Ender's Game

I had big trouble sleeping the last week, and thus completed another (unabridged) audiobook. The beauty of audiobooks, as compared to the normal paper ones, is that I can listen to them while I do other things. Sometimes, this is too distracting. But when you are in bed, waiting for sleep to come, it’s at least a very comfortable way to “read” a book: You can pull the cover up to your ears and above all you don’t have to turn on the light.

_Ender’s Game_ was written by Orson Scott Card. It was originally a short story, until Card wanted to write _Speaker for the Dead_. As he put it, he was having problems with that novel until he decided that Ender Wiggin, the protagonist of _Ender’s Game_, should be the main character of _Speaker for the Dead_. He rewrote _Ender’s Game_ into a full novel, which then became a big hit and a cult classic in some circles of the geek crowd.

In the future, on an overcrowded Earth, mankind is looking at its children to find a brilliant leader, a strategist and tactician who would save it from the feared “Third Invasion” by a vicious alien species called the “Buggers”. These children, monitored from early childhood, are recruited into the space-based “Battle School” at the age of six. Here they learn all about military tactic through a series of games. The adult teachers control all facets of their environment, as Ender soon learns, but otherwise have a very “hands off” approach to teaching. And as they believe Ender is their “best hope”, they put an extra effort into pushing him to the limit.

I am not really sure what to make of the book. It’s pretty useless as a war story; we don’t see much of it, nor of the military, their tactics, and so on. It’s equally useless as a science fiction story; the Buggers and the interstellar war are just trappings and the future history and society of mankind are never explored in any real detail. It’s almost as useless as a “coming of age” story. It’s not so useless as a character story, one that describes Ender Wiggin (and to a lesser extent his siblings). They are good, believable characters; unfortunately they’re not really _fun_. Especially Valentine and Peter; Peter manages to be a good character in the early part of the book, a nice threat and motivation to Ender, but he becomes boring quickly. Valentine, well, she’s just redundant. But I guess every book must have a love interest for the hero; and if it’s not a girlfriend to love, you gotta have a sister he can love.

The other characters are just one dimensional, boring, names without substance. This holds true for good guys, bad guys, and neutrals. Everybody pales in comparison to Hero Ender, and thus are given only the most basic of motivations or personalities.

Still, the book makes you continue on. Card’s style is pretty good, and he makes up for what he lacks in creating an interesting setting that way. You’ll also want to see what Colonel Graff, Endre’s hidden “mentor” (and tormentor) will come up with and how Ender will cope. Finally, at least for me, I also wanted to see if the book got any better.

Only it didn’t; it remained insubstantial and predictable to the very end.

If you want to read good Sci Fi, read any number of other books. If you want to read a good war story, read any number of other books. For the military SF subgenre, I heartily recommend Starship Troopers instead (the book, not the “terrible movie”:/Review/195/starship-troopers-dvd!), especially since it includes a lot of moral/philosophical/political debate. Or read “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”:/Review/586/the-moon-is-a-harsh-mistress by Heinlein. I cannot even recommend Ender’s Game as the “leadership textbook” I have heard it being described as. I have serious doubts the little bits and peaces Ender learns about leading other soldiers would help anybody but maybe the absolute neophytes.

So, hummm, this comes across as a pretty negative opionion of _Ender’s Game_. Is it a horrible book? No, not really, as in “I have read worse”. But in my humble opinion it is not in any way remarkable. It doesn’t excite, it doesn’t educate, it doesn’t thrill, it doesn’t surprise, but neither does it really bore (except maybe the Peter-and-Valentine bits). If you are stuck on a rainy afternoon, this book is better than nothing. But on your list of books-to-read, it should appear very low in the ranking. _Ender’s Game_ was an afterthought, a novel thrown in when the author was stuck for ideas, and it shows.

4 thoughts on “Ender's Game

  1. I respect your opinion on Ender’s game (as I find myself about to write an essay on it) and believe that everyone is allowed to have their own point of view but I disagree with on some points of yours. I disagree thoroughly with the statement that valentine and Peter are flat characters. Sure they do not change their views much, but does that really make them flat? Valentine does unpredictalbe things (like the letter and joining peter in his political crusade) and so does peter (like following through with his tormenting words on the squirrel). No, I don’t believe it can be taken as a book in which you can learn about military strategy, but rather a book in which you can learn how to cope with the responsibilites of being a military strategist. And at the young age Ender is at..doesn’t it give you the “underdog” feeling that you get from movies and books like these? Also, how can you say that characters like Graf are flat when you said yourself that he is a teacher AND a tormenter? That’s just my 2 or…10 cents.

  2. Hello Ryan,
    Thanks for your feedback. 🙂

    Valentine and Peter are tacked on as an afterthought and it shows. Their plot to take over the world is silly and does not contribute to the story at all. Valentine seems to fear and dislike Peter, yet she goes along to help him. Why should she? Because he is her brother? Pretty weak. I also maintain that even hyper intelligent children would certainly not be able to take over the world simply by writing “angry letters to the editors”. The whole bit has Card saying “Ohhhh I have to extend it to novel length” written all over it.

    You cannot learn about “coping” with the responsibility of being a military strategist from the book. How could you? Ender is engaged in games, nothing more. In some of the games, with the odds stacked against him, he just uses what amounts to suicide tactics which “miraculously” work. Where is the responsibility? And, without wanting to spoil anything, right through the end he does not realize what he is doing until it is too late. Responsibility? Hardly. He still thinks its a game.

    As for the characters – simply dumping two roles into one character does not make for a three dimensional, rich character. I kept hoping that any of Card’s characters would do something interesting, but they didn’t. Graf is the best character in the book, still, and pretty much the only one that Card makes me care about too. This still isn’t saying much because there’s no development of Graf, not much anyway, and everything he does is completely predictable. All the other characters, Mazer, Ender, Peter, Valentine, and the minor characters at the school, are two dimensional cardboard pieces. It was quite clear that Valentine would help Graf; she is a fool without any will or motivation of her own. She could have just as well been a robot. Peter and the squirrels aren’t far off either; from the beginning Peter is described as a cruel person. I simply don’t buy his “betterment” and his plans to take over the world for the good of mankind. Card either wants Peter to become a better person, which he fails at by not providing enough evidence of Peter’s improvement; or he wants Peter to be sneaky and deceptive and manipulative which I he can not convince me Peter is capable of, and consequently Card’s efforts here fall flat on the nose.

    Finally, Ender is never the underdog; he is described as being tormented by many things at the School but he never is in any danger whatsoever. Ender may think he is the underdog, but I never perceived any chance of Ender to fail. He was never in any risk, there was no real struggle.

    I think the core of the problem is that card came up with the concept in highschool, then wrote a story around it, then forced the story into novel length. I wouldn’t be surprised if highschool Card’s Ender was supposed to be Card himself; there’s nothing wrong with this sort of escapism, but it really shouldn’t have become a novel in my eyes; that’s pretty much a waste of perfectly good paper. I may track down the original short story and see if that’s any good.

    Sorry this is a bit shorter than I wanted but I have to pack my bags and get going as I am about to fly to Amsterdam. I’ll see if I can come up with a few good examples of military sci-fi or “underdog” books.

  3. Hey, its me again. Just wanted to add a few more comments on your thoughts of the book. I’ve thought about the book a little bit more now that I am reading “Ender’s Shadow” which takes place in the life of Bean. I wasn’t as impressed I was with the original, but I still enjoy it. It’s nice just to see a view of the plot from a different character. But anyways back to the book. First off Peter and Valentines little scheme I don’t think is exactly a “take over the world” deal. Maybe for peter, but can you seriosly see valentine saying, “I want to rule the world!” No, not really. Sure it may be a page filler, but besides the fact that they only become major influences for the future of Earth, I think it turned out pretty well. I don’t think it was supposed to be a main point of the book, just something for the reader to have in the back of his/her mind while they’re reading. Secondly, my point, again, was not the strategy used. Sure he did what military leaders would call “suicidal” and “stupid” but that’s because it was a game, you’re right. But that was not my point. I believe he was under heavy pressure. In fact he is under constant pressure and danger. In the beginning he almost gets the snot beat out of him. Then he’s got the salamander army all over him throughout the battle school. When he constantly has the pressure of trying to be a better leader than all those that he was lead by, and watches himself lose his grip on his army, wouldn’t that be a bit of pressure? It’s mostly the mental pressure I was talking about. Leading an army, evading his enemies, etc. Sure he used crazy tactics, that’s why it’s called “Ender’s GAME”. As for the characters… Peter and valentine supposed to be mostly flat. However I’d say that trying to change the entire world, is a pretty drastic move for “flat” characters. When they’re supposed to be in the background and they’re doing THAT… I wouldn’t call them too flat, but hey they’re supposed to be. They’re not even in the book nearly as much as Ender, or Graf. So maybe Peter and Valentine aren’t THAT active, which can be argued, but that’s ok, I wouldn’t quite call them main characters, it’s very possible that they are fillers, but that’s ok, I think they do a good job of it. Lastly, how can you not call “Ender’s Game” a true underdog story?! This is little kid getting ready to save the world! Sure he doesn’t know it, but he knows it coming and that he has to perform. Besides that he has all of those people on his back. He’s got valentine wanting him home, peter wanting to kill him along with bonzo, and he’s got Graf pushing him harder and harder. The fact that he pulls through and is just a little KID, is worthy of some praise. So, I hope you enjoyed your trip. If you’re not back already, I kinda forgot that I posted and didn’t remember to check until now :D. So that’s my like, 20 cents.

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