Card, Orson Scott. Ender’s Game. TOR, 1991. 226 pages. Tr. $19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7653-1738-4
Plot: Ender Wiggin is only a child, but he’s a brilliant kid, physically tough but mainly a master at strategy. After a violent confrontation which ends with his attacker dead (though Ender is not aware that the fight was fatal), he is plucked from his semi-normal life to begin another at a space station battle school. His adult instructors are watching all of the kids there, hoping to find the next great leader, a military commander who can help them vanquish the Buggers. Seventy years ago, the Buggers attacked Earth and a great war took place and the Buggers were defeated. Now, they are regrouping for another stab at Earth. This time, the Buggers will be different, stronger, smarter; a great Leader might be their only chance. There is a subplot with Ender’s beloved sister, Valentine, and his sinister brother, Peter. Angry about not being chosen for battle school, Peter comes up with a plan to control the hearts and minds of people on Earth.
On the battleship, Commander Hyrum Graff selected Ender, and he has high hopes for him as he watches Ender confront strategic video games and battle simulations using high technology. Others would like to come out on top, and Ender has a serious rival in Bonzo de Madrid. As Bonzo gets angrier and Ender gets better at strategy, they have a violent confrontation. Bonzo is no longer a problem, but Ender is tormented by what happened. His teacher Mazer Rackham, creates more complex challenges, but Ender is difficult to confound. Eventually, there is a final simulated fight and Ender and his team must deal with a shock at the end.
Critical Evaluation: The main character is wonderfully complicated in this story: Sweet and sensitive, he’s a born warrior. Even for those who don’t like war novels, Ender’s story is brilliant and addictive. The high-tech games – either computer or live action – are incredibly realistic. Ender battles the school’s bullies and tries to keep his own inner demons in check. He knows that he’s a smart strategist, but is he a killer? Can he control his own worst impulses, or is he just being controlled by reacting? Although many criticize this book for glorifying war and violence, it’s actually a philosophical meditation on the causes of war and violence. Ender is forced to contemplate whether it’s possible to face one’s bullies without becoming like them. He also has to figure out if, by playing his commanders games and doing well, is he controlling the game, or is he just a pawn? The story is full of suspense, as Ender’s challenges become more and more intense and as his antagonists become angrier or more controlling.
Reader’s Annotation: Ender is only six, but he thinks like a warrior. When he’s taken up to a space battle school, he must compete in elaborate, high tech war games, but is winning worth it?
Author bio: The only writer to have been awarded both the Hugo and the Nebula science-fiction/fantasy awards in consecutive years, Orson Scott Card is considered one of the best science fiction writers alive today. He grew up up in Washington, California, Utah, and Arizona. A member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, he went to Brigham Young University and began a PhD program before settling in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Card, an all-purpose writer, pens reviews, plays, political commentary, and he has co-authored a manga book. He is now working as co-producer on a film version of Ender’s Game.
Genre: Science fiction.
Curriculum Ties: English
Booktalking Ideas: Focus on the contradiction of a peace-loving kid who is a killer strategist.
Talk about the technology and game simulations for kids who love computers.
Focus on the strategy element of the book, that the Buggers will come back having cracked our strategies and that Ender is constantly forced to rethink his own strategy. The mental games in the book are a lot of fun.
Reading Level: 5th grade
Interest Age: 14+
Challenge Issues: Violence.
Challenge Response: Although there is violence in this book, the purpose isn’t to glorify it. Because it is complex, the message can be ambiguous. One way to defend it is to bring up that complexity, that it isn’t violence for the sake of violence. The violence is terrifying to the people committing it and the message is about the culpability of those involved. The book is now considered a classic sci-fi novel, and its place in the cannon should be brought up. Also, a good way to defend it might be to keep reviews in a file so that those who read them will get a better sense of what the book’s about. An article about his achievement award may help: http://www.ala.org/yalsa/booklistsawards/bookawards/margaretaedwards/maeprevious/08edwards
Why Included: Adults I know who have read it describe it as one of the most memorable and complex books they read when they were young.