Friday, March 4, 2011

Endings and revisions

I was rather hesitant in approaching Ender in Exile. I've read the Ender books one after the other, gradually realizing that while Orson Scott Card has written some of my favorite books (Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, Speaker for the Dead), he has also written some relative duds (Children of the Mind - a lame conclusion to what could have been a wonderful quartet). I've long known that the more he adds to his stories, the less good they seem to get (the Shadow quartet solidified this idea).

Draws from the entire Ender world
But here was something a little different. Not the book, but the idea: rewriting your own work.

Ender in Exile, as the somewhat stupid cover blurb indicates, takes place in the "lost" years between Ender's victory over the buggers and Speaker for the Dead. Except it also takes place during Ender's Game, and immediately after Shadow of the Giant. Which is a little weird, but surprisingly enough... it works. Almost. You see, if it works (and I'll touch more on this issue in a moment) it's because the reader is, for lack of a better word, forgetful and inattentive to details. And because of Card's afterword.

Card writes in his afterword about the inconsistencies between Ender in Exile and Ender's Game. He writes that the meat of the overlapping chapters is, in essence, correct but that the timeline is not. He tells his readers, "I was careless". He asks for their help in rectifying to problem. All so that he may write this story - what he calls a story about the soldier after the war. He sought out the plot holes, the inconsistencies and referenced them. The afterword is an homage, in a sense, to the original Ender's Game, where Card attempts to "fix" his mistakes, meanwhile tying Exile into the later additions to the Ender universe.

So again the question: does it work? Some readers will say no. Many fans have written that Card simply tried to squeeze more juice out of his bestselling franchise (though, granted, they've said that about all the sequels - good and bad). Those fans particularly devoted to detail, meanwhile, further stressed that Card's rewriting of many scenes in Ender's Game to suit his later books cannot simply be cast off as "careless mistakes". One Amazon reviewer writes: "Ender's game is a classic, you created the universe, but then you unleashed it on your readers...it is ours now too. You don't change the details when it messes with your ability to sell more books. You have to work within the confines in this previously created world."

There's no doubt in my mind that Card attempted to rewrite some of his own history. Ender's Game itself is a rehashing of the original novella (novelette, whatever)... does another change to details in the story really make a difference? To the inattentive reader like myself, no. That Card chose to revisit his previous words actually gave me a little nostalgic thrill. It didn't matter to me that details and small touches were "inaccurate", particularly after Card recognizes this in his afterword. He is not unaware of the changes. If we allow revised editions, recognizing that works can be edited even after publishing, where's the harm? This is precisely what Ender in Exile is - a revision on certain chapters.

Ender in Exile does not entirely rewrite Ender's Game. It does not hack apart the core of the story, it does not alter any major events. Deeply devoted fans may balk at the notion of revising even the slightest comma in their beloved work (rather like what I've always felt with the corrections made to Harry Potter - a topic I could discuss at length and probably will someday...), but it's not as though Card has truly committed authorly sin. He has revised. That will take some getting used to.

3 comments:

  1. I think I'll skip this -- I like the Ender books, but most of Card's recent work (the Shadow books were the last ones I read) has irritated me unduly. :p I'm happy with the four regular Ender books (Children of the Mind was lame but still made me cry) plus Ender's Shadow and that short story where he meets Jane.

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  2. It started slow - Card had to place a lot of people and events. As Ender and Valentine traveled via lightship to the new colony for two years, forty years went by on Earth - adding to the complex plot. However, I was eventually drawn into this new challenge Ender faced and the character again felt real to me. Card continues to explore not only family but also politics, ethics, and religion. There are a few preachy moments but on the whole I was glad to visit these lost years. I may read the next chronological novel again - Speaker for the Dead - I think Card achieved his goal in doing a better job of setting up this novel.

    In the notes following the book, Card mentioned that he saw this book as actually coming before the last chapter of Ender's Game, rather than a sequel as the cover proclaims. He has also re-written a small portion of Ender's Game, as well, which will be included in future reprints. He defends this - but I don't quite buy it. I'm not sure you get a re-do in fiction. You get to write more in the fictional world you've built but how do you take back something that millions of people have read?

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  3. Isn't time a factor though? The more time it sits and festers in people's hearts, the more "wrong" it is to mess with it? This isn't a textbook with added research necessary, it's still a story, and it becomes finished in the hearts of the readers once its out.

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