Saturday, March 16, 2013

Book Review - Ender's Game

Well, my subtitle to this blog does say "and perhaps a few other topics...", so today I thought I'd try my hand at a book review.  And I'm starting with one of the classics of the Science Fiction genre - Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.  I had not previously read Ender's Game, and this has been met with several gaping mouth responses and shocked "WHAT?!?!"  After I had finished the last book I was reading, I had nothing in my queue, and a conversation with some co-workers convinced me to give Ender's Game a try. 

Floating around weightless looks relaxing.

Now...this is my first book review, and I'm going to try and not have it turn into a long recap of the book.  For those of you unfamiliar, the book is set in Earth's future, where 2 invasions by the insectoid species known as "Buggers" have barely been repelled by the united forces of earth.  The earthlings for some reason have decided that the only way to defeat the 3rd invasion is to start producing genetically enhanced children and start training them from about the age of 6 to be fleet admirals.  The main protagonist of the book is Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, and we follow his progress as he is chosen to attend the prestigious "Battle School" and train to lead interstellar fleets. 

Warsaw Pact part deaux...this time with more hegemony
Ender's Game was originally a short story written in 1977, and expanded to a novel in 1985.  Card released an "updated" version in 1991 to reflect the changing political atmosphere (presumably the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union).  Still, the book seems a little dated.  Far from being a "united" earth, nations still exist and despite the Bugger presence, there is political and military friction between the various nations.  Presumable when the book was first written, the USA and USSR were still the main adversaries in Card's future.  From what I can tell, he just changed a little back story to say that in the future, the Warsaw Pact reformed...and thus the references he originally made to the Warsaw Pact are able to stay in the book.  No mention of China as a superpower (cough...Firefly...cough). 

In the beginning of my copy (digitally downloaded to my tablet), Card has a preface where he talks about how Ender's Game came to be, and includes several letters from folks who praise the novel as life changing for them.  He also has some scathing remarks for a "guidance counselor for gifted children" who read it and "loathed it".  According to Card, "the criticism that left me most flabbergasted was her assertion that my depiction of gifted children was hopelessly unrealistic.  They just don't talk like that , she said.  They don't think like that."  Some of Card's response to that includes "Yet I knew - knew - that this was one of the truest things about Ender's Game.  Because never in my entire life did I feel like a child.  I felt like a person all along - the same person that I am today."

Well, OK.  I read the preface before reading the novel, and that passage stuck with me.  And by the end of the book, I found myself agreeing with that guidance counselor.  We first meet Ender Wiggin at the age of 6 or so, and he has a run in with the school bully.  He ends up defeating the bully, but the rationale he goes through, and why he decides to decidedly un-six-year-old.  I understand it's the future, and he's supposed to be genetically enhanced to be brilliant...but no matter how "smart" you are, you need "wisdom", and that only comes with one thing - experience.  So, right from the first chapter, I found myself thinking "maybe that guidance counselor was on to something..."

This is also prevalent in a subplot about Ender's older sister and psychopathic brother, who are as equally gifted as him.  They both create fake online personalities and use them these personalities to manipulate world events, including a war between the west and the Warsaw Pact.  Again, I understand that these are genetically altered super-children...but their actions could hardly go unnoticed. 

Ask me about "relativity"
Now, I don't think the novel is bad per se.  There are some interesting parts, including the actual training in battle school.  And for a novel that was originally written in 1977, there are some amazingly prescient things - the childrens "desk", which they carry with them and log in to get homework assignments, and send messages...clearly these are today's laptops/tablets.  Locke's brother and sister's online personalities...they are clearly using the internet to spread their ideas.  I also found it refreshing with how Card dealt with travel between interstellar locations...relativity is in full hyperspace here.

Lastly, the ending of the book fell a little flat for me.  There was a not-so-shocking twist involving Ender's final "training".  And after that, the last chapter seemed to be a rushed info-dump on everything that happened subsequently. 

So, in the end I can't say that I was particularly impressed by Ender's Game.  Some of this, no doubt, was due to too much hype.  I have a feeling that if I had just picked it up and read it without any of the "OMG, this is the bestest book EVA" comments I had received, I likely would have enjoyed it a bit more.  I was still mildly interested enough to look into the sequel books...but it appears there's about a gazillion (technical term) of them, between actual novels and short stories.  No thanks, I'll pass.  I may sneak in the upcoming movie, though...just to see the battle school scenes....

Now, on to the next book in my queue.  In 1990, my freshman year in college, I picked up a nice thick doorstopper of a book called The Eye of the Word by a guy named Robert Jordan, who was best known for writing some Conan (the barbarian, not the TV host) books.  23 years later, and several years after Jordan's death, the 14th and final book in The Wheel of Time saga - A Memory of Light - is finally published.  The series has had some ups and downs - books 6 through 10 were mostly mediocre - but I'm looking forward to finding out the final fated of Rand, Matt, Perrin, Egwene and all the rest.



  1. Interesting take on Ender's Game. It's been a long time since I read it. I think back then I had a wider aperture for suspension of disbelief - and as you say, I didn't have every geek and his brother telling me it was the masterpiece of SF, so I didn't have expectations hanging over it, either. So, many of the things that bugged you probably didn't bug me at the time.

  2. Yeah...I in general have a bit of an issue with young protagonists that act "too adult". One of my quibbles with the "Game of Thrones" books are that some of the main characters are in their mid-teens, or even younger, and often act much older. They "fixed" that in the TV show, having some of the teens be in their early 20's instead.

  3. I first read Ender's game as a short story (looooong time ago), and thought it was great. When it went to novel, I thought, 'well, it was a great short story, but there's not really enough for a novel'. The novel was only fair, IMHO. (All of this was clearly during the cold war. Had no idea he rewrote it post cold war.) And then it kept expanding -- I gave up. It's now an entire series? Perhaps it appeals to some human archetype, like the two words "Childhood's End"? It was a fair Clark novel, but people experience some kind of emotional trigger reaction upon seeing or hearing those two words

  4. I think the modification he made post-Cold War are slight (like renaming the Soviet Union to Russia). I'm mildly intrigued by the movie coming out soon, as my son is now old enough to enjoy science fiction movies with me. I'll wait until I hear from others though, about how "adult" it is.