Any discussion of Orson Scott Card's work must necessarily begin with religion. A devout Mormon, Card believes in imparting moral lessons through his fiction, a stance that sometimes creates controversy on both sides of the fence. Some Mormons have objected to the violence in his books as being antithetical to the Mormon message, while his conservative political activism has gotten him into hot water with liberal readers.
Whether you agree with his personal views or not, Card's fiction can be enjoyed on many different levels. And with the amount of work he's produced, there is something to fit the tastes of readers of all ages and stripes. Averaging two novels a year since 1979, Card has also managed to find the time to write hundreds of audio plays and short stories, several stage plays, a television series concept, and a screenplay of his classic novel Ender's Game. In addition to his science fiction and fantasy novels, he has also written contemporary fiction, religious, and nonfiction works.
Card's novel that has arguably had the biggest impact is 1985's Hugo and Nebula award-winner Ender's Game. Ender's Game introduced readers to Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, a young genius faced with the task of saving the Earth. Ender's Game is that rare work of fiction that strikes a chord with adults and young adult readers alike. The sequel, Speaker for the Dead, also won the Hugo and Nebula awards, making Card the only author in history to win both prestigious science-fiction awards two years in a row.
In 2000, Card returned to Ender's world with a "parallel" novel called Ender's Shadow. Ender's Shadow retells the events of Ender's Game from the perspective of Julian "Bean" Delphinki, Ender's second-in-command. As Sam to Ender's Frodo, Bean is doomed to be remembered as an also-ran next to the legendary protagonist of the earlier novel. In many ways, Bean is a more complex and intriguing character than the preternaturally brilliant Ender, and his alternate take on the events of Ender's Game provide an intriguing counterpoint to fans of the original series.
In addition to moral issues, a strong sense of family pervades Card's work. Card is a devoted family man and father to five (!) children. In the age of dysfunctional family literature, Card bristles at the suggestion that a positive home life is uninteresting. "How do you keep ‘good parents' from being boring?" he once said. "Well, in truth, the real problem is, how do you keep bad parents from being boring? I've seen the same bad parents in so many books and movies that I'm tired of them."
Critical appreciation for Card's work often points to the intriguing plotlines and deft characterizations that are on display in Card's most accomplished novels. Card developed the ability to write believable characters and page-turning plots as a college theater student. To this day, when he writes, Card always thinks of the audience first. "It's the best training in the world for a writer, to have a live audience," he says. "I'm constantly shaping the story so the audience will know why they should care about what's going on."
Card brought Bean back in 2005 for the fourth and final novel in the Shadow series: Shadow of the Giant. The novel presented some difficulty for the writer. Characters who were relatively unimportant when the series began had moved to the forefront, and as a result, Card knew that the ending he had originally envisioned would not be enough to satisfy the series' fans.
Although the Ender and Shadow series deal with politics, Card likes to keep his personal political opinions out of his fiction. He tries to present the governments of futuristic Earth as realistically as possible without drawing direct analogies to our current political climate. This distance that Card maintains between the real world and his fictional worlds helps give his novels a lasting and universal appeal.
Back to Top
Card took a few moments to answer some of our questions about reading and life.
What was the book that influenced your life the most, and why?
The Book of Mormon. Mark Twain was wrong. It isn't chloroform in print. But, like most books, it can't survive a hostile reading. My reading as a child was not hostile. I found the stories gripping and morally challenging. Though I was not conscious of the influence as I started writing, in retrospect the motifs and stylistic quirks I picked up from the Book of Mormon are obvious. I'd like to think it has influenced my life a great deal more than it has influenced my writing.
What are your ten favorite books, and why?
I have hundreds of favorite books. Here is a sample:
- Complete Shakespeare. As a theatre student and then once again as a missionary in Brazil I read through all the plays and sonnets. Shakespeare taught us all how to characterize -- every character acts as if he were the hero of his own story, which is how they become believable and complicated. (My first exposure, though, was as a child reading the Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb - that book certainly is part of why I love Shakespeare.
- The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. Though it begins slowly, it is a story that gives an experience of true nobility and greatness. In our time, when nobility is sneered at and greatness is not even tried for by those who supposedly lead us, I can return to Tolkien to see what stirs the soul.
- The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. I was too young when I read this book the first time, and the account of Nazi Germany was almost unbearably painful. In my innocence I had not known what human beings were capable of. The book did not, however, answer the true mystery: Why did Hitler do what he did, and why did the German people follow him? Much of my writing has been an attempt to answer those questions.
- Almost Human: A Journey into the World of Baboons by Shirley Strum. This powerfully written account of baboon behavior -- and the behavior of humans who call themselves scientists -- has illuminated my understanding of human behavior.
- Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond. I don't know how anyone can write fiction anymore without first having read this book for a grounding in the roots of history, the forces that shape what a society can become.
- I Sing the Body Electric by Ray Bradbury. This story collection showed me what it means to write oral fiction -- fiction that must be read aloud for the full music to be heard.
- Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea, and Pitcairn's Island, by Charles Nordhoff and James N. Hall. The tragedy of the first and third books broke my heart when I first read them; but this work remains a seminal force in my life, being the strongest account I read in my youth of what happens to people when societies collide. It also showed me what heroes in fiction must be -- complicated men and women whose motives are never pure and whose actions have many results, both good and bad. The story of Bligh showed most importantly that great good can be done by bad man; or perhaps great evils by good ones.
- The Lost Country Life by Dorothy Hartley. This book is an exquisitely detailed recounting of the life of the people in a medieval English village through the full calendar of the year. It allowed me to understand just how complex the "simple life" can be, and has shaped not only my fantasy writing but all my world creation.
- The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. This sweeping epic is the great masterwork of science fiction. It was because of this book that I first set my hand to writing fiction myself.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. No one has ever done a better job of showing all the flaws in a society that the author nevertheless loved, and showing that fiction can do many jobs at once.
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. A powerful novel that is as pivotal in its role in American literature as Huckleberry Finn -- and with similar achievements in terms of illuminating black/white relationships in American life. There are those who complain about Mitchell's depiction, but they reflected the beliefs of her time just as surely as the complaints reflect the beliefs of our time. We are all creatures of our own culture, but Mitchell rose above hers and was able to comment on it with brilliance and passion.
My favorite film of all time is A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt. The closest runners up would probably be Gandhi, A Lion in Winter, It's a Wonderful Life, and Good-bye Mr. Chips. All these films show how individuals change the world, even when they don't believe it themselves. Yet in all of them, the individuals are keenly aware of the community they live in and their lives only have meaning because of what they did for and with their people.
My tastes are very eclectic. I like the best of almost everything, though the music itself is very important to me, so that repetitive or chanted musics like rap and hip-hop and disco generally leave me cold (with a few exceptions). My Rio Riot contains country, classical, Broadway, film soundtracks, rock, pop, Brazilian, Latin-American, folk, ambient, jazz, and classic pop (e.g., Cole Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers, Hart, etc.)
If you had a book club, what would it be reading, and why?
Everyone would be reading whatever they wanted. I'm not a joiner.
Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?
Limiting my choices to writers who are still alive and putting out new books:
- Richard Russo, Anne Tyler: The writer's particular vision nevertheless takes place in a complex and fully created community, and the characters are connected with family.
- Walter Mosley, Sharyn McCrumb, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block, Michael Connelly, and many others write mysteries that are some of the best evocations of our contemporary society. I believe the best "mainstream" writing in America today is happening in the mystery genre.
- Robin Hobb, Tanith Lee, George R. R. Martin, Diana Wynne Jones, Peter Dickinson, J. K. Rowling. In the fantasy genre, nobody's doing it better. Their fantastic worlds illuminate the real one; they show the workings of societies and cultures with depth and understanding.
- William Manchester, Stephen E. Ambrose. They write their history and biography with depth, creativity, and integrity. Without biographers and historians, my fiction writing would be impossible.
Back to Top
|Orson Scott Card Home
|In Our Other Stores|
Signed, First Editions by Orson Scott Card|
|Saintspeak: The Mormon Dictionary, 1982|
|Hart's Hope, 1983|
|Ender's Game (Ender Series #1), 1985|
|Speaker for the Dead (Ender Series #2), 1986|
|Seventh Son (Alvin Maker Series #1), 1987|
|Red Prophet (Alvin Maker Series #2), 1988|
|Characters and Viewpoint, 1988|
|Prentice Alvin (Alvin Maker Series #3), 1989|
|The Folk of the Fringe, 1989|
|How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, 1990|
|Maps in a Mirror, 1990|
|The Worthing Saga, 1990|
|The Memory of Earth (Homecoming Series #1), 1992|
|Lost Boys, 1992|
|The Call of Earth (Homecoming Series #2), 1992|
|Storyteller in Zion: Essays and Speeches, 1993|
|The Ships of Earth (Homecoming Series #3), 1994|
|Earthfall (Homecoming Series #4), 1995|
|Earthborn (Homecoming Series #5), 1995|
|Alvin Journeyman (Alvin Maker Series #4), 1995|
|Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, 1996|
|Children of the Mind, 1996|
|Treasure Box: A Novel, 1996|
|Stone Tables, 1997|
|Heartfire (Alvin Maker Series #5), 1998|
|Ender's Shadow, 1999|
|Magic Mirror, 1999|
|Sarah: Women of Genesis, 2000|
|Rebekah: Women of Genesis, 2001|
|Shadow of the Hegemon, 2001|
|Shadow Puppets, 2002|
|First Meetings: In the Enderverse, 2003|
|The Crystal City (Tales of Alvin Maker Series), 2003|
|Shadow of the Giant, 2005|
|Magic Street, 2005|
|Red Prophet: The Tales of Alvin Maker Volume 1, 2007|
|Invasive Procedures, 2007|
|A War of Gifts: An Ender Story, 2007|