Card And Clarke: At The Extremes Of A Genre

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The main purpose of every science-fiction story or novel is to provide a scientific hypothesis, and then create events which give vision to this hypothesis. As a result, the characters in most science-fiction stories are not fully developed, and are employed only to aid in developing the hypothesis. Despite this, within the genre of science fiction, every writer strives for an individual style which will set them apart from the mainstream. This idea can be seen clearly in Orson Scott Card's unique novel, Ender's Game, and in Arthur C. Clarke's traditional science-fiction short story, The Nine Billion Names of God. In these two tales both writers create stories with similar premises, but manage to present these premises with different hypotheses, different senses of realism or fantasy, a different development of storyline and characters, and different senses of good and evil in their respective worlds.

Orson Scott Card's novel, Ender's Game, creates a world with the scientific hypothesis that earth has been attacked by an alien race, the "buggers,"� and genius children are being trained by the government in order to fight the buggers in intergalactic battle.

Ender Wiggin is the best of any child to ever enter the military training school, and the military leaders use him as a tool, unknown to the boy, in order to destroy the buggers. Card chooses not to allow Ender to know that he is being used as a tool, and this allows him to be able to destroy the enemy with no second thoughts or feelings of empathy in the battle which he believes is a simulation. The character is being used, although unbeknownst.

Card creates a form of science-fiction like few other other authors do in Ender's Game. He combines many of the elements found in a fantasy story with a scientific hypothesis. We are transported to another futuristic world like in a fantasy story. We are presented with unrealistic places in the battle school and the asteroid Eros, and are given with technology and concepts that have not been created, nor are conceivable on earth today. Card furthers the aspects of fantasy where we follow Ender through the events that take place in this unearthly setting not only on a physical level, but also with an emotional connection to him. Three aspects of story telling are used by Orson Scott Card that allow such a deep connection between the reader and the story: the mythic story, in which the reader is spoken to as a human being; the epic story, in which the reader is spoken to as a member of a community; and the "self"� story, in which the reader is spoken to as an individual. Also, it is Card's technique not only develop the main character, but also to develop the entire world and the other characters in order create a much richer and deeper experience. Finally, expanding this world even further is the intense presence of a struggle between good and evil. The overlying history of Ender's Game is the fight between the humans of earth and the invading buggers. Earth is in the midst of an intergalactic war. Also, there is the good and evil struggle between Ender and those who bully him. Stilson picks on Ender furiously in school on Earth, and in the battle school, Bonzo and Ender develop an intense hatred and competition. We empathize much more with Ender because of this sense of adversity that he is faced with, with the contrast between him and those who are his enemies.

The hypothesis of Arthur C. Clarke's The Nine Billion Names of God is that when every possible combination of letters in the Tibetan monks' alphabet is made, the true name of God will be discovered, and the end of the world will be triggered. The two main characters, George and Chuck, are sent to Tibet in order to install a computer that will ultimately accomplish this for the Tibetan monks. It is the premise that they do not know that they are actually contributing to the end of the world, and are being used as tools by the monks for this purpose. But different from "Ender's Game,"� George and Chuck are eventualy told by the high lama that their project will bring about the end of the world. To give the story a more realistic twist, where in Card's world the main characters would have taken in this information and acted upon it, Clarke's characters dismiss the monks as crazy.

"George thought this over for a moment"¦ "˜But what d'you suppose we should do about it? I don't see that it makes the slightest difference to us. After all, we already knew they were crazy.'"� (Page10, The Nine Billion Names of God) Continuing on this aspect of realism, everything in Clarke's story is conceivably real, except for the triggering of the end of the world by the machine. The Nine Billion Names of God takes place at a Tibetan monastery on earth, at some time just around the turn of the 21st century. People still travel in earthly ways, such as in the "battered old DC3,"� (Page 13, The Nine Billion Names of God) and the super computer which can complete thousands of computations a second, which Chuck and George install, is a conceivable machine. Besides the supernatural twist in which God's existence is proved and the the end of the world can be triggered by the computer, there is nothing alien or futuristic about Clarke's story.

Pursuing the traditional style of science fiction, we follow two names, not two developed persons, in Clarke's story. Everything that we experience is through their perceptions, thoughts, and conversations. In very few instances does a narrator actually describe anything to the reader. It is subtle in most cases, but instead of saying, "Chuck entered the room,"� we have "George heard the heavy wooden doors slam in the wind as Chuck came out"¦"� (Page 10, The Nine Billion Names of God) Finally, Clarke has no real concept of good or evil or enemy in The Nine Billion Names of God. Chuck and George are being used by the monks, and fear what will happen if it is found that they tampered with the machine, but they are not battling against anyone. There are no clear sides for the reader to distinguish or to identify with in order create a contrast between characters.

In The Nine Billion Names of God, Arthur C. Clarke creates a traditional science-fiction story in which characters are employed only in order to develop a vision of the scientific hypothesis presented in the story. In Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card formulates science-fiction-fantasy story, in which an elaborate scientific hypothesis is created, but we are allowed to bond deeply with the characters, not only living the science fiction story through their physical thoughts and actions, but through their emotions as well. Both writers present stories with similar premises, but employ their own styles of writing in order to create two entirely different science-fiction pieces.