Here is a very respectful
by SF writer John Kessel which is suspicious of Card's motives. You should
read it; it's pretty good. I'll wait.
Back in the mid 1980's I knew a struggling SF author who managed to get a
few stories published and breached the threshold for membership in the
Science Fiction Writers of America (or SFWA), the SF writer's union. She
joined thinking it would help her fledgeling career.
In 1985 the big news in SF was Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's
Game, which had swept both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Accordingly,
my friend read it and passed it on to me, as she often passed
on books and magazines. I read it and saw how it would be compelling to
a certain mindset, but I didn't think it was all that good.
"So what did you think of it?" she asked me later.
She could get a bit passionate about stuff like that, so I let it drop.
As it happened, though, SFWA members vote on the Nebula awards, and Card's
Speaker for the Dead was out. Card's publisher helpfully sent all
SFWA members a free copy to help its chances of getting the Nebula like
Ender's Game had.
"I think I see why it's so popular, but the guy really doesn't write
"Well all it is is an apologia for Hitler. Sorry, but I don't buy that
argument. When I was a kid I heard every Sunday how Jesus would forgive Hitler if he
really really repented, but I say fuck that. Some things can't
be forgiven or redeemed."
One day I spotted it on her coffee table.
"Have you read that?"
So I took the book and read it. She was like that; if someone wanted
to write about forgiving Hitler she wasn't the type to complain. It's
a free country and all that. Just don't ask her to read past the point
where she figures it out.
"No, I don't plan to. It'll just be more of the same."
"Buzz is it's going to get another Nebula."
"Well if it does, my colleagues are idiots."
About fifty pages into Speaker I gave her a call.
"You are not
gonna believe this," I said. "Ender ends up on a planet settled by
If you click back to Kessel's Innocent Killer essay and scroll down to
the section titled The Guiltless Genocide you will see that Kessel
mentions an essay called Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for the Superman
by one Elaine Radford. Elaine was my writer friend and if you are among
the many people who hate that essay and want to blame someone for it, you
can blame me because it probably never would have been written had I not
let Elaine know that Ender wound up on Planet Brazil.
"And he's angling to prevent the genocide of the badly misunderstood
aboriginal natives of Planet Brazil. And it's hinting that he's gonna
pull some Buggers out of his ass before the end of the story."
"Wait a minute. You are telling me that if I wrote a story where Hitler
escapes to Brazil, prevents a massacre of some Native Americans, and then
raises a bunch of Jews from the dead, that this would be about parallel?"
"Well I'm only fifty pages in..."
"And they're going to give this crap a Nebula Award?"
"Well, it certainly looks that way."
"I think I'm going to need the book back," she said very evenly.
I later found her with three very thick biographies of Hitler, methodically
marking up her copies of Ender's Game and Speaker.
"Made any progress?
Still, writing an essay is not the same as getting it published, and I didn't
think anyone would be willing to publish Elaine's little rant. For one thing,
in 1986 Card was more than just a popular writer; he was also a deft
political animal. He was in fact a high mucky-muck in SFWA, and word was
that bad things happened to people who got on his bad side. Not necessarily
Italian mob style bad things, but bad things like not having a chance at
awards yourself and publishers shunning you.
"You wouldn't believe how close the parallels are. He rearranges some of
them to make Ender sympathetic, but everything ties in one way or
"Well, it's pretty clever in some ways."
"It's pretty damn sneaky. And if my colleagues want to vote to give
this fascist propaganda another award they can do it, but if I have anything
to do with it they will at least know what it is first."
Elaine was a small enough wheel not to care about that sort of thing, but
I doubted she would find a publisher. Little did I know that the always
struggling rag Fantasy Review was planning to close its doors, and
when Elaine's manuscript and inch-thick documentation pack landed on his
desk the publisher decided to go out with a bang.
A couple of weeks later I got a call from her.
"I need your help. I just got off the phone with Card."
One of the perks she got as a SFWA member was a nice little directory with
all the other SFWA members' phone numbers. Of course, all the
other SFWA members got it too, and one of those phone numbers was hers.
Fantasy Review had quite sensibly vetted Elaine's article to Card, and
Card reacted by calling Elaine, who reacted by freaking out, because that's
not how you react to literary criticism if you have any sense at all.
"Orson Scott Card. I stalled him but I don't want to talk to him
without a witness. Can you get over here?"
So I arranged to be there and listen in to what I later came to realize was
something of an historic moment in modern science fiction, as Card tried
to talk Elaine out of publishing her essay. It was a long call. He called
her essay trash and a "hatchet job" and demanded to know what she had
against him personally. She kept herself together and responded that she
didn't have anything against him personally, didn't know him, and didn't
want anything from him; she was writing about the words he had written and
published. He came up with several rationalizations in a row to which she
kept saying, "but I don't know about any of that; all I can really use to
judge your words is your words themselves." In the end he was very agitated
and whipped out his worst threat:
"Well you realize I can't just let this stand. I'm going to have to rebut
this. If Fantasy Review wants to publish this hatchet job they will
have to publish my response too."
It took some effort for me to keep from laughing out loud as Card sputtered
on past this point; it didn't seem to have occurred to him that Elaine would
not mind having her accusations answered. She really was writing
about the words and not the man. That's the kind of person Elaine was.
That Card thought the threat of a rebuttal might make her retract her own
essay says a great deal about Card's character, IMO.
"I'd expect that. That would be very fair."
So anyway just as FR had vetted Elaine's article to Card, they vetted Card's
response to Elaine. And this is where the story gets strange. Card's
response was completely incoherent. In several places he denied that things
are in the novel which are not only in the novel, but Elaine had footnoted
them with page numbers. It's as if someone challenged me on the novel I
would write six years later and I would respond "Incest? What incest? There
isn't any incest in Prime Intellect."
I'd link Elaine's article at this point for you to read and judge for yourself,
but I'm pretty sure she has never put it online. Besides which, it isn't
really damningly complete without Card's half-coherent blustering
rantback, which isn't hers to republish. Both articles were later reprinted
by Literary Review, though, which is one of the reference collections
carried by most libraries. So if you have one of those places where they keep
a lot of these paper things called "books" printed on dead trees, a librarian
should be able to find them for you without much trouble.
At first it didn't seem that there was much fallout from Elaine's little
rant. She forgot about it and went on with her life. Speaker for the Dead
won its Nebula award. Fantasy Review went out of business, and the
whole affair pretty much stayed bottled up among the professional writers
Then a funny thing happened. The sequel to Speaker never appeared.
Speaker ended on a cliffhanger with Ender waiting for a fleet to arrive
and shag his sorry ass, and everyone assumed Card would write the third book
and go for the Hugo/Nebula Trifecta in 1987. Instead, he started a whole different
series and didn't get around to writing the Ender sequel until
1992. What the hell was up with that?
While Elaine was researching her essay, we speculated on what his motives
might be. Her worldview was strongly informed by being raised among
fundamentalist Christian nutjobs, which explains part of her anger.
She felt Card was building a deliberate fraud, an artifice which seemed to
be one thing but was in fact something else, and that when the third book
had won its round of awards he would pull the SF community's pants down
and reveal that they had given their imprimateur to one of the most
controversial and difficutlt to accept tenets of his religion -- which
would, of course, be a massive propaganda coup for the Mormon Church.
I tended (and still tend) to agree with this, but if the Hitler Hypothesis
offends you I'm afraid I'm about to do her one better. You see, I'm not
very convinced that Card even wrote the books.
On the phone and in his incoherent published reply, Card repeatedly shows
ignorance of what he himself purportedly wrote. I simply cannot
imagine how you could write such a stunningly well crafted piece of work
(inasmuch as it is wildly popular and deeply affects people) without
being aware of every fibre and splinter of its composition. About the
third or fourth time I heard Card say something wasn't in his book that
I knew was, I began to suspect that it was more of a committee effort.
Notice that even John Kessel distances himself from the Hitler Hypothesis
even though he draws many of the same conclusions Elaine does. Card
manages to sound very convincing when he says Hitler was never on his
mind and that it's Elaine who has the Hitler obsession; I think he's so
convincing because he wasn't in on the joke himself. Elaine's
essay may have been as much a revelation to him as it was to anyone else.
I've seen Elaine's notes and heard Card on the phone, and there is no doubt
in my mind that the Hitler Hypothesis is correct; it is simply impossible
that Ender's Game and Speaker were written by someone who did
not have a very detailed knowledge of Adolph Hitler's life. There are
very exact parallels in there that you wouldn't even notice unless you
read the footnotes to the most detailed Hitler biographies. I also
tend to believe that Card does not have that level of knowledge about
Hitler. Ergo, it is very hard for me to believe that he wrote the books.
The assumption that he did not explains a great many otherwise mysterious
Once Elaine blew their cover, the committee might have decided the game was
up and left Card out to dry. This would be why it took years for him
to get around to finishing the story, and why when he did many of his fans
complained it was inferior to his earlier work.
Card made it very clear in interviews in the 1980's that he was doing God's
work with his writing. In essence he was the anti-Iain Banks; instead of
reclaiming SF for liberalism, he was reclaiming it for moral absolutism.
And he was doing it by being sneaky. Kessel nicely explains some of this
sneakiness even without admitting the Hitler Hypothesis. Ender Wiggin,
it turns out, is more than anything else one of the nice young men with
the suits and ties and bicycles who just knocked on your door and who
would like to talk with you about important matters of salvation and
eternity. Except that he's dressed in a pizza delivery uniform and not
admitting his real purpose.
Earlier I said that there was a sense that bad things happen to people
who cross Orson Scott Card. A few months after the FR article appeared
and the mini-shitstorm spent itself, Elaine got an invitation to appear
as a guest at a local science fiction convention. The invite specifically
mentioned "doing something about all this Fascism in science fiction."
She wasn't really sure about it, so she asked me to go with her.
So we drove to a nearby city and did the honored guest thing, drinking
the free booze and eating the free munchies throughout the day. The
culmination of the evening was a party in Robert Adams' suite. I had
never heard of Adams, but he wrote a fairly popular manly-man rape &
pillage fantasy series called "Horseclans." He was there with another
SF writer whose name you would recognize less from his SF than from
a popular column he wrote for a computer magazine.
As Admiral Ackbar might have warned us, it was a trap. We did not know
that Adams and his friend had a fondness for what one might call
physical entertainment, and that I had been volunteered to be their
punching bag for the evening. One of the organizers tried to warn
Elaine but I was buzzed and having a good time and I was in no mood
Suddenly, the crowd parted and I was grabbed and I found myself staring,
drink in one hand and other hand in pocket, at Robert Adams as he drew
back his fist. I was barely registering that I was about to be
punched when, at odds of more than 8 million to one, I was
rescued. Specifically, Elaine placed herself between Adams and me.
Adams showed no sign of holding his punch, but the crowd which had
obviously been quite willing to watch me take it did not seem to be
quite so willing to watch him whale away on a girl.
The fans pulled Adams back and the convention organizers sensibly responded
by kicking Elaine and me out of the convention. Which was just
as well; she shortly quit SFWA and science fiction in general and went
on to explore other avenues. I have never been to another SF convention
and I seriously doubt she has, either.
Of course this attempted assault may have had nothing to do with Card, but
it's obvious it had everything to do with Ender and Hitler: Sympathy for
the Superman. I would probably find the irony much less delicious if
Adams had in fact punched me. Card wrote a justification for anyone who
ever has a violent thought; Elaine called him on it. And the ultimate
reaction to her callout was violence.
From my ever-more-cynical vantage point almost twenty years in the future,
I look at my former self and shake my head sadly. Such a schmuck. But
people do learn, and I learned something from Elaine Radford during those
interesting days. When you see evil, especially when it wears
a smiling and angelic face, you must call it out. And you must
deal with the consequences of calling it out, which can be bad. Because the
consequences of not calling it out could be infinitely worse.
So, For Your Information, Orson Scott Card has always been an asshat.
Keep it in mind.