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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Discussions About Orson Scott Card » Empire. For Those Who Don't Get It. With Spoilers.

   
Author Topic: Empire. For Those Who Don't Get It. With Spoilers.
docmagik
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I finally had a trip out of town this week, and since it seems that the only way I can ever finish a book is if I'm trapped in an airplane for hours on end.

So I've finally read Empire.

And I've finally read all the threads I've been studiously avoiding since the book came out, until I got a chance to read it.

Wow. I do have to say, some of you aren't getting it.

And I want you to get it. I really, really do. So I'm going to be as pretentious in telling you the mistakes you're making that are keeping you from getting it as you are in telling Card the mistakes he made that kept you from getting it.

So let me clarifly.

This book is not about any one ideology.

I know, that's hard for some of you to believe. You see that most of the heros are military/establishment types, that the President-in-waiting is a conservative, and that he's made out to be a pretty good guy, and that there are words in there that you know that people who hate liberals use.

Ergo, the book is anti-liberal.

But it's not.

Remember what Mrs. Malich kept saying--it could have been the red staters. It could have been the red staters.

The heros in the book were not heros because of their conservatism, and their allegiance to the ideologies of conservatism. They were heros because of their allegiance to America and democracy, and their desire to preserve unity rather than foster divisiveness.

The reason why the enemies had to be liberal, was because the government that was being rebelled against was conservative. And that's only because it's a "current events" kind of book, and the current government was conservative when it was written.

Was Mrs. Malich makes clear is that, given a different situation, it would have been red staters rising up against a liberal government.

Now some are saying this doesn't make any sense, either because Americans aren't ready to start shooting at each other yet, or because they belive that to have one side start shooting doesn't neccessarily lead to the other side having to start, the way Card suggests in his afterword.

An example that keeps cropping up is Oklahoma City. People say that left wing groups didn't pop up to rebel against right wing groups and start blowing them up back.

And that's true--but remember, there was also serious talk in the halls of congress about reigning in conservative talk radio--essentially, quieting the first amendment--because it would lead to more Oklahoma style bombings. Only when more bombings didn't come did such talk cease--had more bombings come, what "talk" might have eventually become action? And how much would that have confirmed the beliefs of those who believe bombings are neccessary?

And so the cycle continues, fueled by those who believe their ideas are more important than the free flow of ideas.

And that's the difference between the extremist (the fanatic), and the moderate. It is not the conviction of their beliefs. It is whether they believe that the free exchange of ideas is more important than seeing their own ideas be implimented.

(Incidently, that's the definition that includes what both Tom and Survivor were trying to say. Survivor was right, because it means you're willing to accept a compromise, beause that's what being in a free society requires. Tom is right because it means you can still have the absolute strength of your conviction, no matter where that is.)

Now ultimately, belief that the other side has crossed this line is what promps a side to feel they may have to resort to less democratic means of making their will known.

For the left, it happens when someone can win the popular vote and not get elected, when voters can be disenfranchised and elections can be stolen. Democracy doesn't work.

For the right, it happens when a court overturns something that they feel the people voted into law. Democracy doesn't work.

Lump that together with the rhetoric that the other side isn't just misguided or mistaken or misinterpreting the facts, but that they're liars (something every President in my lifetime has been called), dumb (both Bush and Clinton have been called Hillbillies, despite fantastic educations), and downright evil.

With that combination--dehumanization of the other side, and the belief that they are keeping the true order of democracy from being exercised, people will act, once the reason becomes strong enough.

And the other side will respond, even the moderates. Because even though they might not feel their politics were worth taking up a gun for, once thier family's life is being threatened, they will take up a gun to defend it.

And here's the crux--in reality, all they have to do is be made to believe their family's life is being threatened by the other side for them to be willing to do what's neccessary to defend it.

So obviously, this means the true message of Card's book is pro-moderate. Right?

Actually, no.

Because by the time you get to the end, you realize that it's through appealing to the moderates that the genuine Empire builder has come to power. In the end, he is nearly unanimously elected by a huge swath of moderates who are so moderate, they care nothing for any of his positions on any of the real issues. He never reveals them, and they never demand them.

And the great, unanswered question that leaves at the end of the book is, is that the right choice? Is it really better to accept any ideology, in the name of unity?

There's a very good possiblility that at the end, it's by appealing to "moderation" that the biggest baddie of all was able to take over.

See, that's the Card I know and love. The one who says that there are ways to be screwed over no matter which way you turn.

So why is it so hard for everybody to see that?

Why are so many people feeling this book is just partisan rhetoric? Is Card using all of this, as one poster suggested, as a framework to create characters who can finally voice partisan things he's been dying to get in front of the reader, but couldn't in his essays?

Hardly.

As has been pointed out by others, it is precisely the feelings Card talks about in his afterword that is causing everyone to feel the book is so slanted. We've reached a point where it is all but impossible for a book or a movie or a person to be anything but down-the-line red or down-the-line blue.

To a red, anything that speaks of blue ideas with anything but contempt is obviously pure blue. Any positive refrences to red ideas in those works are simply lip service.

And in this book, vice versa. Because Card has chosen to display some red characters as real people, with good intentions, he's obviously trying to express sympathy with Red State ideas.

And don't forget that Republican President from Idaho who takes over, who is portrayed as a pretty good guy. Never mind that he's actually not much of a President, that he has to be reminded by Cole that the General's ideas are bad, despite the inanity of the General. Never mind that the whole rest of the book he's basically still just a shill for Torrent. He's not portrayed as Evil and Rotten, so obviously, Card is just too sympathetic to the Republicans.

Oh, what, that Democrat lady? Well, she's able to get along with those red staters and even work with a red state President, she's just a DINO, a Democrat In Name Only, despite repeated refrences to her disliking the former Republican president, and her constantly reminding the jeesh that red staters could just have easily been the rebels. She's not a real, hardcore Democrat, because she's not telling them how wrong, wrong, wrong they are all the time. She's shown as communicating with them in terms they understand and relate to.

Now, I am not saying that the percieved attacks on the left are imagined. They are absolutely not. But in this book Card does not attack the specifics of the left wing agenda. For the most part, he stays away from actually discussing the fine points of either side's political views.

But because we're so used to lumping everything together, we've dulled our ability to actually hear the specifics of what's being said. To attack any part of a political structure is to attack the entirety, to defend any part is to accept the whole thing.

Thus, the very specific criticisms Card makes of the Left are lumped in with every other critism of the left the reader has ever read. The reaction is simply, "What, Card doesn't like us either?"

Here is my advice. Know that Card accepts the left enough that he more readily identifies himself as Democrat than as a Republican. Know that Card is not uninformed (Go listen to this interview if you want a reminder of all the sources Card goes to for news--more than most of us probably have time for, I'm sure). Know that he does not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and that what he believes he is pointing at is bathwater.

He still loves the baby.

****

And, even with all that said, one more thing it helps to remember, with regard to reading fiction.

Let me tell a personal story.

When I was just starting to write fiction, I read a story that a friend of mine wrote, and I gave it back to him for suggestions. One of the things I told him was that I didn't buy the husband and wife were in love with each other. They just didn't feel connected. That it wasn't until a couple of scenes at the very end that I even bought that these two people cared about each other much at all.

He told me, gently, that that was the point. In writing the story, he was thinking of a couple of people who he knew that had just gotten married but seemed wrong for each other.

What I was taking for a fault of the author was actually a fault of the character the author had portrayed.

It is an entirely different thing to say, "I disagree with Cole's thoughts in Empire because . . . (XYZ)" than it is to say "Card made a mistake in Empire because Cole thinks . . . (XYZ)."

****

One more caveat.

Just as it's easy for people who hear a criticism of their political party to assume that the Speaker automatically assumes every other criticism of their party is equally valid, I know it's going to be easy for people who said they had non-political problems with Empire to think I'm somehow speaking to them.

I remember vauguely that this happened when Card posted the first few chapters online. Someone posted criticisms of the dialogue as sounding stilted, and then when people started defending the book's politics, they thought they were being lumped in with the book's political detractors.

I assure you, I don't mean you. Card preaches seeking "Reader Response" criticism in his writing books, and correctly says that whatever experience you had when you read the book IS the experience you had when you read the book. No one can argue that. If you found a stretch boring or if you found a part unbelievable or if you thought the dialogue was stilted, there is no arguing that you found it that way. That WAS your experience.

However, I will give you a little etiquitte tip. Just as there is no way in the world that anyone can possibly argue that you found this part dull or that part to be more than you were willing to suspend your disbelief, and you absolutely have to say it, just say it that way. "This part felt ________ to me." Saying, "This part didn't work at all," or "This part Card just blew," is basically untrue and unneccesarily vicious.

On Hatrack, we encourage civility in responding to each other's posts. We should show at least as much civility in responding to the writings of our host.

(In my case, the dialogue absolutely worked for me. 24 is about the only show I watch on TV, and it was all I could do to keep from reading all of Rube's lines with Keifer Sutherland's voice. But IIRC, the poster back then even aknowledged not being that familar with the genre.)

By the same token, we're quick to call each other on it when we cross lines of civility in our dialogue with each other. Doesn't it make sense for us to be just as quick to call for civility when people cross those same lines as they discuss the man who's paying for the servers and bandwith?

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EricJamesStone
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Excellent analysis.
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pooka
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Bravo!
quote:
He still loves the baby.

Me too.
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BandoCommando
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Nicely done, doc.
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Liz B
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What clarity. Thank you.

And I think that it was Survivor who posted in an earlier thread how very frightening the ending is. I didn't really "get" the ending in that light until I read his post, and then it became completely obvious to me in a "I can't believe I didn't see that" kind of way. And once that became clear to me then I was able to see the politics of the entire book in a different light.

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Steev
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Excellent.

I especially liked the part where you say:
quote:
It is an entirely different thing to say, "I disagree with Cole's thoughts in Empire because . . . (XYZ)" than it is to say "Card made a mistake in Empire because Cole thinks . . . (XYZ)."


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Chris Phoenix
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Card has identified a real problem. "The worst are full of passionate intensity"--on both sides. And both sides have infrastructures to increase the intensity level (e.g. universities and talk radio).

But Card's writing, both in Empire and in his latest essay ("The Crisis of the Islamo-Fascist War"), seems to show that he partakes of that intensity. The self-reflective intelligent hero says, "You're forgetting that nobody cares what Europeans think except a handful of American intellectuals who are every bit as anti-American as the French." (p. 65)

Is that quote actually representative of a moderate thoughtful right-winger these days? I really hope not! But if not, why did Card put it in? Could it be that he's drunk more Kool-aid than he realizes? Card's many potshots at the Left are not what the book is about--I agree with you on that point. But they are certainly a major part of the book, worth complaining about in my opinion. Worth avoiding. I would not recommend the book to anyone.

By contrast, I would recommend the Afterward to everyone, even though I don't agree with its scenario of disagreement tipping into violence.

As far as whether government should restrict free speech: government does not allow speech for the purpose of committing crime. Inciting to terrorism certainly qualifies. As I said in the "partisan language" thread, if the Left prevents the state from silencing the most extreme clerics of _minority_ religions, or the Right prevents the state from silencing the most extreme clerics of _majority_ religions, then we may be in trouble.

I'm quite confused by two statements of yours that sem contradictory: "But in this book _Card does not attack the specifics of the left_ wing agenda. .... To attack any part of a political structure is to attack the entirety, to defend any part is to accept the whole thing. Thus, the _very specific criticisms Card makes of the Left_ are lumped in with every other critism of the left the reader has ever read."

Chris

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docmagik
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I understand the contradiction those might imply.

Basically, what I mean by agenda is their "politics"; where they stand on the issues. This is what I'm asserting he tries to leave alone.

His specific criticisms of the extreme left are more about their means of persuing those goals, their feelings about the right, their "attitudes," etc.

In other words, the criticisms are more about means, not ends.

Hope this helps.

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JLM
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quote:
Originally posted by Chris Phoenix:
The self-reflective intelligent hero says, "You're forgetting that nobody cares what Europeans think except a handful of American intellectuals who are every bit as anti-American as the French." (p. 65)

Is that quote actually representative of a moderate thoughtful right-winger these days? I really hope not!
Chris

I quote from Ferris Bueller, "I did have a test today. That wasn't bull****, but it was on European socialism. I'm not European. I don't plan on being European. So gives a crap if they're socialists. They could be faciast anarchists for all I care. It still doesn't change the fact that I don't own a car."

So, I would genrally have to say that about 80% of the US population really doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks.

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Chris Phoenix
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Yes, that helps. Thanks.

I think Card doesn't see that the Right is as bad as the Left in its means. OK, slight asymmetry: the Left "hates America" and the Right "hates Americans" (who are too different).

Any group that is proud of being "dittoheads"... any group that thinks Iraq attacked us on 9/11, thanks to "fair and balanced" news... certainly has some criticism of their own to absorb. Card never delivers it. That's annoying, to say the least, to half his potential audience. Card could have had whats-her-name get in a few specific criticisms of the Right's means, and he never did. Just the generic "Remember, it could have been either side who blew up the country."

Chris

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Chris Phoenix
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20% is more than a handful. And most of those 20% aren't anti-American. Many of them do criticize America, and then the wingnuts on the Right accuse them of hating America.

Chris

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Steev
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Just as long as we all realize that it's the wingnuts who are doing all of the hateful rhetoric that we hear from both sides.

And the wingnuts are a minority, however, it's easy to forget that because the media seems to give them all of the attention.

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pooka
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You don't have to be a wingnut to think Iraq attacked us on 9/11, you have to be stupid. Why would Card devote time to them? Sadly, a specimen of similary stupid left wing misconception is not coming to mind. Maybe that's okay. Maybe our problem is the tendency to try to match any stupidity of my side to something stupid on the other side. It's a practice that locks us into mediocrity. Well, I actually did now think of something but it's too late because I'm up on this stupid high road now. :throws spitballs off the high road:
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Nikisknight
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quote:
Sadly, a specimen of similary stupid left wing misconception is not coming to mind. Maybe that's okay. Maybe our problem is the tendency to try to match any stupidity of my side to something stupid on the other side. It's a practice that locks us into mediocrity. Well, I actually did now think of something but it's too late.
Let me guess, the whole "9/11 was an inside job" gang?
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Scooter
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Great post Doc.

I just finished as well and had read some of the criticisms before I read it (mainly about how partisan it was--how conservative--how virtually all the heroes were conservative and foes liberal). I find such criticisms very simplistic and revealing. In part what they reveal (to me) is that some are not used to reading sympathetic characters that are conservative (and in some cases very conservative). Can't a character have an opinion that is just an opinion? Is it possible if not likely that people actually use highly-charged political language and have overly negative and unfair perceptions of other groups of people, but as a character is not also portrayed as some kind of monster? There are lots of opinions out there--and lots of good people who hold them.

Part of me wants to say "welcome to my world!" If I didn't watch TV shows, watch movies, or read things that didn't oversimplify the views and values of conservative, especially religious people, and make the most sympathetic characters as more liberal, I would practially have no reason to watch anything mainstream (probably more reading options--countles books out there, but still). In short, some of us are more used to filtering these things out and getting past them because we face it more often. I hope that doesn't sound arrogant--just an observation. I have been on both ends of it.

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LargeTuna
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Uncle Docmagic should review everything!!!

I know this is an old post but you're real smart and if you're still around on hatrack and see this think about it. You could put up an essay like Mr.OSC does, but put it as a post on the other side. It might give us the boost to end the temporary lull this site has taken on! [Wink] [Big Grin]

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Lyrhawn
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quote:
So, I would genrally have to say that about 80% of the US population really doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks.
Actually, I'd say that 50% of the country doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks when we're doing something they don't like, and 100% of the country gets pissed when we demand the world do something they refuse to do.

Most of the country expects the world to fall into line but doesn't give a damn about them when they want something from us. It's no wonder they ignore us as much as we ignore them, and frankly, the more China, India, Brazil and a couple others grow in power, the more we're going to play a backseat (well, sideseat) role, and the more coalitions and teamwork are going to matter. And the less our lone voice screaming for complicity is going to matter.

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Flaming Toad on a Stick
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You realize that that post is over a year old, right Adam?
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Constipatron
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Hmmm... I must say, a very interesting post. Though, personally I couldn't stomach Empire past the first book. Not because the potential issues were somewhat 'plausible' within the book; but comparatively to his other works, it didn't measure up. The issues might have merit, but they're hardly to the point we need to start panicking. As Card said afterward that it was plausible, I still caught a hint that within parenthetical, there was an undercurrent of “not likely”.
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Flaming Toad on a Stick:
You realize that that post is over a year old, right Adam?

I browsed through the thread, saw the post I responded to, posted my own response, THEN noticed the date...but at that point I didn't feel like deleting my post.

I was hoping no one would say anything. [Blushing]

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Qaz
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Thank you, docmagick.

I'll add that OSC, in his writing classes, advises writers to pick some political or religious perspective that *isn't* theirs, for their characters. I think this is so that the author doesn't just repeat his biases through the mouths of characters, but can actually get some good characterization done. An example of this is Lusitania. He could have made it Mormon; he made it Catholic.

Ursula K LeGuin took this another direction. In The Dispossessed, which still might be a little preachy, she made her whole world (the moon) very much like her politically -- and then she made them wrong!

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