Review: Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet, #1)Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ender’s Game is one of those books that everyone just assumes you read in school as assigned reading, then they look shocked when they discover you hadn’t. Well, now I have.

It’s an interesting science-fiction book, and definitely would be classified as “young adult” now. The story–in case you also are late to the party–is about Ender Wiggen, a genius-level boy who is selected by mysterious government men to join the Battle School. These men are entrusted with the care of many such excellent children, with the goal of training them to be perfect soldiers, and, in Ender’s case, the perfect commander, in the human fight against the alien buggers. Because of this, Ender is subjected to trial after trial, both interpersonal as well as intellectual. He is isolated and suffers much. Meanwhile, back at home, his also-genius and somewhat sociopathic siblings Valentine and Peter concoct their own schemes to meddle in Earth politics and gain power…even as children.

The book really shines in the zero-G/null gravity tactical battles, which, according to the preface written by author Orson Scott Card, was what started the whole thing anyway. Card tackles the challenges of combat–distance and hand-to-hand–in three dimensions, adding challenges we just won’t face on Earth (hopefully). It’s easy to see why directors thought this would make a great movie; these scenes are vivid and enthralling.

Otherwise, I found the story a little far-fetched. Ender a super-duper genius at just 6? He certainly doesn’t have interactions like a 6-year-old. I’ll accede that possibly he could be really smart and particularly verbal and accept the language as it is, but even super-geniuses need a certain level of human companionship. I also don’t know that I ever fully bought into the validity of the scheme of isolation to produce leadership, that having no friends was explicitly what was going to make Ender a good leader. Which is one of the main conceits of the book…

Card notes in his preface that, when the book was first published, he received angry letters from parents who claimed no gifted child would talk like that. I’m not sure I see anything that seems totally out of the realm of possibility…not just for gifted children, but for any children. Kids can be sadistic bastards, yo. (And I think we as a culture may have gotten over that squeamishness some, at least in fiction, with Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, among many others, being highly cogent.)

I love the space stuff, but don’t particularly love the overall message and themes of this book. Perhaps I’m too old to really appreciate the tortured-youth of it; the adults just seem like unforgivable assholes to me.

The ending–the final ending, after the buggers have been defeated–felt so horribly tacked-on and unformed that it really took a lot away from the book for me. It felt like Card desperately wanted a happy ending for this character he unduly tortured but didn’t know how to get there, so slapped together 20 pages of falderal so he can write sequels. While I’m glad I finally read this book, I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the others.

Card’s highly controversial/offensive personal views–he is an active Mormon and has been outspoken about his disgust toward homosexuality, and has been a generous donor to anti-gay marriage folks–is interesting. I bought this book second-hand because I don’t support his views personally and therefore didn’t want extra money going to him, and perhaps that made it top-of-mind for me…but for all that he was anti-homosexuality, his book could very easily be read as including it in a positive way. It’s something the reader would have to bring to the book, so to speak, but there’s an awful lot of male nudity (I wish I’d kept tabs on how often the word “naked” was used!) and there’s a fight scene in a shower featuring highly lathered and soapy naked teenage boys. There are barely two female characters in the whole book; it’s not a huge leap. Worth thinking about, anyway.

(Related: I found it interesting/odd that religion is apparently gone from this Earth at the beginning of the book–banned, it seems–except that Jews are held in high regard, and by the end Ender has inadvertently created a religion? That seemed inconsistent.)

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