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.