Ender’s Game (Ender’s Saga #1) by Orson Scott Card (1985)
YA Fiction | Sci-Fi
“Andrew “Ender” Wiggin thinks he is playing computer simulated war games; he is, in fact, engaged in something far more desperate. Ender may be the military genius Earth desperately needs in a war against an alien enemy seeking to destroy all human life. The only way to find out is to throw Ender into ever harsher training, to chip away and find the diamond inside, or destroy him utterly. Ender Wiggin is six years old when it begins. He will grow up fast.”
pooled ink Review:
I remember watching the movie adaptation almost five years ago and enjoying it. The book was one of those that some cool teachers managed to add onto their reading lists and while I’d never read it I knew a friend who had. It’s taken me years to finally take her up on the recommendation but I’m glad that I did.
This book surprised me. Not in the plot since I had already seen the movie, but just…overall. A major difference between the book and the movie is that while Ender is a teenager in the movie, in the book he’s brought into Battle School at age six. Six.
It’s mentioned more than once throughout the story how Ender and his peers are not normal children. They don’t think, speak, or act like normal children their age ought. They are geniuses and they are trained for war. It was far too easy to forget Ender’s age while reading because he behaves far older than six. By the time he’s nine he could pass for a bonafide adult in everything except appearance, and by eleven he’s a global hero. It was bizarre and I’m not sure if my brain fully believes it but I tended to set aside his age and focus on the rest of the story. Take the numbers out of it and it’s still an impressive career.
There are tons of battle games staged throughout the kids’ training and while it might feel repetitive to some readers, I actually rather enjoyed them. It was fun to see how Ender’s mind worked in the field, so to speak. He quickly rose to the head of the pack, he trained other soldiers to be as excellent, and his efforts paid off when he’s promoted straight to Command School to be trained to command an entire fleet for the humans’ strike against the aliens (“buggers”). His accelerated career is impressive, it is the hope of humanity, it is why he was born, and yet Ender remains unhappy.
The surface of this book is all sci-fi action fun. Battle games, simulators, training, enemies vs friends, strategy, etc. But beneath this entertaining plot is a constant question of morality and the human psyche. Ender is what Earth needs to survive. He has loyal comrades, respect, prestige, ability, but as time goes by it all means nothing to him. Without his sister, Valentine, the one person he loves and who truly loves him, he’d have given up years ago. She wishes he could quit too, but the fact remains that there is no one else who can do what Ender can.
So we see these glimpses into how Ender internalizes all that goes on around him. The pressures, the expectations, the wins, the looming future…he’s afraid of failure, he’s exhausted by the constantly changing rules, he’s sick of being isolated and distanced from ever making friends, and he’s terrified of what he’s becoming.
Ender’s brother, Peter, is an absolute psycho and yet Ender both fears him and hopes for his love. Peter is violent, Valentine is empathetic, and Ender shows the strongest sides of both. Ender can’t help but win, and win so thoroughly that his enemy can never attack him again. He responds with self-defense but takes it a step further to win completely. He doesn’t just best his enemies, he destroys them. And because Ender has a heart like his sister he feels horror at what he’s done. But he can’t stop winning. And so he destroys anyone in his way. He doesn’t start the fight, but he makes sure to end it. And then he struggles with seeing himself as a monster for it.
Ender is a genius, Ender is a killer, Ender is humanity’s last hope…and the fact that throughout this he is just a child makes it all the more wild.
The ending though…it was a cruel game to play on Ender, but humanity wanted to win and to win so thoroughly that their enemies could never strike back. Ender is a pawn from before he was ever born, but then all’s fair in love and war, no? For the greater good, no?
I was surprised by how quickly I read through this book and how it wove these deeper threads of thought throughout the flashy action of the plot. I enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it for sci-fi fans.
Ender’s Game is not Ender’s at all. A story about a boy born for war, a boy who becomes a brilliant killer who cannot help but win, and yet despite being a hero and last hope for humanity his last desire is to kill. Everything was just a game, until it was not. A science fiction story full of action and thrill wrapped around deeper themes of moral debate and consequences, there is no surprise as to why Ender’s story has sailed to fame within its genre.
Purchase here: Ender’s Game
Meet Orson Scott Card!
Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He recently began a longterm position as a professor of writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.
Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.