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  • Written by Orson Scott Card
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Written by Orson Scott CardAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Orson Scott Card

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On Sale: June 28, 2005
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-345-48451-2
Published by : Del Rey Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Orson Scott Card has the distinction of having swept both the Hugo and Nebula awards in two consecutive years with his amazing novels Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. For a body of work that ranges from science fiction to nonfiction to plays, Card has been recognized as an author who provides vivid, colorful glimpses between the world we know and worlds we can only imagine.

In a peaceful, prosperous African American neighborhood in Los Angeles, Mack Street is a mystery child who has somehow found a home. Discovered abandoned in an overgrown park, raised by a blunt-speaking single woman, Mack comes and goes from family to family–a boy who is at once surrounded by boisterous characters and deeply alone. But while Mack senses that he is different from most, and knows that he has strange powers, he cannot possibly understand how unusual he is until the day he sees, in a thin slice of space, a narrow house. Beyond it is a backyard–and an entryway into an extraordinary world stretching off into an exotic distance of geography, history, and magic.

Passing through the skinny house that no one else can see, Mack is plunged into a realm where time and reality are skewed, a place where what Mack does and sees seem to have strange affects in the “real world” of concrete, cars, commerce, and conflict. Growing into a tall, powerful young man, pursuing a forbidden relationship, and using Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream as a guide into the vast, timeless fantasy world, Mack becomes a player in an epic drama. Understanding this drama is Mack’s challenge. His reward, if he can survive the trip, is discovering not only who he really is . . . but why he exists.

Both a novel of constantly surprising entertainment and a tale of breathtaking literary power, Magic Street is a masterwork from a supremely gifted, utterly original American writer–a novel that uses realism and fantasy to delight, challenge, and satisfy on the most profound levels.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Bag Man

The old man was walking along the side of the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, gripping a fistful of plastic grocery bags. His salt-and-pepper hair was filthy and hanging in that sagging parody of a Rastafarian hairdo that most homeless men seem to get, white or black. He wore a once-khaki jacket stained with oil and dirt and grass and faded with sunlight. His hands were covered with gardening gloves.

Dr. Byron Williams passed him in his vintage Town Car and then stopped at the light, waiting to turn left to go up the steep road from the PCH to Ocean Avenue. A motorcycle to the left of him gunned its engine. Byron looked at the cyclist, a woman dressed all in black leather, her face completely hidden inside a black plastic helmet. The blank faceplate turned toward him, regarded him for a long moment, then turned to the front again.

Byron shuddered, though he didn’t know why. He looked the other way, to the right, across the lanes of fast-moving cars that were speeding up to get on the 10 and head east into Los Angeles. Normally Byron would be among them, heading home to Baldwin Hills from his day of classes and meetings at Pepperdine.

But tonight he had promised Nadine that he’d bring home dinner from I Cugini. That’s the kind of thing you had to do when you married a black woman who thought she was Italian. Could have been worse. Could have married a black woman who thought she was a redneck. Then they’d have to vacation in Daytona every year and listen to country music and eat possum and potato-chip-and-mayonnaise sandwiches on white bread.

Or he could be married to a biker like the woman still revving her engine in the other left-turn lane. He could just imagine getting dragged into biker bars, where, as an African-American professor of literature specializing in the romantic poets, he would naturally fit right in. He tried to imagine himself taking on a half-dozen drunken bikers with chains and pipes. Of course, if he were with that biker woman, he wouldn’t have to fight them. She looked like she could take them on herself and win—a big, strong woman who wouldn’t put up with nonsense from any- body.

That was a lot to know about a woman without seeing her face, but her body, her posture, her choice of costume and bike, and above all that challenging roar from her bike—the message was clear. Don’t get in front of me, buddy, cause I’m coming through.

He only gradually realized that he was staring right at the homeless man with the handfuls of grocery bags. The man was stopped at the edge of the roadway, facing him, staring back at him. Now that Byron could see his face, he realized that the man wasn’t faking his rasta do—he was entitled to it, being a black man. A filthy, shabby, rheumy-eyed, chin-stubbled, grey-bearded, slack-lipped old bum of a black man. But the hair was authentic.

Authentic. Thinking of the word made Byron cringe. Every year there was at least one student in one of his classes who’d mutter something—or say it boldly—about how the very fact that he was teaching courses in nineteenth-century white men’s literature made him less authentic as a black man. Or that being a black man made him less authentic as a teacher of English literature. As if all a black man ought to aspire to teach was African studies or black history or Swahili.

The old man winked at him.

And suddenly Byron’s annoyance drained away and he felt a little giddy. What was he brooding about? Students gave crap to their teachers whenever they thought they could get away with it. They learned soon enough that in Byron’s classes, the students who cared would become the kind of people who were fit to understand Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Grey, and—of course—Lord Byron himself. That’s what his good students sometimes called him—Lord Byron. Not to his face, because he always gave them his withering glare until they apologized. But he reveled in the knowledge that they called him that behind his back. And if he ever let anyone see his poetry, perhaps they’d discover that it was a name he deserved.

Lines from one of his own poems came to his mind. And from his mind, straight to his lips:

Into my chariot, whispered the sun god. Here beside me, Love, crossing the sky. Leave the dusty road on which you plod: Behind these fiery horses come and fly. No matter how fast we go, how far, how high, I’ll never let you fall. All your life On earth you’ve crept and climbed and clawed— Now, Mortal Beauty, be my wife, And of your dreams of light, I’ll grant you all.

The bag man’s lips parted into a snaggle-toothed grin, and he stepped out into the traffic, heading straight for Byron’s car.

For a moment Byron was sure the man would be killed. But no. The light had changed, and the cars came to a stop as he passed in front of them. In only a few moments, he set his hand to the handle of Byron’s passenger door.

It was locked. Byron pushed the button to open it.

“Don’t mind if I do,” said the bag man. “Mind if I put my bags in your back seat?”

“Be my guest,” said Byron.

The old man opened the back door and carefully arranged his bags on the floor and back seat. Byron wondered what was in them. Whatever it was, it couldn’t be clean, and the bags probably had fleas or lice or ants or other annoying creatures all over them. Byron always kept this car spotless—the kids knew the rules, and never dared to eat anything inside this car, lest a crumb fall and they get a lecture from their dad. Sorry if that annoyed them, but it was good for children to learn to take care of nice things and treat them with respect.

And yet, even though he knew that letting those bags sit in the back seat would require him to vacuum and wash and shampoo until it was clean again, he didn’t mind. Those bags belonged there. As the old man belonged in the front seat beside him.

The motorcycle to his left revved one last time and whined off up the steep road to Santa Monica.

Behind him, cars started honking.

The old man took his time getting into the front seat, and then he just sat there, not closing his door. Nor had he closed the back door, either.

No matter. To a chorus of honks and a few curses shouted out of open car windows, Byron got out and walked around to the other side of the Lincoln. He closed the back door, then reached in and fastened the old man’s seat belt before he closed that door, too.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” murmured the old man as Byron fastened the belt.

“Safety first,” said Byron. “Nobody dies in my car.”

“No matter how fast we go, how far, how high,” answered the old man.

Byron grinned. It felt good, to have someone know his poem so well he could quote it back to hm.

By the time he got back to the driver’s door, the cars behind him were whipping out into the leftmost turn lane to get around him, honking and screaming and flipping him off as they passed. But they couldn’t spoil his good mood. They were jealous, that’s all, because the old man had chosen to ride in his car and not theirs.

Byron sat down, closed his door, fastened his seat belt, and prepared to wait for the next green light.

“Ain’t you gonna go?” asked the old man.

Byron looked up. Incredibly, the left arrow was still green.

“Why not,” he said. He pulled forward at a stately pace.

To his surprise, the light at the top of the hill was still green, and the next light, too.

“Hope you don’t mind,” said Byron. “Got to stop and pick up dinner.”

“A man’s got to keep his woman happy,” said the old man. “Nothing more important in life. Except teaching your kids to be right with God.”

That made Byron feel a little pang of guilt. Neither he nor Nadine were much for going to church. When his mother came to visit, they all went to church together, and the kids seemed to enjoy it. But they called it Grandma’s church, even though she only attended it when she came to LA.

Byron turned left on Broadway and pulled up in the valet parking lane in front of I Cugini. The valet headed toward his car as Byron got out.

“Just picking up some takeout,” he said as he handed the man a five-dollar bill.

“Pay after,” said the valet.

“No, don’t park the car, I’m just picking up a takeout order.”

The man looked at him in bafflement. Apparently he hadn’t been here long enough to understand English that wasn’t exactly what he expected to hear.

So Byron spoke to him in Spanish. “Hace el favor de no mover mi carro, si? Voltaré en dos minutos.”

The man grinned and sat down in the driver’s seat.

“No,” said Byron, “no mueva el auto, por favor!”

The old man leaned over. “Don’t worry, son,” he said. “He don’t want to move the car. He just wants to talk to me.”

Of course, thought Byron. This old man must be familiar to all the valets. When you spend hours a day at the curb in Santa Monica, you’re going to get to know all the homeless people.

Only when he was waiting at the counter for the girl to process his credit card did it occur to Byron that he spoke Italian and French, and could read Greek, but had never spoken or studied Spanish in his life.

Well, you learn a couple of romance languages, apparently you know them all.

The food was ready to go, and the card went right through on the first try. They didn’t even ask him for i.d.

And when he got back outside, there was his car at the curb, and the valet was inside, kissing the old man’s hands. By the time Byron got around to the driver’s side and opened the back door, the valet was out of the car. Byron put the takeout bags on the floor, stood up, and closed the back door. The valet was already walking away.

“Wait a minute!” called Byron. “Your tip!”

The valet turned and waved his hand. “No problem!” he called in heavily accented English. “Thank you very much sir!”

Byron got in and sat down. “Never heard of a valet turning down a tip,” he said.


From the Hardcover edition.
Orson Scott Card|Author Q&A

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card - Magic Street

Orson Scott Card is the first writer to be awarded both the Hugo and the Nebula in two consecutive years for science fiction novels. He is thus far the recipient of four Hugo Awards, two Nebula Awards, one World Fantasy Award, and four Locus Awards, among others. Also, a dozen of his plays have been produced in regional theatre, his novel Saints has been an underground hit for several years, and he has written hundreds of audio plays and a dozen scripts for animated video plays for the family market. He is the author of two books on writing: Character and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. Card has conducted writing courses at several universities and a number of renowned workshops. In addition, Card is a partner in Fresco Pictures, a movie production company. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his family.

Author Q&A

Interview With Orson Scott Card

Question:Just to get this question out of the way, some people are going to ask what gives you, a white male, the insight and experience to write about African-American characters in a black community. Your response?

Orson Scott Card:I only have the insight and experience to write about human beings in human communities. The specifics of this community and these human beings were greatly helped by the friends I acknowledge in the book – as well as a lifetime of living in an America deeply penetrated and influenced by many aspects of different African-American communities.

In a sense, all attempts to depict individuals who are unlike the author and who live in communities the author does not live in are doomed to failure. You can’t help but get something wrong. All you can ever do is treat the communities and characters you write about with enough respect that you’ll try to learn and get things right.

Q:Where did you get the idea for Magic Street? Why couldn't the story have been told with white characters, or characters of any other race? In other words, what is it about this story that is specifically black, that demanded to be told in this way and no other?

OSC:The original idea was from my friend, Roland Bernard Brown, who wrote to me (from LA, where he lives), asking me to write a black male hero who would be as strong a figure as the white male and female heroes I had already written. I told him then that while I was confident of my ability to write a hero of either sex or of any age, the decision to set a story within an existing community was a guarantee of failure – unless I had help. He agreed to help, so I began a long process of coming up with an effective story.

Since the premise was to create a contemporary black male hero, I could hardly tell the same story with white characters.

The more Roland talked to me about upper-middle-class life as a black living in both black and integrated society in LA, the more determined I became that this story was not going to be about race – that is, about relations between whites and blacks in LA. Too many ugly things happened in the intervening years – like the Rodney King incident, and the riots after the trial, and the O.J. thing, all of which made me less and less interested in writing a fiction about black-and-white.

What I wanted was for my hero to be a black man who nevertheless was saving the world (in the generic sense). I wanted to focus on him within the neighborhood he grew up in, the people that he knew well, and not his prickly and dangerous relations with “the man.” Besides, Walter Mosley was already writing his Easy Rawlins books, which did everything I could possibly have hoped to do with racial interaction in LA – and far better than I could have done it. (Being members of the minority, blacks are, by experience, experts on black and white culture; few whites have enough opportunities to interact with large numbers of blacks to be able to know black society half so well as blacks in America have to know white society in order to survive!)

Driving around Baldwin Hills; meeting with Queen Latifah about another project; conversations with African-American friends here in Greensboro and elsewhere; reading books by black writers about black culture – all these things contributed to the growing story. Ultimately, though, it was a story that came out of my own imagination and experience of human life; what else do I have to rely on?

Q: Wait, so there really is a Baldwin Hills, California?

OSC:Take the La Cienega exit from the 10 and drive south.

Q:And wait again: you’re working on a project with Queen Latifah?

OSC: I can’t say any more about that right now. Sorry.

Q:Okay, back to Magic Street. What steps did you take to avoid stumbling into stereotype?

OSC:It’s easy to avoid stereotype, simply by never writing characters as if they were “minor.” I try to treat every character who is more than a place holder as the hero of his or her own story. They don’t act as the story needs them to; they act as they would act in order to accomplish their own purposes or respond to their own needs.

But I don’t get fanatical about avoiding stereotypes. It’s like a black comedian once said (sorry, can’t remember who, just heard it on XM radio): “I like watermelon. And now I can’t eat it in public because it reinforces a stereotype.”

Of course, the decision to set the story in Baldwin Hills rather than the mean streets was a deliberate one. I was not showing the movie cliche of black life, I was showing the lives of the greater number of American blacks who live in decent, comfortable, safe neighborhoods and go to regular jobs and live by the rules of their Christian faith or ordinary American ethics. Not dealing or taking drugs, not facing violence every day. By not going into that territory (except in a few brief incidents), I steered away from some of the worst cliches in American writing today.

Q:Is it possible for a white man to write a novel about black characters in America without having these sorts of questions asked and issues raised? Will there ever be a racially neutral literature and readership? Is that even desirable?

OSC: Let me give you a different example. I direct plays in Greensboro, a southern town. Since it’s amateur theatre, I try hard to cast everyone who tries out. There are aspects of people’s physical appearance that you have to take into account. Male or female, tall or short, old or young – these things play a part in casting, there’s simply no avoiding it, because the audience needs help in envisioning the characters.

But they don’t need to be sorted out by race. I did my script of “A Dixie Christmas Carol,” and one of the Cratchits was played by a mixed-race, black-looking kid. I didn’t adapt the script. I didn’t explain. There was no need. The audience got it immediately and forgot about it. Saw the same thing in one of the casts of Les Miz in New York: Madame Thenardier was played, for a while, by a black actress. No explanation, no apology. The audience was fine – and there was no attempt to do “white make-up.”

Now, this won’t work when the play is about race. You can’t cast Big River with a white Jim and a black Huck, because the audience would be bothered and distracted by the casting throughout the play. (Which breaks my heart. There was a time when I could so have sung the part of Jim, but it would never, never happen!)

Most of the time, though, you can do race-neutral casting, and audiences in the north and south do fine with it.

But it’s not everybody – it’s just the play-going public. The people most likely to be bothered by it won’t be there to see it anyway, because they don’t go to plays.

It’s the same way with books. Most people who read books regularly are sophisticated enough to know that if the book feels real, it doesn’t matter what race the writer is. After all, we read historical novels by people who never lived in the eras they describe. We read books with male and female characters by authors who inevitably belong to only one of those sexes.

It’s not for any literary reason that this question is going to come up. It’s only because of politics in America today. And it will take time for race to stop being a political matter. But a book like Magic Street will, I hope, be part of the gradual erosion of that wall. Not because the book is particularly egalitarian – it’s not about that sort of thing, not about politics at all. Rather, I hope the book will help precisely because if I did a good job, then black readers will get the pleasant surprise of realizing that a white writer can get it partly or mostly right; and white readers will get an exposure to a version of black culture they probably haven’t seen before. On both sides, some walls get smaller. Maybe.

Or maybe not, and we’ll go a few months or years till somebody else does a better job than I did.

Q:Magic Street could just as easily have been called Mack Street, after its central character. Tell us about him.

OSC:I named him Mack Street because of the title. He’s a kid who was found in a field and raised by a single (formerly married) nurse, with the help of the neighbor boy who found him. He wanders the streets of his neighborhood, seeing everything and everybody through different eyes, because for some reason he sees their dreams at night. He knows his neighbors by their dreams, which reveal their deepest hopes and fears. He also knows that sometimes those dreams come true in terrible ways, and that in some twisted way it’s partly his fault when they do. He takes that seriously, and tries to prevent it. Ultimately, though, it’s tied in to who he really is, which is the central mystery of the novel.

Q:You've drawn a lot of the fairy lore permeating Magic Street from the works of Shakespeare, especially A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. What other sources did you use?

OSC:Those weren’t so much the sources of the magic as a game I started playing partway through writing the novel. When I realized that some of these characters were Shakespearean at root, then it became more fun – almost exhilarating sometimes – to twist them into and through the story.

Ultimately, though, the “source” is my own sense of how human beings exercise power in each other’s lives. Magic in fantasy fiction is invariably a reflection of that.

Q:If Mack Street is the novel's central character, who is its moral compass? Ceese Tucker? Word Williams?

OSC:There’s no moral compass. Each character has his or her own morality, and they all differ slightly from each other. That’s how the world works – we’re all playing at the same table, but by slightly different rules. And sometimes not so slightly.

Ultimately, of course, the moral compass is me. I’m the one who chooses what happens and why. But within my stories, there is never a character who is always right or who speaks for me with any kind of reliability.

Q: You're known to most readers as a science fiction author, and so perhaps it's not too surprising that the magical system you develop in Magic Street has a kind of plausible scientific basis, on the level of quantum physics. Is there room in the physical laws of the universe for magic and the supernatural?

OSC:Nope.

Q:Just to shift gears, what can you tell us about the forthcoming Ender's Game movie?

OSC:We’re still working on developing the right script. My screenplay isn’t terribly faithful to the details of the story, but perfectly faithful to the spirit and meaning of the story. But when you have a film that’s going to cost a hundred million to do it properly, you don’t bet it all on an author-written screenplay! Right now David Benioff (Troy) and his writing partner, D.B. Weiss, are working on it, and I have high hopes, because I think Troy was a brilliant adaptation of an impossible-to-adapt story. I’ve heard from people who are irate at what Benioff left out of Troy, but my feeling is, the movie didn’t erase The Iliad, it merely introduced it to a huge audience and brought the visual power of the story to people who had never seen it. The visualization of Achilles was incredibly well done, and I think it is Brad Pitt’s greatest performance.

Okay, the movie Ender’s Game is going to leave things out. So what? It won’t erase the book. If anything, it will draw people to the novel. What I want is for EG to be a great movie first, and an adaptation of my novel only second.

Q:Some readers may have been surprised a minute ago when you mentioned your work as a director and playwright. Were you always interested in writing for the theater?

OSC:“Always” is a tough concept. Let’s just say that I grew up Mormon, which means I was writing my own talks to give in church from the age of six on. Mormons also have – or at least had – a rich theatrical tradition. Every year when I was growing up we put on fifteen-minute comedies we called “road shows,” which were written by ordinary members of the church – including my parents. It’s not quite the same as being “born in a trunk,” but it’s close – theatre was something that I thought of as a perfectly natural part of life, and scripts were things that anybody could write.

So when I got to college and realized I was spending all my time working on plays, I quit majoring in archaeology and switched to theatre. I’m a good director, but I found that I was most appreciated as a playwright, doctoring other people’s scripts and writing my own. So I kept it up. That’s how I became a writer. When people line up for hours to get into a show you wrote, you begin to think, OK, maybe I can do this.

Q:Have you adapted any of your novels into plays?

OSC:
No. I also learned that you can lose money even with a hit play. I’m supporting a family here, so I write novels. The plays I write now are all original, and all for a specific purpose.

However, I recently directed a production in LA called Posing As People. It was three one-act plays adapted from stories of mine, by three different playwrights who expected to play the lead in their own play. It was wonderful to see what they did to the stories, how they expanded them and turned them into highly theatrical pieces.

But the play version of my science fiction novels? It is to laugh. Most of my stuff wouldn’t even adapt to film; stage would be even harder.

Of course, having said that, I do think Sarah and Rebekah and Rachel & Leah – my Women of Genesis novels – would do very well. (No special effects.) And my novel Stone Tables was based on my musical play of the same name (with composer Robert Stoddard) – but that’s going the other direction. I’m also adapting some of my short stories into plays – “Feed the Baby of Love” and “Pageant Wagon” as musicals, as a matter of fact.

Q:Science fiction rules the Hollywood box office. Why can't it conquer Broadway? Is there something inherently untheatrical about science fiction?

OSC:Before movies learned to talk, plays could compete for visual reality and spectacle. Now they can’t. And science fiction, as conceived by Hollywood – basically, print sci-fi of the 1930s – is hugely about the spectacle. Nothing you can do on stage can compare with CGI on the screen.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It’s just a different kind of science fiction that you’d use to go to stage. There is a huge tradition of character-based science fiction that would work very well on stage. Most Twilight Zone episodes were really in this category – after all, Serling was a playwright at heart, wasn’t he? And the science fictional elements in Posing As People did not require elaborate sets or costumes.

It comes together in the works of Charlie Kaufman. Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind were, quite simply, the first truly great science fiction movies, ever. These two movies could easily work on stage, and probably should. I could see them both as musicals, actually, and if I only had professional credibility, I’d be approaching Kaufman and/or the studios right now to try to get the rights to adapt them as musical dramas.

Q:Do you have any plans to return to the world of Magic Street?

OSC:Nope.

Q:What other projects are you working on now?

OSC: It’s an endless list. I’m going to start teaching writing as a professor at Southern Virginia University in Buena Vista, VA, this fall. I have a bunch of novels in progress, at various stages. I’m working on the musical of “Feed the Baby of Love.” I’m writing Ultimate Iron Man for Marvel. I’ve got screenplays, by me and others, that I’m working with my production company to get funded and filmed. Some of these things I might even get paid for!


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

Praise for Orson Scott Card’s Enchantment

“Card is a powerful storyteller.”
–Los Angeles Times

“[His] prose is a model of narrative clarity; the author never says more than is needed or arbitrarily withholds information, yet even a simple declarative sentence carries a delicious hint of further revelation.”
–The New York Times

“The best writer science fiction has to offer.”
–The Houston Post

“Card is skilled at pacing and good with an action scene, but he has raised to a fine art the creation of suspense by ethical dilemma, and in doing so has raised his work to a high plane.”
–Chicago Sun-Times


From the Hardcover edition.

  • Magic Street by Orson Scott Card
  • June 27, 2006
  • Fiction - Fantasy
  • Del Rey
  • $14.95
  • 9780345416902

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