Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Two sf novels about the human race

I recently finished rereading Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Child geniuses train at a special school to command the Earth's space navy to defeat aliens and save the human race. Read it; it won the Hugo and the Nebula (the top two science fiction/fantasy awards) for its qualifying years, 1986. The only parts that feel a bit dated are, first, that the Cold War never ended, and second, two bloggers take over the world (this story was written as if the Internet existed and everyone used it all the time). The physics is also nonsense, but oh well.

I also recently read Spin by Robert Charles Wilson. The Spin makes time pass slowly in close proximity to Earth, scientists try to save the human race from being engulfed by the sun in 40 Earth-years. Read it; this is a newer novel that is up for the Hugo this year. The physics, again is nonsense.

The common thread in these novels is a certain sense of the human race and our Earth as small in the grand scheme of things. Ender's Game plays around with the morality of killing or being killed, and what atrocities we are willing to commit to ensure our survival as individuals and as a species. Spin, on the other hand, emphasizes how the human race is in the grip of forces it can no longer control. In a sense they call into question whether humanity is special, whether our species deserves to go on or to succumb to the inescapable logic of natural selection, natural extinction.

Novels like this can make you feel small as a human being; crushed, or humbled, in the face of time and space. You feel like your story is really insignificant, like the days and years of your three-score and ten are whipping by unstoppably. The present moment is so short, so ephemeral an opportunity to make our mark on existence for good, or evil, or physics.


Ian M. said...

I've read both Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. In fact, I liked them enough that I read several other books in the series and kept going even when they were less than good.

Have said that, OSC creeps me out a bit -- especially when he's interviewed.


Dan Lewis said...

It's totally true. In Xenocide and Children of the Mind, the LDS theology is coming a little hot and heavy. Trust me, it makes sense. Sort of. If you are a Mormon. Which I'm not. So yeah, it was really hard to read.

I haven't seen an OSC interview but I've poked around his web site for a bit. Militantly Mormon is the best way I can think of to put it. What put you off?