If you’re not sure the science fiction genre is for you, if you’ve tried it before and given up, or if you know you like some sci-fi books but don’t know where to look next, check out Orson Scott Card’s novel, Ender’s Game. I, for one, am very selective with my sci-fi, but this is a book worth venturing into the genre for. With such thrilling and psychological elements, it’s an exciting read for all kinds of literature lovers, even those on the fence about science fiction works.
About the book: At some point in the future, Earth has been invaded twice by “buggers,” an insect-like alien race that poses a terrible threat to humanity. In response, an international military group based deep in space has been mining the human population for intelligent children to attend specialized battle schooling that will hopefully provide humanity with a genius commander to take control of Earth’s galactic fleet and win the Third Invasion. Ender is one such child, hand-selected for battle and command lessons that use ruthless war games to teach the young boy how to lead and win. Ender shows such promise that the other students would like to eliminate him to improve their own chances of winning the games. Ender, however, knows that the games themselves are not the point of the exercises, and uses his quick observations and strategic brilliance not only to rise through the ranks of the school, but to ensure his own survival among the horde of remarkable and vicious children. If he can succeed, Ender will bear the entire future of humanity on his shoulders, but the only alternative seems to be to die trying.
“Humanity does not ask us to be happy. It merely asks us to be brilliant on its behalf. Survival first, then happiness as we can manage it.”
Ender’s Game is one of the most traditionally sci-fi books I’ve ever read. Usually I’m not particularly interested in aliens or space battle strategies, and some of the explanation of the buggers was almost too much for me, but despite all of these details the science doesn’t weigh this book down. So much of Ender’s Game is focused on human nature and motivation that the characters become the true life force of the novel. Ender is an exceptionally wise boy who observes every move that his friends and enemies make and discerns the reasoning behind each of them. Not only does he understand why people act the way they do, but he uses that knowledge to learn from them and decide how he should act in response. Every detail is relevant.
“Sometimes lies were more dependable than the truth.”
Another reason the science part of this fiction fades into the background for me is that as the title suggests, most of Ender’s schooling and relationship with the potential Third Invasion is presented as a game. To learn battle strategies and space conditions the students participate in mock skirmishes under null gravity settings. Many of the students fail to recognize that the game is a training mechanism and become too focused on becoming top scorers.
“Perhaps it’s impossible to wear an identity without becoming what you pretend to be.”
It is a little jarring, in the first few chapters, to see six year-old Ender acting like a much-older child and thinking like an adult. Attention is repeatedly drawn to the drastic times and the new ways of life on Earth, but it is still hard to accept that Ender could be so advanced and yet so young. This bothered me through much of the book. If I could change one thing about this story, I would make the battle school entry age two years higher, so our story begins with Ender at 8 rather than 6. A small detail, and my proposed change is only a small attempt at solution, but it nagged at me.
On the other side of the spectrum, I especially enjoyed the beginnings of each chapter, where dialogue of the adults in charge is presented. The dynamic of adult military leaders discussing the possibility that students much younger than them may be part of the commanding team to would save the human race is particularly intriguing. That full grown men would work toward saving the human race not by perfecting their own abilities but by perfecting others’ from an incredibly young age–essentially raising from birth the potential saviors of humanity–lends an extra layer to this futuristic world. To see a bit of both sides of this relationship is the perfect touch in rounding out the narration.
“Welcome to the human race. Nobody controls his own life, Ender. The best you can do is choose to be controlled by good people, by people who love you.”
My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I was wary going into this story after having read its premise. So many of the details that classify this book as science fiction appear in the premise, but personally I think the beauty of the story lies in the other elements that are highlighted by the futuristic science aspects–the close examination of human nature, the incredible power dangled in front of children and bestowed by humbled adults, etc. I wouldn’t have discovered those wonderful features of Ender’s Game at all if I hadn’t seen this novel recommended in conjunction (in separate instances) with both Ready Player One and Red Rising, both of which I read and loved in September. I whole-heartedly recommend these three as a set (see recommendations below). They’re all unique stories, but if you like one, there’s a good chance you’ll like the others, and you don’t want to miss these.
- Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One features a virtual game with high stakes in reality for many, including main character and top player, Wade Watts. This one is also set in a futuristic world, but the only spaceships Wade has access to are the simulated ones inside the OASIS, the world’s largest virtual reality simulation game. For some, winning the most epic game ever invented isn’t just a means of entertainment–it’s a battle that’ll mean the difference between life and death. You can read my complete review of this book here.
- The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown is another game-oriented read for lovers of Ender’s Game. Although this game is part of an extreme dystopian story and there is nothing virtual about it, the book is designed to reveal shocking and intriguing facets of human nature by forcing special teens into bizarre and deadly circumstances, much like the games of Ender’s training days. You can read my complete review of this book here.
What’s next: I’ve just finished reading Golden Son, the second book in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. For those of you who have already read Red Rising, keep an eye out for more great reasons to carry on with the rest of the trilogy. For those of you who haven’t, (get on that, and then) stay tuned for my review of Shari Lapena’s debut thriller, The Couple Next Door, which I’m nearly finished reading and will also be posting about soon.
What great fall reads are you checking out this October? Feel free to leave me your recommendations!
The Literary Elephant