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Orson Scott Card
What Influences this Science Fiction Writer
by Martha Whitmer Porschet - Sodus, New York


Many Orson Scott Card fans share the opinion that Card's "use of the family unit throughout his writing keeps his works interesting, thought-provoking and real." (Maciejewski) Several of Card's novels and short stories show the daily life of normal families and the everyday trials they undergo. Much of Card's writing also includes Mormon doctrine and history.

Orson Scott Card is best known for his writing in the science fiction/fantasy genre. He was first introduced to science fiction and fantasy when he was a young child exploring at the local library in Santa Clara, California (Biggle 104).

Card has won the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1986 for Ender's Game and in 1987 for its sequel,Speaker for the Dead. To this day he is the only author to win these prestigious awards in two consecutive years. Card has lived in California, Utah, and Arizona. He served a two year mission in Brazil for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Card is a very dedicated member of the Mormon church and serves as a Sunday school teacher in his ward. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and from the University of Utah, and received his master's degree in literature (How 1). He lives with his four children, Geoffrey, Emily, Charles, and Zina, and his wife, Kristine in Greensboro, North Carolina (Turning 303). His first three children are named after Geoffrey Chaucer, Emily Bronte and Charles Dickens (How1).

Card started out as a playwright. He has written hundreds of audio plays and several scripts for animated videoplays for the family market. Card writes a regular review for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and publishes a journal of short-fiction criticism called Short Form. On the side, Card reviews computer games for Compute! Card also wrote the script for the new Hill Comorah Pageant.

His favorite authors include Chaucer and Shakespeare. Card has taught writing courses at Antioch, Clarion, Clarion West, and at the Cape Cod Writers Workshop (How 1).

The majority of Card's writing has an emphasis on Mormonism, whether it is talked about in his story, or whether it is just recognized by Mormon readers; it is there. In Card's Homecoming Saga (The Memory of Earth, The Call of Earth, The Ships of Earth, Earthfall, Earthborn), he tells the story of the Book of Mormon. The main character in the Alvin Maker series is obviously, to any member of the Mormon church, modeled after Joseph Smith. The family in this series (Seventh Son, Red Prophet, Prentice Alvin, Alvin Journeyman) moves away from Vermont because of bad farm land. Joseph Smith's family left Vermont for the same reason(Porschet). In Seventh Son, the main character, Alvin has a leg operation at about the same age Joseph Smith was when he had a similar leg operation. The account of this operation is recorded by Joseph's mother, Lucy Mack Smith (Smith 54). The Alvin Maker series is a combination of American history, Mormon history, and folk magic.

In a personal letter that I received from Orson Scott Card regarding what influenced his writing style, vision, and genre the most, he said:

"...the culture that created me was a mixture of my family, the LDS church... the public culture of America in that era (as expressed through television, radio, news, prevailing public views and issues), and the culture of Santa Clara and Mesa in particular, especially of the educational system in those two cities..."

As you can see, quite a few things influenced his writing. He feels that his growing up influenced his writing more than today. But he also said:

"The main effect that the present time has on my work is that I am dismayed, annoyed, or ashamed of most of the current trends in American culture, and to some degree I shape many of my recent stories to deal with issues I care about...I shape the the story to make the issue be a central issue in the tale, but make no effort to plan or program what the characters do with the issue...I am usually surprised at what comes up and feel right for the characters to do and say. It is a much richer process then merely having them spout diatribes echoing my conscious opinions. On the contrary, they often assert positions quite different from mine, forcing me to address their arguments."

Card's "annoyance" with todays American culture shows through in his work. He often takes a position that is opposite of what predominates the culture of America. Most of Card's stories have a family base where there is a traditional family (consisting of a mother, father and children). In todays society the family unit is being severely attacked. In 1980 the number of single parent families in the United States was 6,601, while in 1995 the number had increased by nearly three thousand (U.S. 59). These statistics, along with the decline of parent involvement in the child's life influence Card's writing to great extent.

Many divorces are mere retreats into adolescence, the stage in life in which commitments do not matter; most children born out of wedlock are the product of adolescent visions of manliness... (Turning 3).

When asked, Card says that he tries to demonstrate stable, healthy, dedicated, reliable, permanent relationships between characters (families) in his books.

Style is a major aspect of every authors writing. Card says that most authors never consciously think about the style in which they write. Style is an element of writing that for most authors 'just happens'. What Card thinks most about is the voice of his characters and narrator. Card uses a very oral style, as if the story is being read aloud. He believes that this tendency originates from his attraction to theatre and storytelling. Using this oral style of voice hints that the narrator is actually a character within the story. Card says that often times he realizes this quite late in the story.

When Card sits down to write a book he has to know what is going to happen in

the end. He never thinks what the theme will be, but he concentrates more on what will happen and what the shape of the piece will be. Regarding this he says:

"I can't begin to write unless I know not only the ending but enough material along the way to know what I'm doing. Then, while writing I make up even MORE stuff. But I have to know the shape of it or I can't even start."

He continued to say that when he gets an idea he tries to see how he can include statements he believes to be true into the mouths of his characters. Often he will have the "good characters", or hero, defend the ideas he personally finds to be true.

In Card's Lost Boys he integrates several of these elements. His vision, or purpose is to create a story that tells of a traditional family that undergoes many trials. He uses many of his own personal life experiences to accomplish this. Many people wonder how he can incorporate his own life experiences while writing in the science fiction genre. In Lost Boys Card tells the story of a young family who has just moved to a small, rural community in North Carolina. Card wrote this story just after he and his family had moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. In the story the Fletcher family has a child that has an incredibly difficult time adjusting to the new school, church congregation, and neighborhood. The Fletcher's also have a new baby that has cerebral palsy. Card and his wife have a son named Charlie Ben that has a very severe case of cerebral palsy. Card lists Lost Boys as his favorite novel.

Many of his family's characteristics influence Lost Boys. Both the Fletcher and Card families are Mormon, both parents have callings in their ward, the Fletcher's have four children, as do Cards, and both Card and Step (the father in Lost Boys) worked as editors for Computer companies. A Card fan said, "Obviously family life is something that Orson Scott Card values, and so it shows in his work. I totally agree that it brings his writings to a whole new level of excellence." (Majors)

The genre of science fiction is as important today as ever before if not more. There is a larger audience for science fiction and fantasy as well. In the 1990's people are reading more science fiction than they used to. Partially because it is more accepted by the readers and also because there is more science fiction available to the public. In Card's book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy he said that "...it is only inside the science fiction community that you will find room to write all that you want to write and still find an audience for it."(How 13) In todays society, people want to suspend their beliefs. In general people are looking for ways to get away from the normal ways of thinking. Speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy) is a way for people to go to other worlds, other societies, other times, that have only been created in such stories. If the peice is too unbelievable, we discard it. As readers of speculative fiction, "we demand some strangeness, but not too much." (How 19) Speculative fiction takes readers to unexplored places. The voyages we are able to take through Card's and other science fiction writers is what makes the genre so entertaining. The possibility of violating some known reality or even the unknown is not only appealing but is somehow daring for the reader.

In Lost Boys Card's vision is somewhat different than most science fiction writers. His purpose is to explore the everyday family life of a Mormon family. The reader doesn't become aware of the science fiction element in the story until the last few chapters. The science fiction twist at the end explains the problems that the family has been going through. Even when the family in unaware of what is causing the problems, they are searching for ways to help each other and resolve the conflicts. Dealing with their new son, Zap, and his health problems becomes a major part of the story. Dealing with the odd behaviors that their eldest son, Stevie, has acquired since living in Steuben, North Carolina is where the science fiction side of the story becomes very evident.

Card's vision is somewhat difficult to pin-point. There are so many possible ways to interpret what his theme, or vision is. The outcome of the story challenges the readers experience and prior learning and therefore is what makes the story so intriguing. Card's intention is to create a story that is "real" enough, or believable enough, that we, as readers, can relate to it in our own lives. Being able to suspend our own beliefs in order to keep that comparison real is where the element of speculative fiction comes into play.

The world around Card has a considerable amount of influence on his writing and on what he chooses to write about. He holds a mirror to his age by writing about mostly wholesome ideas that are interwoven with some science fiction to create a story that is so complex that his audience can either take the obvious theme, or can search for the inner meanings. The inner themes are there, but are somewhat hidden, however not done so intentionally. Authors often don't really notice what the theme of their stories is. Card said:

"As for themes, I have little patience with them. They are there, of course, but the most effective ones are not created consciously by the writer...the real themes of my stories are almost never consciously created; I discover them, if ever, when readers point them out to me."

Everything in the world around Orson Scott Card influences his writing to some extent. His family, the LDS church and the media have obvious impacts on his style, vision and genre. If people weren't reading science fiction, he wouldn't write it. If people didn't want to read about families he might change his style a bit. Through the years his writing has changed. His stories have continued to attract a great audience. In an essay about how he became a lover of writing and lover of science fiction, Card wrote:

"I knew that if I could write a story that would illuminate some hitherto dark corner in someone's soul and live on in them forever, then it hardly mattered whether writing made me rich or kept me poor, put my name before the public, or left me forgotten, for I would have bent the world's path just a little, yet all would be different from then on because I had done it" (Biggle 112).

Orson Scott Card has "bent the worlds path." He has bent it in many people's lives. I have learned from his writing. His writing has not only entertained me, but has touched me in a way I never thought science fiction could. His writing is enjoyed by readers from all around the world. Stories he has written are ingrained in peoples souls, just as Lloyd Biggle,Jr.'s The Tunesmith is in his.

His vision is beyond what I can understand. He has the vision. It doesn't matter to him if he's remembered by everyone who reads one of his stories. What matters to him is if he touched someone. His style keeps me reading and asking for more, while his genre intrigues me. The mirror which he holds goes against what the world seems to stand for today. Through is writing he tries to set a standard, not only for great writing, but for morals and ethics that seem to have been forgotten by many. He upholds his own morals in his life. He values family life and sends those messages on to the rest of the world through his stories that he writes so well.

[Copyright © Martha Whitmer Porschet, 1998. Reprinted with permission.]


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