Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Ender's Game

by Orson Scott Card

If you prefer to think of children as innocents, look away now. The main characters in Ender's Game are kids, albeit astonishingly precocious ones, but their youth doesn't shield them from experiencing all shades of good and evil.

Ender Wiggin is 6 at the start of this story, and as smart kids go he's off the scale. From an early age his development is closely monitored by adults in the hope that he shows promise. The adults in question are from the military, and they're looking for a future war leader to command Earth's armies against a distant alien threat. The aliens are known as buggers because they resemble insects. They're intelligent, technologically advanced, and unknowable. The only certainty about them is that they're capable of wiping out mankind.

Ender goes to train at Battle School, away from his family. But his education takes place under the shadow of the buggers and the knowledge that one day he must fight them. Training is harsh, and his sly instructors use mind games and stack the odds against him in order to challenge him and alienate him from his peers. They hope to mould him into the great commander the human race badly needs. But at what price to Ender?

Ender is a third child, a rarity in this overcrowded future Earth. His older brother Peter resents his every success, and is inclined to hurt his younger sibling whenever possible. By contrast his sister Valentine is always much kinder. Although neither of them made it into Battle School they have plans of their own for infiltrating the adult world and manipulating the political agenda.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of Ender's Game is the way the children behave like miniature adults. The alien threat means they miss out on a regular, cotton-wool-wrapped childhood. Yet even amongst themselves the candidates at Battle School are fiercely competitive and often brutal. It's rare that they can mess about or simply play. Every game has a purpose, and the games are deadly serious. Adults rarely intervene in the children's disputes, and when they do step in it's more often to make things harder rather than to protect them.

Ender learns about being the one to finish things, but in the course of his training he also experiences guilt. His choices are often limited, and because he has regrets his character is more sympathetic. So the ending is all the more brilliant, since we end up caring about this too-bright kid in spite of his over-achievement. What happens in very poignant. The lessons Ender learns in space could just as easily apply to ordinary people leading conventional Earthbound lives, and it's this universality that marks the story out as a classic.

Book Details

Decade: 1980s

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
    Male Protagonist  

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson


Ros Jackson     22nd July, 2013 00:09am

I still stand by this review, because the author's homophobia doesn't diminish the quality of this novel. But I don't plan to ever buy another of his books, or to watch the movie adaptation due out in November 2013.