A couple of weekends ago, I had a bit of time to revisit a book that I had last picked up while I was in High School: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. It’s been one that I’ve long wanted to revisit, and since the time that I last cracked it open, I’ve graduated from college with two degrees in history: one specifically in military history, which has given me a unique view on the intersection between military science fiction and how militaries function in the real world.
There were three things that really jumped out at me while reading the novel: the use and conception of technology at the time, the degree to which bullying and power played into the plot, and the way in which military tactics and strategy was used.
Reading Ender’s Game in 2011 was an experience that comes right out of the book, and from the perspective of a young high school kid back in 2001, the future has certainly crept up on us slowly, but certainly.
The obvious points is in the use of technology in everyday lives: the students learned and interacted with one another via desks. Reading the book just a couple of weeks ago on an iPad, I was struck at how dead on Card conceptualized the use of portable computers: students bring them with one another, send and receive messages, read, write and learn their lessons on something that could easily be an iPad or similar computer.
More than the physical objects that the characters interact with (after all, small, portable computers have been used in science fiction novels for ages), the way in which they interact with one another was also surprisingly familiar: the internet. Some of the details are slightly off, such as the degree to which people can be restricted from accessing certain contents, but what Card described in 1985 with Peter and Valentine’s rise to power is identical to that of bloggers and the abilities to which they can voice opinions on their own, rather than voicing the opinions of a large organization.
What Card seems to have done was conceptualize not the technology, but how people do to interact with one another regardless of how they’re hooked up. The introduction of the internet, social media and interactive media hasn’t fundimentally changed how we do things, but represents a natural expression of technology and human interactions.
It’s interesting to read the book after seeing the rise of such major changes from the ground level. In 2001, I saw the power of the news by watching the headlines change during September 11th, and again with the explosion in activity following the killing of Osama Bin Laden on Twitter. Reading Peter and Valentine’s strategy to fulminate support during uncertain political times is strongly reminiscent of very notable people in the media today: political bloggers that capture a significant audience and have whom have the ability to push their own agenda towards solving problems that they see.
The use and conceptualization was one of the surprising highlights of Ender’s Game that I’d not readily remembered or expected when returning to the story, but it was a welcome one. While science fiction has more misses when it comes to predicting the future than accurate predictions, Card certainly got a major part of our lives right.