Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

This is another one of those books that’s lauded as a master work and has been widely acclaimed for years.Strap yourselves in, this is going to be a long one.

To start positive, I felt the book had two key strong points: its battle strategies and its psychology.

First, the battles. Who doesn’t love a good battle? When Card cares to show the reader a battle (which isn’t as often as I would have liked, but we can’t have everything), he takes the time to show Ender’s ingenuity by placing him in a variety of situations and forcing him to think and act in innovative ways. Whenever we get to see Ender’s tactical genius at work, it’s incredibly satisfying. Not only does it make Ender special and integral to the conflict, but it also keeps the action feeling both dynamic and cyclical as everything Ender learns is applied later in his journey.

Second, Card employs devious psychology to unfurl the central conflict and flesh out Ender’s character. Admittedly, I didn’t like Ender for the first half of the story. I found him unapproachable and his situations unbelievable (more on that later). I also didn’t get the point of the shifts in perspective to Graff and the other military personnel discussing how they would manipulate Ender. These scenes could have sucked the tension out of Ender’s journey, but somehow didn’t. In the end, I was able to sympathize with Ender because of these additional scenes, which showed him overcoming the institutionalized adversity being thrown at him. This made the adults much more compelling antagonists for Ender than any of the children, which was ultimately the point Card and many of the characters tried to make.

Now, because all cookies must have their raisins, I must risk total annihilation and point out a few problems I had with the narrative.

  1. The dialogue is so inhumanly stilted it was hard to read. This is especially true of any conversations between Ender and Graff, as well as the weird dialect the kids used with each other (not sure if I misread something due to some kind of cultural disconnect. It wouldn’t be the first time).
  2. Graff as a whole bothered the heck out of me. I had a hard time discerning whether he really was Ender’s friend, and if he was, why he was so hell-bent on destroying him. Time of war or not, do you honestly think it’s ever a good idea to send your friend (who happens to be a CHILD) into an unnecessary violent conflict like the one between Ender and Bonzo? Though what ultimately killed it for me with Graff was the way he addressed the General. I guess I don’t understand the I.F. well enough, but it was shocking to see a military person address a commanding officer of such high rank with such disrespect. I was pretty sure that was never okay.
  3. The world is presented with a bizarre lack of context that casts a sort of fuzziness over a first read. Now, I appreciate the points at which Card is able to immediately immerse the reader in the world without having to spout pages of exposition (and I don’t appreciate where he feels the need to spout pages of exposition, such as the first meeting between Ender and Graff), but there are specifically two key questions that continue to bug me.
    1. Why are Ender and his siblings so special? It’s pointed out multiple times throughout the story that they are not like normal children, yet it’s never explained why. Is it genetic? Is it only as a result of the Monitors and the I.F.? And what’s with the Monitors, anyway? I get Card’s idea of the what and the how, but I think I missed the why…
    2. Why are the parents letting their children go to the Battle School if it’s this bad? This is what I’m now calling the Hunger Games paradox, in which a government commits horrendous atrocities against children in a dystopian future, yet the parents and the general population let it happen. Ender’s parents don’t seem to know or care about anything their children are doing. Ender killed two people with his bare hands, and there are no consequences apart from Ender’s psychological trauma. The world as a whole is far too accepting of all of Ender’s actions, and Ender himself seems to be the only character who has a problem with any of this.
  4. The last fifty or so pages, pretty much from right after the twist to the end, are rushed to the point of being nearly incomprehensible. I mean, Ender sleeps through a war, and then he just wakes up and everything’s okay… that’s borderline Gaider (I mean, at least have Thor just show up for no reason like you did in that other book, right Card?).
  5. And the thing that really doesn’t sit well with me is the fact that these characters are children. That at six years old, Ender violently beats another child to death. That the military in Card’s world advocates for the psychological abuse of six to twelve year olds. That nobody seems to care that children are being handed the reins of fleets of ships and platoons of soldiers, and this is okay. Yes, this is touched upon a little, and it could simply be a facet of Card’s world, but that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. Now, I’m not sure if this was his point or if there was another point, like how only children have the innocence and creativity to solve complex problems that adults are too jaded to solve? Except that doesn’t work because the innocence beaten out of these children, and you could make a case for the creativity as well, since they’re all doing what’s expected of them. I don’t have an answer for it, and I’m sure I missed something, but I can’t overlook the sheer… man, I don’t even have a word for it.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that Card crafts an intriguing and frankly exhausting narrative that forces the reader to think in uncomfortable directions. And that can be good, especially if you are of the more jaded population. But it can also be hard to take, especially when you already have a lot on your mind. Read with caution and an open mind. Ender will grow on you after a while.

Oh, and yes I saw the movie. It was forgettable and really didn’t adapt well. Just read the book instead.

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