Sunday, March 28, 2010

#13 Ringworld, #2 Ender's Game


“The gods do not protect fools. Fools are protected by more capable fools.” 
“For two hundred and fifty years the kzinti had not attacked human space. They had nothing to attack with. For two hundred and fifty years men had not attacked the kzinti worlds; and no kzin could understand it. Men confused them terribly.”  
Ringworld, by Larry Niven, is a classic of Hard SF, science fiction which focuses on the scientifically plausible, and explains to you how it is scientifically possible. This sub genre focuses less on the intricacies of human interaction or the supernatural, and more on hard scientific facts and concrete possibilities. In fact, Niven's description of the Ringworld artificial object are so thorough in this novel that MIT students and the like have gone about trying to find out if such an object could feasibly exist. Due to all this very thorough, scientifically-sound description, the novel, as one might imagine, can be a little lacking in terms of excitement and a quick-moving plot at times.
The plot of Ringworld concerns four crew members who go on an exploration of an enormous ring-shaped artificial object encircling a sun. This thing in thousands of times bigger than Earth, and quite mysterious. The diverse cast of protagonists exploring this Ringworld are:  a 200 year old bored rich guy Louis Wu,  a genetically-bred-to-be-lucky hot babe Teela Brown, an enormous cat-like alien (kzin), Speaker-to-Animals, and a second, more mysterious alien who seems to know more about the journey than anyone else, and isn't willing to admit it; the Puppeteer Nessus. They take a journey to explore the ring world and essentially this book is about their explorations of the world and their discoveries on it.
It can be a pretty interesting book in sections, but it does plod at times, and the endless explanations of the Ringworld's dimensions (which, as mentioned above, are considered exciting by scientists who have attempted to see if the Ringworld's existence in space is physically possible) can get tedious for the casual reader... which this reviewer admittedly is! After a bit of exploring, Louis, Teela, Speaker-to-Animals, and Nessus attempt to find out why the Ringworld was created and by whom. The conclusion of this particular novel is somewhat unsatisfying in this regard, and, as is often the case, leaves room for sequels.
My final verdict comes out like this: It's certainly an interesting one, with some pretty cool, new SF concepts, like the genetic breeding of luck and boosterspice, which conveys near immortality upon those ingesting it ( sound familiar...melange from Dune?), but it can get confusing and overly scientific for the casual reader. However, Ringworld is a must if you are a hard-SF kinda person who likes to figure out if things are possible in your science fiction readings -- Niven provides you with the dimensions, etc. of the Ringworld, so you can figure it out for yourself. If one bases quality of science fiction on actual scientific content, then yes, this is a true masterwork, maybe the best Hard SF novel written. For me, more of the casual SF reader than the actual scientist type, this book is good; not great. As hard SF goes, I found Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama to be superior, although it contained less story, and more exploration than Ringworld. Still, casual readers, it's worth a read considering its importance to the genre, so I'd recommend at least starting it to see how you like it. 

Ender's Game

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them.... I destroy them.” 
“An enemy, Ender Wiggin," whispered the old man. "I am your enemy, the first one you've ever had who was smarter than you. There is no teacher but the enemy. No one but the enemy will tell you what the enemy is going to do. No one but the enemy will ever teach you how to destroy and conquer. Only the enemy shows you where you are weak. Only the enemy tells you where he is strong. And the rules of the game are what you can do to him and what you can stop him from doing to you. I am your enemy from now on. From now on I am your teacher.”  
“He could see Bonzo's anger growing hot. Hot anger was bad. Ender's anger was cold, and he could use it. Bonzo's was hot, and so it used him.” 

Orson Scott Card blasted onto the SF scene with this novel, and some people hold it in higher regard than any other SF novel ever written, and find the short story it was based off to be the best SF short story as well. I am not that enamored with Ender's Game, but I will definitely admit it is an excellent SF novel, a modern masterwork that can stand with the best of the genre. When reading Ender's Game, it can be tempting to declare it the best SF novel ever as you are reading it; it's philosophic content and overall atmosphere are, at times, that good. However when you consider novels ( that are, in my opinion superior) such as Dune, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Star Maker, etc. , things are put into perspective.
The New York Times reviewer who reviewed Ender's Game (right after a favorable review of his of Chapterhouse Dune), condemns Ender's Game as too violent. I can agree with this assessment for the most part. Ender, as a very young child, viciously kills several kids, although not without extreme provocation, and the author deals with these deaths in a strangely distant, slightly disturbing manner. When his actions, and his apparent genius are noticed by the government, Ender is sent to a military school for child geniuses to be trained to fight in the war against the alien Buggers. There, he excels, as evidenced by the justifiably famous sequences in the Battle Room, which are action-packed and fun to read. It soon becomes clear that Ender Wiggin is destined for greatness. The end sequence in which Ender is playing a game in front of an audience, unwittingly extinguishing an entire alien race, is excellent, and quite memorable.
Overall, I felt that the philosophizing in this novel is probably the reason why one would feel this novel to be the greatest SF of all time. It is really is excellent, especially in the Demosthenes and Locke sequences, in which Ender's siblings show that they too, are extraordinarily gifted in matters intellectual and specifically, the field of politics. Another excellent scene from this modern SF classic is the conversation near the lake, a break in the action that sticks in one's mind long after completing this novel.
Ender's Game is a great novel, and I'd recommend it to anyone, especially people with very little SF knowledge, just to show them how action-packed, philosophical, and just plain good SF can be. Is it overrated? Maybe a fraction of a hair: some rabid fans of the novel have already crowned it the greatest SF novel ever, which is the only reason that I am holding back on fully praising it, taking into account the long, illustrious history of science fiction as a genre. It's definitely a classic of the genre, but I don't think it is the singular best novel ever written in the genre. But, don't be put off by the cautionary nature of my past few statements; some evidently feel that Ender's Game is that good. So, in conclusion... I will ask this question of myself: It is still excellent? Hell yes. 

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