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Ender's Game

Orson Scott Card
In Print
Tor Teen (1985)

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This entry created 26 February 2020. Last revised on 26 February 2020.

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©1994-2024 Bill Armintrout
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Ender's Game
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384 pages. Introduction.

Many years ago, I took a college theater course. One of our guest speakers was a young man who was running a local theater group. His name was Orson Scott Card.

Also in those days, I was an avid reader of Analog, the science-fiction magazine. A few years later, the magazine serialized Card's novella about Ender Wiggin. I loved it.

In 1985, Card released an expanded version of the same story as the novel Ender's Game. It has spawned a large number of sequels, prequels, and even a parallel novel (as well as the movie, which I haven't seen yet).

I recently decided to read the latest, 'definitive' edition of the novel.

The situation is that in the future, Earth has suffered two invasions by an insect-like alien species nicknamed the Buggers. This has resulted in the effective unification of human government under the International Fleet (I.F.).

To prepare in case the Buggers return, the I.F. has launched a project to locate and foster military geniuses. Select children are brought to the Battle School, a military school in orbit. In addition to traditional classes, older students are assigned to teams and participate in a zero-gravity competition – the Game.

Suspense mounts as young Ender appears to be the long-sought genius, and the instructors manipulate events to place the child in the tough circumstances they feel he needs in order to be prepared to save Mankind.

Along the way, Ender forms relationships and experiences rivalries with his fellow students, and demonstrates not only military genius, but also leadership qualities.

There's also a sub-plot involving Ender's also-gifted brother and sister. They did not qualify for Battle School, but are also geniuses, and use their gifts to influence politics on Earth.

For me, the best part of the book is the Game. It's fought by teams in zero gravity, in a battle room where the instructors can place 'stars' as obstacles, where the players wear suits which 'freeze' (partially or entirely) when hit by the light-guns of the opposing team. Ender's insights allow him to immediately revolutionize the game, despite being younger than the other players, and then he must fight to stay on top while the other teams copy his own tactics.

There's a twist at the end which I won't ruin for you.

Note that this novel is of the 'golden child who will save the world' genre; in some ways it is similar to the Harry Potter series (substitute Hogwarts for Battle School), or even the Mazerunner series (teenagers with no memory of where they've come from, confronted by a dangerous maze).

Can you game it? I'd love to see someone bring the Game to the miniature tabletop, but it would be incredibly difficult to recreate zero gravity and physics, and everyone would want to be Ender!

There are also starship combats in the novel, but the author gives us so little detail that – except for one particular weapon system, and specific rules for the Buggers – the battles would be very generic.

Do I like the novel? Just like it did decades ago, the newest version sucked me in and I was captivated the whole way through. Is it great science-fiction? I'm not sure, but it's fun. It's also disturbing, and I'm still mulling it over, so it has an impact.

The novel assumes that genius is inheritable (and runs in families). I found that objectionable, but the latest research does indicate that an assortment of dozens of genes in combination seem to have an impact on intelligence – but not an overriding influence. And yes, siblings tend to have similar IQs, even if raised separately.

The novel also assumes that social scientists in the near future will have the capability to spot not just superior IQ in young children, but also innate talents and character traits. So are great leaders 'born that way' (i.e., genetics)? Or do great leaders appear when Mankind needs them (like a Moses or George Washington)? And is such science sufficient to justify subjecting children to dangerous 'tests' to supposedly help them develop in desired ways? I personally doubt it.

Be advised that there is some violence in the novel, deaths on both the small and large scale, and children sometimes behaving badly (not quite Lord of the Flies but in that vein).

Reviewed by Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian.