Ender's Game by Card, Orson S., 1985


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Military SF it seems is enjoying quite a renaissance these days. Though I have not yet read any of the new stuff, it seem that series like the Honor Carrington books, and the 1632, -3, -4 novels are doing really well. I even noticed the other day that Hammer's Slammers has been reprinted with some new interstitial material by Night Shade Books. SF tank warfare at its best! But as for me Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card really takes the cake because it is a very well drawn military SF novel, but it is also so much more. Five out of five stars.

This is essentially the story of a 6 year-old prodigy named Andrew "Ender" Wiggin who is discovered after a generations long search for a person with the mental qualities to be a military commander worthy of the greatest war in our history. Ender is a "third," or the illegal third child of a couple in a population controlled world. Ender's two older siblings are his loving and somewhat enabling sister Valentine, and his despotic, psychotic older brother, Peter. In this society all children are monitored in their early development by electronic means, and the brightest and the best are taken to Battle School to be trained to fight the buggers. Ender is selected because he has a little bit of Peter's brutality and a little bit of sister's compassion fused with his own pratical genius. Ender is whisked off to Battle School first where he bests virtually every team and tactic thrown at him, then Command School where he is trained by the world's last military genius, Mazer Rackham. In the end Ender is tricked about the nature of his training in a way that you will only understand by reading the book for yourself.

The setting is several hundred years in the future, after two waves of invasion by a race of creatures called the Buggers, a hive race with central control from a series of queens located on the Bugger home planet. The Buggers apparently have the ability to communicate over any distance telepathically. The queens of any particular colony or fleet make all the calls, and the numerous drones carry out the orders whether they are on the same planet or 200 light years away. To fight the buggers it was decided generations ago to launch fleets of cruisers toward the known Bugger worlds, including their home-world. Since the buggers owned so many planets, staggered fleets were sent out so that they would all arrive at roughly the same time. This was because one person would be commanding all of the various fleets, and the battles had to occur while that person was in the fittest condition possible. Ender was transferred to Command School before the first flights got to the closer targets. Using a device called an Ansible (an instantaneous communications device of human invention the name of which was stolen from Ursula K. LeGuin) Ender is trained to attach and defeat the Bugger installations and win the war for humanity. As it turns out, our victory is basically genocide for the buggers.

The concept for this story was first written by Card in 1977. He was awarded with the Nebula for the best novella that year, and by 1985 he had expanded it into this novel. Since then he has written at least a half-dozen sequels, and the series has become one of the most loved and most award winning in the history of the genre. As with Dune, its hard to find even a non-genre reader who has not at least heard of this book. In addition to being quite a riveting military story, its also a fantastic coming of age story. It is basically the story of ten years of Ender's life from a very capable and intelligent six year old to the worlds greatest living copy of Alexander the Great, at 16 years old. Its also the story of the conflict between one little boy and a huge government (represented by a man named Graff) with a single minded purpose: To produce a military genius. To do this Graff has to get Ender to emphasize those elements of he personality he hates, which are pretty much the elements that are like Peter. But they have to do it without destroying the psychological influence of Valentine, which is his more empathetic side. So the big question that this book tackles is how do you bring out the greatest of someone's potential? And, what if the greatest potential is the antithesis of what the person really wants to be? But the goal of the Battle School program is to produce a military genius, so on another level the book is about youth's tendency to hate those with authority over them because authority seems to be treating them unfairly.

The motifs that run strongest thorough the book however are the psychologies of learning and teaching, but most importantly the psychology of desperation. Nobody knows if the Buggers are going to attack again, or even what they thought about the last two wars. We don't even know if they think we are intelligent. On top of that, the battle fleets will be arriving very shortly, and if there is no commander, the war will be lost and Earth could eventually be taken. Graff has to deal not only with the very real possibility that Ender will burn out early, and that he will fail and no time will be left to train someone else, but that the rigorousness of his training will actually kill him.

There is lots more in this book than what is here. Valentine and Peter begin a scam that is carried out to the highest levels in subsequent novels. Ender begins one of the most beautiful professions at the end of the novel to atone for murdering a race (and yes, it turns out to be murder). The politics of the Hegemony versus its only rival, the Warsaw Pact. The Battle School sequences of training with armies in a zero-G room are right out of the danger room too. This is one that reveals something new to me each time I read it. Its on the top of my list, and its another one I cannot recommend enough.

Copyright 2007, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 5 star(s)


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