A Universe Without Up Or Down

A Universe Without Up Or Down
What does a nine-year-old military genius have in common with an oversized modern dancer?

Neither one of them cares about up or down. They don’t become disoriented in a free fall or microgravity environments, and it gives them both the edge over the rest of humanity when it comes to defeating hostile aliens. Two books that have become classics of science fiction start by questioning whether creatures that spend their lives at the bottom of a gravity well will adapt to life and be able to orient themselves when gravity becomes a force that’s as gentle as a mild breeze. It might be a skill that could save all of us from extinction at the mandibles of hostile aliens.

Shara Drummond a large and shapely young woman is just too big physically to be a success as a modern dancer on earth. So when she gets the opportunity to dance solo using earth and the stars for her stage she’s willing to pay the price to practice her art. She recruits Charles Armstead, a former dancer turned videographer after a bullet to the hip ended his dance career to capture her performance. When they reach orbit, Charlie, who narrates the story, is a bit disconcerted to learn that part of the price he as well as Shara must pay is putting up with Bryce Carrington, billionaire industrialist and Shara’s sugar daddy. The obnoxious Carrington is paying for the entire production.

Shara and Charlie learn to adapt to “zero gee” and an environment “without a local vertical.” They work vigorously against the deadline when their bodies will become so adapted to microgravity that they will be unable to return safely to Earth. It’s a good thing too, because just before they’re about to return to earth, a swarm of fifty alien red fireflies suddenly appear in front of them. Shara watches their swarming and realizes that it’s a dance. They communicate by dance, and they want Earth for their breeding ground.

Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is a child prodigy. The government is very interested in his development. He has the potential to save humanity from extinction. In desperate space battles during the past century the International Fleet has barely staved off two invasions by monstrous insect-like interstellar aliens. They need a new Napoleon, a military genius that can lead the Fleet to victory, and so, when he’s just seven-years-old, they decide to send Ender to Battle School in space.

He’s packed into a shuttle with a load of other boy recruits and launched into space. As soon as the acceleration cuts off he has a memorable encounter with Colonel Graff, the principal of the Battle School. He personally recruited Ender. While recruiting he was personable and reassuring, but now he’s turned into a stereotypical drill instructor. He comes climbing down along a ladder from the front of the shuttle to where the recruits are strapped in. The he pushes off from the ladder and flips about in null gravity. This maneuver gets mixed reactions from the boys.

“The reorientations were too much for some. One boy gagged…But for Ender, Graff’s gravity game was fun.

‘What do you think is so funny, Wiggin?’

Graff’s voice was sharp and angry. What did I do wrong, thought Ender, Did I laugh out loud?

‘I asked you a question, soldier!’ barked Graff. …

‘Yes sir,' Ender said.

'Well, answer it, then!’

‘I thought of you hanging upside down by your feet. I thought it was funny.’

It sounded stupid, now, with Graff looking at him coldly.

‘To you I suppose it is funny. Is it funny to anyone else here?’

Murmurs of no.

'Well why isn’t it?’ Graff looked at them all with contempt. ‘Scumbrains, that’s what we’ve got on this launch. Pinhead little morons. Only one of you had the brains to realize that in null gravity directions are whatever you conceive them to be. … There’s only one boy on this launch with any brains at all, and that’s Ender Wiggin. Take a good look at him, little boys. He’s going to be a commander when you’re still in diapers up there. Because he knows how to think in null gravity, and you just want to throw up.’”

Needless to say, Ender does not go on to become the most popular student in Battle School. But he does go on to excel at the war games they play there. The novel goes on to explore questions of war, politics, gaming and human nature while telling an exciting science fiction story peopled with vivid and extraordinary characters.