Folks are in a tizzy from Orson Scott Card getting the Edwards award from YALSA.
They should be.
However, the whys of why they should be have been contorted.
I can't help but wonder how many people read things in their entirety or even carefully scan before they go commenting about them.
First, folks are seriously misconstruing the rules YALSA uses in determining the Edwards.
This is *not* an endorsement of someone's life.
In this case, it is *not* even a lifetime achievement award.
It's a recognition that these two works have a large impact on Children, which they unquestionably do. I don't believe that any one of us is calling for the removal of the works from Library shelves OR stating that they do not believe that they are popular works.
However, the spectre I raised at the time was this:
Is there enough evidence _within_ the works themselves that would lead one to the conclusion that the literature at hand might not be conveying the sort of message Librarians would be happy having Children learn?
Are the books, or elements within the books, homophobic? Are there other messages within these books that are unsavoury?
That's not to say that we don't agree that Children can learn whatever they please, that's to point out that in giving an award, we're essentially honouring content.
Again, we're condoning content NOT lives, BUT would the content at hand cause a Librarian of intelligence high enough to be alloted a place on a distinguished panel to smell something fishy and check it out?
In specific, I raised a question about the choice of diction behind the main enemy in the tales - the buggers. Did the author know the derogatory meaning of that word?
I read the 1991 hardcover of Ender's Game and the 1999 hardcover of Ender's Shadow before writing this entry.
After reading them, I believe that the awards committee ought to have smelt a rat and ought to have researched more thoroughly after closely reading these. I allege that their reading of these books was entirely inadequate. They even missed that this was the *third* invasion and not the second, as is stated on the Margaret A. Edwards website.
"Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow both published by Tor Books, present a future where a global government trains gifted young children from around the world in the art of interstellar warfare, hoping to find a leader whose skills can prevent a second attack upon humanity by the insect-like aliens descriptively nicknamed "buggers.""
If they missed something so blatant as the chronological sequence of attack, what else did they miss? This wasn't the second attack upon humanity, this was a third preemptive war against a little understood enemy.
In simply reading the introduction of Ender's Game, we're treated to a heavy dose of the Mormon faith. I am not condemning anyone's religion. However, I think if you write about it, and it's included in the material you'll be judged on, it's fair game to wonder about the precepts of a given religion in relationship to the work at hand.
What happens when we google in "Orson Scott Card Mormon"?
We come up with a very highly ranked article he authored entitled "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality".
This is what I would consider to be a tiny modicum of due diligence on behalf of the committee. Wouldn't you want to know if the works at hand were going to be pushing a religious agenda? Wouldn't you want to know if this were religious allegory disguised as Science Fiction? I frankly don't give a hoot if someone or something's proseletysing or no. But, would the average ALA member be comfortable with saying that the works allowed a child "thoughtfully to build a philosophy of life" if they are religiously charged in an organisation that claims to pride itself on neutrality? (We are not neutral, and needs admit it, but that's a different matter...)
Once that box is open, once that search was run, one would have been able to spot the homophobic undertone a mile away.
Even if that line of thinking were missed entirely since someone skipped the introduction, one ought note that in Ender's Shadow on page 35 we have this interesting little chunk
"To compare him to the Buggers? Or I should say the Formics, since they're saying now that Buggers is a bad word in English, even though I.F. Common is not English, even though it began that way, don't you think?"
So we know that he knows how loaded that word is. If he had made a woody enemy and labeled them the faggots, would there be outcry? I frankly think the only reason he didn't was that at that level of obviousness, he never would have been able to sell this tripe to a publisher.
We also know that children curse. I've never had issues with children cursing or swearing. It's a great way to explore language. I cheered when I heard about An Encyclopaedia of Swearing. I immediately purchased it for my Library knowing that teens would be attracted to it like a magnet. The deeper lesson was that they would get a love of etymology. For a wonderful example of realistic Children's swearing, I'd point out Snow in August by Hamill. That is precisely what New York City kids sound like.
This swearing is different. This swearing is loaded. This swearing has an unusual preoccupation with male sex organs and arses. I'm _not_ claiming that swearing in general doesn't have a preoccupation with those things. I _am_ claiming that when folks swear, they throw in other types of swears for colour. Yes, military swearing tends also to have this preoccupation. However, I think the swearing I was subject to in the Army was more diverse than this. There's a creativity to swearing that is absent. I smell a rat. I smell an agenda.
What I can't grasp is why the committee didn't read more than a few surface levels deep in this allegory. We know that it's allegorical from the introduction to Ender's Game. I'm sure that the committee respects the companion pieces for their contribution to the bildungsroman genre. Certainly that's the most obvious layer of the onion, but when the author warns he's being clever, look out below. "Remember, the enemy's gate is down."
If the award SOLELY recognised Ender's Game, and homophobia was the only problem, I might still be on the fence, but I doubt it. But taken together, as the committee by its own rules was meant to do, I feel strongly that they ought to have copped onto the rampant homophobia.
Women's rights factor into the equation just as largely for me. If anything, the issues I had with the female characters in the novels were LARGER than the problems I had with the war on Gaydom.
We're fed a hypothetical, but more advanced, civilisation where children are taken for battle training. Somehow, the ratio favours boys far over girls. Really? Okay, fine. Suppose I buy this discrepancy (which I do not; I've simply had far too much exposure to fit women within the military) and suspend my disbelief. We're given an occasional girl in the ranks. Heck, one of them makes it to Ender's final showdown as part of his squad.
And when the world literally needs her, what happens?
She breaks down. Before this stage of things, we're led to believe that she betrays Ender. This is muddled; maybe she was a Judas, maybe she wasn't. We're never quite certain she was a genuine traitor. She admitted that she was in order to make things easier, which of course leads us to question whether she truly wanted things to be easier or no. Petra is weepy. We don't really hear about her performance as an Army Commander.
Okay, so Petra is a minor character. What of Valentine, Ender's sister? She gets to play second fiddle to both Ender and Peter. Persuasion might win out over might, but Card decides not to actually allow that to occur, so she's shuttled off into space to colonise. Ah, what a wonderful wife of the universe.
Poke in Ender's Shadow fares no better. Bean selects her for her compassion just as much as he selects her for her incompetence as a leader. Poke ends up dead at another boy's hands. Isn't that a bit fishy? A tomboy of the streets that can't defend herself?
Women are weak. When they're not, they're easily tricked or can't be relied upon. If they are serving as nurturing mothers, fine.
So, here's where it gets interesting if you take the time to run a google search on Mormon treatment of women.
But worse by far, if you do the incredibly easy search for Orson Scott Card Feminism on google, here's what I got as my first hit.
Is that search too much to ask for? If someone read this and had questioned the female "protagonists", would his personal views provided an answer for how to take his somewhat sarcastic allegory?
All of this aside, there are brilliant works that have yet to be recognised that are sitting on our shelves. They are worth more than these two by far. The overall quality of these two books is just not that wonderful. For a really painful analysis, courtesy of an external wikipedia link from Ender's Game, read this:
Any way you look at this, it's wrong. If you were using the committee's own rules, this award is not meritorious. This is pulp sci-fi. This is not Bradbury. This is not Asimov. Isn't that the stuff that award winners are meant to be made of? How has this broadened the minds of a young person? I see these two novels presenting a formulaic rigid life structure, not widening "a window on the world". Either you are right or wrong, and taking the hard right - blowing up a planet now and asking questions later - is pushed harder than a bad sommelier pushes vinegary wine.
If you take the path that the committee could only give the award based on the materials at hand, there is enough evidence to overwhelm a decision to grant the award. If you're taken in by the sideshow of an author's opinions also weighing into the selection process, then things get truly ugly.
I'm just frightened that the committee didn't read past the most basic levels at hand. In not carefully forming an opinion based on the works at hand, in not researching at the most cursory of levels, they have failed us.