Ender’s Game Movie “Review”

First some background information.

Ender’s Game is, for good reason, considered one of the best sci-fi books out there. Orson Scott Card (OSC) wrote the book in 1985 and it is what catapulted him into fame, despite the fact that most people who have read his fantasy work have told me that they prefer that over Ender’s Game. Personally I found Ender’s Shadow to be superior to Ender’s Game but thought both were good reads and a really interesting introduction to sci-fi. Card has continued to write in that universe and many others. However, he has also diverted off the path of just being a writer and is also using his name and money to support and promote other causes, primarily anti-LGBT and equality campaigns. His name is big enough, the amount of money he’s spent large enough and the timing of the movie is just right so that equality and LGBT activists have called for a boycott of any and everything that Card has touched. Really, Card has said a lot of stuff over the years and supported enough groups that are against the rights of others that I can think of very view people I know who wouldn’t offend Card. So then the question I must answer is why did I go to see the movie? Two things: The first is that he will not get enough money from my ticket to make up for me not wanting to support a new sci-fi film. We aren’t seeing enough of those coming from Hollywood and there’s a chance that if this one does well then they’ll look at doing others. Hopefully those others won’t include a writer who is as much of a dick as Card is. The second is that I was really curious to see if they’d be able to pull it off. Ender’s Game is such an internally driven book where few of the motivations can be easily played out by anyone and it would be ridiculous to have a character do voice over through most of the movie just to explain what’s going on.

For those like me who don’t like the idea of supporting Card much at all but do want to see the movie you can always donate money or your time to a GLBT/human rights group. You could do that even if you don’t go and see the movie, too.

Right, so the review part.

To get it out of the way – I did not like it as an adaptation of the book Ender’s Game. However, if it were just a standalone movie that took its cue from the book I’d find most of it to be pretty cool, good even. That was not the case though. Consider yourselves warned, there be spoilers beyond this point.

SPOILERS I TELL YOU! SPOILERS! (I hope that sounded as cool in your head as it did in mine.)

Ender Wiggin is not just smart, he’s a genius on par with Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Actually, all of the kids that were candidates for battle school are geniuses like that. It was never made clear in the movie that these kids are waaaaaaay more intelligent than their teachers. It wasn’t made clear that they were all expected to be able to fight as much with their bodies as their brains. It also wasn’t made clear that they spent a long time on the battle school. It wasn’t clear that these kids start at 5 or 6 years old and don’t leave until they’re between twelve and fourteen. Yeah, they had to compress some of that in the movie, okay, I’ll give them that. But there is no way in this world that they could have compressed it to fit into less than a year and that they had twenty eight days from the last Dragon battle to the start of the “real” war like what was displayed on their countdown timer of doom. That made the whole thing even less likely. That was the point that I decided they really didn’t know what they were doing.

Oh, it was never made clear either that these students were expected to be able to kill and that it was one of the things that got them into battle school, that ability to do so. Ender got in because he killed the first kid. He stayed in and was recognized as the person they were looking for because he killed Bonzo but hated himself from the moment that he realized he was going to do it. Bonzo didn’t trip, he was killed. If they had done those sequences right then the dialogue with Valentine where she tells him that he isn’t like Peter because he has to be able to love someone before he can kill them would make so much more sense. As it is they just sort of hang there.

Once the movie goes up to the battle school, we’re up there and never hear anything more about what’s going on down on the ground. There was so much politicking going on down there and Ender’s siblings were THE movers and shakers. They did so much and there wasn’t even a nod to it in the movie. Bah!

They decided to compress all of the “simulated” battles to less than a half-dozen, okay, fine, I can understand that. However, there was no reason whatsoever to move EVERYONE to a planet outside the solar system! They even threw around the word ansible and communication even if they didn’t explain it. Being closer to the fight meant nothing AND it got rid of the point that this whole damn thing had been planned years and years and years in advance. The *only* reason for making that change was so Ender could walk outside his little safe place and find the queen’s egg, which screwed up the ending in so many ways I can’t count them all. The way they showed Ender finding the random Queen egg just laying around WITH a dying queen to protect it did two things: showed that there were probably more formics living in other places and that Ender didn’t complete genocide and made the entire fleet appear to be entirely incompetent for not making sure the area around their base was clear, at least far enough that a kid couldn’t walk for a few minutes and run into a formic. You know, an alien that has a strong history of trying to kill humans without asking any questions? GAH! That was just bad. Bad, bad, bad.

A few things they almost got right – the relationship between Ender and Petra. I think Hollywood actually wanted to make it into a love thing but someone came by and said “no, that’s going to get you killed more than this whole Card thing is,” so they didn’t. Instead they made it borderline, which I can deal with. Petra rescues Ender, makes him look awesome and they work well as a team. Alai gets named and the lesson he teaches Ender about peace is there. Bean is mentioned though it’s more like the screenwriters were told to name one of the kids “Bean” and to make him smaller and spin around in the battle room.

Oh the battle room. You know, I will forgive them for how they portrayed it. Yeah, fine, they completely screwed up with the design of the school and how the battle room was supposed to look and how the whole gravity thing worked there. I never expected them to get it right anyway. However, I do think that the visuals we got from their version was pretty damn awesome and much more visually pleasing than the big white/gray/black room that I had from the book. I don’t think movie audiences would have been satisfied with a battle room that was true to the books.

I’ll even give them the few battles they showed. They did a lot better will all of that than I had expected them to. I hope to see some of the things they learned from filming those scenes pop up in other movies because it was really fun.

I’ve totally lost all my steam here, so I’m just going to leave it at my previous assessment. If I hadn’t gone in knowing it was supposed to be Ender’s Game it would have been a whole hell of a lot better. Generic space sci-fi movie gets 4/5 stars, Ender’s Game adaptation gets 1.5/5 stars. They intentionally got too many things wrong for me to give it any higher of a rating.

Advertisements

What Book Publishers Do Right and What They Do Wrong

I love books. They have my friends since I learned how to read and there are somewhere around 1000 in my house not counting e-books or audio books. There is no way I will ever be able to read all of them in my life-time but that doesn’t keep my from purchasing more.

Except I have not been purchasing anywhere near as many books as I once did. This has much to do with the pricing of books. Hard cover books are excessively expensive. Enough so that unless you purchase them from a small, local bookstore you get anything from a 10-30% discount on purchasing them. Trade editions (the ones that are somewhere between the size of a hard cover and the size of most paperbacks, also known as mass market) are less than 1/2 the price of hard covers only they don’t come with any sort of discount. Shame in my opinion. Mass market prices have gone up $1-3 in the last four or five years. Then you have electronic books. In some cases they are the same price as trade books which makes them more expensive than the physical book. In other cases they are the same price or only $1-3 less, making them the same price I would have expected to pay for a physical copy five years ago. The electronic copy of a book does not have the same value or worth as a physical copy but we, the consumers, are expected to not realize that. That’s without getting into the whole DRM/DRM-free battle. I’ll leave that to my husband to explain.

The long story short here is that I have avoided purchasing many books because I cannot justify putting yet another book on my already overflowing bookshelves that I may or may not read. I also am unable to justify the price of the electronic copy of the book even if that’s the most convenient way to read.

There are two publishers (that I am aware of) that continue to price-fix their e-books so they are more than their physical books and are sold with DRM. The biggest culprit of this, at least of the publishers that I tend to read books from, is Penguin Group which publishes most of its sci-fi/fantasy books under Ace Publishing. They were so bad that I just wrote a letter to Penguin Group voicing my concerns. You can read it at the end if you’re curious.

Some publishers are slowly figuring this out. They are making a token effort at satisfying their consumers. Their electronic books are at least consistently less than mass market books and they are DRM-free. Tor/Forge of Macmillan is the best example that I’m aware of, again because they are the sci-fi/fantasy publishing company for Macmillan. They’ve at least made a few steps in the right direction. O’Reilly Publishing has gone even further. They publish technical books (I keep mistaking them for text-books) and give their consumers the option to purchase the e-book in addition to their physical books for an additional $5 just by entering the ISBN number. Considering the fact that the absolute cheapest I’ve seen any of their books is $32 and they go as high $150 that is a fantastic deal.

I’ve seen individual authors do some really cool things too. Small, self-published authors frequently keep their e-books under $5, closer to $3, and will even give their first book for free to get people reading. There are several authors that I’ve started to read because of programs like that. Even big-name authors give cool deals to their readers when they can. The most recent I can think of was Brandon Sanderson who emailed the e-book of one of his novellas to anyone who emailed him a picture of them holding a copy of the physical book without asking for a penny more. He is really pleased with how that has worked out for him and is hoping to be able to do similar programs with his books in the future. He would really love to see the big publishers doing something like that for their consumers. He’s really pushing it for his next big release and I decided to email his primary publisher, Tor/Forge (Macmillan), to encourage this practice. Again, email can be found at the bottom.

I cannot wait for the time when publishers realize that e-books are the way to go. I am dearly attached to my physical books. I also dread moving them and needing to purchase more and more bookshelves. I like the convenience of my e-reader. I’ve already written about the pros and cons, here, so I won’t repeat all of it. Let’s just go with that the idea that I like both and see the pros and cons of both but like carrying my ereader around a whole hell of a lot more than all my physical books. I tend to hurt physical books when I carry them around.

There are a few good options for publishers. I addressed some of those in my email to Tor/Forge asking them to consider allowing consumers to purchase physical books and then get the ebook version either free or at a much reduced price. I would highly encourage anyone else who seriously enjoys reading books, whether they use an ereader (yet) or not, to email various publishers about this too. You could even copy what I’ve written below, though I would encourage you to add your own thoughts as well. My first email below is requesting a publisher to bundle physical books and ebooks together. The second is my email to Penguin Publishing regarding their horrid ebook pricing. It’s maybe a bit more negative in tone than I normally write, but they continue to anger me. My husband and I both will be writing to every publisher every time we don’t purchase a book because of stupid price schemes. If you’re upset by some of the not so awesome policies of publishers, I would also encourage you to email/write them about it as well.

Whether you do voice any concerns to publishers or not, thank you for reading this.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing you on behalf of myself and my husband. We are both avid readers and have been frequent purchasers of books published by Macmillan or subsidiaries, particularly Tor/Forge books. We have also grown quite fond of e-books due to their convenience and the fact that we can both read the same book(s) at the same time. This has also put us in a bit of a pickle. It is difficult for us to justify purchasing a physical book unless it is a special circumstance, e.g. a release from an author we want to display on our bookcases, but it is even more difficult to justify purchasing the e-book when it is either the same price or within $3-4 of the physical book. An electronic copy of a book is not worth the $5-10 that we are asked to pay. This has led us to purchase far fewer books than we otherwise would purchase. We leave bookstores empty handed seven times out of ten. We both have dozens of books on our individual Amazon wishlists that will never be purchased at their current pricing.

There is a solution that already seems to be working well for the movie industry and a practice that has also worked well for O’Reilly Publishing. When a consumer purchases a movie they often are purchasing an electronic copy of the movie as well. The movie industry does continue to sell movies and continues to make good profits. O’Reilly Publishing has set it up on their website so that a consumer can download a technical book for $5 after entering in the ISBN number for a physical copy of the text that they own. Again, they continue to make profits and have made no indication that they intend to change their policy. I would not propose that you rely upon the honor system like what O’Reilly does. However, what I propose would be two things: A hardcover purchase comes with a free copy of the electronic version of the book in whatever format each consumer’s e-reader supports. A soft cover purchase, whether trade or mass market, will come with the option for a reader to add on the electronic version for $1 more, again in whatever format works with their e-reader. This would also make the decision to shop at the local bookstore, as compared to Amazon or other online retailers, easier.

Another anecdotal note is based on comments from Brandon Sanderson at a recent book signing. He experimented with giving his readers the e-book copy of his novella, Emperor’s Soul, if they emailed him a picture of them holding the physical book. He has had good sales for this novella and has gotten many positive responses from his readers for this action. I personally believe that he is part of the leading wave of authors who have recognized that readers want to have options like this and that e-books will not kill the book industry but can be complimentary if handled properly.

I can guarantee that people like my husband and I, who are not alone in our desire to support authors and new books being released, would make many more book purchases.

Thank you for your time and consideration

Grumpy email to Penguin:

To whom it may concern,

I am writing you concerning the price of the e-book Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein currently published by Ace, a subsidiary of Penguin. This book was released in 1959 and was an award winning and best selling book at that time. It is still considered a must read for any sci-fi reader. However, you have lost at least 2 purchasers of a new copy in all formats because of your pricing for the e-book. $9.99 for an electronic copy of a book that has been available in mass market, currently priced at $8.99, for over 50 years is unacceptable. I have spoken with multiple people regarding my disgust at this pricing scheme, the vast majority of whom also read e-books. When I do purchase this book it will be at a used bookstore specifically with the intention to avoid giving you, the publisher, my additional financial support. I will not purchase any e-books from Penguin Group Publishing nor any of its subsidiaries until your anti-consumer policies have changed. I will also not purchase any other books, physical or audio, from your publishing group. I will continue to discuss my concerns with friends, family and co-workers to educate them on the way some publishers prey on their consumers.

Sincerely, a former Ace/Penguin group consumer,