Spotlight: Ender’s Game (Review)

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A review of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

Andrew Wiggin prefers to be called Ender. He’s a six-year-old genius destined to save the world. He’s also a Third, that is the third child in a world in which it’s against the law to have more than two. The government made an exception with Ender, because he’s going to become the General who will win Earth’s war with an alien race called the Buggers. Why Ender is the one quickly becomes obvious. Yes, he’s only a little boy, but Ender thinks and acts like a great leader. And that’s why he leaves his family for battle school, to become a great military leader. But the challenges he faces in military school are more than even Ender expected, and yet he faces them with both dignity and cunning.

I easily understood why this novel won a Hugo and Nebula Award. Ender’s Game is a masterfully told tale. It’s a strongly plotted story with excellent character development. And really it is more about Ender than about the game, because the game changes Ender. As he progresses, he must wrestle with his own feelings about what he’s done and who he’s become. May God help him if he actually wins the war and kills all the Buggers. What will he do about his conflicted emotions then?

The first few chapters I had some trouble with. I especially had trouble understanding that the Earth is under forced population control. This premise never made sense to me in the context of the story and characters. The story did not need it, either. The idea of global population control was superfluous and confusing, but it only popped up a couple times after the first few chapters. And starting with the fourth chapter, Ender really grew on me. I rooted for him, and I admired him. As he faced each new challenge, I literally could not put the book down. And when I read the last page, I felt like I had really been in that other world and had really known those characters. I believe the word I used was “Wow!”

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Mass Market Paperback, 384 pages, Tor Science Fiction; Reprint edition (July 15, 1994)
ISBN: 0812550706

About J. Timothy King
J. Timothy King

I'm the eldest of three siblings, a stay-at-home father of two daughters, the husband of a wonderful wife, and an indie author of life-expanding character fiction. When not writing, I read, watch old TV and movies, play bass guitar, and tend to my family in our Boston-area apartment.

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Comments

Rambling junk below. Appologies in advance. Tim can write and I can not. Tim can *think* and I can not.

Card has many skills; creating a functional, believable world is not one of them. The population laws are a throw-away to make Ender both hated and special. He is the pariah elite, he is what all nerds secretly hoped to be: superhuman and recognized as such despite being jumped for their lunch money. He is Slan.

This is why the novel won both SF’s major awards. It is worth comparing Ender’s Game to another novel which won both awards, the first to do so, Frank Herbert’s Dune.

Both novels feature schematic, often silly worlds.

Both feature young protagonists whose abilities while carefully rationalized border the magical. (One of my complaints with Card’s is the kid playing way over age; I’ve known a child genius and scary as he was he WAS a kid. Dune’s was a teen and an often scared one at that.)

Both novels are heavily grounded in faith and religion. Everything Card has written–everything–is Mormon to its core. Not unintelligently so; he’s gotten in trouble with his Church doing comedy sketches at SF conventions. By all accounts he’s a funny guy, humor which never appears in his fiction.

That young faith has an obvious connection to pulp power fantasies and Card is at his most successful IMO when explicitly reimagining his faith’s genesis (Alvin Maker). He’s also a better short story writer than he is a novelist “Lost Boys” vs Lost Boys. Ender also started as a short. Despite working mostly at novel length. While he’s no Silverberg (who is? read his The Stochastic Man last week; it’s nothing great but he probably knocked it off in a day: he was writing a million words of solid to **very** high quality fiction EVERY YEAR during the 70’s when not pausing to write non-fiction books which became technical references in their fields; Silverberg himself admits he was frightening), he can slap it down in his rare shorts. There’s a tremendous gulf between the godawful A Planet Called Treason and super-slick “The Changed Man and the King of Words”.

The sequels to Game are better but have less pulp oomph. Ender Gets Guilt.

The parallels with Dune continue. The early sequels (there are scads, continuing long after Herbert’s death) also lose most of their pulp. They suffer more for it IMO because Herbert’s scale was always broader and his plate of ideas more challenging. Card is a well disguised preacher and Herbert was a school marm who didn’t grade on a curve. (The original edition of Destination: Void, about a computer sufficiently complicated it became self-aware and demanded, perhaps deservedly, to be Worshiped as God, had equations stuffed into the text. The novel is mostly about why and *how* such a thing would happen. Tense and exciting but light reading and good fiction it ain’t.)

Both writers made their fortunes on the back of wanktastic power fantasy. One is a believer intelligently retelling the stories of his faith. The other was secular and obsessed with the inevitability of belief as the concentration of power.

J. Timothy King

Hey! Finkster! Glad you commented. I agree that Card’s fictional universe feels contrived at points. What impressed me about the story was the character development. In a character-driven story, I’m willing to forgive the author a few problems with setting or plot.

You write, “The population laws are a throw-away to make Ender both hated and special.” My big objection to the population laws is that they neither made Ender hated nor special. While he was special and hated because he was a Third, the very fact that he was chosen for the monitor and then rejected–so we all thought–could have been enough, with a few more changes, to make him special, and hated by at least one bully.

But the population laws don’t make sense. If you’re fighting a war, you need people, lots of them. Card did not even show that there was a real population problem on Earth, and I don’t believe there was. Rather, these laws were a political program. And they were political laws many people broke every day, as is the pattern with laws against non-violent, consensual acts. Even if the rest of the population couldn’t figure all this out, Peter and Valentine should both have.

I would like to believe that Ender’s Game won its awards not just because it’s main character is a young, outcast superhero. Somehow that seems shallow. I found much more of depth to like in the novel than that, and I’d like to believe the award judges did too.

Lots more great discussion there in your comment, Finkbug. Thanks for writing.

-TimK

Been reading your posts, figured it was time to say hi. 🙂

PS. A well-written young, outcast superhero. Makes all the difference.

J. Timothy King

Glad you did. Glad to have your sci-fi expertise here. 😉

Take care.
-TimK

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