Saturday, 7 September 2013

Orson Scott Card - Ender's Game (1985)

There’s nothing worse than discovering one of your heroes isn't what he seemed to be and, not only that, he doesn't even hold up to what your standards of a ‘human being’ should be.

As a science fiction author, a genre that investigates societal issues in alternate realities in order to explode our understanding of what we always deemed to be 'the norm', I always assumed that Card was of the pro-scientific and anti-conservative community. I was wrong and maybe I shouldn't even be reviewing this book. But there are many artists, amongst others, that I admire aesthetically without agreeing with their moral compass or even liking them on any other level.

Here is where the Death of the Author enters my realm of criticism and review: the author is irrelevant to me as the reader. While I may feel for the characters within Card’s novels, this does not mean that I will ever agree with his oppressive religious mumbo-jumbo.

This is all by-the-by, because it’s obvious that I’m going to review the book. It's brilliant and it’s a classic of the 80s sci-fi concern with the Cold War.

The book provides an interesting look into the idea of the ‘child soldier’ and the alien amorality that we find explored in books like Peter Pan and Lord of the Flies.

For Ender, as he calls himself, his life has been one of isolation. A 'third' child in a society that forbids more than two children per family, Ender is reviled by his schoolmates as well as his older brother, Peter. Ender, his brother Peter and his sister Valentine are child geniuses destined to rise to the very top of Earth's communistic society. 

The children were all commissioned by Earth's dept. of defense. Peter was the first child commissioned, but when the army realised that he had psychopathic tendencies his status as an army investment was terminated. Valentine, the next child, was loving, caring and as unlike Peter as anyone could be—her status as a possible soldier was terminated even earlier. Ender was the third child commissioned by the army. At the age of 6, Ender is recruited into Earth's top military school. His purpose in this school? To pre-empt an attack by a race of aliens who had almost managed to destroy Earth’s civilisation, twice.

The novel follows two parallel story lines: Ender’s development as a child soldier, and Peter and Valentine's evolving relationship and entrance, as hyper-intelligent children, onto the international political stage.

Throughout the novel, Ender is placed in a series of regiments made up of child soldiers and set up to fight against his bunk mates. Each bunk mate is destined to be a military commander of some kind. They are smart, fit and wholly trained to be leaders, and killers, of humankind. In each regiment, Ender is forced to fight for his right to survive among his fellow soldiers (both boys and girls), and eventually, through sheer force of charisma, intelligence, imagination and gut instinct, become the supreme soldier and leader.

As Ender becomes a killer, a child-man capable of atrocities in the name of survival, his brother and sister form themselves into the political leaders of Earth's online communities. They parallel Ender’s compassion and understanding as well as his expedience and viciousness through rhetorical strategies that dominate both the ‘right’ and ‘left’ wing political communities.

In many ways, Valentine and Peter mirror the two mindsets that the reader can see in Ender’s thoughts. Ender’s compassionate side is what allows him to capture the hearts and minds of his fellow soldiers, but it is his ruthless nature that provokes their fear of him and their inability to ever become his friends.  

Both story lines attempt to discuss the barbarism of children and adults, and the influence that true compassion has in a world of hard lines, blacks and whites, and “us” versus “them” mentalities. In this world of forbidden religions and child soldiers there are still whispers of “salaam” and blessings in the night, there are peaceful Valentines to balance and humanise the wilful aggression of the Peters. It is this philosophical underpinning that made me so horrified to know that Card is himself a man who believes in ‘blacks versus whites’ and ‘us versus them’. If there is a book that advocates tolerance, peace, equality and understanding—it is this book.

Other recommended books by this author: Speaker for the Dead, Seventh Son, Wyrms, Songbird


  1. Me too. I read this book some years ago. It was a gripping read. Highly intelligent. I would like now to read it again.

    1. It's definitely worthwhile! I'm still debating whether or not to see the movie....