When I’ve posted about Orson Scott Card, I am often assured that despite of his recent tendency to express nutty political ideas (and film reviews) in terrible prose he was once a gifted novelist. I cannot judge this claim, but it is now clear that the only viable version of this claim requires the word “once”. Really, one can make this point by picking almost any sequence from his new “novel” at random, but here’s my candidate:
Princeton University was just what Reuben expected it to be — hostile to everything he valued, smug and superior and utterly closed-minded. In fact, exactly what they thought the military was.
He kept thinking, the first couple of semesters, that maybe his attitude toward them was just as short-sighted and bigoted and wrong as theirs was of him. But in class after class, seminar after seminar, he learned that far too many students were determined to remain ignorant of any real-world data that didn’t fit their preconceived notions. And even those who tried to remain genuinely open-minded simply did not realize the magnitude of the lies they had been told about history, about values, about religion, about everything. So they took the facts of history and averaged them with the dogmas of the leftist university professors and thought that the truth lay somewhere in the middle.
Well as far as Reuben could tell, the middle they found was still far from any useful information about the real world.
Am I like them, just a bigot learning only what fits my worldview? That’s what he kept asking himself. But finally he reached the conclusion: No, he was not. He faced every piece of information as it came. He questioned his own assumptions whenever the information seemed to violate it. Above all, he changed his mind — and often. Sometimes only by increments; sometimes completely. Heroes he had once admired — Douglas MacArthur, for instance — he now regarded with something akin to horror: How could a commander be so vain, with so little justification for it? Others that he had disdained — that great clerk, Eisenhower, or that woeful incompetent, Burnside — he had learned to appreciate for their considerable virtues.
And now he knew that this was much of what the Army had sent him here to learn. Yes, a doctorate in history would be useful. But he was really getting a doctorate in self-doubt and skepticism, a Ph.D. in the rhetoric and beliefs of the insane Left. He would be able to sit in a room with a far-left Senator and hear it all with a straight face, without having to argue any points, and with complete comprehension of everything he was saying and everything he meant by it.
In other words, he was being embedded with the enemy as surely as when he was on a deep Special Ops assignment inside a foreign country that did not (officially at least) know that he was there.
Thank heaven he could go home to Cecily every day. She was his reality check. Unlike the ersatz Left of the university, Cessy was a genuine old-fashioned liberal, a Democrat of the tradition that reached its peak with Truman and blew its last trumpet with Moynihan.
The “no, he was not” is a nice touch.
Anyway, it’s not surprising that this would win the endorsement of Glenn Reynolds. Recently, Reynolds quoted a passage from Neal “Into the Nipples” Stephenson, which consisted of two “characters” expressing trite points about hypocrisy by reading B+ high school essays at each other. According to Reynolds, not only does this demonstrate that “Stephenson’s position as a moral thinker is underrated” but–I swear I’m not making this up–he was able to “slip that stuff in without being overbearing.” Yeah, if you find Neal Stepehnson subtle then Card’s recent novel should be just right.