Thursday, December 1, 2011
Ender's Game by Orson S. Card
Publisher, Year: Tor Books, 1985
Other Works: Shadow series, Homecoming series
Flags: Moderate language, teen angst
Rating: A+, or Must Read Now!
Premise: Alien attack! A young boy is slated to save the world.
"Early to bed and early to rise makes a man stupid and blind in the eyes." Haha. I have to agree, Mazer. Just a little random quote for you. I don't read a whole lot of science fiction, but I've heard for years that I had to read this book. And, I have to say that it didn't disappoint.
In this book, we’re transported to a future where the earth is under an imminent attack of an alien species that threatens to wipe out humanity. To prepare for the coming war, the government trains special children, kids who exhibit the “right” qualities to be successful military commanders, to fight their enemy. Ender, at a tender age, is taken from his parents and sent to Battle School. He has a rough go of it. The adults deliberately prefer him, so most of the kids at the school hate him and he’s bullied from the beginning. As the adults at the school push him to the brink, they force him to learn (and learn fast) at an accelerated level. Ender also learns what he’s made of in his experiences, and it is punishing to him, mind and body. In the end, the fate of the human race lies squarely and heavily on his shoulders.
This book addresses a lot of heavy topics: ones that left me with a lot of questions. Ender is a full-on intricate character, and seeing the world from his view was an interesting ride. On a purely entertainment-value level, I was completely sucked in by Battle School. It took me a little while to catch on, but then I could hardly put the book down. When Ender became commander, I was riveted by his army's battles. I think Card did an excellent job of describing something so well that I could enjoy every aspect of the action even though I've never had any experience with the military. It had a sort of Lord of the Flies appeal in that Ender was more or less left to his own devices, especially in his social relationships, which was particularly unfair since the adults used tactics to make Ender's peers hate him. In growing up, there’s the moment when you realize that your parents may not actually know everything, that being an adult doesn’t automatically make you wise. Ender is forced to this realization much too early, so he has to develop resources to react to his environment—the ordeal he’s being put through—and also figure out who he is and what he wants at the same time. And even though the children in the book are so young, and seemingly too mature for their age, I don't actually think it's too far off considering what children go through during war time. Of course, perhaps in a different way, since we don't see armies being stocked with children much, but I think there are events that when children are forced to experience them, they grow up very quickly. (Notwithstanding the potty humor which was certainly true to form in my opinion!) Ender is a child in body, but what he’s experienced in his short life—what he’s forced to by his circumstances—outweigh his immaturity. As I've gotten older I've learned, that the hierarchical struggle for popularity/power doesn't end with junior high or high school. It's not a childish thing, it's a human phenomenon.
That Ender's social life should be used as a tool to mold him into a leader and a killer was very interesting to me and not one that I had considered. At first it didn't make a lot of sense to me, but in the end I understood. And it left me with questions. Is it really necessary? What if the adults had been kind to Ender? What if they hadn't isolated him or pushed him to the brink of his limits? Is such treatment really needed to order to glean talent? And yet, he was still able to make friends, but only in a way. What the adults also took from Ender was the ability to trust another human being. As a child, he innately trusted adults, who are supposed to be the people who look out for you, help you. But that trust his forever breached, and it has a devastating effect on Ender, who quickly turns from an impressionable child to a wary and careful one. And the result is that there wasn't one relationship in Ender's life that wasn't dysfunctional. So, they end up with the exact mix of what they need in a battle leader, but what of the personal expense?
With the stories final twist (it’s a goodie!), I was left feeling conflicted and empty. War is complicated, and in the end, it’s about people. Part of me wishes the book could have played out like your run of the mill alien action movie, because then the answers to hard questions would be straight forward and easy. The aliens are pure evil and want to annihilate humans, so you get ‘em where you want ‘em and bang!: big smiles, slaps on the back, cigars, fade to black. But you know, that's not real life. In a real war there are always two sides. There are families, cultures, languages, civilizations, on both sides. It's never so cut and dry: good guys vs. bad guys. Though that's the way it is often portrayed. Bad guy beats on good guy, good guy struggles, good guy kills bad guy, everyone is happy. With war comes responsibility and difficult burdens.
Final note: this book has zero love interests. Still loved it.