Today I Read…Ender’s Game

Ender's GameToday I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, the first book in the Ender’s Game series. It won the Nebula award in 1985 and the Hugo in 1986.

Ender Wiggin was a Third, born in the hope he could be a balance between his violent brother Peter and his gentle sister Valentine. Ender is destined to be a soldier in the endless war against the alien Bugger menace, but not just any soldier– at six years old he is chosen for the Battle School, the school for future officers. His intelligence, his determination, and his ability to see through the games the instructors play with the children mark him out as something special. In Ender rests the hope of humanity–not an easy burden on a child, no matter how remarkable. Can someone who does not wish to hurt others win a war? And is the killer the weapon or the one who points and fires it?

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I intended for this review to be of the book Ender’s Game, not the controversy over the upcoming movie and Orson Scott Card’s public blatant homophobia, although the controversy is what inspired me to finally read the book. However I find that in this case it is quite difficult for me to begin the book review until I separate the creator from the created. Certainly Card’s views that homosexuality is the result of child sexual abuse and that it is a form of mental illness are both wrong and repulsive, as is his support for the hate group the National Organization for Marriage. I won’t dignify his views with any links, but it’s certainly easy enough to Google. On the other hand, Peter David makes a good point about punishing people for their views by trying to kill their livelihood. Just because Card is a bigot doesn’t mean he isn’t entitled to make a living. On the third hand, I kind of agree with the reasons for the boycott–I don’t want to give Card any money that he will then donate to a group which was expressly started and continues to try to force legalized bigotry on people. And on the fourth hand, Lionsgate, the studio behind the Ender’s Game movie, has released a statement that they do not support Card’s views and that they intend to host a benefit premiere of Ender’s Game in support of LGBTQ rights. And there’s a lot of people involved in making the movie who don’t deserve to be financially punished just because of one homophobic jerk. So, I guess it comes down to just how much you can separate the creator from the creation and what you individually think is right.

So, on to the actual book review. I will say that I read the post 1991 revision, including the introduction that would never end. It was very self-congratulatory, which I could forgive if it was shorter. 23 pages of introduction is completely unnecessary for your own novel, and I’ll barely read that much of one for school–it’s too long for the Norton versions of Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain, and it definitely slows everything down for Ender’s Game. It reminded me a lot of Starship Troopers— the attitudes between Johnnie Rico and Ender Wiggin are somewhat similar as they learn to be soldiers. However, Rico learns to be one among many, while Ender learns the loneliness of command.

There’s a lot of violence in the book that Ender doesn’t always experience the full consequences of. He doesn’t like to hurt people, but sometimes it becomes necessary for the greater good or to complete his mission. However his superiors repeatedly keep the consequences from him, as when he accidentally kills Stilson and Bonzo and is told that they were merely injured, or when (spoilers!) he is not told that his simulations are real and that he really is leading people to their deaths and committing mass genocide of an intelligent species. Consequences of actions are only lightly touched upon, since we see the world primarily through Ender, who as intelligent as he may be is still a child, and one who has many things kept from him. Perhaps these things are explored in the later books in the series–for now I’ve only read the first.

So for my overall impression, it’s not a bad book, but it’s not my genre and I wasn’t blown away. And it’s highly unfortunate that someone who once wrote this book also wrote the propaganda-trash that is Hamlet’s Father.

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“I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and tell you he’s the one. Or at least as close as we’re going to get.”

“That’s what you said about the brother.”

“The brother tested out impossible. For other reasons. Nothing to do with his ability.”

“Same with the sister. And there are doubts about him. He’s too malleable. Too willing to submerge himself in someone else’s will.”

“Not if the other person is his enemy.”

“So what do we do? Surround him with enemies all the time?”

“If we have to.”

“I thought you said you liked this kid.”

“If the buggers get him, they’ll make me look like his favorite uncle.”

“All right. We’re saving the world, after all. Take him.”

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Mother was twisting her wedding band on her finger. “Andrew,” she said. “I never thought you were the kind to get in a fight.”

“The Stilson boy is in the hospital,” Father said. “You really did a number on him. With your shoe, Ender, that wasn’t exactly fair.”

Ender shook his head. He had expected someone from the school to come about Stilson, not an officer of the fleet. This was more serious than he had thought. And yet he couldn’t think what else he could have done.

“Do you have any explanation for your behavior, young man?” asked the officer.

Ender shook his head again. He didn’t know what to say, and he was afraid to reveal himself to be any more monstrous than his actions had made him out to be. I’ll take it, whatever the punishment is, he thought. Let’s get it over with.

“We’re willing to consider extenuating circumstances,” the officer said. “But I must tell you it doesn’t look good. Kicking him in the groin, kicking him repeatedly in the face and body when he was down– sounds like you really enjoyed it.”

“I didn’t,” Ender whispered.

“Then why did you do it?”

“He had his gang there,” Ender said.

“So? This excuses anything?”

“No.”

“Tell me why you kept on kicking him. You had already won.”

“Knocking him down won the first fight. I wanted to win all the next ones, too, right then, so they’d leave me alone.” Ender couldn’t help it, he was too afraid, too ashamed of his own acts: though he tried not to, he cried again. Ender did not like to cry and rarely did; now, in less than a day, he had done it three times. And each time was worse. To cry in front of his mother and father and this military man, that was shameful. “You took away the monitor,” Ender said. “I had to take care of myself, didn’t I?”

“Ender, you should have asked a grown-up for help,” Father began.

But the officer stood up and stepped across the room to Ender. He held out his hand. “My name is Graff. Ender. Colonel Hyrum Graff. I’m director of primary training at Battle School in the Belt. I’ve come to invite you to enter the school.”

After all. “But the monitor–”

“The final step in your testing was to see what would happen if the monitor comes off. We don’t always do it that way, but in your case–”

“And I passed?”

Mother was incredulous. “Putting the Stilson boy in the hospital? What would you have done if Andrew had killed him, given him a medal?”

“It isn’t what he did, Mrs. Wiggin. It’s why.” Colonel Graff handed her a folder full of papers. “Here are the requisitions. Your son has been cleared by the I.F. Selective Service. Of course we already have your consent, granted in writing at the time conception was confirmed, or he could not have been born. He has been ours from then, if he qualified.”

Father’s voice was trembling as he spoke. “It’s not very kind of you, to let us think you didn’t want him, and then to take him after all.”

“And this charade about the Stilson boy,” Mother said.

“It wasn’t a charade, Mrs. Wiggin. Until we knew what Ender’s motivation was, we couldn’t be sure he wasn’t another– we had to know what the action meant. Or at least what Ender believed that it meant.”

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4 thoughts on “Today I Read…Ender’s Game

  1. It is also probably worth noting that his views have become rather more radicalized as he gets older — perhaps due to the change commonly views (and legal change) on homosexuality….

    I wasn’t blown away either — although I read it years and years ago… I think the next book in the sequence, Speaker for the Dead does try to fix some of the moral issues of the first one.

  2. I agree! Not my cup of tea either…and I came to this conclusion before I knew of the author’s homophobia. And I read like 2 pages of the introduction before I decided to skip it completely…WAY too long.

    I think the overall plot was decent, it was the writing that bored me. And the fact that the kids were REALLY young kind of upset me. If they would have been teenagers, I might have liked it.

    http://igeekteenbooks.wordpress.com/2013/10/11/enders-game-a-book-review/

  3. I would guess that the children being so young was a deliberate attempt to upset people, and I can actually agree with that choice. There is a beloved myth of childhood innocence in our culture, but this is a culture where soldiers are literally created from birth- Ender was specifically permitted to be born in order to be not just a soldier, but the ultimate general. Letting him experience a normal childhood, letting him grow up and learn who he is would have ruined him for the Battle School plans- they needed him to be ignorant of people and life experience in order to be easier to manipulate, while still having his intelligence and factual knowledge and his ability to think creatively because he doesn’t know How Things Are Done.

    I think it’s actually a fairly deep book, but again just not for me.

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