Age and Understanding: A Reflection on (or rather, sparked by) Ender’s Game

Urged by my sometimes annoying habit of comparing books with their movie counterparts and the recent(ish) release of the film adaption of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott card, I decided to start re-reading the Ender series. Considering I hadn’t read any of them since sometime between elementary and middle school, I didn’t think I could really do an accurate job of blasting the movie with facts from the book (all the ‘this didn’t happen like it was supposed to’ and ‘they left out that important detail’ and ‘damn you, Hollywood, you destroyed the book!’) until said book was fresh in my mind again.

All in all, actually, I still enjoyed the movie, hurried and lacking much of the immense detail of the book (AND THE ENTIRE THING WITH LOCKE, DEMOSTHENES, AND THE SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, as well as the depth of the fantasy game!) as it was. But I’m a sucker for sci-fi films, anti-war themes, and child protagonists in general, so I liked it.

I can be understanding about it. There is obviously difficulty in cramming a 300+ page book into a 2 hour movie (though I would have been perfectly happy sitting through a 3 hour movie!), but they did manage to include most of the essential conflicts.

But I’m getting off topic. This isn’t a movie review; it’s not even a book review. It’s a reflection.

When I read Ender’s Game as a kid, it was a good book, yes, but in a way, it was also intimidating. It was a trade paperback with small print and a lot of pages, and for me, as a child, it was more about reading what looked like an ‘adult’ book rather than actually absorbing the story itself, along with its lessons, themes, and all of the emotions that my young mind didn’t quite understand. I’m ashamed to admit that, although I did read it and very much enjoyed the plot and action, it didn’t spark anything for me. It didn’t provoke some great response. I didn’t even read the whole series (the thought of which was even more daunting as it totals at, like, sixteen 300+ page books).

But now, re-reading the series years later, I’ve come to find that Orson Scott Card is fighting his way into my list of favorite authors.

Now, I read these books with a greater understanding of the emotion (I am quite angry with my young self for not connecting better to Ender when I read about him around the same age—though, it is true that Ender grew up much quicker than I did and never really had the innocent childhood that people expect children to have). I read them with knowledge of the political significance and a much greater understanding of human beings in general—how we react, why we do what we do, our willingness to sacrifice one (whether it be one person, one species, or even one world) for the greater good of the masses (an idea which is found in so many literary works—Le Guin does a great job of illustrating it in her short story ‘The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas,’ if you’re interested).

I read Ender’s Game as someone who, herself, can’t say that all of her childhood was as innocent and carefree as expected and whose heart bled for Ender, who never got to be a child. And still, older now, I identify with Ender, some of which I credit to his love for his sister, Valentine.

My siblings have always been my best friends, my mentors, my confidants, the people I could cling to in the face of pain or sadness, happiness or excitement. And yet, as we grow older, living our separate lives, we see less of each other—and will see even less as time goes on—just as Ender and Valentine, though their parting was forced. But that love and connection remains, just as the link between Ender and his sister transcends the forced separation and distance between them.

It saddens me to think that I didn’t appreciate the relationship between me and my siblings when I was young—that I didn’t identify with that when I read Ender’s Game the first time.

But with age comes understanding.

And now, a story that, sadly, had no great influence on me as a child has become a precious gift. Such is the mystery and intrigue of books, of writing and storytelling. And such is the cruelty and kindness of time: we yearn, in youth, to never grow old, but only with age can we begin to understand what it means to be young. In a way, I can’t help but envy the fact that Ender grew up quickly, as cruel as that seems to me. He was a child who thought like an adult, who understood things even before the men and women around him. He was a child but had the respect of many adults.

And doesn’t every child want to be treated as an equal to their adult counterparts? And doesn’t every adult wish to be youthful again while still bearing the knowledge they’ve spent long years compiling? Ender has all of these things–all of the makings of immortality.

That is the wonderful thing about fictional characters: they are immortalized in the pages of a book. They are friends that never go away. They grow and change with the reader, take them on an adventure to their own world, and teach them about all the things a real teacher could (except, oftentimes, they’re a bit more interesting). They teach the reader about life, love, pain, death, and every emotion on the spectrum, all the while influencing the reader’s beliefs–right and wrong, good and evil, what it means to be human … And listening to their story, I learn things about both myself and my peers. I discover little ideas of who I want to be and wonder how I would react in their situations, and so often, I envy them for their strength and passion, their willingness to reach their goal no matter what the cost.

In this specific case, Ender Wiggin, is my teacher, and I envy, most of all, the depth of his humanity, which sometimes seems a rare trait outside of a fictional world.

In Speaker for the Dead, Ender says that he does “not belong to them, to the human race,” (Card, page 40) but I have to disagree. The dictionary states that, after the more literal definitions, humanity is the quality of being humane, kind and benevolent.

By that definition, even as a fictional character, Ender Wiggin, in my opinion, is more deserving to be called ‘human’—to be a part of the human race—than many people that actually exist, who live and breathe and feel outside the pages of a book or the screen of a television.

The goal he worked so long and hard for was set, not by him, but by his teachers, his peers, and the world he felt no comfort from. And only after he has fought so hard to complete the goals other had set for him did he truly find what he wanted to do. Only then did he set a goal for himself, and as of yet, he has not given up; and I don’t expect him to.

Even though it may only be a story, even though the world and the characters aren’t real, there is good in the world and humanity may not be so rare a trait after all. There are people who speak the truth of their feelings and actions, and the authors who create them bring those emotions to life within the reader and influence their own thoughts and actions.

This is why I read fiction, why I write and covet it.

To feel such a deep connection to a character or story; to see the emotions you’ve felt written on a page exactly as you would describe them; to realize that somewhere in this world, or one dreamed up by an author, there is someone who has experienced the same feelings, love, and hardship—somewhere in the world, there is a kindred soul …

That is a gift.

Happy New Year.

Cheers.

H.D. Hunter

Speaker for the Dead, © 1986, 1991 by Orson Scott Card

My Faith in Humanity is Lost: A (Sort-Of) Lesson on Alaska

So, I live in Alaska and have all of my life, which gives me a good amount of experience with tourists/people who aren’t familiar with the individuals, customs, and even the location of my home state. People make a lot of assumptions and ask a number of ridiculous questions. And this never fails to draw up a plethora of emotional responses among residents, which usually go in an order that’s something like this (depending on the number of offenses):

  • Polite giggling and hand waving
  • Answering the question (usually with forced benevolence)
  • Correcting the mistaken information or assumption (in a very condescending manner)
  • Sarcastically giving a ‘joke’ response and assuring them that we really do live in igloos and keep bears and whales as pets
  • Rolling eyes and walking away
  • Staring incredulously while daydreaming about running down the inquirer with a large vehicle
  • Sniper rifle on a signal tower

As you can see, it escalates fairly quickly.

We’re usually pretty good about avoiding the last one, though, which, pleasantly, makes us a state of only potential murderous lunatics rather than one of actual murderous lunatics (and only during tourist season, of course). So, I’d say we’re doing pretty well.

But, basically, living in Alaska has given me reason to lose a good deal of my faith in humanity and question the future of our species. Seriously, I have no hope at all for the human race.

usa_mapFirst of all, because of the way Alaska is inset on most maps of the United States, people seem to think that we’re floating in the Pacific Ocean just off the coast of California.

This causes confusion and dumb questions. For example:

Question: “If you’re by California and Hawaii, why is it so cold there?”

  • Answer:  “That’s just an inset on the map. We’re actually up by Canada and Siberia, where it’s colder.”
  • Better answer: “Because we’re not by California or Hawaii …”
  • Best answer: “Are you freaking kidding me?”

These types of questions can be quite infuriating …

It also astounds me that people are actually surprised to discover that Alaskans look and dress like people from wherever they are from. Like, they expect us all to be wondering about on ice drifts in fur boots and parkas or something. Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t underdeveloped cavemen; you won’t suddenly go through a time warp into the Cretaceous Period if you take a trip to Alaska (not that there were actually Homo sapiens in the Cretaceous Period, but you get the picture). We do, in fact, exist and thrive in the 21st century.

Ignorance is not becoming, so I thought I’d clear up a few frequent misunderstandings—with my own personal touch (my apologies if I offend anyone; this all seems like common sense to me).

And if you are in need of a key, here’s the basic rundown:

1.) Answer = The short and honest answer

2.) Better answer = What we’re more likely to say

3.) Best answer = What we probably want to say 

All right, let’s get on with this:

Question 1: Do you take American money here? (Alternatively: what currency do you use?)

  • Answer: Yes
  • Better answer: Um. You know that Alaska is part of America, right?
  • Best answer: Are you dumb?

Question 2: What country do you belong to?

  • Answer: The United States
  • Better answer: Please tell me you’re joking …
  • Best answer: Are you dumb?

(Obviously we’re part of the US; it’s not like you had to use your passport to get here.)

Question 3: Do you live in an igloo?

  • Answer: No
  • Better answer: We generally just live in houses.
  • Best answer: Yes, of course. Everyone does. Come visit my ice castle and meet my pet polar bear. Dumbass.

Question 4: Where are the penguins?

  • Answer: In Antarctica.
  • Better answer: There are probably a few at the zoo.
  • Best answer: Are you dumb?

Question 5: Do you not have to buy a freezer?

  • Answer: We use freezers.
  • Better answer: It’s not cold all year round; we still have seasons, ergo we still need freezers.
  • Best answer: No, we have an igloo in our back yard where we store our foodstuffs—like the meat from that moose I harpooned on an iceberg last week.

Question 6: Do you have telephones or T. V. in Alaska?

  • Answer: Yes.
  • Better answer: Why wouldn’t we?
  • Best answer: Are you dumb?

Question 7: Do you have a pet bear?

  • Answer: No.
  • Better answer: Yes, I ride it to work and order it to attack annoying tourists.
  • Best answer: I wish! (Because seriously, that would be the coolest thing ever. Go look up Doug Seuss and Bart the Bear if you don’t know who they are and then tell me you don’t want one. Dogs are overrated.)

Question 8: Do you have sled dogs?

  • Answer: Some people do.
  • Better answer: Not everyone in the state is an Iditarod musher.
  • Best answer: Yeah, they take me to work when my bear’s too tired to give me a ride.

Question 9: When do the Northern Lights come on?

  • Answer:Well, scientifically speaking , they usually happen a couple of days after a solar flare.
  • Better answer: Um. What?
  • Best answer: Are you dumb? 

(Honestly, do they think we have a light switch in the governor’s office or something?)

Question 10: Where do you live in the winter?

  • Answer: Here.
  • Better answer: In the same place I live for the rest of the year. (There are people who leave for either the summer or winter, but I’m sure people in every state do that. But seriously, it’s not like we all just evacuate as soon as the snow falls or the temperatures drop below zero.)

Question 11: How long does it take for a deer (or caribou) to turn into a moose?

  • Only answer: ARE YOU FREAKING DUMB?

(Okay, okay! I’m sorry. I know that was uncalled for, but really? Really? Just because they all have antlers doesn’t mean they’re the same thing. That’s like asking how long it takes a guppy to turn into a salmon because they’re both fish.)

Question 12: What language do you speak here? Do you speak English?

  •  Answer: Yes.
  • Better answer: Obviously.
  • Best answer: You’re dumb.

 

Now, if you actually learned something, please keep it to yourself if you’re among Alaskans, otherwise they will simply dub you as one of the less-informed tourists and shun you like you have the plague, or else simply laugh at you being your back, and since neither seem particularly pleasant, it’s probably just safest not to say anything about it.

But really. Don’t be a dumbass. Educate yourself a little before you go somewhere so that the locals can dread tourist season a little bit less.

 

Cheers!

H.D. Hunter

 

(P.S. Please note that I do not actually mean to offend anyone. This is meant in good humor. You’re not dumb if you learned something, just uninformed. Alaskans are, for the most part, quite pleasant and good-tempered about touristy questions and at most, just think it’s funny. But I do think that it is important to learn a little about a place before you go; you’ll learn plenty more while you’re there!)

 

 

 

Review: Knight’s End by Jami Montgomery

Knight's EndI first happened upon this novel while perusing the teen/young adult writing website Inkpop.com (which, sadly, no longer exists) some time ago (before it was sold to another site and all that jazz). I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction and after scanning the description, happily started reading. I remember being immediately drawn in by the prologue.

Now, some time later (now that the author has self-published the book), I still find it pleasantly intriguing. Within the pages, we find the tales of a once-celebrated, now wanted knight named Aston Smith; Jade du Halen, a pampered yet determined runaway princess; a  notorious murderer known as The Rogue Royal, who sets his sights on corrupt monarchs; and a self-preserving prince named Talbot. The story generally follows the growing romance between Aston and Jade as they pursue The Rogue Royal in order to clear Aston’s name from the wanted list, but many conflicts meet them along the way and threaten to halt the journey of this determined pair. And, of course, in a world already laden with corruption and scandal, everyone is bound to have more than a few secrets … ones that could either strengthen or destroy all parties involved.

I did notice some grammatical and formatting errors here and there, but for me, they didn’t distract from the story. In general, they were easily overlooked. One thing I will say, though, is that I think the author could expand greatly on this story. There were some parts that I felt were rushed, and I would personally like to see the ending drawn out more–it would add to the already suspenseful string of events. And speaking of the ending … I still can’t decide if I loved or hated the cliff-hanger Ms. Montgomery left us with, but I will certainly say that it was unexpected.

And like Jade, I have a few guesses as to who the criminal at the end of the story is, but I’ll just have to wait for the next book in the series to see if my suspicions are correct. And you’ll have to pick up a copy of Knight’s End to find out what shocking crime this nameless criminal committed.

Later days, my friends!

-H. D. Hunter

Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

I have to say that I was rather intrigued, as I flipped through the novel, by the illustrations peppering the pages throughout. As an illustrator myself, I decided that, perhaps, I should give the back of the book a quick read just to see what it was about—the drawings certainly boasted a captivating storyline.

Deciding it seemed worth the $9.99 price tag, I added it to my pile. Perhaps the very ‘steampunk’ cover and illustrations are what got me; in fact, steampunk seems to be my recent genre of choice: the new Avatar T.V. show (The Legend of Korra) has been running (Is it a little nerdy to say that I was an avid fan of the  Avatar: the Last Airbender?), Rush’s new album (Clockwork Angels) is delightfully steampunk (Damn good album, by the way!), and now, Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan has found its way into my hands. Coincidence? I think not.

So, current minor steampunk obsession aside, it took me a while to actually get into the world of Leviathan. Now, mind you, it is quite exciting right from the get-go, I just didn’t have the time to sit down and actually read, but when I finally got a good 3-hour span of time to delve in, it was pretty difficult to put my bookmark back in.

Although the world described in Leviathan is Earth in the beginnings of World War I, the powerful twist on Darwin’s theories and the advancement of machine technology plunges the reader into a world that either could be or could have been. Scott Westerfeld’s careful twists and rich detail create a believable, as well as relatable, setting. It also helps that the story is told through alternating perspectives, giving us insight from both of the main characters: the orphaned, on-the-run prince of Austria-Hungary named Alek and Deryn, an adventurous girl who has lied and cross-dressed her way into the British Air Service.

Needless to say, these two very different points-of-view provide an adventurous and emotional ride until the two stories intersect–then it just gets better.

I won’t go further into details on this one; I don’t want to give anything away. But just some friendly advice: read this book because I just did, and I can’t wait to read the next in the series!

 

Later days, my friends,

-H. D. Hunter

An Analysis of “Prufrock” in Imagery

Quote of the Day: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” -T.S. Eliot
Something to Take to the Grave: An Analysis of “Prufrock” in Imagery
T. S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock” paints a simple image of an elderly man lying in a hospital bed “like a patient etherised upon a table” (line 3). He lies there, old and worn at the end of his life, bald, deep wrinkles creasing his tired face–a manifestation of the struggles and stress of life. There is no one in the chair beside him, holding his hand, no one crying for him as he wheezes and coughs. He stares up at the ceiling, his medications pulling him in and out of consciousness, and each time he drifts off, memories of the past flood his mind, drawing all of his attention away from the present. Nostalgia sets in as his memories play across hi eyelids like a moving picture he sat too long in a theatre for…
“Let us go and make out visit.” (Line 12)
His memories unfold beginning at a crisis in his life. There he is, sitting in a slovenly apartment room with a lukewarm cup of coffee, staring out the window at the next building over. He stares longingly through the clear glass of the windows of that nice, new building, freshly painted while his wallpaper is peeling away at every seam, and he watches the ladies pass by in their fancy dresses and gold bracelets. In the room directly across from his, the curtains are never drawn. He gazes through that window as “the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo,” (Lines 13-14) yearning to be at the lovely parties they have with champagne and music. He wonders solemnly why the hell he can’t be like them, why they have it all when he has only his crummy flat and an old yellow cat that comes and goes as it pleases. He opens his window and can hear the gentle hiss of music in the air coming from across the narrow street. He wants to be one of them. He wants to be an asset to society instead of the burden he feels like. But he doesn’t know if he can. He doesn’t know how.
“To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?'” (Line 38)
He walks the dark, narrow streets at night, glancing from the crumbling building he lives in to the shining new apartment complex across from it. It seems like there is a different world on either side of the street. He looks up the athe buildings. On one side, there are “lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows” (line 72) and on the other, there are the dark forms of partygoers swooping in and out of sight. Suddenly, an idea strikes him, an idea so profound that he must act on it before reason can reprimand him. He hurries up to his flat, and when he returns to the street, he is dressed in his best suit. He marches toward the new building, mustering up the courage to push through the doors and start up the flight of stairs, but alas! Thoughts cloud his mind. What would they think of him? He is too old, too bald, and too thin to be welcome, too fool to win the heart of any fair maiden willing to risk a conversation with him (if he only had the guts to persevere up the remainder of the steps and walk through that door). But what if he did? Would he dare? Oh, to speak to a woman so beautiful as the one who lives in the room just across the way! But what if she were to reject him? What would he do then? Would he stand there and be subjected to the gloating eyes of all of the guests as they laughed at him for even thinking he might fit in at one of their lavish celebrationss? No, he wouldn’t. He couldn’t! He returns home immediately, cursing himself for having such a useless idea and wondering why he couldn’t be the claws of some small crab on the sea floor rather than a human being, which constantly worries and thinks! Lonely and distraught, he banishes himself to his apartment room to sit by the window again and watch until the party disperses at midnight. The women disappear in the street below. He stares at the owner of the room as she sits to comb her hair by the open window, and he pours another cup of coffee, the lines on his face growing more evident.
“Would it have been worth while?” (Line 90)
He looks in the mirror each day after. He weeps and fasts, weeps and prays (Line 81), but he is always the same. He is always too old, too bald, too thin, and too fool for Michelangelo’s ladies to welcome him. He grows old in front of that lonely window, and “in the room, the women come and go…” (Line 35). He swallows the last drink in his coffee mug.
“Till human voices wake us…” (Line 131)
An elderly man lies in his hospital bed, older than he was only a moment ago. Another hair has fallen onto his pillow. Another line has drawn itself beside the corner of his mouth. But with age comes wisdom, and in a moment of perfect madness, he realizes that none of this chaos matters. He searched for the answer to some outstanding question his whole life, and only in death does he realize that the answer really wasn’t that important, after all. He was J. Alfred Prufrock… and that was all he ever needed to be. At some time, in some place, he had lived. He had existed in a world full of people wishing they could be at those grand parties, stand by those beautiful women, and be a part of their society, and he alone, had realized that none of that really mattered at all. This sudden thought, this realization, this discovery pulls him from his obsessive absorption in the past as if waking him from a long, tiring dream he’d just been waiting to wake up from. Then, in that same hospital bed, he slips quietly away with a clear mind and something to take with him to the grave–not simply a love like the ‘love’ that people say is ‘love.’ (he never gained the affection of any beautiful women) but a gentle and genuine love of life and J. Alfred Prufrock’s quest to get there.
T. S. Eliot’s The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock is not just a ‘love song,’ it’s a ‘Lovesong,’ a testament to the beauty of existence.
“…and we drown.” (Line 131)
(C)2012 H. D. Hunter
References: The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot, Public Domain