Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Yet another recent book to inspire a movie adaptation (one which I have yet to see, but I might try to in the near future). This is the first book in the Ender’s Saga which comprises of a number of books. Originally there was a short story with the same title, but Card soon (8 years later…) wrote this much larger, and more detailed story. It was also intended to be stand-alone, but eventually sequels and prequels were published, and I hope this isn’t a case of things being dragged out for the sake of another book, but we shall see. Back to the book at hand, and I really enjoyed it. There is just something about these types of stories, where a kid gets plucked out of nowhere and sent off to a school, and ends up having the world’s fate in his/her hands. I guess it’s just my own childish desire to have that happen to me, which makes me like these stories, but, I don’t care, I still like them! But just because it’s a book whose main characters are largely children, doesn’t make it a children’s book. As is the case with a number of these (Harry Potter being a prime example) the themes within the book mean it can appeal to a much wider audience.This is a classic sci-fi novel, and established Card as a sci-fi author (just saying he has 37 pages of bibliography of published works, not just novels! So clearly he is quite prolific!). It won a Hugo and a Nebula award, which is quite an achievement. And I definitely think it to be more than worthy of these accolades.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card cover - Image from Flickr user RA.AZ
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card cover – Image from Flickr user RA.AZ

The book is centred on (as the title suggests) Ender Wiggin, who is a Third, which means he has two older siblings, and technically shouldn’t exist, because of population restrictions. But Ender is special since he was allowed by the government, because his older siblings showed promise in their testing. However they weren’t quite what they were looking for, so asked their parents to have another child to try and get a blend of his older siblings (which makes little scientific sense unless they actually used some genetic screening). The testing that they were doing was to try and find children who show potential to become pilots, commanders and fighters in the Bugger War. The Buggers are aliens who have attacked Earth in the past, twice, and Earth only just survived after banding together. Now, they are scouting for more recruits, and they start to train young. Being a Third isn’t regarded very well in the community, so Ender is of course subjected to bullying.  And it is Ender’s response to some of this bullying which is the final test for him to be selected for the Battle School, which is located in outer space. It is a really brutal training program, Ender is taken when he is six years old (though this is younger than most), and he won’t return to earth for another six years minimum. There is no contact with Earth, so you leave all your family and friends behind. Even when you do return, you have changed and so have they, so reconnecting is no easy feat.

The structure of the story is something I really like, because at the beginning of each chapter (well most) there is a snippet of conversation which is going on between the adults who are the commanders and leaders of the International Fleet. And you quickly get a sense that they aren’t quite what they seem to be, and they don’t really have Ender’s best interests at heart. They intentionally isolate him, and push him to his limits, to get the best out of him. And this is where the really exciting themes start to work in, as it becomes a question about childhood, about lies, about what are you prepared to do, to try to save the world? The adults aren’t interesting in ensuring Ender develops into this nice young man, they want him to become a commander against the Buggers. And they also are wanting him to be self-dependent, they don’t step in to sort out his problems, he has to do that himself.

At Battle School and Command School there are a number of games which are played as part of their training. Ender excels at them, naturally, but they become quite interesting. There is a particular one Giant’s Drink, which is supposedly unbeatable, but Ender manages to do it, twice, though he becomes near to obsessed about it. But the game really becomes symbolic as he goes further than anyone thought possible, as he is made to confront his demons. One such demon is his older brother, Peter, who is a complete sociopath. But he and his sister are incredibly bright like Ender, and end up becoming influential behind aliases online. So it really suggests that children should be taken seriously, and if you don’t, then it could be to your own peril.

In summary before I get to some spoilers, this is a complex book. This isn’t ‘just a children’s book’. It’s a great example of fantastic science fiction, and is really enjoyable. If you go in trying to be some high-brow critic then maybe it won’t be your thing, but go in with an open attitude, and get sucked into the world, and you’ll love it! A few questions first: do you have this same childish hope that I have? How about a different sort of trope/clique that just hooks you in despite the book perhaps not being astounding in terms of style and substance? So really, what’s your guilty book pleasure?

Spoilers from here on:

I really, really have to say that I love the idea of the proper training games between the teams. And the pushing of Ender and his group to the limits is so thrilling to me. I really get sucked in as it looks like the impossible, but then they manage to do the unthinkable.

The reveal about Mazer still being alive wasn’t completely shocking, and it created a very interesting dynamic between these two commanders (well ex-commander and commander in training). The whole command school section was really interesting, as Ender was pushed well beyond his limit, they weren’t simulations at all, Ender had been fighting the Buggers this whole time, and he wiped them out.

The ending was really fascinating as humans decide to spread out and colonise the Bugger worlds. Ender and his sister go on one of these voyages, and it is there that things get strange. As Ender finds a place which is exactly like the Giant’s game. How is that possible? What’s more is that there is an egg there, and it telepathically explains everything to Ender about how the Buggers did not understand humans because they thought they were non-sentient as they didn’t fit the Bugger’s idea of sentience as being a hive mind. Which I guess is where a huge theme of not judging someone/thing for being different since it’s just because you don’t understand not because they are a threat or anything, comes into it. Ender then decides to go ahead and take the egg to a new world and let it grow. But he also tells Earth about what he has learnt, and they have this whole funeral, but if the Buggers came back, I don’t think people would just let them be. But that’s what we’ll find out in The Speaker for the Dead, which is just the start of the large Ender’s Saga. I can’t wait!

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