Cannonball Read IV: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I received Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card as a birthday present when I was 12 or so. I read it voraciously, and rapidly consumed all of its sequels and side-quels as well. Since then, I've counted it among my favorite books, despite not having read it for more than a decade, so I thought that would be a good place to start for my first CBR review. Let's do this!
Ender's Game is a young adult novel (or, as I once called it: a novel) centered around Andrew "Ender" Wiggin and his siblings, the three smartest people on the planet Earth, even at 6, 8 and 10 years old. This future earth is dealing with overpopulation in the midst of a war with an extraterrestrial race known epithetically as "buggers", leading to a two-child limit for all families, except for the Wiggins. You see, the government is looking for the next great tactician amongst the children of Earth, one who can be trained to lead our forces against the bugger scourge before they return to wipe us out. Peter Wiggin, the oldest, was clearly intelligent enough, but was deemed too bloodthirsty and powerhungry to be trusted with a space army. His sister, Valentine, was also not lacking in skills, but adversely was too pacifistic to lead the charge. Thus, the government commissioned a third child from the Wiggins, hoping that he would be a balance of the two. What they got was a brilliant warrior who loves his enemies in order to defeat them.
Ender is given a tough life. He is forced to live with a "monitor" that records every experience he has until the age of 6, making him an outcast, but one that no bullies can touch for fear of governmental reprisal. Once that comes off, he is almost immediately whisked away to battle school, where he is isolated in every possible way in order to make him completely reliant on his own abilities. As the saviour of Earth, he must be made sure that no-one will come to help him, ever. Ender's solution is to win. Win every time. Win so brutally his opponents barely limp away. It pains Ender to the core to hurt anyone, but he sometimes sees it as his only option, making him like Peter in his mind, the one person he never wants to be.
While Ender is in training, Peter and Valentine decide amongst themselves to influence world politics; to take over the world, but truly for the good of the people. Peter aims to prevent needless wars and bring humanity together so that when he rules the world, its worth ruling. All the Wiggin children are brilliant in ways only really seen in fiction. At 12, I had no problem envisioning staggering genius in a 6-year-old, but it's a harder sell for me now. Still, these prepubescent political machinations held my interest as well as the zero-g space battles Ender deals with, which I found to be exciting, but weakly defined. Even now, I have a hard time visualizing exactly how the action lays out.
The Battle School has its own politics as well, as it's populated with most of Earth's best and brightest children. Ender's method of absolute victory attracts many true friends to his side; Alai, Petra and Bean are all interesting companions that bring out the best in him. And then there's that one psychotic asshole Bonzo Madrid (it's pronounced bone-so you little pinprick!) He only shows up in a couple chapters, but you hate him so quickly that he leaves a mark, and Ender's dissection of precisely how stupid he is makes your hatred all the more righteous. Just remember during the bathroom scene that these dudes are NINE.
The last half of the book has quite a few plot turns, and the final reveal still shocks me when I think about it. It really doesn't feel like a book about kids. They don't think or talk like children (I remember the word "polyglot" being thrown around at some point.) There's swearing and racial slurs and murder and mass murder... The core of the book is about how the government uses thousands of people, endless funds, and few morals to twist one little boy into a sword to protect humanity. It has some grand ideas about politics and science and even computer games. Even though it was written in 1985, the day-to-day technology described still seems like something in our future. They pretty much have iPads.
I've always thought it would be unfilmable due to the young and fluctuating ages of the characters, but now I'm honestly interested in seeing what any director would make with this material. Even the guy who fucked up a Wolverine movie.
Here's to not fucking it up! *tink*
Oh, and here's a Penny Arcade comic I thought was apt. It's a little out of date system-wise, but the idea is as true as ever...
For more of TranscendMatter's reviews, check out his blog, I Review Books Sometimes.
This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.