Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card is science fiction classic and one that launched it’s author’s career. First developed as a short story but later reworked into a full novel, Ender’s Game tells the story of Andrew “Ender” Wiggin a child genius on whose shoulders hangs the fate of the world. He is removed from his normal life and family, isolated from other children, and pushed to the limits of his ability; all in the hope that he can save Earth from a third, and most likely catastrophic, attack from aliens.
While I am not an expert on nor avid reader of science fiction, I do enjoy reading within this genre. In fact, in high school I read quite a bit of sci-fi or fantasy (I know they are different things) with a particular focus on Isaac Asimov. So I approached this work neither as a complete novice nor as a devoted fan. I found Ender’s Game interesting, and certainly unique, but it felt a little flat to me. It is a remarkable work of imagination but I found it hard to relate to the characters and the story line a bit too straightforward.
Perhaps I had a hard time relating to childhood geniuses separated from their friends and families and pushed to their limits. Ender is an interesting character – vicious in many ways but tender and melancholy in others, ambitious and proud but scared and insecure too – but I found the story line rather simple. For the entire story Ender is manipulated by the leaders in ever escalating, even unfairly rigged, games to test his abilities. As he moves through this process Ender always doubts himself and wonders if he isn’t simply a killer like the brother he both loves and despises. And yet he also manages to win each challenge until he overcomes the ultimate challenge in the book’s climax. Not having been a child genius, I can’t say whether this is an accurate portrait of such a life but I found it a little too neat. Couldn’t he have lost at something? Heck even Batman and Superman usually take a beating before they bounce back to save the day. Ender always seems to win.
I must also admit that I am not a “gamer.” I have never been very interested in computer games, role playing games, or other types of strategic play. Ender’s participation in, and mastery of, the various challenges thrown at him might hold more interest for those who enjoy gaming. I enjoyed the games and strategy at first but soon found it repetitive.
There is an interesting side story that involves Ender’s brother and sister using something like the internet – some might even say proto-blogs – to make an major impact on world politics. The psychology and interaction between Ender and his siblings is insightful at times but is also a bit predictable. Again, the higher your interest in the subject the more you are likely to get out of it.
All in all, I found Ender’s Game to be an imaginative and unique story, but one that just didn’t inspire me. It is a rather dark and melancholy story about the pain and isolation that being different can cause. This might not have been a problem had the characters been more sympathetic or the story line more nuanced. Instead, while I felt sorry for Ender, I never really felt he was going to lose. The story line seemed to move straight through his battles and challenges to ultimate victory (with a short vacation to brood about things). Perhaps my expectations were too high. Doubtlessly this story had a much greater impact when it was first released in the late seventies and I am sure it would have impacted me quite differently when I was younger. It is still clearly an work of great imagination but one that lacked a deeper meaning for me.
But it has the most jaw-dropping plot twist I’ve ever read. It’s been about ten years since I read the book and just thinking about that moment makes me shake my head in astonishment.
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