Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Published Sep 4, 2013 (10 years ago)
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Ender's Game Cover

You'd think being a geek such as myself that I would have already read Ender's game a long time ago. Sadly I hadn't. My wife read it about a year or so back and absolutely loved it, so I had a mental note to do so. After seeing the movie trailer a couple of times for the upcoming movie, I realized now was the time to give this book a read, and holy cow was it worth it! (Spoiler Free Zone Ahead)

In the future, Earth has been attacked twice by an alien race, known as the 'Buggers'. The second invasion nearly wiped out the entire planet, until an unknown hero by the name of Mazer Rackham came and and wiped out the Bugger invasion, saving the human race. However, it has been anticipated that a third invasion will come, and if the human race can't figure something out, they will be annihilated.

Ender's Game follows the story of a young child named Andrew "Ender" Wiggin. He's a boy genius (to put it mildly) who is monitored and then recruited to join the International Fleet to become one of the elite commanders of the fleet. Ender is immediately isolated from the rest of his fellow soldiers (it's so difficult to say that at age 6!) due to his intelligence and ability to analyze a combat situation. When he begins battle training games, he proves himself even more adept as he takes unusual approaches to combat and doesn't simply win, he destroys his opponents so there is no way they can come back . Some of these techniques wind up being used in his personal life as well.

Ender's obstacles continue every step of the way. The rules and frequencies of battles change at a brutal pace. Some rules are broken right before the battle starts, to challenge Ender even further. This continues as Ender graduates from battle school to command school. Here the training is more difficult, the simulations are even more challenging, and now Ender is in command of others and must maintain their trust and support.

In addition to all of this, there is a lot of personal turmoil going on inside of Ender's head. I have to continually remind myself that at the beginning of this book he's merely 6 years old (my daughters are 7) and by the end he's only 10 years old with the weight of the planet on his soldiers. Ender has been an outcast of sorts, even being at the top of his game. He continually struggles with this, and some of this is reflected through an online game that Ender interacts with during his time in battle school. In addition, Ender knows the military wants him for something big, really big. He's just not sure if he wants a part of this or not. We are privy to some of this knowledge throughout the book, but some of the biggest surprises and twists come at the end of the book, which I won't reveal here. Go and read it already!

This book is an face paced and easy read. While to some degree there is a lot of "science" involved with the story (space stations, alien races, space travel, futuristic weapons, etc.), most of this is assumed over to focus more on the story aspect of Ender and his challenges, which I enjoyed. It's the issues that this book raises that will keep you thinking and thinking long after the book is done (it's been going through my head for 3 days now).

For starters, look what they're doing to a 6 year old child! Yes he is gifted, but does that truly justify what is going on? Training is bad enough, but the extremes they are pushing Ender make it even rougher. There are a few discussions through the book by the military authorities about exactly what is going on, and I'll let you decide whether or not they are valid, and if those involved are willing to accept the repercussions. The surprising amount of emotion and thought that Ender possesses is really fascinating. He has some rather in depth conversations and insights with himself as he processes all of this and I wonder if some of this depth is what goes through the minds of my twin 7 year old daughters on a day to day basis.

What about these "Buggers"? We're told about a lot about what they did, and there is a lot of fear about what they will come to do, but not a lot of signs indicating that they are on their way. Why rush so hastily into this? Why did they attack us in the first place? Lots of things that are questioned along the way, and answered in part, but you keep wondering about them.

Ender's Game also provides a small aside into international politics and the power of the pseudo-anonymous voice. Peter and Valentine, Ender's brilliant brother and sister, become opposing voices in the online public discourse. Since this area is typically reserved for adults, they have to disguise themselves behind false names. However, their thoughts and commentary about world politics intrigue and grip the population at large, playing on a lot of common emotions and thoughts out there. The results are quite surprising.

In short, you should go and read this book. It provides a great universe in which to explore some interesting ideas. It frames itself well within a fast paced story with the human race at stake. I read this book over the course of a weekend, and I'm typically a slow reader. I'm equally excited for the movie that is coming out, because the cast lined up for the major parts looks amazing. As with previous reviews (see Hunger Games) I'm curious to see how well the movie will map over, since a lot of what goes on in the book is internal processing. I'm also eager to read "Ender's Shadow", which is a parallel telling of the story from the viewpoint of Bean, a fellow student and prominent character in the book.