Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

This is one of those books that sat for years on my shelf before I read it.  I don’t know why.  No special reason.  Sometimes there’s just a right time to do things, and I guess this was the time.  One of my sons discovered it before I did.  He was quite smitten by it; after he read it he read three of the sequels.

It is the story of Andrew Wiggins, who gives himself the name of Ender, a prodigy who is recruited by the IF, or International Fleet, a military organization preparing for a third war with the buggers, aliens who have already invaded Earth twice.  The IF is searching for a commander who can lead a fleet against the bugger worlds, so they take a group of children, geniuses all, into space to train them for combat in a series of simulations, or games.  Ender, with his quick intellect and intuitive grasp of the games’ complexities, proves to be the one the IF is looking for.  He and the other children are subjected to isolation, physical hardships, rigorous training, and unrelenting discipline, that they might be prepared for the overwhelming task of saving the world.

It is told in a simple, spare style, with very little embellishing description or literary affectation.  Just the story, no frills.  The style suits the subject matter well.  After all, it is about children.  Don’t be deceived, however.  Though it is about children, it is not written for children.  This is possibly one reason it has had such difficulty being translated to the screen.  Though the project has been in the works for years it has never gotten far, because Hollywood simply cannot come to grips with the fact that though the heroes are not teens or young adults but kids, the film would not be aimed at children.  As I understand, the powers that be in Tinsel Town wanted to change Ender’s age, which if you comprehend the story at all would be the epitome of ludicrousness.

It’s a good story, a science fiction story which after the first few chapters is fast-paced and exciting, describing the training of Ender and the others, the dangers he encounters, the difficulties he confronts as he unlocks the intricacies of the games, the emotional turmoil he grapples with as he is pushed into taking on responsibilities that would crush other people.  But for most of its length it is a simple story nonetheless.  Its profound complexity is only revealed in the last few pages, and then the reader is left hanging.  Obviously the author already had a sequel in mind.  It is self-contained enough, however, to leave the reader satisfied, should he choose not to continue with the Ender series.

I for one, though, will read at least on into book two, its sequel, “Speaker for the Dead”.  After all, “Ender’s Game” and “Speaker for the Dead” made award history by winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel in consecutive years.  And “Ender’s Game” does finish with a cliffhanger.  One wonders what will happen next.

So, I recommend “Ender’s Game”.  It’s entertaining and fun and thoughtful and (in the end at least) profound.  You can enjoy it whether you have any intention of continuing on into the rest of the series, but if you have a predilection for chain-reading, that is, lighting one book off the still-smoldering remains of the last, there are several sequels to keep you going.

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