Ender’s Game – A Review

Originally posted November 2013 by Hank Brown.

Watching this film, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to other specific sci-fi on the big screen: Not too long ago the Star Trek reboot showed us Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Uhura together at Star Fleet Academy. And some 15 years ago was the abysmal adaptation of Starship Troopers. I liked Star Trek, despite my annoyance at some aspects of it, but still, Ender’s Game is, so far, my favorite space cadets-playing-war-games movie.

As far as Heinlein goes, this film captured the spirit of his military science fiction better than the movie that bore the title of his trail-blazing book. I’ve never read Orson Scott Card, but am tempted to at least add his books to my bucket list, now.

Card used an interesting premise for this storyline: Future armed forces will train children for war, since youngsters adapt quicker to new/changing technology. Hence the hero is a child, with the responsibility of Earth’s very existence resting on his bony pre-adolescent shoulders.

Or is he a hero? It wouldn’t surprise me if the critics hate this movie because of what survives to the big screen from Card’s book: the suggestion that ruthlessness is required to win wars. That is watered-down considerably by writing the character as a “bleeding heart” type with an emotional maturity more on par with an aged monk…who just happens to be a savant with military tactics and strategy.

The acting is fair, on average–nothing spectacular. The boy playing Ender is called upon to be misty-eyed in too many close-ups to remember, and he delivers. And Harrison Ford hams it up (this is a consistent phenomenon in his recent roles, seems to me) as Ender’s stage mom commander. Other actors are believable enough. (In Ford’s defense, the role did strike me as written with a lack of dimension.)

What made the experience enjoyable for me was the character interaction written into the academy scenes. Group dynamics can be fascinating from an anthropological perspective (or depressing and infuriating from a participatory one). Reduce the group members in age to when the passion and motives of human beings are easily observed, and the intensity amplifies accordingly. For this reason I should have loved Lord of the Flies, but they lost me at “fade in.”

I can nit-pick pretty much any movie to death (even those I like), and have. This one is no exception. But I’ll just mention one thing that bothered me: the mixing of naval and land force ranks in one branch of service. Having sergeants, colonels and admirals all in the same branch is just…wrong.

But anyway, I found that the good outweighed the bad and Ender’s Game is worth a watch.

What is a Kindle/E-Reader Device?

iconVirtual Pulp Press and the Two-Fisted Blog are all about old-school action adventure (yes, even some new stuff is old-school), so it makes sense a lot of folks who visit here prefer a paperback to reading a book on some newfangled electronic device.

If that is your preference, then this post is for you.

When I first heard about e-readers, my reaction was, “What the…?” Why in the world would you want to take something as simple as a book and replace it with something that requires electricity? That makes about as much sense as replacing mechanical steering linkage in an automobile with electronic controls. (That right there is the pinnacle of stupidity, IMO.) And my eyes get tired enough looking at computer displays every day. I experienced similar hostility when the military (then the world at large) started becoming dependent on the GPS, but that’s another rant story.

I eventually changed my tune and, in about 2011 I got an e-reader of my own.

What is a Kindle reading device (or other brand of e-reader)? It is a portable library that you yourself stocked, effortlessly.

First off, one thing an e-reader does that paper can’t is allow you to carry thousands of books around with you in a device that is thinner and lighter than the average paperback. An entire library you can take anywhere you go. Fiction, non-fiction, magazines…and if you’re like me and don’t like random strangers starting up conversations with you when they study the cover of what you’re reading (that right there may be worth an article in itself), an e-reader offers you a greater degree of privacy. All busybodies know is that you’re looking at some kind of device. Of course they can then pester you with questions like “what is that–a big cell phone?” or “whatcha readin?” but hey, baby steps. You can also upload audio books to the device, or music if you like listening to tunes while you read. (At least you could with my model of Kindle…more on that later.)

Ever been reading while you eat, or doing something else that requires at least one hand, when your hand cramps up from holding the book open to the page you’re on? Then you either have to put the food down and turn pages every minute with your other hand, or demonstrate impressive dexterity by turning the pages with two fingers while the other three continue to hold the book open. Well, e-readers are cramp-free.  And “pages” are turned easily with the press of the ambidextrious buttons. I’ve never heard anyone else mention this advantage, but it was an important one for me.

By-the-way, one surprisingly common objection to e-readers I’ve heard is that people like the smell of books. Hmm. Freud may be better-equipped to analyze that than I am. Though I certainly don’t mind pleasant aromas, I buy books to read them; not to smell them. Maybe I should develop some sort of perfume that smells like paper to spray on reading devices, and sell it for the difference in cost between a mass market paperback and an e-book.

Ooh, that’s another point. Buy a traditionally published paper book and you’re not just paying the author, agent, editor(s), corporate suits and their assistants, but also the truckdrivers and secretaries and beancounters in the distributing company, the clerks in the bookstore…and so on. With an e-book, the author gets a cut, and the publishing company gets a cut, and the book is delivered painlessly to your device from a wireless network. In other words: the same book for the fraction of the price!

Well, here is one caveat to the above paragraph: the New York Publishing Cartel (NYPC for short), for reasons of their own (involving some combination of greed, desperation, self-preservation, malice and fear) have been jacking up the price of the e-books they have rights to until they’re almost as expensive as the mass market paperbacks. But that doesn’t make e-reading as prohibitive as they’d like, because…

The NYPC no longer has the power to tell you what kind of books to read!

E-publishing has democratized the literary landscape, and you can now find good books that the suits in New York City would otherwise have decided you could not read. And those books usually cost much less. If you walk into a book store, and go to the fiction section, for instance, your choices are:

  • romance
  • chick-lit
  • young adult
  • paranormal
  • supernatural thrillers
  • political thrillers
  • techno thrillers
  • gay/lesbian

But what if you want to read something not in those genres? Tough luck, if you only read paper. With an e-reader, though, the selection is nearly unlimited.

There is a downside to the e-publishing revolution, however. It’s much easier to get work published now than it ever has been, and so a lot of garbage is flooding the market, peddled by people barely competent enough to write a tweet or Facebook status. They can’t spell, punctuate or put a coherent sentence together (much less suspend disbelief or present compelling conflict), but by Zeus they’re authors now, and nobody can tell them different. There are so many of them, pimping so much garbage for such cheap prices, that it can be difficult to glean out the good stuff amongst it (that’s one reason Virtual Pulp Press went into business).

But even before the e-publishing revolution there was more crap than good–it was just edited crap.

As long as your e-reader is with you, and you have a 4G, 3G or wireless connection, you can shop for a book whenever you want without driving anywhere, and it’s delivered in seconds, ready for you to dig in. Also, I believe every online store has some sort of forum for feedback, to tell others what you thought of the book if you’re so inclined.

Earlier I mentioned eye strain–a valid concern. Some of the readers (especially the newer ones competing with the iPad) are backlit, and so quite similar to computer or smartphone displays. But this is where the early Kindles stand head and shoulders above the competition. Their screens display pages that look like ink on paper. No backlighting. Reading a Kindle is no harder on your eyes than reading a paperback. You might be amazed when you take a look at one. When I first got mine the screen saver was on and I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to peel off a protective sheet covering the screen…that wasn’t there. I assumed it was a protective cover with some information printed on it because I couldn’t imagine an electronic display ever looking like that.

While writing this post I’ve been interrupted 26 times, so this article may not be as comprehensive as I intended. What do you think–have I missed something?

P.S: Wow. While I was in the process of writing this very blog post, my Kindle bit the dust. It is out of warranty and the model I have isn’t even made anymore. Refer back to my initial reservations: Electronic devices will all eventually fail you. I was hoping this one would last longer. Never had a paperback do this to me. Sigh.

P.P.S: Actually, since I bought it at Target, I had paid extra for their additional coverage when the factory warranty expired. They tried to renege, and it got ugly for a while, but I was finally credited with the purchase cost. Unfortunately, the Kindle Keyboard is no longer made (free 3G + wireless; audio capabilities for recorded books or music, a physical keyboard, etc.), and Target quit carrying Kindles. I was ready to switch to Nook, but none of them could do all my Kindle did. In fact, I couldn’t even get the display Nooks to come off the screen saver. I wound up taking my Kindle to a gadget repair place (long story in itself) and using the store credit to buy an XBox.

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