Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ender's Game

Third, they called him. In a world where it was illegal to have more than two children, the term was as equally embarrassing as it was derogatory. Maybe Ender Wiggin was a special exception but, exception or not, his peers were not about to let him forget what he was.

Ender, however, was unconcerned.  As long as that monitor remained nestled in the back of his neck, he had nothing to fear from them.

Inserting monitors into children had become a common practice since the second “Bugger” invasion. When the insect-like aliens invaded the first time, humanity had just barely won; the second time, it was literally won by a happy accident, a brilliant general being in the right place at the right time.

Happy accidents do not happen twice, so the International Fleet started the Battle School. The more promising children of the monitor trials would go on to the school as young as six years old to be trained as future captains and generals.

Ender does have nothing to fear, until they remove the monitor and inform him that he’s been accepted at the School. To the officials at the School, he is more than promising; one could have as many well trained captains and generals as they liked, but in order to win a war against a higher-intelligence alien species, one would need an Alexander the Great. That’s just what Ender has the potential to be.

There’s only one problem: Ender may have the intelligence to keep the most well-educated adults on their toes, but when all’s said and done, he's still just a small child, and a very sensitive one at that.

Ender is the type of child who would never turn himself into a military genius on his own, so the School will have to do it themselves, and the moral dilemma begins. Whether the officials are right or wrong in their treatment of Ender and the other students of the Battle School is by no means an easy question to answer. Lazy readers, be warned, Orson Scott Card is a merciless author, thoroughly fleshing out both sides of the argument and expecting his readers to put forth the effort to figure it out on their own.

Dilemmas rarely have only two faces to them, however, and with this particular case there are certainly several issues on the table to be considered. Card is quite comfortable with his craft, and he doesn’t mind using it like the plaything that it is. The ideas he uses to express the many issues throughout the story are usually quite cliché, such as distrust of authority, children vs. adults, etc; but Card applies them to his advantage, tossing them around half-seriously, sometimes using them to deceive the reader, or even completely inverting them.

As a science-fiction novel, Ender’s Game takes the path less trodden. Instead of working with societies, causes, or philosophical ideas on a whole it takes a more personal approach, looking at it all through more or less Ender’s eyes. In a way one could call it “layman’s sci-fi”; you don’t need to be acquainted with Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, etc., or to have even heard of them, to appreciate the personal plight of Ender, the Battle-School’s problems, or the war with the “Buggers”. Science-fiction veterans may be tempted to get nitpicky on some details (like the impossibility of “Ansible” communications), but even they should value Card’s ability to tell a decent space-faring yarn.

As a quick ending note to this review, if you can get a hold of the Sound Library audiobook, do so. It is more than worth the extra trouble. As a devoted lover of audiobooks myself, I can honestly say that Card is one of the few authors I have met who are a joy to listen to. He was a playwright before he was a novelist, and he himself admits that his words are more often meant to be heard, not read. Furthermore, the Sound Library version is just about one of the most well-done audiobooks I have heard to date. So, again, I encourage you to put forth the extra effort, even if you believe that listening to audiobooks is a sin against reading (I have heard the arguments, that reading is better than listening, etc. I won't address them now, but I might someday when I get the chance).

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