Ender's Game
Orson Scott Card
Tom Doherty Associates, New York (USA), revised mass market edition,
July 1994 (1985)
324 pages

Ender's Game, winner of the 1985 Nebula Award for best novel, tells us the story, set sometime in the Earth's future, of Ender Wiggin, a child who is trained to become the commander of the human fleet to fight against an alien life-form that has already invaded the Earth twice and was about to lead us to extinction. Although, explained that way, it sounds like the typical action-packed science fiction novel written with an eye on the Hollywood money-making machine, the truth is that the book is far more complex than that. For starters, the future world it describes (an Earth divided among some major powers where they had little choice but to pull together to face the alien enemy, but where there are still plenty of skirmishes among the different nations; a society where even the most democratic-looking regimes are actually suffused with technological devices to control their citizens; a planet where couples are not allowed to have more than two kids, unless the Government grants them a special permission) sounds actually quite likely and realistic. Yet, this is not your typical dystopia. Far from that, the author portrays it all like a very livable place. It would appear as if we, humans, can adapt to everything. Likewise, the core of the novel is quite militaristic, but the author does not hide the nasty part of it:

"For the two of you, the choice was made when Ender was conceived. But for Ender, the choice has not been made at all. Conscripts make good cannon fodder, but for officers we need volunteers".

(Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game, p. 20)

Card never sweetens the pill. A highly efficient army is the only thing that could save the human race from the aliens, and that is what we will build, even if it takes the most authoritarian methods, such as taking their childhood away from many kids while we train them to be ruthlessly efficient fighters. As we read towards the beginning:

Look, Ender, I'm sorry if you're lonely and afraid. But the buggers are out there. The billion, a hundred billion, a million billion of them, for all we know. With as many ships, for all we know. With weapons we can't understand. And a willingness to use those weapons to wipe us out. It isn't the world at stake, Ender. Just us. Just humankind. As far as the rest of the biosphere is concerned, we could be wiped out and it would adjust, it would get on with the next step in evolution. But humanity doesn't want to die. As a species, we have evolved to survive. And the way we do it is by straining and straining and, at last, every few generations, giving birth to genius. The one who invents the wheel. And light. And flight. The one who builds a city, a nation, an empire. Do you understand any of this?"

(Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game, p. 35)

Ender's Game is also a coming of age novel. It is actually recommended reading for teenagers around the US (incidentally, I recently read on Slashdot that a teacher had been suspended in South Carolina for reading this book to his students; apparently, some parents found the book to be guilty of "pornography", which I find quite puzzling after actually reading it, since I don't remember having read about any sexually charged scene at all). It is fully understandable, since both the main characters and all his friends and colleagues are quite young (they are pre-teen, actually) but already live in the adult world and have to interact with adults. In that sense, it is ideal to introduce the young minds to the adult world, where they will have a chance to both be creative agents of change and also will have to suffer from unfair treatment and injustice in general. The author does not hide any of it. He also includes a few nuggets of wisdom here and there:

He could see Bonzo's anger growing hot. Hot anger was bad. Ender's anger was cold, and he could use it. Bonzo's was hot, and so it used him.

(Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game, p. 87)


Valentine didn't know what Peter was getting at, but he often launched discussions like this, practical discussions of world events. He used her to test his ideas, to refine them. In the process, she also refined her own thinking. She found that while she rarely agreed with Peter about what the world ought to be, they rarely disagreed about what the world actually was. They had become quite deft at sifting accurate information out of the stories of the hopelessly ignorant, gullible news writers. The news herd, as Peter called them.

(Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game, p. 126)

A very useful skill, indeed, sifting through all the media noise and trying to figure out what reality truly is like underneath all those reams of data and information bits. As a matter of fact, a key skill in this society we currently live in.

Yet, the world Card depicts here is also a cruel one. While not a fully fledged dystopia, this future Earth is certainly full of bad omens, semi-totalitarian control of the population and a cold and calculating approach to life (linked in the book to the military mindset) that definitely considers that the end justifies the means, no matter how harsh these are:

"When Ender Wiggin holds our fleets in his control, when he must make the decisions that bring us victory or destruction, will there be a military police to come save him if things get out of hand?"

"I fail to see the connection."

"Obviously. But the connection is there. Ender Wiggin must believe that no matter what happens, no adult will ever, ever step in to help him in any way. He must believe, to the core of his soul, that he can only do what he and the other children work out for themselves. If he does not believe that, then he will never reach the peak of his abilities."

(Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game, pp. 201-202)

However, none of this should make anyone believe that this is a book for children or teenagers. As in the case of other authors (Hermann Hesse comes to mind), Ender's Game can be read both by kids and adults alike. It is entertaining to both and, above all, the questions that poses about human nature and society are eternal and always worth pondering about. Ender's reaction, towards the end of the book, when it becomes clear that he has been used as a pawn to anhiliate a whole race of aliens in spite of the fact that their original attack against humans was the consequence of a misunderstanding, is definitely one of those eternal questions about the nature of good and evil (as an aside, I find it quite worrisome that, apparently, certain parents in South Carolina were worried about a "pornographic content" that does not show anywhere in the book, and yet do not find anything wrong with the militaristic approach of the novel, and neither did they complain about the genocide committed against a whole race of aliens... it would seem as if moral relativism is far more pervasive in today's society than we ever thought, and it also affects those people who see themselves as vaccinated from that danger thanks to whichever religious dogma they believe in).

As a curiosity, I thought the "desks" that the characters in this story carry around with them everywhere was an interesting premonition of today's tablet computers. Unfortunately, it is about the only attempt the author makes to show us what nifty inventions the future may bring us. In that sense, Ender's Game is unlike most other science-fiction books. This is no gospel for the gadget-lover.

Let us close this short review with a reflection on the nature of power and those who seek power from Ender's sister, Valentine, discussing the dangers of their overly ambitious brother, Peter, becoming an influential politician:

"You've been discovering some of the destroyer in yourself, Ender. Well, so have I. Peter didn't have a monopoly on that, whatever the testers thought. And Peter has some of the builder in him. He isn't kind, but he doesn't break every good thing he sees anymore. Once you realize that power will always end up with the sort of people who crave it, I think that there are worse people who could have it than Peter."

(Orson Scott Card: Ender's Game, p. 239)

That is a great truth that I can attest to, based on my own personal experience in politics. In general, those who make it to positions of power are precisely those who crave it. Or, to put it a different way, those who can be the most dangerous once they have any amount of power in their hands. There are exceptions to this, of course. But they are only the exceptions that confirm the rule.

Entertainment Factor: 7/10
Intellectual Factor: 6/10