Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Humanity survived the second Bugger invasion by pure luck. Now they’re determined to be prepared for a third invasion and actively train children in Battle School, seeking the child who could be the commander to save humanity. They think Ender, with his ability to perceive and understand null gravity spaces, just might be that commander, but Ender isn’t so sure.
Card has created a rich, complex, entirely believable future where individual sacrifice is vital to the survival of the human species. This goal makes the adults’ treatment of the children in Battle School justifiable and allows Card to create a story where children are simultaneously treated as adults and misled by them. Adults will recognize the feeling of being pawns to those in control of society. Children and young adults will appreciate that the children characters are treated as adults in smaller bodies. It’s a fun narrative set-up.
The world-building is excellent. The complex scenes of the Battle School, Battle Room, and videogames the children play are all so clearly drawn that the reader truly feels as if she is there. Readers who also enjoy videogames will particularly enjoy the multiple videogame sequences in which the narrative action switches focus to the videogame. This isn’t just for fun, either. It’s an important feature that comes to play later in the book. In fact, it’s really nice to see videogaming being featured in a future as something important to society and not just recreational. It’s a logical choice to make in scifi too, as the military is moving increasingly toward using weapons that are manned by soldiers behind the lines with videogame-like controls.
These fantastic scenes are all set against a well-thought-out human society reaction to multiple alien invasions. In spite of the threat of a third invasion, there is still violent nationalism brewing under the surface. Politicians must worry about their image. Dissenting voices can be heard on the internet. The teachers of the Battle School must worry about the retributions for their actions, even as they make the choices that will hopefully save humanity. The people in this future are still people. They act in the sometimes stupid and sometimes brilliant ways people act. They don’t miraculously become super-human in the face of an alien threat. I really enjoyed this narrative choice, as I get really sick of the super-human trope often found in scifi.
The ending….I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to make up my mind on how I feel about the ending. I definitely didn’t guess it ahead of time, which is a nice change, but I can’t decide how I feel about it. The fact is, I liked part of it, and I didn’t like another part of it. I think I may have found the ultimate message a bit too idealistic, and Ender too gullible.
Here’s the thing. The Bugger queen claims that the Buggers didn’t know that humans were sentient creatures, and Ender believes her, but I call bullshit. Humans and Buggers built cities that were similar enough so that humans could live in Bugger buildings. In spite of being drastically different from an evolutionary stand-point, it’s still obvious that humans were sentient enough to build cities and spaceships. That should have been a warning sign. So ultimately, I view the queen larva and message to Ender as a last-ditch effort to come back from the brink of extinction and beat humanity, and Ender fell for it. Of course I don’t want to argue for the extinction of an entire species. I’m a vegetarian. I’m pretty much against the killing of species of any kind, but the fact remains that the Buggers attacked humans twice. What were they supposed to do? Sit back and let themselves get wiped out? I’m not one of these nutters who says don’t kill the polar bear attacking you, and in this case, the polar bear had already attacked twice. I like the message of a possible peaceful coexistence, but I don’t think it was very realistic in that world, and I was left feeling that Ender didn’t really learn anything from his experience.
Overall, however, Card has achieved near perfection in telling a unique, scifi story. The world is entrancing and draws the reader in, and the reader is left with multiple philosophical questions to ponder long after finishing reading the book. It is a book I definitely plan on re-reading, and I highly recommend it to scifi and videogaming fans.
5 out of 5 stars