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Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

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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.

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  • I would highly recommend giving Speaker for the Dead, the second book in the series, a try. It is more nuanced and well-crafted than its predecessor and overall is a better novel by far. Keep in mind that the original concept for Ender came from a short story (only recently reprinted), so Card had a lot of padding to do in order to flesh it out to novel length. Speaker is an entirely original and more mature work.

    Specifically, the plot is more complex and the characters both more sympathetic and interesting. If you’re looking for a story with a deeper meaning (though I don’t necessarily agree that Ender’s Game lacks one), Speaker is unlikely to disappoint.

  • I loved Ender’s Game, but I loved Speaker for the Dead even more. Ender is cooler as an adult, I thought. Xenocide kinda disappointed me. Kinda lost me down a rabbithole or something.

  • Here’s a third vote for Speaker. Keep trucking through the Ender series and you’ll find it only gets better. In the same way that The Hobbit was a children’s book opener for LOTR, Ender’s Game is the opener for the rest of the Ender series. You’re only at the start of a long and complex story.

  • A lifelong science fiction buff, I somehow came late to Orson Scott Card and the Ender’s series until last Christmas when I was gifted with two volumes and a friend offered a third.
    I have to say I was thoroughly “Ender’d out” by the time I finished fighting my way through the third book.
    The fate of the world hinges on a big room full of precocious children who freeze each other’s legs with energy beams and create brilliant new formations in zero gravity that will win the day?
    By the time I was done with this tedious trilogy, I was rooting for the buggers.

  • LOL @ Felix.

    Card is a very successful writer, but not a very good writer. His uninspired use of language and repetitive themes get tiresome fairly soon. I made it through four Card novels, with Speaker being the most readable. He has a new exploitation of Ender out, but I won’t be picking it up. Card appears to be determined to write a novel about every minor character in Ender. Not a good idea.

  • Nikolos

    Having read all of the Shadow coninuation novels and all four Ender books I look back and find that I enjoyed first book the best, the second second best, the third third best and so on. Having also read other series by Card I have noticed I feel the same way towards those books as well (I call it the Scott Card Downward Curve). Hopefully I didn’t just piss anyone off.

  • I love OSC, but his writing is hit-or-miss, for sure. I *really* liked Speaker for the Dead, so it is hard for me to say whether it is better or worse than Ender’s Game, but the whole thing definitely went downhill after that. I still enjoyed it, but not as much. And the Shadow books seemed like a neat idea, but it turns out — not so much.