SDCC: Interview with Orson Scott Card Pt 1: "Earth Unaware" novel... and possibly more?

I'd like to first set the scene.

It's Saturday at San Diego Comic-Con 2012. For those of you who have not yet experienced it, Saturday boasts quite possibly the most jam-packed crowd I've ever been shoved into outside of a mosh pit.  Making your way through the exhibition hall is more like, well, slogging through people-shaped molasses. Slow is an understatement.

Saturday also happens to be one of the biggest costuming days. It's when a lot of fandoms plan "themed" meet-ups, usually resulting in some of the best photography of the con.

Unfortunately, it also results in very slow crowd movement as everyone wants to take their pictures in the middle of the walkways. When you're dressed in a costume, people with cameras prevent you from going very far very fast. It's just something you learn to plan on. "Oh, I have to get across the convention hall? I better set aside 2 hours instead of 20 minutes."

So, when I got a text from Tor Books, letting me know that Ender's Game author Orson Scott Card would have a few minutes before his panel on Saturday afternoon, I knew that it would be a very interesting interview. Why? Because only forty-five minutes prior to it, I would be in a Batman villains meet up:

© Photograph by: Brian Lee Flores

I didn't have time before the interview to change out of my costume - it's a bit elaborate - but Mr. Card was unfazed. I suppose when you're at Comic-Con, that kind of thing goes along with attendance. It will be a nice story for my grandchildren, I guess, when I hand them Ender's Game and explain that I once interviewed the author while dressed as battle-ready Harley Quinn. I'm sure they'll be simultaneously appalled and impressed….

So, it ended up being me, ridiculously dressed as shown, talking with Mr. Card in a little alcove where people walk to find the restrooms. It was still noisy, but even just a few feet from the hallway separated us the din enough to have a conversation that wasn't interrupted.

After testing my audio recorder, we began.

I was prepared with an entire list of questions, but I didn't really need any of them: Instead of an interview, it was more like a conversation with Orson Scott Card. We talked about his new book coming out, segued into the movie and his thoughts, and ended our time on a really fantastic note. Sometimes it's hard to prompt interviewees into giving answers that are more than just a line or two, but it was very clear that Mr. Card really enjoys what he's doing right now and is excited about where things are headed.

He had much to say about his new book (that, by the way, just came out!), Earth Unaware. In a classy slip of the tongue, I announced it as Earth Underwear, which he was more than a bit amused by. For shame, Aidan.

Part One: Earth Unaware

Card filled me in on some of the plot specifics first, mentioning that, as his readers probably know, Earth Unaware is a prequel to the Ender's Game series. It follows the storyline leading into the First Formic War (Ender's Game takes place during the Third), from the perspective of a mining family living out in the far reaches of the solar system - the Kuiper Belt. The corporations have taken over all the easier places to mine (like the asteroid belts), so it's not easy living.

"The mining family, they basically live from their ship so they have to be able to make everything themselves," Card explained, adding that their ship, El Cavador, is Spanish for "The Excavator."

Since they're at the farthest reaches of the solar system (this little infographic really explains the distance well), they're the first to spot an incoming alien ship, traveling at half of light speed. As Card said, "If you can get at half of lightspeed, you're a fast ship." With a possible threat looming ever closer, it's up to the family to get to Earth in time to warn them.

I find prequels immensely interesting, especially when they backtrack so far that the characters in the original book aren't around or don't yet exist. It's the chance to provide backstory and really round out the world in which the characters we know live, instead of just what's around them directly. Card agreed:

"What we're hoping to do is have something that actually fits with the science of the book, follows the real story, and we've got some great, great characters. I think people are going to love these guys and girls. It's multiple stories and it's the same universe as Ender, it's pointing toward Ender Wiggin. And so the experience, we hope the experience of reading these books will be world creation, you know, that people will be excited about it like we are."

"We" refers to himself and Aaron Johnston, the co-author on the prequel. Sometimes writing a story with another author can be a real tug-of-war and I was curious whether writing something like this - a book within a series of books that Card wrote by himself - raised any unforeseen challenges. Card didn't seem to think so, raving about Johnston and his ability to work well with Card's methodologies and what he finds important in a story:

"[It's great working with someone] who is, to put it bluntly, your equal. In other words, I don't have to go in and fix stuff. He and I see eye to eye about what you tell in a story. There are people who are much more about the action and adventure than I am, and it would be hard for me to collaborate with them because I don't really care about the things they care about. Aaron feels the same way. He writes the same kind of thing, but he has his own voice, his own style and it's fun to meld that and come up with a story together. Idea sessions with Aaron are amazing!"

It's worth noting that talking to Card about this book, I could tell it's something he's not only proud of, but excited by. He clued me in on a little bit of their future planning, admitting that he and Johnston hope to develop the story of the first Formic War into a television series! How incredible would that be?

I believe Ender's Game and the series following it were such strong, successful books because of Card's intense focus on the characters and the dynamic between them, how they react to their surroundings and the events occurring with or without their approval. Fans of Card's work are attached to characters that aren't even in the books that long or that frequently, which is a testament to his ability to make the readers care about what happens to the characters, all of the characters, instead of just furthering the story line. It sounds like Earth Unaware is going to be just as successful in that regard, and I can't wait to read it!

And Card confirms: "It's about the characters. It's about relationships. It's about what your life is."


Stay tuned! Coming up soon: Part 2 of our interview with Orson Scott Card, where he talks about next year's Ender's Game film, Battle Room visuals, book-to-movie adaptations, and more!
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