Ender and Steel

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Ender’s Game

Orson Scott Card’s timeless classic Ender’s Game has been on the must-read list for nearly thirty years now, and for good reason.  It is an original, compelling story that touches on many human themes: just war, friendship, loyalty, bullying, religious freedom, family, the relationship between government and the people, use and abuse of power, strategy, tactics, military training, childhood, coming of age, compassion for enemies, and even more.  I firmly believe that Ender’s Game, and less so the rest of the Ender universe, will be studied by literature students a hundred years from now.  It is particularly popular among veterans, historians, and military supporters for its compassionate treatment of a soldier’s story.

That means that any film adaptation of the novel is a huge gamble.  One remembers the furor for and against Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

I have just returned from the film, and I have to say that Summit Entertainment did a better job than I had ever realistically hoped for.   There are changes to the novel, to be sure.  The Locke and Demosthenes storyline was completely omitted.  But Gavin Hood and Orson Scott Card’s collaboration for this screen play works very well.  Ender’s Game is a largely internal book, and the film does an excellent job of putting the core of Ender’s thoughts and reasoning into dialogue or subtext.  This is a transformation that many other films have attempted and failed.

There is a lot to love about this excellent movie.  The visuals are stunning, and a list of crews too numerous to repeat here provide a breathtaking battle room for the story, only to surpass that with the command school space battles later on in the book.

An A-list cast brings their A game to the film.  Sir Ben Kingsley does a lot with little screen time as Mazer Rakham.  Young Asa Butterfield is a multi-year acting veteran, and his performance makes the film.  Butterfield’s Ender is alternatingly strong, compassionate, vulnerable, defiant, penitent, and victorious.  Ford’s Colonel Graff is my favorite performance of his since Witness, a self-aware and unforgiving taskmaster who is willing to pay the price for what he must do.

Fans of Ender’s Game books and military Sci-Fi in general will get a lot out of this movie, but there is enough depth to the interpersonal sub plots that the general audience would be well-served to see it as well.  I imagine many long talks over coffee prompted by this film.

Highly Recommended.

 

Steelheart

Brandon Sanderson is perhaps most famous for his status as the chosen heir to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  His latest young adult novel, Steelheart, is a fun read that shows why he was chosen.

Steelheart is a superhero story set in a world where none of the supers (they are called Epics in the novel) are heroes.  Steelheart, a clever homage to the DC’s Superman, is the greatest and the worst.  With a fluttering cape and superhuman sculpted physique, he is the most powerful by far, but he is remorselessly evil as the ruler of Chicago.

Steelheart‘s protagonist David is what more YA heroes need to be.  He’s eighteen, taking his first steps into the world, but he has a life and a mission that has little or nothing to do with the stereotypical obsession with his wedding tackle.  David is on a quest to avenge his father.  He is smart and brave, analytical, and trying hard not to be an idealist against his own better nature.  David’s obvious flaw, his total failure at and repeated attempts at metaphors, is unique and entertaining.  The supporting cast of resistance fighters are delightfully quirky, just on the edge of dysfunctional, but that comes across as believable in a team attempting to do the impossible and free the world from super villains without any power of their own.

Steelheart is solidly written.  One of the great pleasures of a well-written YA novel is a quick pace full of action and event.  Sanderson serves up a heaping helping of adventure for us to consume.  David’s journey is interesting, his skills and thoughts are entertaining, and it is fun to journey along with him as his world gets ever weirder.

Sanderson is an author who knows and loves superheroes.  He has crafted a refined and interesting mythology that incorporates all of the greatest tropes of the genre.  Seemingly-random weaknesses, power levels, cross-classing, and more show up on the page in a way that is relevant to the story.  Mad scientist tech?  He presents it right alongside the superheroes who typically fight it.  If Revolution starred Lex Luthor it might look something like this.

I really enjoyed this book, and I was pleased to see that there are more planned for the future.  It isn’t a must-read but anyone who remotely enjoys a good superhero story, or has an inner child who used to, will get something good from Steelheart.

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