Card, Wolfe, and Lafferty Walk Into a Bar
I finished re-reading "Ender's Game" this week during my commutes to and from work, so I needed a new book to read. Of course, the obvious thing is to go onward into "Speaker for the Dead" and re-read it. I appreciate both, though they are very different books. That was actually my first choice, but, alas, the local bookstore had no copies of "Speaker for the Dead," despite having multiple copies of "Ender's Game."
Somehow the story of a bullied boy who is a really a genius resonates more with science fiction fans than the story of the same little boy, now a humbler man, and the complex conflict that develops on a space colony between Catholicism, scientific materialism, a cult (inadvertantly started by Ender at the end of the first book), and the indigeonous, almost incomprehensible religion of a newly discovered alien race. Whereas the first book was about military leadership and the gradual turning of Ender into a
genocidal xenocidal killer, the second is about tolerance. Ender must prevent another xenocide from occuring, and he does it by understanding the incomprehensible (to a human) religion of an alien race. "Speaker for the Dead" is a murder-mystery in which the who and the how are known, all that remains is an exonerating why. Ender's heroism lies not in being a military genius with an ice-cold moral calculus, but in having the will to discover that exonerating why and present it in time to prevent an unnecessary war. Another way to put it, "Speaker for the Dead" is about Ender's work to prevent the genesis of "Ender's Game."
Doesn't quite speak to the same demographic. The dark-underbelly of science fiction and fantasy is escapism and power fantasy. But that's another post, especially since I feel a little bad for being hard on science fiction fans, who did, after all, give both books the Hugo and Nebula. And, you know, since I'm one of them, and I enjoy "Ender's Game" a great deal. I just like "Speaker for the Dead" as well. And it depresses me a little that "Ender's Game" was written to be the prequel to "Speaker for the Dead," to explain who this Ender guy is, and why he consider it a personal moral imperative to prevent an inevitable and, on the surface, justified war. And it's the one everyone remembers. It's even on the Marine Corps recommended reading list for enlisted men. "Speaker for the Dead" is conspicuously absent from that list.
The point was, I could not find "Speaker for the Dead" at my local bookshop that day, but I could find "Apocalypses" by R. A. Lafferty. I freely admit I'm not as current as I ought to be in my science fiction. I mispent my youth reading the later vulgarities of Piers Anthony. I had not read any R. A. Lafferty at that point. I hadn't heard of Lafferty, except for a murmur, picked up here and there over the past few months, that if someone enjoys Gene Wolfe, then Lafferty is a good place to look as well.
So far I am about half-way through the first novella that makes up "Apocalpses." It is...different. This is a good thing. It's unfair to Lafferty to say he is like Gene Wolfe. (It's also unfair to Gene Wolfe.) They are not the same, except perhaps for some common themes. Both men were engineers first, writers second, and so have the technical background needed for good science fiction. Both men were part of the science fiction "New Wave," whatever that means. (Don't send me comments explaining what it means. I know what it means. I'm being facetious.) Both are Catholics, though Lafferty comes off as the more devout one, at least in a superficial way. Lafferty was, reportedly, a daily communicant. I don't believe the same is so about Gene Wolfe. Both are tricksy. Both expect you to pay attention.
I do like what I'm reading, though its hard to say how typical it is, being my first story. The first of the two titular apocalypses is dreamlike and hard-to-grasp. Just when I am confident it is an allegory for the Second Coming, hints begin dropping it's something closer to the opposite. I'm left wondering about the significance of a Biblical misquotation in the dialog. Maybe I should be judging for myself? The mythical island seems so much like paradise, the people so happy and carefree. Except, they aren't carefree in a good way.
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