Readers! The Ezine Is Here!
Order this Sunday!
It’s finally arrived! Lantern Hollow Press is thrilled to release the June 2014 edition of The Gallery of Worlds this weekend. Encounter new and continuing stories written by clever authors and illustrated by the marvelous Invisible Bridge Studios! Consider this your invitation for adventure and exploration in . . .
Movie Muses: Ender’s Game Was Not the Book… And That’s OK!
Last weekend, I went to see Ender’s Game in theaters, which was very exciting since Ender’s Game, the book, is one of the very few science fiction novels that I actually enjoyed. Now, you may mistakenly believe that I am a connoisseur of all things sci-fi, judging from my incredible science fiction short story that I wrote in September, but really I am not much of a sci-fi person. I prefer my dragons and magic over spaceships and technology.
Ender’s Game is an exception for me because it is all about characters, and I love well developed characters. Yes, there is lots of space and tech and ships and even aliens (to which I have a particular aversion for various reasons). But the story is a character-driven one about a young genius whose gifts are being molded to create a perfect warleader regardless of the struggles Ender himself endures because of his views on conflict. He is an incredible strategist, but he also has a developing set of morals, and this is the central tension of the novel.
Admittedly, the battles that the teams of youngsters engage in are pretty cool, as well.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed the book. I appreciated that it was not a straightforward battle against a big, wriggly army of aliens, and I appreciated how Ender grew and changed and remained an interesting person throughout the story.
Going into the film, it was impossible not to have at least some hopes for a similar story to be told. However, what I had to keep in mind was that this was a movie, not a book, and films will always be different. How can a film convey a character’s inner thoughts and conflicts, or embrace exposition and narrative brought into it by the author? How can one film span years of involved storytelling and show the growth of a character from a very small child into a pre-teen? How can a film possibly relate all of the elements of the book that readers love in a two hour timeframe?
The simple fact is, a film cannot fulfill every hope and dream a reader has. Moviemakers must pick and choose what to use, what to change, and what to dispense with. Ender’s Game was not exactly the same as the book. The timeline was sped up significantly to take place over months rather than years. Of course, we were not inside the character’s head, but could only guess what Ender was thinking or pick up on bits of exposition. There was not nearly as much time spent on the relationships between Ender and his battle schoolmates and how he became a leader. The Peter/Valentine plotline was gone entirely.
The film was not the book.
But that’s okay. The trick to enjoying a good book-to-film adaptation, at least in my opinion, is to set the book aside as much as you possibly can and judge the film based on what it offers. Of course, if you’ve read the book, it is not possible to forget the story or what you loved about it as you sit and watch it play out before your eyes (or not, as the case may be). But the more you can step away from the book and watch the movie, the less likely the inevitable comparisons will upset you.
I will say this, the film Ender’s Game was remarkably closer to the book as far as adaptions go. These are all my own personal opinions, of course, but as I watched it, I felt that I was enjoying the same story. It followed the same plotline, it got Ender the character down very well, and it turned my vague and uninformed visions of what battle school and the battle simulations might have looked like into a fantastic reality. It was fun.
Most importantly, though, using a book about the ethical implications of training child soldiers, of deceiving and manipulating those children for “the greater good,” and preemptive attacks on an enemy that may or may not pose a future threat, the movie had the daunting task of grappling with these same issues in a very short span of time. It did so, I thought, very well. In some instances, I felt more strongly for the characters in the film than I did for the ones in the book.
But (let me say it again!) Ender’s Game, the film, is not the book. Some characters were deliberately changed from their book versions, scenes were altered or cut altogether. The story was different because of the medium and the timeframe. Did it lose anything for being different? Not necessarily. Of course, if a film that claims to be “inspired by” a certain novel goes off the deep end and has nothing much in common with the original, I think we are justified to be more than a little miffed, not because the film itself is automatically bad (it might be quite good!), but because we were led to expect to see a story we know and loved recreated in some way. What is less reasonable is to become miffed when a film takes liberties with the book and changes things. Once again, it will be a much more enjoyable experience for us if we can just watch the movie as a movie in its own right and see how it does.
An example of this that I often think of is the 2003 adaptation of Peter Pan. I have read the book and consider it one of the best children’s books ever written. The film version is profoundly different. They changed one of the fundamental issues of the novel – that is, the inability of Peter Pan to mature or change. You might even say, the movie is nothing like the book at all because they changed what the story was supposed to mean. But it’s a very, very good movie. It is beautiful, fun, emotional, and sweet. It is well acted, funny, and fulfilling as a film. Is it different from its original source? Yes! Do I mind? Not at all.
Now, judging Ender’s Game as a film and not as an adaptation of a novel, there were definitely some flaws. I felt that it was too rushed and could have stood for more time developing the character and going through school. It lost a sense of realism in being so quick. The characters, though, were all believable, and the story itself was powerful.
This film stands alone just fine. The good news for lovers of the book is that it also represents the story in the novel very well. I guess the point I’m trying to make here, aside from the fact that I liked this film, is that complaints about the film should not really be driven by how it does and does not reflect the book. Rather, we can judge this film on its own merits, and I think that it comes out looking very strong.
Googling the Cyborg: is it Steam Engine Time?
This is my last post for the month, and so I’ll be wrapping up my original thoughts on William Gibson’s non-fiction theories and responses to cultural phenomenon outside of his novels, primarily those thoughts encapsulated in Distrust That Particular Flavor, an anthology of Gibson’s non-fiction.
Generally, the most influential idea to me that comes from these writings is the idea which is a primary theme of Gibson’s more recent novels since his cyberpunk trilogy, the idea that the “cyborg” is not as simple as a literal man-machine hybrid, but that we as modern men and women have already integrated technology into our beings so closely that we have become what he predicted in the 80s without so much as a single shard of implanted silicon. But there’s another aspect to this idea which is very useful for writing purpose which I want to cover.
My thoughts (and Gibson’s) today come mostly from his piece “Googling the Cyborg,” a talk he gave to the Vancouver Institute in 2008 which is included in Distrust.
Why We Didn’t See Computers Coming
If you look at traditional science fiction, especially in TV in the 30s and 40s, there are a lot of rocketships. Rocketships and flying cars and jetpacks. Do we have any of those today? Not really, at least not as they were envisioned. It’s fascinating to see how so many writers were trying very hard to predict what the future would look like and settled on technologies that just didn’t create the sort of renaissance they expected. Nothing really about the computer, which at that time was already beginning to exist.There are robots in these films and stories, but they’re pretty much exclusively the snappy-clamp-handed stainless steel variety that have sparks and glass vacuum tubes coming out everywhere. But Gibson describes one thing that did come up: the “electronic brain” which was almost like a computer, but never quite bridged that conceptual gap.
This is because of something Gibson describes as “Steam Engine Time:”
The observable fact that steam, contained, exerts force, has been around since the first lid rattled as the soup came to a boil. The ancient Greeks built toy steam engines that whirled bronze globes. But you won’t get a locomotive till it’s Steam Engine Time. What you wouldn’t do, in 1940, with an electronic brain, would be to stick it on your desk, connect it somehow to a type-writer, and, if you had one, a television… (247).
What do we know about, use, or dream about today that will become our future, without our even noticing? Is it nanotechnology? Stem cells? Aliens? There’s not necessarily any way we could identify it (we can’t know the future until we get to it, really), but I believe that after computer technology broadsided humanity with its unexpected revolution of our daily lives, we’ve been on the lookout. That helps to explain why we have such broad and varied foci for our speculative fiction nowadays, but that’s another conversation.
So what of the electronic brain? Did it stop being important after we decided to stick it on a desk and hook a TV to it? Gibson sees it in something we’ve come to completely take for granted: Google. The internet, a massive network of invisible connections that bring information of almost any subject to the extended memory of every user, is just another aspect of our becoming cybernetic organisms. We don’t need cranial jacks when all we have to do is type in what we want to know, and the great electronic brain does the thinking for us.
Maybe our future visions of artificial intelligence, the electronic brain’s shiny new iteration, will become just as quaint and silly as previous generations’ rocketship dreams seem to us today. Maybe while we look forward to the next big thing, we’re missing the little thing that will actually change our lives, much like the computer did almost without anyone noticing it. Until Steam Engine Time hits again, it’s likely we won’t know.
That’s it for this week! We’ve got Halloween coming up on Thursday, and with that our All Hallows Eve edition of The Gallery of Worlds! Sign up for our newsletter to get a free download code!
In Search of the American Myth: A Galaxy Far, Far Away
“A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” I remember seeing the 1997 restored version of Star Wars in elementary school with my father and reading those lines for the first time. I think every day for recess we pretended to be Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo zooming across space and and battling the evil Darth Vader and the dictatorial Empire.
As an adult, Star Wars has become less important in my life, but I see its impact in our culture, especially to our American mythology. In fact, Star Wars and science fiction films have almost become quintessential American myth tales, though they America did not originate the science fiction story or film. Again, we can thank Europe for that. Tales by H. G. Wells and Jules Verne remain some of the best science fiction literature to date, and Germany’s Metropolis practically is science fiction’s capstone film.
But these films, like Westerns, seem to fit well with our paradigm of expansion, progression, and independence. While Westerns look to the wild west to fulfill these values, science fiction looks to the stars. Indeed, Luke Skywalker embodies any typical young American: an average Joe who leaves his home to fulfill his destiny to become something greater. Interestingly, the story practically begins in the desert with our young hero encountering two rustic droids, a old wizard, and a space cowboy with a furry friend. They enter the cold, metallic belly of a vast space station (which represents technology and innovation put to evil purposes) to rescue a beautiful, yet fiercely capable princess, who provides female audience members a role model of aptitude and independence. The underdog rebels then turn and destroy the the same spaceship, a symbol of oppression and tyranny. Sounds like our own Revolution to some degree, right?
Thus, as Disney and Westerns have incorporated so well, Star Wars and many science fiction films capture the American ideal and contribute its mythology. Recent success in science fiction films is evidence of this. Avatar is the most successful film to date and the newest Star Trek films have shown that science fiction films can be stylish, yet thought-provoking storytelling. And do it need to go into detail about the moral and cerebral depth of films like Blade Runner, Brazil, E. T., Aliens, The Matrix, and Inception? Although Disney may have established the American myth and the Western may be the nation’s mythic original, science fiction films would probably remain America’s most beloved and well-received myth.