Expanding Alaric’s world…and getting mine expanded in return

Recently, we decided to do something about a problem we’ve been noticing with our kids. While they’re both avid readers, they both tend to re-read the same books — tens of times serially if we’d let them. Alaric was not happy when we temporarily banned him from yet another end-to-end re-read of the Harry Potter series (by this point, he’s easily read them three times more than I have), and for a week or so has been ignoring the assigned reading we gave him off of our bookshelves. He was probably hoping we’d forget.

Well, he finally picked up the book we told him to read — Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Pretty soon, he was hooked (just like we told him he’d be). He even told me we were right, so let’s hear it for expanding horizons! If you haven’t read it, the book is about a future Earth that has been united only by the existence of aliens, insect-like beings colloquially called the Buggers. We’ve had two wars with them, both won only at great odds and narrow margins, and a third is inevitable. Earth’s military complex is so desperate for talented fleet commanders that they’ve set in place a process to detect, requisition, and train young children; an exceptional 8 year old will be taken into space to Battle School where he (or the occasional she) begins years of training. Ender, the main character, is younger than normal, but also more talented.

We knew that once he got started, he’d love it; the process of getting him to expand his horizons is sometimes a struggle, but usually worth the effort. However, in this case he returned the favor. If you’ve read the book, you know that one of the neat bits is the little quotes Card opens every chapter with. Many books do this, but in Ender’s Game the quotes are snippets of conversation between minor adult characters in the book. With one exception, all of the major characters in the book are children, so these snippets give Card a way to fill the reader in on the full political situation of which the children are ignorant. They are designed to be tantalizing at first, only fully coming into focus after the major plot points begin to be revealed, and it usually takes a re-read or two to be fully conversant with who is speaking in these conversations. Alaric, at first, thought that the Buggers were holding these conversations! He pretty quickly realized his error, but that really got me thinking about how cool it would have been if Card had pulled something like that off…

…and now I’m wondering if I can work that idea into any of my stories. Hmm.