The first time I was ever so absorbed in a book that I was literally disoriented by the familiar surroundings of my bedroom when I finished it, I was about 15 years old and reading “Ender's Game.” Orson Scott Card’s most famous book remains one of my all-time favorites, a book I can go back to and reread with nearly as much absorption and interest as the first time my dad lent it to me.
“Ender’s Game” is finally, after years of waiting, coming out as a movie this November, with Harrison Ford as a major character and Orson Scott Card himself as the guiding hand behind it.
“Ender’s Game” is a science fiction novel set on a not-too-distant future Earth. Humanity has already faced complete destruction by an alien race called “Formics” or “Buggers” (for their resemblance to ants), and is preparing itself for the aliens’ second invasion and for the political turmoil that is certain to take place when the enemy is defeated (if it ever is).
Forced to work together, the nations of the world have concluded that only children have the mental elasticity needed to defeat the enemy. So they have gathered genius children from across the planet and sent them to a military school in space, where they learn to lead their own armies in space-type battles. Andrew Wiggin (“Ender”) is one of these children: sent to Battle School at age six; rising meteorically through the ranks of hundreds of other geniuses; forced to fight for his life against bullies; never allowed to believe that he can depend on anyone but himself; pushed past his breaking point to learn to play a war game he doesn’t know is deathly real; ruthless in battle but, ultimately, so compassionate it nearly kills him.
The most enthralling part of the book is the battleroom and the games, or battles, the children fight there. The battleroom is a massive room with no gravity, and the children learn to maneuver themselves in it like individual spacecraft and to conduct and lead battles, to strategize, delegate, and command. Though the book is ultimately about a war, the battleroom and the games that take place there are the core and heart of the story.
A subplot involves Ender’s older brother and sister, Peter and Valentine, also geniuses of epic proportions, plotting to take over the world when the war with the Buggers is over. Orson Scott Card seems to have a great deal of political acumen, and his young geniuses, aged 10 and 12 at the beginning, cleverly manipulate newspapers, anonymous debates, and Internet-like forums to make their political alter-egos provocative and famous. They alter public ideas and eventually change economies and governments, until one of them is in position to become a world leader.
Following “Ender’s Game,” Card wrote two series that branched off in two different directions. The Ender series (“Speaker For The Dead,” “Xenocide,” “Children of the Mind,” and several prequels and short stories) follows Ender as he leaves the military, and Earth altogether, and travels with colonists out among the stars, to try to repair and atone for a great wrong he feels he has done. The Shadow series (“Ender’s Shadow,” “Shadow of the Hegemon,” “Shadow Puppets,” and “Shadow of the Giant”) follows one of Ender’s schoolmates and soldiers, a small boy named Bean, during the events of “Ender’s Game” and during the worldwide cataclysm that follows the second war with the Buggers.
I read the Ender series right after I read “Ender’s Game,” and frankly, I hated each book successively more as I went on. They became, to my teenaged mind, more and more confusing and depressing. I have not read them since. It would be interesting to read them again and see how my adult mind deals with them.
The Shadow books came out while I was in college, in the early 2000s, and I read them with greater enjoyment. “Ender’s Shadow” is particularly interesting and absorbing, because it, too, deals with Battle School but shows it all from the entirely different perspective of a young soldier. Bean has his own struggles and his own genius, greater than Ender’s in some ways and lesser in other ways.
I enjoyed each Shadow book successively less, as they delve more and more into political turmoils and wars on Earth as the children of the Battle School each return to their home nations and are caught up in those nations’ struggle for supremacy. However, though the end of the last book distressed me for personal reasons more than any book had ever distressed me before (I still resent Card for the end of that book), I never disliked any of them as much as I disliked the successive Ender books. Nor have I ever loved a book in quite the same way as I love “Ender’s Game.”
No doubt readers will flock back to the book after the movie comes out, and it is well worth it. Parents of young readers, however, should be warned that the book is riddled with foul language, and that many of the situations the children face are not childlike at all; some, in fact, are intensely traumatizing to the characters. Card doesn’t spare his readers anything, whatever their age. But “Ender’s Game” can be enjoyed by any teenager or adult who likes intense psychological, sociological, militaristic, or political science fiction. Or just science fiction in general.
Christy McDougall is a Web developer, writer, and aspiring missionary with bachelor's and master's degrees in Christian theology.