[Book Review] Ender's Game

Ender's Game / Orson Scott Card (Powell's Books)

In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race's next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew "Ender" Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn't make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

Ender's skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.

Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender's two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.

When I first read Ender's Game in my early teens I enjoyed the book, but it was not the earth-shattering read for me that it seems to often be for others.  Some of the finer points of Ender's Game may have also been lost on me, or maybe some of the full ramifications did not really hit me until I was an adult.  Reviewing Ender's World earlier this year rekindled my interest in reading Ender's Game, so I finally got around to doing just that.

These days Ender's Game is a difficult book for me on several levels.  I think it is a brilliant and beautifully written book.  It is a book about leadership, diversity and acceptance, politics, friendship, growing up, or any of a dozen things depending on who you are and where in life you are when you read it.  But I cannot completely separate the book from the author's beliefs and politics, and it is also about the deliberate systematic abuse of a child to save the human race from a perceived threat.

Card's politics baffle me.  I have trouble reconciling such vehement intolerance with the author of a book like Ender's Game, which has incredible depths of tenderness and love in it.  What further confuses me about the whole topic is encountering words of praise by Card on books like Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner, where the central love story is between two men.  Maybe his stances have grown more harsh over the years?

On its own, Ender's Game stands strong.  Card has created characters who are frighteningly intelligent and vulnerable.  The Wiggen children stand out in their self-awareness for ones so young, lending them a maturity far beyond their years, yet their interactions have little reminders of their youth.  The story itself has so many levels of meaning that different readers can relate to.

This next bit is a bit weird for me.  I find Ender and Valentine's relationship disconcerting.  Their love and affection comes across as romantic when it is meant to be familial.  I do not have any close siblings, and by close I don't mean to say I care nothing for my step and half siblings, but whatever connection I have with them in general seems more removed than siblings who grew up together.  I also have trouble closely connecting with people.  However Ender and Valentine have this intensely strong and complicated set of emotions towards each other that to me reads as romantic.  I cannot tell if I simply cannot understand the deep connection between siblings or if the soul-mate bond between Ender and Valentine is beyond normal.

I think that Ender's Game is a good book to have read at least once.  If you do not wish to contribute to the wealth of an author who's politics offend you it should not be difficult to find a copy to borrow or a battered paperback in a used book store.


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