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Review of Ender's Game
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Review of ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card

by Becky Laney

Originally written in March 2003; Lightly Updated February 2005

Card, Orson Scott. 1985. Ender's game. New York: Tor. ISBN: 0-812-55070-6.

ENDER'S GAME is one of Orson Scott Card's most successful novels. It won two of the biggest awards in science fiction: the Hugo and the Nebula. It tells the story of a young boy, Andrew Wiggin, who overcomes a series of challenges on his quest to save the world. Andrew did not choose to take on this job title; he had no desire to be the one designated to "save the world", yet despite his unwillingness and ongoing frustrations with his life the job as "savior" remains his.

When the novel begins, the reader learns that Earth has been "attacked" by an alien species twice. They are preparing to "defend" themselves in case of a third invasion by the buggers. In order to be prepared for the upcoming war, the military implants all babies with a monitor. They are looking for the world's smartest children. The military takes all children they deem worthy to a space station to raise. The children lose all contact with their families on Earth. The military's rigid structure becomes the only home these children know. The children learn to compete with one another. They learn to work together as a team. They learn that loyalty and obedience are the most important qualities. Friendship and love are not really considered "important" in the eyes of the military. One of the children the military selects is Andrew Wiggin. (Andrew is called Ender.)

Andrew Wiggin is a third child. In this futuristic setting, the world has strict population laws. Each family is allowed no more than two children. His status as a "third" means that he is object to scorn and ridicule by his peers. In actuality, the authorities have decided even before he was born that Ender would be a prominent candidate for battle school. He is the "best" child of his parents combining the strongest elements from their two previous children Peter and Valentine.

Andrew's life is not easy. It wasn't easy on Earth, and it wasn't made easier at Battle School. Early on Ender learns that the only person he can depend on in this life is himself. He cannot wait for adult supervision or help. The military encourages and supports this idea. They continually keep placing Ender in situations to prove that this is indeed the case. This threatens the life of Ender and his peers. When Ender goes up against a bully--either on Earth or in space--it is a life and death situation. Ender does not like confrontation. He doesn't like fighting. But when he's forced into the situation, he comes to the decision that it is better to get the job done well enough the first time so there would be no repeats later on. This leads to the death of two bullies. Ender, innocent as he is, never realizes that he's killed his peers.

In Battle School, the children are learning military skills in and out of the classroom. In addition to their schoolwork, the children are organized into armies. Each army has a name and status. The armies battle one another in a gravity-free battle room. Social status is determined by how well your army is doing. While the battle room standings are "important" and "significant" to most students, Ender realizes that it is just a game. He knows that the fellow students are not the "enemy"; the real enemy is the alien invaders. He learns vital skills from his time in the armies--both as a member and a commander--but he always remembers that there is something much larger at work in the world.

Ender while very intelligent remains very na´ve in some areas. He is only aware of information that he can deal with effectively. Subconsciously he is battling throughout his training. For example, when he enters command school he remains unaware of reality. He becomes so focused on his training. He becomes frustrated. It is almost like he was losing control of his mind. Many feared that he would become too broken to fight. Yet he remains pulled together long enough to "save" the world.

In actuality, the reader learns that Earth is not awaiting the third invasion. Earth is on the offensive. They are attacking the Buggers on their home worlds. Ender and his peers are not playing a "game" they are telling men and women battle plans to use. The computer simulations the children are seeing actually represent real space ships and real men and women fighting for their survival. However, the children remain unaware that their decisions effect the lives of others. Their game is costing people their lives. Ender feels a heavy presence--a heavy weight on his shoulders. But he is not aware of what he is doing. When he learns the truth, he becomes very remorseful--very guilty.

His guilt weighs on him constantly. After the destruction of the Buggers home world-- and their hive queen, Ender and Valentine set off on a colony space ship. They are going to inhabit the captured planets of the Buggers. Ender learns that the Buggers were a peaceful species. However because they could not find a way to communicate with humans, they were destroyed. The buggers--the hive queen--spent her remaining time trying to find a way to telepathically communicate with Ender. This was accomplished through Ender's dreams and a computer game on the Battle Station. Ender learns their history--their hopes and dreams. He takes the pupa--the legacy of the buggers--and promises to bring the Buggers back into existence on a new planet where they will be safe. Ender takes all he has learned and uses it to his advantage. He is a better person because of all that has happened to him. He is a stronger person; he is a more compassionate person. This "killer" of an alien species becomes their strongest supporter and defender. The novel is a remarkable journey or exploration of the strengths and weaknesses of humanity.

The setting of Ender's Game takes place on Earth (North Carolina), a Battle Station, the planet Eros, and the Bugger home planet. It takes place several centuries in the future. Earth has faced many challenges. There had been two invasions of aliens that had been successfully won by humans. The world's population is controlled. There are several government changes in this futuristic world. There is a global military system in place to protect the planet. There is also the office of the Hegemon. National governments take a secondary role in the world. Politics are still a fundamental force in the world. The Battle Station is a space station. It is described as a cold, sterile, orderly place. (Not particularly a "homey" environment to "raise" children. It is free from love, compassion, or friendship.) The planet of Eros is a "secret" inhabited planet. It was formerly inhabited by the buggers. It is described as full of tunnels, dark caves, and low ceilings.The environment causes Ender severe emotional disturbance. Ender can almost "feel" the alien presence. The bugger home planet, on the other hand, is a place where Ender finds forgiveness and acceptance from the aliens. The hive queen went out of her way to prepare a place where Ender would feel comfortable. It was her way of expressing her forgiveness. Ender realized that the buggers had dwelt in his mind.

"In the agony of my tortured dreams they came to know me, even as I spent my days destroying them; they found my fear of them, and found also that I had no knowledge I was killing them. In the few weeks they had, they built this place for me . . . I am the only one they know, and so they can only talk to me, and through me. We are like you; the thought pressed into his mind. We did not mean to murder, and when we understood, we never came again. We thought we were the only thinking beings in the universe, until we met you, but never did we dream that thought could arise from the lonely animals who cannot dream each other's dreams. How were we to know? We could live with you in peace. Believe us, believe us, believe us. " (321)

Ender takes his new knowledge and his new friend with him in his space travels vowing to restore what damage he had done in the past through ignorance. The setting of this novel is well developed and crucial to the story.

So while Ender's Game is very dark it ends on a hopeful note. The military may have committed many mistakes and caused much damage to the minds of these children; but Ender overcomes all the challenges they made for him. He succeeds in spite of them.

The characters are also well developed. Ender, Peter, Valentine, Bean, Petra, Alai, and the fellow students are characters that are "real." Card excels in creating believable characters. There is no "bad" character that is intrinsically evil; there is no "good" character that is angelically good. All characters have strengths; all characters have weaknesses. Many of the characters --particularly Ender--grow and develop throughout the novel. The people he meets, the places he goes, the challenges he overcomes all contribute and shape who he is at the end of the novel. The reader can "see" the world through a variety of eyes. The reader gets the perspective of some of the key military figures, Peter and Valentine, and eventually the buggers. (The point of view changes from character to character. For example, the beginning of each chapter begins with a dialogue between two or more military leaders. The reader keeps up with Earth's activities through the eyes of Peter or Valentine. The buggers finally find their voice in Ender at the end of the novel.)

While it may have originally been written for adults, I believe--and research has shown--that it is a popular choice for young adults. Ender Wiggin is a young boy. At the beginning of the novel he is only six. By the conclusion, he is in his mid to late teens. Ender faces many challenges. He is the ultimate "outsider." He faces many of the challenges ascribed to the characteristics of a young adult novel at a much younger age. His parents are outside of the story. He is on his own. He's trying to find out who he is, why he's there, what his purpose is. He's on a character-developing quest.

ENDER'S GAME is well crafted and worthy of praise and attention. It highlights Card's strengths. It is incredible when you realize that the essence of this story came to him when he was only sixteen!!! With the movie in the process of being made, Ender's Game is sure to be receiving some well-deserved attention.

Orson Scott Card Author Study (Paper)

Other sites about ENDER'S GAME:

Ender's Game (Fan Site): http://www.ender.com/ender/

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