Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.
Thoughts: This isn’t the first time I’ve read this novel, but I’m engrossed and impressed by it every time I do. The subject matter covers the human condition, the ethics of war, what it means to be sentient, and what it means to be a child or an adult, touches on what people are willing to do when ther are (or at least feel they are) backed into a corner, and it does it all in a spectacularly entertaining way.
I have to admit, as much as I don’t like the author as a person, the man sure can tell a good story!
Though the book is called Ender’s Game, the story does not just follow Ender, but also gives us a glimpse into the lives of his siblings, at first deemed failures according to the purpose that somebody else gave them, but who find their own feet and end up changing the world in their own way, but a no less profound way than Ender himself did. Their stories are separate from Ender’s and yet are still tied up in the events of his life, playing their parts.
I hear a lot of people dislike the use of the term ‘buggers’ for the alien race in the novel, saying that it’s too reminiscent of, well, our use of the word ‘bugger’ for someone who engages in sodomy. I’ve heard people say that it’s a childish use of the word and inappropriate to what’s going on. Frankly, I think it serves its purpose well there. Name one society in human history that has not tried to denegrate their enemies, given them cruel and childish epithets in an attempt to raise local moral and to inspire a feeling of confidence in “our side.” Ender himself thinks early on in the book that the buggers probably have their own pejorative terms for humans. It’s the way we work. It’s not pretty, it’s not kind, but it’s one of the ways we band together in times of crisis. The use of the word ‘bugger’ doesn’t seem out of place at all, and I think a lot of these people have to remember that just because we have the same word, it doesn’t mean that the words have the same meaning.
The book isn’t perfect, though. No book is. Sometimes I wonder if Orson Scott Card wrote about child geniuses partly because they create interest and partly because he simply didn’t know how to write interesting “normal” children. Having genius children sound like adults is a good way to write intelligent conversation between characters without having to suffer the accusation that you can’t write realistic children. I’ve seen a few people fall into this trap. Card avoids some of this by having the children still give out fairly childish insults, like “fart-eater,” but some of the feeling of avoiding writing real kids by writing genius “adult-sounding” kids is still there.
Still, I wouldn’t pass up reading this for anything. It’s a wonderful book, exploring many aspects of the philosophy of humanity and war while not bogging down the story in meaningless speculative conversations. Highly recommended novel. If you haven’t read it yet, you ought to read it soon.