Ender’s Game – a book review

A bit of background

My rag eared copy…
and the back

When I go to see a movie based on a book that I know, I generally re-read the book.  So seeing the trailer for Ender’s game was a siren song.  This is one of my favourite books and I wanted to remember why I love it  and to tell you about it.  I wasn’t disappointed and hope you won’t be either.

The first published version of Ender’s Game was a short story in 1977; sometime after that Orson Scott Card wrote a book called the Speaker for the Dead.  Ender is the hero of this book and  Card wrote the novel of Ender’s Game to further define his character (published in 1985).  In 1991, the Card updated the book to reflect the changes in the political landscape and Card is said to intend a further update to tie the novel more accurately to the series that followed.

The book’s age does show, for example, the Cold War was still alive and kicking when Card wrote the book, so the major political forces are the US (called the Hegemony) and the Second Warsaw Pact (which encompasses Europe and North Asia).  At the same time, some of the concepts in the book were years ahead of their time, for example, the use of ‘Nets’ to create public debate (so much like blogging) and the crazy video game used to challenge Ender’s problem-solving abilities and test his moral compass.

Synopsis

In a world where fear of a repeat attack from hostile, insect-like aliens forces an uneasy truce between East and West, one organisation, the International Fleet (IF), is striving to find a commander who can give humanity the chance to survive.   Recognising the need to build a ruthless determination to win into such a commander, IF assesses all children to see if they have the mental and emotional attributes to lead an army in space and crush the aliens’ hopes of ever taking Earth or wiping out humanity.  But ruthlessness is not enough, the new commander must also be able to understand and learn from the enemy.

The first two children born into the Wiggins family almost meet the criteria set by IF.  They are astonishingly clever and have strong empathy with others, but one – Peter – is too ruthless and the other – Valentine – is too caring.  In this world of the future, families are only permitted to have two children, but the promise of the Wiggin’s line is such that a third is, not just allowed, but encouraged – the third child is Ender.

IF watches Ender’s every action using a ‘monitor’ embedded into his spine and the story starts with the removal of this device – when Ender is six years old.  We tumble through education as experienced by Ender, as he is moulded to be the commander the world so desperately needs.

Ender is sent to Battle School where ‘fighting is compulsory’ and develops his own brand of leadership; violence marks Ender’s transition from newbie to being the most talked about, hated and admired student.

As other reviewers have stated the outcome is obvious – but there is a twist at the end of the tale…[no spoilers here]

Other things to watch out for

  • Alongside Ender’s tale we learn about his siblings, the state of world politics and the inscrutable Colonel Graff (played by Harrison Ford in the movie).
  • The similarity between Ender and Harry Potter – as I read the latter I was convinced that JK Rowling must be an Ender fan.
  • The insults used by the students of Battle School (you might even want to adopt some of them).
  • The use of technology that is recognisable today, but almost unheard of in mainstream culture in the 80s – Ender’s desk (or tablet PC?), Ender’s ability to change how computers function (or hacking?).
  • The way that Ender thinks and leads – the US Marines recommend this book to all their soldiers as it offers “lessons in training methodology, leadership, and ethics”.

You might like Ender’s game if you
Read / watch science fiction; like complex characters; enjoyed the Hunger Games; enjoyed Asimov’s Foundation series (Card has stated that Foundation was one of his inspirations for the Ender series).

You might not like Ender’s game if you
Like a nice neat, happy ending; don’t like violence in books

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