October 10, 2003

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

During one of my regular weekly exchange of emails with my daughter's special ed teacher, she asked me to recommend books for boys who are reluctant readers. Specifically, one she could read aloud to them that was part of a series. She was thinking of Lemony Snickett and after gacking all over my keyboard--donít these teachers actually read kids books?-- I suggested this one as one that might interest boys who like video games or who feel different because of the way their brain works. I just read it on the strong recommendation of my son who, though he has never been reluctant to read anything, fits all the other criteria.

Essentially, the plot revolves around a 6 year old boy and intellectual prodigy named Andrew Wiggin, nicknamed Ender, who is taken from his parents and family and put into a military training academy in space for future commanders of warships. Earth had been invaded a generation ago by aliens resembling wasps or bees, nicknamed Buggers, and a global effort is on to find the best military minds early and train them from childhood to defend the planet from the expected upcoming invasion. The school curricula is completely dedicated to train them as military strategists and training in command is supplied by team sports in The Battle Room. Those who fail are sent back to Earth in disgrace; those who succeed are promoted up the militaristic school hierarchy. Ender is a perfect candidate because he displays both a ruthless determination to survive when confronted by danger and a real sense of empathy for those around him, enabling him to predict how others will think and act.

For the most part, I enjoyed the book. The writing is good and the character of Ender is well drawn and complete. The plot moves along fast enough that I had a hard time putting it down at times. There is plenty of cool techie stuff and world building going on to keep me interested. And The Battle Room and the games the kids play in it are fascinating, often the best part of the whole story. That could have been a book all by itself.

However, some things did bother me. One is that Ender is a 6 year old. He doesnít act or talk or think like any 6 year old I know. He's too emotionally mature even for a kid with a huge intellect. He is making decisions based on adult reasoning and experience which, as a 6 year old, he is too young to have.

And then the whole thing about using children in this way bugged me. I couldnít leave behind my own principles on how children should be treated while reading. I didnít like what they were doing to Ender and the rest of the kids at the school.

I didnít like how it ended either. I think Scott Card wimped out. It should have followed the harshness of the rest of the book and ended just as brutally. However, he is writing for young adults and children. I told my son that and he totally disagreed with me on that point. We actually had quite a good discussion about the book and why certain things happen as they do. As a device to get kids reading and actually thinking about what they are reading, I can see this book as an effective tool, especially if read aloud and talked about as you go. What I saw as problems with the book would make great topics to chat about with a young reader.

Posted by Deb English at October 10, 2003 04:48 PM

Will Duquette said:

"The Battle Room and the games the kids play in it are fascinating, often the best part of the whole story. That could have been a book all by itself."

Way back in 1977 (or was it 1976?) I got my first issue of Analog Science Fiction as a present from my best friend. And the best thing in the whole issue was a short story by a previously unpublished author named Orson Scott Card. The short story was called "Ender's Game". It's all battles and training, and takes place almost entirely in the Battle Room and the later ship simulators.

Apparently Card was never satisfied with it, but I've always liked it better than the novel. Among other things, the ending is just a brutal as the rest of the book.

Deb said:

I knew The Battle Room was the seed of the book but how he fleshed out the story around it was never made clear in the introduction. I didnt realize Ender was part of the original story. The Battle Room really was a cool idea--especially before computer games with good graphics came along.

Is the short story anthologized anywhere? And does he actually do something interesting with the religious theme in the later books?

Chris said:

The original Ender's Game novella is can be found in the hardbound collection of Card's short fiction, Maps in a Mirror. I believe it is also included in the recently released First Meetings, a collection of short stories in the "Ender-verse."

I've always had the impression (based solely on my own reading of it, not from any outside sources) that the ending in Ender's Game (the novel) existed primarily to set up the next novel in the series, Speaker for the Dead. Speaker takes some of the themes hinted at in Ender's Game (the novel) that weren't present in the original short story and runs with them. While technically a sequel, Speaker is in many ways a very different book from Ender's Game and one I found more satisfying; my wife and closest non-spousal friend disagree, though. :-)

Chris said:

Oh and "Ender's Game" the novella can be read for free on Card's website:

Deb said:

I emailed the link to my daughter's teacher. I talked with her this week and after describing Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow she was excited about it as potential fodder for a read aloud/discussion subject with a group of boys she's working with.