Review: Ender’s Game

In the future, six-year-olds are recruited to protect the world from alien “buggers” who threaten to annihilate the human race. Brilliant little kids with all the promise in the world are rigorously tested and thoroughly vetted. If they qualify, they are sent into space to be trained at battle school. Hopefully, when the time comes, they will be ready to save Earth from the third invasion they know is coming.

Ender Wiggin is the best of the best. All he wants is to be loved by his family and left alone by everyone else, but he is selected for the battle school. He is unaware that he is also being groomed as the hopeful commander for the entire astronaut army. In order to mold him into the commander they need, however, the school’s teachers must torment him, turn him into an outcast among his peers, and convince him that no adult will ever come to his aid. They must break him, so the buggers won’t. They have to try to make him a killer, so he can save mankind.

Ender responds exactly as they hope. His trials bring out his genius in school, relationships, and most importantly in the games. Some games are played on computers during free time, and Ender wins these increasingly complex challenges in the most unexpected ways. More important than the computer games are the games in the battle room, where Ender and his schoolmates learn how to maneuver and fight in zero gravity conditions. In spite of his initial ostracization, Ender attracts a loyal team of students who practice and train together, becoming some of the best fighters the school knows.

Dragon Army, as the team comes to be called, follows Ender to Command School, where they face mounting pressure. The games are harder, the stakes higher, and the costs dearer. They barely have time to sleep. What little sleep Ender can get is fitful and troubled. He dreams about the killer he is becoming… and he hates himself for becoming one.

When his final exams come, his entire future may hang in the balance…and so may the world’s. Can Ender see through all the games to defeat the true enemy and save mankind?

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Perfectly paced, with powerful characters and a fantastic world setting, and full of sharp plot twists, Orson Scott Card’s classic novel is a thrilling read through and through.

Ender Wiggin is a masterpiece of a character: sympathetic, brilliant, and kind. He is deprived of his family, his friends, and his childhood. He endures despicable games and lies. He is forced to become that which he hates. Yet he overcomes each fresh torment with delightful invention and immovable kindness. When he is ostracized, he draws others to him. When he is bullied, he turns his enemies into friends. When he can’t do that…he neutralizes the threat, swiftly and cleverly. The rules to the games he must play are constantly changed, but he always adapts. When even the rules of gravity are done away with, Ender always finds a way to stand strong and keep his head up.

Ender’s classmates, enemies, and teachers were also brilliantly drawn characters. His friends were realistically flawed, but lovable. His enemies and teachers were cruel, but empathetic; readers understood (along with Ender) the feelings that motivated their meanness. Ender and the other students exhibited psychological effects that could result from being made into child soldiers.

Orson Scott Card didn’t focus heavily on lengthy descriptions or detailed scene settings in Ender’s Game, and yet he drew a vivid picture of the dystopian world Ender occupied. Rather than emphasize the physical details of the world, he used action, dialogue, and character development to create a heavily militaristic atmosphere. He conveyed the desperation of a world that would send children off to battle, and the competition and cruelty that resulted among those children. The cold starkness of battle school was reflected in Card’s bare prose.

The greatest achievement of the book was in the questions it provoked. If someone has an enemy, one that is stronger and tougher than them, is it right to make the first move of attack? Are you justified in beating your enemy so badly that they can never hurt you again? To protect those we care about, could we make hard choices, even if they mean hurting someone else? And if we can do that… could we live with the guilt?

Ender’s Game was riveting from start to finish; not one chapter was uninteresting or unnecessary. It’s no great wonder that Card’s novel secured such enduring popularity or that it was turned into a movie just a few years ago. Ender’s story felt fresh even though it’s over four decades old.

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