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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card: A Review

May 19, 2009

endersgame_2Introductions: It’s been almost 15-years since a good friend of mine recommended Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  These were “the good old days,” we were in high school, I was dating my high school sweetheart and likely we were at his house discussing comics, religion or somesuch when in the course of the conversation he told me about Ender’s Game and that knowing my tastes I was sure to enjoy it.  I can recall only a few slivers of why he thought it would appeal to me, but an epic space battle and a group of warriors fighting in it that resembled a couple existing heroes of mine were probably part of the deal.  To be honest though, I wasn’t sold right away.  I loved Star Wars in its many forms, but beyond that, Sci-Fi wasn’t really my thing at all.  Still, I filed it away in the recesses of my mind for future reference and some 15 years later, shamed that I hadn’t yet read what was considered to be one of the greatest science fiction books of all time and primed through years of reading so as to see the error of my ways…here we are.

Synopsis: Set in Earth’s future, mankind finds itself performing a dangerous balancing act and tensions are high.  On the one hand, nations distrust one another and alliances are held together by weakening threads (as has long since been the case) but on the other hand mankind as a whole has only just begun to recover from a full-scale invasion by the Formics, or “buggers,” a highly intelligent insectoid race that attempted to subjugate the earth and its inhabitants before ultimately being driven back to their home world by a legendary pilot and more than a few dedicated individuals.  The earth knows a measure of peace, but what if the buggers return?  And what of the alliances left strained after the Formic War?  Thus the stage is set and we’re introduced to Andrew “Ender” Wiggen, a 6-year old boy that the International Fleet has had their eye on for some time.  Hand picked for his unique profile, family situation, and “skills” he is enrolled in the IF’s Battle School, an elite training academy removed far from the Earth’s atmosphere where he will train to potentially become an officer/commander in mankind’s future conflicts against the Formics.  In Battle School Ender is tried and tested in unique null gravity environments, high stress situations, and complex command simulators to the brink of exhaustion, and beyond, in the hopes that he is truly mankind’s next great hope.

I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears,and I tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.  ‘That’s what you said about the brother.’ The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability. ‘Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He’s too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else’s will.’  Not if the other person is his enemy.  ‘So what do we do? Surround himself with enemies all the time?’  If we have to.  ‘I thought you said you liked this kid.’  If the buggers get him, they’ll make me look like the favorite uncle.  ‘All right. We’re saving the world, after all.  Take him.’

Comments: In many ways, Ender’s Game was chock full of the things that I had expected, even hoped, that it would be.  Ender is at once an interesting, if troubled, protagonist with infinite potential for good (and bad) in the unforgiving setting in which he finds himself.  I was immediately sympathetic to his increasingly complex situation and was often surprised when remembering that this was a very young adolescent who faced decisions that would make confident adults cower in fear.  A child that was shaped, and almost forced, to mold himself into a military savior for mankind.  I had expected a morality tale and one that would make me cheer for our hero.  Don’t get me wrong, we did get that in Ender, but we also got a very hard book that tackled some extremely raw themes and along the way we got a more multi-faceted hero than I would have at first imagined.  I was a little hasty in a previous column to state that Ender didn’t give up, that he moved forward in the toughest times recalling why he had joined the International Fleet in the first place.  But as I progressed in the novel I found that I was mistaken, there were times when he did give up, when it was all too much for him and he had to find a way to cope for awhile.  But it would be unjust for me to have expected him to never give up, to be a perfect soldier.  He wasn’t even 10-years old for 9/10ths of the book for heavens sake.  What would I have done at 10?  Or as the author himself aptly put it: “If, at times, they still seem immature, remember that they have adult intellects operating in children’s bodies with children’s emotional responses.” But Ender did persevere, he overcame grief, sickness and exhaustion to put one foot in front of the other and when he couldn’t find a reason to follow the orders his commanders gave, he substituted reasoning that would propel him forward to perform his duties for those back home.  He was asked to bear a burden that no one else could have shouldered — despite being lied to at every turn — and unbeknownst to him, he turned out to be the hero the earth needed and the hero we envisioned, if through the refiner’s fire.  Evidenced, I’d wager, in the role he takes up after learning the truth and embarking with his sister on their more ‘spiritual’  journey (don’t want to let those 29 year old spoilers out of the bag).  In the end I can say that I wasn’t completely satisfied with the descriptions of the ships, star fighters, or even the buggers as they could have been even more fascinating than they ended up being for me but they were all functional, certainly, and it was the only area that I noted a passing disappointment, outside of a general disdain for the idea that parents wouldn’t do all that they could to care for a child they had brought into the world, their apathy was more than a little disheartening but then again maybe there’s more to be explored there.  I loved the cast at the IF’s Battle School, Bean was a real hoot as were Alai, Dink and Petra who I hope to read about in the future Ender books.  Card’s pacing was franetic in the 324-page novel and there were plenty of times where I couldn’t put it down, which always drives home the fun I’m really having.  That joy of reading goes a long way with me and upon closing the book I can say not only that I had a really good time, but that Ender & Co. will likely stay with me for a long time to come…especially as I dive further into Card’s Enderverse with the arrival of the next 3 books later this week!

Rating: I’m still mulling over whether or not to give out numerical scores, and would love any feedback as to what you think, but I’d highly recommend the book and hope it doesn’t take you 15-years to sit down and read it when all is said and done.  It deserves a much quicker response time, like now.

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