Friday, July 17, 2009

Book #43: 'Ender's Game' by Orson Scott Card

If there's one thing I've learned after having read 44 books for this challenge, it's to not be so judgmental about books before even having cracked them open. Sure, I still know that Twilight is a steaming pile of cow crap without needing to read it, so there's no fear that I'll completely do away with shunning books I think I'll hate. BUt I think I've become a little less gung-ho about it. I've broken my "never-read-a-book-about-lawyers" rule with Grisham, and was glad, I've broken my "never-read-a-Clancy-book" and regretted it (more on that in another review) and with Ender's Game I've broken my (admittedly stupid) rule on never reading books set in space.

I'm glad I did. This was nothing at all like I was expecting. It was smart, dark, gripping and damn exciting to read. And it was just very, very good. And really hard to review.

It's set sometime in the future. Families are only allowed to have two children, and Ender is special in that he's a third child. He is recruited by the army to go into space-fighter training at the age of 6, which is standard procedure I suppose. He's thrown into a military school that seems to be run by largely absent adults. The older children handle and train the younger ones as they learn how to fight in space battles in preparation for joining the war against the enemies of humanity. The army knows that Ender is special, and he's put into increasingly more brutal and cruel tests to prepare him to become the greatest commander humanity has ever known. At the age of 11.

The idea of throwing children into very adult situations runs throughout the book, and its jarring all the way through. It's like Lord of the Flies, only that in Ender's world the adults pit the children against each other so that they can carry out their plans. It's heartbreaking in that Ender is manipulated into being almost completely alone; exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally, and then you remember that this is a six year old KID, and everything becomes even more powerful.

The setting is also perfectly drawn out. The school and its technology seem incredibly advanced for the time that this book was written. There's personal computers, virtual reality games and even a type of internet. The simulated battles are expertly described and not sunk in technobabble. Watching Ender beat the obstacles the adults place in his way is specially cool, as is the bizarre computer game he has to play. And the way that it ties in to the ending of the book is really bizarre and kind of terrifying.

It's just really, really gripping. Ender as a character grabs you immediately--the sad, lonely underdog who gets thrown into extraordinary circumstances. By having children as the protagonists the story becomes more bizarre and disturbing, the adults acting like gods playing around with little people and manipulating their destinies.

My only complaint with the book are the scenes with Ender's siblings. They're good characters but just don't seem to fit in with Ender's story, particularly because they almost never come into contact with him (his brother never does). Their subplot is just a little distracting, and just made me impatient for the story to return to Ender.

But other than that, this is just a solid book. It's dark, original and really addictive. The ending is seriously weird and surprising, so I highly recommend not spoiling it for yourself before you read it. Don't be like me and dismiss just because it's Sci-Fi. That's a really dumb thing to do.


I heard that there were several sequels to this. But that they weren't very good. I don't know HOW they could be. Anyone read them?


dlanod said...

I've read the first couple. While not horrible, they suffer massively by comparison and slowly get worse (think the Dune sequels, though by the "no space" rule I'm guessing you probably haven't read them either). ;) I wouldn't really recommend them unless you're really really looking for something to read.

Sin said...

glad you liked it dude. i want to pick up the short story, as I hear it's even grittier and does away with some of the subplots (like the siblings, which i also found not interesting). the only other ender book i've read is Ender's Shadow, which is the same story you just read but told completely from Bean's perspective. It was equally good in my opinion.

David Täht said...

Glad you enjoyed it. Both the book and the novel are quite famous and accessible to non-SF readers.

There are good books written in every genre. I sometimes will go to the library, find a random isle, and close my eyes and randomly select a book, just to keep fresh. I went through a nero wolfe kick recently...

One thing that makes me sad is that there is no market any more for good novelettes (like the original Ender's game), and the market for short stories is also suffering.

I like SF because it is a medium for ideas. Often, characterisation gets short shrift as a consequence, Ender's Game is an exceptional exception in this.

For some reason, right now, I'm thinking of "Have Spacesuit, will travel" - which had a ridiculous premise, but wonderful characters that have stuck with me since I read it as a kid.....

Spender said...

Hey, Figgy!

"Ender's Game" was the first book by Card that I read and like you, found it both gripping and not a little disturbing. I think that he handled the time travel aspect of the story quite nicely and the sociopolitical underpinning was brilliant.
Agreed that the sequels suffer by comparison and while I did somewhat enjoy them, dianod's reference to the "Dune" sequels is a great comparison.
Hope all is well with you and keep us posted on the political situation in your part of the world, will you?
(By the way, great job on the EE last week!)

Grondzilla said...

'Speaker for the Dead' the immediate sequel to Ender is quite good. An entirely different sort of book with interesting philosophical questions. The series trails off after that...'Children of the Mind'...shudder.

Then comes 'Ender's Shadow' which is as another poster remarked pretty much as good as 'Ender' with a wild shift in perspective. The 'Bean' series is much more consistent but more caught up in the political machinations of the Academy genii.

Card may be a big old bag of Mormony crazy but he's written a classic or two.