For as long as I can remember, Ender’s Game has seemed like the quintessential science fiction story to me. I’m not entirely sure why – maybe it was the dated cover art or the reverence with which other people said author Orson Scott Card’s name – but I always felt that it was one of those books I just needed to read to be a well-rounded person. As such, I can’t explain why it took me so long to finally read it, but I guess late is better than never! In fact, it was my first read of 2015. But though I have finished Card’s novel, I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about it.
The story itself is phenomenal, and I loved all of the strategy and game play that made up the majority of the narrative. Yet the book tackled some really heavy themes too.
First, there’s population control, with the government dictating how many children couples can have. Then there are the government monitors, watching young children through implanted devices to determine their relative aptitude for fighting and/or surviving. Next, you have the main plot point of the book – that the youngsters deemed to be skilled enough are taken from their families and trained in the art of war before they reach their 10th birthdays. And finally, you have Ender Wiggin, the boy who appears to be the most gifted of them all and is constantly pushed by his military overseers to learn just a little bit faster and on a steeper curve than everyone else.
Due to the prevalence of child fighters in many dystopian novels these days – hello Hunger Games – I wasn’t entirely shocked by the idea that a future human race would train young children to be soldiers and commanders. To be sure, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it either, but what really struck me were the lengths to which characters like Colonel Hyrum Graff, the head of the Battle School (where Ender is trained), and Mazer Rackham, an old war hero, went to challenge Ender. I guess I can kind of understand the pressure they were under – they are worrying about the fate of mankind, after all – but to me, Ender was still a kid and should have been allowed some time to make and keep friends, as well as relax every now and then. Though I guess that was Card’s entire point – to show a different side of children, not only in how we see them, but in how they seem themselves.
To the adults in the story, the pre-teens and teenagers at the Battle School are their next best hope – tools to be used in the war against the alien “buggers.” The children, on the other hand, view themselves more as adults, commanding armies and engaging in philosophical debates with their elders. That dichotomy is an interesting one to watch and essentially moves the story forward.
But after watching Ender endure his training and the requisite hardships for nearly 300 pages, I found the climactic fight with the buggers to be a big letdown. After all, he thought (as does the reader) that it was just another training exercise. There is no build-up, no grand speech, no realization of how momentous the occasion actually is. Once again, I can understand the military’s rationale, but it seemed like just another moment that was stolen from Ender as he only had a part of the story.
I also thought it was interesting, in a strange sort of way, that Card only spent one chapter (really just five pages) exploring Ender’s empathy for the buggers, and the fact that the wars were all a matter of miscommunication. The parallel to modern-day warfare is obvious enough, but since this seems to be the attribute that sets Ender apart from his sociopathic brother Peter, I felt it was really given short shrift. But perhaps that’s why there are five more books in the series?