Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card revolves around a young boy, Ender Wiggin, who is selected to train to become a fleet commander to protect earth from an alien invasion. The training takes place at a distant Battle School in space where the young and brilliant Ender is repeatedly pushed to his limits to mold him into what he is needed to be, to become the next commander and win the war against the invaders.
I’ve read Ender’s Game 5 or 6 times in the last 15 years, and recently listened to the audiobook. I honestly think that Ender’s Game is the best piece of science fiction I have ever read. Card is unusual as a science fiction writer in that he delves deeply into the psychology of his main characters and their complex inter-relationships. Nothing is as black and white as it may seem. There is goodness and honor in Ender’s enemies as well as a willingness to manipulate and kill in Ender. Ender is constantly faced with hard choices upon which his survival and the fate of the planet depend.
An important subplot takes place on earth between Ender’s good sister Valentine and his sociopathic brother Peter, also young children. The two equally brilliant siblings take advantage of the anonymity of the net to pose as adults and publish opposing politcal articles, building strong followings and ultimately influencing the shape of world government. What is remarkable is that Card first published Ender’s Game as a short story in 1985, well before the Internet became publicly available. In fact, the vision of the Net that Card lays out in Ender’s game is just now beginning to be realized, some 20 years later. That two people could move nations by their writings on the web is plausible, whereas when this book was written it was still very much a fantasy. Card related in an interview that he had played around with an early version of Delphi and was inspired by the possibilities he saw.
The first time I read this book it was for a management class on leadership and training – how to provide an environment where people around you could grow professionally. I found most of the book brutal to read, especially the first chapter in which Ender is being tormented by his brother. The cruelty, ambition, win-at-any-cost world portrayed was not (and is not) the world I wanted to see. Yet it is against this stark background that Ender and Valentine’s moral centers shine. So perhaps it is an effective narrative device needed to create the core conflict of the story. Without conflict, we would all sit around, smile, and drink tea; there would be no story to tell. Ender’s trials at the Battle School are riveting and once I made it that far into the book I couldn’t put it down.
In the last chapter of Ender’s Game the entire premise of the book is shaken and we are set up for the next stage of Ender’s Life in the sequel, Speaker for the Dead. The Ender Wiggin series is actually five books, with Ender’s Game representing maybe 5% of the total, more like a prologue. The whole series is fantastic. In this world there is so much room for story and character development that Card writes a completely different version of the events of Ender’s Game from the perspective of one of the other characters in Ender’s Shadow and its sequel Shadow of the Hegemon.
If you are considering the audiobook, I highly recommend it. It is unabridged and several voices are effectively used for the characters and narration.
Look for the movie Ender’s Game to come out in the next few years; there’s one in the works. If they do it right I predict it will be the next Star Wars or Matrix.