Review – Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

There is something about this book that manages to transcend being just a great story and manages to reach out and touch the reader.

The great “classic” works of speculative fiction, think Lord of the Rings or Dune, impress the reader with grand visions of alien and fantastical worlds. Transporting you from your own world into the author’s vision, leaving you stunned by the vastness of their creation.

Ender’s Game does none of this. But it reaches the even more elusive goal of an author buy reaching inside the reader and connecting to something deep inside.

Let’s ignore the science fiction setting for a moment. This book is about children, young, gifted children torn away from their homes and given a much greater purpose. It’s about fighting against unfair, insurmountable odds just to prove that you can. It’s about dealing with the hopelessness of losing one’s agency and forced to bow to the will of others. It’s about a person’s humanity being dismissed as secondary to fulfilling their role in society. It’s about war, death, and killing without empathy.

The wonder of this book is that, because it addresses so many brutal emotional truths, it can connect with many different readers, each of them taking something different away.

Ender’s Game is held up as a masterpiece by a generation of gifted children who could connect with Ender himself. At once having the pressure to attain unrealistic adult standards of intellectual performance, while also having their needs, wants and very emotions dismissed as childish. Card himself describes Ender’s Game in the introduction as it “asserts the personhood of children.” It speaks to these people as one of the very few books that addresses this issue with honesty. Ender himself is six years old at the beginning of the book, and as Card treats all his emotions as valid, so does the reader.

I think Card himself summarises this point more eloquently than I can.

These readers found that Ender’s Game was not merely a “mythic” story dealing with general truths, but something much more personal: To them, Ender’s Game was an epic tale a story that expressed who they are as a community, a story that distinguished them from the other people around them. They didn’t love Ender, or pity Ender (a frequent adult response); they were Ender, all of them. Ender’s experience was not foreign or strange to them; in their minds, Ender’s life echoed their own lives. The truth of the story was not truth in general, but their truth.

Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game – Introduction

I confess to having read this book too late to have the opportunity of counting myself among these acolytes, having read it for the first time perhaps ten years too late to make that kind of connection with Ender Wiggin. Despite that, I sympathised and empathised with this person, not child, person.

Yet there were other levels of connection that hit home for me. Anyone who has felt trapped serving another’s purpose, through outside expectations or a disliked job, will understand some of what Ender feels. Anyone faced with demands on them, whether work, school, societal or familiar, that at times feel overwhelming will connect with Ender. His experience is an altogether human experience, despite the science fiction trappings of aliens and space battles, and that’s what makes this book so powerful. It can speak to everyone, for we all share a common experience.

At it’s heart, Ender’s Game is also a war story. Card acknowledges that a major inspiration to his writing was reading on the history of the civil war, of general’s winning through brilliant strategy in seemingly impossible situations. Card captures the excitement and drama of war, encapsulated within the confines of the Battle School, and later on Ender’s advancement to Command School. However, this excitement avoids glamourisation by also showing the terrible toll taken on its participants.

The ending itself, without being too specific, wraps the whole work up in a grand morality question, which Card has been building to from the beginning. Questioning every premise in the story, everything that Ender believed and much of what the reader is led to believe.

It’s worth mentioning the sub-plot of Ender’s also gifted siblings, Valentine and Peter, and their exploits on the world below. Children with plans to influence the political landscape of the entire Earth, through pseudonyms on “The Nets”. When I first read this book, nigh on a decade ago, I though that Card had missed the mark with this. The internet had developed so quickly since he wrote Ender’s Game into something a long way from the Usenet discussion groups that so clearly inspired Card’s concepts. It seemed ridiculous that one person could gain so much power from such an open and democratic forum as the internet. And yet, 10 years later, even this prediction seems prescient. In the age of instagram influencers, youtube billionaires and social media being the defining battleground of any election, Card’s predictions suddenly seem unerringly accurate.

What is perhaps the most intriguing part of all of this is that, despite the critical success, despite touching the hearts of a generation, despite achieving the emotional connection that many author’s dream of, Card himself considers the book to be very much a prequel, and secondary, to the next installment of the series Speaker for the Dead.

I thought of Ender’s Game, the novel, existing only to set up the much more powerful (I thought) of Speaker of the Dead.

Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game – Introduction

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