17 August 2009

Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

When I bought Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game (well, "The Ender Quartet," really) I knew next to nothing about it. I knew it is a highly regarded science fiction novel, originally published when I was a young child. (The story the novel was based on was published in 1977, the novel in 1985.) I knew too that it seemed to be a polarizing book – people loved it or hated it without so many opinions falling somewhere in between. As for me, I loved it, flaws and all.

Opening paragraphs:
"I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I 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."

Ender's Game is military science fiction, taking place in a future where the human race has banded together to fight off the threat of invasion or destruction by an alien race known, for their bug-like appearance and hive-mind behaviour, as buggers. The world has become so over populated that there are strict laws limiting the number of children a family might have, but the governing body will make allowances for families raising child geniuses who as children may train to become soldiers to fight in the bugger wars.

Ender Wiggin is one such child, a Third in a world full of two-child families, allowed to be born in hopes that he will become the saviour they need to defeat the buggers. Ender's older brother Peter was too aggressive, his older sister Valentine too passive. Ender, they hope, will be just right. At age 6 Ender leaves his family and Earth for the off-world Battle School, where he learns to fight the wars in game room simulations with zero-gravity and all the challenges that offers.

The military ruthlessly exploits the malleability and resourcefulness of the child's mind. Ender hasn't learned yet to follow the patterns of thought and behaviour that adults do without realizing it, so he is able to solve problems that the adults can't seem to find a way around.

It's easy to forget that Ender is a child. Even though his emotional responses and some of his behaviours are child-like, he is given very adult abilities and intelligence. Even the other children are quite adult, though of course they have all been bred and raised to it. I did find it disconcerting sometimes because generally there seemed no real reason to use children rather than adults. Ultimately, I believe Card choose children rather than adults because it is easier to manipulate a child, even a very intelligent one, and also they are easier to train from the ground up, rather than having to undo years of experience and beliefs.

This was a book I felt I could have read straight through, beginning to end, though I did not. The reader does know a little more than Ender at times, but for the most part you discover along with him how they intend to use him, so there's a certain kind of urgency to discovering what next, hence my difficulty putting the book down any time I picked it up to read. The only parts I wasn't especially interested in were the bits back on Earth with Peter and Valentine and their plot to shape the post-war world. I understand that it is set up to allow for sequels (and also, I suppose, for context: military action does not exist in a vacuum, however much soldiers might be trained to think that way, and these sections do talk about some of the on-Earth consequences of the war), but those are the least interesting bits and the least connected to Ender's story.

All the same, I found this book remarkably fascinating. When I read the back cover and realized what I was getting into – fiction about the military – I was nervous. I have almost no interest in any sort of military undertaking. It did prove quite interesting to see how they worked, how they moulded Ender into the man they wanted him to be. I suppose it's wrong of me to call it military science fiction, because really it's more the psychology of it all that matters. In any case, an enjoyable read.

Orson Scott Card has written dozens of novels and short stories, including at least eight about Ender Wiggin. Card has won numerous awards, including multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. Orson Scott Card's official website can be found at Hatrack River.

Card, Orson Scott Ender's Game. New York: Tor, 1994.
Finished: 03 August 2009
Rating: 4 of 5 third born children
This was my 1st book in August and my 31st in 2009.

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