Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Ender Wiggin is the specially-commissioned brilliant third child in a family tracked for its ability to create brilliant children. His older brother was too violent, his older sister too passive, and the hope is that Ender (like that third bowl of porridge) will be just right. With the fate of the Earth resting on his six-year-old shoulders, Ender is shipped off to a boarding school in space where the planet’s brightest children are being trained to win an intergalactic war. Cut off from everything he loves and everyone he knows, the powers that be put him through a gauntlet in hopes of turning him into the greatest general the galaxy’s ever seen. Socially isolated, younger than everyone, and pushed to his limits, can little Ender save the world?
This might be the most perfectly written book I have ever read. Nothing is extraneous. The conversations between Ender’s handlers about the ethical implications of what they’re doing, the political subplot with Ender’s brother and sister back on Earth, each army and leader Wiggin learns from or comes up against; it all feeds into the central story. It is so tightly plotted that at times one feels like Wile E. Coyote: you’ve run right off the cliff and extra ten feet before the full impact of what’s happened hits you. My only regret is that I waited so long to read it. Because it seemed like “a boy book” with its soldiers-in-space cover, I’m not big into war stories. This is not a war story: it’s a story about the making of a hero and what that costs at every level.
What I love most about the book is the social dynamic when Ender reaches his training academy. He has been marked for greatness, and intentionally set apart. There are people who take offense and oppose him simply because of this, others who are indifferent, others who are willing to befriend him and share what they know. Card includes a range of ethnicities, belief systems, and moral codes. This is a school for brilliant children, and Card understands at a fundamental level the social structure that exists among the gifted. Where they are blessed and where they fall short, and the things they need that are often overlooked. I could easily devote an entire Character Study to breaking down each of the people Ender encounters at the academy and how they contribute to his future.
My only quibble is the treatment of women in the book. There are only three of significance: Ender’s mother, Ender’s sister Valentine, and sharp-shooter classmate Petra. Ender’s mother is little more than a caricature: sad to lose her baby boy, secretly religious, the end. Valentine is basically uninterested in war despite her brilliance, and acts as a human blankie for Ender when needed. While she does have some impressive political accomplishments, they are basically spearheaded and engineered by her brother Peter. Petra is an exceptional shot, unable to rise higher in the ranks because that is the only area in which she shines. She is also used as “weakest link” at one point in the story. Card writes at one point early on that evolution had made girls softer and less-suited to military success. Um. That irked me. Methinks your Mormonism is showing.
Still. The book is an A+, and I’m passing my copy directly on to my brother.