Orson Scott Card’s masterpiece, Ender’s Game, has safely rested in the highest rank of sci-fi novels for over thirty years. Whether you’ve seen it featured at the bookstore, know the movie, studied it in high school, or were in the U.S. Marines when it was on their reading list, you’ve heard of Ender’s Game somehow.
I’d been aware of its prominence for years before I actually picked it up (I still haven’t read Anthem.) When the 2013 movie trailer came out, I decided I should read the book before seeing its film adaptation. I really love science fiction, but to this day I don’t read enough of it (there are so many musts!) One chapter into Ender’s Game and I understood that I’d been depriving myself.
By the story’s future setting, geopolitical conflict still remains (the book touches on it quite a bit actually) but Earth’s nations are more united than in the 20th century. The extraterrestrial “Buggers” narrowly lost to the humans in a previous conflict; now they’ve built an outpost alarmingly close to Earth and war seems imminent. The globe is searched high and low for children from any country who show tactical promise. Humanity needs someone who can lead their drone fleet against the Buggers. Juvenile cadet Ender Wiggin might just fit the bill.
‘You gold-plated fart,’ said Dink cheerfully, ‘We’re all trying to decide whether your scores up there are a miracle or a mistake.’
If this novel lacks anything it lacks humor, because the quote above is about as funny as it gets. Ender’s Clint Eastwood-style retort here reflects his attitude throughout; he’s a quiet, arrogant, tactical prodigy. He’s also emotionally tortured, abused by an older brother and burdened by the world’s hope that he can one day lead their military to victory. Ender’s Game is told mostly from Ender’s perspective, so the absence of comedy is reasonable enough.
Even when Ender moves to the Battle School space station, away from his sociopath brother, there are plenty of similarly-minded tormentors he has to contend with.
He could see Bonzo’s anger growing hot. Hot anger was bad. Ender’s anger was cold, and he could use it. Bonzo’s was hot, and so it used him.”
This and other lines from the novel are what made Ender’s Game recommended reading for the Marine Corps. There’s a lot of psychological material about dealing with problematic comrades, about the strain of sudden great responsibilities and how to deal with them, about how young leadership can best benefit a battle strategy.
It’s great for adult readers, but still written sufficiently for teens, especially ones who might feel like outsiders. Ender isn’t the only character trying to understand his purpose, most of the characters are actually. His sister back on earth is becoming a prominent political writer under a pen-name and she’s made to wrestle between the realities of her literature and her home life:
Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”
Ender and his fellow young cadets face a war where allied and enemy lives are at the mercy of their drone controls. This responsibility is addressed at length in Ender’s Game. With the real-life advancement of drone warfare in the 2010’s, Ender’s Game has become an even more useful handbook.
This is a story that will keep you engrossed until the sun peeks up for work or school.
Early to bed and early to rise…. makes a man stupid and blind in the eyes.” ‘
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