Card spins an interesting take on an alternative Earth that in the end holds a mirror to humanity; the reflection not entirely flattering, but perhaps very accurate.
A long, long time ago in a not so distant galaxy, I was a very avid reader. I would constantly have a book in hand, whether fiction or nonfiction. However, at some point in my adult life I drifted away. Looking back it might have been the binge reading required texts in college, or maybe it was my busy schedule since started at my current career — who knows. But recently, I’ve made the conscious decision to reverse this tide: Writers have to read after all. In particular, I decided to read more SciFi novels, starting first with the classic “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.
I hadn’t seen the recently released film version, nor did I actual know much about “Ender’s Game” beyond the hype of the movie. But while browsing through the selection of SciFi and Fantasy novels at my local library, I decided to give it a chance. And I can’t say I was disappointed, albeit I did have some frustrations with the book.
Enter the Review
Card is a talented, easy-to-read writer, and the book just flowed for me, leading to long evenings spent reading the alternative Earth he had envisioned. For the most part, I enjoyed his characters, or at least Ender and some of his fellow students at the Battle School, particularly Bean, Dink and Alai — even though at times I could not relate to them or found myself straining to maintain my suspension of disbelief. Why? Very few of the children characters ever struck me as being children, particularly Ender and his siblings, Valentine and Peter. Now I know they are supposed to be super geniuses — and of course Ender is in a military environment — but I still expected some immaturity with all the children characters, with them being characters that could grow. But instead, Ender’s perfection is constantly mentioned; but what would one expect? After all, he is “all they’ve got”: humanity’s one shot.
Ender does have great moments when he feels real: he does cry, he gets a little homesick, knows fear and even suffers a mental breakdown as the adults heap all their problems on him and expect him to dig humanity out of its hole. You do feel sorry for this kid, once you are reminded of his age and watch as he is manipulated into becoming what he most fears. It’s only understandable that over the course of the novel, you do develop a distaste for all the adults in the book as they take extremes to shape Ender — ultimately leading to the big trick of the book, which led to an “oh really” moment for me (your mileage may vary on the big reveal). In fact the appalling nature of the adults made me speculate that the buggers were not nearly as bad as they were being made out to be, leading me wish at points that they would revisit Earth with vengeance — occasionally in SciFi, humanity just needs put into its place.
There were other instances where I was pulled from the action (besides when struck by the almost alien nature of the Wiggin children). One instance was the rule limiting parents to two children each. Yes, I get that overpopulation is an issue in this alternate version of Earth; however, humanity has been living under the threat of the buggers. You would think procreation would be encouraged in order to have plenty of future soldiers to serve as canon fodder against an enemy that in the past has been shown to be quite deadly. Who knows, amongst those unborn children might have been more Eisenhowers, Napoleons, Shermans, Alexanders, Lees, Rommels — Ender Wiggins need not have been the only one, which is another small nitpick I had. Yes, geniuses can be rare, but throughout the history of the world, there have been cases of several great generals, sometimes all within the same conflict. And with Card’s Earth being chalked full of people (overpopulation is a problem after all), I find it hard to believe that there are no other military geniuses that appeared throughout the long pause in the bugger conflict. It just seems statistically impossible.
Another “what?” moment was more something that I found hilarious, though I know it was definitely not the intention of the author: The boys are constantly naked throughout the book; yes, cue the immature giggles. This was just a minor aspect that rather than add to the story, kinda interrupts its flow for me — another probably others who have weirdly triggered funny bones like my own. This choice on Card’s part also leads to some rather homoerotic moments, which are also unintentionally funny when you look at the author’s thoughts on the topic.
Ender’s actions, which don’t always follow his thoughts of “not playing the game,” not giving into the adults, was perhaps my biggest peeve. At first, I was expecting Card to have Ender rally the other kids around him — like a true general — to combat the unfair “no-rules” approach of the adults (albeit still turning out to be what the adults wanted), but it never materialized. The set up was there, but despite his constant thoughts about not playing the game, Ender still goes along and plays the game, but because he is still winning he arrives at the conclusion that he’s resisting the adults — kinda counterproductive in my opinion, but what ever floats your boat. Yep, this one is definitely my biggest peeves about “Ender’s Game,” he never uses his massive intellect and growing power with his peers to take a stand against the adults and their constant changing of the rules.
There were other minor issues, largely tied with the twist toward the end — but I won’t spoil that for those who have not read or seen the film. However, I found Card’s handling of the buggers to be refreshing, and through it, he offers a very telling portrait of humanity. However, Card doesn’t just end the book looking at the mirror darkly. No, he provides a glimmer of hope for our severely flawed species.
Final Thoughts: I would recommend reading “Ender’s Game” despite its flaws and minor annoyances; there is, after all, a reason that over the years it has remained a classic of the SciFi genre. And just being over 200 pages in length, you will tear through it quickly. Now that I’ve completed the book, I think I will check out the film just to see how they handled it, especially with the time gaps. Will I read other books in the “Ender’s Game” series? Quite possibly, at least its indirect sequel, “Speaker for the Dead.”
I’m in need of great SciFi novels to read and am looking for any suggestions. In particular, I would like tales set in space, preferably without Earth. Leave suggestions in the comments. Thanks — S.W.
Three bloody quills out of four: A quick, fun read