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Author Topic: The Slough Of Despond
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In the Uncle Orson On The Fly forum, AlCar wrote the following note to OSC, and I just wanted to add my voice to their post:

I just received an e-mail with your short story <title redacted, just in case>. I hope this is just a story by a man in a bit of a funk and not a summary of what's going on in your life right now. Either way, as a long time reader and supporter, I wish you well and hope that things turn out OK and that you continue to live a long and happy life.
Agreed! I’ve been wondering how to bring up the subject myself - last year, the August 23rd review column on channel-surfing as therapy for depression, and the November 14th On The Fly note about being in the "slough of despond" has had me concerned for Uncle Orson for some time. [Frown]

Even aside from health issues, in the interview OSC did on the Lisa Valentine Clark show last November, he mentioned how he has struggled since poor Charlie Ben passed away in 2000, not to mention his parents in recent years. I was also so sorry to hear of Kathleen Bellamy’s passing as well. Very difficult times; I can’t imagine *any* kind of work (even something as potentially cathartic as fiction-writing) holding the *tiniest* candle to such things. It is a painful world we live in.


For the past month or so, I’ve actually been doing a pretty intensive reread of Card’s lesser-known work - his stuff deserves more scholarly attention than it has gotten, and I’d like to write a massive essay on the corpus one day. For instance, I just reread the entirety of reviews he did for Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, and — while I was making myself a nice booklist of intriguing-sounding titles to look up — I noticed he was ahead of the game in a lot of areas, predicting which authors were about to reshape the world.

As for the here-and-now, I’ve really been digging the most recent output. I thought the Extinct chapters were really cool, for instance - tense and tightly-written. I’ve also quite enjoyed the recent Ender short stories, including that Messenger short story from awhile back - Graff is one of my favorite characters (am I right in detecting a bit of an author surrogate?), and I can’t wait to read the final Ender book that ties up the two parallel timelines.

I thought the ending of Children Of The Mind was perfect, and I’ve always loved those final poetic lines about the Mothertree “bathed in light, heavy with fruit, festooned with blossoms, a perpetual celebrant of the ancient mystery of life” — OSC is an underrated environmentalist writer, and I’ve appreciated how he has returned to the theme of “trees of life” in multiple works, viewing it from different angles, such as the LDS-influenced Tree Of Life vision in Homecoming, as well as the intimate poems to his wife in An Open Book.

But the Descolada planet also seems ripe for the fascinating speculations on interspecies communication and evolution and what it means to be human that the Ender series is known for — and, $#@% the clueless critics, the more “talky and philosophical” entries, like Xenocide, are the best of the bunch! I can see all sorts of directions the story might go in, all of them intriguing: crazy cosmic macro-historical meaning-of-life, meet-your-creator Gene Wolfe Book Of The New Sun-esque sci-fi? Intimate family drama interspersed with the threat of biological warfare, ala Octavia Butler or Susan Palwick? Interstellar politics, like a sort of far-future M.J. Engh, or explorations of gender politics, like Pamela Sargent? So many possibilities!

And of course, I read Seventh Son when I was in 9th grade, back in the fall of 1999 (thanks for introducing me to William Blake and the Romantics, OSC!), so I’m definitely looking forward to Master Alvin, I don’t *care* when it comes out. [Smile]

Heck, I’m still hoping for the last Women Of Genesis books, and more stories in the Mithermages world that explore Westil in greater depth! The contemporary fantasy in Gatefather was great, but I’m also just as interested in the vast Silmarillion-esque history of Westil that’s been hinted at — not that I think Card would be interested in doing warmed-over Tolkien; rather, I think Hart’s Hope is one of his best books, and I’ve always longed for more Dark Fantasy in a similar “Song Of Ice And Fire” vein.

In the afterword to Children Of The Mind, OSC mentioned his uncompleted project “Genesis,” about primitive man surviving into the present, and there were rumors of “Pastwatch: Eden” that I assume covered some of the same territory - I hope Card finds a way to incorporate some of those ideas into a new story, as he did with the Neanderthal and Erectid sections in the Pathfinder trilogy; I loved the “colonizing a new world” parts of Shadows In Flight, which read as a bit like something of a Creation Myth for the science fiction age.

And I absolutely *loved* the chapters from Lost & Found that were sent out some time ago — I can’t wait to read that in book form when it comes out this fall, just a few days before my birthday, conveniently enough!


All that said, though, I cannot *stand* the distressingly callous and entitled mindset of some folk — such as those surrounding George R.R. Martin as he gets on in years, for example — where people seem to care more about Getting The Next Book than about the health and welfare of the individual soul doing the actual writing.

It’s always such a sacrifice to spend so much of our lives away from family, slaving away at work, and no matter how fulfilling that work might or might not be (whether as a writer or any other job) it’s never as important as Real Life.

So I guess my point with all this is that I just wanted to say thanks to OSC for all the years of reading. I know what depression can be like, and I hope he doesn’t think his work has been in vain. My parents divorced when I was a kid, and I had a bit of a rough childhood, and reading Ender or Alvin or Homecoming or Hart’s Hope or Wyrms or Maps In A Mirror or The Worthing Saga or Songmaster was often my only means of escape; they taught me a lot, and helped me not to lose faith in the importance of trying to create good marriages and families and communities.

For instance, ever since I was in Middle School, I’ve been inspired by OSC’s references to Kristine and their marriage; I can’t help but think that stories like Enchantment and Teacher’s Pest and Women Of Genesis and Homecoming and The Originist must draw on that foundation, and I always love seeing Kristine’s name honored in the acknowledgements section in the books. Kind of helps an old bachelor like me to maintain my faith that a good marriage CAN be created. (I really hope Card finds a way to publish that nonfiction “Marriage & Civilization” book he was writing years ago.)

I grew up with very few role models for a good marriage — I grew up in a low-income small town that had a lot of problems with drugs and alcohol and domestic violence, and I literally did not know anyone without divorced parents for many years — and OSC’s writing (in all his fiction, but also his non-fiction, as in the 2005 article he wrote about the Children Of Divorce) has always been a sort of guide for trying to create a successful partnership of my own. As I’m entering my early 30s, I’m still finding useful things in the books to apply to my life. Step and DeAnne’s marriage in Lost Boys, for instance, is one I continually come back to for inspiration, especially. Olhado and Jacqueline’s conversation with Valentine about family in Xenocide, too.

Mr. Card: You’ve mentioned in many interviews that your “darker” works like Hart’s Hope or Lost Boys were lesser-known but more personally significant; those are actually the books I’ve loved the *most*, when I really felt how the author’s soul was bleeding onto the page. I know you’ve expressed a bit of disdain for “edgy” stories, and authors using their books as therapy to work out their issues, but honestly, I’d totally welcome a blacker-than-midnight Jeremiad of a fantasy from the author of Hart’s Hope than any number of cheery happily-ever-afters from lesser novelists. My point is, if it might help relieve the slough of despond to write a bleak apocalyptic world-ender of a book, I say tell the critics to go to hell, and write it — there’s a market! [Smile]

On the other hand, if — as you’ve mentioned in a few interviews as well — writing a romantic screwball comedy, or a Jane Austen romance is what would help, I’d stand in line for that, too! [Smile] Self-publish it, if your publishers refuse to let you out of the genre box — A Town Divided By Christmas was great, and I did not mind that there was not a single spaceship involved.

On Quora, OSC has mentioned some of the “bleeding wounds in the family dynamic” from his upbringing, but also a lot of love there, too. Complicated things, families. He has also mentioned reading The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich when he was 10, which I deeply related to — in my generation, it was websites that showed uncensored war videos that provided the same shock to the system, and showed why we must build against the entropy and become Makers.

And I think Card is part of that cycle-of-life thing that he showed so well in Songmaster: a precocious young man learning his craft, then using it to bless others, and then teaching the next generation how to go about doing it themselves, their songs forever changed by his influence, just as Becca’s Loom in the Alvin Maker series is forever changed by each individual woven into the fabric, just as Theresa’s Web Of Life in the Ender series is changed by every couple who decides, like Bean and Petra, to turn inward and concentrate on their family, rather than the violent conquering ambition of the other Battle School brats, who will never succeed in Mazer and Graff’s goal of teaching humanity to see itself as one tribe, rather than fracturing into countless competing sects. I think that’s what OSC’s work is all about: forestalling all the civil wars of this life, reconciliation, and learning how to communicate and build good marriages and families, creating islands of peace and light amid the darkness.

So I hope Uncle Orson takes the time to take care of himself! I think I’ve proven here that I’m as eager for the next book as anyone, but I’d MUCH rather have a good dude alive and kickin’. You’re worth more to the world as a PERSON — a son, sib, husband, and father to the people in your REAL life — and that’s what makes your fiction as valuable as it is in the first place!

Stay strong, Mr. Card! We’re all rooting for you!

[ April 16, 2019, 08:22 AM: Message edited by: Zotto! ]

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Nice sentiments and a thoughtful post.
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I agree with and approve of this thoughtful post.
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