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Ender's Game: an unofficial review

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  • Ender's Game: an unofficial review

    Widgets Magazine
    Ender's Game
    by Orson Scott Card

    "The Enemy's Gate is Down"

    What They Say:
    Once again, the Earth is under attack. Alien "buggers" are poised for a final assault. The survival of the human species depends on a military genius who can defeat the buggers. But who? Ender Wiggin. Brilliant. Ruthless. Cunning. A tactical and strategic master. And a child.

    Recruited for military training by the world government, Ender's childhood ends the moment he enters his new home: Battle School. Among the elite recruits, Ender proves himself to be a genius among geniuses. In simulated war games, he excels. But is the pressure and loneliness taking its toll on Ender? Simulations are one thing. How will Ender perform in real combat conditions? After all, Battleschool is just a game.

    Right?
    The Premise: The first two Formic Wars were almost a debacle. The insectile aliens shattered our defenses, burned entire cities to ash . . . and only dumb luck and a twice court-martialed New Zealander were able to save humanity.

    The Third Formic War is about to begin . . . and this time, Earth's leaders plan to be ready. High above the Earth orbits the Battle School, a boarding school for child geniuses. A massive fleet awaits the right admiral. . .

    . . . And the Battle School is about to find him

    Andrew "Ender" Wiggins is a rarity - not only is he a child prodigy, but a third child, too. Strict population control limit each family to only two children . . . but rules can be broken. For the sake of the war, and because of his older brother and sister, they have been.

    Even as a child, Peter Wiggins is ruthless, brilliant . . . and too much of a sociopath to ever be trusted with an army. Valentine, his sister, is brilliant, empathic. . . and far too kind to lead an army. Ender, though . . . maybe, just maybe . . .

    And so Ender, along with an entire shuttle worth of six-year-old prodigies, becomes the latest group of "Launchies" to arrive at Battle School . . .

    But there are worse things in life than having an older brother who might kill you for the sport of it . . . and Battle School is one of those things. For the next ten years, Ender will be immersed in simulations, strategies . . . and enemies. There is no kindness in Battle School, and the teachers are more than prepared to ruin his life, or push him to the brink of suicide, if it means he reaches his potential.

    For the first Formic ships have been sighted . . .

    Meanwhile, back on Earth, Peter has made a disturbing discovery. The Russians have quietly been reshuffling the forces of the Second Warsaw Pact, gearing up for war. Not against the aliens, but against the U.S. and NATO.

    And he isn't going to let that happen. With the Third Formic War about to happen, such strife between the two great alliances verges on suicidal stupidity. But more importantly, it would severely complicate his plans.

    So even as Ender learns the art of war, Peter puts an ambitious plan into motion. With the help of Valentine, he's going to bring both the Americans and the Russians to their knees

    The Review: At first glance, Ender's Game looks like a sci-fi novel about kids playing video games and laser tag. Granted, its laser tag in space, but still, its laser tag. Hardly enough to justify the legions of fans (or the recent movie).

    But sit down with the book, and actually read it . . . and you realize that the sci-fi trappings conceal a lot of depth. Ender's Game is actually a fictionalized autobiography about growing up as a "gifted" child, and the author really captures that perspective. Being bullied for not "fitting in", having adults dump their responsibilities on you ("you're smart, you can handle it, right?), understanding things that your teachers miss . . . The entire book feels like Card took the diary of a precociously gifted child, and turned it into a sci-fi epic

    At the same time, the book maintains a very martial flavor. By his own account, Card drew a lot of inspiration from his older brother's stories of boot camp, and what its actually like being in the army. Plus, Card borrowed liberally from actual military history

    And the author indulges in several literary gimmicks and tricks. For example, the idea of "Ender's game" is more than just a recurring motif, its almost a fractal. Is Ender's game the one in the arcade? The laser tag tournament? The mind game? Or is it the war? And just who is he playing against?

    Some elements of the plot, though, read a little dated now. I've heard that Card has reworked some elements (in newer editions) to reflect changes in world affairs, but Ender's Game was originally written at the height of the Cold War. And the tension between NATO (Americans & Western Europe) and the Warsaw Pact (Soviet Russia & Eastern Europe) forms an integral part of the parallel storyline involving Peter and Valentine. Coupled with the fact that the aliens are frequently referred to as "buggers", it can feel a bit out-of date at times.

    Meanwhile, although the novel showcases a wide range of racial, religious, and national backgrounds, there aren't a lot of female characters. Actually, there are only two: Ender's sister Valentine, and Petra Arkanian. But both have a major impact on the storyline. Even as she's helping Peter conquer the world, Valentine is Ender's muse, helping him cope with the ever increasing demands of Battle School. Petra, meanwhile, is the finest sharpshooter at Battle School, and ends up mentoring him through much of the book.

    As for adult content . . . that's tricky, actually. Most people read through the book identifying with Ender, and (except for the "Speaker for the Dead" epilogue) the novel ends around his fifteenth birthday. There's no real sign that he's interested in girls, and even if he was, there aren't really any around for him to date. Nor are there any drugs or "vice" . . . in many ways, he's too young (and effectively too sheltered) for adult content to creep into the storyline. There is some kid-on-kid violence, though, which may bother some readers.

    But if you step back, and look at the storyline through adult eyes, its . . . darker, more disturbing. Just why are there cameras in the bathrooms? And, given the strong Greek influences, some of Ender's relationships with older men . . .well, it raises questions, at least. And there's the fact that the head of Battle School effectively sanctions the death of one of his pupils - for the greater good of the war, of course.

    Influences: Beyond the biographical elements, Ender's Game draws heavily on ancient Greek history. Not only does he uses Greek-derived terms like "Strategos" and "Hegemony", but there are strong parallels to the Persian invasions, the Pelopennisian War, and the rise of Alexander the Great.

    Recommended for: Anyone who's ever felt alone, like the world is actively working against you, and the rules are stacked in favor of your enemies

    Also for anyone who likes science fiction or stories about smart people doing amazing things. And, its also a pretty good choice if you're a fan of the "boarding school in space" genre (like Stellvia or Pilot Candidate for Goddess)

    Series: Ender's Game kicks off the Ender Quartet, with Speaker for the Dead up next. There's also a parallel storyline involving Bean, one of Ender's subordinates, which starts with Ender's Shadow

    Final Thoughts: Ender's Game is one of my personal favorites, a classic I return to time and again. One that I have no trouble recommending.

    I'm very partial to stories about intelligent people concocting brilliant plans, and then executing them to achieve great results. And Ender's Game has two such storylines. Ender, trying to survive Battle School (and the upcoming Third Formic Invasion). Plus, Peter and Valentine trying to save the world from plunging into a de facto civil war.

    Also, the idea that your personal struggles will pay off, that things can get better (if not in the way you expected) is very well executed (and motivational). And, if we're being honest, what computer geek (or video game afficionado) hasn't secretly hoped to save the world with their awesome tech skills?

    (Plus the zero-g laser tag just sounds cool )
    Last edited by One Vorlon; 01-23-2015, 08:05 PM.
    "The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man."

    -William Blake, "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell"
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