Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card

I'll admit that I only read this book because of a book club I'm in — a real, live, in-person one, even! Sci-fi isn't my usual literary neck of the woods, and so I thought that if I was going to read something from the genre, one of the classics would be a good way to go. I watch a lot of sci-fi, but for whatever reason, the book versions don't often catch my interest. I've read Dune and liked it, but I've yet to pick up Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, even though I suspect I'll like it. Ender's Game is one of those novels that everyone who likes sci-fi seems to have read.

Turns out, I liked it quite a bit. I know that Orson Scott Card is a homophobic crazy-person, but since I've more or less been otherwise unaware of his existence, it was easy enough to separate the person from the work. That said, his personal views do not inspire me to give him any money. I checked out Ender's Game from the library — a very well-loved hardback with someone's grocery list inside — and I've already returned it. That said, this review is not so much like my regular reviews, since I'm working from memory. Also, Ender's Game is decades old and widely read — I'm all right with giving it a more rambling treatment.

For those of you unaware, Ender's Game is the story of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, selected at the age of six to enroll in a military school for gifted children. Earth has been previously attacked by alien creatures known as "Buggers," and another attack seems imminent. Military officials view Ender as a promising leader who could possibly be the savior of humankind. Yes, he's six. Think about that for a sec. Previously, the military hoped to use his siblings, Peter and Valentine, but Peter proved too violent and Valentine too placid. Ender is quickly thrown into war games training and never given full answers as to what they want him to accomplish.

I was a little uncomfortable reading about these small children being taken from home and that they were so blasé about being soldiers at times, not to mention the inherent violence. Ender learns very quickly to subdue and hide his fears, and more than one child breaks down crying at night. As a mother, I become less and less able to separate my instincts to want to stop things like that from happening. It made me want to go hug my eight-year-old daughter, and to tell her again that she can do whatever makes her happy in life.

However, like Ender, I acclimated to the environment. After reminding myself that these were unusual children with an innate talent for these activities, and that there were still plenty of children back on Earth leading normal lives, it became easier to lose myself in the story.

Of course, Card plays with themes of morality and duty, and also personal threshold. How much can a person take? Will intense training make a person stronger or will it break them? There's a lot to think about here. Ender soon learns that he can only depend upon himself, but that doesn't stop him from being someone upon whom others can depend.

Supposedly, a movie based on the book is in progress. I'm not sure how they will handle it, especially since Ender ages from six to (I think) twelve or thirteen, and much of the conflict is internal. Sure, there will probably be some cool scenes in the anti-gravity training rooms, but it seems like a difficult book to adapt. Not impossible, but my expectations are not high. Seems like more often than not, filmmakers fail to properly capture the essence of their source material. I'm not sure why that is — too many cooks in the kitchen, I guess.

So while I'll probably continue to watch more sci-fi than I read, I would certainly recommend Ender's Game to anyone wanting to give the genre a try. It's a good introduction and probably a good yardstick with which to measure the quality in similar books. Just don't buy it new — support a secondhand shop or your library instead.


This review is part of Pajiba's Cannonball Read, in which participants aim to read and review 13, 26 or 52 books within one year.

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