CARD, Orson Scott

CARD, Orson Scott
   US writer who exploded onto the sf scene with his first published story, "Ender's Game" for ASF in 1977; it was nominated for a HUGO and served as the germ for the Ender series, the first two volumes of which, published 1985 and 1986, each won both Hugo and NEBULA, the first time the two major prizes had been swept in successive years by one author. After a highly promising start at the end of the 1970s - he won the 1978 JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD - he entered a period during the early 1980s when his career seemed to be drifting; but by the end of 1986 he had clearly established himself as one of the two or three dominant figures of recent sf. That dominance remains (1992) unshaken.No secret lies behind this success, for OSC has always been entirely explicit about the two factors which have shaped his career. The first is Mormonism. The gift of faith, in his case, has been a complex offering. Born and raised as a Mormon, OSC came to adulthood in a family-oriented, tight-knit community whose sense of historical uniqueness was confirmed in various ways: by recurrent persecution from without, while being intermittently threatened by scandal within; by The Book of Mormon, a holy book constructed as a nest of mythopoeic, justificatory narratives through which are expounded a pattern of truly unusual historical hypotheses rich in storytelling potential, not least among these the belief that Native Americans are the Lost Tribes of Israel; and by a tradition - both written and oral - dominated by messiah-like figures of great charisma who lead their people from exile into a promised land. It is perhaps not surprising, then, that OSC's tales have concerned themselves from the first with matters of family and community in narratives constructed so as to unfold a mythic density at their hearts, and featuring lonely and manipulative MESSIAH-figures who - if they die - die sacrificially. The second factor behind OSC's career is the compulsion to tell stories. If he has a genius, it is for that. (And, if he has a fatal flaw, it resides in that compulsion.) Like Stephen KING, whose capacity for hard work he shares, he is a maker of tales.Unlike King, however, OSC did not begin as a natural writer of novels, most of his pre-sf work being in the form of short plays for Mormon audiences and much of his early work at book length being expansions of short stories. "Ender's Game" and the other stories assembled in Unaccompanied Sonata (coll 1981) - not to be confused with the release of the title story alone as Unaccompanied Sonata (1979 Omni; 1992 chap) - demonstrate a compulsive rightness of length (though at times the chill cruelty of the telling unveils a sadism over which the author seemed to have little control), but the first novels were incoherently told, if absorbing in parts. Because of OSC's habitual reworking of his early work, the bibliography of his first sequence, the Worthing Chronicle, is complex. Some of the stories in Capitol: The Worthing Chronicle (coll of linked stories 1979) are journeyman work, and appear only in that first volume; both Capitol and its companion, Hot Sleep (fixup 1979), were withdrawn from circulation only a few years later in order to make market room for The Worthing Chronicle (1983), a text which reworked beyond recognition the earlier material. Finally, in The Worthing Saga (omni 1990), The Worthing Chronicle (apparently unchanged) was assembled along with 6 of the 11 stories originally published in Capitol plus 3 previously uncollected tales. Of all these versions, the most unified is very clearly the 1983 novel, which presents the long epic of Jason Worthing as a sequence of dreams - or scriptures - transmitted by Jason himself to young Lared, who transcribes them for his fellow colonists on a planet which, ages before, their ancestors settled under Worthing's guidance. These dreams - which are in fact some of the contents of the earlier versions of the long tale, here contoured and condensed into myth-like parables - tell Lared of Jason Worthing's pain-racked and interminable life as messiah and godling. Lared also learns why Jason removed all capacity to experience deep pain from his "children", and why, now, he has given them pain once more. Compact, multi-layered, mythopoeic and ultimately very strange, The Worthing Chronicle of 1983 remains one of OSC's finest and most revealing works.A Planet Called Treason (1979; rev vt Treason 1988) is a much inferior singleton, though its protagonist is illuminatingly similar to Jason Worthing; but Songmaster (fixup 1980; rev 1987) is a fine rite-of-passage tale whose protagonist, a typical OSC child, is alienated from his family, is blessed with an extraordinary talent (in this case MUSIC), and grows into a messianic role for which he seems preordained.OSC's career then seemed to drift. Hart's Hope (1983) was a FANTASY, obscurely published; The Worthing Chronicle appeared without much notice; and A Woman of Destiny (1984; text restored vt Saints 1988) was a historical novel about the founding of Mormonism which, in the cut 1984 version, seemed misshapen. Finally, however, the Ender books began to appear. The series comprises ENDER'S GAME (1977 ASF; much exp 1985), Speaker for the Dead (1986), both volumes being assembled as Ender's War (omni 1986), plus Xenocide (1991), with a fourth volume projected. As the sequence begins, Ender Wiggin is a young boy who, along with his siblings, is the result of an experiment in eugenics (GENETIC ENGINEERING) authorized by the government of Earth, which is apprehensive that the ALIEN Buggers will return from interstellar space and continue what seems a xenocidal assault upon humanity, and is convinced that only humans with superior abilities will be capable of defeating the foe. Ender is taken to a military academy, where he is subjected in the Battle Room to an escalating sequence of challenges to his extraordinary tactical and strategic abilities; eventually, at what seems to be a final game (the tale does here prefigure much of the VIRTUAL-REALITY imagery brought to the fore in the 1980s by writers under the influence of CYBERPUNK), Ender defeats the "imaginary" foe only to find that he has in fact been guiding genuine human space-fleets into enemy territory, and that by winning absolutely he has committed xenocide on behalf of the human race.When it is discovered that the Buggers had long comprehended that humans were sentient beings and had had no intention of continuing any conflict, the grounds for Speaker for the Dead are laid. In the company of his chaste sister (his demagogic brother meanwhile takes over the government of Earth), and carrying a cocooned Bugger Hive Queen (the last of all her race), Ender travels from star to star for thousands of planetary years (except in Xenocide OSC, unusually, obeys Einsteinian constraints on interstellar travel) as a Speaker for the Dead, a person who sums up a dead person's life in a terminal ceremony, and by so doing heals the community of his or her death. The action takes place on the planet Lusitania, and concentrates upon the local alien race, the Pequeninos, whose strange BIOLOGY is not yet understood - its unravelling of which is fascinatingly prolonged. The novel concludes with the Pequeninos seemingly understood, the Hive Queen happy in a cave where she will breed Buggers, and Ender seeming to have expiated xenocide and become a messiah; but the human Galactic Federation is preparing to destroy Lusitania for fear of a deadly plague. Xenocide carries the plot onwards, though not to a conclusion, introducing many new characters, including a talkative AI in love with Ender. The plot of these two novels is much complicated by OSC's attempt, not fully successful, to envision a complex Lusitanian family for Ender to transform, and has frequent recourse to PULP-MAGAZINE-style highlighting of eccentricities to distinguish one sibling from another; nor is his depiction of a Chinese world - run by MUTANTS dominated by artificially induced obsessive-compulsive disorders - fully convincing. But even incomplete, and despite its not infrequent dependence upon trivializing tricks of plot, the Ender saga stands as one of the very few serious moral tales set among the stars. It is also enthrallingly readable.OSC's third sequence - the Tales of Alvin Maker comprising Seventh Son (1987), Red Prophet (1988) and Prentice Alvin (1989), all assembled as Hatrack River (omni 1989), and with at least three further volumes projected - returns to Earth, to an ALTERNATE-WORLD version of the USA. On the basis of the first three volumes, it seems to come as close as humanly possible to the telling of an sf tale as Mormon parable, for the life of Alvin Maker clearly encodes the life of Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the founder of the Mormon Church. The early 19th-century USA in which he grows up has never experienced a Revolution; certain forms of MAGIC are efficacious; and Alvin may become a Maker, one who can delve to the heart of things and transform them. As the sequence progresses, the Indian Nations set up a demarcation line, which is observed, along the Mississippi; and Alvin seems due to become a Maker. Of greater sf relevance are Wyrms (1987), another rite-of-passage tale about the assumption of role and set on a planet of some interest, The Folk of the Fringe (coll of linked stories 1989), a moderately heterodox vision of a Mormon post- HOLOCAUST civilization; The Abyss * (1989), which very effectively novelizes The ABYSS (1989); the Homecoming sequence, comprising The Memory of Earth (1992), The Call of Earth (1993), The Ships of Earth (1994) - the first 3 vols being assembled as Homecoming: Harmony (omni 1994) - Earthfall (1995) and Earthborn (1995). In its use of religious motifs to characterize the start of its protagonists' return to Earth 40,000,000 years after the last humans had left their home planet, this latter is a tale whose Mormon subtext extends very close to the surface. Later stories are collected in Cardography (coll 1987), and almost all OSC's independent short work, some of it written as Byron Walley, is assembled in MAPS IN A MIRROR: THE SHORT FICTION OF ORSON SCOTT CARD (coll 1990; with the 5th section cut, vt in 4 vols asThe Changed Man (coll 1992), Flux (coll 1992), Monkey Sonatas (coll 1993) and Cruel Miracles (coll 1993).In a little less than 2 decades, OSC has written enough work for a lifetime, has transformed pulp idioms into religious myth with an intensity not previously witnessed in the sf field, and has created a dozen worlds it would be impossible for any reader to forget. If he has had a significant failing - beyond a cruel insistence upon the moral strictures of his faith, writing at one point that adultery and homosexuality were equal (and dreadful) sins - it resides in his strengths. The surety of faith, the muscle of a honed storytelling urgency which has led him to write at times as though he genuinely believed that clarity and truth were identical, the bruising triumphalism of sf as a mode of knowing: all have led this extraordinarily talented author to sound, on occasion, as though he thought the fictions he wrote were scooped from the mouth of a higher being.
   Other works: Eye for Eye (1987 IASFM; 1991 chap dos); Lost Boys (1992); the proposed Mayflower trilogy with Kathryn H. Kidd, of which Havelock (1994) has appeared.
   As editor: Dragons of Light (anth 1980); Dragons of Darkness (anth 1981); Future on Fire (anth 1991) with (anon) Martin H. GREENBERG.Nonfiction: Characters and Viewpoints (1988); How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy (1990) - winner of the 1991 Hugo for Best Nonfiction Book.
   About the author: In the Image of God: Theme, Characterization and Landscape in the Fiction of Orson Scott Card (1990) and The Work of Orson Scott Card: An Annotated Bibliography \& Guide (1995), both by Michael R. COLLINGS.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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