Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ender’s Game is the story of a boy, Ender Wiggin, whose intelligence and capacity for ruthlessness lead the military establishment to believe that he’s the last hope for mankind. The book is set in a future after the Earth has been invaded twice by an alien species called the buggers, and now the Earth is planning its own “preemptive” invasion to end the bugger threat once and for all.
The novel follows Ender’s life from his short home life as a “third”—a rare third child for which special permission must be granted—through his post-war life. (This entire timeline transpires before adulthood.) The bulk of the novel takes place in Battle School, where Ender receives his training in military tactics and strategy and spends much of his time in zero gravity war games. He rises up through the ranks quickly, as expected, but not without stirring some animus in the process. He learns strategy both through war games and through the mind-field of real world animosity by others who are jealous or feel insulted by his brilliance.
As Commander material, Ender is considered to be in the Goldilocks zone. His older brother, Peter, is too cruel; his sister, Valentine, is just too kind. (All three Wiggin children are geniuses.) Ender has the right mix to fight the buggers. His problem is that the world forces him to be ruthless and his compassionate side makes it hard to cope.
While Ender leaves home young and early in the novel, there is a subplot involving the older Wiggin children that is revealed over the course of the book—showing the reader more of the tormenting brother and the loving sister who shaped his worldview. Ender does interact with Valentine in person on a couple of occasions, but his only interaction with Peter is a brief mention of correspondence at the end of the book.
Ender is an intriguing character. He is always the outsider, by birth as a third and then through isolation in Battle School that is facilitated by the conflicted head of the Battle School, Col. Graff.
I won’t get into the ending except to say that there is a twist at the novel’s climax. I will say that the reveal of this twist felt a little anti-climactic to me. However, as the real story isn’t about fighting the buggers, but Ender’s internal struggle, this isn’t as dismaying as it might otherwise be.
One can tell that this is a series book because it climaxes and resolves relatively early, leaving a fair amount of space to set up the next book. This actually helps the twist offer some surprise because the reader sees that there are so many pages left for the novel to resolve itself.
Card does an interesting thing in making the central character stronger than everyone around him–at least until he’s introduced to his new guru, Mazer Rackham–the Commander who won the key battle of the second bugger invasion and who is alive by virtue of a relativistic trip. Ender’s superiority seems like a recipe for boredom, but it works because what we don’t know is whether Ender is stronger than everyone else pitted against him combined, and, moreover, we don’t know whether he is strong enough inside to withstand all the horridness to which he is subjected. A lot of the tension of the novel is really internal to Ender. Unlike Peter, who would revel in ruthlessness, Ender is tormented by all of the violence he must perpetrate.
I’d recommend this novel. It has its flaws, but it is quite readable and Ender’s character is intriguing from start to finish.
The movie version is coming out tomorrow. I haven’t seen it, but here is the trailer.