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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – Review

Ender's Game Cover

Ender's Game Cover

Ender’s Game is one of those classics of Science Fiction that I had never got around to reading, but now I’m glad I did.

The story is set in a fantastical future in which the human race is struggling to avoid overcrowding and is just getting over a war with a race of insect-like creatures nicknamed the “buggers” which happened decades before.

I can’t avoid spoilers in this review so please do not read any further if you haven’t read the book.

In this future, families are limited to two children, and the army authorities also get to pick the best of these children in anticipation of a future clash with the buggers. Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a third child, from a family that specifically had genetically superior children to aid this war effort. All three Wiggin children, Peter, Valentine and Ender are highly intelligent but only Ender makes the grade to join the space army. Ender readily agrees as he his tormented by Peter and never feels close to his parents – only Valentine holds him there.

What follows for most of the book is Ender’s training at Battle School, a space-station specifically built to train future pilots and commanders. Already his potential is confirmed, from a device Ender has to wear while young, but the Army are looking for someone who is both highly capable, ruthless, and able to act under pressure. Peter failed his test as he was too cruel, and Valentine is too compassionate, so the hopes of the Army lie with the six year old Ender.

Ender’s training is brutal. Still only a very young child, he is deliberately kept isolated and pressurised throughout his sessions. He has to deal with bullys, and deliberate manipulation from the teachers in his training school. He is for example moved early to the next class, and expected to fit in and perform with students far older than him. Or he is deliberately given praise, knowing the other students will resent this.

Ender Series Boxset

Ender Series Boxset

Most of the training takes the form of games. One game, designed to stress the mind, is played alone by students who access their private terminals and play games of logic and knowledge designed by computer especially for the student. This game uses the subjects subconcious to create tests and trials. The other game takes the form of a war game, with teams of students battling it out in a zero gravity environment called the Battle Room, where a commanders control of his troops is tested.

Ender studies hard. He starts as a lowly soldier in a team that doesn’t want him there. And just as he makes a friend or two, his teachers move him to a new team, where he is leader, with a batch of neophytes as his soldiers. These deliberate moves by the teachers keep coming, but Ender manages to hang on, even if he becomes jaded and withdrawn along the way.

Ender quickly proves his worth defeating every team thrown against him. Soon he is fighting a battle every day, then two a day, fighting both exhaustion and students much older and more experienced than him. This goes on until his teachers cannot push him any more. He remains at the top of the leaderboard. The youngest ever to graduate, he is quickly sent on his way.

As you can expect Ender brilliantly survives all these obstacles, making some friends, and more enemies, along the way. The manipulation by his teachers, especially Colonel Graff, goes deep into his personal life. Ender actually kills a student who bullies then attacks him, and that is covered up as the student is said to have been sent home. Another time his sister Valentine, the only person he truly loves, is sent to convince him to carry on with his training. By this time Ender is the only student capable of beating the buggers in the upcoming war.

In the last part of the book Ender is sent to the commanders training school many light years away. Here, he is told he is being taught advanced techniques against the buggers, with the old hero Mazer Rackham, the only person to ever defeat the buggers, teaching him. He learns about the buggers, that they operate as one within a hive-mind, and that they quickly learn from any strategies used against them. He is also taught about the Ansible that allows instantaneous communication, and about the ships that were sent against the bugger homeworld, to attack the buggers before they attack us.

Ender is pushed to the extremes here, and ends up having blackouts, nightmares, and sleepless nights in succession. He is deliberately kept alone but he refuses to give in, commanding his pilots – his old fellow students and friends – via many simulations on the computer against the buggers. He never sees them face to face and Mazer keeps on making the simulation harder and harder, but Ender wins out.

Eventually, at the very last battle, Ender is faced with insurmountable odds. Even the people in the room with him, who he is told are there for his final exam, gasp at the strength of the bugger army. Ender takes the only route out, sending his pilots against the planet on his computer screen, destroying it with advanced weaponry. There is silence, then a round of applause.

It is quickly explained to Ender that all his time in the commanders school was real, The battles he fought in the computer simulation were real, using fleets of ships sent out decades earlier against the bugger homeworld and surrounding areas. The final planet he destroyed in his final “examination” exterminated the buggers, saving humanity.

Ender doesn’t see it like that. He is struck with remorse by the fact he has wiped out an entire species. But back on earth he is a hero. With the bugger threat eliminated earth returns to its old warlike ways, a battle between nations, and Ender is confined to the training school (which he now knows is an converted bugger asteroid). He never really forgives himself for the death he has caused but at the very end of the novel there is some redemption.

While on an ex bugger planet with a ship full of human colonists, including his sister, he finds the last remaining bugger queen, left especially for him. The buggers had reacted to his mind through the Ansible – using his original game-world as a template to create a copycat area on their homeworld, awaiting his arrival. They expected to wiped out and set their last remaining queen. Ender senses that the buggers were not a warlike race, were not out to attack humankind. They, with their hive mind couldn’t understand any human behaviours, means of contact, or emotion and humans in kind couldn’t understand the buggers. The two races were so far apart each never new the other. Ender sees his chance to right the wrongs he has caused, takes the sleep young queen, and sets off.

There is an interesting history to this book, revealed in the authors introduction to the second in the series, “Speaker For The Dead”. It seems Enders Game was originally a novella, and SPFTD a stand alone novel. However, with Orson Scott Card struggling with his plot he thought about using Ender as a character, so the novella was rewritten as a novel with the a change in plot to allow the followup.

There are many layers to the story. On one level, it is a coming of age story of a child genius pressurised into winning against the odds. On another, it’s a story of the warlike nature of mankind. It can be seen as a war story like Starship Troopers, or a story that shows the futility of war. There is also a big subplot, where Ender’s equally intelligent siblings become political conspirators – “Demosthenes and Locke” – using the net to remain incognito. The world outside the training schools is never developed fully but enough is revealed about this Earth of the future to interest you in it’s fate. After all this is a story of Ender, and the rest of the world takes second place to that.

Personally I found this novel exciting , entertaining and involving. There are quite a few more to go and in some ways the story really begins in the next. Ender’s Game is one of those novels you just can’t put down, and while it might be blatantantly aimed at SciFi fanboys to some extent it IS quality entertainment, and can surprise you with some deep ideas and emotional turns along the way.

This book was first published in 1977 and has won both the Hugo and Nebula awards and is considered one of the classics of the genre. There is even an Ender’s Game speciality comic from Marvel and an Ender’s Game movie has long been promised.

Rating: 9/10 – An exciting and thoughtful look into the world of a small boy who survives his brutal training and manages to save the world.

Wikipedia Link – interesting information on the origins of this novel, it’s plot and structure, and the adaptations being worked on.