Sci-fi illuminates morals

By Nick Thomas, Eagle Life Writer


Professor’s new book examines ‘Ender’s Game’ philosophy


Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have the fate of the human race hovering on your horizon like an approaching comet, stuck on a starship far from home? What if you were just a child?

EWU’s Kevin Decker may have been pondering such thoughts a lot this past year as he edited, along with series editor William Erwin, a new book called “Ender’s Game and Philosophy: The logic gate is down.” Besides his day job as associate professor of philosophy and associate dean of the college of arts and letters, Decker has finished two brand new books on popular science fiction series, “Ender’s Game” and “Doctor Who.”

The other book being published is “Who is Who? The Philosophy of Doctor Who?” is an indepth philosophical examination of the 50-year-old British TV show, and comes out Nov. 26.

“Ender’s Game and Philosophy,” part of the “Blackwell philosophy and pop culture series,” was published in advance of the star-studded movie version of the best selling novel, “Ender’s Game.” In it, Decker has arranged a collection of 18 essays by various authors examining Orson Scott Card’s novel from a wide array of perspectives. Essay titles like “The Teachers Got Me Into This: Educational Skirmishes … with a Pinch of Freedom,” “War Games as Childs Play” and “People are Tools,” indicate Decker had no problem mining the rich resource of “Ender’s Game.”

The 1985 novel, which spawned 13 additional novels known collectively as the “Enderverse,” tells the story of Ender Wiggin, a boy groomed since birth by the military to be a future military leader, a new “Alexander the Great,” in the event of another alien invasion. The previous war, decades hence, nearly destroyed humanity until the aliens suddenly vanished.

 Out of the many brilliant kids sent to training in a far off space ship, Ender rises to the top whilst facing a multitude of serious, sometimes deadly challenges.The book is known for taking on social issues like politics, bullying and the effects of stress on young people. It is also known for some shockingly violent scenes, where Ender is forced to defend himself not against aliens but rather his own peers.“It is really just a sustained meditation on violence,” Decker said. “The book portrays the monitoring of young children in the near future, for their potential as combat geniuses, as a passé thing that no one is interested in protesting — this is chilling, as are the various scenes in the book when Colonel Graff allows Ender to suffer violence to test him psychologically.”In his Introduction, Decker writes about the popularity of the book at a number of military training schools. “Their sympathy mainly has to do with the shared experience of training and combat and the resultant transformation of a person’s entire worldview,” he said.Rob Mills, a senior geology major and avid sci-fi reader, last read “Ender’s Game” when he was 14. “I remember quite a bit of it,” he said. “The way the children were treated, the isolation, and then all of the training making it seem to be just a video game. That’s the main thing that sticks with you most about that story,” Mills said.According to Decker “The ethics of training child soldiers and of genocide are, of course, two of the primary philosophical themes of the book.”“’Ender’s Game’ can’t really be understood without putting it into the context of the Vietnam War and its destruction of a generation of youth in both America and in Vietnam,” Decker said.The novel was originally published as a novella, also called “Ender’s Game,” in Analog Magazine in August of 1977. The fall of Saigon, marking the end of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, occurred on April 30, 1975, just 20 months prior.“I think that the part near the end of the book actually refers to the ‘silent majority’ of Americans finding out about what actually happened in Vietnam,” Decker said. “But I think that this message of the book won’t have much of an impact today as we are inured to the constant state of war that the U.S. seems to be stuck in,” he saidDecker’s new book is not the first time “Ender’s Game” has made a splash in Cheney. In 2002 a group of EWU programming students, led by Bill Clark, professor of computer science, made a computer game environment based on the Battle Room in “Ender’s Game.” Though never publicly available, the student project generated some publicity, even landing a feature story in the Spokesman-Review.“The Battleroom game was created by a group of my students in a course on game design. It was built on the Quake2 game engine which had just been released in open source. The primary challenge was to simulate motion in zero-G including bouncing off walls and such. It came out pretty well for something done in just a few weeks by a group of four or five people,” Clark said. “I had read the book, and re-read it right after they started. It really was perfect for their project — a relatively simple environment in which collisions didn’t make objects stop but bounce off and continue in another direction.”Decker will be reading from “Who is Who?” at EWU on Nov. 22, noon to 1 p.m. in the JFK lobby.