because they do not agree with your ideology."

I'm sure that an eloquent, thoughtful critique of Ender's Game worthy of discussion can be written.

This is not it.

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It's eloquent, yes, but it ignores a lot of aspects about the book. And while I like that it's been posted, I agree that it's not a very factual response, and I'm exercising my right to disagree with it.

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Can't back plover.net on this one. I don't think he understood what Orson Scott Card was trying to do. He was trying to make the reader cry. Not feel good about themselves, cry. This is a really difficult thing to do, and you can read Card's nonfiction books on fiction writing to find out some of the techniques involved. There are very few authors who can take a consistent shot at making the reader cry actual tears, and (the early) Orson Scott Card is one of them.

This reads like someone who made an incorrect guess at what the novel was about, and was offended by that guess.

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My response to Ender's Game upon a re-reading a few months ago, while not as strong as this reviewer's, were certainly not favorable.

I am a much more sociable, confident person than I was at age 11 or 12, when I first read Card's writing. Even without knowing as much as I do now about his particularly distateful (to me, at least) political and social views, it was pretty apparent that Card and I disagree on many critical ethical issues: eugenics, whether the "ends justify the means," and when (if ever) armed conflict is a noble activity.

However, the Ender's Game series (like Dune, Wizard of Earthsea, and other young adult Sci-Fi and fantasy I read as a child) still served a valuable role for me in that earlier, more difficult time in my social development. By providing role models that were not, in fact, the typical action hero, athlete, or rich businessman, they showed me a glimpse of a world (however unrealistic and disfunctional) in which a geek could get ahead.

For that (and for teaching the ever-valuable lesson of questioning the motives of even respected authority figures) I still owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Card and his menagerie of characters.

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Try rereading stranger in a strange land or any other book you loved as a teen and it's not going to stand up to what you remember.

Anyway, the amount of open hostility displayed by children shapes how you view the world. As an adult you rarely feel you are surrounded by monsters, but most young people feel this way. I think this is why overt violence is so appealing to young people they live in it's shadow everyday and it becomes what you know.

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I don't know about any teen book. I still love Diana Wynne Jones books for the same reason I loved it when I first read it: because of her ability to weave a very dense-but-accessible story out of a fascinating concept. I also still love Asimov and Herbert.

It depends on the sort of read it is. Ender's Game is a book that has an emotional impact on you when you first read it, but not a very intellectual one. Stories that base their punches on emotions without firm concepts don't hold up as well.

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I just read his political views, and I guess this is why I never read about authors before reading their books. It's hard not to let personal differences in social views colour your perception of their work - which could be excellent when read without bias.

A book should be irrelevant of its author.

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agree totally, likewise for music, I try hard to avoid any knowledge about artists I like life, it invariably colors there work in my mind.

I don't think it's possible to create something that is different without being a little unusual. Could anyone work a nine to five job be a good stable citizen and then come home and write a stephen king novel, or an enders game?

Phillip K Dick is an example that always springs to mind, he wrote so many books, and was diagnosed with mental disease. I have read a quote that aliens dictated his books to him, can't track it down now. Where would Hollywood be without an endless supply of phillip K. Dick novels?

Robin Williams has been diagnosed manic depressive, when he take his medication he is no longer funny he has said.

The idea that creativity is neatly pigeon holed without spilling over into the rest of your life, for good or bad, is just as nonensical as that review (I always thought the book was a standard teenage angst sort of thing).

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Dick is a prime example, yeah. I don't like many of his works, they seem far too paranoid, but I find it sad that his mind as so twisted. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep is brilliant on multiple levels, and it's one of the best pieces of literature from the last century.

Creativity can't be pigeonholed, and it's silly to ever assume that it can be. I agree. The fact that it can't be neatly sorted is what makes it creativity. (A teacher once told my classmates and I that CollegeBoard approached his top class to give them a set of multiple-choice "creativity" tests. What a sickening idea. Luckily, the idea was wholly scrapped because all of the top kids gave radically different answers.)

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He needs (and you (if you haven't) need) to read Ender's Shadow. Bean's POV offers lots of important clarification and insight to Card's interpretation of "love thy enemy." It's a much more interesting read but is just as enjoyable as Ender's Game, but don't read one without reading the other (IF you intend to write an essay such as this, rather than enjoy the story at face value).

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Linkbait formula: Take something that web geeks like (like Ender's Game). Then, publicly kick it in the nuts on your blog. Watch the traffic roll in.

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Then, publicly kick it in the nuts on your blog

...by comparing it to porn. That was the brilliant part.

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This is utterly unfair. There aren't any ads on that site and the author does not market himself or his site at all.

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I disagree.

Is money the only motivation? A ton of people blog for the attention, to feel smart, SEO for future endeavors etc. Forums, blogs, and blog comments are full of people tossing out trollish or evocative statements for all sorts of motivations. This post exists for the same reason that any trollish forum post exists.

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We are both in the realm of speculation about the author's motives here. I don't like this particular essay either, in fact I think it's horrible.

However, my troll detector is silent on this one. I agree with pg that the author isn't deliberately dishonest.

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I havent read ender's game. But there is some art critic wishy washiness that I just can't put a finger on when I read this and few of his other pages.

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The author explains it very well in an essay 'an unbalanced and negative page':

And then it's easier to be negative. The language seems primed for complaints. Anagram programs always turn up ten times as many insulting phrases as compliments: there are simply more words with negative connotations. This is probably because when people enjoy something, they want to experience it rather than natter about it. But whatever the reason, the result is that it takes a lot less effort to be snarky. Praise, unless you put a lot of work into it, tends to get dull and a bit samey.

Praise also makes you vulnerable. Negativity is like a shield: you can keep throwing barbs at things without ever exposing yourself to attack. But praise is different. It's difficult to like something a lot without investing some of yourself in it, and without it becoming part of you. To praise something in writing is to reveal some of yourself, and face the possibility that there isn't much to reveal. And to praise something in public is to risk the ridicule of people with snarky websites.

In other words, he spends his time criticising people because he's afraid of criticism himself.

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So I started reading this article and immediately suspected something was wrong. It won Nebula and Hugo award and most scifi types at least enjoyed it. In fact I knew a few people who started reading science fiction because of Ender's Game. When I first read it (circa 1986) no one that I knew cared what his personal/political beliefs were. The book stands alone and could not have been too persuasive on its readers; I know others who read it in the same time period and their beliefs are quite diverse.

So I could understand it not being this reviewer's type of book. But to wax on like this takes a special type of person, someone who just loves to hate on (popular) things. I decided to check out a few other reviews this guy has written. This comes from the same guy who hated the lord of the ring movies...

http://plover.net/~bonds/lotrfilms.html

and the matrix...

http://plover.net/~bonds/matrix.html

So who cares what he has to say about Ender's Game. His review adds little value here where there is, presumably, a majority who enjoy scifi and fantasy. His opinion is obscure at best and predictable based on his previous reviews.

So there you go, I've reviewed him the same way he's reviewed ender's game... Minimal thought about the material mishmashed with my opinion of the author.

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>It's a wonderfully guilt-free massacre, mass murder with a clear conscience

I take it the reviewer didn't read the sequels?

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He's reviewing Ender's Game; he has evaluated its message and merits on its own. It'd be better to disagree with his opinions than to complain he doesn't cover material he hasn't set out to review.

Anyway, why would you expect the reviewer to read the sequels if he so dislikes Ender's Game?

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That's an absolutely valid point. The reason I went ahead and posted my comment anyway was because it's the most obvious example of how the reviewer and I interpreted the book differently. Granted, I read it years ago, and the goal was entertainment rather than literary criticism, but I saw plenty of guilt: it all simply landed on Ender's shoulders when he finds out what he had done, and fit in with the guilt for his previous acts. I think it's possible to read Ender's Game with either interpretation in mind (guilt vs. no guilt), but my interpretation seems to be more supported by the sequels.

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Since when has masterbation been a considered a bad thing?

In all honesty, I speculate nearly all 'bad' and 'good' goals undertaken by individuals are for at some level their own gratification, satisfaction, medication, pleasure, whatever the semantic of choice.

There isn't anything wrong with that. From deliberately catching a glance of a beautiful woman across the street to tirelessly working at finding a way to end world hunger, it's done at some level for your own satisfaction. It's what drives the world.

To those who feel so threatened by the idea of associating whatever endeavor with pleasure as a motivation, calm down. It's part of what makes us human. It certainly doesn't strip an accomplishment of it's value.

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since we're on the subject - what do you guys think of the essay 'Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman'?

http://peachfront.diaryland.com/enderhitlte.html

Summary: Ender's Game is an apologia for Hitler.

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[SPOILERS and SHAKY HYPOTHESIS below]

I think that if you look at the claims in the essay through the lens of Card's Mormonism, a very different picture emerges.

Ender's celibacy until marriage is [ostensibly] normal in Mormon society, and the age at which he married then is just a number, which falls within the realm of coincidence.

You'll note that Ender killed the Buggers without knowledge of what he was doing, then became wracked with guilt.

This hints at Enders Game as a defense not for Hitler, but for Brigham Young, and his (disputed-whether-he-knew) role in the Mountain Meadows massacre.

This would explain Card's unseemly rage at the author of the Ender-as-Hitler essay: she had effectively Godwin'd a revered patriarch of Card's religion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brigham_Young

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Meadows_massacre

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given what happened to the essay's author at a convention, your explanation makes the most sense. I just still find it strange that the sequel had Ender going to a Brazilian planet...

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Well, Card says in his intro to that book that part of it was his fascination with the language and the culture. And I think that the Portugese was what made Speaker such a fascinating read.

I don't think Card is trying to excuse Hitler. I really don't think so. Not even subconsciously. And I thought upon reading that article that it was interesting, but rather misguided. The OP response made a lot of sense, considering Card is very likely a Mormon. But even then, I think it was subconscious on his part.

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I lost what respect I had for Orson Scott Card when he wrote this article http://www.meridianmagazine.com/ideas/081017light.html back in October. I won't bother running through all of the blatantly false statements in there, but the most obvious would be:

"Even though President Bush and his administration never said that Iraq sponsored or was linked to 9/11, you could not stand the fact that Americans had that misapprehension - so you pounded us with the fact that there was no such link. (Along the way, you created the false impression that Bush had lied to them and said that there was a connection.) "

When a simple Google search turns up this direct quote from Bush himself given June 17, 2004:

"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda: because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."

I hate to see celebrity writers aiding and abetting Fox News and their ridiculous tactic of playing the ref by decrying media bias. Even though I thought Ender's game was decent, Ender's shadow mediocre, and couldn't get through the next, I still had some respect for the guy, which is now gone.

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I hate to see celebrity writers aiding and abetting Fox News and their ridiculous tactic of playing the ref by decrying media bias

Media bias is decried everywhere. Read any Howard Kurtz lately? Watch CNN's "Reliable Sources?" It's called media commentary. It's all about identifying and commenting on media bias, tactics, business models, etc. Work at the meta-level.

Personally I don't have respect or lack of respect for Card. I read his books and found them, well, mundane but better than the average sci-fi. His political opinions don't come into the discussion -- unless we're judging the man instead of his work. I believe the thread is about the work. If it were along the lines of "Orson Scott Card: Moron or not?" it should be flagged.

Ideas are not people. Bad people can have good ideas, and vice-versa.

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The idea that the media is biased in general is decried only by conservatives. I've yet to hear one person claim that there's a conservative bias.

Conservative TV and radio networks use it to play the ref. They get a segment of the population to watch them that way. Orson Scott Card should be smart enough to know better.

I wouldn't even mind if he pointed out factually accurate examples (though that's still mistaking anecdotes for data) but his article is riddled with blatant inaccuracies that can be disproven on YouTube in a few minutes.

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I'm not going to continue the attack/defense of Card, because I think its in poor taste. I will, however, correct your statement about media bias.

Google "Conservative Media Bias" -- lots of folks see conservative media bias. We have a few liberal friends that fall into this category, just as we have a few conservatives lambasting the liberal bias. Try visiting Media Matters for America, an entire non-profit "dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media." Lots of folks think the media has a conservative bias -- usually because most media organizations are owned by large corporations with corporate interests.

Media bias (and the way news stories are put together) in my opinion is a fun topic in which all political views can play. Things like selection of stories to appear above the fold, the increasing use of commentators as anchors on some networks, the way most reporters vote, whether or not you can truly separate yourself from the story, or the competition between wire stories and local reporters -- it's all goodness. The idea that somehow we shouldn't "play ref" with media sources is rather odd. I usually multi-source any significant news. And people of like opinion would obviously "play ref" in the same way, right? Sounds like a natural thing for left/right entertainment people to talk about.

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I don't know why you think pointing our that Card is harming America is in bad taste. A bit off-topic perhaps. The guy is a decent writer and persuasive, but repeatedly writes articles full of blatant fallacies to convince people of harmful things. Homophobia, liberal media bias, global warming, etc. He's like a conservative Michael Moore.

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If the book is porn, and the book is full of children, wouldn't that make it... child porn?

I don't entirely agree with the argument. The Battle School is supposedly full of overachievers, people who probably "excel at games" compared to their peers back home. They are all used to being top dog, so when you put a bunch of top dogs inside a competitive environment (or really just any long-term living/working situation), things get nasty.

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Many of the things said about Ender's Game could also be said about Harry Potter:

"...the plot is contrived to make sure that other characters always hate Ender. There is no obvious reason for him to be so despised, at every turn, by his peers: he's a confident guy who excels at games, the kind of guy who would typically be well-liked at school."

"Geek wish-fulfillment is not the only fetish on display in Ender's Game: the other is self-pity, the lonely self-pity of the truly gifted and persecuted."

For the record, I like Ender's Game and the Harry Potter books. (But wouldn't claim they were anything more than an enjoyable read.)

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I don't get the self-pity thing off Potter, and I don't get the sense that the plot in the Potter books has been contorted to align most of the other characters in the book after him; there's a coherent set of adversaries for Potter, with understandable motives. It's harder to make that argument about all of Ender's adversaries.

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The rest of the books in the Enderverse flush them out nicely.

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I think Harry Potter is on a level above Ender's Game in terms of ambition. Rowling does some pretty impressive things in her novels.

But in both cases, it helps to look at why the authors make their heroes despised. Card does it to isolate Ender, to force him into being brilliant when he really doesn't want to be a hero. That's the theme that underscores the original four books.

In Harry Potter, it's done because Rowling marks Harry as this object of perfect good. Not as a perfect character, mind you, but a character that serves as a metric against which the other characters are judged. And so Harry finds himself disliked by certain other groups throughout the series, and it's almost always used to illustrate a certain vicious aspect of personality (be it class/race warfare, or glory-seeking, or bureaucracy).

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I like Ender's Game as well (haven't read Harry Potter), but in retrospect, the characters are a little cartoony and unbelievable compared to what I've seen in "real" literature. We like to read about unreal characters, true, but it makes it hard for the reader to relate to these characters or to the plot they are going through.

I'll say how I've always felt about sci-fi: the universe and the concepts in play are more important than any of the traditional literary mechanisms such as plot, character development, etc.. I feel that this guy is just comparing the character of Ender on the level of the "real" literature I mention above. By those standards, characters like King Arthur or Siegfried are ridiculous charicatures, devoid of any true humanity.

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This could also be why Mr. Bonds doesn't like Anime. The hook is the sense of motion, tension, and action that can be conveyed. A lot of the other aspects of Anime shows are bad, however. Then again, you can say the same for any given genre of books or for cinema in general.

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On an unrelated note, someone should create some type of 'record' thing on the net, where we can actually record all the things that people say 'for the record'.

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It's of no use. I've already decided against running for office.

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This is the second thing I've read from this site that's all "Blah blah blah. I'm so clever. Blah blah blah." Except it takes him a lot longer than three sentences to convey this. Am I the only one who finds this guy to be a pompous faux-intellectual who confuses length with depth.

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Let this serve as a reminder to us all not to be haters. Because every time you take a long, refreshing draught of haterade, you become a little more like this guy.

Yes, even when you're right.

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I read this review as somewhat satirical, but I could be mistaken.

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The only good thing about this review is that it reminds me that I don't remember the book very well, and should read it again.

Check out this guy's other reviews -- he whines about everything. Just another Internet troll.

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I can't stand Card's political views. He hates gays and has expressed violent attitudes toward gays.

Who knows, maybe his writing is a form of repressed homosexual relief for him.

I still enjoyed Ender's Game very much, however. My problem with the review is that it can apply to any fiction that withholds gratification or attempts suspense and has a "super hero" type character. I think of Ender as a kind of super hero, in fact. Just one with geek qualities.

Do we then, call comic books a form of pornography?

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I strongly disagree with his opinions, too; I went to see him speak, and it was a great presentation until the end where he somehow spiralled off into a tirade about gay marriage killing society.

But I don't care. He writes (mostly) great books and he'll keep getting my money so long as he keeps it up.

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I respect that he can write a book without selling dogma. I love Enchantment and Pastwatch, even if the Ender series has faded with time.

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About the faded in time thing, I always felt Ender's Game was surprisingly precise in predicting the rise of online discussion communities, and how their anonymous celebrities can influence a lot of people, while just being a bunch of kids in their bedrooms. The book's from 1985 after all.

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Yeah. That part's very impressive. Although, frankly, I'd take Fake Steve Jobs over Locke and Demosthenes any day.

I hadn't thought of that before. I'll have to read over that chapter again and check that out.

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Peter?

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Why is this comment downmodded? This isn't digg people.

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