06 December 2010

Read This Not That: Sci-fi Series Featuring Tiny Gifted Tacticians

Read THIS:



Editor's Note: As said in the title, these are both series. I've included the cover image for book one in each, but even if you start with book 5, Miles beats Ender. Here's why.

Both series feature small (child or midget) protagonists. Both protagonists win some pretty epic space battles, because both protagonists can plan tactics like we lowly humans can't even imagine. Both are plot-driven, but both take place in whole worlds that are carefully thought out; both series are full of underlying themes. But the similarities end there. Wordwrestler and Arcadian have worked together tirelessly to explain why we think you should spend time with Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, and not Card's Ender Wiggin Series. To give credit where it's due, and to give you an idea of the democratic ideals we here at FnBs represent, we give you the following dialogue which may (or may not) justify our recommendation.

Wordwrestler:  So!  Miles v. Ender. I don't want to imply that Ender isn't a compelling character. Those are good books.

Arcadian Sure. They’re not bad books.

Wordwrestler:  But you made the selection, so what was in your mind?

Arcadian:  Well. Bottom line, Bujold's books have more in back of them, without letting that “more” hold back the story. Miles lives in a world where genetic engineering is common, in all kinds of ways and at all kinds of levels, so Bujold gets to explore the same theme over and over without trying to Say Something with it. I feel like Card was trying to make A Point with Ender's Game and the sequels.

 Wordwrestler:  I agree. It's interesting, I first read Ender’s Game in college, and was drawn to it by that whole sense that there was a bigger world, more going on under the surface. But in the re-read, I'm surprised how heavy-handed that aspect is. Bujold, on the other hand, is much sneakier.

Arcadian: Yeah, I agree.

 Wordwrestler:  My friend Mare Ears says that several times over the course of the Vorkosigan books, events are revealed that make the reader re-examine the books as a whole, and certain other moments in particular. It's like a change in reference point. And that definitely happened with the latest book in the series.

 Arcadian:  Don’t tell me! I’m not there yet.

 Wordwrestler:  Not saying a word. But I think that's it.

 Arcadian:  What’s it?

 Wordwrestler:  The Ender books are like a conspiracy theorist's or narcissist's dream come true.

 Arcadian:  Elaborate.

Wordwrestler:  Ender really is at the center of the universe; he's a nexus, whereas Miles' books are from his point of view. He definitely affects many lives around him. But he is also affected. He's connected to other people in a deeper way than Ender.

 Arcadian:  Yes, I was just thinking the same thing in a different way.

 Wordwrestler:  And as Miles’ life progresses, he re-examines his life and his decisions, and other people bring him up short. So to speak.

Arcadian:  Heh. But it’s a huge contrast to Ender, who on the whole, is presented as a laudable character. Someone you're supposed to both admire and pity. He's amazingly smart and it's given him such a hard life, wah wah wah.

 Wordwrestler:  YES.

 Arcadian:  He gets away with his manipulation, even of you, the reader.

 Wordwrestler:  Because, poor him, he was so manipulated in turn.

 Arcadian:  Yeah. But Miles gets called on his manipulation all the time, and it has consequences. It wrecks some of his relationships, temporarily or permanently, and other characters call him on it. You as the reader are NOT supposed to feel sorry for him, even though he's actually got a tougher life than Ender does.

 Wordwrestler:  Right! He's human.

 Arcadian:  And he doesn't want your pity. Ender – Ender wants your pity.

 Wordwrestler:  When I started my reread, I noticed that Ender, at least as a child, is much more.... mechanical in his approach. I don’t remember Miles ever hurting someone badly just to make a point.

 Arcadian:  But to be fair, people don’t physically attack Miles the way some of them do Ender. I could see Miles doing the same thing if he had the physical strength and didn't have his father's support.

Wordwrestler: I think Miles is smarter.
 Arcadian:  Well, I think both Miles and Ender are so far on the right of the Bell Curve that it's hard to treat them like people. But the Miles books are at least about him being a person. Ender's books are about him doing things.

 Wordwrestler:  True. I mean, Ender is supposed to grow because of his experience as an agent of genocide, but really, it seems like he was Good all along. Not to be confused with Miles, who is a little punk right from the start.

 Arcadian:  He totally is.

 Wordwrestler:  But he's our little punk.  Our little brittle-boned punk.

 Arcadian:  Ender is like -- a thought experiment on how you can be Good and also Genocidal.

 Wordwrestler:  Yes. And the atonement quest he goes on feels like an essay on Redemption.

 Arcadian:  He reminds me of the innocent scientist character in Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. The guy who was smart enough to make a nuclear bomb but not smart enough to have figured out that he made a goddamn nuclear bomb.

 Wordwrestler:  We...kind of do hate Ender, huh?

 Arcadian:  I hate that I'm supposed to feel sorry for him. But I always liked Val best in that book anyway.

 Wordwrestler:  Ugh! She's such a goody-two-shoes.

 Arcadian:  She's smart, though. You don't exactly have much a pick of smart girls in the Ender books.

 Wordwrestler:  But she couldn't be the One because she's a girl and therefore, too soft. Which makes me want to punch Card in the neck a little bit.

 Arcadian:  I always interpreted it that they made a mistake, actually -- that she might have been badass enough, but they didn't find out until she started writing those columns.

 Wordwrestler:  I missed that bit.

 Arcadian:  Might be my imagination. I think it's like, barely implied, and I kind of ran with it, because I wanted to like her.

 Wordwrestler:  No, I think you're right. I've just forgotten.

 Arcadian:  Anyway, Miles is also better 'cause there are way more awesome girls.

 Wordwrestler:  Well, yeah! But I wonder how much of that is because LMB is kind of an awesome girl herself.  And Card is really, really, really not. Which brings me to the Problem of the Author. I'm not cutting the dude any slack, quite the contrary. But the weaknesses in Ender as a character and in the female characters in general are, I believe, directly related to the fact that the author has a pretty distressing worldview.

 Arcadian:  You're saying that if Card had a broader viewpoint and was more accepting of women in whatever way he might have written a stronger book?

 Wordwrestler:  YES.

 Arcadian:  Easy to agree with that – I hate Card’s worldview. But I also think every writer ever suffers from that problem.

 Wordwrestler:  Lack of awareness of one's own assumptions? I strongly disagree. I think the best writers are acutely aware of society's assumptions, and of their own.

 Arcadian:  But any writer, with a broader perspective, would write stronger books.

 Wordwrestler:  Oh, well, yes.

 Arcadian:  Some writers just know their perspectives are limited and some don't.

 Wordwrestler:  And Card is excessively narrow. Or at least has a bigger blind spot. But no book is perfect; Bujold took some heat for "fixing" Miles' disabilities. And she heard it.

 Arcadian:  I think LMB did awesome stuff when she made Miles sexy. And she fixed some things about his disabilities, but she gave him other weaknesses; his bones get better but he gets seizures in later books, and I love that. I really, really identify with her descriptions of that.

 Wordwrestler:  Yes. And it works against the whole SuperCrip! thing that's going on in the first couple of books.

Arcadian: Miles just grows up better. I think the other characters are better too. Like, Miles’s mom vs. Ender’s mom?

 Wordwrestler:  Ew. Not even a comparison.

 Arcadian:  And Tung is better than Graf.

 Wordwrestler:  So, is it Bothari v. Peter?

 Arcadian:  Protectors from the psychopath emporium. But again, Card makes Peter just Born Bad, while Bujold lets you see how Bothari got that way.

Wordwrestler: I am anti- the whole Born Bad idea.

Arcadian: Seriously. So, in conclusion, Miles > Ender. Any witty concluding bon mots?

Wordwrestler: I have no wit. Only bourbon.

Arcadian: I could use some of that. Anyway I think in some parts of the world the two are the same thing.


  1. How about the fork of the Ender series focusing on Bean, starting with Ender's Shadow? It's occasionally bizarre how willing countries are to hand over significant authority to teenagers, but I'd be interested to know what you think of Bean as the main character.

  2. I only read the first Bean book, and I kinda felt like I was supposed to feel sorry for him too. I think with all his books Card makes certain assumptions in his writing -- THIS is good, THIS is bad, you should feel THIS way about it -- and either Bujold doesn't do it so openly, or I agree more closely with her assumptions so I don't notice. Anyway I feel roughly the same about Bean as I do about Ender.

    If you do get a chance I wish/hope you'll pick up a Miles. I bet we would have a hellsa interesting conversation about it next time I see you. :)