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Book Review: Ender’s Game

Book Name: Ender’s Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
First Published: 1985
Nebula Award Winner 1985, Hugo Award Winner 1986, Locus Award Nominee 1986

Orson Scott Card is a novelist, critic, public speaker, essayist, and columnist. He is best known for his science fiction and fantasy novels. His novel Ender’s Game and its sequel, Speaker for the Dead both won Hugo and Nebula Awards, making Card the only author to win both of these top awards in consecutive years. Down through the years, many of his novels have received top honors in the science fiction writing community.

Card is a great-great-grandson of Brigham Young, the founder of the Mormon religion and is a devout follower of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has published two books on creative writing, hosts writing workshops, and serves as a judge in the Writers of the Future contest that is held annually. Card has also produced an array of political and social commentary in his columns. His views on homosexuality and his opposition to same-sex marriage, have drawn considerable controversy.

Card and his wife Kristine have had five children, one of which had cerebral palsy and died in his teens and another who died on the day of her birth. Currently, he and his wife live with their youngest child, Zina, in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Ender’s Game begins in the near future, the human race is split into three ruling parties, the Hegemon, Polemarch and Strategos. They have formed an alliance and an International Fleet (IF) designed to protect the Earth from an alien race known as the “buggers”. There has been two previous wars with this alien race and they are expected to return. In preparation, IF has created a Battle School, a place where young people with the best tactical minds will be trained to fight and defend the Earth.

One of these children is Andrew “Ender” Wiggin. He is often teased about being a “third” child under Earth’s two-child policy. Ender believes that he has lost his chance at entering Battle School when the IF removes his monitoring device. He ends up fighting a fellow student, Stilson, and while Ender is the weaker of the two, he inflicts a serious wound on his opponent, although Ender doesn’t realize that it is fatal at the time. When asked by Colonel Hyrum Graff about his actions, Ender explains that by showing superiority now, he has prevented a future struggle with the student. Graff offers Ender a place in the Battle School, up in Earth’s orbit, where Ender is isolated from the other cadets. Graff encourages him to continue to train.

Ender’s tactics in fighting grow more powerful, he is known to sacrifice other squad members to achieve victory. Graff promotes Ender to a new army composed of the newest and youngest cadets. Ender leads them to the top of the Battle School charts. His cadets are known as the “Jeesh”.

At the age of ten, Ender is promoted to Command School on an asteroid in space. He is taken under the wing of a former war hero, Mazer Rackham. Mazer sets up virtual IF fleets under the boy’s control against Bugger fleets controlled by himself. Ender adapts to the game, but becomes depressed by his isolation in the simulations and by the treatment he receives from Mazer.

One day, Mazer informs Ender that he is to take the final test of his simulation training. Ender finds his human fleet well outnumbered by the alien Buggers in the new game. Although it is against the rules, Ender launches a Molecular Disruption Device at the Bugger planet during the simulation. The device destroys both the planet and the entire Bugger fleet. At the end of the simulation, Ender is surprised to find all the IF commanders celebrating. Only then does Mazer inform Ender that his final test had not been a simulation after all, but that he had been controlling the actual fleet. Ender has won the war for humankind.

Since the war is over, most of Ender’s cadet friends return to earth. The boy remains on the asteroid where he is joined by his sister Valentine. His sister explains that should he return to Earth, his battle skills would be used by the various factions of the Earth governments.

Ender decides to join a colony program to populate a Bugger colony world instead of returning to Earth. Once there, he discovered the dormant egg of a Bugger queen. Via telepathy, the young queen explains that the insectiod Buggers had mistaken the human race as being non-sentient because they did not have a collective consciousness, individuality was too alien an idea for them to comprehend at first. The Bugger Queen requests that Ender take the egg to a new planet for her people to colonize.

I had read many of Mr. Card’s novels before I read Ender’s Game. I enjoyed Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide before I gave the shorter novel a try. I once heard the author say that he wrote Ender’s Game so that he could visual the backstory of Speaker for the Dead more clearly. He was very surprised when the novella took off and became one of his more popular works. The book has been on and off the bestseller’s lists for many years. In 2013, Ender’s Game became a major motion picture starring Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, and Asa Butterfield.

One of the reasons I enjoy this author’s work is that he develops his characters so that they leap off the page as real people. While there is decent science behind the ideas of his books, it is tempered by philosophical ideas that elevate his work. The people and places of his books haunt you years later. Some of his novels have Mormon or biblical themes. I found that I did not care for them as much due to their religious content, but the same good writing style can be found inside them. Card’s newest novels are written with ghostwriter, Aaron Johnston. They are a new off-shoot of the Ender Series entitled The Formic Wars.

I highly recommend Card’s novels about writing. His book Elements of Fiction Writing – Characters & Viewpoint is a must have for any writer. His other writing book, How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, could apply to any genre, although the first section does explain Science Fiction and Fantasy well and how to tell the difference between the two genres. The books are not workbooks, but rather they explain the tone and feelings of what goes into the craft.

Ender's Game Book CoverEnder’s Game – 1985 – Hugo winner, Locus SF Award nominee, Nebula winner
Speaker for the Dead – 1986 – Hugo and Locus SF Award winner, Campbell nominee, Nebula Award winner
Xenocide – 1991 – Hugo and Locus SF Awards nominee
Children of the Mind – 1996
A War of Gifts – 2007
Ender in Exile – 2008