Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Science Fiction
There are books out there everyone has read, or at the very least, has some awareness of said book’s existence. Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi classic, Ender’s Game, is without a doubt one of those exceptional books. Ender’s Game started as a prequel to the book Card actually wanted to write, Speaker for the Dead, but ended up becoming his most successful novel by leaps and bounds. Its popularity has spawned a movie and massive franchise of books that stem from the events of Ender’s Game. The real question is: How do the story, writing, and questions Ender’s Game brings to the table stand up for today’s readers? Lets jump in and find out!
Violence: Violence is probably the most significant content related issue in this book. There is a fair amount of it and the consequences of those violent acts range in severity. There is one act of violence I’ll actually save for the “other negative content” section, but the rest is mostly simulation/virtual battles between different groups of students. The simulation battles are mostly non-lethal. However, there is a fair amount of lethal violence outside of the simulated battles. Ender is a kind kid, but strategic, so when he gets in a fight with a bully, he hurts the bully bad enough in hopes the bully will not want to ever fight Ender again. Unfortunately, some of these fights become lethal and children do die. Violence has a lot of meaning in this novel and always serves a purpose, but it’s still difficult to read. Additionally, Ender’s brother, Peter, is shown to be highly violent and, while not described in any real detail, tortures small animals.
Sexual content: Nothing explicitly intended as sexual, but please see my comments in “language/crude humor.”
Drug/alcohol use: None.
Spiritual content: Orson Scott Card is a practicing Mormon and tends to insert religion into all of his books, from my understanding; however, it is not a major component of Ender’s Game. Ender’s mother and father are Mormon and Catholic, respectively, and there are occasional mentions of religion, but its limited and not a major theme in the story.
Language/crude humor: Some language, such as a** and s***, and some lesser terms kids use to pick on each other. There’s some crude humor, with instances of kids say things, “you like X person’s butt!” However, it’s meant as a form of bullying and not meant to be sexual.
Other negative content: As you have probably seen a few times above, bullying is a major theme within the story. Ender is often bullied and ostracized by certain groups. A major bully in Ender’s life is his own brother, Peter. Ender and smaller children are often targeted by older kids on a regular basis.
The story tackles some pretty major themes, from global politics to xenophobia. One of those major themes can’t be removed from this content section, but I want to emphasize it is a major plot spoiler. Please tread carefully in the next paragraph if you do not want a major moment spoiled for you as a reader.
*Begin Major Spoiler* The book asks a lot of big questions, and one of the biggest is about genocide/xenocide: Is it justified to commit xenocide if it means xenocide is not committed against you? Do the means justify the ends? Xenocide does take place during the book, and Ender is manipulated and tricked into committing it. Ender becomes deeply disturbed by this, and decides genocide is wrong and not worth it. *End Major Spoiler*
Positive themes: There are a lot of positive themes to take away from this book. Ender is consistently ostracized, intentionally and unintentionally, but he always finds a friend or someone to care for him. There are many themes of bravery, overcoming the odds, and friendship throughout the narrative.
Most people I know have read Ender’s Game in some capacity. It’s quite incredible the different circumstances that have brought some readers to this book. I know students who have had to read this book for class, and I know some who work with/in the military and have had to read it. That proves that while this book is labeled as Young Adult, it very much covers serious themes.
As for me, I picked it up randomly. I read it for the first time a few years back when the movie was being released, and I have read it one more time since then. I was absorbed into Ender’s Game and had a really hard time putting it down. I then listened to the audiobook a month back and was equally absorbed. While I have a couple of nitpick issues with it, I can easily ignore them and enjoy a great story.
Ender’s Game follows the story of Andrew Wiggin, nicknamed Ender, and how he navigates Battle School: An international military training school that takes the best and brightest children and turns them into space fleet commanders. In a way, Ender was bred for this. His parents are geniuses and they produced two other genius children, Ender’s siblings Peter and Valentine. Unfortunately, Peter is too violent and dangerous, and Valentine is too soft and sweet. Ender is the perfect balance as the third child, strategic and driven, but also compassionate. The leaders at the Battle School know this and intend on developing him into a great admiral to take on the “buggers,” which are the enemies of Earth that attacked our planet twice before and is the whole reason for the existence of the international space fleet and Battle School. The constant fear of another bugger invasion is why Earth needs someone like Ender at the command of Earth’s fleets.
Ender is an extremely likable and relatable character. He isn’t perfect. He struggles with his own fears and limitations. He wants to do what is right and meet the expectations of others. Ender is an outcast, though; a “third,” which is a third child in a society with population controls. Families are only permitted to have two children, unless given special permission by the government, which Ender’s family received. Ender is treated poorly by his brother and others for being a “third.” He is also mistreated for his aptitude and gifted intelligence. Something we see all too well in today’s society. Ender must grapple under these pressures and Card does a fantastic job of making the reader feel for Ender and his struggles. I really came to care for Ender and wanted life to ease up on him a little, and thankfully I got that… sometimes.
I liked the other characters in the story well enough. I think only a few really got to be fleshed out. Most were there for Ender to advance his story, making them a little shallow. I didn’t mind this too much, but if you are a reader who wants all characters to be very fleshed out, you won’t get it with this book. Some were stronger though. The author had a side narrative with Peter and Valentine that was very interesting, and I will go into more detail later. While I cared about the other characters at the Battle School, they were fairly unremarkable. I credit Card’s engaging writing style with keeping me hooked on the story so I could overlook a set of shallow characters.
My one major nitpick with the characters, and the world for that matter, is that the kids at the battle school are young. As I’ve said in other reviews, believability is big for me. Ender was six years old when he entered battle school, but had the thoughts and intelligence of someone in their 30’s. I understand this was defended in the narrative by emphasizing these kids are geniuses. At times, they do actually act like kids, particularly with how they tease each other. Alas, I was never really convinced. Ender did age a little in the narrative, but he never really emotionally grew up in my mind. Honestly, he never needed to because he always thought like a man in his 30’s throughout the story. If Card made Ender a teenager rather than a young child, maybe I could believe it a little more. However, I was able overlook this and move on fairly easily.
Now, let’s talk about the Battle School. I love what Card did with it. It is the one element that made these kids feel like kids. It was truly a school in the sense that there were classes and education, but that’s not what mattered to them; the virtual battles and competition is what peaked their interest. This is just like how high school sports will often matter more to a student than actual classes. Card made the Battle School feel like its own culture, and I felt like I was there and knew how things operated. The Battle School, in my opinion, was world building well done.
The Battle School was also just fun to read. The virtual battles between the different groups of students was fun and competitive. Ender was also inventive on how to outwit his opponents in the virtual battles. It created fun and tense situations throughout the plot that kept me hooked. Well done, Orson Scott Card, well done!
That isn’t the only thing Card did well. As I said above, there is the side narrative of Peter and Valentine. They use the internet and fake online personas back on Earth while their brother is at Battle School to manipulate the global world order. It’s a slow progressing side story and fun to read. The two siblings of Ender take on this endeavor because they see the only unifying factor on Earth is the fear of the buggers and they need to insert their voice on the matter. Once again, the believability is a little suspect because they are young, but wow, was Card WAY ahead of his time with this plot line. The book was written in 1985, and we can absolutely relate to this story line in the modern day.
Ender’s Game asks some big questions about how we as humans should react to situations. Some massive, such as xenocide (genocide more in our case), and some at a more micro level, like bullying. Card raises these questions for a secular world, but I believe as Christians we will need to be prepared to have an answer for them. As someone who focuses on Africa studies, the book made me dwell on the Rwandan genocide in the mid-90’s and my heart grew heavy. Genocide is still relevant, and we know bullying is very relevant in every corner of society. Many times the world will say, “the ends justify the means,” but we as Christians will have to observe scripture and say “no, the ends do not justify means.” It’s a challenging place for us to be, but God has empowered us to step into that space. Ender’s Game is a thought provoking book that challenges us to think about these issues and be prepared to give an answer.
Whew, that was a lot to think about, but that was Card’s goal with Ender’s Game. Despite all of these big themes, Ender’s Game is fun and exciting. The characters are truly enjoyable and it’s well worth the read. Do not be intimidated by the bigger themes. Enjoy the journey to Battle School and watch the rise of Ender Wiggin!
The Bottom Line