Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

A six year old science experiment--Andrew "Ender" Wiggin--is manipulated into saving the world in Card's breakout 1985 novel.  Control is a central element in Ender's life.  He is given little more than verisimilitude of choice.  While the sci-fi setting, alien invasion; the human race on the brink of extinction, is in place for a stereotypical save-the-world ordeal Card instead chooses to tell something unique, intimate and ultimately more satisfying than genre fair.  
Ender a is genetically engineered and enhanced child born and breed for no other purpose than saving the world.  He has a special ability when it comes to understanding people and relationships.  His life has been scripted before his birth.  How he develops--alters or adheres--to the preordained path, is what's interesting.  He is consciously aware of how he is being molded and made to conform.  His own feelings remain conflicted as he is manipulated into thinking he has no choice in anything he does.
Ender doesn't think like an ordinary child nor an adult.  He processes information more like a computer than the rational, often dual natured, thought process of a human being.  He can predict reactions and then take definitive measures to achieve the results he desires.  Pushing the limits of what is able to foresee or expect is that drives him near the limits of his mental capacity. 
I have problems with novels that cast children in the lead and expect such great things from ones so young.  We primarily see Ender's family life, both with and without him, and his years in battle school where he trains to be a fleet commander to destroy the threat of invasion.  Ender's emotional maturity was difficult for me to reconcile.  The reader has to swallow a big pill in accepting the advanced intelligence in the children we encounter early on to avoid much eye-rolling in the latter half of the book.  To make this acceptance harder still, Ender is a bit of cry baby; a display of emotion that I felt incongruous with, well… everything.  On one hand we see him as a six-eleven year old who is in fact very sensitive.  On the other hand he is perhaps too rational and too efficient and calculating in thought to experience emotions with such frequency that would permit tears.      
For the backdrop of the novel to be so detailed, if only on a superficial level, (forbidden religions, internal struggle in unified international government, government funded education and no taxes to all families with no more than two children) I was surprised with Card's handling of all the other children who were deemed not fit for the prestigious battle school.  Ender's siblings, who were both thought to be 'the one' for a short time, are two of the world's most intelligent people and the government knowingly made them so.  The creators of these wunderkind can find no greater purpose than to send them to middle school and let them be regular kids?  Really?  Being brilliant ten and fourteen year olds, they plot to take control of the government and, over a course of many many years, are ultimately successful in achieving their goals.  That they were allowed to do so is one thing, but that they were never given any expectation at all with their enhanced intelligence was an oddity to me. Particularly so in a government as ruthless and capable as the one Card has established.     
Ender has some identity problems that are wonderful to watch unfold.  He was breed to be part of each his older brother and sister.  His possession of both killer instinct and a sympathetic nature combine to make him resent himself and not only what he's been born to do but the only thing he is good at: wagging war.  Ironically, combat is the only place he feels comfortable in his own skin.
The eponymous 'games' that Ender plays end up being the novel's--and the plot's--salvation.  I don't know that I've ever read a story where the author gives up so much of the plot's happening without the reader knowing until after-the-fact.  In an unexpected twist, the device also brings closure to the story and stops it from meandering in the obscure, 'Land of Blah…'  There is also a seed of redemption and atonement for all of Ender's doing at the end that was most unexpected.  And the unfulfilled 'planting' of this seed will ensure that readers think about the novel long after it is finished.  
The writing is all around solid with no stand out features or flaws.  Plot conveniences exist to serve the story and that alone is an admirably acceptable excuse.  Despite any misgivings on my part the novel is a fantastic read: thoroughly satisfying and surprisingly sensitive.  I'd highly recommend it to all fans of fiction.  


Maria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria said...

I enjoyed Ender's Game a lot when I read it awhile back. I have to say though that the series only goes downhill from there. Speaker for the Dead is still pretty good, but I would probably stop reading the series there.

Marion said...

I agree with Maria--the series begins to degrade sharply; although the bond with his siblings does play out in those books.

Chad Hull said...

Okay Okay! I get it! Stop reading here!

I kinda pictured the sequels to be like The Matrix parts II and III (that is; not any good...).