Ender’s Game is a science fiction novel that takes place in Earth’s future, after humans have fought two wars against a mysterious alien enemy known as “buggers”. Science fiction isn’t a section I normally wander into in bookstores but Ender’s Game, published in 1985, is as old as I am and still hugely popular and my curiosity was piqued.
We meet Ender Wiggin on the day he is chosen to attend Battle School at the age of six. It’s clear early on that Ender is exceptional and that a lot of pressure will be placed on him to succeed and win a third war for Earth. We get to eavesdrop on brief conversations between the officers deciding Ender’s life. Ender, of course, knows none of this and so is continually frustrated and confused by what happens around him. Which is exactly what childhood is like.
Though you might argue that Ender is not the average child (and he’s not because he’s a genius), Card seems to slowly and steadily suggest that if you don’t treat children like children, they won’t be children. In that sense, Ender’s Game reminded me of The Lord of the Flies. Children will often rise to the circumstances presented to them, whether good or bad. I don’t believe that children are intrinsically good or innocent and Ender certainly is neither. We see him develop in many ways, particularly in his skills and his understanding of his place in his world. I would have liked to see more mental development and change in Ender – the story primarily focuses on his life between the ages of 6 and 11 but his mental faculties don’t seem to change much. Granted, he starts out so advanced maybe there isn’t much space to grow, but I think it was an oversight.
I thought for much of the novel that I knew how it was going to end but there were definitely a few surprises and an unexpected turn of direction and I applaud Card for that. I’m curious to read the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, but expect that it will be quite different in tone from Ender’s Game.
Like I said, I don’t read much science fiction but two authors that I do appreciate in that genre are Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. Card’s ability to simply and deftly create an imaginary world that makes sense reminded me of Asimov’s fantastic short stories in I, Robot. Card pays his readers the compliment of assuming they are intelligent enough to figure out this future world from a few deftly-dropped hints and I greatly appreciate that from an author. We learn as much as we need to know about Ender’s home planet (and maybe even more than Ender himself knows) and the story is better for it. There’s also something of a side plot involving Ender’s brother and sister that I thought was given just the right amount of space within the larger story. If you want to know more, Card has written many novels within the “Enderverse”. But if you’re a one-novel kinda reader, you’ll be satisfied with Ender’s Game.
Updated to add: Read my review of Speaker for the Dead here.