Illustrated Adaptation Of 'Ender's Game' Released

Orson Scott Card's award-winning science fiction novel, Ender's Game and his subsequent book Ender's Shadow, have been turned into comics, released by Marvel. Card talks about the adaptation and about science fiction writing.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Orson Scott Card wrote an award-winning science fiction novel about children trained to become warriors in a life-and-death struggle against an apparently implacable enemy, and the profound horror that accompanied their success. He then did one of the most difficult tricks imaginable and wrote the same story from another point of view. "Ender's Game" and "Ender's Shadow" have now been adapted into comic books.

Orson Scott Card also writes biblical novels, plays and musicals, fantasy. He's published a book on writing, and he teaches writing at Southern Virginia University.

If you'd like to talk with him about the adaptations, science fiction and writing, our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Orson Scott Card joins us now from member station WFDD in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

Professor ORSON SCOTT CARD (Writing and Literature, Southern Virginia University; Author, "Ender's Game" and "Ender's Shadow"): It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And I just learned that, in fact, a shorter version of "Ender's Game" was among the first stories you published. So these characters have been alive in a broad way for you since 1978.

Prof. CARD: It goes even earlier than that. During the Vietnam War, my brother joined the military, came home from basic training and - so training was on my mind. And when at the age of 16, I set my mind to wanting to write a science fiction story - I just had read Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" trilogy.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. CARD: And I thought, I want to do that, too. The idea that I thought, it was how do you train soldiers for combat in space, where there's three dimensions and you can fly off in any direction and just keep going forever? Which is, you know, not a very good way to deal with your army. How do you train them to think three-dimensionally? And I came up with the "Battle School" idea which is at the heart of "Ender's Game," when I was 16, which was, wow, 1967.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. CARD: So, you know, those ideas and these characters have been with me for a long time. I had no idea that they would be the ones that will take off the most. I guess that's one of the things writers don't get to decide. Robert Louis Stevenson didn't get to the side whether "Treasure Island" was going to be the primary book for which he would be remembered all his life, but, you know, he could do a lot worse. At least he's remembered and…

CONAN: At least he's remembered.

Prof. CARD: Yeah.

CONAN: And why, then, retell the story from another point of view?

Prof. CARD: That wasn't the plan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. CARD: That's the sad thing. I was planning to write a sequel to "Ender's Game" that focused on one of the characters, Bean, who is sort of his right hand man toward the end. And I shouldn't say man. He was, what? Eleven years old. But in the process, I was going to start with just a couple of chapters in Battle School. Those chapters turned into an entire book, and I realized at about six chapters in that this character was too interesting. His time in Battle School was too extraordinary himself, that I could not go beyond the end of "Ender's Game" with the first volume.

So I ended up with two novels that begin essentially at the same point and end at the same point and interweave. The terrible problem with that is that by the time I got to the chapters that involved Bean in "Ender's Game," the way that I'd written them in "Ender's Game" just did not do anymore for this character that I had created.

So reconciling the two, I kept wishing that I could go back and rewrite "Ender's Game." Then it happened to me again. I was writing "Ender in Exile," which is about - really, takes place in the middle of "Ender's" - well, not in the middle. Near the end.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. CARD: But is an entire novel that takes place between the next-to-last and last chapters of "Ender's Game." And once again, I found myself contradicting what I'd written before because I'm a better writer now. And, you know, imagination will go its own way. So returning to the well repeatedly is a dangerous activity.

CONAN: And there is a difference for the reader, too. The first experience we had was reading them as books, first "Ender's Game" and then "Ender's Shadow," one after the other, sequentially. In now comic book form, they are coming out, alternating chapters coming out every couple of weeks.

Prof. CARD: That's right. And one of the most exciting things about the comic book is that it's not mine. I mean, in the sense that - it, you know, I was a playwright before I wrote fiction. And I found that my plays work the best when someone else directed them. When I direct them myself, we get only my original vision plus whatever the actors contribute. When somebody else directs them, then you get someone else's well of creativity. And if they're very good, it enriches everything.

And that's what's happened with the comic books, is that the scriptwriters are superb, and they've done a much better job than any of the scriptwriters of the screen adaptation of "Ender's Game" have done of finding the essence of the story, making it visual, allowing the reader to experience it with their eyes, as well as their imagination and their ears. And so I'm really thrilled with what they've done in enriching the experience. I only hope the movie eventually can be as good.

CONAN: We'll get to the movie in just a minute, but do you get any sort of editorial control over the comic books? Do they run ideas past you? Did they say here's how we plan to do it?

Prof. CARD: I absolutely have veto power over anything. What I discovered very soon in the process is that writers - Scott Yost(ph) especially with "Ender's Game" - but both writers and both artists are doing such a wonderful job that they soon won my trust, and I really don't pay as close attention now as I did before. In the set up, though, in the start, I was intensely involved to make sure that we built the world properly, that the character development was right. In fact, I even provided them with photographs of two young men that I knew who I thought looked the way I wanted the main characters of Ender and Bean to look. And they followed that really quite well. They have a good feeling.

In fact, I brought one of the young men with me to a signing of the comic book, and people recognized him from the book. It was kind of fun. So, I feel like they have been completely responsive. Marvel is very respectful of other peoples' intellectual property, partly, I think, because of their own experience with developing and protecting their own. So they have been extraordinarily generous with me. Again, the opposite of the way Hollywood treats writers.

CONAN: I was just going to say, Hollywood does not work that way. Once they buy it, they own it lock, stock and barrel, and the original author can whistle in the dark for all they care.

Prof. CARD: Well, that depends on how good your lawyer is when you sign the contract. We - I'd had the experience of a couple of previous options on "Ender's Game," both of which turned into nothing because, of course, the people doing it had no understanding of the story. You never know that until after they've signed and you start seeing what they're doing. But I knew the ways that Hollywood wanted to deform the story and turn it into something else. Basically, they all want to remake "The Last Starfighter."

CONAN: Right.

Prof. CARD: They want a teenage hero so that they can date movie money. And this story doesn't even work unless the kid is pre-puberty, and so it's just…

CONAN: And also, they probably don't want it to end as galactic war criminal.

Prof. CARD: Well, you know, that ending has been jettisoned so many times. However, I learned from that experience. I've been working for years now with Bob Chartoff and his partner Lynn Hendee. Bob Chartoff was - you know, people think of him as the guy who produced - one of the two who produced the "Rocky" movies. People forget that the original "Rocky" was an independent film and a very brave project where the screenwriter insisted on starring in the film himself. Nobody gets to dot that.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Prof. CARD: And that's the kind of producer Bob is. He believes in material, and he stands behind it. And so I've had great cooperation from them. And we're now with Odd Lot Entertainment, developing - and I can't announce the director, but we have a very, very good director who takes the story personally. Everyone is involved - everyone that's involved is trying to be faithful to it.

But my lawyer comes into it here. We were with Warner for a while, but because my lawyer had included my list of exclusions in the contract, I was able to prevent a very, very bad movie from being made and thereby saved the integrity of the "Ender's Game" project. I am so relieved. Lawyers get such a bad rap because, boy, if you don't have one on your side when you're going into the forest of Hollywood, you will be eaten alive.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. Our guest is Orson Scott Card, author of the novels "Ender's Game" and "Ender's Shadow," which are currently being adapted into a comic book series. The second series - I think the second - the first one of the second series of "Ender's Shadow" came out yesterday. So anyway, let's get Allison(ph) on the line, Allison calling from Toledo.

ALLISON (Caller): Hi. Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ALLISON: It's a really great honor to be speaking with you, Mr. Card. I read all of the "Ender's Game" series books multiple times. They were - the first "Ender's Game" was assigned to me when I was in high school, and I still have all the books. I loved them…

Prof. CARD: Wow, you mean it was - you were forced to read it and you still liked it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. CARD: I'm stunned.

ALLISON: I absolutely loved it. I thought it was great, and I still occasionally pick them up to look through them for inspiration. I think the…

CONAN: And I think that's the Dickens test.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ALLISON: I think all of the stories really do a great job of relating to students. You know, when you're young, not everybody listens to you or realizes your potential. But I think that anybody who reads the books kind of sees Ender or Bean as a person they relate to, as somebody, you know, who has to overcome a lot. And I think that you've reached out to a lot of kids with it. My question to you…

Prof. CARD: Well, thank you.

ALLISON: Thank you. My question for you is about how you think that they relate to kids these days, since your stories take place in the sort of future that we don't know of. How do you feel that kids today, you know, relate to it and what it represents for them? And I'll take my comments off the air.

CONAN: Thanks, Allison.

Prof. CARD: That's great. I - this is a thing that I've been wrestling with. For one thing, if I understood why "Ender's Game" succeeds so well, do you think I wouldn't be doing it again?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. CARD: You know, that's - I do like feeding my family well, and so I wish I understood…

CONAN: Oh, I think you've done OK.

Prof. CARD: Well, I wish I understood completely what's going on here. But I've learned from the readers over the years. I wasn't surprised when gifted children would write to me soon after the book was published and tell me how wonderful they thought the book was, because they felt like they were Ender, you know, this is my life.

But then I started getting - hearing from parents, from teachers and from kids themselves who were problem students, kids who were getting - failing in school, kids who didn't think of themselves as being particularly smart, kids with reading problems. And they were embracing "Ender's Game," and the same thing was coming up. They were saying, I am Ender. I feel like he is who I am.

And I could not understand that at first, because in no way, superficially, did they resemble Ender. What they resemble, I think, what people identify with is the sense of isolation - which is really the universal human condition - and the sense that the world is shaped around you by people who are not always telling you the truth and, in fact, usually aren't - not because they're trying to lie to you, but often because they don't even know the truth.

And so you live in a kind of a fantasy world, but other people are running the fantasy. And "Ender's Game" is about getting control of that fantasy, learning how to use your own life to accomplish your own ends. And the pain that he goes through, the frustration seems to match what many young people feel. Whether they're excellent students or marginal students, they live in this shaped world.

CONAN: We're talking with Orson Scott Card. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Here's an email we have from Keith in Utah. While in Iraq, another soldier recommended "Ender's Game." Well, I just finished reading it and it was so relevant to the time and events, only we were living a darker version of the life of war and manipulation.

Prof. CARD: Wow. That's - you know, that's one of the things that I have loved, is the response of soldiers. I have never been in the military. I had my brother's experiences and his tales of basic training in the '60s to - and military life to help me. But I also had been reading military history - not exclusively, or even intentionally. I just was fascinated by the Civil War. My kids gave me Bruce Catton's brilliant "The Army of the Potomac," a trilogy of serious history that follows that one army with all of its commanders and the -Lincoln's incessant search for somebody who would use this army competently, and the suffering of the soldiers, the courage, the work that they did.

And that really was the foundation of my learning about the military, was Civil War plus a little bit of updating and then staying abreast of current events. But that foundation of knowledge apparently popped out well enough that the military has responded very well to "Ender's Game." It's been used by people who are thinking through a future strategy - not because of the strategy in "Ender's Game," but because of the way Ender thinks…

CONAN: Hmm.

Prof. CARD: …because of his approach to command, the way he works with the soldiers. I was thrilled when I found out that the book was being used for a while in the Marine University at Quantico for training officers in how to learn the capabilities of their men, how to use their men, mostly because I have all these examples in "Ender's Game" of very bad commanders. I think I catalogue pretty much every way that a commander can be bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. CARD: And so the idea is for these officers to go, oh, I…

CONAN: I thought I detected George McClellan in there, yes.

Prof. CARD: Yes. I don't want to do that. Yes, well, George McClellan is there, and so is Fighting Joe Hooker and, you know, so is General Ambrose Burnside, my - one of my heroes of incompetence. This is such a well-meaning man, and not really a stupid man, and innovative. I mean, if the Battle of the Crater, if they've been prepared to follow through it, it could have ended the Civil War right there around Richmond months earlier, and many lives un-lost.

CONAN: Would've been spared, yeah. Yeah. But anyway…

Prof. CARD: Yeah, but nobody knew how to deal with it. So this was a good guy, a smart guy, just, I think, the epitome of the worst commander that the Army of the Potomac ever had.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line, Mike on I-80 in Iowa.

MIKE (Caller): Hi. First off, I was a huge admirer of not only the "Ender" series but the "Prentice Alvin" as well. I'll get right to my question. I was a Marine in Vietnam, enlisted at 17, and read "Ender" later, of course. My reaction to the whole book had to do with the notion of child warriors, the way in which society uses its children to fight its wars. We had a saying after I came home from Vietnam that it was the first war that our country had ever fought where the grownups stayed home.

CONAN: Hmm.

MIKE: I wondered how consciously you were creating a metaphor about Vietnam in "Ender's Game."

Prof. CARD: Not consciously at all. In fact, if I had caught myself doing any kind of thematic, essay-like thing, I probably would have subverted it as quickly as I could, because I don't trust that. When I'm consciously aware of any kind of symbolism or representation like that, I regard that as writing -you know, I'll put that in an essay. I'll write a column about it somewhere. So in my…

CONAN: But it's interesting. Joe Haldeman wrote a Vietnam analogy, I thought, in "Forever War."

MIKE: "The Forever War."

CONAN: Yeah. Also a terrific book.

Prof. CARD: Right, right. It is. And, in fact, in a way, his book was answering "Starship Troopers" - a book, which, by the way, I still haven't read. Once people started comparing "Ender's Game" to "Starship Troopers," I made the deliberate decision not to read it just because I didn't want to be influenced or aware, even, of any similarities.

But the fact is we do send our children to war. That's what we do. We don't send nine year olds and 12 year olds to war, but we still send people young enough to think they're immortal, and that's almost what we have to do.

You know, at the age 58, if you sent me to war and people like me, you'd have a pudgy, out of shape - well, I'm not really out of shape. I run. You know, I try to take care of myself. But I would not be able to stand up to the rigors of combat. So I - any army composed of men like me would be defeated by any army composed of 20 year olds, peak physical condition, well-trained. We send…

CONAN: I'm afraid we just have a few seconds left.

Prof. CARD: Okay. We just - we send our young people off to war partly because they win and they defeat old people.

CONAN: Hmm. Mike, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

MIKE: All right. Thank you.

CONAN: All right. We'll leave this from - with an email from Alicia(ph), I think, in Corning, New York. Excuse me, Acua(ph). I first met your work in Analog in 1977. I shared this with my father. We loved the story and have come to adore your work. Thank you for the many journeys, ideas and inspiration. So that from a long-time fan.

Thanks very much for being with us today.

Prof. CARD: It's been my pleasure.

CONAN: Orson Scott Card's novels "Ender's Game" and "Ender's Shadow" are now being adapted into comics by Marvel. They're available at comic bookstore near you.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, Ira Flatow will be here with a look at how to keep science class relevant and fun, plus preventing Internet providers from blocking Web traffic.

And be sure to join us Tuesday when Michael Moore will join us to take your calls about his latest movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story." I'll see you Monday.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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