Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

"Remember – the enemy's gate is down."

Ender's Game is about a future where humankind was attacked and nearly destroyed by an insectoid alien race. The most important task on Earth is to find and develop a great military leader to win the next, inevitable encounter with them.

The main character, Ender, is a young, gifted boy with a difficult and frightening home life. At the age of six, he is sent to Battle School in space, where children are taught military history, weapons and tactics. Mock battles are carried out in "battle rooms" with no gravity. Everything that happens is manipulated by the teachers and administrators, who have their own agenda unknown to the children.

I can still remember how I felt the first time I read this book. It did what outstanding science fiction is supposed to do – it took me to a new place and presented new ideas that shook me up. And the ending just stunned me.

There are a lot of intense topics explored in this book. The constant acknowledgement of children as helpless second class citizens with no rights. The abuse and death of children (and not just teenaged children) as fodder for war. War as the ultimate in game play. The immorality of war even when it is necessary to save the human race. Invasion of privacy for the sake of security. Children as killers.

Which makes Ender's Game sound like this huge, heavy, somber tome. It's not. It's fairly short, beautifully written, immediately engaging, impossible to put down, and in my opinion the best of Orson Scott Card's many science fiction and fantasy books. Originally written a couple of decades ago, Ender's Game has managed to remain fresh and undated. It could have been written yesterday.

One of the biggest criticisms directed at Ender's Game is that the child characters speak, act and think like adults. I can understand why some feel this way, especially in regard to the political shenanigans of Ender's sister and brother. But I think critics are not taking into account what brilliant children can be like. Gifted kids have said that Ender's Game rings true for them, and that's good enough for me.

Card wrote a number of sequels to Ender's Game (intriguingly, two completely different series of sequels, with two different sets of main characters). The ones I read were quite good, but I don't think any of them were as extraordinary as the original. And isn't that usually the case? A movie version has been planned a number of times, and is now in development. I'm not sure a movie version of Ender's Game will work, since most of the actors will be kids, but I'm looking forward to seeing them try. (I remember when I first saw The Sixth Sense, I thought Haley Joel Osment would make a terrific Ender.)

Since the readers of this site are science fiction and fantasy fans, I bet many of you have read Ender's Game. So I hereby declare that the comments section are a free for all – spoilers are permitted and welcome.

If you haven't read the book and you plan to do so, don't read the comments!
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

14 comments:

Jess Lynde said...

One of my absolute favorite books. I vividly remember where I was the first time I read it. It was so engrossing, I just locked myself away in a far corner and devoured it. It was so unsettling, moving, and occasionally terrifying. A great look at the cost of war. And the questionable necessity of it.

I agree that the sequels in no way lived up the original, although Speaker for the Dead was interesting in its own way, and I thought Ender's Shadow was a cool way to revisit a familiar story from a different perspective. I can't say I much enjoyed any of the other sequels.

I'm apprehensive about a movie adaptation, but would likely go see one. Depending on the trailers.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to reconcile such a widely loved and well-written book with the terrible person Orson Scott Card is.

Eldritch said...

'...terrible person Orson Scott Card is.'

Really? Why is he terrible?


As to the novel, Ender's Game is one of my all time favorites.

Eldritch

Scott Riggan said...

I love Ender's Game. The original set of sequels are interesting but sooooo talky and would have benefited from severe editing. Card excels at creating believable moral conflict but he tends to write dialog that just goes on and on and on (exploring each issue from every side, tediously).

I've just re-read Ender's Game, Speaker, Xenocide and I'm about to start Children of the Mind again, but I'm kind of dreading it.

On its own, Ender's Game is just about perfect, and there's never an overlong or unnecessary moment.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say Card is a "terrible" person, just deeply religious (he's a Mormon) and socially conservative (though he's a registered Democrat). He is clearly homophobic, which disappointed me terribly when I found out, and doesn't seem to believe the science of evolution, but in my view that merely makes him terribly misguided, as many religious, socially conservative people are.

I learned a long time ago to separate the art from the artist (which is why I don't like reading or seeing interviews by my favorite actors). I will always be in awe of Ender's Game, a novel that had a profound effect on me when I read it as an adolescent. It really is a brilliant novel. Yes, many of Card's views irritate the heck out of me, and I will admit that I take a kind of perverse pleasure in the fact that nothing he wrote after EG ever measured up. But nothing could ever take away my love for that book.

KAM

Billie Doux said...

KAM, that is almost exactly what I was about to post. Card is outspokenly homophobic and active in an organization that is working to prevent the legalization of gay marriage. It's deeply disappointing to me on a personal basis, but I don't believe it comes up in Ender's Game.

Ender's Game was number three in the top one hundred sci-fi/fantasy books. I believe it deserves to be there.

http://billiedoux.blogspot.com/2011/08/top-100-science-fiction-and-fantasy.html

As far as the sequels go, I prefer the second group to the first. Although I haven't read the most recent ones. I've read a lot of Card's sci-fi. His fantasy novels don't do anything for me, and I have no interest in his religious novels.

Harry Earle said...

Oh, feck. I wish I hadn't read that about Orson SC. I know this is supposed to be the comments about Ender's Game not the author, but Billie and Jess have already said all of the things I'd want to say!

As much as I'd like to, I just can't separate the author from the book, not with an issue which is so close to my heart. It makes me crazy angry to think such a talented, wonderful writer could be so brainwashed and blind to have become a zealous homophobic douchebaguette, and I quite frankly don't see his literary works in quite the same way any more. Which sucks.

Ender's Game deserves its ranking, but Orson Scott-Card does not deserve any of my money, and I look forward to watching human rights eclipse hatred and bigotry in the US, which I'm sure will happen within my lifetime.

Mark said...

"One of the biggest criticisms directed at Ender's Game is that the child characters speak, act and think like adults."

Someone should remind these critics about how many adults still act like spoiled brats, particularly in entertainment ("omg, can you believe what she is wearing?") or politics ("my opponent made a single mistake, he sucks!").

Anonymous said...

I love Ender's Game as well and have read it several times. It seems like I have enjoyed the sequels more than others have. 'Speaker for the Dead' and 'Ender in Exile' may be my favorite of the sequels. The short stories in 'First Meetings in the Enderverse' are also ones I've read many times.

As for a movie version I also have mixed feelings about that. They have made comic book versions of 'Ender's Game', 'Ender's Shadow', and 'Ender in Exile'. They are enjoyable and in one way a preview of what a movie might be like. You all might find them interesting.

Anonymous said...

It might be helpful to read what Card has to say about his "homophobia": http://www.hatrack.com/osc_responds_halmets_father.html

"Because I took a public position in 2008 opposing any attempt by government to redefine marriage, especially by anti-democratic and unconstitutional means, I have been targeted as a "homophobe" by the Inquisition of Political Correctness. If such a charge were really true, they would have had no trouble finding evidence of it in my life and work. But because the opposite is true -- I think no ill of and wish no harm to homosexuals, individually or as a group -- they have to manufacture evidence by simply lying about what my fiction contains.

The truth is that back in the 1970s and 1980s, when it was definitely not fashionable to write sympathetic gay characters in fiction aimed at the mainstream audience, I created several sympathetic homosexual characters. I did not exploit them for titillation; instead I showed them threading their lives through a world that was far from friendly to them. At the time, I was criticized by some for being "pro-gay," while I also received appreciative comments from homosexual readers. Yet both responses were beside the point. I was not writing about homosexuality, I was writing about human beings.

My goal then and today remains the same: To create believable characters and help readers understand them as people."

Billie Doux said...

I didn't know Card's religious affiliation or political viewpoints when I first started reading his books. I got through quite a few of them without knowing. And then I read "Lost Boys" and became interested because his characters were Mormons and it sounded so authentic. I can't un-read his books, and I can't deny that Ender's Game is a brilliant novel, one of the best science fiction novels I've ever read. That's why I wrote the review.

This site is about my love for science fiction, fantasy and cult shows. It's not a political forum, and I don't have any desire to turn this into a debate on gay rights, which I firmly and unequivocably support, if it isn't obvious. One of the best human beings I've ever known, a person with a huge, positive effect on my life, was a gay man. He was a combat veteran, a father/big brother to me when I desperately needed one, and one of my closest friends for years until he died of AIDS. Do I think he should have had the right to get married if he wanted? Hell, yes.

It's good that Card has said he doesn't hate gay people. But his opposition to equal rights for them suggests that gays should simply accept that they're second class citizens and that they can never have what straights have. Hell, no.

Josie Kafka said...

Billie, I read this book because of your review--my initial encounter with it as a kid really, really turned me off. As an adult, I can say that I like it quite a bit, and I admire what it does. It was also extremely absorbing, which is exactly what I wanted!

For those of you who have read some of the sequels, I have two questions:

1. Should I read Ender in Exile (the 2008 prequel to Speaker for the Dead next, or should I read the books in the order in which they were written?

2. Should I read the shadow saga next, or stick with the Ender-p.o.v. books? Any help would be appreciated. The few sites that seem to answer these questions do so with lots of spoilers.

Billie Doux said...

Josie, I haven't read Ender in Exile, but I would assume it would work best in order of publication. I read a lot of the sequels (I just stopped a few years ago, realizing that they weren't grabbing me any more) and I preferred the ones with Bean to the ones with Ender.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to be completely honest here, I did not enjoy this book. It may have been just the gap between my generation and when it was written, but I found that it just couldn't grab me. It's the strangest thing, because I normally love politics, and I can talk about the economy for hours on end.

At this point, the idea that "human are the real monsters" and "children are manipulated by soldiers" are just so cliched that it really just felt dry and boring to read. It's conciseness sort of worked against itself.

My biggest problem may have been how it sort of felt like he set up subplots and then never acted on them. Specifically, the tension between Alai and Ender. I'm sure at the time it was written, it felt perfectly normal, but I sort of read it as romantic. This was really amplified in the movie, where the kids are all aged up, and there's one scene where they just stare into each others eyes for an extremely long time.

However, I can totally see why you guys love it so much! I really wish that I had been able to get into the story, because I can see the caliber of writing and detail, but I just can't enjoy it for some reason.