Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Alien Contact Anthology -- Story #9

If you are new to this blog and are wondering what's up with this Alien Contact anthology (forthcoming from Night Shade Books in November) and this "Story #9" -- you may want to begin here. On the other hand, you could always read on and return to here later....

"The Gold Bug" by Orson Scott Card

This story originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show, an online subscription-only zine -- and is approximately 11,600 words in length.

"The Gold Bug" is part of the Enderverse, the series of stories and novels of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, which began with the 1977 novelette "Ender's Game," later expanded into the Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel Ender's Game, published in 1985. Wikipedia maintains a chronology of the Enderverse, showing the relationship between the eleven novels and thirteen stories in the series.

I asked Orson Scott Card for some thoughts/background on the story:
When I started my online magazine, Intergalactic Medicine Show, I hoped to promote it by including a new story set in the Ender's Game universe in every issue. That worked for a while -- as long as I could come up with stories I could be proud of. But after a while, I learned that I can't come up with stories on demand.

Then the launch of a comic book series led to the idea of doing an original story in the Ender's Game universe as an original comic book. For me, the comic book form requires that there be a much stronger visual component than in narrative fiction. So I began to think of ways to put humans in contact with Formic technology.

Only instead of having machine-based tech, I thought: What if the Formics did their mining by using specially bred animals? Abandoned machines rust and decay, but what do abandoned animals do? I had my visual, and then searched for (and found) my character.

But I didn't write it as a comic book. I know how to write comic book scripts, but it doesn't give me the sprawling room that I'm used to in fiction. Instead, I wrote this story, exactly as it appears here, and another writer -- Jake Black -- adapted the comic-book script. So in a way, I "novelized" the comic book before it existed.

Then, in writing Ender in Exile, I used characters and situations from this story as part of what happens while Ender Wiggin is on his way to the colony he is going to govern. So this story is an integral part of the Ender saga. But I also hope that even if you know nothing about Ender Wiggin, this story will work on its own merits. Because, ultimately, it's just a cool sci-fi idea.

In "The Gold Bug," we follow Sel Menach, a fighter pilot in the Formic war, who first encounters the child battle commander, Ender Wiggin, over his headset, while fighting above a Formic world forty lightyears from Earth. Later, after the war, Sel, a xenobiologist by profession, joins the human colony that settles one of the Formic worlds. Sel's job is "to find some way to protect the alien life forms from the terrestrial ones, and vice versa." When Andrew Wiggin is assigned the governorship of the planet, Sel, the acting governor, leaves the colony [to prevent conflict], with his assistant Po, to further investigate the planet's flora and fauna. And it is during this journey that they discover the gold bug of the title.

From the story:
"These aren't caves," said Po.


"They're tunnels. These are too new, and the land hasn't shaped itself around them the way that it does with real caves. These were dug as doorways. All the same height, do you see?"

"That damnably inconvenient height that makes it such a pain for humans to go inside."


"I have to know what they were doing here. Certainly not farming -- there's no trace of their crops gone wild here. No orchards. No middens, either -- this wasn't a great settlement. And yet there was so much traffic, along that single path." [Sel]

"Mining?" asked Po.

"Can you think of any other purpose? There's something in those tunnels that the Formics thought was worth the trouble of digging out...."


"So you're saying that whatever they took out of these tunnels, it wasn't in such large quantities that it was worth building a city here." [Sel]

"They put their cities where the food was, or the fuel. Whatever they got here, they took little enough of it that it was more economical to carry it to their cities, instead of building a city here to process it."

"You may grow up to amount to something, Po."

As I've previously mentioned, I was an avid reader and book collector long before becoming a professional editor. Two of the prized titles in my library are signed first editions of Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead (1986) -- the first two novels about Ender Wiggin. Speaker also went on to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel, making Orson Scott Card the only author to have won both awards for best novel in consecutive years.

I first met Scott Card when he was Author Guest of Honor at the 1989 BayCon in San Jose. I don't recall at what point we began chatting on Saturday during the convention, but I then asked if he, and his wife, Kristine, would join me for dinner. Actually, as it turned out, I ended up joining Scott and Kristine for dinner! Scott drove, and we did a bit of sightseeing along the way, as he noted some points of interest like the school he attended when he lived in Sunnyvale. We ended up at the Fish Market, on El Camino Real near Lawrence Expressway, for a very nice, relaxing, yet chatty dinner. [Note: Scott is -- or at least was in 1989 -- a huge fan of freshly squeezed orange juice!]

As to "The Gold Bug," parts of this story were included in Chapters 14, 15, and 16 in the novel Ender in Exile, which Scott refers to above. But I believe the story's appearance in Alien Contact is the first time it has been published in its entirety in print form.

[Continue to Story #10]

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