Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Ender's Game

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
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's review
Nov 05, 2007

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bookshelves: sci-fi, 2008
Read in May, 2008

I rarely really enjoy reading science fiction (the movies are another matter), but - most likely because of the refreshingly unpretentious and clear prose, which did take me by surprise - this book was almost a joy to read. I say "almost" purely because it's still science fiction, and for many reasons that are too long-winded to go into here, I prefer fantasy.

It's nice, though, to have Card (in his 1991 introduction) refer to this clarity of style, and actually encourage his readers to read Ender's Game any which way they please. In his own words:

I designed Ender's Game to be as clear and accessible as any story of mine could possibly be. My goal was that the reader wouldn't have to be trained in literature or even in science fiction to receive the tale in its simplest, purest form. And, since a great many writers and critics have based their entire careers on the premise that anything that the general public can understand without mediation is worthless drivel, it is not surprising that they found my little novel to be dispicable. If everybody came to agree that stories should be told this clearly, the professors of literature would be out of a job, and the writers of obscure, encoded fiction would be, not honored, but pitied for their impenetrability. (p.xix)

Ok, so he loves to toot his own horn (and did he "design" it that way or was he just not able to write anything more elaborate? ouch, snarky Shannon!), but since I really don't like wanky, pretentious writing, I appreciate the unadorned prose of Ender's Game. It's no Neuromancer, that's for sure *grimace*.

Quick Summary - a few spoilers
Ender's Game is set sometime in the future, when the world is divided up differently and yet united under various pacts and hegemonies to face the threat of the "buggers" - an insect-like alien race with a hive mind that attacked, and was repulsed. Now, after a successful defeat in the Second Invasion 70 years before, the powers that be are feeling the strain of finding the person to lead their own invasion force, sent to the buggers' home world after the Second Invasion. The starships will be in place in a matter of years, and their one hope is 6 year old Ender Wiggin, one of many genius children who have been monitored for the right qualities for years. Sent to Battle School with all the other geniuses (mostly boys), he is isolated and pushed to extremes no other student is, all to find out if he is the one, and if he is, to have him ready by the time the starships reach the buggers' home world. Training is done in null gravity in the battlerooms, "armies" against each other, and Ender excels at the game. But with Ender's level of genius he quickly attracts hatred and hostility from some of the others students. His own efforts to beat the game draw him closer to his biggest fear: that he will be just like his older brother Peter, who would have been here in his place if it weren't for the fact that he's a sadistic kid who relishes torturing others.

That this book is about children trained to be soldiers and skilled killers didn't really shock me - it happens in the real world often enough, and in a much more hellish way, as I learned from reading A Long Way Gone. But it's still a pretty horrible thing to do, brought on by sheer desperation it's true, but the things these children endure are things most adults would crumble under. They think and speak like adults, and I really needed the reminders of their ages. Ender is only 11 when the war with the buggers finally ends. But there is definitely something poignant and utterly tragic about the loss of innocence - if these kids with their higher intellects and greater-than-usual understanding and awareness were ever innocent - and childhood. One of the kids, a little 6 year old boy called Bean, helped drive this home:

He felt terrible. At first he thought he felt bad because he was afraid of leading an army, but it wasn't true. He knew he'd make a good commander. He felt himself wanting to cry. He hadn't cried since the first few days of homesickness after he got here. He tried to put a name on the feeling that put a lump in his throat and made him sob silently, however much he tried to hold it down. He bit down on his hand to stop the feeling, to replace it with pain. It didn't help. He would never see Ender again.

Once he named the feeling, he could control it. He lay back and forced himself to go through the relaxing routine until he didn't feel like crying anymore. Then he drifted off to sleep. His hand was near his mouth. It lay on his pillow hesitantly, as if Bean couldn't decide whether to bite his nails or suck on his fingertips. His forehead was creased and furrowed. His breathing was quick and light. He was a soldier, and if anyone had asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he wouldn't have known what they meant.

However, it's less the human condition and more a sort of anthropological perspective of human attitudes and alien race relations that interests me. The notion of superiority, of the right to live and survive no matter the costs to the enemy, of judging other species' intellect by their ability to think like us and see us the way we see ourselves - this is what really fascinates me. From the time the European settlers arrived in Australia and decided the Aborigines were barely human because they couldn't say a tree was "a tree" and didn't understand that taking a sheep was stealing, to the idea that because the buggers look like insects they don't have feelings, or reasoning. Remember the aliens in Independence Day? I mean, aside from that movie being just another propaganda film for the Greatness of America (it smacks of insecurity that some people feel the need to reinforce this myth, but oh well), the aliens were, well, alien - and once reduced to the unknowable Other, gone is the human conscience in destroying them.

Because Ender studies the buggers' strategies and tactics, to understand them, he feels compassion for them. He wants to understand them completely, but nothing is really known about them. It isn't until the end of the book that we find out more, as does Ender, and the real enemy becomes us rather than the buggers, for being so stubborn and self-righteous and superior, that we sought to destroy destroy destroy before finding out anything about what we were destroying. Which is, classically, what humans are best at: destroying. Much easier than creating. Kill first, ask questions later kind of attitude. Do we even deserve another planet to colonise when we don't even know how to look after this one? Well, a question for another day, though I make no effort to hide my own cynacism and contempt.

This book is considered a science fiction classic and the vast majority of people who have read it have loved it and studied the crap out of it. There are some negative reviews of course, and one I read here on Goodreads made several very good points, notably that the characters are rather one-dimensional ("cardboard cut-outs" was the expression he used), which I thought was quite accurate - there really wasn't much character development, especially with Ender of all people; and that there was a "creepy pedophile vibe", with all the references to naked little boys, and the scene in which a naked, wet and soapy Ender fights an older boy in the showers. Hmm. Now I'm going to have trouble shaking that one off! Someone else who also gave it 1 star made a crack at the Introduction and Card's smugness (and he is very pleased with himself, and doesn't mind telling us), and that he "feels it necessary to rant about Fantasy and how derivative it is compared to Science Fiction" - I must have missed that part, but isn't it so much more fun to read negative reviews than positive ones? As long as you've already read it, that is ;)

I actually marked pages in this book, passages that resonated with me while I was reading it, but now when I go back to them and read it again, I see nothing special, and I can't remember why I committed the crime of dog-earing a page. Anyway, while the book didn't amaze me or show me anything new, and I saw the "twist" coming and, to be honest, was rather disappointed that the buggers and the war were actually real and the whole Battle Game thing wasn't just some sick, cruel scientific experiment (might have made for a more interesting book?), Ender's Game was a surprisingly fun read (must be all the games, I thought they were kinda fun), and plot-wise it was well written despite several unanswered questions that could be called plot-holes if they had been more important. I just have one more quote from Card, because I absolutely agree with it and he puts it so well:

Why else do we read fiction, anyway? Not to be impressed by somebody's dazzling language - or at least I hope that's not our reason. I think that most of us, anyway, read these stories that we known are not "true" because we're hungry for another kind of truth: The mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about somebody who actually lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about ourself. (p.xxiv-v)
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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited May 12, 2008 11:25PM) (new)

Blasphemy! You can't read this book and not love it... to just "like" it isn't enough! You must devote yourself to it's ideology!


I just wanted to respond to a few points you brought up, since I've read this book many times and love it completely:

-there are definitely "cardboard cutout" characters within this book, who happen to get developed into "real" characters in later sequels, but Ender isn't one of them. If you look at the core of who Ender is from the beginning of the book (a scared brainiac boy who loves his sister and fears his brother), and him at the end... very different. Not to mention more important details like psyche, relationship development, etc.

-the "naked boys" situation... I think you have to be a guy to understand that. It may sound sexist, but I think it's true: if you look at boys who grow up together in any situation of male bonding (sports, family, military, etc.) they really have no problem walking around naked in front of each other. Keep in mind the US Military, and some American colleges, where male locker-rooms are nothing but a giant communal naked space. Not to mention all the old men at gyms... Anyways, the point being that it's not pedophilia, but more like OSC referencing reality.

-your disappointment with the "twist" and lack-of-amazement: I think for this book to really touch you, you need to have gone through situations that can be related to this... not necessarily of the male persuasion, but maybe that makes a difference since 98% of the book focuses on very much "guy things"

Also, if you read other introductions or writings by OSC, he admits this book is a little childish... what can you expect from something that was partially written in his teens? To really grasp the beauty of the whole book, you should read "Ender's Shadow"- a parallel novel that follows Bean on the same timeline as "Ender's Game". It's much more mature, less "obvious", and the two books together really operate as one...alot of those plot-holes you mention get filled in nicely.

Is my love for this book/series obvious? ;-)


Shannon (Giraffe Days) Yes, very obvious! :) (You should've seen the response from the friend who recommended this book to me on my blog - three times as long as yours!)

I will say, that I didn't and don't see a "creepy pedophile vibe" - the other reviewer's comment gave me pause but I think Card was mostly trying to establish the innecence of the children, to juxtapose against the brutality and violence they were being trained it.

As for Ender, he did delelop some, but he was still pretty two-dimensional. There just wasn't any depth to him.

I don't think I need to have experienced fighting aliens or anything to appreciate the story or the climax - ir that were so, no one would be able to enjoy this book! I was quite absorbed in the story and did enjoy it, I just knew he was fighting the buggers and not the computer, so that was no surprise.

There are definitely some books that are very "guy" books - like On The Road , which bored me about 50 pages in. Or from the beginning, rather, but that's about how far I got :) Some are alienating, in that regard. Would it surprise you to learn that I didn't care for Dune? For the record, as a story I liked Ender's Game, much more than Dune, but not as much as Consider Phlebus or City of Pearl - of even The Crystal Singer trilogy. In general, I just have too many problems with science fiction as a genre.

I really don't think I'll read anything else by Card, sorry. I'm always willing to read sci-fi and give books like this a try, but after a while they just make me angry.

Andrea I'm not a big sci-fi reader myself. I'm a total paranormal romance (i hate that name!) reader. However, I will say Ender's Game is one of my favorite books. I always donate that book to the B&N book drive they have for kids around Christmas because I think it's a great way for kids to get introduced to reading, if they haven't before.

That being said... Ender's Shadow IS my favorite book. I guess I didn't realize the difference in age when they were written, but that makes sense. While I read the rest of the Ender's series (Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind), I would not recommend that you read them. I almost feel like they take away from what I liked about Ender's Game in the first place. But, I think anyone that has read Ender's Game should read Ender's Shadow. Amazingly good story. I feel like Bean was better developed as a character. Less "cardboard cut-out".

I have a book club and we read Ender's Game one month, and the overall vibe was they liked it. But just like you, they would probably never read OSC again. I asked one girl to try Ender's Shadow, and she has thanked me for it. And that got some of the other girls wanting to read it too.

Anyway, my point is just to say, give Ender's Shadow a try. Or at least put it on your TBR pile (which I'm sure is huge, just like the rest of us!). I don't think you'll be disappointed when you read it.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) Thanks for the rec Andrea. Everyone else who's a big fan of Ender's Game said much the same thing, that Ender's Shadow is their favourite. I'm definitely not ready to revisit the world any time soon, but I'll keep it in mind :)

Fred D You mentioned that you liked Card's clarity of style, how it made the book fun to read. I totally agree. That unpretentious, clear prose runs throughout all of Card's books. That is one of the main reasons why he is one of my favorite authors. By the way, he's written a lot of Fantasy too. I particularly enjoyed the Alvin Maker series. Check it out!

Shannon (Giraffe Days) Thanks for the rec Fred.

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