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Ender’s Amanuensis: An Interview with Jake Black

Jake Black is a historian, writer, and cancer survivor who is best known for expertise on the Ender Universe. His recent publication, The Authorized Ender Companion is the definitive work on the Ender Universe, even being used by Orson Scott Card himself when writing his novels.

You can follow Jake at his website http://jakeblack.com/.

JO: How did you come to be the writer of The Authorized Ender Companion?

Jack Black: I’d begun my creative collaborations with Orson Scott Card about five or six years ago when I worked on the comic book adaptation of his novel Wyrms. He was pleased with the work I did on that, and (after discovering my degree is in history) asked if I wanted to write the encyclopedia to the Ender series.

JO: In organizing the encyclopedia portion of The Authorized Ender Companion, how did you determine the best style and form for the entries?

JB: As I said, my degree is in history, and so I decided to treat this like a historical project. I’m also a big fan of the encyclopedia style books that have been published on the various comic book universes, etc. and decided to format my book loosely after those. My entries are all much longer than those, but that is due to my historian compulsion to be as thorough as possible!

JO: Orson Scott Card admits in his introduction to the book that many times he violated some the specifics of his universe when writing his novels. How did you deal with contradictions when writing this companion?

JB: Mostly I asked him what he wanted to be the “real” fact. In most cases it was whatever came later. I’ve been tracking all the contradictions along the way, and I believe there will be rereleases of the books with the errors corrected over the next several years.

JO: There is a wealth of companion material written by fans that you could have included, but you chose a timeline by Adam Spieckerman and Nathan Taylor, a family tree of Ender by Andrew Lindsay, an article on the screenplay development of Ender’s Game by Aaron Johnston and an essay on the technology of Ender’s Game by Stephen Sywak. Why were these included and others excluded?

JB: It all came down to what Mr. Card thought would be best. The timelines were well done. I had done the research for the family tree and Andrew made it look nice, fans are always asking about the movie and its status, and finally the Ender books have really resonated with many people so allowing them to express their love was a great idea. Steve Sywak has obsessively devoted his life to the Ender tech, and understands it a lot better than I do, so giving him the pages to present his ideas (which, as you may have noted in the disclaimer in the book, aren’t necessarily a part of the Ender canon) gave him a fun opportunity.

JO: What fact surprised you most in researching this encyclopedia?

JB: The philosophical depth of the Speaker trilogy in the series. I know sci-fi is often deep, but I found a great appreciation for the moral dilemmas and the religious analysis that fill those books.

JO: What was the most difficult aspect of creating this companion?

JB: Ender fans know this stuff. I was constantly worried that I would miss something and get pounced on by online fans. I still live with that fear, actually!

JO: You also included letters from readers about their encounters and the effect of Ender’s Game on themselves. Why was it important to include this?

JB: As I said before, the books in this series have resonated with a lot of people. I think for different reasons, too. Some people like the military strategy presented in them. Others connect to Ender on a personal level. While others still enjoy the philosophical discussions I mentioned earlier.

JO: What do you think is the reason for the enduring popularity of the Ender’s Universe?

JB: It’s a very human story. Ender is so isolated, lonely, yet rises to great heights as he battles the formics, and grows and develops in the later books. The same thing applies to Bean, Petra, Peter, and the rest of the primary characters. So relatable. I think it’s very easy to get an “in” into this world and find yourself a part of the story.

JO: Ender’s Game is now required reading in many schools at the middle and high school levels. What do you think is the reason for its popularity among those age groups and as a tool for instruction?

JB: Again because of the connectivity to the characters. Ender, Bean, and the other kids are all about the age of middle schoolers, and they accomplish tremendous things in the course of the books. If not inspiring for readers of that age, they are certainly worthy of classroom discussion.

JO: What can you tell us about your recently authorized script for a one-shot comic about Valentine?

JB: “Recruiting Valentine” is a short comic book story published by Marvel in mid-2009 that focuses on Valentine Wiggin’s first foray into manipulation under the direction of her brother Peter. It’s not Earth shatter by any means, but it’s a fun story in the Ender Universe, where Ender is not the main focus. I worked closely with Orson Scott Card and Marvel editor Jordan White on developing it. Fan response has been pretty positive. It was fun!

JO: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

JB: My pleasure. Happy to be here!