Is This Really For Kids?: Ender’s Game

enders-game-novel-coverFor some strange reason, I was under the impression that Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game was a work of children’s literature. Turns out that it is not, although I can see how it might be marketed as such. Ender’s Game is a fully realized work of science fiction, not that young adult/children’s literature is somehow inferior or more poorly written. What I mean is that Card’s novel has a complex plot, a number of motifs and recurrent themes, along with an ending that threw me for a loop. I suppose I had some inkling of a twist, but I think the ending is really the key part of the entire narrative. Without it, it would be very easy to misconstrue the novel as something other than what it is.

Ender’s Game is set in a distant future where an alien race, called the buggers in the version I read but apparently changed to Formics in the just released film adaptation, has devastated the human race twice. The humans fear a third and fatal final invasion, so they have started training children from a very young age to become an advanced and lethal fighting force. Ender is chosen at six to be taken up into space to join the Battle School, in the hopes that he might eventually develop into the grand commander of the human defence fleet. This causes tension in his family as Ender is already a socially marginalised figure for being a Third, born not because his parents wanted him but because the government felt the genetic inputs were good enough to warrant a socially shunned third child. However, Peter, his older brother with a deep streak for cruelty, resents Ender and it is only through the protection of Valentine, his sister, that he has anything resembling some form of tranquility in childhood. Of course, this is only the start and Card takes up into a fully-developed social world in the Battle School before pushing Ender into the Command School as he continues to thrive.

Trying to write this summary reminds me what a complex novel Ender`s Game is. It would be easy to take it at face value as a bildungsroman novel of sorts – a young boy is forced to come of age against the odds, or as a hero quest where the hero must leave his village to become a man and, in the process, perform heroic feats. But I do not think either label does the novel justice. There is a complex tension in Ender himself as he struggles with the cruel and violent things he must do to survive while still trying to maintain some form of innocence. There is also an interesting dialogue between Colonel Graff, the officer who chooses Ender and pushes him harder and harder, and the other military officers as Ender continues to grow even though he appears to be pushed beyond his limits. I do not want to give away the ending, so I am somewhat limited in my ability to talk about how the final chapter really throws a different light on everything that has come before. Needless to say, I highly recommend this novel. I know there has been a lot of controversy surrounding Card regarding his views on homosexuality, and there is some not-so-subtle strains of homophobia in this novel although they play a very small role in the book. It would be a shame to let the author, who needs his PR people to put a clamp on his public speaking, ruin what is otherwise a very good novel.

I highly recommend Ender`s Game for fans of science fiction. It is very accessible and really enjoyable (although I`m not sure what a female reader might think given that there is only one female character worth anything, and the whole novel is basically set up as a boy`s game).

Card, Orson Scott. Ender`s Game. 1977. New York: Tor, 1991. Print.

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