Book Review: Ender’s Game

The Basics

Title: Ender’s Game
Author: Orson Scott Card
Rating (of 5): ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

Year published: 1985
Pages: 384
First sentence: “I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.”

Summary

That first sentence sounds very Matrix-esque, right? Granted, Ender’s Game came first by twenty or so years, but it does have a similar near-apocalypse-averted-by-chosen-one plot line. The book follows the exploits of Ender Wiggin, a 6-year-old genius who is Earth’s hope for saving mankind from aliens known as “buggers.”

In a world with tight population controls, Ender is a rare “third” or third child, bred specially for the purpose of saving the world. His loving older sister Valentine and his sadistic, bullying older brother Peter were both monitored by military forces known as the International Fleet until it was decided that their genius IQ’s were not combined with the right personality traits to create the right military leader. Thus, the Wiggins family was given special permission to have a third child in hopes that this one would possess the right traits as well as the right IQ to save the world.

When the International Fleet decides that he does have the right traits to be a battle leader, they pluck him out of his home — away from both the loving embraces of Valentine and the evil clutches of Peter — and train him to save the world. In Battle School, the adults seek to isolate him from the other students, advancing him rapidly through the ranks. He quickly becomes adept at commanding 0 G battles and virtual fleets, as well as protecting himself from myriad bullies. But Battle School is essentially just a game … until one day it’s not.

Reaction

It was an entrancing story and I absolutely loved it. It was shockingly unlike the only other Orson Scott Card book I’ve read, Homebody. But the differences were certainly for the better. It reminded me somewhat of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, albeit with an absurdly young character. And that’s the one gripe I have with this book. At the start of the book, the main character is six years old and by the end he’s only about 12. I have no problem with young characters, and I like a lot of YA novels which, of course, often feature young characters. However, I feel like Ender’s Game just stretches credulity with this.

Actually, it more than stretches credulity. I know this is science fiction, but the basic human stages of childhood and adulthood are basically the same in the world depicted, so it still seems absurd that a 6-year-old — even a genius 6-year-old — acts like this. It’s not his intelligence that I take issue with; he’s a genius, so of course I get that he’s crazy smart. However, I just can’t reconcile his emotional maturity with his age. I can accept that he’s a genius and thus smarter than most adults he encounters, but I have a little bit more difficulty swallowing the emotional maturity. Even his ability to read others and understand human behavior in general is difficult for me to believe, because no matter how smart he is, the fact is that he only has 6 years of experience in analyzing human behavior and interacting with humans.

The age thing certainly didn’t ruin the book for me, though. Whatever Ender’s exact age, the story still snares the reader. I would have preferred if Ender’s age range in the book was something closer to, say, the arc of Harry Potter’s aging throughout the series.

The Author

After the finishing the book, I decided to research the details about the upcoming film version so that I could mention it here … but instead I was very disappointed to discover that Orson Scott Card is a bit of a nutter. And not the genial kind of kooky nutter, but the judgmental anti-science asshole kind of nutter. Any one of his bizarre statements I would just see as an oddity; one weird belief does not a nutter make. However, when viewed in as a whole, his beliefs coalesce to form a mountain of insanity. Some of my favorite examples:

1.) Although he later retracted it, in 1990 he said:

“Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.”

Maybe just this belief alone doesn’t make Card a complete nutter, but it is at the very least a bit anachronistic at this point in time.

2.) He thinks that Obama is trying to create an American Gestapo out of inner-city gangs:

“Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama’s enemies. Instead of doing drive-by shootings in their own neighborhoods, these young thugs will do beatings and murders of people ‘trying to escape’ — people who all seem to be leaders and members of groups that oppose Obama.”

I mean, you don’t have to like Obama, but what dafuq? Yep, this quote alone crosses the line into nutter territory.

3.) He’s implied that 9/11 was necessary:

“George W. Bush did all that he could to prepare to rid the world of Islamic terrorism prior to 9/11; and because of 9/11, he finally got the political support to make it possible to begin the real job.”

4.) He doesn’t believe in global warming:

“That’s what the global-warming protection racket is about: Hey, we can’t prove anything is actually happening, but look how many people we’ve got to agree with us!”

‘Nuff said. I don’t feel like I even need to expand on this. I mean, shit, only 97% of climate scientists believe in anthropogenic global warming. And you know, Orson, just because you write science fiction it doesn’t mean that all science is fiction. Just sayin’.

Of course, all his nutty views do nothing to diminish the book — but I just hate when I discover things like this about an author. It’s like learning that Santa Claus is actually a necrophiliac. It does nothing to diminish the annual coolness of his gift-giving sprees … but I just wish it weren’t true.

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9 thoughts on “Ender’s Game Review

  1. I first read “Ender’s Game” when I was 15, shortly after it was first published in around 1986, I think. Like you I thought, “Yeah! That was pretty cool!” And so anything he participated in afterward always held my interest, like his writing dialogue for the the computer adventure game “The Dig” or the story for the Xbox game “Advent Rising.” And Laura liked the other sequels in the Ender series like “Speaker for the Dead,” “Xenocide” and “Ender’s Shadow.”

    But when I started hearing his political views in recent years, I really began to sour on him, to the point where I just can’t bring myself to read anything by him anymore. I had a similar reaction to Ted Nugent as well. Not that i was opposed to his hunting, but when it got to the point where he couldn’t open his mouth without insulting Barack Obama, I just really couldn’t bring myself to listen to his music anymore (though I will keep the radio on if “Cat Scratch Fever” or “The Great White Buffalo” are playing).

    I guess I’m just one of those guys who can’t compartmentalize and separate the artist’s work from their personal views. But since artitsts generally write what they know, I think they’re incapable of preventing their personal views from influencing what they write. Case in point, Robert Heinlein often spoke through his characters, some of whom were given to long philosophical diatribes.

    With the “Ender’s Game” movie a few short weeks from release, I’m surprised that Lionsgate has managed to stay in front of the kind of negative controversy that accompanied the releases of “The DaVinci Code” and “The Golden Compass.” But I may be speaking too soon. It might start as soon as the movie is out.

    As an aside, some LGBT groups have urged people to boycott the movie, believing a percentage of the box office grosses would go to Card’s pocketbook. But that’s not how movies work, as Card was paid for the rights before the movie went into production. Though David Gerrold suggested that if you really feel bad about it, to donate an amount of money equal to the price of your ticket to the LGBT charity of your choice.

    In my and Laura’s case, though, we got free passes from the theater after seeing “Gravity,” as the lights had been left on 5 minutes after the movie had started. I personally didn’t think it was a problem, but we were glad to get them. So we’ll be using them to see “Ender” when it comes out, thinking of them as our “get out of jail free” cards! LOL!

    1. I sort of suspect that controversy surrounding Ender’s Game might be more muted because the issues regarding Da Vinci Code and Golden Compass were both about the content of the films, whereas here the controversy would be sort of one step removed because the issue is the author, not the content. There already has been some discussion of Card’s beliefs, but not that much so far.

  2. Hi Keri,
    Good review. I know you are not alone in being bothered by “the age thing,” but I don’t think it affected me as much as others. “Kids don’t think and talk like this,” they say, but maybe exceptional kids like these do. I don’t know any so have no frame of reference.

    I’m glad I had already read the book before my research also discovered Card was a wackaloon. I fear it would have unfairly lessened my enjoyment of it. & I wouldn’t boycott because that would likely harm others in addition to him, and they’ve done nothing to be punished for.

    -Jay

  3. It’s unfortunate to hear that he is so bat shit crazy. I read Ender’s Game when i was ~10 and loved it. I started the sequel (“Speaker for the Dead” I believe) shortly thereafter but it was sorta slow getting started and I never finished it, although I imagine it was quite good. Regardless of how cuckoo Card is I am very excited for the movie and hope it’s well done

  4. Yeah it’s unfortunate his views tarnish his reputation. My concern would be that it stops people reading the Enders books which, as a reader and a fan of them, is rather sad because they are a great read and I’d feel people were missing out.

    Personally, in regards to OSC as a person, I’d have to say I don’t agree with his views. Doesn’t detract from the fact he’s written books that I’ve recently come to enjoy. Do I have to like the personal author in order to like his creations? Thankfully no.

    My research in OSC extrends merely to his published works, and as long as I feel he isn’t shoving ihs unrealistic, strange views down my throat through his plots, I’ll continue to read his books.

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