As a kid I recognized one amazing thing about most adults. Try as they might they seemed to have little recollection of what it's like to be a kid. Sure they had childhood memories, but no memories of how it feels to be a kid, and what it's really like to have the feelings of a kid. I made a decision that it should remain very important to me to remember what it's like to be a kid, and to have a kid's feelings for each age I was. That way, I reasoned, my kids wouldn't have the same problemmos that I had because I'd remember. Now that I am an adult, I can report that I have been at least somewhat successful in this goal, and that an equal malady is that a kid... no matter who... has no idea how hard it is to be an adult. Upon reading the introduction to Ender's Game the novel, I realized there was at least one other adult out there who seemed to have the same goal, Orson Scott Card.
Card seems amazingly preoccupied with presenting children, particularly exceptionally gifted children, in a realistic light. Like me, his memory isn't perfect but he's a whole lot more accurate than a lot of the adults out there want to give him credit for being. Put this in the hand of a student who just got out of a Gateway class, and I bet you'll get a wide-eyed agreement with Card's representations of the exceptional child.
Card's focus here is a remarkably gifted child in our future named Andrew Wiggin, nicknamed "Ender" by his kid sister Valentine. Ender is bullied at school by bigger kids, and at home by his sociopath older brother Peter (as gifted as Valentine or Ender, but unstable as a two-legged stool). On an overcrowded Earth families are limited to two offspring in most cases. In some rare and exceptional cases families are allowed a third, like Ender. Thirds are commonly looked on with disdain by their peers, and Ender is no different, hence the bullying.
What makes Ender so exceptional? It's never really fully explained how this is known, but somewhere along the line, it's decided that Ender Wiggin is humanity's last, best hope for survival against a potential third invasion by humanity's most dangerous enemy, an intergalactic colonizing race of giant insects identified colloquially as the buggers. To this end, our protagonist is drafted into the crème of the crop international military school for gifted youngsters at the ripe old age of six. There Ender takes part in battle games under borderline commanders like Bonzo and Bernard, and manipulative headmasters like Colonel Graff and Major Anderson! The games escalate in intensity over the next few short years as Ender escalates in skill and wit. Strangely the smarter Ender gets the fatter Graff gets.
Make no mistake, this is no kind, gentle school for kids, nor is its successor, the Command School! Cruise, Hutton and Penn would get their clocks cleaned under tutelage of this kind, and Taps is only played when you go home in a body bag! Among the more frightening things involved here are the behind the scenes plots and the jealous conspiracies targeting Ender, and the level of involvement of the only ones he should be able to trust!
As amazing as that is, back home on Earth life progresses for the Wiggin children as we see how remarkably intelligent these kids are. Ender is no anomaly we learn as the angelic Valentine and the sadistic Peter grow before us and show promise equaled only by Ender himself. In what direction? I can only tell you that these two shoot for greatness in the most remarkable way, and beyond that, I can't say a word. No spoilers here! Just know, these are no minor characters!
There is a lot of greatness in this work to appreciate. To be sure, Card has developed a work to be proud of (and judging by the occasionally self congratulating introduction, he is). The Internet existed at the time of the original publication here, but nowhere near its current form. Card predicts Chat rooms, Newsgroups, and online communities with amazing accuracy! He also predicts Virtual Reality both accurately and cynically. His political world was created at the height of the Cold War, and is clearly dictated by the Earth of the 1970s and 1980s, however, his intriguing politics are not unheard of in our future. There's no mention of a "Soviet" in any line of the book, and the Russian Federation is dictated by a not-impossible "Second Warsaw Pact!" There are no burned bridges in Card's future. It holds as much frightening possibility today as it did before the wall fell, and each time an Earthly strife is mentioned I could look at our own world and see how plausible it still is!
As I said before Card does indeed show gifted kids in the light of... gifted kids! Ender and his ilk are forced continually to make very adult decisions, but are never quite adults. Ender is insecure, yet tough! He balances his self-assuredness with his self doubt until the scale balances in favor of the security. Card's world is one in a time of flux so some of the changes and forces at work could truly be guided by a gifted youngster. No, this isn't always perfect and one look at a six year old in real life makes you wonder just how gifted Ender could be... but as a dad, I know very well that kids have one face they show to their parents and one they show to their peers. I don't always see it, but luckily I remember it!
Further the tapestries Card creates during some of the VR games (only one of the many games that make up the title), as well as during the planetary explorations, are painted with a rich brush. Card captures and conveys the exact mood that Ender feels and wastes no time or pretense in hinting or explaining the reality of these ramifications!
I am above spoilers here, but I can tell you that there are some incredible surprises more than once in this novel, both in the main story of Ender and in the subplots. The ending(s) are impossible to put down. I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride as the last few chapters unrolled into surprise after surprise. While these surprises are many, what they are not is gratuitous or easy in any way! I found myslef shocked, but intelligently so. Particularly when you realize with horror exactly who and what the "Buggers" really are, and what the triad of invasions was really all about it almost makes you want to flip the whole book back over and re-read it to fill in any blanks there may be! If after all this there had been ridiculous "because I told you so" rim shots like one might find in a Hollywood movie, I'd have been a little pissed off. According to internet rumors Wolfgang Petersen is working up a Hollywood version of this book. I can't imagine him getting all of this full novel into a single movie (much less the combination of this story and a sequel) but we'll see! I am not above panning a bad movie based on a good book!
Yes, it's a good book, but it's not a perfect book! There are a few shortcomings here easily outweighed by the greatness. Outweighed though they may be, however, the shortcomings exist. For one thing, the frequent reliance on race as a focal point for these kids is a little tiresome. The point appears to be that there are so many varied races, nationalities and religions represented in the battle school that it truly becomes a melting pot. Unfortunately the reliance on the racial epithets gets a little old a lot quick! No, Card's not some racist, he's exploring these kids' personalities on many levels. I just have to say, I grew up and went to school in Louisiana, and race wasn't that big of a deal even in the South! Seeing that it might be in our future is a bleak and cynical vision I could do without. Some of the language that the kids use is also a little nails-on-the-chalkboard annoying to me! If I have to hear anyone ever call anyone a "farthead" again, or anything with the word "fart" in it, I just might vomit. Sure, these are kids, but I have to think that the sameness of that one insult has to be a piece of sand in the oyster flesh of anyone after a while!
Ender is described early on as the last hope of the human race, but its never really explained why this is the case! We know he has had a monitor in him and the first six years of his life monitored, but there doesn't seem to be much (explicit) that Ender has separating him from the rest of these clowns! He's gifted all right, but is he a messiah? I don't know! Sure we see what he can do, but the evidence of the Military's knowledge of what he will do is sketchy!
What's more, the book certainly centers on Ender from beginning to end, as well it should, however, some of the subplots represented fizzle out by the end and are neatly wrapped up in a line or two toward the end. I had to wonder if Card limited himself to 226 pages, no more no less, and cut out rich storytelling toward the end. Yeah, Ender's story is amazing, especially in the end, but what of the rest? One line isn't enough! Keep in mind, this is a review of Ender's Game which now has many sequels. After reading (and reviewing... plug... plug...) these books it's possible that the stories I'm demanding will be seen in all their glory!
Most further negatives are actually intended by Card himself. He's a visionary all right both of a positive and a frightening future (not mutually exclusive in our positive yet frightening present). So often the sense of betrayal we feel here, and the manipulation by the adults is a betrayal and a manipulation many of us know all too well! With rings of Heinlein's Starship Troopers echoing throughout the halls of the Command School you have to be thankful that Card focused on decidedly different social and military points than Heinlein did in his fantastic book. Card isn't derivitive at all, and never lets us forget that there are good guys and bad guys at home, abroad, and way, way abroad!
Four Stars out of Five for Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game! For the hype it's gotten I expected to give it five, but some of the negatives warranted this score. I have to say that Ender's Game has one of the best surprise endings I've ever read (or seen), and make no mistake, this is a fabulous novel! I thank Card for showing kids in a realistic light and actually giving a darn about the multiplicity of the human personality! There is no spelled out opening for a sequel here and the last few paragraphs make this feel like it was intended as a stand-alone work. I for one, however, want more of Card's colorful future, and I'll be visiting Ender again soon! This is highly recommended!
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