- What: Ender’s Game
- Who: Orson Scott Card
- Pages: 324
- Genres: Science fiction and young adult
- Published: 1985
- The lit: of 5 flames
I admit that I’m pretty impressionable — or at least I thought I was before writing this review. I just googled “impressionable” to make sure I had the definition right, and it defines an impressionable person as someone who is “easily influenced because of a lack of critical ability.” Hey now. I have critical ability. Don’t I?
I guess my point is that I can have strong opinions, especially toward books, music, movies, and TV, but if someone strongly opines in a different way, I can generally be persuaded. I kept this characteristic in mind when I started Ender’s Game. I promised at the beginning of the year that I would try at least two science fiction novels this year. When I asked Kyle — the biggest sci-fi fan I know — to recommend me a book, he chose Ender’s Game and added that it’s one of the premiere books in the genre. Clearly, he loved this book; I needed to recognize his influential opinion so that my own wouldn’t be swayed from the get-go.
I was pretty good about sticking to my opinion throughout the book, but I teetered on a final rating once I finished it. A few days later, Kyle and I had a virtual date night with two friends who brought up the movie version organically. I told them I just finished the novel, and they both started raving about how much they loved the book. As they praised it, I could feel my own opinion changing. Was I misremembering my experience with the novel? Did I enjoy and appreciate it more than what my mind had been telling me? Was I about to be persuaded again? I ruminated over it for a few days before writing this post so that my mind was clear before making a firm decision. I wanted this review to be 100% my own; it would not be influenced by others’ opinions. Although a teeny tiny part of me is still flip-flopping, let me demonstrate my critical ability that led me to my unpopular and average opinion.
Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is a disadvantaged youth. In his world, which takes place far in the future, families are only allowed to have two children to help control the population. But his elder siblings, Peter and Valentine, showed such great intellect and physical prowess that their parents were allowed to have one more child. Since birth, Ender’s been known as a rare Third, making him an outcast who is constantly reminded that he was wanted for one purpose and one purpose only: to fight the Buggers.
Everyone’s lives revolve around annihilating the Buggers, an alien race against whom humans have fought in two previous space wars. Intelligence reports prove the Buggers are still out there even though it’s been years since any sighting or contact. To prepare for an inevitable third war, Earth maintains an intense military space school, and its leaders have been searching for the perfect general to command their army when that fateful day arrives. They finally find this star talent in Ender Wiggin. He has immense military potential and all the intelligence, courage, and heart to lead Earth to victory — the reasons he’s allowed to exist in the first place. The only problem? He’s only six years old when he’s recruited.
Ender embarks on his military education at the space-located Battle School, which he won’t leave until he’s 18 years old. He grows up far too quickly while simultaneously proving he has everything his commanders and recruiters were hoping he possessed. He moves up the ranks and successfully handles every situation and rigged game the school throws his way much to his irritation. With every battle he wins, Ender proves he’s exactly what Earth has been looking for even if he doesn’t want these newfound responsibilities and attention — especially because he doesn’t want them.
If you’re shocked to read that Ender is only six when he’s recruited to basically the save the world, you’re not alone. I’m not sure if Orson Scott Card intended to criticize the terrible pressure we put on children — especially because this was written in the 70s and 80s, when I’m guessing children were treated differently than they are today — but he certainly made an important point. While reading Ender’s Game, I couldn’t stop comparing the main character’s experience to that of young kids I see on social media; of the youth who play seven sports and are members of seven different clubs just to make an impression on college recruiters; of eight-year-olds whose parents put more passion and energy into Little League games than into a nice family meal. It broke my heart to see Ender leave his family at the age of six, knowing he wouldn’t return for at least another 12 years. He also had to constantly outwit adults, while feeling the literal pressure of the world. Sure, today’s kids aren’t tasked with saving the human race, but the illustration still fits.
In that way, this novel is timeless, with new themes popping up based on time and space (no pun intended), which signals superb writing and creativity from Card. It’s one thing for a book to transcend generations like this one does; it’s a whole other thing for it to represent modern issues that couldn’t have even been fathomed when the book was written.
Card hit home runs with all of his themes, which intrigued me the most while reading this book. In particular, Card makes interesting points about manipulation, authority, and power. All throughout the book, I felt loathing toward these adult male characters who go on continual power trips on Earth so they can win the power trip of the universes — all without ever understanding their “enemy.” And they manipulate everyone in the process, especially the children who are meant to do their bidding. I felt disgust while reading this, and I imagine that’s exactly what Card wanted me to feel.
This feeling of disgust was strongest at the climax, and it’s worth noting I sat in one spot and read the final 60 pages with no concept of time because I was so invested in the book at this point. And let me tell you, my blood was BOILING at the very end. Just BOILING.
But that investment and that level of entertainment really couldn’t be matched for the previous 250 pages. Sure, I liked the book for the most part. I appreciated its themes and was heavily invested in Ender as a character. I felt immense sympathy toward him and that Card excelled at creating his character. Those positives only go so far, though, because the worst thing that can happen while reading a book occurred for me: I was bored.
The plot itself didn’t necessarily bore me, but the book had a lot of repetition that made it lag. When I finally got to the good stuff, it was VERY good, and I honestly wanted more of it. (It ended a bit too quickly for me, though I can see this being a pointed action of Card’s.) I wanted the same excitement, adrenaline, and anticipation I had the last 60 pages to have developed much earlier in the book.
The book also had some side storylines with Peter and Valentine that I probably could have done without. I appreciated the messaging of these scenes, but these kids’ brains were way bigger than mine. Plus, they slowed down the novel even further. For once, I just wanted to crawl back up to space, which has always freaked me out, and see what was happening up there with Ender rather than be distracted by his siblings’ plight on Earth.
It’s worth noting that I had a big ah-ha moment while reading this book: Military science fiction may not be my jam. I experienced similar feelings while reading Ender’s Game that I had when I tried sci-fi in 2018 with The Forever War. I really appreciate and respect the themes of both books, but if I’m going to continue giving sci-fi a try (I promise I am!), then I really need to break into another subgenre. There’s gotta be more to sci-fi life than this, right?