> This was the winner for the May poll, and so here you go readers – you’ll be happy to know that I really enjoyed this book. I’m warning you though – even though this book is only about 220 pages long, I have a LOT to say.
Ender’s Game is about a child named Andrew Wiggen, called Ender as a nickname. The setting in the book is America, though in the future – space travel / war is not uncommon, what seems to be iPads are used by EVERYONE, even kids, and technology just seems more advanced. However, the world is still weirdly familiar – references to the U.S., Russia, Islam, school, insurance, and a couple other modern-day things that I don’t normally see in sci-fi books. Ender is picked on a lot for being a “Third” – in this time, parents are only allowed to have two childen, but he’s their third. Since Ender’s parents seemed particularly good at producing genius children, they had them conceive a third time. Genetic experimintation has been going on for decades to try to create the perfect military commander to defeat “the buggers” – aliens that have been at war with Earth for about a century.
Ender is picked on a lot – he’s small for being almost 6 years old, and being a Third makes him an outcast. Also, children have “monitors” implanted at a very young age so the military can see what kind of person they are and what their intellect is like. Ender’s picked on for having his implant a lot longer than normal, meaning that the military is interested in him. He’s also picked on by his brother Peter, who has clear psychopathic tendancies and hates that Ender is still being monitored, but he’s not. Ender’s one consolation is his sister Valentine, who protects Ender and also deals with Peter’s scariness. All three of them are super-genius children.
The story starts off when Ender gets his monitor removed. He’s relieved, hoping that he won’t be picked on by every one now. He just wants to be normal. Unfortunately, the opposite happens – now that he’s no longer monitored, the kids can actually hurt him worse without fear of being discovered. That day at school Ender is confronted with a bully named Stilson, who he fights. Surprisingly, he wins, and then continues to beat Stilson even after falling so that people will know not to try to bully him anymore.
It’s after this fight that Colonel Graff comes to Ender’s house and offers him a position at Battle School – something a lot of kids aspire to. He accepts, and from there travels to space to go through Battle School and prepare to fight the buggers. There have been two bugger invasions and it’s a constant fear of everyone’s that the third invasion will be successful and humankind will be eliminated.
There are a lot of things I enjoyed about this book. At the beginning of each chapter are snippets of conversation among some of the military leaders, talking about the ways they are trying to manipulate Ender and hoping that he is the miracle that will save them from the buggers. I liked those little behind-the-scenes moments. I also really enjoyed Ender’s character. As a child, he’s a genius but he’s also incredibly compassionate. When forced to fight and hurt Stilson, he’s regretful that it had to happen if he wanted bullies to stop picking on him. He only hurts those who want to hurt him, and he’s never happy about it – but he is smart enough to make sure that he’s ruthless about it, so those same people don’t just try again. His high intelligence and the descriptions of various tactics and manipulations of people he uses in Battle School were fascinating. I will say this though – that while I really liked Ender and admire a LOT about him, his conscious was a little TOO conflicted for my taste. If you have to hurt someone and succeed, fine – but don’t spiral into some deep emotional conflict about it.
There’s also a sidestory about what his siblings are doing while he’s away. I won’t go into it too much here, except that it’s important for the set-up for the next books.
Now, to address some of the controversies surrounding this book. Let’s start with the racism issues. Here is the passage that invites a whole lot of criticism and debate (on page 45 in my copy):
They grinned. Then Ender said, “Better invite Bernard.”
Alai cocked an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“That little slanty-eyed butt-wiggler?”
Ender decided that Alai was joking. “Hey, we can’t all be n******.”
Alai grinned. “My grandpa would’ve killed you for that.”
“My great great grandpa would have sold him first,”
“Let’s go get Bernard and Shen and freeze these bugger-lovers.”
Obviously, I put those stars there myself – in the book, that racial slur is spelled out. The use of the N-word, in any book, is always jarring for me. It’s a word I can’t stand, I can’t even think of while reading without feeling uncomfortable. It drew so much attention that some years later, Orson Scott Card himself changed it in all future reprints – that passage is now gone. According to Card, the intention of this passage was to show Ender telling his friend Alai not to be racist by used the term “slanty-eyed”. But Card saw how many people were talking about the use of the N-word and decided that it was distracting too much from the story, so he removed it. I have to say – I don’t know why this passage was in here to begin with. Card doesn’t really give any physical descriptions of any of the characters except in relating to their size. In fact, until this passage I didn’t realize that Alai is apparently a person of color. Before this passage, I had no idea what the race of ANY of the characters was, including Ender. So I don’t know why he chose to bring race into the story in this passage, and then drop the matter entirely the rest of the book. And no, I don’t really consider it censorship because he chose to remove it himself – and I’m glad he did. It had ZERO relevance to the story and it really did distract from the flow of the book.
The other major controversy about this book is that it justifies the use of violence among children. I understand that parents don’t like to expose their children to violence in movies, books, music, etc. I get that. I don’t however understand the trend among parents these days of teaching their children that if someone hits them, to not hit back. I fully support self-defense, and in the book Ender is completely right; if he didn’t hurt his bullies worse than any one thought possible of him, he would have KEPT being bullied. Then after the fight, Ender suffers emotionally because he doesn’t WANT to hurt anyone, but it was necessary for his own self-preservation. This is a perfect example to younger people to defend themselves but to never feel good about fighting. Seriously, maybe adults should hand a copy of this book to the kids being bullied a lot these days.
Anyways, this is a great book. I got really wrapped up in it, and can’t wait to discuss it with a friend of mine, who’s been recommending it for years. I also can totally see why this book is recommended reading for the Marine Corps – it displays a compassionate, intelligent person who isn’t cruel, but who is a brilliant tactian and strategist and knows earn loyalty from his troops. All that being said – I don’t know if I’ll read the rest of the series. Ender is a great character and the ending was interesting, but this IS the most celebrated book of the series. I’m not sure the rest of the series will be as great… and not sure I want to keep reading Card. His recent outspoken anti-gay sentiments are a real turn-off. I may read the sequel if I find it used somewhere, or on a whim if it’s at the library. We’ll see.
Sarah Says: 4.5 stars